Govt to push Asean for long-term solution to haze, says Yeo

Tourists in Kuala Lumpur wear masks in an effort to protect themselves from the haze which has enveloped the country for weeks now. (Bernama pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will push its Southeast Asian neighbours to strengthen cooperation in finding a long-term solution for smog wafted across the region from forest fires in Indonesia, environment minister Yeo Bee Yin said today.

For the past few weeks, Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore have been choked by smoky air blown in from forest fires started to clear land for plantations, forcing schools to shut and many people to wear masks so as to avoid inhaling smog particles.

“I will have a conference call with the Asean secretary-general to raise our views and also express our hope for a more effective mechanism at the Asean level for a long-term solution,” Yeo told a news conference, but did not elaborate on other participants.

All three countries belong to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which set up a regional haze action plan in 1997, but Malaysia thinks the grouping has not done enough to evolve a long-term solution.

Among its efforts to tackle the hazard, Malaysia could pass a new law to punish any of its companies responsible for starting fires, but only international cooperation could yield a lasting solution, Yeo added.

“Cloud seeding is only temporary. A law here would only deal with Malaysian companies. What we need is international cooperation for a long-term solution.”

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia was considering a new law to compel its companies to tackle fires on land they control abroad.

Yeo said Malaysia will keep up cloud seeding efforts to bring temporary relief in badly-hit areas. This involves spraying chemicals, such as sodium chloride and magnesium oxide, from aircraft in order to spur rainfall.

Malaysia will also consider deploying drones to help in cloud seeding, Mahathir told a separate news conference.

Malaysia’s Islamic Development Department issued the text of a special plea for divine intervention to disperse the smog, to be recited after weekly prayers on Friday by mosque congregations nationwide.