The reaction by Sarawakians in particular and Malaysians in general to the statement by National Disaster Management Relief Committee Chairman, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat yesterday that the people of Sarawak might be subject to mass evacuation if the haze situation in Sarawak worsens to very hazardous levels had been most unfavourable.
Mohamed Rahmatís statement on "mass evacuation" is most unhelpful in not providing any relief to the Sarawakians, but might even cause panic, without promising any solution.
Firstly, has the National Disaster Management Relief Committee any "mass evacuation" plan or any idea how it is possible to carry out any evacuation plan when the whole Sarawak state is engulfed by the air pollution disaster, or where the two millions Sarawakians could be evacuated to?
Secondly, when does Sarawak or any other part of Malaysia reach the "very hazardous" API level - is it 900, or 1,000?
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had promised to jack up the KLSE Composite Index to 1,000 points. The KLSE CI is struggling to maintain the 780 level, but Malaysians will no be be surprised if the API scales the 1,000 mark, although Malaysians had been earlier given to understand that the worst API mark was 500.
Malaysians can still remember how swiftly he revised upwards the Air Pollutant Index (API) level for declaring a state of emergency from 301 to 500 mark, and the string of contradictory statements which he and other government leaders had been making about the haze crisis.
For instance, Sarawakians were told to stay indoors in air-conditioned rooms when the haze emergency was declared, but in the first Anti-Haze Action Plan approved by the Cabinet on August 20, one measure when the API reached the "very unhealthy" level betwen 201-250 was to urge the people to "cut down lighting, air-conditioning and unnecessary electrical equipment".
In fact, under this Action Plan, plan for evacuation should be made when the API reached the "hazardous" level between 301-400, and evacuation implemented when the API exceeded 400.
However, what credibility can Mohamed Rahmat muster when he talks about possible "mass evacuation" for Sarawak, when the National Disaster Management Relief Committee had not been able to give any relief to the people of Sarawak for the past week when the whole state was choked by the worst air pollution in history - apart from closure of schools and the declaration of a state of emergency?
The people of Kuching and other parts of Sarawak complained that when the haze was at its worst, visibility was not only reduced to mere armís length, visibility of police personnel which could help to give public assurance had also been greatly reduced.
It is most unfortunate that the public are still being given misleading or contradictory information about the health risks posed by the haze. The Star today, for instance, reported the statement by an expert, Universiti Putra Malaysia lecturer on air pollution control and management Azman Zainal Abidin who said that Kuchingís air quality of over 800 on the air pollutant index was about as dangerous for an adult as smoking one cigarette a day.
He said that particulate matter from cigarettes is much more than the amount found in the haze, adding: "Smoking is definitely more dangerous than the haze".
Todayís Borneo Post, however, carried a completely contradictory report, with the heading: "Haze poses far greater cancer risk than fags".
The report quoted a leaflet on the notice board in the Sarawak General Hospital, which said: "The life-time cancer risk from wood smoke (haze) is 12 times greater than that from an equal volume of second hand tobacco smoke (passive smoker)."
The National Disaster Management Relief Committee should ensure that the people are given proper and accurate information about all aspects of the national haze disaster, including the health implications.