Masing: Indonesia must be penalised for open burning

Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing

KUCHING, Sept 11: Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing opines that the international community should teach Indonesia a lesson for being ‘irresponsible’ in dealing with open burning which has created massive air pollution across neighbouring territories, including Sarawak.

“It is good that Kuala Lumpur sent over 500,000 pieces of face mask to Sarawak. But the culprit of this haze that has affected Sarawak is Indonesia,” according to Masing in a press release today.

“They (Indonesia) must bear the full brunt of responsibility (in) sending all medical facilities including face masks especially to those who are vulnerable to haze.”

Masing, who is the Minister of Infrastructure and Ports Development, emphasised that the haze situation was almost an annual problem for Sarawak especially when the weather was dry and hot.

He opined Jakarta would not sympathise with Sarawak as they would not have to experience the negative impact of the haze as the wind direction would not take the smoke in their direction.

“The international community must penalise Jakarta for being irresponsible in practising open burning on their plantations.

“Until they feel the pinch economically, the Indonesia government will not take our complaints seriously year after year,” he added.

Meanwhile, the federal government has sent half a million face masks to Sarawak after air pollution levels spiked amidst worsening forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia.

Indonesiam farmers, according to a national daily, often use fire to clear land for oil palm and pulp plantations. Fires can smoulder for weeks, especially in dry weather, producing a choking haze that drifts over neighbours like Singapore and Malaysia.

In recent weeks, Indonesia has sent thousands of security personnel to douse fires after declaring an emergency in six provinces on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smoke caused by slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia, raising worries about health and the impact on tourism.

Indonesia’s neighbours have repeatedly complained and promised to help end the problem but it has persisted.

The air quality in Sarawak’s capital city, Samarahan and Sri Aman showed improvement this morning following a heavy downpour last night.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) readings as at 8am today were 154 for Kuching, 138 in Samarahan and 168 in Sri Aman.

These three areas had recorded very unhealthy air quality over the past few days with API readings above 200.

The bad haze situation prompted 409 schools from nine districts to close yesterday, including 62 secondary schools and 347 primary schools, involving 157,479 students. — DayakDaily