Sarawak struggles to cope as haze and HFMD take toll

Sarawak struggles to cope as haze and HFMD take toll

18 August 2006

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Kuching, Malaysia —  The haze enveloping the southern part of Sarawak is stretching the resources of the State Health Department which is struggling to contain the hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD).

It is also disrupting school outdoor activities and threatening the National Dayparade.

Kuching International Airport is enveloped by haze as a plane taxis down the runway (background)

Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan, chairman of the State’s Natural Disaster and Relief Management committee, said he was “overworked and underpaid” in having to tackle the HFMD, haze, drought and probably the floods at the end of the year.

As Kuching crept towards the “very unhealthy” air quality zone — as denoted by an API reading of between 201 and 300 — the Health Department yesterday alerted all hospitals and clinics to monitor acute respiratory-related illnesses as the number of cases reported here had breached the “alert number”.

Dr Chan said yesterday more than 200 cases were treated daily at government polyclinics and the Sarawak General Hospital (SGH) in the city.

The alarm bell is triggered when the number passes the 50 cases-a-day mark. Dr Chan said the number of asthma cases had also breached the alert number of 50 a day in the city.

The Medical Department has instructed the State Education Department to direct schools to cancel co-curricular or outdoor activities.

The haze that pushed the air pollutant index (API) in Kuching to 161 at 5pm yesterday, has also stretched the resources of the Fire and Rescue Department now battling plantation fires in Samarahan, Gedong, Sri Aman and Betong.

The department said it had to redeploy about 100 men from the least haze-affected areas in Miri, Limbang and Lawas to Kuching to join the 200 men battling the fires since last Friday. The deployment starts tomorrow.

Although Dr Chan said the fires were under control, the blaze in plantations in the four areas continued unabated and were contributing to the worsening haze there.

The number of areas in the State now in the unhealthy air quality category — indicated by an API reading of 101 to 200 — has increased from four to seven. Apart from Kuching, the other areas are Samarahan (155), Sibu (151), Petra Jaya (148), Sri Aman (144), Tebedu (137) and Sarikei (119).

Places with poor visibility were: Kuching, 1.5km; Sri Aman, 1km; Sibu and Miri, 6km; Bintulu, 3km; Labuan, 7km; Kota Kinabalu, 8km; (Peninsular Malaysia) Prai, Butterworth and Sitiawan, 7km; Petaling Jaya, 9km; and Alor Star and Kluang, 6km.

Dr Chan said three plantations in Gedong were being investigated to see if they had flouted the ban on open burning.

State fire chief, acting deputy director Morni Mamat said there were fires on 2,000 hectares of plantation land in the four areas. He said more than 500ha were burning in two plantations, Ladang Nangkung and Ladang Smog, in Kota Samarahan; three plantations, Ladang Melor, Gemilang and Sg Skrang in Gedong; and five plantations in Sri Aman.

Morni said the fires, particularly in Gedong, were difficult to put out as the area was largely peat soil and the fires were burning underground.

“Water supply is also a problem as the dry season had dried up drains and rivers in the area.”

Morni said they had dug firebreaks to confine the fires in one area. The fires are expected to be doused in a week.

Flying to the rural areas is now subject to delays and cancellations as rural airports could be closed due to the haze. Yesterday, two flights to Mukah were cancelled.

Although a question mark still hangs over the National Day parade, work to complete the grandstand at Padang Merdeka here and viewing galleries along the routes the parade will take is in full swing.

“The decision to carry on or cancel (the parade) may be made two days before the date,” Dr Chan said, adding that the decision would have to be made by the Federal Cabinet.


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