Archive for June 24th, 2013

Don’t scold neighbours, fix problem instead

– Koran Tempo
The Malaysian Insider
Jun 24, 2013

It is very sad when officials have yet to really learn about how to act when facing a haze disaster like right now. The haze problem is a routine disaster, happening every year. Yet, when the dry season comes, they are still confused about how to overcome the haze.

Those of sound mind will shake their heads looking at the minimal action taken by the government. This is especially so when we see Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Agung Laksono getting worked up and angry with Singapore’s frustration at seeing the haze, and saying “the neighbouring country’s action is childish”.

Mr Agung’s attitude is not helpful at all, and in fact shows how rotten government policy is in dealing with the haze. The disaster this time is fairly severe.

The Standard Air Pollutants Index owned by PT Chevron in Dumai showed a reading of 400, meaning the air quality was very hazardous. In Malaysia, the pollutants index reached 383.

The result is that thousands of students in Malaysia and Singapore were sent home. Former Singapore prime minister Goh Chok Tong even said “the child is being suffocated”. Read the rest of this entry »


Smoke gets in our eyes: A way out

Dr Lim Teck Ghee

Returning to Kuala Lumpur after several weeks abroad, the pea soup of polluted air that greeted our descent was the worst I have ever experienced. It seemed to stretch interminably for miles on end far beyond the horizon. The acrid smell of burnt wood induced bouts of coughing amongst fellow passengers as we queued for our taxi ride. “Welcome to foggy Malaysia”, someone remarked in a futile attempt at raising everyone’s spirits.

On board our taxi, the friendly Pak Cik driver asked where we had come from and how long we had been away. He was quickly absorbed in talking about the number one topic currently on the mind of millions in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia as lungs continue to be assailed by the smoke coming from the Sumatra fires.

The taxi driver’s point was indisputable although diplomatically expressed. Neighbours in an apartment or kampung should keep their own as well as the common environment hazard-free and clean. They also need to watch out for each other.

Clearly Indonesia needs to do more to get its act together to prevent the illegal burnings that are an annual occurrence. But as noted by the former Singapore Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong: “Forest and peat fires are not easy to put out. They are not like our lalang or bush fires, small and confined. They burn and smoulder over thousands of acres in remote places far from the reach of fire fighters. So it is best to prevent man-made, illegal fires from being started in the first place.”

Past attempts at preventing illegal fires have failed miserably – not only in Indonesia but also Malaysia. Because they have failed, tens of millions of ringgit and thousands of billions of rupiah have been spent purchasing the latest haze monitoring equipment to keep us informed, and fire-fighting and rain-inducing equipment to help put the fires out. In the meantime, incalculable sums are being lost in terms of the impact on productivity, health, tourism revenue, and other knock-on effects. If the haze persists for a few months, we may be talking of losses of billions of dollars and perhaps even a few points shaved off the region’s GDP. Read the rest of this entry »


Haze now heading north to KL and PJ and beyond

By Trinna Leong and Kimberly Yeo
The Malaysian Insider
June 24, 2013

Sibu and Bukit Rambai are the latest areas where the Air Pollution Index (API) has been flagged as unhealthy as the haze from Indonesia moves northwards.

With this, a total of 21 areas have been rated as unhealthy.

In the capital, Kuala Lumpur’s API increased to 198, just slightly short of the very unhealthy level. Many people are now wearing face masks. Petaling Jaya is almost as bad at 193.

Authorities told The Malaysian Insider that strong winds blowing towards the northeast from the southwest of Peninsular Malaysia means the haze is clearing up in Johor. Read the rest of this entry »


Haze (Smog) Causes Not Just Discomfort, It Kills

by Chee-khoon Chan
23rd June 2013

In 2002, Narayan Sastry, currently a professor of demography at the University of Michigan published a paper entitled “Forest Fires, Air Pollution, and Mortality in Southeast Asia” in the February 2002 issue of the journal Demography.

The smog of 1997 coincided with an El Niño year which intensified the seasonal mid-year drought. The land clearing and forest fires in that year burned an estimated 2-3% of Indonesian land area, mostly in Sumatra and Kalimantan but also affecting sizeable tracts in Irian Jaya, Sulawesi, Java, Sumbawa, Komodo, Flores, Sumba, Timor, Wetar as well as areas in Sarawak and Brunei.

Sastry obtained daily mortality statistics from the Department of Statistics in Malaysia and correlated these with the daily Air Pollution Index (API) readings from the Malaysian Meteorological Department, in order to analyze the acute mortality in Kuching and Kuala Lumpur following upon days of high air pollution (defined as days when PM10 > 210 ug/m3). (The API is largely based on PM10, the concentration of suspended particulates of size 10 microns and below). Read the rest of this entry »


A hazy climate: Will anyone do the right thing?

– Daniel Murdiyarso and Luca Tacconi
The Malaysian Insider
June 23, 2013

We write with a strong sense of déjà vu. Over 10 years ago, one of us published a letter in The Jakarta Post titled Fires: stop blaming others, just start acting! The cause of the haze that is affecting Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore has not changed since then; it is clear: Plantation companies deliberately light fires in degraded peatland areas on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.

They use fire because it is the cheapest way to clear land. But, in particularly dry years, the peat below ground also catches fire and it continues to smolder for months, generating thick and noxious haze. It can quickly cause headaches, nausea and respiratory problems, particularly in children and the elderly.

In that letter, we identified that fire was being used not only as a tool to clear land cheaply but also as a weapon to claim property ownership when Indonesia’s governance system was more centralized than it is today.

The recurrence of fire and trans-boundary haze was then, and remains today, not only a problem but also a symptom of complex governance issues. Read the rest of this entry »