Thursday, December 8

The impossible task of solving the haze problem

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Those hazy, crazy days are back again now that the annual hot dry spell is setting in and once again we are facing that exasperating perennial scourge of smoke choking our atmosphere.

The smoke and floating minute ashes that turn our skies gray in the daytime is not a direct result of the hot weather.

Rather it is a consequence of selfish and reckless farmers and plantation owners taking advantage of the dry weather to slash the tinder dry vegetation and trees on their land and set them on fire to clear it for planting.

This slash and burn farming practice is a traditional method to clear the land for hill padi cultivation in this region.

In the past when it was carried out by small scale farmers the environmental problems caused by the open burning of their farmland were negligible and tolerated.

However, when the big oil palm plantation companies adopt the same method, it caused the open burning in hundreds of thousands of acres, and the hanging haze became an international environmental problem.

The most exasperating aspect of tackling this smoky menace is the near impossibility of catching the main culprits.

Aerial policing by the relevant authorities often resulted bringing to book the underlings of big companies behind the massive forest fires.

Even when the big plantation companies were caught the punishments meted out were often a mere slap on the wrist compared to the money they saved from resorting to this cheap but harmful method of land clearing.

Another cause behind bush fires is arson which unfortunately the authorities cannot legislate for.

This spontaneous or planned mischief is a worldwide phenomenon for which the only solution is severe punishment for those caught doing it.

The problem is catching arsonists is nigh impossible as at the height of a dry season a single match could set off an uncontrollable fire.

However, just because the problem seems too big to be effectively handled, it does not mean that we have to sit back and let it happen.

Kudos to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and various enforcement agencies for taking on this ‘impossible task’ and doing the best they could.

The public on their part must accept and appreciate the limitations of their power in their herculean mission of putting an end to the annual haze problem.

Realistically they cannot achieve full success but doing something to mitigate the problem is better than doing nothing about it.