Malaysia: Haze getting worse in Sabah’s west coast

The Star 5 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Thick smoke from open burning and bush fires is causing breathing problems as well as stinging pain in the eyes for people in Sabah’s west coast, where haze is reported to be the worst in the state.

The situation worsens when the wind is strong as it fans the blaze which, in turn, causes bigger swathes of smoke.

Ashes from the burnt grass and trees can be seen everywhere. Anyone standing outside their car for less than a minute would already smell of smoke.

It is even worse for those living close to the burning areas.

Siti Sarah Hatam, 55, said the burning behind her house in Bongawan, some 73km from here, was suffocating and made breathing difficult for her and her children.

“It is hard to breathe. There is nowhere to get away from the haze because it invades our house,” she said, adding that she hoped the weather would improve soon.

The mother of six had not been washing her clothes for the past few days due to the smoke but decided to do it yesterday when she saw an improvement in the weather.

“The situation, however, worsened throughout the day and now all my clothes smell of smoke,” she added.

Achil Toimin, 20, said the smoke caused him headaches.

“It is better today compared to the last few days when I even had to help my neighbour put out bush fires in front of her house,” he said yesterday.

Some parts of the Papar-Beaufort road were also burning, much to the frustration of folk living there.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman has asked for immediate measures to implement cloud seeding in the west coast of Sabah in view of the deteriorating air quality.

In a statement released after he met with officials from the Fire and Rescue Department, Sabah Meteorological Department and Department of Environment on the haze situation, he said the biggest contributor to the haze was the peat fires in the Binsuluk Forest Reserve in Beaufort and Kota Klias.

Firemen and State Forestry Department personnel were coordinating their efforts to battle the fire in Binsuluk, he said.

Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said that open burning by plantation smallholders was to be blamed for causing the peat fires in Klias and Binsuluk, which forced 77 schools in southwestern Sabah to be closed for two days.

The fire on March 27 destroyed 200ha of the Binsuluk Forest Reserve and razed 20ha of the reserve area in Klias, he added.

83 schools in Sabah closed due to unhealthy API
OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 4 Apr 16;

TUARAN: Eighty-three schools in Papar, Beaufort and Kuala Penyu will be closed today and tomorrow, said Sabah Education deputy director Maimunah Suhaibul.

Yesterday, she had announced 77 schools in those areas would be closed today.

The eight more schools to follow suit are SK Kimanis, SK Our Lady Fatima, SK Kelatuan, SK Tanaki, SK Tampasak and SMK Bongawan II.

“I have informed the Education Ministry of the closure of those schools due to Air Pollutant Index with readings between unhealthy and very unhealthy levels throughout the days.

“The Department of Environment has placed a portable air quality monitoring device at SMK Membakut 2 to monitor the haze situation at the three districts,” she said after the launching of the state-level 1Malaysia Reading Camp at SMK Tamparuli here.

Meanwhile, schools in Kota Kinabalu are advised to inform the Education Department should they decide to allow students to go back early due to poor air quality.

“As of now, the API reading in Kota Kinabalu is at 60, which is still moderate. We hope the situation will not affect schooling sessions.

But if certain schools are badly affected due to nearby open fires, they have to ensure parents personally pick up their children, for safety purposes.”

Sabah parents take kids out of school early due to haze
The Star 5 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Parents fetched their children from school early while many rushed to pharmacies for face masks as the west coast of Sabah was enveloped by smoke from forest fires.

Although the Air Pollutant Index (API) stayed at a moderate 68 in the city, many found the thick haze and smell of smoke worrying, especially for the health of their children.

Some schools gave out face masks to their pupils while Parent-Teacher Associations in many other schools started raising money for masks.

The winds were shifting the haze to many parts of the west coast from the worst-hit southwestern Beaufort area.

Department of Environment (Sabah) assistant director Norazizi Adinan said the area recorded a very unhealthy API of 300 on Sunday but this dropped to 150 as of noon yesterday and was continuing to improve.

Sabah Education Department deputy director Maimunah Suhai­dul told reporters yesterday that 83 primary and secondary schools, with more than 20,000 students in Beaufort, Kuala Penyu and Papar, would stay closed till today.

She said principals in other areas had been given permission to close their schools should the haze worsen, but they must inform the department.

UMS may suspend classes due to worsening air quality
KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 4 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) will consider suspending its classes if the Air Pollutant Index (API) continues to rise, said its vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Harun Abdullah.

In a statement today, he said the university would take action if the air quality depreciates.

This, he said, was to ensure the safety and health of the people especially the undergraduates.

"We view this haze situation seriously and will continue monitoring the situation," he said.

As a precautionary step, UMS is distributing facial masks for free to all their students.

As of 3pm, the Kota Kinabalu district recorded an API of 70 (moderate level).

Air pollution level at Beufort, Papar, Kuala Penyu reaches 161
OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 4 Apr 16;

BEAUFORT: The air quality in Papar, Kuala Penyu and here recorded an unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) of 161 as of 11am.

A Sabah Environment Department spokesman said the readings at three districts were measured using a portable machine.

The state Education Department had also ordered 83 primary and secondary schools in the districts to be closed today.

Beaufort district officer Mohd Shahid Othman said firemen were putting out bush and forest fires. “We will have meeting with relevant agencies if the situation worsens.”

Meanwhile, Kota Kinabalu recorded second highest API at 60 as of 11am. The state capital and nearby towns Telipok and Bandar Sierra appeared hazy in the morning.

Haze in Beaufort area improves overnight but remains unhealthy
The Star 4 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The situation in the Beaufort area of south western Sabah improved overnight but remains unhealthy.

Department of Environment (Sabah) assistant director Norazizi Adinan said that the Air Pollutant Index was at 161 as of 8am Monday dropping from the "very unhealthy"’ levels of 300 recorded late Sunday.

"The API peaked to 300 overnight but we are seeing a drop now,’’ he told The Star Online.

Norazizi said fires across the Klias peninsular, Bongowan, Membakut and parts of Papar as well as a simmering peat fire in the Binsuluk Forest Reserve area might be triggering the heavy haze conditions.

The Beaufort area about 100kms from Kota Kinabalu does not have a permanent station to monitor air quality levels.

Acording to Norazizi, they had put up a mobile station (Portable Particulate Matter Monitoring System) at SMK Membakut 2 about three days ago to monitor the worsening haze situation in the area.

Late Sunday, Sabah Education Department ordered 77 primary and secondary schools in Beaufort, Kuala Penyu and Papar involving some 20,000 students to remain close till Tuesday and would reviewed if there was need for further closure.

Hazy conditions also hit the state capital and its surrounding areas here with meteorologists disclosing that visibility was 1 km in Kota Kinabalu as of 8am while visibility for the rest of the state including Labuan was above 10kms.

API readings for Kota Kinabalu was at a moderate 60 while interior Keningau was at 54 at 8am Monday.

A spokesman for the Kota Kinabalu International Airport there was no flight disruptions due the dropping visibility.