Materia Medica Malaysiana

June 26, 2004


Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 6:30 am

Smoke from Indonesian fires stirs fear of health and economic crisis

Government officials are warning of a potential new health and economic crisis as a blanket of smoke haze from uncontrolled forest fires in Indonesia spreads across neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.

The haze this week shrouded Kuala Lumpur and its Petronus twin towers, and large areas of peninsular Malaysia, delaying flights and forcing authorities to consider shutting schools.

In Singapore, an acrid pall enveloped the entire island, and ships in the Straits of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, were instructed to use their navigational lights.

Satellite images identified 293 fire hotspots across Sumatra on Thursday, compared with 33 on Tuesday. Malaysia’s Environment Ministry warned that haze levels could surge this weekend, depending on prevailing winds.

Environmentalists fear a reprise of the 1997-98 crisis when illegal land clearing in Indonesian Sumatra and Kalimantan burnt out more than 10 million hectares and caused about $A14 billion in economic losses.
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The severe haze triggered a wave of respiratory illnesses across the region, and the United Nations Environment Program estimated that 20million people were exposed to harmful levels of pollution.

Malaysia is demanding a meeting of regional officials to combat a problem it blames on the failure of Indonesian authorities to control village farmers slashing and burning forest areas to plant oil palm and other cash crops.

The Government-controlled Straits Times newspaper in Singapore yesterday criticised the failure of Indonesia to control the fires despite tough new forest protection laws.

“Weak enforcement and its corollary, corruption to circumvent the law, have to be suspected. It is reasonable to ask if the real problem is a vicious conjoint of liberal forest cutting and non-existent policing,” the paper said.

But Indonesia’s Vice-President Hamzah Haz said Malaysia and Singapore shared the blame for supporting unlicensed logging that was destroying forests across Indonesia.

“There are lots of illegal logs that get smuggled out of here to Malaysia and Singapore. They have to acknowledge their responsibility in this. So they have to help us, so that we won’t create the smoke and haze.”

Malaysian authorities will not publish air quality statistics because of concerns about the economic impact if tourists are turned away.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Najib Razak, defended the secrecy this week and said undue publicity could worsen the economic impact of the haze.

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