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In search of happiness

19 Mar 2019 / 20:39 H.

INTERNATIONAL Day of Happiness on March 20 is meant to inspire, mobilise, and advance the global happiness movement. It is a movement to share with those who are less fortunate than we are. There are too many of them, especially those in war-torn regions. Then there are those who are marginalised, discriminated and vulnerable even in the most “developed” nations that are allegedly at peace. On the home front, “happiness” is often taken for granted until a “tragedy” strikes.

This time in Pasir Gudang. A toxic gas phenomenon has caused so much agony to almost 3,000 people, mostly students. Some 111 schools had to be closed following cases of intense difficulty in breathing, nausea, dizziness and vomiting. More than 100 pupils have reportedly received intensive care. Although the situation is said to be under control, it continues to be of concern given the types of toxic (cyanide-type) pollutants suspected and strong winds. While a “red alert” has not been issued, the National Disaster Management Agency, the army, fire and rescue team, as well as many other units have been deployed.

In this case, an unscrupulous tyre-recycling company took the easy way out to dispose toxic wastes from a scrapyard factory and discharged them into Sungai Kim Kim. Thick sludge was reported in the river damaging the environment and later affecting hundreds of schoolchildren. Many were hospitalised in critical condition. Strong winds worsened the situation.

The education minister used the term “geram” to express his sense of anger. After all Johor is his electoral state.

Many shared the feeling of “geram” in trying to understand how this could happen in a state with many world-class infrastructure projects backed by foreign investors.

At just the mention of names like Iskandar, many will sit up and be all ears to know what it has to offer as a 21st century living enclave in an area covering more than twice that of the southern neighbourhood. Then there is Forest City that has attracted tens of thousands of foreigners allegedly eager to take “residency” in the state to the chagrin of the locals.

There is also the pristine Pulau Kukup which is part of a notable Ramsar site – among the few in the country.

There are many more famous sites: Legoland, Danga Bay, Tanjung Pelepas, the touted crooked bridge and others that tell us how the development in the state has been handled professionally. So much so, some even dare to predict that the state will reach its “zenith” in no time. Indeed so, if not for the oversight or the “blind spot” where the Pasir Gudang nightmare unfolds.

The incident could have been avoided if the standards and vigilance applied diligently in the projects were applied in Pasr Gudang. This is where the “geram” factor kicks in.

Now that the damage is done and the health of schoolchildren has been compromised to say the least, subjecting the supposed “culprit(s)” to jail sentence or/and fine is purely academic, if not oxymoronic.

It still does not explain why and how there was a lapse in enforcement or monitoring in a state so used to supervising projects of world standard. And crowing about it.

What assurance is there that this is the last of the “geram” incident? At about the same time, there was a report of “illegal” farming in Cameron Highlands and high levels of banned pesticides detected in a nearby river.

The people living in the area are bound to be affected if the pollution continues to spread “unnoticed” from the relevant enforcement agency, a repeat of Pasir Gudang.

What about “bauxite” which seems to have been given a “reprieve”?

All these cannot be a coincidence. Will the newly sworn in member of Parliament make a difference, as he is “indigenous” to the area?

There is still much to be done before “happiness” is to have any real meaning all round in an ecosystem that is more encompassing.

The reality is that it cannot be confined to any one sector artificially (read politically) demarcated, rather, it must be seamlessly managed across all sectors in sustainable ways. Here is where the challenge is and this is exactly when Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) needs to be urgently (re)introduced across the nation.

We are so preoccupied with the 4th Industrial Revolution that ESD has taken a back seat as a vital global agenda of the UN since more than a decade ago.

It is arguably the social agenda that is intricately linked to all things that lead to “true” happiness sustainability.

Lest we forget, our eastern wisdom reminds us not to teach our children to be rich, but to be happy. Otherwise they know only the price of things, but not the value of life. One that is hanging by a thin thread at Pasir Gudang.

What a shame it is as we greet the International Day of Happiness with so much unhappiness.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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