Patience wears thin as smog thickens

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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

Regional governments must have the politcal will to enforce laws that punish wayward practices, writes Mustafa K Anuar.

Transboundary smoke has once again descended on Malaysia, dispersing pollutants that adversely affect human health, the natural environment and day-to-day life.

In places where the air pollutant index (API) has climbed to a dangerous level, such as Sarawak and parts of Peninsular Malaysia, the smoke is choking and debilitating, especially for children, the old and those with respiratory problems.

This is apart from its other effects such as the closure of schools, kindergartens and nurseries; the slowing down of businesses; the grounding of fishermen; and the loss of labour hours due to sickness and prolonged hospitalisation.

It is deja vu for many Malaysians as they have endured similar awful experiences since 1997. It is why their patience is wearing thin even as the smoke thickens. Indeed, it is not a season to be merry.

Furthermore, the smoke has given rise to fear, anxiety and even depression as people consider the long-term effects of perennial exposure to it.

Given this backdrop, ordinary citizens understandably would expect, nay demand, that the authorities come up with a permanent solution to this environmental nightmare. Enough is enough.

In this regard, the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, inked in 2002, should help provide an effective and powerful mechanism to prevent and control the haze pollution in the region.

There must be political will among regional governments to enforce laws that punish wayward practices, such as the slash-and-burn agriculture of small farmers and more seriously, large-scale burning of agricultural land by big corporations.

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Indeed, it has been reported that large corporate oil palm and pulp and paper plantations are causing deforestation and forest fires in Indonesia.

This mode of production is environmentally unsustainable and also contributes to climate change that has detrimental effects on planet Earth.

It is counterproductive for governments, as in the case of Indonesia and Malaysia, to get into the blame game because at the end of the day, it doesn’t benefit the ordinary folk at all. The buck must stop with the parties concerned.

Nor is it comforting to hear conflicting reports of subsidiaries of oil palm-related Malaysian corporations being involved in mass-scale burning in Indonesia. At least one such company is allegedly linked to the Malaysian government.

The image of Malaysia, particularly its palm oil industry, would be sullied if any company is indeed implicated in this infernal nuisance.

Be that as it may, the Malaysian government ought to make serious commitments towards reining in any Malaysian company found culpable.

What is also expected of the Asean governments concerned is that they should pool their resources together to overcome this transboundary problem in the most effective and comprehensive manner possible.

These governments owe it to their citizens to live up to their responsibility to protect the health and promote the general wellbeing of the people as a way of ensuring that corporate profits are not made at the expense of ordinary people’s lives.

At the same time, the Malaysian government should also ensure that those practising open burning within its borders, which is suspected to be happening although on a smaller scale, would receive proper punishment.

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Nothing could be more important for Malaysians (as well as other inhabitants of the region) than to have the sickening smog removed from the sky as soon as possible.

Source: themalaysianinsight.com

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