Haze Depression: When Will It End?
The air pollution crisis in the country as a result of haze brought from neighbouring country, Indonesia for over a decade seems to have no solution. The question of how long this issue will end is quite difficult to determine. This is because the haze phenomenon seems to be routine to the country almost every year.
According to chronology the worst haze in Malaysia first took place during September to November 1997. It was caused coincidently with the El-Nino phenomenon, which worsened at several places in Sarawak until a Haze Emergency had to be declared when the Air Pollution Index (API) reached above the 500 level.
Next, the worst haze episode happened in August 2005. It was considered more severe to the previous one in 1997 as the whole part of Klang Valley and its surrounding areas were badly affected by smoke haze. A Haze Emergency was also declared during that time in two areas, namely Port Klang and Kuala Selangor as the API in both area exceeded 500.
Then, a short period of haze episode was experienced in Muar, Johor on October 2010 where the air quality reached unhealthy to hazardous level due to transboundary haze pollution which registered the highest API of 432. Due to the deterioration of air quality, all schools (170 schools) in Muar District were closed on October 21, 2010.
After that, Malaysia had experienced a short period of severe haze in June 2013 due to burning areas in Riau Region, Central Sumatera, Indonesia. The most affected areas were three states in Peninsular Malaysia namely Johor, Malacca and Negeri Sembilan.
The worst haze was in August to September 2015 due to massive land and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, Indonesia. It caused 34 areas in the country to record unhealthy air quality status when the API reading reached 200. All schools in the states of Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Malacca were closed, schools in Kuching and Samarahan were closed earlier. The highest API reading was 211 in Banting.
These chronologies are not the last episode of haze attack in Malaysia. The country is again hit by haze which affected some areas around West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak due to forest fires in Indonesia.
It is feared the haze phenomenon is considered as normal rather than a harmful environmental problem. Awareness of haze and its effects on the environment and health must be disseminated to the public so that they know how to deal with this issue.
Looking back on the episodes of haze in Malaysia, some of the significant effects are on social and economic activities experienced by all ages. Adults find it is difficult to carry out their daily activities such as going to work. For children and adolescents, schools are forced to close due to the constant haze and extremely critical air quality.
The haze also affects the economic resources of the tourism sector. This is due to the reduction in the number of tourists which can then have a negative impact on the country.
In addition, the haze phenomenon also have a significant impact to health especially on children and elderly. The toxic gases contained in the haze can cause a variety of health problems such as runny nose, cough, inflamed eyes, sore throat and difficulty in breathing.
The elderly and children (especially under the age of five), asthma and pneumonia patients are at high risk for developing health problems due to haze. Farmers and labourers who have to work in open conditions are also at high risk for haze-related illnesses.
Haze also affects the agricultural sector, as it will disturb the photosynthesis process. This is due to the insoluble aerosols attached to the leaves, and it can result in lower photosynthesis with lower yields, lower carbon dioxide reduction and increased greenhouse effect. As a result, plants will have problems in the fertilization process resulting in decreasing of fruit production.
It is found that human actions contribute as the main factor to the haze problem. They don’t consider the long-term effects on the environment and universal health. Although various efforts have been made by the government to address the problem of haze, it has yet to find a stop point. The tendency to forget and harp on the environment for the sake of own profit has caused great harm to the nation and society.
Therefore, continuous awareness is very important in maintaining the harmony of the global environment. In addressing the issue of haze, integration of knowledge and understanding of natural phenomenon is very important. It needs to be viewed in a more holistic context, so that it can be appreciated and well understood by all, teaching them not to harm the earth as the impact of their actions will return to themselves. This is in line with the words of Allah SWT which means: “Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by (reason of) what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of (the consequence of) what they have done that perhaps they will return (to righteousness)” (Surat Ar-Rum, 30: 41).