SHAH ALAM: The seasonal haze from Sumatra has yet to hit Malaysian shores, but residents in Shah Alam and Klang are already suffering from thick smog engulfing their homes.
"The smog is so acrid that we can taste the sourness and bitterness in the air," said Kota Kemuning resident Lim Teck Wyn, 42.
The issue has plagued the community since the early 2000. Residents say open burning is a year-long problem that has worsened recently due to the dry season.
"It's most noticeable at night and goes off by morning (after the fire extinguishes) as if nothing happened," said J. Loh, a Kota Kemuning resident of 10 years.
The 43-year-old said they have to shut the windows and rely on air-conditioning, leading to an increase in electricity bills.
Similar views were shared by another resident, Karen Lee, who said her 13 and 15-year-old sons developed chronic bronchitis over the years due to the bad haze.
“The situation has improved compared to 2008 and 2014 after the Selangor government intervened, but we fear that it will worsen again if there are no proactive measures to contain the fires,” said the 45-year-old.
The source of the haze is the peat fires in Johan Setia, a residential area surrounded by peatland in Klang that is used for agriculture.
Plantation workers there are known to practice the slash-and-burn farming method where they set fire to the farms, bushes, and forest reserves to clear land for new crops like ginger and sweet potato.
During a site visit to Kampung Batu Tujuh near Kota Kemuning last week, The Star found pockets of smoke billowing from several spots in the ground across a farm off a main road.
Hectares of peatland had already been scorched with burnt wood and crops littered across the farm, a sign that the activity had been ongoing for some time.
A barrel containing petrol and a water jug were found next to a shed, believed to have been used to start the fire.
The burning took place directly behind a signboard of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry informing of the prohibition on open burning with a warning that offenders will face a RM500,000 fine, five years in jail or both.
Lim, who is an environmental consultant, says peat soil is highly-flammable as it is a dense accumulation of decomposed vegetation. Hence, peat fires can easily spread like wildfire.
He points out that the slash-and-burn practice in Johan Setia is similar to farming practices in Indonesia that caused the seasonal haze in Malaysia.
“How can we be mad and blame the Indonesians for the haze when we are doing the same in our own backyard,” Lim said.
According to the Selangor Fire and Rescue Department, 378 cases of open burning were reported in July, including bush fires, plantation fires, forest fires and rubbish fires.
Department assistant operations director Mohd Sani Hasrul warned that the embers in peat soil are dangerous fire hazards as the fire can quickly spread when they are carried by the wind.
“We have warned the public many times not to conduct open burning, especially in the forest reserve. However, the problem persists,” said Sani.
When contacted, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said that his Ministry is equally concerned of the issue as the haze affects Johan Setia, Klang, Jalan Kebun, KESAS Highway, Bandar Puteri, Bandar Putera and Kota Kemuning.
“This open burning always occurs during the dry season and is being carried out by immigrants who have been employed by the land owners,” said Wan Junaidi.
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