Smog: More action, less finger-pointing needed to prevent Borneo fires

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The sun seen turning a dark orange with haze thickening in Kuching. This photo was taken at St Joseph's International School at Pandungan, five minutes away from Kuching city - Photo: Vanessa Naen

The blame game during every haze season is not going to prevent the haze from recurring, says Vanessa Naen.

The last time I experienced a thick smog in Sarawak was when I was in Upper Six in 2015.

Our school was forced to shut down as the haze reached an unhealthy level. A thick, smoky haze filled our classroom, leaving us with no choice but to shut the doors and windows to reduce the haze in our classroom. The school was shut for a few days, but the haze did not subside until it rained.

Welcome to the haze ‘season’ again. I say ‘season’ because Malaysia not only experiences rain and sunshine throughout the year, but the haze season is now common as well.

When the thick, white, smoky haze hits Malaysia, our first reaction would automatically be “Ah! Indonesia (Kalimantan) – here we go again.”

It is 2019 now and we welcome the hazardous haze back to Malaysia, hitting Sarawak first, especially three areas – Kuching, Kota Samarahan and Sri Aman – with readings reaching an unhealthy level.

Although rain poured a few days ago, the haze came back twice as thick as usual. But the Air Quality Index (AQI) readings showed both Kuching and Kota Samarahan still at a ‘not-so-critical’ level of 218 and 211 (AQI updated as of 8pm last night).

But the real smog out there looked super thick. Was the AQI meter broken perhaps? Honestly, I felt the reading should have been higher as most buildings were shrouded with thick haze, making it almost impossible to see these structures with the naked eye.

We all know that Indonesia (Kalimantan) does its slash-and-burn activity annually for the purpose of farming – and for oil palm plantations.

Though there have been agreements and regulations set up to curb transboundary haze among the Asean countries, they make no difference: the haze still returns.

What is the problem here? Kalimantan in Indonesia and Sarawak in Malaysia are neighbouring territories and have a mutual transboundary relationship makes it easier for Indonesians to cross the boundary and vice versa. If Malaysia and Indonesia are able to see the benefit of such a relationship, why can’t the issue of the haze affecting each other be solved?

Instead, media articles, online and print, have talked about these two countries passing the buck to each over who is at fault and who should be held responsible for the hot spots or fires. Yes, go on, decide who should be responsible – it will definitely stop the fire!

A week has passed, and the haze is getting thicker than ever in Malaysia.

The Indonesian authorities, for their part, have sent firefighters to put out the forest fires in Kalimantan, but with little tangible effect: the hot spots have not yet been completely extinguished.

Malaysia and Indonesia are the two large exporters of palm oil to many countries for use in essential products. Oil palm production contributes to the revenue of both nations.

But many other countries are banning the use of palm oil due to its perceived negative effect on the environment – one of it is deforestation, as new oil palm plantations take up large areas.

This leads to a dilemma as to whether to decrease the production of palm oil for the sake of the environment and expect less economic revenue – or otherwise.

Whether the haze today is caused by companies from both Indonesia or Malaysia needing larger areas for oil palm plantation or not, the authorities should impose strict regulations and monitor illegal activities in the forests of Borneo.

The rainforests are considered the heart of the world and the authorities should see it as a treasure. Wanton destruction should not be allowed to happen.

The real question here is should both parties continue to point fingers at each other – when many of us know that the forests are crucial for everyone and it is greed and selfishness that is driving their destruction by these fires.

Vanessa Naen is an undergraduate student majoring in politics and governance at a local university. She recently attended an Aliran writers’ workshop with the theme “Writing for Change in New Malaysia”.

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Sumam VargheseDominic DamianMuhammad Fateh HisshamRegina StephenLoganathan Jambunadan Recent comment authors
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Sumam Varghese

Could bribery and corruption be at the heart of this never ending problem?

Dominic Damian

Commendations on a well thought and well written article. The concerns are so well articulated and crafted. The best of our thoughts and words seem inadequate in touching those responsible to respond in a conscientious manner. Continue being a voice for the voiceless.

Muhammad Fateh Hissham
Muhammad Fateh Hissham

Todate IPU still 238

Loganathan Jambunadan

No ending story it became a yearly affair.

James Hoh

Those responsible not owning up

Regina Stephen

James Hoh as usual