KUALA LUMPUR: A person can last about one to two months without food, and around three days without water. But without oxygen, humans can only survive for about three minutes before suffering from irreversible brain damage.
And yet, one issue that’s often overlooked or downplayed is that of transboundary haze pollution, which happens when haze generated in one country travels across national borders.
This frequent occurrence caused by the forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia affects other countries in Southeast Asia, especially Malaysia and Singapore. Soberingly, air pollution can reduce life expectancy by about two years.
Although Malaysians have been lucky to have had clear skies over the last two years because of the pandemic, this might not be the case for much longer. Early last month, the air quality in Sri Aman, Sarawak, reached unhealthy levels due to transboundary haze pollution brought by monsoon winds from hotspots in Kalimantan.
And who can forget how, in 2019, hundreds of schools in Malaysia were forced to shut down as the air pollution index in some areas reached “very unhealthy” levels – one category below “hazardous”?
With this in mind, environmental organisation Greenpeace Malaysia recently collaborated with Oscar Lee and Celine Tan – the husband-and-wife team behind art collective co2_karbondioksida – to come up with a creative work.
Titled “To Dream of Blue Skies”, the installation was launched on Wednesday at Muzium Telekom in Kuala Lumpur, in conjunction with the United Nations’ International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies.
Inspired by the couple’s two-month-old daughter, the art piece was made using 2,000 photos of blue skies from around the world, printed on recycled paper and featuring handwritten short essays by students from Lee’s former primary school.
“I’m sure most parents will resonate with this piece as we are all more concerned about our children than ourselves,” Lee said at the event, following a video presentation on the creation of the work.
“As parents, we work hard to provide the best for our children. Air pollution needs to be overcome so they can have a better future in a safe and healthy environment.”
The installation will be exhibited until Oct 8 and can be viewed for free.
Haze and health hazards
The launch also featured video speeches from Yeb Sano of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Maria Neira of the World Health Organization. According to Neira, some seven million premature deaths annually are linked to air pollution, mostly involving poor and vulnerable populations.
Greenpeace Malaysia campaigner Heng Kiah Chun then spoke on the organisation’s air-pollution report “Different Air Under One Sky: The Inequality Air Research”, highlighting how Malaysians live in areas with an annual average air-pollution level of 5-25µg/m3 or more, which is above WHO’s recommended level of air quality.
This, the report said, poses a significant health threat, especially to children, pregnant women, and the elderly, with increased risks of preterm births, respiratory diseases, worsening existing medical conditions, and death.
In addition, the report stated that about 20% of Malaysians do not live within 25km of an air-quality monitoring station. “The government should make ambient air-quality standards legally binding, time-bound, and enforceable,” Heng concluded.
Towards the end of the launch, a forum was held featuring Lim and Tan, artist-activist Fahmi Reza, as well as Lithuanian multidisciplinary artist Ernest Zacharevic, who joined via video call.
Zacharevic spoke about his mural located between Agrobank and the National Textiles Museum on Leboh Pasar Besar in KL, which features huge Scrabble pieces of the words “Transboundary Haze”.
The artwork was done in June in conjunction with World Environment Day and is a collaboration between Greenpeace and “Splash and Burn”, an art initiative curated by Zacharevic that focuses on unregulated palm-oil farming practices in Indonesia.
The mural is the first in a series of actions urging the authorities to hold polluters to account, and to demand for clean air as a basic human right.
Fahmi, meanwhile, spoke about his recent street art on the walls of Wisma Megah on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, where he had painted “CAUTION: JEREBU IS COMING BACK” in large yellow-and-black words that mimic a hazard tape.
“If Malaysians don’t see the problem, they won’t care. So I made this mural to remind Malaysians about transboundary haze pollution,” he told the audience.
A video of him creating the mural, which he shared on social media, has garnered over a million views.
“If we don’t take action against the Malaysian companies in Indonesia that are partly responsible for the forest fires that cause this pollution, it will continue to be a problem,” the 45-year-old added.
Perhaps proving his point, a subsequent Facebook update posted by Fahmi yesterday revealed the mural has been painted over.
Finally, click here to check out Ernest Zacharevic’s ‘Splash and Burn’ initiative.