Mahathir should lead the Malaysian delegation to the Johannesburg Earth Summit to prod for  greater international will and action to deal with environmental disasters  with the return of the haze to Malaysia and the threat of the  Asian Brown Cloud

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad should lead the Malaysian delegation to the Johannesburg Earth Summit beginning next week to prod for greater international will and action to deal with environmental disasters with the return of the haze to Malaysia and the threat of the Asian Brown Cloud. 

In Malaysia, the return of the haze has brought back one million masks to be distributed in Sarawak; selective  Air Pollutant Index (API) readings which are classified under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and unpleasant memories of the 1997 haze when a state of emergency was declared in Sarawak after  the API reached an all-time high of 800 with visibility no more than a few hundred metres.  

DAP calls on the Minister for Science and Environment, Datuk Law Hieng Ding to take immediate steps  to declassify API readings to win public confidence with a policy of transparency, by making such readings easily accessible to the people at various parts of the country several times a day.  

Last week, an United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)  report, based on a study by 200 scientists, warned that a dense  blanket of pollution, dubbed the "Asian Brown Cloud," is hovering over South Asia and that  it could kill millions of people in the region and poses a global threat.

A cocktail of aerosols, ash, soot and other particles, the Asian Brown Cloud’s  reach extends far beyond the study zone of the Indian subcontinent, and towards East and Southeast Asia.  This is because while  many scientists once thought that only lighter greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, could travel across the Earth, they now say that aerosol clouds can too.

The cloud, estimated to be two miles (three kilometers) thick, is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths a year from respiratory disease.

By slashing the sunlight that reaches the ground by 10 to 15 percent, the choking smog has also altered the region's climate, cooling the ground while heating the atmosphere.  It has led to some erratic weather, sparking flooding in Bangladesh, Nepal and northeastern India, but drought in Pakistan and northwestern India.  There are also global implications, not least because the three-kilometres-thick  pollution parcel can travel half way round the globe in a week.

United States President Bush has announced his boycott of  the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg or “Rio + 10” to mark the 10th anniversary of the land Eargth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 – the  latest in a series of irresponsible US unilateralism abnegating US  treaty commitments, , including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Accords on Climate Change and the Protocol to verify the Biological Weapons Convention.  

There is no reason however  for Mahathir to turn his back on the Earth Summit, especially as there could not be many heads of governments who had attended the Earth  Summit in Rio de Janeiro a decade ago.  

In 1992, heads of state gathered in the South American metropolis to set optimistic goals for reversing some of Earth’s most threatening problems: global warming, species extinction and consumerism’s waste of the planet’s resources.  

Today, few of the Rio goals have been met. By many measures, Earth’s condition have worsened.  Global temperatures and sea levels creep upward as heating-trapping pollution accumulates in the atmosphere.  Deforestation and species losses mount.  

Although deaths from four leading infectious diseases, including measles and diarrhea, have declined since Rio, 60 million people have been infected with AIDS, with 20 million deaths.  An additional 45 million infections are predicted in the next 8 years, largely in Africa.  

With his 21 years on the world stage as well as having  participated in the first  Earth Summit in Rio 1992, Mahathir should attend the Johannesburg Earth Summit to impress on the international community the urgent need for international political will and concrete action to  deal with environmental disasters  like the  Asian Brown Cloud and the catastrophe awaiting planet Earth should humanity prove unequal to the environmental challenges confronting them.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman