10/08/05 - IT IS high time for the Malaysian Government to get seriousabout the haze, and not because of its impact on the tourism industry. Thehealth of Malaysians and the economy are at stake.
Who would want to put money or come and do research in our MultimediaSuper Corridor or our Agro Valley if they have to live in conditions thatmillions of Malaysians have been subjected to in recent days?
Looking at the weather map, it would appear that a greater part of centralPeninsular Malaysia - from Ipoh in the north to Seremban in the south,from Port Klang in the west to Kuantan in the east - is covered with haze.
The haze has been with us for more than a week, and it seems to be gettingworse. In Kuala Lumpur, you can smell the acrid quality of the air that isburnt, bitter and most unpleasant. The pungent smell has even pervadedair-conditioned offices and homes.
Driving along the road, one is surrounded by a massive shroud of smokyhaze. Many friends I spoke to say they feel depressed and trapped.
Depressed because they sorely miss the blue skies and greenery that makeKuala Lumpur such a lovely, liveable tropical city; trapped because thereis no escaping the haze. Rich or poor, everyone is suffering.
From reports by the authorities, it would appear that the haze could betraced to those so-called “hot spots” in Sumatra and a number of peatfires in the KLIA/Cyberjaya area.
Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar was quick to apologise toMalaysia for the haze. "We are very concerned about the worseningsituation caused by open burning in Sumatra," he was quoted in aninterview in The Star.
But what is Indonesia doing about it?
The haze has been a regular phenomenon in Sumatra and Kalimantan for thepast decade or so because forests are being cut and burnt by plantationcompanies to make way for oil palm estates or by illegal loggers.
Indonesia is quick to point out that it has tough laws " including thedeath penalty " against illegal logging and open burning. True, but we allknow that enforcement is woefully inadequate.
It is time for Asean governments to tell Jakarta that it must takeresponsibility for the huge economic and social costs that it hasinflicted on its neighbours because of the haze.
Jakarta must recognise that while open burning is probably the cheapestway to clear the jungle and plant oil palm and rubber, this is creating anenvironmental disaster to itself and its neighbours.
In these days of globalisation, what is being done in one country hasfar-reaching and unintended effects on other countries and such harmfuleffects must be factored into the overall cost of development. Sayingsorry is not good enough.
It is clear that Indonesia, on its own, is unable to tackle the problem ofopen burning and illegal logging because it lacks the resources to do so.
It should consult with its neighbours and world agencies to find along-term solution to this perennial environmental problem.
The Malaysian Government, on its part, can do more to tackle the peatfires, because that too is a perennial problem, as well as be tough onopen burning. Finding solutions to the haze must now be a governmentpriority.
Not long ago, the Government and particularly the tourism industry wereworried about the impact of the haze (and the attendant publicity) ontourist arrivals. This is a short-sighted policy.
Sure, tourist earnings are important and no group, particularly the media,would want to do anything to hurt this important industry.
But as the haze shows no signs of going away, Malaysians want solutions.Many are in a foul mood, and I do not mean that as a pun