Tuesday August 09, 2005

Malaysia Bans Open Burning around KL and
Central Selangor State as Haze Worsens

From Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Malaysia has banned most forms of open burning, including camp fires and outdoor cooking, in a desperate measure to ease the stifling haze blanketing Kuala Lumpur and surrounding areas due to smoke from forest fires in neighboring Indonesia.
The Meteorological Department repeated a low visibility warning Tuesday to vessels plying the Malacca Strait, a busy shipping lane that separates peninsular Malaysia and Indonesia's Sumatra island.
"The situation is hazardous to ships without navigational equipment," the department said in a statement, which was an update to a similar warning issued Monday. Visibility was around 1 kilometer (about half a mile) over the central and southern area of the channel, it said.
The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry said in a statement received Tuesday that the air in seven areas including the capital Putrajaya and the country's largest city Kuala Lumpur has become unhealthy from the haze.
The dirty white acrid haze has hung over the Klang Valley which comprises Kuala Lumpur for the past one week, reducing visibility to as low as 1 kilometer (a half mile) and making it unhealthy to walk outdoors.
Doctors have reported a rise in the number of patients suffering from sore throats and nasal congestion, the New Straits Times reported Tuesday.
To ensure that the air quality doesn't deteriorate further, the government imposed a ban Monday on open burning in Klang Valley and extended the ban to the central Selangor state on Wednesday. The order may be extended to other parts of the country if the Air Pollution Index worsens, the ministry said in the statement.
The ban includes burning of animal and bird carcasses, solid fuels, diseased plants, camp fires, leaves, tree branches, yard trimmings, industrial inflammable gases and structures for fire control training.
However, outdoor grills, barbecues and burning of articles as part of religious rites are permitted, the ministry statement said.
Those engaged in open burning could face a maximum fine of 500,000 ringgit (US$133,500; euro111,250) and five years' jail.
The haze is expected to continue for at least another week as a forecast of dry weather for this week means the smoke will not be washed away.
Officials blamed the haze on 333 "hot spots" of fire in Riau and northern Sumatra province in Indonesia, which is separated from the western coast of Malaysia by the narrow Straits of Malacca.
Meanwhile, the Star newspaper quoted Indonesia's Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar as saying that he was sorry Malaysia is facing problems because of his country.
"The haze has become more acute for our neighbors ... and we are truly sorry for this. We are very concerned about the worsening situation, caused mainly by open burning in Sumatra," he was quoted as saying.
Forest fires often break out in the region during dry spells because of the spread of illegal land-clearing fires or carelessly discarded cigarettes.
Kuala Lumpur experienced its worst air quality levels in 1997, when brush fires in Indonesia destroyed some 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of vegetation, cloaking much of Southeast Asia with haze.