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Saturday June 22, 2013

Big plantations accused of being major cause of haze in Sarawak

MIRI: The biggest culprits behind the widespread wildfires and bush fires in semi-rural and rural Sarawak have been identified.

The environmental authorities in Sarawak were therefore urged to come up with more effective strategies for tackling open burning at night because it has been found that many plantations set fire to huge amounts of agricultural waste under the cover of darkness.

Coordinator of the Sarawak Coalition of Associations for Natural Environment (Scane), Raymond Abin, yesterday told The Star that one of the reasons why the bush fires and haze happened yearly in this state was because the authorities had been ineffective in catching those who start open fires at night.

He said he had observed Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) and the Department of Environment (DOE) trying hard for years to prevent bush fires.

“Despite their efforts, bush fires continue to remain a big problem around this time of the year,” he said.

He noted that it was common for some people in the state government to blame bush fires and the haze on shifting cultivators and native farmers, but it had been found that the biggest culprits are plantation companies.

He said he had personally seen bush fires raging in some plantations during the night.

Abin, who is also the coordinator of Borneo Resources Institute Malaysia (Brimas), pointed out that ground patrols carried out by the NREB and DOE did not seem to be truly effective in stopping open burning as they could only do so much as they simply did not have enough personnel.

“If the NREB and DOE can coordinate a better system of night patrols, maybe the bush fires can be reduced,” he said.

Abin suggested that the DOE and NREB get help from other government departments and agencies, community leaders and longhouse people.

He also noted that the most effective way of detecting bush fires at night is from the sky.

“I have seen huge fires raging during the night hours while flying from Kuching to Miri. These fires can be seen as red patches even from high up,” he said.

Miri DOE chief Siva Nathiran said the permits for open burning were issued by the NREB and not them.

Two days ago, NREB state controller, Peter Sawal, said in Kuching that they would be very cautious when issuing permits during the current dry spell.

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