Malaysia to make offer to help Indonesia deal with haze

Ben Tan and Azidan Nahar New Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

MUAR: Malaysia is offering to help Indonesia deal with the haze problem including in their cloud-seeding activities, in the effort to extinguish the fires in Sumatera.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G Palanivel said he would convey the government's offer during a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart in Indonesia next Wednesday.
"I will hold discussions with the the Indonesian Enviroment Minister and see if we can reach an agreement to curb the issue of forest fires can be done jointly," he said after attending a briefing session on the haze situation at the Muar district office here today.
Present at the briefing was Department of Environment (DOE) director-general Datuk Halimah Hassan.

Palanivel said his ministry had received many comments regarding the current haze conditions in the country.

On the views for sterner action against those who were responsible, he said it was not possible for Malaysia to interfere with the laws of another country.

"Indonesia is also the only country that has not rectified the ASEAN Haze Agreement in 2002," he added.

On the issue of taking action against Malaysian estate management companies that were involved in the fires in Indonesia, Palanivel said it was not possible as the country's laws are not applicable in the republic.

"Even we ourselves do not know who is behind or started the forest fires. There are some quarters who claim that it was the companies and others the farmers themselves.

"Because of that, there is a need to discuss the matter with the minister in-charge there," he said, adding that Malaysia would stress on taking stern action against those responsible.
Meanwhile, Palanivel said the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) report on Thursday showed thick haze movement from fires in Riau in Central Sumatera to the the west coast of Peninsula Malaysia.

He said the report also highlighted 64 hotspots registered which has decreased following the peak with 173 hotspots on June 19.

Muar firemen battled for 30 hours to douse bush fire
Chong Chee Seong New Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

MUAR: A team of 57 firemen battled for 30 hours to prevent a bush fire from spreading to 120 homes in 20 nearby villagers at a cultivated land near Bukit Naning here today.
By noon, the fire on the 110ha of land cultivated with a variety of crops such as pineapple, rubber, palm oil and vegetables, was under control.

Muar Fire Department chief Ariff Jili said 10 fire engines with 57 personnel from Tangkak, Bukit Gambir, Labis and Segamat rushed to the scene when fire broke out at 8am on Thursday.

Ariff said initial investigations revealed the fire was started by the farmers to rid branches of trees, weeds and leaves in their estates and smallholdings.

Dreaded haze expected to linger until August
The Star 22 Jun 13;

PETALING JAYA: Based on the pattern in previous years, the haze is expected to last until August, according to the assessment of Indonesia's largest environmental NGO.

Walhi or Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (Indonesian Forum for the Environment) noted that the root causes of the haze have remained the same, three decades after it became a trans-boundary problem.

Walhi's national forest and large-scale plantation campaigner Zenzi Suhadi said the annual occurrences showed that monitoring and prevention of open burning in the country was still “very weak”.

He said the Indonesian Government seemed to only take notice of the situation after Singapore reacted strongly to the haze shrouding the island.

“It is clear that the problems are still the same. It is important for the Indonesian Government to take decisive and quick measures to address the crisis,” he said, adding that the haze could affect multilateral relations.

The smog, which first appeared over Malaysian skies in 1982, was worst in 1997 when the Air Pollutant Index reading in Sarawak soared to 839 539 higher that the “Hazardous” level of 300 prompting the Government to issue a 10-day Haze Emergency.

It has been an annual problem ever since, with Port Klang and Kuala Selangor in the peninsula recording the highest readings of over 500 in 2005.

The haze, which is now an acute problem in South-East Asia, is mainly caused by open burning in Indonesia for land clearing, in addition to other factors like hot and dry weather.

Zenzi said forest fires that had occurred in the last decade were not just due to ecological changes but also intentional land clearing by large-scale plantations and the lack of environmental governance by the pulp and paper industry.

Walhi's southern Sumatra acting executive director Hadi Jadmiko said efforts to stop open burning should begin from the Indonesian Government.

He said the haze could have been prevented if the Government had been serious in tackling the issue by coming down hard on open burning over the years.

“We have found that no action has been taken against two companies here which continue to practise open burning,” he said in a press statement.

He said drainage canals in peat soil areas also led to these places being dried out, causing fires to spread more easily.

