Smoke Gets In My Eyes, Again!


Read these first

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(The hotspots in Indonesia is a yearly affair and it some how had become “tolerable” when by right it should not be the case. The above when Singapore faced the worst from the slash & burn activities in Indonesia. Image source: http://marufish.com)

At the beginning of last week, this was reported on the state of haze in Malaysia:-

Malaysian authorities declared a state of emergency Sunday in a southern district where a smoky haze blamed on Indonesian forest fires has triggered one of the country’s worst pollution levels in years.

The worst of the smog has shifted from Singapore to southernmost Malaysia, where noxious fumes have drifted across the sea this past week from Indonesia’s Sumatra island. The Malaysian government’s index for air pollution reached a measurement of 746 early Sunday in the southern district of Muar. It was far above the threshold of 300 for hazardous air quality.

Authorities were issuing instructions for Muar’s residents to remain indoors and for schools to close, Environment Minister G. Palanivel said in a statement on his Facebook page. The district has about 250,000 people, several of whom posted photographs on Twitter showing bridges and buildings enveloped in smog that slashed visibility to barely hundreds of meters (feet).

(Source)

And since then, some schools in the Klang Valley were closed for a couple of days (my son certainly was not complaining though) with all of us breathing in and out some of the very unhealthy air todate – some spiked more than 400 on the API reading. But thanks to (man made? or perhaps God taking pity on some of us) heavy rain last week and recent days, API readings have gone down to less dangerous levels and things seemed to have come down to a more normal levels (although last Sunday the haze was back). But hopefully despite the clear skies, we will not be forgetting the culprits who caused some of the worse air pollution over some states in Malaysia last week or keeping our silence on preventing similar occurrence in the coming years.

For start, the Indonesian Government have (once again) blamed (and listed) the “Malaysian” firms involved in the opening burning in Sumatra and on paper, the Malaysian Government have asked for proof and urged prosecution against the wrongdoers but it is a big question on whether the Indonesians would be willing to do that. We are talking big players here and a very aggressive prosecution on something that could be tough to prove (as to who started the fire) could back-fire big time – big players may pull out and huge investments may drop. Think about it – if they could prosecute the culprits, they would have done so a long time ago and that would have been the end of the yearly man-made deadly haze, right?

Interestingly whilst this is still being debated between the Governments, the Malaysian firms having plantation interests in Indonesia have come out emphasizing on their zero burn policy and flatly denied that they were the culprits behind the massive haze over Malaysia & Singapore – they are putting the blame on the locals who determined to do it the easy way. That sounds reasonable but is it?

The standard response has been to blame local communities and smallholders in Sumatra for the clear-cutting and slash-and-burn tactics. It is easy to blame the small guys/local farmers/local communities, etc when they are unable to respond in the media.

Yet, an overlay map of Sumatra shows that there is a close correlation between the hotspots (where the burning is taking place) and the concession areas for oil palm plantations and timber.

So, the large companies then engage some of these local communities to clear the land for them – sort of like outsourcing the land-clearing. And then these local communities do it in the easiest or cheapest way possible. Moreover, the local people often do not have the expertise for replanting, which the large companies possess. But because it is the local communities doing the clearing, the large companies are able to wash their hands and pass the buck to the local communities.

(Source)

And it gets worse if these allegations are true:-

The whole world knows, and has for years, that the haze is not just the product of ‘burning-off’ by a ragtag bunch of small farmers, but wholesale illegal clearance of what’s left of Sumatra’s peat forests by the managements of massive palm-oil plantations.

And that many of these environmental vandals are so-called government-linked corporations which the respective ruling regimes involved are coy about naming because they and their cronies are the principal beneficiaries.

(Source)

In the end, it goes back to the issue of enforcement and the deploying the best method for clearing the land for plantation.

