Friday, August 06, 2021

Editorial: Clearing the haze

HAZIEST. On Sept. 16, the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) reported that the 2019 haze levels are the “worst… in years,” deteriorating the air quality in Indonesia, Malaysia and neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. (File Foto)

MEDIA narratives influence how the public reacts to news. Coverage of how Indonesian wildfires has created a haze that reached Cebu and Mindanao has focused on the impact on citizens’ health.

What are also needed are public educational coverage examining other aspects of the haze, particularly on people’s practices and the impact on the environment.

Specially with the digital portal opening participation for netizens, the spread of information and discussions on the haze should be accurate and in-depth.

Media reports, particularly containing photos and videos of people wearing facemasks, jarred citizens interpreting dissonant messages from different government agencies on whether people should protect themselves from the haze.

Based on Sept. 18 test results from its Talisay station, the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) 7 found that the air quality in Metro Cebu exceeded the safety guidelines, ruling that there was an “unhealthy level” of Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5, a dust particle measuring 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

Consequently, the Department of Health (DOH) advised that a “susceptible population” comprised by the elderly, children, and persons having cardiovascular and respiratory diseases should wear masks and goggles if they have to be outdoors.

While the DOH advisory that the unhealthy level of PM 2.5 does not prevent the general population from continuing with their daily activities and may have averted the public from panicking, a more detailed advisory similar to that released by Singapore’s National Environment Agency would have been more nuanced and clarificatory.

As reported on Sept. 19 by Channel News Asia, the NEA uploaded on its website a health advisory based on a 24-hour Pollution Standards Index (PSI) reading, which details what activities are appropriate for healthy persons; the elderly, pregnant women, and children; and persons with chronic lung and heart diseases when the 24-hour PSI forecast ranges from good to hazardous.

The NEA advisory explains that only the N95 facemask, which is “at least 95 per cent efficient against fine particles that are between 0.1 and 0.3 microns,” can adequately protect against pollutants.

However, the masks must fit well the wearer so no air will enter through gaps and the wearer breathes only through the filter. Since a mask restricts breathing and access to the volume of air, the elderly, women in the late stages of pregnancy and persons with lung and heart conditions should remove their mask when experiencing any discomfort, explained the NEA.

Given the wide-ranging effects of the haze, the tri-media and the digital media should also educate the public about the root causes of the haze, now a yearly phenomenon caused by open burning in Indonesia and, to a lesser degree, Malaysia.

Farmers use slash-and-burn methods to clear land for the planting of crops, with the man-made fires spreading often to protected forest areas, reported the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), noting that the haze peaks from July to October, the dry season in Indonesia. Wildfires destroy the habitats of endangered species, such as orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos.

The mass production of palm oil threatens tropical rain forests. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) regards palm oil as the “most efficient vegetable oil” for requiring less land to cultivate a product present in many commodities: pizza dough, packaged bread, instant noodles, ice cream, margarine, chocolate, cookies, lipstick, soap, shampoo, detergent, and biodiesel.

The WWF does not advocate that consumers stop buying these commodities as the production of other vegetable oils is more detrimental to the environment. By buying only products with the RSPO label, consumers support companies using “Certified Sustainable Palm Oil” produced through a “socially and environmentally responsible way,” which includes helping “small-scale farmers improve their sustainability practices.”


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