Hazy Direction

At 7am on Sunday, 23rd June 2013, the Air Pollution Index (or Pollution Standards Index) in the coastal town of Muar, Johor, hit 716. For those without idea of what that means, let me provide you with some notes:

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It clearly states that a state of emergency will be declared the moment the API exceeds 500 points. Guess when did the Minister finally declared emergency in Muar?

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That was 3 hours and 29 minutes later.

Painfully slow.

Now that emergency has been declared, what are the residents of Muar supposed to do? I quickly went into the Department of Environment’s website and found nothing on what are people supposed to do once emergency has been declared.

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I went into the Ministry of Health’s website, there was just an info page on how to deal with the haze conditions, but of course I don’t expect them to come up with a plan because the emergency was declared by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment.

I guess the government has yet to learn the lessons of Ops Daulat etc. Obviously the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has failed in both Risk Management and Crisis Management. In the Risk Management aspect, there should have been a Haze Risk Management Committee set-up and a Risk Assessment done by this committee that involves the Department of Environment, the Meteorological Department, Remote Sensing to determine the hotspots, wind directions, weather and wind patterns on a strategic (long-term) level.

On the Crisis Management path there should have been two phases set: Crisis Precaution and Crisis Handling. In the first phase, when you know things are imminent, you should go into avoidance or prevention: actively engage the Indonesian counterparts on how to discourage slash-and-burn techniques employed by plantations in Sumatra. You already know this will happen on an annual basis, yet you did nothing.

The haze hit the south first, with Singapore being blanketed in a PSI close to 500. Towns like Pasir Gudang and Kota Tinggi also got hit. Yet there was no dissemination of information done by the DOE on steps to be taken by residents. There was no early diagnosis, early recognition of the potential severity of the situation, and there was no early warning given.

If I were the Minister, I would have had a draft of declaration of emergency ready inside my Ministry’s Crisis Management Manual (which I doubt exists) and with the API steadily increasing beyond 400 in Muar yesterday, I would have one ready for issue. Yet, there was none. That is why it took the Minister 3 hours and 29 minutes after the index had screamed 746 to react and declare emergency. And as at time of posting this, not a single information has been issued by he Ministry on steps to be taken by residents and government agencies in a pollution emergency. Funny enough, there wasn’t even a live press conference on news at noon for the Ministry to convey these steps to the public and to the relevant government agencies.

Why? Why is this still happening in the wake of Ops Daulat? Singapore went proactive once PSI hit 400. We took 3 hours and 29 minutes after it hit 746 in Muar. That is worse than being bloody reactive!

The government had better get off its fat butt and treble its efforts in the stage of crisis handling. I expected better from this government after Ops Daulat. I guess I had put my hopes 1mm too high!