Asean raises alert on hotspots in Kalimantan

The haze over Ipoh in a photograph taken from Kinta Heights flat. Ipoh had a moderate API reading of 81 yesterday. — Picture by Farhan Najib
The haze over Ipoh in a photograph taken from Kinta Heights flat. Ipoh had a moderate API reading of 81 yesterday. — Picture by Farhan Najib

PETALING JAYA, Aug 19 — The Asean Secretariat yesterday declared “level 2” alert for hotspots in the Indonesian province of Kalimantan after more than 150 hotspots were detected for two consecutive days.

According to the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC), the alert also involved “dense smoke plumes, persisting dry weather and prevailing winds blowing towards Asean countries”.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said this required all Asean countries to submit daily situation reports on the status of the fires, steps taken to extinguish them and haze mitigation efforts.

“This will allow the authorities to activate a joint emergency response should the forest fires or haze situation get out of hand,” he said in a press statement yesterday. 

There are four levels of alert with the highest, Level Three, activated twice in September last year — first in Sumatra and then Kalimantan after more than 250 hotspots were detected.

The number of hotspots on Wednesday had increase to 146 in Kalimantan, almost double that of Tuesday. In Malaysia, there were 14 hotspots on Wednesday, 11 of them in Sarawak.

Junaidi told reporters in Ipoh yesterday that Indonesia would be officially notified that haze emitting from its forest fires was blanketting Malaysia.

“I am going to write to the Indonesian Forestry and Environment Minister (Dr Siti Nurbaya Bakar) to inform her of these latest developments.

“I want to let them know that the effects of the haze have already been seen in Peninsular Malaysia as well as some areas in Sarawak. It will be to alert them, we don’t want to pick fights with anyone,” he said.

He said the Indonesia had mobilised 3,000 policemen and soldiers to put out their fires.

Based on the Air Pollutant Index (API) yesterday, the situation improved slightly on Wednesday.

Tanjung Malim, Perak, had the highest API reading of 110 on Wednesday followed by Port Klang at 88, but this had improved to 58 and 65 respectively yesterday.

Freddy Panggabean, the Political Officer and Minister Counselor at the Indonesian Embassy here, said the Indonesian authorities had taken various measures to keep the forest fires under control.

“They have dropped water bombs over the fires, deployed thousands of fire fighters and have got the cooperation of local authorities,” he said.

Asked what were the main reasons for the annual fires, Freddy said many Indonesian farmers still practised slash-and-burn agriculture and this was the main cause for concern.

“The real challenge is for us to change the attitudes and techniques of those who still use environmental degradation methods.

“It is a big hurdle for Asean environmental officers but we will work on it and the results will be seen,” Freddy said,  adding with optimism that the old-fashioned method would be a thing of the past.

“I do not think the haze condition in Malaysia will get any worse as we are trying our best to anticipate meteorological changes and respond accordingly,” he said, referring to changes in wind patterns and direction.