Time for tough action against air polluters


The sun’s brightness is much dimmed by thick haze in Sri Aman, Sarawak. — Filepic

LAST week, the API reading in Sri Aman in Sarawak hit 367, crossing the hazardous level of 300.

In Klang Valley, government eye clinics saw a 30% surge in outpatient visits due to haze-related ailments.

Meanwhile, 115 schools in Selangor were instructed to close until further notice.

Some local councils began distributing face masks to schools in their municipalities.

Our response to the haze problem has been reactive, not proactive.

We seek to remedy but not to prevent.

That haze has become an annual occurrence in Malaysia illustrates one fact — we lack an enforcement mechanism at the regional level to compel countries to adopt a responsible environmental management.

A few months from now, by which time the haze hopefully has cleared, it will be back to business as usual. That is, until the thick smog comes back to haunt us next year.

Last month, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro came under immense international pressure when news reports of massive clearing of the Amazon rainforest — purportedly for development purposes — were published.

The news triggered French president Emmanuel Macron to threaten to throw a spanner into the negotiation of trade deal between the European Union (EU) and Mercosur nations which comprise Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil.

Faced with grave economic repercussions, Bolsonaro was forced to act and he deployed the army into the rainforest to put out the fires.

In Malaysia, our tourism sector was affected. Tourists who arrived on our shores during the haze were unable to enjoy their visits, which in turn reduced their spending and that hurt local businesses.

In some states, expensive cloud seeding had to be carried out to induce rain to help disperse the smog particles.

Our wildlife are probably suffering from health effects too, which may only be apparent years from now, by which time the ecological balance would have deteriorated greatly.

It is time that the Government take a stand and hold the errant parties to account.

We cannot, year after year, have our life quality being held hostage to such neglect of proper environmental management.

Environmental issues cannot be treated like a national issue, for they are transnational in nature, one which requires a concerted regional, if not global, approach to handle.

This is because the environmental impacts of economic activities within one’s border does not end at its border.

At the very least, a regional framework for addressing environmental issues must be formulated, one that justifies action against non-compliance.

It needs to be made clear to any party contemplating non-compliance, that there will be consequences.

Meanwhile, media and non-governmental organisations need to play their role to secure popular support for such a move and prepare the ground against the rhetorics that will inevitably accompany opposition to such proposal.

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