Last night, an interesting documentary was aired in the History Asia channel titled ” Haze Hell Over Asia” which tells about the devastating 1997 Southeast Asian Haze that had greatly affected most of South East Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
Due to uncontrolled deforestation and open burning back in the 1990′s, the so-called hot spots phenomenon had occurred rampantly across South East Asia’s peat forests. In Malaysia, the critically declining air quality had resulted an emergency order being issued by the Government in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak.
Despite the fact that most of these hot spots were mostly found in Indonesia’s Sumatra provinces, the effect of deteriorating air quality are felt all across the region especially in Malaysia. The widespread haze does not only affected everyone’s health but also the safety of its populace.
On September 26, 1997, a Garuda Indonesia Airbus A300B4 (registered PK-GAI) Flight 152 flying from Jakarta to Medan, crashed into woodlands 29 km from Medan in low visibility. All 234 passengers and crew were killed in the disaster. The crash site was at an altitude of 3,000 feet (915 m) above sea level, near the village of Pancur Batu.
Hours after the deadly plane crash, Mount 1, a supertanker had rammed Vikraman, a cargo ship at about 2300H off Port Dickson. Out of 34 on-board the Vikraman, only 5 survived. They were picked up by a Thai merchant vessel as well as the RMN’s KD Lekir corvette. Low visibility due to haze has been held responsible for such deadly incident.
As a result, former Prime Minister Mahathir has instructed a massive cross border fire fighting operation to be conducted in Sumatra. 1,200 of Malaysian firefighters were deployed to Sumatra to combat the forest fire. Three RMN transport ships were used to transport the firefighters namely, KS Sri Inderasakti, KD Mahawangsa and KD Raja Jarom. Dubbed Operation Haze, it took 25 days for the Malaysian fire fighters to completely put off the fire.
Perhaps being the worst in ASEAN’s history, the 1997 haze phenomenon is a blessing in disguise indeed. In the aftermath of the incident, all three countries namely Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have worked together to identify and detect hot spots in the region in order to avoid recurrence of catastrophic haze. Open burning are being controlled strictly and mostly prohibited at all times. International cooperation between these countries also saw joint cloud seeding being conducted by the countries air forces during dry season.
In the context of this country, haze has prompted the establishment of BOMBA’s Air Unit which retain aerial firefighting capabilities. Beside BOMBA, the RMAF and MMEA also train their pilots for aerial fighting operation using their respective helicopter and water bomber.