Sumatraforest fires focus
(Source: The Indonesian Nature Conservation newsLetter (INCL) 

Sumatraforest fires bring back haze over parts of Malaysia 

Officialssay it is the worst in a year, hitting Penang and Perak badly 

Source:The Straits Times, June 22, 2004

By RemeAhmad 


The hazeis back with a vengeance. Visibility was cut by half in some places along thewest coast of peninsular Malaysia yesterday, with air quality hitting the’unhealthy’ level in Penang. 

Althoughit is usual for the Malaysian skies to be clouded by haze around this time ofthe year because of forest fires in Sumatra and the use of slash-and-burntechniques for clearing land for plantations, officials believe this is theworst in a year. 

Acombination of weather and wind patterns were responsible, they said. 

‘Thesouth-western monsoon winds blow from Sumatra to our side and the fair weathercan make things worse over the next three days,’ a Malaysian MeteorologicalService official told The Straits Times. 

Theskies turned decidedly grey in Kuala Lumpur by late afternoon yesterday as thesmog from Sumatra crept in. The worst hit were Penang and three other districts. 

TheDepartment of Environment said Penang island, Seberang Prai on mainland Penang,Manjung in Perak and Sungei Petani in Kedah hit the ‘unhealthy’ level on the AirPollutant Index (API). 

Thedepartment also said in a statement that there were 80 ‘hot spots’, or burningareas, on Sumatra on Sunday, compared to 312 on Saturday and 261 last Tuesday. 

‘Theworst is Penang, especially on the mainland, with the index at an unhealthylevel due to a lot of pollutants in the air,’ a department official said. 

Penangresidents such as student Wati Abu Bakar were inconvenienced. 

The hazehad slowed down her early morning motorcycle rides to school in the past fewdays, she complained. 

‘It’snot that bad that I have to wear a mask, but it has become very foggy in themornings suddenly,’ said the 19-year-old who lives just outside Butterworth. 

The airquality in western Selangor, Kedah and parts of Perak were mdescribed as’moderate’ under the API measurement of the department. 

The’unhealthy’ reading in Penang is a notch above ‘moderate’ but below the ‘veryunhealthy’ and ‘dangerous’ levels. 

The APImeasures the quality of air on a scale of zero to 300. 

Itconsiders zero to 50 as good, 51 to 100 as moderate, 101 to 200 as unhealthy and201 to 300 as very unhealthy. Anything above 300 is hazardous. 

TheMeteorological Service official said general visibility in Selangor dropped to6km by around 2pm from more than 10km on haze-free days. The visibility inPenang dropped to between 4km and 5km. 

Singapore’sNational Environment Agency said last week that its Pollutant Standards Indexhit 63 last Wednesday – the highest it has reached so far this year. 

But itsaid the spike in readings did not signal a full-blown return of the haze. 

Theregion was hit by its worst choking haze in 1997 and 1998, which cost 

regionaleconomies US$9 billion (S$15.5 billion) in damages to farming, 

transportand tourism. 


Malaysiaseeks Asean meeting on haze problem 

Source:The Straits Times, June 25, 2004 

ByLeslie Lau 


As thehaze thickened over Malaysia yesterday, its government has voiced impatienceover Indonesia’s failure to crack down on those polluting regional skies andcalled for an Asean meeting to tackle the problem if itgets any worse. 

Officialshere expressed disappointment that Jakarta has not yet ratified the AseanTransboundary Haze Agreement – designed to coordinate efforts to counter theannual problem blamed on slash-and-burn land clearing. 

Malaysia’sDeputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister S. Sothinathan said the hazeagreement has the green light from Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Myanmarand Malaysia. 

ButIndonesia’s refusal to sign is a major stumbling block. 

MrSothinathan said Malaysia has notified Indonesia about he smog that has drifted across the Malacca Straits and is awaiting apositive response. 

‘At themoment the situation does not warrant a meeting but it will become necessarywhen the haze affects other Asean countries and not just Malaysia,’ he said. 

Earlier,Indonesian Ambassador K P H Rusdihardjo was apologetic: ‘We have brought muchinconvenience to the people here and all I want to say is that we deeply regretthe trouble caused.’ 

ButIndonesian Vice-President Hamzah Haz said on Wednesday that both Malaysia andSingapore bore a share of responsibility as he sought to link the illegal meansof land clearing by fire with unlicensed logging. 

