PORT DICKSON - It's not just water woes that the El Nino phenomenon will bring.
The impending hot and dry weather is likely to contribute to forest fires and hazy conditions across state borders, affecting agriculture and health.
Which is why open burning is so dangerous during this period, says the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry as it urges all parties to take precautionary measures to prevent it.
Deputy Minister Datuk Sri Dr James Dawos Mamit called on state governments, the local authorities and landowners to closely monitor dry and easily combustible areas such as waste disposal sites, peat forests and plantations.
"The hot and dry weather has the potential to cause fires which would contribute to the haze. I urge everyone to cooperate and refrain from open burning," he said after launching Friends of the Environment or RAS in conjunction with the 2014 World Environmental Day here yesterday.
According to a World Meteorological Organisation statement, the El Nino phenomenon is expected to occur on a global scale around the middle of this year.
The El Nino generally results in lower than average rainfall in Malaysia during the dry South-West Monsoon, which started on May 15 and is expected to continue until September.
Dawos said the Department of Environment would step up monitoring and enforcement, adding that offenders could be fined up to RM500,000 or jailed not more than five years, or both upon conviction.
Meanwhile, the Meteorological Department agreed with a World Meteorological Organisation forecast that El Nino would begin some time this month or in August, and would persist through next year.
"In general, the country will receive less rainfall during the El Nino period, especially in Sabah and Sarawak. The El Nino lifespan is between six and 18 months," the department said in a statement.
Shortage of water supply had badly affected a number of states, including Selangor, which carried out a rationing exercise for about three months until May. But the problem is not over.
Water in Negri Sembilan dams was reported to have fallen to critical levels.
The Gemencheh dam dipped to 98m, some 12m lower than the normal level, despite the wet weather in the state in recent weeks.
The most severe impact of the El Nino was seen during the 1997-1998 period, where a substantial part of the country experienced dry and hot weather, along with hazy conditions. However, the last occurrence of the phenomenon in 2009-2010 did not leave a significant impact on local weather.