The official Malaysian response to haze issue is to ignore air pollution entirely until it gets so bad that you could cut it with a knife and eat it. Then, they give it a benign but misleading name the hazeât and tell people that it may be inconvenient, but wonâ€™t hurt them. This from both the politicians and the public servants.
The neglect, lack of accountability and deliberate misleading of the public is appalling. Our annual air pollution is a serious public health issue (as is the continual state of the air in KL). Public health for citizens and tourist alike should be paramount. Whilst Pak Lah and his ministers have managed to make a big hoo-hah about LKYâ€™s apology or no apology, the silence about matters of public health is deafening. The public is not told about the long-term effects, and the short-term effects are pooh-poohed.
Year in and year out the same issue arises, and the government continues its half truths. Public servants, no doubt under instructions, follow this lead. For example, Tourism Director General Mirza Mohamada Taiyab has to play up destinations that are not badly affected by the haze just to try to keep the tourists coming.
The reality is that Malaysians are now breathing polluted air which has many potential health repercussions, both short and long term. Where is the honest warning from the government? Where is government assistance in the form of free masks for children, the sick, and the elderly?
In the past, the government has largely washed its hands of the problem, blaming illegal operations in Indonesia. A few years ago, under Dr Mahathir, water misters on top of tall buildings were seriously suggested, the idea being that the water mist would absorb the pollutants as it fell to earth. All that it did was to cause great mirth in anyone who bothered to work out how much misting would be required!
Last year, when things got completely out of control, with the pollution index over 300 across much of Malaysia (100 is bad), the government responded by sending fire-fighters to Sumatra and seeding clouds to try to induce rain. Good â€“ but why do we have to wait until things get so bad? This is a problem every year, at about the same time. Why not be proactive: send the fire-fighters a bit earlier, with spotter aircraft, so that they and the Indonesian authorities can spot fires as they start and put them out before they get out of control?
It is also time for polluting vehicles (both diesel and petrol) to be put off the road if their owners wonâ€™t get them fixed. Why will the government not act on this?
And come clean with the public! Call air pollution exactly that; warn the public beforehand that the season is approaching; issue bulletins in the media to tell the public what they should do, especially for those most at risk; make masks available free; set up rooms in all health centres and hospitals (and why not shopping malls too?) that have clean, filtered air, so that those most affected can rest for a few hours and recover, even if only temporarily. At least this would show that the government cares about its citizens!
How much longer do we have to put up with this?