MIRI: Sarawak has banned all forms of open-burning in urban districts with immediate effect.
The ban was imposed Monday following a high-level State Disaster Relief Committee meeting chaired by Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam.
Dr Chan, who is also the state committee chairman, enforced the ban following a fire and smog scare late last week in the Sarawak-Brunei border region that was caused by several huge fires sparked off by open-burning activities.
The ban he announced Monday covers all form of domestic burning, industrial burning and agriculture burning in districts where there are big concentrations of people.
“This means that there must be zero-burning in all populated areas. The Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) is still giving permits for controlled-burning (for agriculture wastes) in rural areas, but in urban areas where there are a lot of people, there must be no burning at all.
“Even in those rural areas where controlled-burning is allowed, we will not allow all the burning to take place at the same time. The burning must be limited to a certain size and at a certain time only.
“If the weather gets drier, all burning will be stopped in all areas,” he told a press conference here.
Dr Chan, who is State Industrial Development Minister and State Agriculture Modernisation Minister, said the fires at the Sarawak-Brunei border had already burned away land areas measuring some 62 acres (the size of 62 football fields).
An initial probe by the NREB and the Fire and Rescue Department showed that these wildfires started two weeks ago.
“The fires started in small areas and then got worse. They became serious in recent days. These fires were in those fire-prone areas that had caused similar wildfire problems before.
“Miri is drier compared with other parts of Sarawak now. That is why the fires here are more serious. The situation in Kuching and Sibu is still okay.
“However, if other parts of the state also start to become drier, then we may face similar problems there,” he said.
Dr Chan said he wants the NREB, the Fire and Rescue Department, the Department of Environment, the Public Works Department, the Drainage and Irrigation Department, city and district councils, Residents Offices, the Land and Survey Department and relevant agencies to act tough on those who are causing the fires.
Most of the fires were caused by land-clearing activities, he said, noting that these open-burning culprits were burning unoccupied state and private land to plant their crops.
Dr Chan said he will also be calling for a meeting with developers of housing and industrial construction projects to warn them not to burn their wastes.
State Assistant Minister for Infrastructure Development and Communications Lee Kim Shin said watchtowers would be erected in fire-prone areas to detect fires.
“These towers would be manned by officers from the enforcement agencies, even at night. Their job will be to detect fires as soon as they can, so that measures can be taken to douse these fires before they ravage out of control.
“These watchmen will also be told to nab any open-burning culprits on-the-spot,” he said.
Lee said local councils and the Land and Survey Department will also destroy any farms illegally set up by open-burning culprits as a deterrent.
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