Open burning in Sarawak contributing to haze

Open burning in Sarawak contributing to haze

9 August 2007

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Malaysia — Open burning of agriculture waste in interior plantations has resulted in numerous incidents of wildfires in different parts of central and northern Sarawak; with many of these fires already measuring more than a square kilometre each. 

These domestic sources of fires are starting to cause a veil of haze in several interior settlements in Kapit, as well as in coastal areas in the southern parts of Miri. 

These fires within Sarawak are already visible as hotspots in satellite images. 

Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) chief enforcement officer Dania Goyog, when contacted today, acknowledged that there are plantations operating in the central and northern regions that are currently carrying out open-burning activities. 

He admitted there are some big fires ravaging in these plantations. 

“These plantation companies had recently applied for permits from the NREB to burn their waste products. When we issued them the permits, the weather conditions throughout the state was good and there was no danger of haze or serious air pollution. 

“The permits we issued them was for controlled burning on a limited scale. However, if the hazy situation in various parts of the state now gets worse, we will call for a total halt on open burning in the plantations. 

“The permits we issued them can be revoked any time as and when we deem fit,” he said when asked to comment on the fires which may get bigger if the weather becomes dry. 

Sarawak is now experiencing strange weather changes. There was heavy rain less than a month ago and now the weather has became hot and dry, prompting plantation companies involved in the oil palm and timber industries to start open burning to get rid of their waste products. 

When asked under what conditions the NREB would revoke the open-burning permits, Goyog said the board would do so as soon as the air pollutant index (API) reaches the unhealthy level at the specific area in question. 

The NREB, he added, had also received information that there are forest fires in Kalimantan Borneo. If the haze from the Indonesian side were to sweep into Sarawak, and the domestic fires in Sarawak were to get bigger, the transboundary and domestic sources of haze would together create a sharp increase in the air pollutant index as was the case in recent years.

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