THE air and water pollution in Pasir Gudang, Johor and a similar earlier case in Sungai Kim Kim within the same district are examples of severe environmental issues in Malaysia.
They pose a threat to the lives of a section of Pasir Gudang’s residents, disrupted their daily routine, affected the economy of its low-income groups and caused the spending of a large amount in unbudgeted public funds.
A report on March 14, 2019 stated that the pollution at Sungai Kim Kim caused 506 individuals to be treated for health complications, of which nine were admitted to the Intensive Care Unit in a hospital and 111 schools in Pasir Gudang were temporarily closed.
A recent report quoted a statement by the Johor Fishermen’s Association alleged that the incidents “had affected prices” of marine catch by its members. All these reveal the severity of the environmental issues in Pasir Gudang.
Therefore, it must be classified as an environmental security threat to enable the federal and state governments to mitigate it through urgent, effective and holistic approaches.
According to Barry Buzan in People, States & Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era (1991), environmental security “concerns the maintenance of the local and the planetary biosphere as the essential support system on which all other human enterprises depend”.
Barry Buzan, Ole Waever and Jaap de Wilde stated in Security: A New Framework For Analysis (1998) that to securitise an issue is to present it “as an existential threat, requiring emergency measures and justifying actions outside the normal bounds of public political procedure”.
A study on Securitization and Security Management in Malaysia During the Mahathir Era (1981-2003) by Ruhanie Ahmad (2018) said that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had securitised a severe haze, originating from Indonesia in 1997, as an environmental threat to Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore.
This move enabled Malaysia-pioneered inter-state strategies to prevent future recurrence of this environmental threat. It also led to the formation of several Asean-based anti-haze mechanisms.
Securitising the issue in Pasir Gudang, therefore, means that authorities have to declare the current issue as a real threat to our people, their health, livelihood and the economy.
Through this act, both governments are empowered to solve the issue by applying extraordinary strategies beyond the purview of the existing Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).
Additionally, it is unnecessary for them to declare an emergency situation in Pasir Gudang because it restricts the residents from conducting their normal daily routines.
This is because non-traditional security threats in Pasir Gudang only involves non-state actor(s).
It is unlike the intrusion of the “Kiram Army” into Sabah in 2012, which was a traditional security threat involving an armed foreign group.
The federal and state governments, therefore, should securitise the issue in Pasir Gudang based on the following reasons.
ONE, Dr Mahathir had said on June 25, 2019 that this issue resulted from “some industries that are not too concerned on security”;
TWO, it had threatened the health of many schoolchildren and residents; and,
THREE, it had affected the economy of fishermen in the district.
Following this securitisation, the federal government must form an Environmental Security Task Force to mitigate, minimise, eradicate and prevent future emergence or recurrence of environmental threats throughout the country.
This task force must apply “the whole-of-government” concept in its format, functions and strategy. Its membership must be derived from Malaysia’s various planning, licensing and enforcement authorities.
To prevent possible corruption or abuse of power in managing environmental security threats, this task force must also include representatives from the country’s agencies for intelligence gathering, combating abuse of power and corruption, and agencies for the maintenance of non-traditional security.
This is because repeated environmental threats from air and water pollution in Pasir Gudang could have originated from total disregard of the environmental laws by certain industries.
This also could emerge from poor decision making in approving and licensing the operations of industries with environmental hazards; or from abuse of power by enforcement agencies monitoring the environmental law compliancy by these industries.
Prevention and eradication of environmental threats in Malaysia must involve strategies to track their root causes; determining the effectiveness of the existing laws; and ascertaining the integrity of our planning, licensing and enforcement agencies.
The other primary strategies concern its holistic mitigation activities. These activities must be carried out through an inter-agency SOP managed by the task force. To ensure the effectiveness of the above prevention and mitigation programmes, an environmental security task force with similar format, functions and membership must be formed at the state and district levels throughout Malaysia.
In conclusion, threats to environmental security must be managed through proactive and holistic strategies handled by a task force at all levels.
The writer is a student of strategic and security studies, and a member of parliament for Parit Sulong, Johor, 1990-2003