Malaysia seeks stiffer penalties to combat haze

Malaysia seeks stiffer penalties to combat haze
Covering up: Motorcyclists taking precautions against the haze as they travel in Petra Jaya, Kuching, yesterday.

KUCHING - The new Natural Re­­sources and Environment Minister is seeking a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart to address the region's annual haze woes.

Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said he would also seek to increase penalties within Malaysia and impose stricter enforcement.

Speaking to reporters here, Wan Junaidi admitted that more needed to be done and that the key was co-operation between countries.

"I have sought a meeting with the Environment Minister of Indo­nesia.

"We need to have a discussion on how we can overcome this problem of forests fires. I want to know what help we can give," he said.

Air pollution worsened between Sunday and yesterday morning across Sarawak.

The worst hit was the township of Sri Aman, where the Air Pollutant Index (API) was the highest in the country at 129 around noon yesterday.

"The haze is from across the border. We are sure the hotspots are in Kalimantan, mostly in west and central Kalimantan.

"The hotspots are close to the border, but not within Sarawak.

"That is why it's so bad in Sri Aman. The wind is pushing the smog up," he said.

In Kuching, visibility was reduced to 1km on Sunday night, but improved slightly to 1.6km yesterday afternoon. Out of the 10 air quality stations in Sarawak, four recorded unhealthy readings of between 101 and 150.

The state Health Department said schools should limit outdoor activities and urged asthma sufferers to stay indoors as much as possible.

"If they go out, they should wear masks. Workers like those at construction sites should all wear masks," said department director Datuk Dr Zulkifli Jantan.

Wan Junaidi added that unless there was a shift in wind direction, the haze could mostly remain "circulated" around Borneo.

He said September would be a critical month, as the dry season might not ease up.

On higher fines, Wan Junaidi said he was considering a scale and for the maximum fines handed by the courts to be higher as well.

The stronger deterrents would force industries to self regulate more, he said.

ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre's statellite images showed seven hotspots within Borneo at noon yesterday, down from the 35 on Sunday and 85 last Friday.

Since Aug 18, the centre has categorised South-East Asia at Alert Level Two after lower than average rainfall was recorded starting in July.

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