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Haze: A matter of attitude

  • NASA has warned that this year's haze could be the worst in history. But, will the bureaucrats in Jakarta care at all? photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily

Earlier on I suffered from aggravated cold due to the worsening haze. Even when I fell sick last time, it was never that painful as this time.

I was wondering whether I should seek compensation from the Indonesian authorities.

I am sure many other people might suffer worse than me. No doubt our health has been severely compromised thanks to the stubborn haze problem but there is no way we can claim from Jakarta. Even if we make some noise, there is no way they will take heed at all.

Students, hawkers, farmers, people from across all economic sectors and even the local and oversea participants registering for the KL Marathon can justly seek compensation from Indonesia. The question is: Will they ever be bothered about the tons of complaints in the first place?

Some 10.159 schools across Malaysia have been closed during the peak of the haze disaster, affecting more than five million students and 425,000 teachers. This will invariably bog down the progress of their studies. Students and teachers aside, the students' parents and school canteen operators will also be affected, not to mention the year-end government examinations.

Restaurateurs and hawkers, who have already felt the pinch following the implementation of GST in April, are seeing significantly reduced business as many opt to stay indoors.Tourism industry is also suffering due to deferred visa-free policy for Chinese tourists aggravated by the thickening smog.

Agricultural and fishery industries are seeing drastically reduced output, forcing food prices to go up. This will invariably increase the inflationary pressure due to GST and the depreciating ringgit, taking its toll especially on lower and middle income groups.

If each of the 35,000 participants of Standard Chartered KL Marathon were to seek RM1,000 in compensation from Jakarta, the total will run up to RM35 million. And if airlines and airport operators suffer a daily revenue loss of RM1 million, Indonesia will be obliged to pay hundreds of millions of ringgit in compensation.

The government and individuals suffering from illnesses because of the haze should also get Jakarta to settle their medical bills.

Of course, these bills will never be sent to Indonesia and there is no way they will ever honor the bills. But, that does not mean Asean governments should just sit down and do nothing.

President Joko Widodo has pledged to resolve the haze problem within three years. But given the fact that the haze problem has plagued the region for well over two decades and recurred annually without fail, can we believe in such a promise? Moreover, three years is way too long to get a problem solved.

Both PM Najib and DPM Zahid have urged Indonesia to take practical measures to tackle the real culprits behind the perennial haze problem. To be honest, we have heard the same thing from the leaders year in and year out.

Malaysia and Singapore are not the only countries affected by transboundary haze; the scourge has traveled way up to southern Thailand and the Philippines. Indeed this has become an Asean problem, but we can't pin our hopes on Asean leaders to intervene.

Asean is only a very loose regional association without much binding power. Asean states signed the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002 with specific guidelines on the prevention and monitoring of transboundary haze. Member states are required to work hand in hand to support one another to tackle the cause of haze at its source.

Indonesia has on two occasions declined Singapore's offer to help put out forest fires, arguing that the country has adequate resources to do this itself.

The thing is, if they really have ample resources to deal with forest fires, then why have they allowed the haze to keep coming back year after year?

While the Indonesian authorities care a lot about their own dignity, they are hardly bothered about the health of millions of helpless citizens.

By right Indonesia should accept the help of neighboring countries to extinguish the forest fires for the sake of the people struggling under the choking haze. Indeed land clearing by way of burning is the simplest and most economical way out, but this has been done selfishly at the expense of other people's health.

Because of a severe lack of value system to care for other people, Southeast Asian countries have failed to resolve the problem for the past two decades. When incidents of human rights violation occurred in Myanmar, Asean neighbors chose to do nothing citing the non-interference policy. So we don't expect them to do anything over something so "trivial" as haze.

Without a determined shift in culture, system and attitude, Southeast Asia will always remain a backward region.

NASA has warned that this year's haze could be the worst in history. But, will the bureaucrats in Jakarta care at all?

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