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Official Protest To Indonesia And Demand Compensation For Damage Caused
By The Haze Pollution To Compel Indonesia To Make A Year-Round Effort And
Not An Ad-Hoc Approach To Prevent This Annual Phenomenon
Official Protest To Indonesia And Demand Compensation For Damage Caused By The Haze Pollution To Compel Indonesia To Make A Year-Round Effort And Not An Ad-Hoc Approach To Prevent This Annual Phenomenon
by Lim Guan Eng
Minister of Foreign
18 October 2006.
18 October 2006.The Honourable Dato' Seri Syed Hamid Albar,
No 1, Jalan Wisma Putra,
Precint 2, 62602 Putrajaya. BY HAND
Yang Berhormat Datuk Seri,
Malaysians feel angry and helpless at the impotence of the Malaysian government to push the Indonesian government to act swiftly to effectively address the haze pollution shrouding our country for the past month. Despite regular requests and communications, even a Trans-boundary Haze Pollution agreement signed by the Indonesian government, nothing has been done and the forest fires burn unabated causing the situation to worsen, especially in southern parts of the Peninsular which has scaled unhealthy levels.
Many Malaysians feel that our country has not been assertive enough with Indonesia to defend our right to a haze pollution free air environment. Even tiny Singapore is so bold as to write a letter to the Indonesian government expressing their deep dissatisfaction and unhappiness eliciting an apology from the Indonesian President. Why is Malaysia silent? Good neighbourly relations are important but not at the expense of our health, lives, destruction of our environment and income that has caused heavy financial losses to our country. Indonesia has a moral and legal obligation to act.
Accordingly we are requesting that the Malaysian government firmly and uncompromisingly represent the interests of our country by lodging an official protest against the Indonesian government’s inaction to check haze pollution. In the protest note, the Malaysian government should also demand compensation be paid for damage caused to prevent further financial losses, harmful health effects, loss of lives and destruction of flora and fauna.
Last week three lives were lost in a motor vehicle accident in Bahau, Negeri Sembilan, as a result of poor visibility caused by haze pollution. Rubber smallholders complain of suffering a drop of 10% in rubber production volume as a result of lesser sunlight blocked out by the haze. Even the environment has not escaped unharmed. Malaysia's famous colony of fireflies that blink like Christmas lights in Kuala Selangor, birds, animals and wildlife are threatened.
There have been health problems amongst young children and especially the elderly. However no contingency plans have been drawn up despite the declaration of a haze emergency last year when the Air Pollution Index breached 400. A Princeton paper in February 2002 showed that acute(immediate) death rate among elderly people (excluding deaths due to accidents or violence) increased by 70% when API readings exceeded 210.
In Singapore, studies have shown that haze pollution increases the risk of heart attacks and heart failure, lung cancer and strokes. This is backed by an ongoing American Cancer Society study found that deaths from lung cancer go up by 8%, heart disease by 6% and other causes by 4% even with little haze.
There is strongly suggestive evidence that the smog such as we experience now are not merely an eyesore that causes discomfort - it kills. We should take steps to prevent the haze pollution from reaching unhealthy levels before it kills us. Only if Indonesia acts in concert with neighboring South-East Asian nations in monitoring, enforcement, liability mechanism, fire-fighting and educating farmers from burning forests, can the haze pollution be overcome.
Indonesians are suffering much more than us and we are appalled that the Indonesian government is so callous and irresponsible as to the safety of their own citizens that they did not seek help from neighbouring countries earlier to put out the forest fires. To prod such co-operation from a lethargic and disinterested Indonesia, not only should ASEAN delay financial assistance, but demand compensation be paid to impress on Indonesians the urgent need of action.
Beautiful statements of intent during ASEAN meetings are not concrete solutions to these problems. An email by Michael yesterday is reflective of the sentiments of all Malaysians,
“Do we poor souls continue to suffer in silence year after year and probably become victims of respiratory diseases one day. Our national leaders jumped about when a neighbouring leader made a comment on marginalization. But they chose to keep quiet over the inaction of Indonesia towards their hot spots. Double standards. The tourism minister blamed on the west for reporting about the haze as biased and unfair. May I ask him how have you been feeling these two weeks if you are in Malaysia? Many of us are forced to stay indoors and spend more on power consumption like on airconditioners. Many of us have to wear masks and be subject to inconvenience and discomfort. When will this problem end so that we can again breathe in clean air and see the blue sky?”
Taking action on an ad-hoc basis only when haze pollution happens is too little, too late. We can not remain soft anymore but must be resolute in our demands for a year-long action such as implementing the Regional Haze Acton Plan to stop haze pollution from becoming an annual phenomenon during the dry season from July through October.
Keeping our skies blue is not a privilege, it is our inalienable right to be preserved at all costs.
LIM GUAN ENG
* Lim Guan Eng, Secretary-General of DAP