Open burning by farmers cause of haze in Sabah, minister says

Natural Resource and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said open burning by farmers caused the fire. ― Picture by K.E.Ooi
Natural Resource and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said open burning by farmers caused the fire. ― Picture by K.E.Ooi

PETALING JAYA, April 5 — The air quality in Sabah has improved after the Fire and Rescue Department managed to bring a fire affecting 220 ha of forest under control.

Natural Resource and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said open burning by farmers caused the fire.

“The fire spread to a forest reserve and also part of the palm oil plantation in Kampung Lumat, Beaufort,” he said. 

“We are investigating and action will be taken accordingly when we receive the full report.” 

Wan Junaidi said the Fire and Rescue Department managed to put out fires at the Tanah Gambut Klias Forest Reserve and the Tanah Gambut Binsuluk Forest Reserve through water-bombing and ground operations.

“Even though most of the fires have been doused, smoke that bellows from the burnt ground will still contribute to the haze in the affected districts,” he said.

The highest Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of a hazardous 308 was recorded at SMK Membakut 2 in the district of Membakut at 4am yesterday, although it improved to 150 by noon.

An API reading of zero to 50 is good, 51 to 100 is moderate, 101 to 200 is unhealthy, 201 to 300 is very unhealthy, and 301 and above is hazardous.

“The Department of Environment will continue to monitor the situation and inform the ministries or departments involved on the air quality,” he said.

As of 4pm yesterday, healthy readings were recorded in Sandakan (21) and Tawau (29). The districts with moderate readings were Kota Kinabalu (68) and Keningau (58).

Wan Junaidi said cloud seeding would be conducted by the Meteorological Department and the air force if the API exceededs 100 for three consecutive days.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Madius Tangau said cloud seeding would be carried out even if the ministry had to bear the expenses.

“The Meteorogical Department and the air force in Labuan are on standby to conduct the exercise,” he said.

Six more schools in Sabah have been closed because of the haze, an increase from the  77 schools that were closed earlier.

Acting Sabah Education Department director Maimunah Suhaibul said the six schools were in the Beaufort, Papar, and Kuala Penyu districts.

“The closure affects a total of 53 schools in Beaufort, Papar (16) and Kuala Penyu (14) districts, with 22,782 students affected by the haze,” she told reporters after launching the Sabah state level 1Malaysia Reading Camp 2016 here yesterday.

Maimunah said if other schools in the three districts were also affected by the haze, the schools could be closed as well. The school authorities should alert the district education office and the state education department. 

She said based on the Department of Environment report, the API recorded in the three districts was at an unhealthy 223 as of 6am yesterday. 

“We will continue monitoring the haze, and if the API reading goes down tomorrow, then schools may be reopened the next day.” 

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