MALAYSIA - Negeri Sembilan state has declared a state of crisis after taps ran dry in several thousand households amid a prolonged dry spell, with tinderbox conditions sparking open fires throughout Malaysia for nearly three weeks.
"Our meteorological stations at Malacca and Kuala Pilah (Negeri Sembilan) have not recorded any rainfall for the past 40 and 30 days, respectively," Dr Mohd Hisham Anip of the Malaysian Meteorological Department said in an e-mail statement on Wednesday. "This is considered new records for both stations."
There have been about 300 open, peat and bush fires reported daily in Malaysia in the last three weeks, with several places in the Klang Valley and Penang recording "unhealthy" levels of air pollution on Wednesday afternoon.
At least 5,742 open, peat and bush fires have been detected in Malaysia since Feb 1, up from just 440 in the whole of February last year, according to the Fire and Rescue Services Department.
The department's director, Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim, said the situation could turn critical if it does not rain soon.
Selangor reported 1,223 incidents of fire, Johor 973 and Perak 949 throughout February.
Dr Hisham said the current dry spell is expected to last until the middle of next month, and warned that more hot spots should be expected during the south-west monsoon from end-May to early September.
Rain does not occur all the time during monsoons. There are natural "breaks" during dry weather.
In Negeri Sembilan, several water catchment areas have dried up.
"We have not had any rain here over the past two months and this has caused water levels at our seven dams to reach critical levels," said the state's Menteri Besar, Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, as quoted by The Star Online on Wednesday.
He said the state's Natural Disaster Operations room is coordinating efforts to supply treated water to some 8,000 affected consumers in Sendayan, Rasah, Mambau and Seremban.
The Menteri Besar warned that the situation could worsen if the state authorities failed to come up with contingency plans.
Negeri Sembilan last faced severe drought in July 2005, leading to water rationing.
Some 83,000 households in Selangor have also been hit, with their taps running dry.
Deputy Water Minister Mahdzir Khalid spoke on Tuesday of a cloud seeding operation to alleviate the situation.
But officials said on Wednesday that cloud seeding to induce rain was not an option since there were no clouds.
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