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.



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.


Indonesia steps up forest, land fire prevention to ensure haze-free Asian Games

Indonesia steps up forest, land fire prevention to ensure haze-free Asian Games

PUBLISHED AUG 15, 2018, 11:25 AM SGT

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The government is determined to carry out all necessary measures to prevent forest and land fires from spreading on the island of Sumatra, as the Asian Games are set to kick off on Saturday (Aug 18) in Jakarta and Palembang, South Sumatra, at the peak of the dry season.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto held a meeting on Tuesday (Aug 14) with relevant officials, discussing anticipatory measures to address the potential increase in hot spots.

“Learning from our experience… and with solid coordination (among stakeholders) as well as proper procedures in both prevention and mitigation, all regions are prepared to mitigate potential forest fires,” General Wiranto said on Tuesday.

“We need to work hard to ensure that South Sumatra will be haze-free. Weather forecasts say that the peak of the dry season will happen during the Asian Games,” he added.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) detected 169 hot spots in Sumatra Island on Tuesday, with 47 hot spots in South Sumatra alone. Riau recorded an increase in hot spots to 90 from 65 on the previous day, while there were 11 hot spots in Jambi and 55 hot spots in Bangka Belitung province.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry’s director-general of climate change Ruandha Agung Sugadirman said a coordinated team, including police and Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel, routinely carried out patrols in areas prone to forest fires.

Sixteen helicopters have been on standby across South Sumatra and can be deployed for water bombing at any time when forest fires are detected. Another 10 helicopters are also on standby in Riau, director-general Ruandha said.

The government has also used 51 tonnes of salt to intensify cloud-seeding operations to help stimulate rainfall since May, he said, adding that rain had fallen in the province from Monday evening to Tuesday morning.

“As long as the land and peatlands are wet, fires will not occur,” he added.


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.


Indonesia works to prevent forest fires during Asian Games

Indonesia works to prevent forest fires during Asian Games


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


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!


Forest Fire Begins to Occur in Areas of Indonesia

Editor (ENG) Indra Sutrisno

Editor (INA)Sulha Handayani

SAMPIT, NNC – Land fires began to occur in Sampit, East Kotawaringin District, Central Kalimantan, which allegedly was cauesd by a reduce in rain intensity.

“Land fire occurred at Jenderal Sudirman St. KM 10 with two hotspots,” East Kotawaringin Fire and Rescue Department Chief Rihel said in Sampit.

The fire occured on empty land on the side of the highway. Personnels received information from the public at around 4 p.m and immediately rushed to the location.

The East Kotawaringin Fire and Rescue Department deployed one firetruck. Personnels from the East Kotawaringin Police Resort also rushed to the scene by deploying motorcycles equipped with an extinguisher. East Kotawaringin Resort Police Operational Division Chief Adj. Commissioner Boni Ariefianto came to the scene along with several armed forces and East Kotawaringin Regional Disaster Management Agency personnels.

“We urge the people to take part in preventing land fires. The lack of rainfall has increased the chances of forest and land fire,” Rihel said.

Head of East Kotawaringin Regional Disaster Management Agency Muhammad Yusuf said according to the information from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, the peak of dry season is expected to happen in August.

The people of East Kotawaringin must stay alert as the district is included as an area prone to forest and land fires.

“Drought is predicted to start on the third week of this July, possibly somewhere around July 20. Inorder to anticipate it, a forest and land fire emergency alert status is planned to be set mid-July,” Yusuf said Thursday, July 12.

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Efforts made to prevent and fight forest fires

Efforts made to prevent and fight forest fires

Thursday, 2018-07-05 11:13:12

NDO – Most of the forest areas in the Northern and Central regions are at high risk of fire, often at level 5 (extremely dangerous). Forest fires have broken out in some localities, posing an urgent need for the active prevention of forest fires.

In the central province of Nghe An, forest fires broke out in Dien Chau, Yen Thanh, Nam Dan and Quynh Luu districts in the early days of July. According to the provincial Department of Forest Protection, in the coming days, the Foehn wind, caused by the impact of the southeastern edge of the western hot low-pressure area, will continue causing hot weather across the region with temperatures always over 40 degrees Celsius.

Most recently, at about 14.30 on July 3, in Quynh My commune, Quynh Luu district, Nghe An province, a fire broke out in the forest and quickly destroyed 1 hectare of four-year-old acacia forest. Functional forces and around 300 local people were mobilised to control the fire.

In Ha Tinh province, hot and severe weather makes the danger of forest fire a permanent threat. Within 10 days from June 21 to July 1, six forest fires occurred over a total area of over 37 hectares in the province. About 10 hectares of forest was damaged.

