This first-hand account of the human costs of the smog caused by burning forests in East Asia is written by Annam Arumanayagam, the Anglican Alliance’s East Asia facilitator. One of the striking features of Annam’s piece is how far-reaching the detrimental impacts of an action taken in one place can be in another. Families are paying a very high price for other people’s economic gain – and that’s in addition to the catastrophic impact of forest clearance on the environment.
“The annual recurrent of haze has caused great discomfort and disruption to businesses and schools and the nation. We are so casual and indifferent that, in general, most of us do not take the haze hazard as an issue at all. We only start to look for masks when necessary. There are hardly any kept at home for emergency usage. This ‘take for granted’ attitude is commonly known as ‘tidak apa’ attitude.” Thus said the Most Revd. Ng Moon Hing in his Presidential Address at the Synod of the Diocese of West Malaysia.
In South East Asia, there is an annual phenomenon called ‘haze’. This is a gentle word for the smog which shrouds our nations for a couple of months or so. Generally, it is worst between July and October.
This haze is a “fire-related large-scale air pollution”, usually caused by burning forests and land in Indonesia. The south-easterly winds blow the smoke towards Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Thailand, causing it to be a transboundary haze.
In Malaysia, as the air pollution gets worse, schools are told to keep the children indoors (no outdoor activities). And when the Air Pollution Index soars high, schools are closed.
While children rejoice in the extra holidays, it is a problem for working parents as they have to find suitable baby-sitters or carers while they are at work.
The smog also has health impacts, causing an increase in respiratory illness. People with medical conditions such as asthma, chronic lung disease, chronic sinusitis and allergic skin conditions experience more severe symptoms because of the irritant effects of fine dust particles in the air. Naturally children and the elderly are the worst affected.
On certain days, when the haze was bad, some flights were cancelled due to poor visibility. Naturally, tourism is affected because of the poor air condition. It also affected the business of hawkers who peddle their wares in the open at our morning and night market. There were fewer patrons braving the air pollution.
Although the haze affects all of us, generally the people are not doing much except to stay indoors and bemoan the situation. Blame is put on the Indonesian government (for not enough action). In turn the Indonesian government blames Malaysian and Singapore companies with interests in Indonesia, who are complicit in causing the fires.
Like Archbishop Moon Hing said, “We are so casual and indifferent that in general, most of us do not take the haze hazard as an issue at all”.