Malaysia: Johan Setia peatfires cause of Klang, Shah Alam haze

MEI MEI CHU The Star 7 Aug 17;

SHAH ALAM: The seasonal haze from Sumatra has yet to hit Malaysian shores, but residents in Shah Alam and Klang are already suffering from thick smog engulfing their homes.

"The smog is so acrid that we can taste the sourness and bitterness in the air," said Kota Kemuning resident Lim Teck Wyn, 42.

The issue has plagued the community since the early 2000. Residents say open burning is a year-long problem that has worsened recently due to the dry season.

"It's most noticeable at night and goes off by morning (after the fire extinguishes) as if nothing happened," said J. Loh, a Kota Kemuning resident of 10 years.

The 43-year-old said they have to shut the windows and rely on air-conditioning, leading to an increase in electricity bills.

Similar views were shared by another resident, Karen Lee, who said her 13 and 15-year-old sons developed chronic bronchitis over the years due to the bad haze.

“The situation has improved compared to 2008 and 2014 after the Selangor government intervened, but we fear that it will worsen again if there are no proactive measures to contain the fires,” said the 45-year-old.

The source of the haze is the peat fires in Johan Setia, a residential area surrounded by peatland in Klang that is used for agriculture.

Plantation workers there are known to practice the slash-and-burn farming method where they set fire to the farms, bushes, and forest reserves to clear land for new crops like ginger and sweet potato.

During a site visit to Kampung Batu Tujuh near Kota Kemuning last week, The Star found pockets of smoke billowing from several spots in the ground across a farm off a main road.

Hectares of peatland had already been scorched with burnt wood and crops littered across the farm, a sign that the activity had been ongoing for some time.

A barrel containing petrol and a water jug were found next to a shed, believed to have been used to start the fire.

The burning took place directly behind a signboard of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry informing of the prohibition on open burning with a warning that offenders will face a RM500,000 fine, five years in jail or both.

Lim, who is an environmental consultant, says peat soil is highly-flammable as it is a dense accumulation of decomposed vegetation. Hence, peat fires can easily spread like wildfire.

He points out that the slash-and-burn practice in Johan Setia is similar to farming practices in Indonesia that caused the seasonal haze in Malaysia.

“How can we be mad and blame the Indonesians for the haze when we are doing the same in our own backyard,” Lim said.

According to the Selangor Fire and Rescue Department, 378 cases of open burning were reported in July, including bush fires, plantation fires, forest fires and rubbish fires.

Department assistant operations director Mohd Sani Hasrul warned that the embers in peat soil are dangerous fire hazards as the fire can quickly spread when they are carried by the wind.

“We have warned the public many times not to conduct open burning, especially in the forest reserve. However, the problem persists,” said Sani.

When contacted, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said that his Ministry is equally concerned of the issue as the haze affects Johan Setia, Klang, Jalan Kebun, KESAS Highway, Bandar Puteri, Bandar Putera and Kota Kemuning.

“This open burning always occurs during the dry season and is being carried out by immigrants who have been employed by the land owners,” said Wan Junaidi.

Wan Junaidi: Peatfires an economic issue
MEI MEI CHU The Star 7 Aug 17;

PETALING JAYA: It is difficult to stop open burning in the Johan Setia peatlands as the sites are deserted when enforcement officers arrive to investigate, said Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

The Natural Resources and Environment Minister said the officers would then have to identify the land owner before they can start the investigation and prosecution process.

“Frequently, fires are found to be raging in road reserve land which do not have any owners so no prosecution can be carried out,” he said.

Wan Junaidi said that the real cause of open burning in Johan Setia is an economic issue.

“The people here break the law because they are trying to survive (by making an income through farming),” he said.

From 2011 to 2017, 47 investigation papers were opened and 43 cases filed in court for open burning cases. The remaining four are currently under investigation.

A total of RM78,400 in compounds and penalties have been charged for the cases in the Johan Setia area.

On extinguishing the fires, Wan Junaidi said that the Fire Department faces a lack of water resources for the task.

"The Department of Environment has been looking into ways of obtaining groundwater through a study conducted by the Minerals and Geoscience Department,” he said.

He added that they will also implement the Peatland Fire Prevention programme by constructing five dams in Johan Setia to irrigate the areas and keep the peatland wet.

He added that the ministry also carries out the Open Burning Prevention Action plan by patrolling the area daily with a Pollution Monitoring Team.

The operations involved the Klang City Council, Department of Environment, police, Justice Department, Land Offices and Immigration Department.

Wan Junaidi hoped the construction of the proposed LRT 3 project from Johan Setia to Bandar Utama will spur development in the area and gradually stop the open burning.

However, he said that “not every single action is fruitful” and the issue of open burning at Johan Setia was recently tabled at a State Legislative Council meeting.

"The state government has committed to implementing the seizure of the land from owners who are repeat offenders and have been convicted of recurring open burning offences," he said.

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