The northern mountainous province of Son La is also focusing on many measures and plans to actively prevent and fight forest fires. According to Director of the Forest Protection Department Luong Ngoc Hoan, the province is managing more than 600 hectares of forestry, of which the majority are specialised, mixed, and regenerating forests with a high risk of fire (levels 4 and 5). From the beginning of the year, the province has organised 2,789 grassroots forest ranger teams while more than 88,000 households in the province have signed a commitment to forest protection.

The Vietnam Forestry Administration has sent an urgent message on forest fire prevention and fighting to provinces and cities such as Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Ha Quang Binh, Thua Thien – Hue, Da Nang, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, and Khanh Hoa.

Accordingly, authorities at grassroots levels must promote communication works on fire prevention and fighting among their residents while forces should be ready around the clock in case forest fires occur.

Roles must be assigned among members of all-level steering boards of the national target programme on sustainable forestry development to enhance inspections. Meanwhile, military and police forces were ordered to stand ready to offer assistance in case of fires.

Forest ranger teams should work with people’s committees to direct and examine efforts to prevent forest fires while forest owners are responsible for upgrading their firefighting facilities.

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Swamps and Wildfires: A Dangerous Combination

Swamps and Wildfires: A Dangerous Combination


“Know your enemy” is a perfect motto for wildland firefighters. The brave souls who’ve chosen this line of work understand its many dangers. Forest fires are not their only source of trouble: One of the biggest challenges these men and women can face is an out-of-control peatland swamp fire. Don’t let the standing water fool you: Bogs and swamps are fertile terrains for a tenacious, sneaky kind of inferno that smolders underground and might spend years lurking beneath the surface.

For Peat’s Sake

Recognized as one of the American South’s greatest natural wonders, the vast Okefenokee Swamp rests on the Georgia-Florida border. In 2007, lightning and a felled power line sparked a plague of converging wildfires in and around this storied wetland. More than 926 square miles (2,398 square kilometers) worth of vegetation were torched in the Okefenokee’s two home states. Huge columns of town-smothering smoke could be seen from Atlanta to Orlando. By the time the crisis ended, it had cost the citizenry an estimated $130 million in damages and firefighting expenses.

The Okefenokee is accustomed to this sort of thing. Prior to ’07, the swamp had endured massive fires in 1844, 1860, 1910, 1932, 1954 and 1955. History repeated itself once again in 2011 when another round of brushfires terrorized the swamp for more than eleven months straight.

There’s a reason why this boggy area — a lush place that’s teeming with fish, alligators and aquatic plants — gets so many fires. And that reason is peat.

Peat is a carbon-rich, organic turf that covers 3 percent of the world’s land surface. About 50 to 70 percent of all wetlands, including the Okefenokee Swamp, is situated above large deposits of this material. Its main ingredient is dead plant matter that hasn’t fully decomposed. Remains of other deceased organisms are also contained within blocks of peat, along with minerals absorbed in the local sediment.

To get peat, you generally need an area where there’s little water beneath the ground and microorganisms in the soil are creating an anaerobic — or low-oxygen — environment. As more and more organisms die off, peat steadily accumulates over hundreds or thousands of years. Forests and wetlands can form over these peat sheets, the thickest of which are more than 50 feet (15.2 meters) deep. It’s thought that the oldest peats on the planet started forming 12,000 years ago — right after the last ice age.

Smoldering Real Estate

Pressure from above slowly drives peat deeper into the Earth, where it eventually becomes coal. And like that prized mining commodity, peat harbors a lot of trapped carbon from dead life forms. In fact, peat plays host to a third of all the carbon that’s stored inside the world’s soils. All this carbon renders the substance highly flammable. Even damp peat makes for good kindling when water makes up less than 55 percent of its total weight.

A spark at the surface might be all that’s required to ignite the peat under a swamp or forest. Whereas living trees burst into licks of orange flame, peat catches fire in a less dramatic way: It smolders like a lit cigarette. Once they get started, peat fires move at a gradual pace, creeping along through the substrate. The slow burns have been known to last for years before getting extinguished. They can also reach the surface, setting some trees or bushes ablaze. It’s not unheard-of for a peat fire to do exactly that and then retreat back underground, only to reappear later on. In 2014, seven Canadian peat fires caused surface-level damage and then went under before they resurfaced the following year.

Fires liberate the trapped carbon, sending it into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. This has the unfortunate effect of triggering longer dry seasons in places where peat bogs naturally occur, making them more likely to ignite. It’s a nasty feedback loop — and a big contributor to our climate change problems.

