‘No funds, pray for rain’

‘No funds, pray for rain’

9 October 2006

published by www.sun2surf.com


HAZE SITUATION STILL BAD

After a fleeting respite on Saturday, shifting winds brought back the haze yesterday. The worst-hit areas were the central and southwestern parts of the peninsula, particularly Johor, Negri Sembilan and Malacca. But there’s some good news – the number of hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan, has also been reduced.

At 4pm yesterday, visibility in Malacca, Kuantan and Sepang fluctuated between 1-1.5km. Changing wind conditions and rain in central Sarawak on Saturday brought relief to the state bordering Kalimantan.

According to the Department of Environment, as of 11am, six areas recorded unhealthy air pollutant index readings (see above).

Moderate API readings were recorded in 36 areas, including Sri Aman (93), Kuching (81), Petra Jaya (75), Kuala Selangor (70), Seremban (60), Shah Alam (58), Kuala Lumpur (56) and Nilai (55).

FUNDS RUN DRY, RAIN ONLY HOPE

“We have run out of operational funds. Without funds, it is impossible for us to combat the fires. We need to buy fuel for extinguisher tools and for transportation,” Agung Catur, head of the fire-fighting task force in central Kalimantan province, told the state-run Antara news agency.

Governor of South Sumatra, Syahrial Oesman,admitted defeat and is hoping for rainfall to douse the forest fires. “Only the rain can put out the fires. So, let us pray and hope to Allah for an immediate rain,” he was quoted as saying.

NUMBERS TELL A DEADLY STORY

“A high air pollution day associated with the smoke haze increased the total all-cause mortality by roughly 20%. Higher mortality was apparent in two locations – Kuala Lumpur and Kuching – and affected mostly the elderly. In Kuala Lumpur, non-traumatic mortality among the population aged 65-74 increased about 70% following a day of high levels of air pollution.”

– “Forest Fires, Air Pollution, and Mortality in SE Asia”, based on data from the 1997 haze episode, as published in the February 2002 issue of the journal Demography.

‘Make Jakarta ratify haze pact’

PETANG JAYA: Malaysia should demand that its neighbour Indonesia ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution 2002 immediately to tackle the recurring haze crisis in the region.

Local environmentalists said action must be taken to resolve the problem which has been going on for years.

“Without Indonesia, the agreement is meaningless. We should demand for Indonesia to sign the plan and they should cooperate with Asean members to work on the provisions of the plan.

“If they still refuse to ratify the agreement, it means they simply do not care for their neighbours as well as their own people,” said Centre for Environment, Technology and Development in Malaysia (Cetdem) executive director Gurmit Singh.

The pact was signed by all 10 member countries in June 2002. At least seven nations have ratified the agreement but Indonesia, the main source of the haze has not done so.

By ratifying the agreement, Indonesia would be able to take preventive action and list down the types of assistance it requires from other countries.

“It is a failure on the part of its government and also Asean for failing to act together and put pressure on Indonesia,” said Gurmit.

He said Indonesia is not capable of coping with the fire hence an apology from Jakarta would not help the situation.

“It is not logical to ask Indonesia for an apology. We should ask who started the fire, including the Malaysian companies, if it was true they had committed the act.

Malaysian Nature Society executive director Dr Loh Chi Leong said the Asean Haze Technical Task Force should make its strategies and action plans public. The task force was set up when Asean member countries agreed to an Asean Cooperation Plan on Transboundary Pollution in 1995.

“Until now we do not know what kind of action has been taken and what is the task force doing about the whole problem although stakeholders like plantation owners and farmers have the right to know.

“The finding should be revealed so that the public is assured that action has been taken and they know how much time is needed to solve the problem,” he said.

Loh believed Indonesia needs help from Malaysia while Asean companies which have a strong presence in Kalimantan should be recruited to help the Indonesian government in tackling the problem.

Meanwhile in MALACCA, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Ali Rustam said he will raise the haze issue at the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMTGT) meeting and at the meeting of the Islamic World Malay World of which he is the president.

“We are very disappointed with the haze problem recurring every year in the absence of serious preventive measures by plantation companies in Indonesia and the Indonesian government itself,” he told reporters after presenting Hari Raya alms to the poor.

Haze causes mounting illnesses

SINGAPORE: Doctors treated mounting numbers of patients yesterday who had fallen ill from Singapore’s filthiest air in nine years as Jakarta maintained it could do nothing more to stop the haze from raging fires.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said Singapore has offered Jakarta help with cloud-seeding to induce rain and assist farmers in land clearing.

“At the end of the day, it is up to the Indonesian government,” he said.

Singaporeans were given a reprieve in the early hours yesterday when a wind shift carried the acrid haze away from the city-state and the Pollution Standards Index plunged from a high of 150 Saturday night to 31.

