Concerns Rising in ASEAN Over Borneo Fires, Haze

Concerns Rising in ASEAN Over Borneo Fires, Haze

Max Walden

As ambient air pollution chokes Jakarta amid hosting the Asian Games, many in Malaysia are accusing Indonesia of being responsible for heightened levels of haze, which they say is because of fires in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo island.

A smoky haze from fires, exacerbated by hot, dry conditions as well as the result of the deliberate burning of land for agriculture, threatens to spark another diplomatic conflict between Indonesia and its neighbors. A similar rift occurred in 2015 when smoke spread from Kalimantan and Sumatra to blanket Singapore and large parts of Malaysia.

“I continue to invite all parties to care for forests and land. Stop hurting nature by burning,” Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Indonesia’s minister of Environment and Forestry, tweeted Wednesday. “We don’t have plan B, because there is NO planet B.”

Southeast Asia has experienced annual haze during the dry season since at least 2005, in part because of agricultural producers using burning as a cheap and effective way to clear land.

About 60 to 70 percent of fires in 2015 occurred in degraded peatlands, where burning releases an enormous amount of carbon dioxide, producing a particularly noxious form of smog.

Severe respiratory problems

In a paper published in the journal Respirology last month, Malaysian researchers found that hospitalizations for breathing problems increased significantly during periods of haze. Severe respiratory problems accounted for 4 percent of admissions to intensive care units during times of haze, compared to 2 percent generally.

Malaysian social media has been abuzz with accusations that Indonesia is responsible for increased levels of smog in recent weeks.

According to Global Forest Watch, there were more than 17,000 fire alerts across Kalimantan in the past week, the greatest number of which were in West Kalimantan. Its capital, Pontianak, sits more than 900 kilometers (571 miles) east of Kuala Lumpur and is closer in proximity to many Malaysian cities than it is to Jakarta.

Experts say it is unclear, however, whether heightened levels of air pollution in Malaysia are being caused by Indonesian forest fires.

“If there are large fires and the wind is heading that way, there’s a possibility. But to be certain, you’d need analysis of data,” said Dr. Raden Driejana, an air quality expert from the Bandung Institute of Technology. “It’s dry season [in Indonesia], and also in Malaysia, so there could be fires there, too.”

“The fires are getting worse in Kalimantan, but they are still far from those in 1982 and 1997,” Arief Wijaya, climate and forests senior manager at the World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia, told VOA.

The World Health Organization said that exposure to ambient air pollution can cause an array of deadly conditions, such as heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, and respiratory infections, in children. More than a half-million Indonesians were estimated to suffer ill health effects from the 2015 blazes.

A study published by scientists from Harvard and Columbia universities in 2016 showed that severe haze in 2015 may have caused more than 100,000 premature deaths in Southeast Asia, a claim downplayed by the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Driejana, the air quality expert, said the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has done “quite a lot” since 2015 to address the problem and has had success in reducing the severity of fires, identifying the sources of haze, enforcing newly introduced laws, and providing “a lot of education for the community” regarding the risks of fires.

Steps taken

Indonesia arrested several corporate executives in relation to the 2015 haze, and Jokowi later established the Peatland Restoration Agency under a presidential decree in January 2016 and has focused on fire prevention, mitigation, and enforcement.

But WRI’s Wijaya said, “Fires are only a symptom of weak or failed land use governance.” While big palm oil or paper plantation companies have largely stopped using burning methods for land clearing, “smallholders may have a big role in setting up fires,” he said.

“You can still see things, but when you go out of the house, you need to wear a mask,” Ratri Kusumohartono, a campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia, told VOA of the current air quality conditions in Pontianak.

After a week in the city of about 235,000 people, Kusumohartono told VOA in a telephone interview that she had been hospitalized for two days and said doctors had reported increasing numbers of casualty admissions for respiratory conditions.

In the past week, local media reported that at least four farmers who were tending their fields were killed when they became trapped in blazes.

“I have also talked with some other NGOs here the past few days and they’re also quite worried that the government is not taking this more seriously, in terms of getting fires out and keeping people safe, because at this point some fires are already a few meters away from people’s housing,” Kusumohartono said. “It’s really time for the government to step up their efforts to manage this.”

