THE world has been at somewhat of a standstill over the last few months as people stay at home to combat the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amid the health and economic effects of the crisis, a silver lining has seemed to emerge as cities across the world report a decline in pollution levels.
In Venice, Italy, residents are talking about how the famous Venice canals have cleared up.
The usual tourist crowds are absent and the number of motorboats have vastly reduced, allowing nature to bloom.
Carbon emissions have also reduced in cities around the world, especially at metropolises where carbon emissions are typically high.
In India, where air pollution is among the world’s worst, people are reporting seeing the Himalayas for the first time from where they live.
Curious about the environmental effects the movement control order (MCO) has had on Malaysia, particularly Johor Baru, I decided to ask a local environmentalist who has years of experience and knowledge on the matter.
Johor Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) vice-president Vincent Chow said despite the temporary fresh-air experience, there were no long-term positive environmental effects of the MCO and the state still had a long way to go in dealing with its environment issues.
“There is probably less rubbish on the streets as people are staying at home for a few weeks and seemingly less air pollution on the surface but the underlying environment issues we have here still prevails.
“The rivers are still badly polluted and continuous efforts must be taken to curb pollution issues in Johor, ” he said.
He added that pollution in this state, especially river pollution, started years ago and would take years to recover.
“The landfills are filled with rubbish and the river is still muddy.
“We still have a long way to go and this MCO will not magically cure the environmental mess we have made, ” he said.
I strongly agree that we have a long way to go, especially since it has only been one year since the Sungai Kim Kim incident.
In March last year, the Sungai Kim Kim incident in Pasir Gudang taught us a lesson on the devastating effects of pollution on the well-being of loved ones.
Thousands suffered health problems, including nausea, vomiting and breathing difficulties and schools were forced to shut down temporarily.
A few months later, another pollution incident in the same district affected thousands more.
The state government has given its word on taking this matter seriously and to continue ensuring efforts are taken to avoid such incidents from happening again.
I hope these words will translate into action and the relevant agencies and departments are able to carry out their duties well to safeguard the environment.
The initiative that has already been put in place must be continued, despite the change in state and federal governments.
This includes the real-time air monitoring system in Pasir Gudang, the first of its kind in an industrial district in this country.
The system should be made available to other industrial districts if it is proven to bring good results.
On top of that, stern action must be taken against those responsible for the Sungai Kim Kim incident.
We cannot afford to have another pollution incident in this state but if it does happen, I hope the experience from managing the previous pollution incidents will allow the authorities to make better decisions.
I applaud the hard work and dedication of the various departments and agencies involved in managing the pollution incidents but some decisions and actions came too slow.
This should not happen again in the future as we now have guidelines in handling such matters.
The state and federal governments must work with non-governmental organisations in dealing with environmental issues.
This includes educating the public, including industry players on the proper ways to protect the environment.
The authorities should increase its monitoring and enforcement efforts among industry players, especially in industrial areas with many factories.
The public should be the eyes and ears of the authorities and be proactive in reporting environmental abuses that are happening in their backyard.
The environment crisis we have suffered should not be in vain and the lessons from the experience should be used to increase our appreciation of nature.