Malaysiakini Letter

A serious case of air pollution

Kadir Danial
Published:  |  Modified:

Air pollution and health are deeply connected in a sense, where the former causes harm to the latter, thus making both issue equally important. From the beginning, we have been educated to take care of our health but is it not ironic when we grow older, own big businesses, we become complacent to our health. “You only live once” should echo in a more serious tone.

By definition, air pollution is when chemicals, particulates or biological materials that causes discomfort, disease or death to humans, damage other living organisms such as food crops, or damage the natural environment or built environment is introduced into the air - basically when the air taste as worse than cigarette smoke.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and bodies of its stature are fundamentally needed in responding to environmental issues as these global entities has the capacity to discuss critical issues such as the air pollution crisis in China which the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported a number reaching to 600,000 is accounted for death triggered by indoor and outdoor air pollution each year.

India is believed to bear 527,700 death a year due to air pollution. The United States of America faces death due to air pollution to an amount of 41,200 annually. In 2012, it was reported around 7 million deaths - that is one out eight death - was due to air pollution. “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic”, words by a person with little sense of humanity. Alas, no more concern about health when you are dead, Stalin.

“In tough times, some of us see protecting the climate as a luxury, but that’s an outdated 20th-century worldview from a time when we thought industrialisation was the end goal, waste was growth, and wealth meant a thick haze of air pollution.” - Alex Steffen.

In Malaysia, pollutants from the combustion of fossil fuels emitted by vehicles is one of the main cause for air pollution in Malaysia. In 2011, Malaysian roads witnessed more than 21 million registered vehicles and that number is very likely to be higher now and all those cars are producing dangerous gases that is detrimental to our health.

Smart cars and better public transportation policies are the answers for this problem, so the people and the government must work together in a coalition that would go against the emissions of greenhouse gases from vehicles.

Adding to that, bauxite mining has been a growing concern in Malaysia. Parts of the state of Pahang are covered with layers of red dust. This bauxite sediment also pollutes the sea along the coast of Kuantan sadly because beaches along it like Teluk Cempedak is a famous tourist attraction.

Not only that, in the Sagu River traces of heavy metals, arsenic and mercury were found by a team from the Malaysian Nature Society. Horrendously, the water from that river is used for domestic supply. Do they even care if they are poisoning our water?

Another alarming issue is the annual visit by the haze from Indonesia. I am not solely blaming Indonesia alone as there are also open burning happening elsewhere, but when it causes a regional conflict it is a matter that must be handled comprehensively - even cigarettes gets tasteless during the haze season.

Putting an end to open burning

There must be a way to put an end to the open burning in Indonesia which repeatedly causing the regional haze. Legal actions must be taken upon corporations who are responsible for this, higher compounds, even sanctions must be placed on them; babies, students, elderly and all of us are breathing contaminated air because of them.

The list goes on, hazardous smoke released by factories and industries where filtration is inefficient or lack of enforcement, mining operations, agricultural activities, and indoor air pollution. As said in the opening paragraph, air pollution affects health and although healthcare has progressed a lot, it is also a lot more expensive now to get good medical attention.

Affordable healthcare must be a focal point for government policies because the middle and low class will suffer from lack of access to proper healthcare. Air pollution will cause respiratory and heart problems, global warming, acid rain, eutrophication and ultimately the depletion of ozone layer, it’s a chain reaction and it may as well turn into a vicious cycle if we do not handle this issue as soon as possible.

In the movie ‘Armageddon’, they sent a team of elite drillers to blow up an asteroid in space to avoid an environmental catastrophe it could bring if it were to crash on Earth. We must call on ourselves to counter air pollution, it is going to be a lot harder because unlike in the movie, this is real.

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