Malaysia declares state of emergency as smog engulfs cities

The thick smog engulfing Malaysia has reached such dangerous levels a state of emergency has been declared in parts of the country.

The pollution is blamed on neighbouring Indonesia where forest fires started to clear land have got out of control.

And while citizens complain that neither government is doing enough to combat the problem there is little that can be done but wait for it to clear.

Malaysian prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is asking muslims to pray for rain to wash away the smog and is sending 100 fire-fighters to help douse the burning forests.

But if these strategies do not work, the people may have to suffer the smog until October when the monsoon season is due to arrive.

In Indonesian Sumatra the fires still rage, some deep into the forests and almost inaccessible, taking more than a day to reach without helicopters.

The severity of the pollution has yet to reach the record levels of 1997, with many parts of the country spared the clouds of smog.

Smog drifting over from the fires of Indonesia has become an almost annual problem for the people of Malaysia and there is growing public resentment for the un-neighbourly activity of torching its natural resources.

But Malaysia's forests are under threat too, as the country looks to secure itself a niche in the growing market for biodiesel .

The country is the world's largest producer of palm oil and exports almost 90% of the 14 million tonnes harvested every year.

But it is now looking to increase profits from the oil by satisfying Europe's thirst for blended biodiesel.

The Government has invited tenders to create an $11-million plant which could process up to 5,000 tonnes of export-quality palm fuel each month.

But ironically, the rush to produce more of the environmentally-friendly fuel could have a devastating effect on Malaysia's own environment as increasing quantities of the cash crop are needed to fuel economic growth.

Swathes of ancient forest, which act as habitat to many species and a sponge to absorb pollution, will be felled to make way for the ever-expanding palm plantations.

By Sam Bond



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