Frankly Speaking: An environmental disaster

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on March 18, 2019 - March 24, 2019.
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The environmental and health crisis engulfing Pasir Gudang in Johor reveals our utter unpreparedness in dealing with an environmental crisis.

We have also failed to protect our people, especially innocent young children. As at last Friday, 2,775 people had fallen sick, the majority of them young students who attended the 111 schools there.

The state and federal response has been far from satisfying. The impact of the toxic fumes on the health of residents in the area could have been minimised had the authorities acted more quickly to clean up the toxic waste dumped by irresponsible parties into Sungai Kim Kim.

The first reports of the chemical stench were lodged on March 7 by two schools nearest to the dumping site. However, even though nearly 80 people had sought treatment for nausea and difficulty in breathing over the three days to March 10, the schools continued to operate as usual.

The Department of Environment’s efforts to clean up the site have also been criticised as inadequate. Only on March 13, a week later, was a special budget of RM6.4 million approved for the clean-up by the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change.

The authorities’ reluctance to classify the incident as an emergency also raises the question of how bad a situation needs to get before it can be declared as one.

The Sungai Kim Kim calamity is telling. Not only have we become the world’s dumping ground for imported plastic waste, we are just as blasé about toxic dumping by our own companies.

When will we learn that economic development means nothing without a healthy environment?

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