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Peatland News

Title: Haze spreads to Malaysia's north and east
Date: 12-Aug-2005
Category: Malaysia
Source/Author: OutlookIndia

Smoky haze from forest fires in Indonesia today spread to Malaysia's northern and eastern towns as winds changed direction away from the Klang valley where a state of emergency has been in effect after Air Pollution Index shot to hazardous levels.

Changing wind directions lifted some of the haze blanketing Kuala Lumpur, Port Klang and other areas, but experts warned that the haze could be back if the winds blew there again carrying the smoke from the forest fires.

For the first time in many days blue skies and a dim orb of the sun could be seen this morning in Kuala Lumpur. However, the change in wind directions carried the smoky haze to Penang and Terengganu where visibility fell rapidly.

Met office said the visibility in the northern town of Penang was down to two kilometers and in Terengganu it was down to one kilometre.

An emergency was declared yesterday in Port Klang, Malaysia's busiest harbour, and Kuala Selangor, a tourist spot, forcing the closure of all government workplaces and schools after the air pollution index there crossed 500.

However, the pollution index fell to 314 in Port Klang and 293 in Kuala Selangor today. The three ports of Klang were reported functioning normally. Authorities could lift the emergency if the index has dipped.

Malaysia has set up a team of 100 firefighters and 25 disaster management experts to send to Sumatra. Malaysia and indonesia have also agreed to use cloud seeding to try to induce rain over Sumatra to stop the burning of the forests.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi said that action could be taken against local plantation companies if they were found responsible for burning forests in Indonesia.

Indonesia has said some Malaysian companies owning palm oil plantations in Indonesia could also be held responsible for burning forests.

The farmers and plantation owners usually clear the land in the dry weather by burning, which leads to smoky haze.

Leave has been cancelled for the country's over 12,000 firefighters in view of the growing number of open burning cases across the nation, the Star newspaper said.

It quoted an official of the Fire and Rescue department as saying that men had been put on stand-by mode across the country as they may have to be deployed to other states to relieve those who had been fighting fire over a long period of time.

Open burning has been banned by the government and offenders would have to pay a hefty fine.

The Global Environment Centre here blamed a lack of knowledge in managing peat land for the forest fires.

"Peat land is drained for plantations, leaving dry vegetation which fuels the peat fires," Chee Tong Yiew, the centre's manager was quoted by the New Straits Times as saying. He added that the traditional land clearing practice of burning made it worse as peat fire did not burn above ground but smouldered underground.

The people needed to be educated in peat land management, he said. ASEAN leaders are to meet in Penang in Malaysia next week to discuss among other things the trans boundary haze problem.

Author(s) Jaishree Balasubramanian
Website (URL) http://www.outlookindia.com/pti_news.asp?id=316655

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