What’s more, smoke from these fires aggravates respiratory problems for those who inhale it. A 2015 outbreak of the bog burnings in southeast Asia led to dense, low-lying clouds of haze. We don’t know how many deaths this caused, but one team of researchers came up with a tentative figure of 100,300 fatalities distributed between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Fighting back isn’t easy. Sometimes, you can smother a peatland fire by pumping water into the turf, but this technique requires a huge amount of time, effort, and planning. Waiting for them to die of natural causes is an exercise in frustration. As we’ve established, it can take months or years for one of these fires to burn through its fuel supply. Intense rainstorms have been known to put them out, but if the peat gets struck by lightning, that can make it smolder again.

Alas, a wildland firefighter’s job is never done.

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Future without intact forests?

Future without intact forests?

Despite a decades-long effort to halt deforestation, nearly 10 percent of undisturbed forests have been fragmented, degraded or simply chopped down since 2000, according to the analysis of satellite imagery.

Average daily loss over the first 17 years of this century was more than 200 square kilometers.

“Degradation of intact forest represents a global tragedy, as we are systematically destroying a crucial foundation of climate stability,” said Frances Seymour, a senior distinguished fellow at the World Resources Institute (WRI), and a contributor to the research, presented this week at a conference in Oxford.

“Forests are the only safe, natural, proven and affordable infrastructure we have for capturing and storing carbon.”

The findings come as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and five major conservation organizations launched a five-year plan, Nature4Climate, to better leverage land use in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming.

“Thirty-seven percent of what is needed to stay below two degrees Celsius” – the cornerstone goal of the 196-nation Paris Agreement – “can be provided by land”, said Andrew Steer, WRI president, and CEO. “But only three percent of the public funding for mitigation goes to land and forest issues – that needs to change.”

Beyond climate, the last forest frontiers play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity, weather stability, clean air, and water quality. Some 500 million people worldwide depend directly on forests for their livelihoods.

A future without intact forests?

So-called intact forest landscapes – which can include wetlands and natural grass pastures – are defined as areas of at least 500 square kilometers with no visible evidence in satellite images of large-scale human use.

That means no roads, industrial agriculture, mines, railways, canals or transmission lines.

As of January 2017, there were about 11.6 million square kilometers of forests worldwide that still fit these criteria. From 2014 to 2016, that area declined by more than 87,000 square kilometers each year.

“Many countries may lose all their forest wildlands in the next 15 to 20 years,” Peter Potapov, an associate professor at the University of Maryland and lead scientist for the research, said.

On current trends, intact forests will disappear by 2030 in Paraguay, Laos, and Equatorial Guinea, and by 2040 in Cambodia, the Central African Republic, Nicaragua, Myanmar, and Angola.

“There could come a point in the future where no areas in the world qualify as ‘intact’ anymore,” said Tom Evans, director for forest conservation and climate mitigation at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“It is certainly worrying.”

In tropical countries, the main causes of virgin forest loss are conversion to agriculture and logging. In Canada and the United States, fire is the main culprit, while in Russia and Australia, the destruction has been driven by fires, mining, and energy extraction.
Compared to annual declines during the period 2000-2013, Russia lost, on average, 90 percent more each year from 2014 to 2016. For Indonesia, the increase was 62 percent, and for Brazil, it was 16 percent.

Protected areas

The new results are based on a worldwide analysis of satellite imagery, built on a study first done in 2008 and repeated in 2013.

“The high-resolution data, like the one collected by the Landsat program, allows us to detect human-caused alteration and fragmentation of forest wildlands,” Potapov said.

Presented at the Intact Forests in the 21st Century conference at Oxford University, the finding will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication, said Potapov, who delivered a keynote to the three-day gathering.

Addressing colleagues from around the world, Potapov also challenged the effectiveness of a global voluntary certification system.

Set up in 1994 and backed by green groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, the self-stated mission of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is to “promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests”.

Many forest-products carry the FSC label, designed to reassure eco-conscious consumers.

But approximately half of all intact forest landscapes inside FSC-certified concessions were lost from 2000 to 2016 in Gabon and the Republic of Congo, the new data showed. In Cameroon, about 90 percent of FSC-monitored forest wildlands disappeared.
“FSC is an effective mechanism to fragment and degrade remaining intact forest landscapes, not a tool for their protection,” Potapov said.

National and regional parks have helped to slow the rate of decline.

The chances of forest loss were found to be three times higher outside protected areas than inside them, the researchers reported.

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