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Our right to breathe clean air

Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE
Sin Chew Daily

I am not a doctor and thus cannot tell whether the two patients in Muar were died of haze inhalation. However, it is true that serious air pollution can be fatal. The most common example would be the Great Smog of '52 in London.

The rapid development brought by the industrial revolution had led to the substantial use of coal in the UK in the 19th century. The collected airborne pollutants eventually formed a thick smoke covering London, causing a major catastrophe 60 years ago.

It took place from December 5 to 10 in 1952. The thick layer of smog formed by various gases and pollutants brought London not only cold and foggy weather, but also the most serious air pollution crisis in history. Some animals at an agricultural exhibition showed signs of toxic reaction, and members of the public were hospitalised. The disaster actually claimed more than 12,000 lives in two months!

The British finally faced up to environmental issue after the tragedy. It has also brought a far-reaching impacts to the world's anti-pollution and environmental protection movements.

In our perception, thick fog is just a normal phenomenon of nature but the then Great Smoke in London and the recent heavy haze in Malaysia are not entirely natural. The London Great Smoke was a consequence of the British Industrial Revolution while the haze choking our country came from the forest fires in Indonesia. Both were mostly caused by human factors.

We might be helpless in preventing natural disasters but man-made disasters can actually be reduced through self-awareness, as well as strict law and enforcement.

The Great Smoke was a pain for the UK. However, through the joined efforts of the government and civil society, the foggy period in London today has been reduced from 80 days to less than 10 days.

The Peninsula had been covered in thick haze over the past week and if the haze really brought no death, we should be thankful for that. However, the crisis is not over yet and even the forest fires in Indonesia have been put off, we should not take lightly the worsening air pollution problem in the country.

In fact, when the Air Pollutant Index (API) of some areas surged to above a hundred points or unhealthy level, in addition to the "contribution" from Indonesia, I am afraid that it contained also our vehicle and factory emission pollutants.

The people have been awakened by the recent haze that has raised so much attention and anger. We have now understood that breathing clean air is one of the basic human rights.

Unfortunately, although law makers from both the BN and Pakatan Rakyat have filed an urgent motion requesting a debate on haze problem in the Dewan Rakyat, the Speaker dismissed it, sgiving a reason that the government has already addressed the issue.

The haze may return at any time and keep avoiding the issue will only bring a greater political pressure. It seems like the BN government is really weak in battling public perception. It has again lost points in dealing with the haze issue, with its slow reaction and lack of sensitivity.


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