THE annual haze has caused much misery to Malaysia. Schools in many states have had to be closed, universities have postponed classes due to the thickening haze which has reached unhealthy levels, while the tourism and service industry are also affected
6 October 2015 @ 11:02 AM
THE annual haze has caused much misery to Malaysia. Schools in many states have had to be closed, universities have postponed classes due to the thickening haze which has reached unhealthy levels, while the tourism and service industry are also affected.
Outdoor events have been cancelled or postponed due to the poor air quality, while some people have missed important meetings and events as their flights were cancelled or delayed.
This issue has reached a critical level as tourism is one of our main income-earners, and the transboundary haze comes at a time when the economy is also tested with the weakening ringgit, unaffordable housing and increasing cost of living.
There’s also the cost of medical care for haze-related illnesses, fall in productivity and production as employees are absent due to sickness, lost hours of learning and inconvenience for teachers, students and parents when school exams are postponed.
A study done in China to see the psychological impact from air pollution on employees, has found that a high level of air pollution results in counterproductive workplace behaviour.
Imagine how all these would affect Malaysia this year, as 18 years ago in 1997, the widespread haze crisis cost Southeast Asia an estimated US$9 billion (RM39.35 billion) from disruptions to air travel, healthcare expenses and other haze-related damages.
It is heartening to note that Indonesia is taking action against the companies involved in open burning, which include legal action and freezing of assets of plantation companies.
Indonesian Police Chief General Badrodin Haiti was reported to have said that one of the companies had its licence revoked while the licences of three others were frozen. He also said 40 people suspected to be involved in open burning in Sumatra and Kalimantan would be charged soon.
Meantime, Malaysia has to continue the ongoing bilateral dialogue with Indonesia to find a solution to the long-standing issue. There should not be any more delay in the signing of a memorandum of understanding on haze issues between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.
As all member countries have ratified the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, it is time to work together to implement measures to prevent, monitor and mitigate it. As large plantation companies from Malaysia are said to be among those responsible for the massive forest and peat fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, our government should consider the proposal by local environmental groups to introduce a new law similar to the one enacted by Singapore, namely the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014.
The law, which came into effect in September last year, allows regulators to prosecute companies and individuals who cause severe air pollution in Singapore by illegally burning forests and peatlands in neighbouring countries.
Should this law be introduced here, it will be a preventive measure against transboundary haze pollution as it makes Malaysian firms accountable for their action in neighbouring countries.
Whatever it is, the problem must be tackled at source. As the haze is affecting Asean countries and some of the parties responsible for the slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia are from Malaysia and Singapore, a concerted effort under the Asean spirit must be implemented to combat illegal forest and peat fires.
Time is not on our side as the region has been suffering from haze-related losses for nearly two decades.
n TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE,Kuala Lumpur