There was a big demand in pharmacies in Singapore for masks. Doctors said they were treating patients for coughs, asthma attacks and eye irritation.

“People with existing heart or respiratory problems should reduce physical exertion and being outdoors,” the National Environment Agency said.

The severity of the haze this year has reminded many of the severe haze episode in 1997 and 1998, sickening large numbers of people and costing billions of dollars in lost tourism revenues. – dpa

Indonesia faces obstacle to put out fires

JAKARTA: Lack of funds has seriously hampered Indonesia’s efforts to put out illegal cropland fires which have sent the choking haze to other parts of Southeast Asia in the past several days, local media reports said yesterday.

Thick haze from illegal land-clearing fires and plantation estates had reduced visibility in some places of Borneo to only about 50m, forcing commercial airplanes to delay or cancel flights to several cities.

“We have run out of operational funds. Without funds, it is impossible for us to combat the fires. We need to buy fuel for extinguisher tools and for transportation,” Agung Catur, head of the fire-fighting task force in central Kalimantan province, told the state-run Antara news agency.

Local authorities in south Sumatra province claimed fires raging on peat land have been difficult to extinguish because the blaze’s sources were located 3m underground.

Governor of South Sumatra, Syahrial Oesman, has admitted defeat and is hoping for rainfall to douse the forest fires .

“Only the rain can put out the fires. So, let us pray and hope to Allah for an immediate rain,” Oesman was quoted as saying by the daily Media Indonesia.

Fires burning in Kalimantan, and Sumatra, also forced local authorities to shutdown schools, and were blamed partly for land, river and aircraft accidents.

The annual haze phenomenon is worst during the dry season, which runs from July through October due to uncontrolled slash-and-burning practices by farmers, plantation owners and loggers.

Indonesia banned the practice of open-field burning in 1999. Anyone found guilty of breaching the law faces a maximum sentence of up to 10-years imprisonment and a 10-billion rupiah (RM4 million) fine.

According to a Reuters report, the town of Palangkaraya in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province on Borneo, visibility fell as low as 30 to 50m.

The Antara state news agency said the air pollution index in the town was at the “dangerous” level and people were having to wear protective face masks even in their homes.

Fires were also still raging in the Sebangau National Park in the province. – Reuters

Haze causes not just discomfort, it kills

In 2002, Narayan Sastry, a Princeton-trained demographer working at the Rand Corporation, a private think-tank in Santa Monica, California, published a paper entitled “Forest Fires, Air Pollution, and Mortality in SE Asia” in the February 2002 issue of the journal Demography.

The smog of 1997 coincided with the El Nino phenomenon which exacerbated the seasonal mid-year droughts. The land clearing and forest fires that year burned an estimated 2-3% of Indonesian land area, mostly in Sumatra and Kalimantan but also affecting sizeable tracts of Irian Jaya, Sulawesi, Java, Sumbawa, Komodo, Flores, Sumba, Timor, Wetar as well as parts of Sarawak and Brunei.

Sastry obtained daily mortality statistics from the Department of Statistics in Malaysia and correlated these with the daily Air Pollutant Index (API) readings from the Meteorological Department, in order to analyse the acute mortality in Kuching and Kuala Lumpur following days of high air pollution.

For a 15-day period in September 1997, the API in Kuching reached or exceeded 850. The highest reading recorded was 930, and visibility was down to about 10m. In Peninsular Malaysia, API readings hovered in the 200-300 range during the same period.

One hesitates to even imagine what the situation would have been like in parts of Indonesia that were closer to the infernos.

Sastry’s salient findings were reported thus in the professional journal: “A high air pollution day associated with the smoke haze increased the total all-cause mortality by roughly 20%. Higher mortality was apparent in two locations – Kuala Lumpur and Kuching – and affected mostly the elderly. In Kuala Lumpur, non-traumatic mortality among the population aged 65-74 increased about 70% following a day of high levels of air pollution.

“This effect was persistent; it was not simply a moving forward of deaths by a couple of days (a “harvesting” effect).

“This finding suggests that there were real and serious health effects of the smoke haze É one implication of these results on the short-term effects of the smoke haze in Malaysia is that the effects in Indonesia itself are likely to have been tremendous.

“The presence of significant mortality effects in Malaysian cities that are several hundred miles away from the main fires strongly supports this notion. Unfortunately, there are no appropriate health or mortality data for Indonesia to study this issue directly.”

In plain language, the acute (immediate) death rate among elderly people (excluding deaths due to accidents or violence) increased by 70% when API readings exceeded 210.

We are rightly concerned about the long-term health effects of recurrent exposures to the smog. But we already have strongly suggestive evidence that the smog such as we experience now are not merely an eyesore that causes discomfort – it kills.


 

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