THE haze has almost become a part of our lives and today, we get readings of the haze just like our weather forecast.
Haze is one of the active contributors to air pollution, which the United Nations (UN) estimates contributed to about seven million deaths worldwide in 2012.
Air pollution affects everyone, both in developed and developing countries and could kill up to one in eight people, based on WHO research. It has been linked to heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
The worst-hit regions include South-East Asia, which includes Malaysia and Indonesia; India; and the western Pacific including China, South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. Together, these regions accounted for some 5.9 million deaths in 2012.
While there is major cause for concern as 2.9 billion people still use fire as their principle method of cooking and heating.
In Malaysia, I feel, industrial and development activities, motor vehicles, power generation, land clearing, open burning and forest fires are the major causes of air pollution.
According to the UN, Malaysia’s annual deforestation rate is the highest among tropical nations and it increased to 86% between 1999 and 2000 and 2000 and 2005.
Malaysia lost an average of 140,200ha of its forests or 0.65% of its total forest area every year since 2000, whereas in the 1990s, the country lost an average of 78,500ha or 0.35% of its forests annually.
Widespread urbanisation, agricultural fires and forest conversion for oil palm plantations and other forms of agriculture are the main causes of Malaysia’s high deforestation rate.
Logging is also responsible for forest degradation in the country, and some local timber companies have been accused of failing to practise sustainable forest management by various environmental organisations.
Air pollution from industrial and vehicular emissions is also a major issue in the urban areas of Malaysia. We are ranked 42nd in the world in terms of vehicle ownership per capita, with 273 Malaysians having vehicles out of every 1,000.
Public transportation has been introduced in the form of bus networks and railway systems to mitigate this but utilisation rates remain low and it is hoped that the upcoming MRT project will address this.
In 2000, Malaysia was ranked fourth in the world in terms of per capita greenhouse gas emissions after taking into account land use change with 37.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per capita.
Periodic fires, which usually coincide with phenomena such as the El Niño, burn thousands of hectares of forests across Malaysia, especially in Borneo. The haze originating from these fires and the fires in Kalimantan, Indonesia, typically have adverse health effects on the populace, besides causing air pollution.
In particular, the 1997 and 2006 South-East Asian haze and the 2005 Malaysian haze were caused by slash-and-burn activities in neighbouring Indonesia.
Asean must play a greater role in combating the haze and ministerial meetings held in five-star hotels will not reflect the actual suffering and misery we Malaysians go through every time Indonesia clears its forests and jungles.
At 7am on June 23, 2013, the air pollutant index (API) in Muar, Johor, spiked to 746, which is more than twice the standard hazardous levels according to the Department of Environment website. The API readings were so high that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak agreed to declare an emergency in Muar and Ledang.
We must be bold in addressing this issue by making sure all stakeholders are thoroughly briefed and updated on the laws and regulations.
Stricter mandatory laws must be introduced and enforced to ensure that we preserve the air that we breathe.
The automobile industry energy demand must also be regulated diligently by ensuring that our heavy vehicles are equipped with Euro 4 engines, which are very environmentally friendly.
We don’t want vehicles such as lorries driving through our cities spewing black smoke and emitting large amounts of carbon monoxide. Public transportation should be further improved to ensure the people’s dependency on private cars is reduced by using public transportation.
There must be ongoing educational programmes to bring about greater awareness on environmental pollution thus making our air more safe and clean.
Our progress must also be measured with the air that we breathe and the water that we drink. These two are excellent indicators of sustainable development.
We don’t want to be the next China, which is choking with her air pollution. If Delhi, India, could do away with fossil fuel for its public transportation sector in the late 1990s, why not Malaysia?
Let’s work together to make our air cleaner, healthier and fresher and also save millions of lives, and money.
Sustainable development must be the new practice for government and private sector, and it is not a topic for conferences or seminars.
Nations under Asean must not only talk but must also be seen to be doing something concrete in the interest of her subjects.
- An ardent nature lover and a dedicated social worker, Ravindran Raman Kutty is a Corporate Communications practitioner by profession. Please send in your feedback or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
- The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.