Activists: We must not fan Indonesian forest fires

Veil of grey: The Kuala Lumpur city centre covered by haze.

PETALING JAYA: As the forest fires in Sumatra rage on, Malaysian activists are calling on the people to be more aware of protecting the environment.

Indonesian authorities have declared an emergency in six provinces in Sumatra and have deployed military and police personnel to combat the forest fires.

The six are Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Jambi, South Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka) president Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil said Malaysians needed to follow the latest news on the forest fires closely.

She said that in the long term, member countries should review and prioritise the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP).

The Malaysian government, she said, needed to be strict with this as it involved the health of Malaysians.

"Taking temporary measures, such as cloud seeding every time there is haze will not be sufficient, " she said.

Eco-tourism and Conservation Society Malaysia (Ecomy) co-founder and chief executive officer Andrew Sebastian said: "We should take Indonesia to task. The Indonesian president has made policies to stop open burning in his country."

He said at home, the Malaysian government should be strict and vigilant with open burning that occurred locally.

"We have to start penalising heavily the industries that pollute the air and we need to remind members of public to report when they see instances of open burning, " he said.

Pertubuhan Pelindungan Khazanah Alam Malaysia’s Selangor chairman Damien Thanam Divean said while Indonesia had clamped down on illegal burning activities, it might remain a challenge to prevent forest fires.

"The Indonesian government has given assurance that transborder haze to neighbouring countries will be controlled.

"However, with climate change and irregular monsoon in the region, they are having difficulties predicting forest fires or sending out immediate response to any remote location with hotspots, " he said.

He also warned that local factories and plantations could use the transborder haze as a cover to start their own open burning.

News reports indicate that the forest fires are taking place in regions that produce oil palm and rubber.

The situation was similar to the haze in 2015, which was attributed to illegal burning to clear land for plantations.

The haze had, at the time, also shrouded Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Indonesia has since then clamped down on illegal burning activities, with president Joko Widodo ordering a ban on new permits for palm oil plantations.

He also set up an agency dedicated to restoring more than two million hectares of peatland, in a bid to prevent wildfires in the area.

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