‘Thereare lots of illegal logs that get smuggled out of here to Malaysia andSingapore. They have to acknowledge their responsibility in this. So, they haveto help us, so that we won’t create the smoke and haze.’ 

Satelliteimages showed an increase in fire hot spots from 33 on Tuesday to 293 yesterday.Marine police officials here have issued a haze alert for the Malacca Straits,and have asked ships to use navigational lights. 

Asresidents in Kuala Lumpur strained to spot the top of the Petronas Twin Towersfrom a mere kilometre or two away, Malaysia’s Environment Department warnedyesterday that depending on winds, the haze could thicken over the next twodays. 

Singapore’sPollutant Standards Index reading yesterday was ‘good’, standing at 36 at 4pm. 

InMalaysia, other than general descriptions of air quality, the authorities arenot releasing daily pollutant index figures over concerns the haze will hurt thecountry’s economy if tourist numbers drop. 

DeputyPrime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday that restrictions on air qualitystatistics – in force since 1998 – will not be lifted. 

‘Theproblem is it gets distorted by the international media. It gives a grim pictureof Malaysia and could be overplayed and then it will have an adverse effect onthe economy,’ he said.


Indonesiavows to check raging fires in Sumatra 

Source:The Star Online, June 26, 2004 


Indonesiais seeking help to put out the raging fires in Sumatra – the source of thehaze over neighbouring Malaysia – and taking to court those who carry out openburning. 

IndonesianEmbassy deputy chief of mission Suherman Obon said his country would be happy toaccept Malaysia’s assistance.

“Ourambassador has reported the situation in Malaysia to Jakarta.

“We’lltry our best to solve the problem and welcome outside assistance as we don’twant to harm any country, be it Indonesia, Malaysia or Singapore,” he saidyesterday.

He saidIndonesia would act against companies and individuals responsible for openburning.

Bernamareports that Indonesia was initiating legal action against farmers andplantation companies that set the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan. 

Quotinga report in The Jakarta Post, it said State Minister of Environment NabielMakarim had ordered his staff to investigate the rogue firms and farmers so thatthey could be promptly brought to justice.

The Postquoted officials from his office as saying that five companies in Riau provinceof Sumatra had already been reported to the police

Violatorscould be sentenced to a maximum five years’ jail under Indonesian law.

In arelated development, DOE director-general Rosnani Ibarahim said the ban on openburning in Penang had been lifted, as air quality had improved on the island.

She saidvisibility in Penang had increased to 10km.

Sheadded that the DOE had found three open burning incidences in Bukit Cheeding,Banting and Batang Berjuntai and an agriculture farm in Johan Setia, Port Klang.

“Weare making the necessary enforcement.”

The DOEhas said air quality in Ipoh and Seri Manjung in Perak, Port Klang and Shah Alamwas unhealthy, with Air Pollutant Index (API) readings exceeding 100.

Rosnanisaid the DOE had been informed by its Indonesian counterpart that 456 personneland local communities were involved in fighting the fires in Sumatra.

She said36 hotspots were spotted in Sumatra on Thursday.

TourismMinister Datuk Dr Leo Michael Toyad said tourists were still arriving as usualdespite the haze.

The hazeis only affecting parts of the country, he told reporters after presenting aworking paper on the second day of the Ninth National Civil mService Conferencein Bukit Kiara here today.


Indonland owner arrested for starting bushfire

Source:The Sunday Times, June 27, 2004 [LATES NEWS]


Indonesianpolice have arrested a plantation owner for illegally torching bush land onSumatra, where similar blazes have sent haze over Malaysia and Singapore inrecent days, media reports said on Sunday. 

Policesaid the man, identified by his initials AS, ordered 2,000 hectares of landtorched to make way for a palm oil plantation in Riau province, Kompas newspaperreported.

It wasthe first such arrest this year, the paper reported. It was not clear what theman would be charged with. Police were not immediately available to confirm thereport.

Sincelast week, a brown haze from forest fires on Sumatra island has shrouded citiesin Malaysia and Indonesia, prompting health warnings. Air quality in Singaporehas also been affected.

Malaysiahas complained that Indonesia is not doing enough to crack down on farmers who set the land-clearing fires, and have warned that it couldmaffect its tourist industry.

The hazeis among the worst since 1997-98, when wildfires in Sumatra and Kalimantanprovinces burned out of control for weeks, destroying 10 million hectares,blanketing Singapore and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia with thick smoke andtriggering a diplomatic dispute. — AP



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