Malaysia:Hazein parts of Malaysia improves, but some districts still unhealthy
24 September 2002
KUALALUMPUR, A haze in Malaysia on BorneoIsland caused by forest and ground fires from neighbouring Indonesia hasimproved, but two districts continue to post unhealthy levels, a senior officialsaid Tuesday. “Twostations in Sarawak Kapit and Samarahan postedunhealthy readings,” Lee Heng Keng, control director of the department ofenvironment told AFP.
Hesaid the air quality in four other monitoring stations Kuching,Sarikei, Sri Aman and Petra Jaya now showed moderate readings. Thesestations posted unhealthy readings Monday. Anearly downpour helped clear the haze, a department official in Kuching told AFP.But he warned that it was only temporary since the forest fire in Indonesia’sWest Kalimantan has not been put off.
“Thehaze is from forest fires burning out of control in Kalimantan. If the fire isnot put out, the haze will return. I think it is only a temporary reprieve,thanks to to Mother Earth’s intervention,” he said. Theofficial said some motorists in Sarawak’s capital have put on face masks toprotect themselves from the choking air.
GurmitSingh, adviser to the Environmental Protection Society Malaysia urged thegovernment to release a regular pollution index advisory so that the public canprotect themselves. “Thepublic will have to don gas masks and not just some other mask against gassesand other particles,” he said.
Thegovernment has been reluctant to release the air pollution index, fearing it mayscare away tourists. ButMalaysia has also expressed fears of a repeat of the 1997 smog crisis thatenveloped parts of Southeast Asia.
MalaysianEnvironment Minister Law Hieng Ding will lead a team of Malaysian experts toWest Kalimantan later this week to determine the cause of the forest fires, andmeet his Indonesian counterpart Nabiel Makarim. Earlierthis month on the sidelines of the Earth Summit, Law voiced Malaysia’s concernto Makarim over fresh fires on Indonesia’s Borneo and Sumatra islands blamed onillegal loggers and farmers.
Lawlast month wrote a letter to Makarim to complain about the annual haze hazard,which has also hit Brunei, Singapore and Thailand. Gurmitdownplayed the significance of Law’s visit. “What can he do?. The hazeproblem has now become an annual feature.”
SoutheastAsia has been battling the smog problem annually since 1997 when parts of theregion were blanketed for months, causing serious health problems and economiclosses estimated at 9.3 billion dollars (9.6 billion euros). Althoughthis year’s haze is less serious than in 1997‑98, Indonesia is still underpressure from its neighbours to act.