The much-feared transboundary haze has shrouded Malaysia for the last two weeks. According to official reports, the huge number of hotspots in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo is responsible for this haze. Should Asean countries do something not only to meet, but also to work out an effective way to keep the entire region free from the deadly haze? If a neighbour has an annual problem it can’t handle, then the neighbours must help. The haze damages not only human health, fauna and flora, and the environment but also the economy of countries as well. The Air Pollutant Index (API) in some cities in Sabah and Sarawak was around 250. Officially such levels are very unhealthy; yet for years we in this area of Southeast Asia have been experiencing dangerous haze levels at this time of the year. The main cause is well known — burning tropical rain forests for plantation crops and agriculture.

In a few months’ time media attention will move on to other matters, the general public will breathe a sigh of relief and move on to more immediate matters in their own lives, local forest dwellers will look out on a barren landscape denuded of all forms of life and be driven to moving to makeshift dwellings on the outskirts of town, and the richness of the fauna and flora of a tropical rain forest will be replaced with vast areas of monoculture crops.

And all this is happening with annual regularity at an ever-increasing rate reflecting growing markets from population increase, even though the world as we know it is beginning to realise how thoughtless human activity is slowly but seemingly inevitably leading to climate change. The extremes in weather everywhere is getting worse as time goes by. The casualties also include fauna and flora.

So why is this happening? Because setting fire to the tropical rain forest at a certain time of the year is the cheapest way of destroying it and planting commercial crops particularly. In some countries there are no mechanism or regulation stipulating for instance that for every hectare cleared, a hectare of original or completely rehabilitated tropical rain forest must be provided. In short, a policy of sustainable use of tropical rain forest without further ecological damage is needed. The question is how to implement this policy throughout the various nation states in South East Asia. I am sure the Malaysian public would like the government to play a leading role in this exercise.

Talk we must, but talking alone will not produce any desired results. It must be followed by action from all nations in the Asean region. We must have the courage to take up this formidable challenge. We just simply have no other choice. If nothing is done now, planet earth will be quite an unbearable place to live in. Let’s all do something constructive to save what is left of the rain forests in the world. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.