DAP calls for daily meeting of ASEAN Environment Ministers through videoconferencing on the haze crisis and urges Indonesian Government to internationalise the disaster of the raging thousands of forest fires


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Monday):
Eye-witness reports in the Star today has made it very clear that despite the apology by the Indonesian President Suharto and the various pronouncements by the Indonesian Ministers, very little is happening on the ground in Sumatra to stop open burning or in terms of serious attempts to fight the forest fires.

As the report quoted an ulamak in Riau, the people in Sumatra were not concerned about the haze and its dangers because they had other important things to think about - like hunger and poverty.

More efforts are needed to get the Indonesian Government to take concrete and effective measures to fight the thousands of raging forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan which have exposed tens of millions of people and neighbouring countries to serious hazards to health and environmental degradation - with no respite in sight for the next few months.

DAP calls for a daily meeting of ASEAN Environment Ministers through the latest technology of videoconferencing to monitor the daily developments of the haze crisis and to underline the importance of regional and international efforts to fight the worst environment disaster in the area.

The Indonesian Government should be urged to internationalise the disaster of the raging thousands of forest fires by establishing an ASEAN or international team to take over full responsibility to fight the forest fires in Indonesia, which should deploy not only all available national and regional resources but those of other countries experienced in fighting forest fires, like the United States, Australia, Canada and the French.

In 1995, ASEAN set up a Haze Technical Committee to implement the ASEAN Co-operation Plan on Transboundary Pollution after it was adopted by ASEAN Ministers and senior officials.

At the time, the ASEAN Action Plan was hailed as a milestone in the region’s history of environmental co-operation, as it spells out the strategies and institutional arrangements to be put in place to deal with transboundary pollution like haze. Haze was identified as the first transboundary pollution in the region which would be tackled on a regional basis through the formation of a joint operation team to monitor, control and combat forest fires in the region.

The current haze enveloping South East Asia has proved the utter failure of this ASEAN Action Plan, as after months of the raging forest fires in Indonesia, no joint ASEAN action had got off the ground.

The daily meeting of ASEAN Environment Ministers through videoconferencing should address the failure of the ASEAN Action Plan and work out a strategy to internationalise the handling of the transboundary pollution created by the Indonesian foreign fires to prove that national, regional and international emergency responses can be united to heal with the haze disaster.

DAP calls for convening of emergency meeting of Parliament on the national haze crisis to emphasise the urgency and magnitude of the environmental disaster facing the country

The national haze disaster has today taken a turn for the worse, with the Air Pollutant Index (API) shooting up in Kuching from 377 at 5 p.m. yesterday to 569 at 9 a.m. today, while the API reached the "very unhealthy" levels in three places in Peninsular Malaysia, namely Nilai 296, Gombak 271, Petaling Jaya 230, Kuala Lumpur 211, while three other places are nearing the "very unhealthy" level, viz Kajang 198, Shah Alam 194 and Klang 189.

The haze disaster the country is facing is compounded by a lack of public confidence in the government’s handling of the haze emergency.

One major cause of such a crisis of confidence is the prevalent public doubt about the accuracy of the API, especially as the visibility and pollution indices are in drastic contradiction of each other.

It is a major failure of public relations as well as crisis management that although Malaysia is in the third month of the current haze crisis, with haze becoming an annual problem for the past decade, the government has not taken sufficient efforts to convince the people about the reliability of the API.

It is not enough for the Environment Minister, Datuk Law Hieng Ding to say that the accuracy of the API readings issued by the Department of Environment (DOE) should not be questioned.

The onus is on the DOE to convince the Malaysian public about its accuracy. What measures have the DOE taken, for instance, to explain to Malaysians, in particular MPs, political parties, trade unions, NGOs, civic organisations about the the details and basis for the API readings?

I call on the Government to convene an emergency meeting of Parliament on the national haze crisis to emphasise the urgency and magnitude of the environmental disaster facing the country. The urgency of the national haze crisis is so pressing that we cannot wait until Parliament reconvenes in two week’s time for the beginning of the budget meeting.

(22/9/97)


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