Cybermed Update June 2004

A.P.I : Time to put it out!

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things which should be changed
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Reinhold Niebuhr

A.P.I a.k.a Air Pollutant Index for those who can still remember has not been made public since 1999. See "Malaysian government under fire over haze" and "Row over Malaysian haze" in BBC in August 1999 to refresh your memory on the then controversy in not disclosing the API.

The pun in the title, A.P.I : Time to put it both putting the Api (fire) out and releasing the A.P.I to the public.

First let me address the Api (Fire). The fires are still burning after all the lessons we have learned or should I say not learned. Read Haze: Are we hazy about the facts ( ) written by Dr Rampal.

Lessons to be learned from the current haze episode (1997)

The issues this haze episode raise include: the uncertainty among the public of what to expect the next day; the manner in which the information on the haze was communicated to the public; the health effects (both short term and long term) and the economic losses as a result of the haze. It is sincerely hoped that the current haze episode (being the worst so far) has provided those involved in studying and managing the haze problem enough information to combat this problem the next time around. My sympathies lie with all those in one way or another affected by the haze especially those in Sarawak where an emergency was declared and the API exceeded 800. The question remains - will we be better prepared the next time around?

I must say there has been some regional effort made to address the problem but as can be seen it has not been fully satisfactory. Maybe the answer lies in the "World Largest Waterbomber" . Maybe we should have a couple in this region to have a quick response action in putting out fires. I am sure the "think tanks" have thought of various options to handle the fires.

Now to address the second A.P.I.

Please read my article "Clouding the issue" in August 10th 1999 ( ) I have inserted some comments which is still relavant today.

The haze can be characterized using two measures : the Air Pollutants Index and the Visibility Index. Some use visibility as a basic indicator of air pollution. While these two measures are interrelated the relationship may not be a simple direct one. The haze phenomenon is due to impairment of visibility as a result of the scattering and absorption of light by particles and gases in the atmosphere. It is called the haze because it obscures the clarity, color, texture and form of what we see. Visibility is usually measured as the furthest distance from which a person can see a landscape. However the same amount of pollution is known to have different effects on visibility and it is useful to know that changes in visual range (a measure of visibility) are not proportional to our perception. A five kilometer change in visual range can either be very apparent or imperceptible depending on the amount of pollution before the change. This means small amounts of air pollution in cleaner areas can have a marked effect on visibility and a much greater reduction in pollution will be needed in heavily polluted areas to make a noticeable difference. Hence visual range may not be the best indicator of visibility. A deciview scale (analogous to the decibel scale for sound) has been developed to address this problem. A change of one deciview is considered perceptible by the average person and a deciview of zero represents pristine conditions. In Malaysia the reports we receive are on visual ranges from the Meteorological Services Department. This in some cases causes confusion among the public who more familiar with the Air Pollutants Index use it alone for assessing the haze (in their minds "polluted air") as opposed to also looking at the visibility index.

The reason for not disclosing the A.P.I was because it will scare the tourist away. I have pointed out then, and I am pointing it out again. We are living in a world where information is at the finger tips. The information highway makes it easy for anyone to get data on weather, news or haze effect in this region. One has only to go to to have an idea of the weather in Indonesia and you have written there prominently "Haze". This was the same for Malaysia, when the haze was prominent. Couple this with the latest BBC article, "Sumatra forest fire haze spreads" dated 23rd June 2004 in which there is a picture of Malaysia's landmark the twin towers shrouded in haze with a caption, "Malaysians have been warned it could get worse" you have a recipe to chase everybody in the world. The sad part is it is not necessarily true. The haze could be also due to high moisture content in the air which allows "particles" to cling on. Since this is not smog but particulate matters from burning it makes it all the more easier.

By publishing the A.P.I index we do not have to refer to

By visiting these sites, one has an idea or a good guesstimate of what it is like here in Malaysia. But one guess may not be good as another and that is where misinformation spreads. What is so wrong in releasing the A.P.I? The amount of news on "Rape" and "snatch thieves" that we have on our news everyday is enough to scare the tourist away! Singapore give an hourly update of 3-hr PSI readings from 7am to 7pm. The readings are calculated based on PM10 concentrations only which makes sense as this is what we are interested in at the moment. Thailand has a more comprehensive air quality data given on a daily basis. So what is Malaysia so scared about? Are tourist not visiting Singapore and Thailand?

Medically, knowing the A.P.I will help sick people(those with airway lung problems) decide to stay indoors; school to plan activities outdoors and people (Malaysians and tourist) an accurate state of the weather. See Singapore's "Haze Action Plan". (The index value refers to the 24-hour Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) value and not to the 3-hour PSI value.)

Our Government has been talking about transparency and we have seen a lot of changes slowly taking place. I sincerely hope that releasing the A.P.I will be one such change we will see soon. In addition our press, should refrain from over zealous reporting and be more practical and level headed.

If a decision had been made sometime back(to withhold the A.P.I), it may not necessary hold good today. I quote, Rienhold Niebuhr "God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other." I hope someone has the wisdom and the courage to change what should have been done a long time back.

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With that I let your "mouse" or your "keyboard" do the "talking".

Till next month, "Happy Surfing".

Cyberdoc ( )

The links to URL mentioned above are valid at the time of writing (29th June 2004).

Last Updated 15 January 2006.

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