Rico Kurniawan, Walhi's executive director for Riau, said the number of hotspots showed that the issuance of permits for plantations was not done with proper assessment.

He said the application of environmental rules in the timber and plantation industries was still far from being responsible.

Walhi is the umbrella body uniting more than 450 NGOs throughout Indonesia's vast archipelago.

It has independent offices and grassroots constituencies located in 24 of the country's 31 provinces.

Weatherman: Winds are strong and steady
The Star 22 Jun 13;

PETALING JAYA: The Meteorological Department said the wind patterns are currently “strong and steady” and will likely continue to carry haze particles from Indonesia if the fires there continue to rage.

Its central forecast office director Muhammad Helmi Abdullah said the wind was expected to blow mostly from a southwesterly direction from Indonesia to Peninsular Malaysia.

He added that rain was also not expected to fall over the next few days.

“Now the winds are quite strong and steady due to the presence of tropical storms from the northern part of the South China Sea. This is also the season where tropical storms are quite common,” he told The Star.

He said these tropical storms, moving from the Western Pacific region into the South China Sea, would not just cause strong winds but also bring dry weather.

Meanwhile, Department of Environment director-general Datuk Halimah Hassan said it was difficult to determine how long the haze would persist as it depended on weather conditions and the situation in Indonesia.

She said areas in Johor and Malacca were now experiencing “hazardous” and “very unhealthy” air quality because the southwest monsoon was blowing the haze from peat and forest fires in the Riau district of central Sumatra to Malaysia.

The monsoon season, she said, would continue until September.

“Of course we hope that the haze does not continue till then. It usually does not last that long. It depends on the winds and how fast the authorities in Indonesia act on managing the fires in Riau,” she said.

KL minister denies weak handling of issue
Lester Kong Malaysia Correspondent In Muar (johor) And Teo Cheng Wee Regional Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur
Straits Times 22 Jun 13;

MALAYSIA'S natural resources and environment minister has denied that the government has been weak in its handling of the haze situation, saying that it has been in constant communication with its Indonesian counterpart behind the scenes.

Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said the government has voiced its concerns to Indonesia, but added that the situation "is not simple".

"It is not true that Malaysia has not been firm in airing our grievances with Indonesia," he said. "Malaysia and Singapore are the most active in pursuing this with Indonesia."

Speaking to reporters while on a visit to the haze-affected town of Muar yesterday, he said he would visit Indonesian counterpart Balthasar Kambuaya in Jakarta next Wednesday. "We are very worried about the open burning there. We will press to them the seriousness of the haze in Malaysia."

His comments came amid criticism from opposition politicians and the public that the government has not been vocal enough in engaging Jakarta on the issue.

Despite the air quality here worsening rapidly in the past two days, Malaysia has been cautious about pointing fingers at its neighbour over what is a potentially sensitive issue for bilateral ties.

The Prime Minister's Office yesterday issued its first statement on the haze, quoting a spokesman as saying: "It is important that Asean nations work together in a spirit of cooperation to tackle this problem."

It added that Malaysian-owned companies operating in Indonesia should abide by all local laws and regulations, and "ensure they do not contribute to environmental degradation".

Opposition Democratic Action Party leader Lim Kit Siang has called on the government to end its "deafening silence" and to convene an emergency meeting of environment ministers from Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

He said it should also detail its contingency plans for the worsening air quality, and what common action it proposes to take with Indonesia and Singapore to control the forest fires in Sumatra.

Yesterday, areas in Johor saw the Air Pollutant Index (API) remain at hazardous levels, including Pasir Gudang (323) and Kota Tinggi (314). API readings countrywide eased by evening, but five areas in Johor, Negeri Sembilan and Malacca remained above the "very unhealthy" level of 200.

Tens of thousands more students in Johor were also affected by additional school closures, as 195 schools in Kota Tinggi and Pontian were told to close. This followed closures in Muar, Batu Pahat and Pasir Gudang on Thursday.

On next week's meeting, Mr Palanivel said he would ask Indonesia what laws it can use to clamp down on open burning, although he acknowledged that it is hard to nab the culprits. He said Malaysia will consider lending Indonesia cloud-seeding aircraft.