Link: https://www.voanews.com/a/concerns-rising-in-ASEAN-over-Borneo-fires-haze/4542338.html

Schools close as haze worsens in Pontianak in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan

Schools close as haze worsens in Pontianak in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan

PUBLISHED AUG 21, 2018, 1:21 PM SGT

PONTIANAK, INDONESIA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Authorities in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, have ordered temporary school closures, as thick haze from forest fires has worsened in the city.

Pontianak Mayor Sutarmidji announced the school closures on Sunday (Aug 19) via his Facebook account.

“I have instructed PAUD (early childhood education centers), kindergarten and elementary schools to close and resume operations on Aug 27. As for junior high schools, students can go back to school on Friday,” he wrote.

The closure applies to all schools that are under regional government supervision.

Meanwhile, the West Kalimantan Education and Culture Agency has issued a circular that calls on senior high schools to close from Monday to Thursday in Pontianak and Kubu Raya regency, which are affected by the haze.

The agency stated that the closures might be extended depending on the haze.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said hotspots detected in West Kalimantan had decreased to 526 by 8.22am local time on Monday. On the morning of Aug 16, the BNPB had recorded 1,061 hotspots across the province.

Six helicopters have been deployed to combat the forest fires in the province, which resulted from employing slash-and-burn practices to clear agricultural land.

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/schools-close-as-haze-worsens-in-pontianak-in-indonesias-west-kalimantan

Thinning forests resulting in fuelwood shortage

Thinning forests resulting in fuelwood shortage

Water-bombing intensifies in Kuala Baram, raging forest fire worsens haze

Water-bombing intensifies in Kuala Baram, raging forest fire worsens haze

By Stephen Then

NATION | Sunday, 19 Aug 2018 | 

 

MIRI: The Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department in Miri has intensified aerial water-bombing operations to contain a raging forest fire in Kuala Baram district.

The fire has also worsened the haze, recording an Air Pollutant Index (API) level at 113 on Sunday (Aug 19) morning. A reading of 0-50 is considered good, 51-100 moderate and 101-200 unhealthy.

Miri Fire chief Supt Law Poh Kiong said the Bomba air unit will be dropping more water to control the flames from spreading.

“Yesterday, we carried out 70 rounds of aerial water-bombings.

“This morning, we did more rounds,” he said.

Fire-fighters are also on the ground battling the flames on peat soils.

The wildfire in Kuala Baram is one of the dozens that are burning throughout the state.

Authorities are also worried about the haze and smog coming from West Kalimantan.

There are already more than 120 huge fires raging in the area.

Those fires measuring one sq km in size are called hotspots as they can be detected by satellites even 100km above earth.

Source Link: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/08/19/water-bombing-intensifies-in-kuala-baram-raging-forest-fire-worsens-haze/#5asqd2vHrkYcdtfF.99

 

554 acres burnt in 178 Sarawak wildfires

554 acres burnt in 178 Sarawak wildfires

By Stephen Then

NATION | Friday, 17 Aug 2018 | 

MIRI: Some 554 acres (224ha) of forests throughout Sarawak have been burnt in 178 different wildfires since Aug 2.

The latest statistics from the Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) showed that in the past 24 hours, firefighting teams statewide had been tackling 15 such wildfires.

The wildfires are in Miri, Kuching, Sri Aman, Sibu, Mukah, Song and Bintulu districts.

According to the Bomba Sarawak operation center, there was a huge wildfire raging in Sri Aman over an area of some 100 acres (one acre is about the size of one football field).

Source Link: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/08/17/554-acres-burnt-in-178-sarawak-wildfires/#kBHkIX85ZyfhU7uM.99

 

 

 

Parts of Malaysia hit by unhealthy levels of haze

Parts of Malaysia hit by unhealthy levels of haze

PUBLISHED AUG 17, 2018, 5:00 AM SGT

KUALA LUMPUR • The haze returned to parts of Malaysia yesterday, affecting the west coast states of Perlis, Kedah, and Penang on the peninsula, and Sarawak in East Malaysia.

The risk of it reaching Singapore is currently low, as the winds are blowing the haze away from it, but “should the direction of the winds change and blow the haze towards Singapore, we may occasionally experience slightly hazy conditions”, said a spokesman for the National Environment Agency.

Air quality was at unhealthy levels in Peninsular Malaysia, with the highest air pollutant index (API) reading recorded in Alor Setar, Kedah, at 157. Other badly affected areas were Sungei Petani in Kedah, Kangar in Perlis, and Seberang Jaya and Seberang Perai in Penang.

