Hotspots and open burning bring back haze in Sarawak

Hazy conditions could last until the end of August if there are no changes in the prevailing dry weather and wind direction.
Hazy conditions could last until the end of August if there are no changes in the prevailing dry weather and wind direction.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUCHING (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The haze has returned to parts of Sarawak due to the rising number of hotspots in Kalimantan and open burning in the Malaysian state.

State Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) controller Peter Sawal said 121 hotspots were detected across the border with Indonesia on Tuesday (Aug 14), more than double from the day before.

Seven hotspots were also detected in Sarawak - two in Kuching, three in Mukah and one each in Sarikei and Sri Aman.

As at 2pm on Wednesday, nine areas in the state recorded moderate air pollutant index (API) readings, with the town of Mukah having the highest at 84.

This was followed by Sibu (75), Bintulu (71), Samalaju (61), Kuching (58), Kapit (56), Samarahan (53), Sarikei (53) and Sri Aman (51).

A reading of 0-50 is considered good, 51-100 moderate and 101-200 unhealthy.

Mr Sawal said the hazy conditions could last until the end of the month if there were no changes in the prevailing dry weather and wind direction.

"From the briefing by the Meteorological Department, we're expecting this month to be dry with below normal rainfall.

"But things may change; we may experience intermittent rain, and that will dampen the weather. However, we also monitor the situation because of the high number of hotspots detected across the border and the winds blowing towards us," he said.
 

 
 

Mr Sawal said a few incidents of local burning by farmers had been detected in Sibu, Mukah, Sri Aman and Betong.

"Our men on the ground are now advising local farmers to be vigilant in controlling and monitoring their burning to prevent it from spreading," he said.

He also said the NREB had stopped issuing permits for open burning to plantation companies since July and would take action against any illegal burning activities.

Offenders could be fined RM30,000 (S$10,000) or prosecuted in court.

However, Mr Sawal said better awareness and enforcement has resulted in a reduced number of illegal burning cases.

"For the past few years, our records show that incidents of illegal burning had reduced. I think they are aware of the seriousness of illegal open burning.

"At the same time, our concerted efforts mean they cannot escape. We can detect (open burning) through satellite and pinpoint the location," he said. "Then, we proceed to the ground to verify it."

In Miri, firemen were battling several wildfires in the towns of Mukah, Bintulu and Bintangor.

Wildfires over about 4ha of land have been burning since Tuesday evening in Kampung Assykirin in Bintulu.

In Mukah, peatfires in Daro are being tackled, while in Bintangor, wildfires have been contained at 24.3ha of the Felcra Bunut plantations.