Time to clear the air…

Malaysia has joined hands with other Asean countries and put up regional efforts to reduce the haze pollution

pic by TMR FILE

IT’S that time of the year again. No matter how extensive the media coverage on how angry the people in the region are, or the billions of losses recorded, the perennial haze would always “pay a visit” in at least once a year, a constant in the past few decades.

The transboundary haze seems to occur during the same period and has become a major event that would creep into the national calendar.

It happens between August and September, largely due to the mass “slash and burn” agricultural activities, deforestation and use of peat land for oil palm plantations.

These activities are largely identified in Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia, thanks to global satellites which could pinpoint any open fires on earth. Such fires have resulted in the cross-border burning particles to be shared across South-East Asia including Malaysia.

To make things worse, the region will experience its annual dry seasons during the southwest monsoon from June to September, lending to events of forest fires.

According to the Meteorological Department, several locations in the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia and western Sarawak had begun to experience the haze in the past one week due to forest fires in six provinces in Indonesia.

The affected areas include Penang, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Negri Sembilan and Putrajaya in the peninsula; as well as Kuching, Serian and Samarahan in Sarawak.

Based on the Department of Environment’s Air Pollutant Index (API) website, the Johan Setia station in Klang, Selangor was the only one registered an “Unhealthy” level as at 6pm yesterday. The remaining 61 out of 68 stations being monitored by the department nationwide were at a “Moderate” level.

Earlier, some stations including Indera Mahkota, Kuantan and Rompin (both in Pahang) had been “bestowed” with the “Unhealthy” level. Although the air quality improved yesterday, the prolonged dry spell could see the situation deteriorate further.

According to the Singapore-based Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC), dry conditions are expected to persist and an escalation of hotspot activities can be expected.

As it is, Indonesia has already deployed thousands of military and police personnel to douse forest fires in Riau, southern Sumatera, Jambi, western Kalimantan, central Kalimantan and southern Kalimantan.

In fact, the republic is rather serious in its efforts to combat the haze issue to avoid a repeat of 2015 incident, when the worst fires for two decades choked the region for weeks.

On Tuesday, President Joko Widodo ordered the heads of the Indonesian Mi l itary and the National Police to sack any officer who failed to stop the spread of fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

“Those who cannot cope with these orders will be fired if they cannot overcome these land and forest fires,” he said, as reported by Indonesian media.

Based on the data published by the Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry, forest fires have affected more than 42,000ha of forests and farms in the republic this year alone.

On our end, Malaysia has joined hands with other countries and put up regional efforts to reduce the haze pollution.

The Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change, led by its Deputy Minister Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis, had discussed the issue with leaders from several Asean countries at the 21st Technical Working Group and Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution in Brunei Darussalam.

The two-day meeting, which ended yesterday, saw the involvement of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand in monitoring and strengthening the steps that need to be taken to overcome transboundary haze, in line with the Asean agreement regarding the issue.

In addition, Malaysia presented reports on measures that have been taken to ensure any open burning and haze can be avoided via the reevaluation of the National Hazard Action Plan, as well as the activation of the National Open Burning Action Plan.

According to the ministry, Malaysia would also call on member nations to take proactive measures to put forest and peat fires in Asean countries under control.

Hopefully, the concerted efforts by Asean-member countries would bear fruit one day if we want to ensure that palm oil producing countries — such as Malaysia and Indonesia — would not become the target of “grossly unfair” policies aimed at reducing the use of the commodity.

In the meantime, get your masks ready as you can already feel it in the air what is coming.

Rahman Daros is the supplement editor of The Malaysian Reserve.