Smog: Corporate profits more than Rakyat’s health? – Jeyakumar Devaraj

Smog: Corporate profits more than Rakyat’s health?

29 June 2013

published by

Malaysia — We are disappointed and exasperated with the government’s ineptitude in solving the problem of the “haze”. It’s now 16 years since the haze first spread over the region and still there is no solution in sight – in fact this year’s haze is the worst!

We want the government to give honest answers to the following three questions –

1. Why have you not been able to solve this problem? Is it because you have not got the right diagnosis? Or is it a lack of political will? The rakyat will not accept that there is no solution – we have access to technology that can send spacecraft to Mars and bore tunnels through the Main Range to transfer water from Pahang to Selangor. Surely there is a solution to the haze!

2. Is the recurrent haze due to re-ignition of the peat deposits due to open burning every year? Surely the plantation companies are not that immoral! Isn’t the recurrence of the peat fires each year due to pockets of residual underground fires from the previous year that were not completely extinguished by the rain?

This is a crucial question, as it has great bearing on the method used to prevent future recurrences. If open burning is what re-starts the problem every year, obviously the answer is to prevent open burning.

But if the problem recurs because of pockets of underground fires that spread through the peat layer in the dry season, then the solution is to reverse the process of drainage that led to the drying up of the previously water-logged peat layers – we will have to dam up some of the drainage system and raise the ground water level to completely extinguish the pockets that so far have not gone out completely in the wet season.

The solution is neither technologically complicated nor expensive – we just have to build low dams along the drainage channels to ensure that the water table isn’t reduced too much.

3. So it is a question of political will, isn’t it? Raising the ground water level might affect the health of the palm oil planted in those regions, and the bottom lines of the powerful plantation companies that own the land. These huge companies are no doubt lobbying intensively to make sure that their profits are not affected by efforts to raise the water table.

The PSM would like to remind the government that its first responsibility is to the people and not to the corporations. The “haze” is not a minor irritation. It is a serious health hazard. Not only does it cause respiratory symptoms and worsen asthma, some of the small particles actually lodge deep in the lungs and stay there for years. Depending on their chemical nature, they can cause damage to the delicate alveoli and even cancer in the long run!

It is time the Malaysian and Indonesian governments got their act together and use satellite images to plan which areas require elevation of the ground water level, so that the underground peat fires are extinguished completely. And you owe it to the citizens of both countries to do this immediately!

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