The issue is serious (at least for me) when you have small kids and old people at home and they start to have breathing difficulties and there is nothing much we could do about it. Mind you, 2 people died from all the haze in Malaysia, courtesy of the idiots in Indonesia taking short cuts to clear the land. One of their Ministers even had the cheek to say that the Singaporeans are acting childish on this (some politicians will remain a moron to the core no matter which country they are from). Perhaps some of you may not have small kids and old people to take care of but then what about your own health concerns in the long run? How long you think you can survive wearing mask when you go out? Don’t you get frustrated, angry and sick at the same? What about the negative impact to the country’s economy especially in the tourism sector – how many tourists you think will be willing to take a long stroll outside if the haze is thick and sickening?  In the end, will the slash & burn buggers compensate for these losses – both the economic and personal losses?

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(If there is fire and it cannot be done with simple tools, it is time to look at a more powerful one. One such tool would be the fire-fighting aircraft like the one made by Russia above – it is more effective once coupled with the traditional fire-fighting techniques on the ground. Image source: http://02varvara.wordpress.com)

The “problem” with the problem is that everyone knows what need to be done. The mysterious part would be on the Governments with all its might, expertise and will-power seems to be powerless when this happens on a yearly basis and one need to ask why the might of the law and almost unlimited resources of the Government have not been used to the fullest scale? Sucking up to the slash & burn offenders does has its limits. Instead of being reactive to the problem, why not be proactive instead? After all, trans boundary air pollution is not something one can hide under the blue carpet.

Enforcement aspect aside (it is all talk and no action here for donkey odd years), let’s start with a beef-up the fire services with a specialize team on the forest & peat fires with superior technology (like early warning systems), tools (such fire-fighting planes) and man-power all paid in advance on a yearly basis from a centralised fund (all donated graciously from all plantation owners)? Why not use the satellite imaginary system to pin-point the start of the peat and use the information to coordinate fire-fighting and enforcement on a more aggressive manner? It can be done if this need to be done.

But before that, the Indonesia Government should start with ratifying the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution is an environmental agreement established in 2002 between all ASEAN nations to reduce haze pollution in Southeast Asia. There should not be any more excuses from the Indonesians, now that the source of the haze is clearly is self made and is in their own back yard.

Time to breathe in and breathe out before the next round of haze is back

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When Government think is the best time to reveal the daily API?


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(Air Pollution Index – why is is being kept secret when it is crucial in informing the citizen on the actual condition of the air pollution in the country. Image source: http://pdsblogs.org)

There is a lot quarters crying out to the Government for the API reading and the DPM confidently inform that the Government has no plans to release the API reading. Luckily Pak Lah had a better sense of rakyat’s feeling and decided to lift the ban on API reading with immediate effect.

Now the ban is uplifted, Jeff Ooi has a good question on where to check the API readings. So, the upliftment of the ban may still have some teething problems. We are not out of the woods yet.

The question is why keep the readings as a secret in the first place? You can hide the readings but you cannot hide the haze. Assuming Pak Lah did not do the sensible thing, would the Government been agreed to reveal the API reading only after these things happened?

1. A MAS 777 with 350 passenger crashes in KLIA due to poor visibility and the death toll was high (The stewardess was unfortunately had little time to throw down the tray and knell down to pray. It happened too fast).

2. Two large oil tankers collides near Port Klang due to poor visibility and sank causing one of the biggest oil spills to hit Malaysia shores (Indonesia shores was surprisingly spared of this disaster)

3. Thousands of school children in several schools was warded in the hospital for severe breathing problem as their school was unaware the severity of the air pollution (a case of “tak apa” from the school officials and education authorities)

4. 50 cars piled up along Federal Highway near the Istana Negara due to poor visibility (another 20 cars piled up on the other side of the road when some of them slowed down to see the accident)

5. The national productivity drops by almost 50% due to too many people calling in sick or slowed down (count me in into the statistics)

6. Tun Mahathir holds a press conference on the API issue and…(well you all know rest of the story)

Luckily the API reading was revealed before such things happened. In case, you want additional information, you can check visibility observation reports here.