A reading of zero to 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 moderate and 101 to 200 unhealthy. Conditions in the capital Kuala Lumpur remained at moderate levels, with the API at between 65 and 67.

Meanwhile, the haze in Sarawak has been blamed on open burning in the state and the rising number of hot spots in neighboring Kalimantan, Indonesia. State Natural Resources and Environment Board controller Peter Sawal said 121 hot spots were detected across the Sarawak border with Indonesia on Tuesday, more than double from the day before. Seven hot spots were also detected in Sarawak.

As at 2 pm on Wednesday, nine areas in the state recorded moderate API readings, with Mukah recording the highest reading at 84. The other affected areas were Sibu, Bintulu, Samalaju, Kuching, Kapit, Samarahan, Sarikei and Sri Aman.

Mr. Sawal said the hazy conditions could last until the end of the month if there are no changes in the prevailing dry weather and wind direction.

Malaysia’s Minister of Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Yeo Bee Yin said she has asked the Department of Environment (DOE) to improve enforcement to put an end to open burning in the country.

“Only two or three weeks ago, I realized that the DOE doesn’t even have cars to conduct enforcement,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. “I am shifting resources from the ministry to DOE to perform their jobs,” she added.

Ms. Yeo said she has also asked for help from local councils and other agencies to investigate cases of open burning – traditionally used by farmers to clear land.

The minister said the current penalty for open burning – a fine of up to RM500,000 (S$167,980), imprisonment for up to five years, or both – was “high enough”.

Asked if she would seek a meeting with the Indonesian authorities, Ms. Yeo said: “I am trying to pay them a visit.”

In a speech to Parliament, Indonesian President Joko Widodo noted that the total area of forest burnt has come down.

“The total area of forest and plantation that caught fire has significantly declined compared to the previous years. Such a firm stance would not yield maximum results without public participation.

“My gratitude and respect to the armed forces, police, local governments and residents that gave high dedication in preventing and fighting the threats of the forest fire,” he said.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/parts-of-malaysia-hit-by-unhealthy-levels-of-haze

Hotspots and open burning bring back haze in Sarawak

Hotspots and open burning bring back haze in Sarawak

PUBLISHED AUG 16, 2018, 10:13 AM SGT

KUCHING (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The haze has returned to parts of Sarawak due to the rising number of hotspots in Kalimantan and open burning in the Malaysian state.

State Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) controller Peter Sawal said 121 hotspots were detected across the border with Indonesia on Tuesday (Aug 14), more than double from the day before.

Seven hotspots were also detected in Sarawak – two in Kuching, three in Mukah and one each in Sarikei and Sri Aman.

As at 2 pm on Wednesday, nine areas in the state recorded moderate air pollutant index (API) readings, with the town of Mukah having the highest at 84.

This was followed by Sibu (75), Bintulu (71), Samalaju (61), Kuching (58), Kapit (56), Samarahan (53), Sarikei (53) and Sri Aman (51).

A reading of 0-50 is considered good, 51-100 moderate and 101-200 unhealthy.

“From the briefing by the Meteorological Department, we’re expecting this month to be dry with below normal rainfall.

“But things may change; we may experience intermittent rain, and that will dampen the weather. However, we also monitor the situation because of the high number of hotspots detected across the border and the winds blowing towards us,” he said.

Mr. Sawal said a few incidents of local burning by farmers had been detected in Sibu, Mukah, Sri Aman and Betong.

“Our men on the ground are now advising local farmers to be vigilant in controlling and monitoring their burning to prevent it from spreading,” he said.

He also said the NREB had stopped issuing permits for open burning to plantation companies since July and would take action against any illegal burning activities.

Offenders could be fined RM30,000 (S$10,000) or prosecuted in court.

However, Mr. Sawal said better awareness and enforcement has resulted in a reduced number of illegal burning cases.

“For the past few years, our records show that incidents of illegal burning had reduced. I think they are aware of the seriousness of illegal open burning.

“At the same time, our concerted efforts mean they cannot escape. We can detect (open burning) through satellite and pinpoint the location,” he said. “Then, we proceed to the ground to verify it.”

In Miri, firemen were battling several wildfires in the towns of Mukah, Bintulu, and Bintangor.

Wildfires over about 4ha of land have been burning since Tuesday evening in Kampung Assykirin in Bintulu.

