Government should give top priority to set up API monitoring stations in Sibu, Miri and Bintulu not only in view of the vastness of the state but because of its proximity to Kalimantan – the primary source of haze for Sarawak

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Friday):
The more than doubling of Kuching’s Air Pollutant Index (API) from the unhealthy reading of 181 at 8 a.m. yesterday to the hazardous and worst-recorded level in the nation’s history of 404 12 hours later at 8 p.m. last night should be a warning as to how rapidly environmental pollution and degradation arising from the haze crisis could deteriorate in a matter of hours.

National Disaster Relief Management Committee Chairman, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat has announced the closure of all schools in Sarawak although the 404 reading was only for Kuching because there was no other way of determining the actual condition of the other places in Sarawak.

It is most shocking that after 10 years of annual haze as a result of the forest fires from Kalimantan and Sumatra, and in particular after weeks of what is expected to be the worst haze this year, the government had not given top priority to the establishment of API monitoring stations in Sibu, Miri and Bintulu not only in view of the vastness of the state but because of its proximity to Kalimantan – the primary source of the haze for Sarawak.

Over the weeks, many flights in and out of Sarawak had to be cancelled or delayed, just like yesterday, when Malaysia Airlines cancelled seven Kuching-bound flights and diverted three others to Miri as the air quality in Kuching continued to deteriorate from 197 at 11 a.m. to 314 at 5 p.m. and 404 at 8 p.m.

The Government should give top priority to the setting up of API monitoring stations in Sibu, Miri and Bintulu not only for the convenience but also for the sake of the health and safety of the people in the State.

In view of the urgency of the situation, the wealthy Sarawak State Government should even volunteer to finance the immediate establishment of the API monitoring stations in Sibu, Miri and Bintulu in the best interests of the Sarawakians.

If the Sarawak State Government can usurp the jurisdiction and powers of the Department of Environment (DOE) by arrogating to itself the final powers in approving Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) involving natural resources development, it is acting in a most irresponsible manner in not playing a full role to deal with the haze crisis.

The people of Sibu, Miri and Bintulu are entitled to know from both the Federal and State Governments as to when API monitoring stations could be set up and be operational in their respective towns – whether this could be accomplished in a week or so to be of use in the current haze crisis rather in terms of months.

It is also shocking that despite the seriousness of the haze problem in Sarawak, no cloud-seeding operations to make rain had been conducted in the state so far.

Although the National Disaster Relief Management Committee had declared closure of all schools in Sarawak because the API had breached the 400 mark, what are the other anti-haze measures which had been planned and should be put in place when the API reading enters the unhealthy level of from 200 until 400?

It is a mark of the failure of the second Anti-Haze Action Plan approved by the Cabinet in less than a month that the public are quite in the dark as to the various measures that would be taken in these circumstances.

They could also get no help from the Internet homepage maintained by the Department of Environment, which only carries a daily announcement of the API index on mid-day, when it should be carrying a hourly reading of the API, as well as giving all information about the haze problem, the various measures to be taken in the various phases and stages of the second Anti-Haze Action Plan.

A report from Jakarta said that the Indonesian authorities are investigating 18 plantation and timber companies with Malaysian shareholdings for causing forest fires in various parts of Sumatra.

This is clearly a "red herring", for what the Indonesian authorities should do is to take firm action to stop the spread of forest fires and take firm action against plantations and timber companies who are responsible for the seriousness of the regional haze, regardless of their shareholder nationality.

Why should the Indonesian authorities be more concerned to check on the nationality of the shareholder of companies than to take firm action to stop these companies from aggravating these fires which have destroyed nearly 300,000 ha of forests in the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimanatan, and the worst is yet to come.

It is rather disappointing that nothing concrete seems to have emerged from the ASEAN Environment Ministers’ Meeting to address the haze problem, as in setting up an ASEAN standing committee with help from countries like the United States, Canada and Australia which have experience in fighting forest fires, to provide a daily monitoring of efforts to ensure that the forest fires in Indonesia are brought under control.

The people of Malaysia are wondering whether the only achievement of the ASEAN Environment Ministers’ Conference is the public apology by President Suharto for the thousands of forest fires in Indonesia which had sent a thick haze of smoke to neighbouring countries, exposing tens of millions of people to dangerous levels of air pollution, causing an alarming increase in haze-related ailments, especially respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, as well as sore eyes and skin rashes.

Malaysia is clearly currently in dire straits, with the API shooting beyond the 400 mark while the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange Composite Index on the other hand breaking the 800 mark.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong