Riau forest fires cause of haze in Klang Valley

WJ

PUTRAJAYA: The haze shrouding parts of the Klang Valley, Shah Alam and Putrajaya today could be attributed to forest fires in Riau province, Sumatra.

“Forest fires are certainly raging in Riau. Wind turbulence brings the smoke from there to several areas in the Klang Valley, Shah Alam and Putrajaya.

“However, we have been monitoring closely the situation in Riau since yesterday,” Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said today.

He said he had written to Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Dr Siti Nurbaya Baka to discuss possible solutions to the haze problem.

“I wrote her a letter on Aug 22 on this matter,” he said, adding that no reply was forthcoming as yet.

Wan Junaidi advised the public, especially children and those with chronic illnesses, to reduce or avoid outdoor activities in hazy conditions.

As of 4pm today, 23 areas nationwide had moderate Air Pollutant Index (API) readings of between 51 and 100. The highest at 100 was recorded in Tanjung Malim, Perak.

According to the Department of Environment, areas with moderate API readings included Batu Muda (Sentul), Kuala Lumpur (99), Putrajaya (88), and Shah Alam (88) and Petaling (86) in Selangor.

API readings of 0-50 are classified as good, 51-100 (moderate), 101-200 (unhealthy), 201-300 (very unhealthy) and over 300 (hazardous).

Meanwhile, Wan Junaidi said the current haze was not expected to be as serious as last year’s following the end of the El Nino phenomenon.

He said the current dry weather was normal and said several areas in the country were still receiving normal amounts of rainfall or more since June.

“These areas are expected to continue receiving some rain, which will reduce the dry condition and haze despite the increasing number of hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan, Indonesia.

“The proactive, integrated action by Indonesia in putting out the forest fires would also help to reduce transboundary haze pollution,” he said after chairing a meeting of the National Haze and Dry Weather Committee here today.

Wan Junaidi said his ministry and each agency involved in managing the haze disaster were stepping up open burning prevention efforts as the problem could cause haze at the local level.

Among the actions taken is close monitoring over peat soil areas by activating the Peat Soil Fire Prevention and Management Programme, as such areas tend to catch fire.

The Open Burning Prevention Action Plan had also been activated, with patrols, monitoring and enforcement carried out in the areas identified, said Wan Junaidi.

“Aerial monitoring is also done to prevent fires in forest areas, especially those prone to fire outbreaks, and in high-risk interior areas.”

Wan Junaidi also said his ministry was not hiding facts and the real API readings when there were differences in readings between Malaysia, specifically in Johor, and neighbouring Singapore.

He said in measuring air quality using the API within 24 hours, Malaysia was still basing it on the atmospheric particulate matter of 10 micrometres in size (PM10) compared with Singapore, which was using PM2.5.

“Malaysia is expected to use the PM2.5 system next year after all its 65 meteorological stations have been upgraded.”

The ministry, in a statement, said that up to yesterday, 2,340 cases of open burning were detected, including 310 cases in forest areas, agriculture areas (602), industrial areas (16), construction sites (50), landfills (71), bush areas (540), as well as small open fires (751).

It said compound fines amounting to RM233,566 were imposed on 208 cases of open burning.