Malaysia truly ‘HazeSia’?

Perhaps it is time to form a joint investigation unit by Indonesia and Malaysia along with Singapore and other countries that are affected by the ‘annual haze celebration’

pic by AFP

ALL eyes were on Kuching, Sarawak, yesterday as the city was chosen as the glorious location to celebrate Malaysia Day, which was attended by the most important figures in the country.

Sadly though, it was a day when Kuching was just announced “the most polluted city in the world” due to the worsening haze in southwestern Sarawak.

A newspaper report on Sept 15 stated that Kuching earned the title that day when its air quality, as measured by the US Air Quality Index (AQI), hit 202, which is classified as “Very Unhealthy”.

While the celebration continued with Malaysians from all walks of life coming out to profess love for the country, one can’t help but feel helpless about the whole situation.

This is the second time in a week a Malaysian city has topped the list of the world’s most polluted metropolises, according to the US-based website World’s Air Pollution: Real-time Air Quality Index.

Last Wednesday, it was Kuala Lumpur that was on the top spot when its AQI reading reached 165, worse than other contenders including Jakarta, Indonesia; Lahore, Pakistan; and Delhi, India.

Other areas that topped the list are Tangkak and Muar in Johor, as well as several Melaka towns including Masjid Tanah, Pulau Sebang, Bemban and Tampin.

The Department of Environment’s latest Air Pollution Index (API) reading published at 4pm on Sunday showed that, Melaka registered an API of 217, while Tangkak hit 255.

Up to 26 other areas nationwide registered “Unhealthy” air as of 4pm on Sunday.

For the uninitiated, the API categorises a reading of between zero and 50 as Good; 51-100 (Moderate); 101-200 (Unhealthy); 201-300 (Very Unhealthy); and 300 and above (Hazardous).

The more creative Internet users are already having a field day making fun of the situation. One of the “creative works” is a poster that shows a row of multiracial Malaysian beauties in their traditional costumes with their faces covered with a variety of masks. The tagline reads: “Malaysia Truly Hazesia”.

While the poster seems laughable, the issue is not. While many would just gleefully point their fingers towards the forest fires in Indonesia, the Indonesian government had named four palm oil companies with Malaysian links as the culprits behind several forest fires in the country.

Among the four are PT Sukses Karya Sawit, which is a unit of IOI Corp Bhd, and PT Sime Indo Agro, which is a unit of Sime Darby Plantation Bhd.

According to a report by Reuters, Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar also named Rafi Kamajaya Abadi PT and Riau-based PT Adei Plantation and Industry among the four companies responsible for starting forest fires.

Rafi Kamajaya Abadi is a unit of Terengganu-owned TDM Bhd, while Adei Plantation and Industry is a unit of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK).

Siti Nurbaya reportedly stated that the lands of the four companies were sealed off as fires had been spotted on their properties.

In a statement earlier, KLK confirmed that one of its Indonesian subsidiaries was involved in the current torching or forests that resulted in the transboundary haze.

Before the weekend, a report stated that Indonesia had sealed off land at 29 plantations including several that it insists are Malaysian-owned, in a move motivated by its zeal to prove that Indonesia was not solely at fault for the crisis.

Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin told Reuters that Indonesia should take action against any parties which had caused the fire.

“Indonesia should take action against the perpetrators of the forest fires, regardless of who they are and without fear or favour, according to the law of the land. Most importantly, the forest fires must be extinguished as soon as possible,” Yeo said in the report.

It was also reported that more than 42,000ha of Indonesian land have been burned since January, with hundreds of hectares still on fire.

Analysis of satellite data by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) found that there are at least twice as many hotspots in the Indonesian territories of Sumatra and Kalimantan compared to the entire Malaysia.

ASMC also stated that prevailing wind conditions were carrying smoke from hotspots in Sumatra to Peninsular Malaysia, and from Kalimantan to Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei.

With all the facts being shared daily, the question remains: What are we doing about it? After all, it is not a new phenomenon. We have been suffering this “haze season” which usually would rear its ugly head between July and September.

Perhaps it is time to form a joint investigation unit by Indonesia and Malaysia along with Singapore and other countries that are affected by the “annual haze celebration”.

A commendable suggestion was recently made by Klang MP Charles Santiago who said Malaysia perhaps could emulate Singapore’s move to pass the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014 which allows regulators to prosecute companies and individuals that cause severe air pollution in Singapore by burning forests and peatlands in neighbouring countries.

Santiago said the act gives Singaporean authorities the power to go after companies that cause haze, even though they have no operations in the city-state.

While we work out our differences and find a common ground that could improve the situation, it is also rather pertinent to remind all parties that this environmental catastrophe is also one of the biggest reasons for other countries, including members of the European Union, to campaign against our palm oil-based products.

If the problem is not resolved any time soon, we might end up the biggest loser in the longer run.

Zainal Alam Kadir is the executive editor of The Malaysian Reserve.


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