That a state of emergency had to be declared in Sarawak state immediately after the ASEAN Environment Ministers’ Meeting in Jakarta is itself a sad commentary of the failure of the Jakarta meeting to achieve anything concrete to bring under control the haze problem, which is threatening the health of tens of millions of people with the worst air pollution in the region.
The worst air pollution in the region knows no national boundaries or nationalities, and it must be fought without consideration to national boundaries or national pride.
The region had wasted weeks to come to grips with the problem of the raging thousands of forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra covering hundreds of thousands of hectares of land, and even now, Indonesian efforts had been most puny and pathetic, as it has not seriously started cloud-seeding operations to create artificial rain over the affected areas.
The regional haze should be regarded as a regional and even international disaster and no country should stand on its national sensitivities about sovereignty and agree to a regional and international response plan.
For this reason, there should be an urgent summit of ASEAN heads of government affected by the haze to declare an ASEAN state of environment emergency and to set up an ASEAN Haze Crisis Control Centre with full powers to deploy national and international forces to bring the raging forest fires under control.
ASEAN nations affected by the haze should pool their resources in the ASEAN Haze Crisis Control Centre, which should also enlist the co-operation of countries with special expertise to fight forest fires like the United States, Australia and Canada, to devise and implement a strategy to bring the raging forest fires under control, with all the enforcement agencies and personnel in the affected countries giving full support to back up and implement the strategy through their respective national instruments and laws.
The Chairman of the National Disaster Relief Management Committee, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat had announced on Wednesday that the Cabinet had decided that if the API hits 300, the National Disaster Relief Management Committee would take over the task of handling the haze situation from the Department of Environment.
The National Disaster Relief Management Committee should be warned that it should not make the mistake during the recent Coxsackie Virus B epidemic in Sarawak which claimed 30 lives in losing public confidence by controlling and limiting information flow.
This is what happened this morning when the Department of Environment refused to released the 11 a.m. API figures, after the first set of API readings at 8 a.m. had been distributed. In the past weeks, the DOE had released three batches of API readings, those at 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The 1 p.m. radio news, for instance, gave the API reading for Kuching at 9 a.m. at 625, but there were no latest API readings either for Kuching or other parts of Peninsular Malaysia. Why weren’t the 11 a.m. API readings announced.
At 2 p.m., the DOE website (http://www.jas.sains.my/doe/n_announ4.html) giving the daily update of API readings at 12 noon still carried the API reading of the previous day.
The DOE and the National Disaster Relief Management Committee should be aware that public doubts exist about the reliability of the API readings, as many feel that the API readings should be much higher, whether in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya or Malacca, because of the poor visibility and worsening haze.
In refusing to release API readings promptly as in the past weeks, the DOE and the National Disaster Relief Management Committee are only reinforcing public doubts about the reliability of the API readings. This is a most short-sighted response which can only give wing to all sorts of rumours and alarms. The way to gain public confidence is not to restrict information flow but to release all available information to convince the Malaysian public that the API readings are being carried out professionally.
On 13th Sept, the deputy director-general of DOE, Rosnani Ibrahim said the DOE would release hourly reports to the public on the worsening haze so that the people could take adequate precautions to protect themselves.
The hourly API readings have not been released to the public, although this could easly be done through radio, television and the DOE website, and what is worse, even the three API readings to the press daily are being further curtailed.
I hope Mohamed Rahmat, as Information Minister, realises the importance of free information flow to win public confidence and support in the emergency situation created by the worst regional haze in history, and that he would take immediate action to ensure that hourly API readings are made available to Malaysians through radio, television and the Internet.
In fact, Mohamed Rahmat should realise that withholding hourly API readings (let alone curtailing the three daily API press releases) goes against one of the 11-point Action Guidelines for the Haze Emergency, namely:
"(g) menentukan penyebaran maklumat indeks pencemaran kepada pihak media cetak dan elektronik dibuat seberapa kerap."
It would be most unfortunate if the first action of the National Disaster Relief Management Committee is to violate one of the guidelines of the 11-Point Haze Emergency Action Guideline made in the name of the Prime Minister.