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Exchanging Health for Economic Growth?: Haze in the Context of Public Health and Political Economy in Malaysia.

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Alison Copeland



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


Many low and middle income countries in particular suffer from bad air quality. The countries of Southeast Asia, which for decades now have experienced a particular type of severe toxic air pollution almost annually called “haze”, are a pertinent example of this trend. The most recent serious episode of haze was in September 2019. The regional haze pollution has close links to the region’s political economy, particularly the burgeoning agribusiness sector. This paper argues that the importance of the agribusiness sector to the region has influenced how national governments have chosen to respond to haze pollution events, particularly and most critically, how these events affect the health of their populations. Malaysia was chosen as a case study as Malaysia is both actively involved in the region’s agribusiness sector and is also severely affected by haze pollution. In this context, the paper shows how, to downplay the effects of haze on health, the health interventions put into place by the Malaysian government has been lackadaisical and lacking both urgency and accuracy. As a result, while haze negatively affects the health of the Malaysian population across the board, we argue that it will also likely cause geographical variations in health, particularly between the urban and rural populations. This paper adopts a collective political economy explanation to argue that political choices in line with the interests of the economically significant and thus powerful agribusiness sector have marginalised the health of large swathes of the Malaysian population. Furthermore, we argue that this marginalisation has been subconsciously accepted by the general population due to the ideological importance of this sector to the developmental trajectory of the nation. In this way, environmental degradation, and in turn deteriorating health, is often seen as an acceptable trade-off for economic growth. Unfortunately, particularly marginalised sections of the society (the less educated, rural poor) would tend to suffer the most in terms of health outcomes. ms of health outcomes.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Varkkey H, Copeland A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Social Health

Year: 2020

Volume: 3

Print publication date: 29/02/2020

Online publication date: 29/02/2020

Acceptance date: 04/02/2020

Date deposited: 20/08/2020

ISSN (electronic): 2651-6837

Publisher: Thomas Aquinas Research Complex, University of Santo Tomas



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