Sunday, August 09, 2009

Outlaw open burning on peat land, Sarawak urged

August 9, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR: Sarawak should outlaw open burning on peat areas as they contribute to fires and the haze.

Environmental advisor to the Sarawak Government Dr James Dawos Mamit said he would advise the Natural Resource and Environment Board to review its current practice of issuing permits to plantations on peat land to use burning in their operations.

On Thursday, satellite images showed a high number of hotspots in Sarawak with a significant numbers in Sibu, Mukah and Miri divisions.

The haze map released by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre in Singapore showed the area around Sibu and Mukah shrouded in thick haze. The map also showed many hotspots in that area.

While open burning is banned in other parts of Malaysia, plantation operators in Sarawak can apply for an open burning permit under Section 30(1)(a) and (2) of the Natural Resources and Environment Ordinance.

In the application form, the applicant is asked to state whether the land is mineral or peat soil.

“It is a known fact now that it is detrimental to use fire on peat land as it is very difficult to put out.

“They should look at it objectively,” said Dr Dawos in reference to certain quarters in Sarawak that had dismissed environmentalists’ criticisms of oil palm development on peat land.

Dr Dawos is also the president of the newly-formed Malaysian Peat Society.

Peat expert Faizal Parish of the Global Environment Centre urged plantation companies to avoid peat soil as 95% of peat land in Sarawak are deep peat (more than 3m deep).

“Plantation should only be allowed on degraded areas.

“The state government should reconsider permitting open burning on peat land,” he said.


August 9, 2009
1,000ha ablaze in Sarawak

MIRI: Wildfires are raging in more than 1,000ha of forests and peat land near the Sarawak-Brunei border, resulting in a heavy concentration of thick smoke and ash which is choking the people living in the Kuala Baram area.

According to the Miri Fire and Rescue Department and local politicians, some 3,000ha have been burnt.

Miri Division Fire Chief Christian Olas said the fires were most intense near the bridge linking Sarawak to Brunei.

“More than 1,000ha in Kuala Baram district are still on fire.

“We have doused many fires over the past few days but they keep spreading due to the strong wind. New fires keep on appearing.

“Our firefighters are already on 24-hour duty. We only have 37 firefighters on the ground because we are short of manpower,” said Olas.

Checks by The Star Saturday showed that the area was choked with thick smoke and burnt smell.

Visibility was still at dangerously-low levels, with some stretches of the Pan-Borneo Highway blanketed with smoke.

At some stretches, visibility was between 100m to 200m. The thick haze has also blotted out the sun.

State authorities have called for more measures to contain the fires.

Assistant state Infrastructure Development and Communication minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin said the fires in his Senadin constituency, which is located in the Kuala Baram district, had burned more than 3,000ha of land.

“The fire department will build a watchtower to detect the fires swiftly and to enable better and more effective enforcement against open-burning activities,” he said.

The Air Pollution Index (API) in four locations in Sarawak - Bintulu, Miri, Samarahan and Sibu - were in unhealthy levels, with Sibu having a high API reading.

Kapit, Limbang and Sarikei had moderate air quality readings. There were no readings for Kuching.

The other three locations with unhealthy air quality were Bukit Rambai (in Malacca) and Muar.

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