In Mukah, peat fires in Daro are being tackled, while in Bintangor, wildfires have been contained at 24.3ha of the Felcra Bunut plantations.

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/hotspots-and-open-burning-bring-back-haze-in-sarawak

238 open burning cases recorded this month

238 open burning cases recorded this month

SIBU: Sarawak recorded 238 open burning cases from July 1 until yesterday.

Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department director Nor Hisham Mohammad said 22 cases were reported daily over the past 10 days.

He added there was only spike in cases after July 15 due to the hot and dry weather. Before that,  the number was less significant.

“But, it is still below the daily threshold of 40 cases needed to activate the forest fire operation room.

“However, the current daily cases are still less compared to the highest reported cases in the last five years, which stood at 62 cases,” Nor Hisham said when contacted yesterday.

Open burning cases include bush, forest and peat soil fires.

Meanwhile, smoke was seen billowing from the bushes along Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce Road here.

Link: http://www.theborneopost.com/2018/07/27/238-open-burning-cases-recorded-this-month/

Indonesia works to prevent forest fires during Asian Games

Indonesia works to prevent forest fires during Asian Games

VNA 

Jakarta (VNA) – Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) has taken measures to prevent forest fires and smoke as the country will host the 2018 Asian Games (ASIAD 18) next month, which is the regular time of forest and peatland fire in Indonesia each year.

Jakarta and Palembang in Sumatra are set to host about 11,000 athletes and 5,000 officials from 45 Asian countries for the games between August 18 and September 2.

Raffles B Panjaitan, Director of Forest and Land Fire at the MoEF, said that Indonesia has overcome smoke over the last two years. Forest fire hotspots in some high-risk provinces such as South Sumatra, Jambi and Riau were timely discovered and handled immediately.

A research group analyses data every day to give warnings and tackle forest and land fires by working closely with firefighting forces of the MoEF, police, army, private companies, and community.

Currently, the MoEF has deployed groups of firefighters to 11 high-risk provinces, along with nearly 2,000 personnel from other forces to prevent forest and land fires.

In addition, firefighting teams have been dispatched to nature reserve centers and national parks. In South Sumatra alone, five teams were set up and received training in fire prevention.

Regular forest and land fires have caused huge damage in Indonesia. In 2015, smoke from widespread fires affected the air environment of regional countries including Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines.-VNA

Link: https://en.vietnamplus.vn/indonesia-works-to-prevent-forest-fires-during-asian-games/135059.vnp

Malaysia May Become Hazy Again As Forest Fires Are Spreading Fast in Indonesia

Malaysia May Become Hazy Again As Forest Fires Are Spreading Fast in Indonesia

July 20, 2018, By Tara Thiagarajan

According to the New Straits Times, West Kalimantan, Indonesia has reportedly been enduring some hot weather as of late, triggering a number of forest fires. It was reported that 194 hot spots were detected yesterday evening (19th July).

Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Unit revealed that chances for forest fires to occur in this region are very high as of yesterday, according to the most recent graphic published on their website.

Forest Fires in Kalimantan Could Bring Haze to Malaysia Soon - WORLD OF BUZZ

Source: Indonesia Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Unit
According to NST, out of the 194 hot spots in Kalimantan, 69 of them were categorized as high-risk areas where forest fires are very likely to occur, while 47 were rated with a moderate chance of developing fires.

On top of that, forest fires spreading across hundreds of hectares have also been raging in Sumatra because of the hot weather, prompting authorities to double down on efforts to put out the blaze. Also, 11 helicopters are reportedly being used to extinguish the fires. Yikes, this does not look good!

Meanwhile, the director of Sarawak’s Fire and Rescue Department, Nor Hisham Mohammad, told the daily that there have been a total of 112 cases of natural fires reported in the state within the past five days alone (15th to 20th July).

He was quoted as saying, “We have deployed a team to monitor a hotspot location detected in Meludam, Betong. We advise the public to cease any open-burning activities as it can have an impact not just on the locals, who are exposed to smoke and other pollutants, but may also trigger the haze.”

So, looks like we should prepare ourselves for a possible haze coming over to our shores soon. Hopefully, it won’t be so bad this time!

Link: https://www.worldofbuzz.com/malaysia-may-become-hazy-again-as-forest-fires-are-spreading-fast-in-indonesia/