Little hotspots causing poor air quality in Malaysia's central region

KUALA LUMPUR: If the heat and dry spell were not enough, little hotspots here and there made up of forest fires and open burning, are now causing poor air quality in Malaysia's central region.

Meteorological Department director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said the haze was originating from within our borders, rather than from Indonesia.

According to the Department of Environment, air quality has plunged in the Klang Valley. Port Klang and Cheras reported unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings.

Air quality in the northern and southern regions, as well as Sabah and Sarawak, reported low moderate to good levels.

Fire and Rescue Department officers said they were working around the clock, putting themselves at great risk to put out the fires, mostly man-made, and hard to get to.

In Selangor, Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general (Operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid said the biggest contributor to the air pollution now was a 12ha forest reserve in Tanjung Sepat, Banting, that caught fire due to illegal pineapple farming activities.

"We have had to use helicopters to water bomb these areas. These people are smart now, they go deep into the forest to do their farming. This is not right and it is contributing to the bad air quality," he said.

Besides that, Bomba also reported fires in dump sites around the Klang Valley, suggesting that open burning was being done by citizens.

He urged people to stop open burning, saying that fires in dump sites were a hazard to firemen trying to put them out as the department reported another 23 hotspots - all in peninsular Malaysia.

Pahang reported the most fires at 15, of which nine were in Pekan.

Johor reported large fires in Mersing, Segamat and Kluang, while Kedah, Kelantan, Negri Sembilan and Terengganu reported one hotspot each.

Fires are also occurring in neighbouring Riau, which the Meteorological Department said could become a problem for us in May when the south-west monsoon winds bring smog from Indonesia to Malaysia.

In Miri, unscrupulous people have been starting massive fires at night to either clear forest land for agricultural purposes or to get rid of plantation waste although these fires are a threat to the environment and health.

As in the peninsula, firemen here are being hampered by the size of the fires and the fact that they are in hard to reach areas.

Sarawak assistant communications minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin, who visited the Tudan Watchtower, said the Department of EnvironĀ­ment would be calling for cloud seeding.

"These fires are in hard to reach forests. We need to carry out cloud seeding urgently.

"If we can induce rain to fall, it will help douse the numerous fires that are raging in various parts of Kuala Baram district and southern parts of Miri district near to Marudi and the Niah areas," he said.