Face masks fail to hide Malaysia’s annual haze problem

Face masks fail to hide Malaysia’s annual haze problem
A woman wears a mask as the Petronas Twin Towers are shrouded in haze in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 12 September 2019

Face masks fail to hide Malaysia’s annual haze problem

Face masks fail to hide Malaysia’s annual haze problem
  • Malaysia has been hit by haze from forest fires in neighboring Indonesia since last week.

KUALA LUMPUR: When the reading on the Air Pollution Index (API) began to fluctuate between 200 and 300 on Tuesday evening, it prompted Malaysia’s National Disaster Management Agency to send 500,000 face masks to Sarawak. 

The toxicity in the air had put more than 150,000 students at risk, forcing the Education Ministry to suspend classes for 409 primary and secondary schools due to health concerns. 

Malaysia has been hit by haze from forest fires in neighboring Indonesia since last week. The resulting smog situation — a yearly issue for the country — is worsening in several areas of Malaysia, including the capital Kuala Lumpur, and engulfing other areas in the region, including Indonesia, Singapore, southern Thailand and the southern Philippines. 

On Wednesday, Malaysian authorities cautioned people against breathing in the smoke, warning that continuous exposure could have long-term effects on their lungs. “The public are advised to stay at home … any physical activities outside would make a person breath more of the air pollutants and increase the risk of haze-related illnesses,” said Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah, department head at Malaysia’s Ministry of Health.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian government has opted for cloud seeding measures to create artificial rainfall and clear the air of pollutants.

“The Malaysian government will continue to do cloud seeding whenever the situation allows and send assistance to Indonesia if and when they accepted the offer,” said Yeo Bee Yin, minister of energy, science, technology, environment and climate change.

The haze problem has become a recurring issue for decades in the Southeast Asia region, despite the ratification of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2014.

According to ASEAN’s Specialized Meteorological Center (ASMC), the hotspots consistently experiencing the problem are the provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra and Lampung. 

“This problem started in 1997 — that’s 20 years of ‘talking,’” said Prof. James Chin, an Australia-based political analyst, adding that “it’s the people and animals like the orangutan who are paying the price.”

“Indonesian (has) no capacity to fight fires. The fires are too many and are in the deep jungle. Besides that, there is too much corruption happening at the local level,” Chin said.

The root cause of the forest fires in Indonesia is complicated. Singapore-based analyst Dr. Oh Ei Sun told Arab News that among the causes of the current haze are the “slash-and-burn” techniques used by oil palm plantation owners and local residents.

“Most of the oil palm plantation are owned by non-Indonesians, and the weak enforcement of the law in Indonesia allowed the clearing forests to open more lands for planting oil palms,” he said. 

“So until these two practices could be somehow addressed, the haze could not be cleared,” he warned.

The Indonesian government has deployed thousands of fire-fighters and helicopters to prevent the fires from further engulfing the forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“When traditional beliefs are replaced by the capitalist spirit, greed and profits become paramount,” said Australia-based anthropologist Prof. Alberto Gomez.

“We need more governmental and civil society organizations to work with communities to seek alternative economic pursuits such as agroforestry, instead of the fixation on cash crops like palm oil,” he told Arab News. 


US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas

US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas
Updated 2 min 31 sec ago

US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas

US gun lobby NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas
  • NRA execs are facing charges of illegally diverting funds for lavish personal trips and other questionable expenditures
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James said she would not allow the NRA to “evade accountability” or oversight
AUSTIN, Texas: The National Rifle Association announced Friday it has filed for bankruptcy protection and will seek to incorporate the nation’s most politically influential gun-rights group in Texas instead of New York.
The announcement came months after New York’s attorney general sued the organization over claims that top executives illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars for lavish personal trips, no-show contracts for associates and other questionable expenditures.
The coronavirus pandemic has also upended the NRA, which last year laid off dozens of employees. The group canceled its national convention and scuttled fundraising. The NRA’s bankruptcy filing listed between $100 million and $500 million in assets and between $100 million and $500 million in liabilities. Still, the NRA claimed in announcing the move that the organization was “in its strongest financial condition in years.”
The NRA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court in Dallas and said it planned to incorporate in Texas, where records show it formed a limited liability corporation, Sea Girt LLC, in November 2020. Sea Girt LLC made a separate bankruptcy filing Friday, listing fewer than $100,000 in liabilities.
In its filing, the NRA said its longtime leader, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, made the decision to file for bankruptcy protection in consultation with a “special litigation committee” comprised of three NRA officials that was formed in September to oversee its legal strategies. The NRA board voted Jan. 7 to clarify LaPierre’s employment agreement, giving him the power to “reorganize or restructure the affairs” of the organization.
“The move will enable long-term, sustainable growth and ensure the NRA’s continued success as the nation’s leading advocate for constitutional freedom – free from the toxic political environment of New York,” the NRA said in a statement.
A message seeking comment was left with a Dallas lawyer who made the bankruptcy filings on behalf of the NRA and Sea Girt LLC.
Shortly after the announcement, New York Attorney General Letitia James said she would not allow the NRA to “evade accountability” or oversight. Her office’s lawsuit last year highlighted misspending and self-dealing claims that have roiled the NRA and LaPierre in recent years— from hair and makeup for his wife to a $17 million post-employment contract for himself.
“The NRA’s claimed financial status has finally met its moral status: bankrupt,” James said.
The gun-rights group boasts about 5 million members. Though headquartered in Virginia, the NRA was chartered as a nonprofit in New York in 1871 and is incorporated in the state. Going forward, the NRA said a committee will study opportunities to relocate segments of its operations to Texas and elsewhere.
The NRA’s largest creditor, owed $1.2 million, is Ackerman McQueen, which is the group’s former advertising agency that was behind the now-shuttered NRA TV service. The NRA sued the Oklahoma-based company in 2019, alleging it was being overbilled and said in Friday’s bankruptcy filing that the debt it is owed is disputed. The lawsuit is pending. A message seeking comment was left with Ackerman McQueen.
In the New York lawsuit, Ackerman McQueen was accused of aiding lavish spending by LaPierre and other NRA executives by picking up the tab and then sending a lump sum bill to the organization for “out-of-pocket expenses.”
“No financial filing can ever shroud the moral bankruptcy of Wayne LaPierre and his wife and their lap dogs on the NRA board,” said Bill Powers, an Ackerman McQueen spokesperson and former public affairs director for the NRA.
Court records also show more than $960,000 owed to Membership Marketing Partners LLC, a firm that lists its headquarters at the same address as the NRA. Another $200,000 is owed to Speedway Motorsports, the North Carolina-based company that owns and operates NASCAR tracks, according to the records.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott quickly welcomed the news, tweeting: “Welcome to Texas — a state that safeguards the 2nd Amendment.” The NRA said it has more than 400,000 members in Texas and plans to hold its annual convention in Houston later this year.
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Sisak reported from New York. Associated Press reporter Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed to this report.