Volunteer group seeks funds for haze prevention project in Malaysia

SIAU MING EN Today Online 6 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE — A local volunteer group is taking its goal of tackling haze a step further, by embarking on a canal-blocking project that will lower the chances of dry peat soil catching fire easily — a project to be financed by crowdfunding.

People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze), which was formed in Feb 2014, will begin on the project with Malaysian organisations at the end of the month, located in the Raja Musa Forest Reserve in Malaysia. The project is expected to cost RM4,480 (S$1,500).

Speaking to TODAY, PM.Haze president Tan Yi Han said that one way to help address the haze problem is to directly support haze prevention activities in neighbouring countries.

Activities such as agriculture and logging can lead to the drying of peatland, causing dry peat to burn easily. Once such a fire starts, they are difficult to put out, as water has to soak through the soil to extinguish the fire below.

Peat fires have been responsible for most of the noxious haze that has engulfed the region in recent years.

By blocking the canals, water levels can be raised to sustain the water composition in the dry peat soil, and prevent it from burning easily.

A few PM.Haze members have made field visits to Malaysia and Indonesia, and were able to experience the scale of the issue and see the dedication of the locals who tried to overcome the problem, said Mr Tan.

“With this canal-blocking project, we hope to bring this experience to our volunteers, while demonstrating how people in Singapore can work with our neighbours to solve this regional disaster,” he added.

Mr Tan said that while many non-profit organisations, companies and even government agencies have started to block up the canals, funds are still needed to help with these efforts.

Indonesia’s Peat Restoration Agency has estimated that US$3.6 billion (S$4.9 billion) is needed to re-wet all burnt peatland in the country.

With the canal-blocking project, believed to be the first such attempt by a community group, Mr Tan said he hoped PM.Haze would be able to set an example.

The Raja Musa Forest Reserve has a long history of fires, and the last one happened two months ago.

Working with an intermediary volunteer group Sahabat Hutan Gambut Selangor Utara and the Global Environment Centre, some 18 volunteers from PM.Haze will head down to the area on July 30. A new canal-block will be constructed to replace the existing one that is badly damaged.

The haze episode in Singapore last year — considered the worst in years — saw the emergence of various grassroots groups and non-governmental organisations in full force, urging consumers and businesses to help play their part in fighting the haze.

For instance, World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and PM.Haze started a movement — We Breathe What We Buy — to advocate the use of sustainably-produced palm oil, as a way to alleviate the haze problem.

Asked if the canal-blocking project was part of efforts to ensure that public interest in haze-related issues do not fizzle out, Mr Tan said it is understandable that “other priorities will take over”. “But we need enough people to care and be willing to take action, so hopefully our efforts can at least inspire these people.”

He added: “The work to prevent the next haze has to be done before the haze starts, and so it is important that we have committed people to do this work.”

Members of the public can contribute via this site: https://give.asia/movement/fight_haze_help_re-wet_a_fire-prone_peat_area_1

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