Malaysia to take haze woes to Asean as schools close, eye-related ailments rise

Tanks containing a solution of water and salt are loaded into a military plane at Subang Military Airbase on Sept 19, 2019, as part of a cloud-seeding operation to induce rain to ease the haze problem. PHOTO: AP

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia will appeal to Asean to push for a "more effective mechanism" at the regional level to combat the haze resulting from Indonesia's forest fires nearly every year.

Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin told reporters on Thursday (Sept 19) that other initiatives, such as cloud seeding and a proposed law to punish Malaysian firms causing fires overseas, would fall short of solving the problem without "international cooperation to overcome the transboundary haze".

"I will have a teleconference with the Asean secretary-general to put forward our views and hopes, (so) that there will be a more effective mechanism to tackle this problem in the long term," she said after a briefing on cloud-seeding efforts by the Malaysian air force on Thursday.

This is the third cloud-seeding operation over Peninsular Malaysia since Monday, which brought torrential rain but only short-term relief as smoke continues to blow in from Indonesia.

"Cloud seeding is temporary. The law will only apply to Malaysian companies," she said of a proposal being mulled by the government to adopt a Transboundary Haze Act similar to Singapore's.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had said Wednesday that the Cabinet is considering such a law to take action against Malaysian companies whose overseas operations cause pollution locally.

However, Ms Yeo "guaranteed that the government is ready to do cloud seeding whenever possible" owing to concerns over public health.

Currently, the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution does not allow for other states to take action against an offending signatory, nor render assistance unless requested by the affected party.

"We need cooperation in the regional level and we believe all the countries in Asean would like to solve this problem. Malaysia is very committed to be part of a long-term solution," Ms Yeo said.

More than 2,000 schools have had to close because of the haze, affecting two million students nationwide, while outpatient care at public hospitals for eye-related issues has increased by 30 per cent in the current period.

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