September 19, 2019 / 7:13 AM / 2 months ago

Malaysia to push Southeast Asian nations for long-term solution to smog

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia will push its Southeast Asian neighbors to strengthen cooperation in finding a long-term solution for smog wafted across the region from forest fires in Indonesia, its environment minister said on Thursday.

Smog covers a forest during fires in Pulang Pisau regency near Palangka Raya, Indonesia, September 19, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

In the past few weeks, Malaysia and neighboring 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,” Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin 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 Mahathir Mohamad had 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.

Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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