Bracing for drought and haze
Posted on June 24, 2012, Sunday
SOUTHEAST Asia is again facing the threat of haze.
The recurring problem shows the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has not been able to collectively tackle widespread cross-border air pollution, caused by uncontrolled open burning in some member countries.
Since 1991, the haze has been an acute atmospheric blight in this part of the world. Asean enacted the Regional Haze Action Plan in 1997, and signed the Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002 to host a co-ordination and support unit for monitoring atmospheric conditions.
Despite such a mechanism, haze-induced pollution is still making its presence very much felt in the region today. Although there have been some monitoring improvements, Asean, as a whole, seems helpless to douse the problem with any lasting effect.
Apparently, within both individual Asean nations and the grouping itself, there is a lack of combined political will to enforce domestic laws and regional pact on haze prevention.
Present fires in Sumatra are triggering health alerts in some states in peninsular Malaysia, notably Johor, Selangor and Penang, indicating clearly that the underlying causes of the haze have not been reduced, let alone eradicated.
Last week, haze also blanketed Kuala Lumpur and its surroundings as smoke from several large fires wafted in from Sumatra. The worst reading then was recorded in Port Klang at 147.
According to the Department of Environment (DOE), the hazy conditions will last a few days because of the dry weather in the northern and western coastal states of peninsular Malaysia.
For Sarawak, DOE on Friday recorded the highest nation-wide API in Miri where the air quality in Permyjaya had breached the 100 API unhealthy level to 176 from 164 on Wednesday due to peat soil fire. No other areas in the state, including Miri city itself, recorded readings higher than 100.
According to the department, so far, 81 per cent of the country have moderate air quality with seven to 14 per cent recording good air quality.
For reference purposes, API readings from 0-50 are healthy, 51-100 (moderate), 101-200 (unhealthy), 201-300 (very unhealthy) and 301 and above (hazardous). When the reading touches 101, it is advisable to restrict outdoor activities.
Based on weather pattern with the wind now blowing from the southeast from Kalimantan, the current haze in the peninsula is not likely to spread in totality to Sarawak.
However, with rising API readings has come a hike in respiratory ailments. The State Health Department advises sufferers of asthma and allergies to wear face masks even though the API reading is, on the whole, still low.
The local authority has also called for a stop to open burning. Apart from the dangers of fire, the smoke will aggravate the hazy conditions and this should be avoided.
Ignorance or lack of awareness is often blamed for open-burning offences but that’s no excuse for urban dwellers, shop and factory operators to continue burning refuse in their backyards. Most of these people are educated and know what’s going on. So why do some of them still resort to open burning?
Plausibly, they think it’s easier to burn the throw-aways themselves than to call in the waste disposal service. Since the latter is not free, they may feel opting for it could mean burning a hole in their pocket.
So in areas where opening burnings are seen, they occur not only during the day but also at night. The problem will remain unless there is strict enforcement coupled with a genuine effort on the part of all parties involved to put an end to the practice.
While the haze is exacting a toll, the weather vagaries can be mitigated if we stop burning garbage wantonly in the open. Though not the ultimate solution to the haze problem, it is the least we can do to alleviate an already piping hot and hazy situation.
During these dry months when conditions can be furnace-like following long rainless periods, the need to prevent water wastage cannot be over-emphasised.
The warning has already gone out that with dim prospects of rainfall in the next fortnight, areas solely dependent on rainwater in the state will be hard hit.
Drought-prone coastal areas as well as villages and longhouses without piped water supply in the interior are especially vunerable.
The axiom – prevention is better than cure – may sound a bit hackneyed but in times of adversity such as prolonged dry spell and imminent drought with all its attendant problems, it is certainly the golden rule to follow.
Hopefully, the scorching weather will break soon otherwise cloud seeding operations would be the most practical option to bring some relief from the stifling heat.