Malaysia Environmental Stories
Miswan, 67 years old, waters his garden while Hazmat teams clean toxic soil from his back yard neighboring Kim Kim River in Taman Pasir Putih, ground zero to the chemical spill. “I couldn't leave my house and move with relatives in a safer area as I have to tend to my garden. I come every day and check briefly the plants and water them, otherwise they would die because of the hot weather”, he said.
Hazmat teams remove toxic soil from the banks of Kim Kim river. In the first few days of the cleaning operations the contaminated soil was gathered but not discarded. This triggered a second wave of poisoning, which could have been avoided, said Fire and Rescue Department director Mohammad Hamdan Wahid, if the contaminated material would have been removed immediately from the site.
Hazmat teams prepare to leave to one of the cleaning operation sites on Kim Kim river. The cleaning operations go on 24 hours a day.
Ikram and Muhammad watch as river cleaning operations take place in the back of their yard in Taman Pasir Putih, ground zero of the chemical dumping. 111 schools in the Pasir Gudang area were closed indefinitely on March 12, after a second wave of toxic fumes affected the local people.
Zaharah, 45 years old, watches as an excavator enters her back yard to conduct cleaning operations at Kim Kim river. Zaharah and her family of five weren't able to temporarily evacuate as all their relatives live in the area. “In the beginning we would sleep with masks on our faces, because we didn't know what kind of chemical it was. After three days we found out it was methane and in the following days we heard about all those other chemicals which names I can't pronounce”. Now we just wear the mask when the wind blows and we can feel the chemical smell”, said Zaharah.
Members of a Hazmat team pack for disposal the contaminated soil gathered from the Kim Kim river banks.
A member of a Hazmat team measures the air quality at Kim Kim river during the cleaning operations. At that moment the measurements showed safe levels of toxic fumes.
A man rides his bike using a dust mask in Taman Pasir Putih, ground zero of the chemical dumping. Even though the Malaysian government has not declared a state of emergency, a substantial part of the local population self evacuated to hotels or relatives houses in safer areas.
A woman waits to be scanned for intoxication with chemical fumes at the temporary medical base established in the Pasir Gudang Indoor Stadium. During the last few days dangerous gases as Hydrogen Cyanide and Acrylonitrile were discovered the air in Pasir Gudang area, leading to more cases of people coming to be treated for intoxication at the medical center. The masks used by the majority of the people did not offer proper protection against the toxic fumes.
“We've been feeling sick for days, but it wasn't that bad as this morning when we decided to come to the medical center”, she said. Aspalela and her family were scanned for contamination, decontaminated, given medicine and released back home.
A man is getting scanned at the temporary medical center at the Pasir Gudang Indoor Stadium. Many of the local population were unaware of the nature of the toxic fumes affecting the area and wore dust or medical grade masks which didn't offer proper protection.
A woman is transported to the decontamination area after being scanned at the medical center. The decontamination was done by discarding contaminated clothes and showering. After decontamination the victims were either medicated and released or put under observation in the ward.
A woman walks towards the decontamination area after being scanned at the medical center.
“This all used to be our forest for many generations”, said Teta Karoy, a villager from Ong Jangking, pointing to the bushy hills on the other side of the blockade. “Now the forest has been cut and our land has been reduced to almost nothing. Even the small strips of forest that we have are intended to be cut by the government giving permission to loggers”.
Johari sat on the blockade keeping an eye on the road passing through deforested hills on the other side of the blockade, at the edge of the Air Cepam forest reserve. The villagers of Ong Jangking and Sungai Papan held their blockade for months trying to prevent loggers from entering what they consider to be their customary lands.
Ong Jangking is a small village made of several bamboo and leaf roof houses that shelter 17 families. It was established by the Temiars on the territory of the Air Cepam forest reserve in 2018.
Every morning the villagers walked through the forest to the blockade, located around 800 m from their village. Temiars from other nearby villages joined in turns guarding the blockade, over the 4 months it was errected, in an area wide community effort to keep the loggers out.
“We rebuild the blockade every night after they tear it down. It’s hard to guard it every day for extended periods of time. Sometimes it rains and we also have to hunt for food for our families. At some point we even built a small wooden shelter so we can spend more time there confortably, but the loggers burned it down”, said Anjang.
“Since the logging started the rivers we drink from have become more shallow and the water is not clear anymore. We used to have good water, now we have to drink this muddy water which is not tasty and can pose all sorts of health hazards”, Teta Karoy explained.
At 5 pm the villagers decided to go back home for the day. On her way to the village, Jalidah gathered leaves that the Temiars use for decorating their traditional outfits.
Villagers stand nearby the blockade in anticipation of the local authorities arriving in the morning.
Around 10 am, several cars driving towards the blockade set the villagers into an alert state, prompting them to come out of the woods. The loggers along with local policemen dressed in civilian clothes came to tear down the blockade again.
A logger with a chainsaw cut through the blockade while others cleared out the fallen pieces. In less than 15 minutes the blockade was torn down and the road was cleared
Villagers watched from the side as their blockade was torn down.
Kuala Lumpur city center has been shrouded in haze for more than one month. The transboundary haze is a yearly occurence, this year worsened by the El Nino weather pattern that has left the region almost dry for several months.
A woman drives a motorbike through Kampung Baru, a neighborhood in central Kuala Lumpur. In the background the Kuala Lumpur skyline can be seen in thick haze.
Malaysians hold flags on a national holiday in Kuala Lumpur
A green area of Kuala Lumpur is shrouded in haze. Between mid July and end of September Kuala Lumpur was constantly under thick haze produced by burning peatland, palm oil plantations and forests in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Malaysian women wearing surgical face masks shop at a market in Kuala Lumpur. The vast majority of Malaysians consider the haze an yearly event that has alost been normalized over the 36 years of its occurence, thus failing to take proper protection measures. Many Malaysians wear surgical masks which offer little protection against the fine haze particles that are the most dangerous to human health due to their capacity of remaining stuck inside the lungs.
A man wears a face mask on a train ride in Kuala Lumpur. The air quality in Kuala Lumpur was affected by haze from burning peatlands, forests and palm oil plantations from mid July to end of September 2019.
A woman is using a bag as a filter during a hazy day in Kuala Lumpur. For Malaysians the yearly haze has become a normal occurence and many fail to protect themselves properly against it.
Two women wearing surgical masks buy dim sum in an open market in Kuala Lumpur. Surgical masks offer little protection against the haze, but Malaysians came to see the yearly haze as a normal occurence and many fail to protect themselves properly against it.
Protesters hold a close terrarium and a banner drawing attention to the worsening quality of the air in Malaysia.
Protesters hold a large banner drawing attention to the ongoing air pollution in the region. The banner, written in the Malay language, says “Operation Climate Emergency. The haze is thicker, the breath is tired, the grave is closer. 62 years of independence, 56 years of Malaysia, 36 years of haze”
Several children participated along with their parents in the Climate Strike march in Kuala Lumpur, calling for immediate action for a safer future of the planet.
A protester holds a banner saying “Tree plantations are not real forests” during the Malaysian Climate Strike march in Kuala Lumpur.
A protester holds banners urging for a system change during the Malaysian Climate Strike March in Kuala Lumpur.
Protesters participate in a die-in during the Malaysian Climate Strike march in Kuala Lumpur.
Copyright © 2019 Alexandra Radu. All rights reserved.
Content is protected !!