Asean countries to meet over haze


Hazy hot days ahead: Climate experts are warning Malaysians to expect hotter and drier weather as El Nino is expected in the middle of the year. — LOW LAY PHON/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia will be meeting its regional neighbours to discuss the transboundary haze, especially as the El Nino phenomenon is expected to herald hotter and drier weather in the middle of the year.

The Asean region will also be developing a new version of a roadmap on transboundary haze cooperation.

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Natural Resources, Environ-ment and Climate Change Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad said the country had already activated its National Open Burning Action Plan on April 2 to cut down on open burning.

“Malaysia will participate in talks with Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand over the issue of transboundary haze.

“We look forward to discussing issues on the hot weather, the possibility of haze incidents, and strategies,” he said, adding that representatives were scheduled to meet in Singapore on June 7-8.

These five countries have formed a technical working group and sub-regional ministerial steering committee on transboundary haze.

The meeting, said Nik Nazmi, would be the 24th since the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution was inked in 2002.

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“Asean is also developing a new version of a roadmap on transboundary haze cooperation aimed at improving the existing one,” he said.

Parts of northern Thailand (including its tourist hub Chiang Mai), Myanmar and Laos have been blanketed by dangerous levels of smog due to thousands of hotspots from open burning since early this year, while certain parts of Malaysia saw haze last month.

Much of South-East Asia, including Thailand and northern Peninsular Malaysia, are also seeing a rise in the mercury, with the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) issuing Level 1 warnings for heatwaves since March 19.

There were consistent Level 1 warnings for heatwaves in the districts of Jeli, Kuala Krai, Tanah Merah and Pasir Mas in Kelantan as well as Kubang Pasu and Padang Terap in Kedah.

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The nearby districts of Kota Baru and Bachok in Kelantan were also badly affected, leading to the death of a 11-year-old child.

Jeli also reported Level 2 status on April 14, 15 and 19.

Level 1 warnings are for maximum daily temperatures of between 35°C and 37°C for at least three days in a row while Level 2 warnings are for temperatures between 37°C and 40°C.

Climate experts have warned that the El Nino phenomenon is expected to hit Malaysia in the middle of the year, with the possibility of the weather getting hotter and drier than the typical conditions during the normal southwest monsoon.

On Malaysia’s action plan, Nik Nazmi said integrated enforcement would be conducted among the various agencies to curb open burning.

“Compounds and legal action for open burning will be taken according to Section 29A of the Environmental Quality Act,” he said.

Under Section 29A, those convicted of open burning face a fine of not more than RM500,000 or imprisonment of not more than five years or both.

“The National Open Burning Action Plan will enable related ministries, departments and agencies to take concerted mitigation efforts to curb open burning that causes haze,” said Nik Nazmi.

He said the Environment Department (DOE) had also activated its open burning prevention plan on March 29, particularly with regard to peatland fires.

“It is aimed at reducing the risk of open burning and peatland fires during hot and dry weather,” he said.

Both MetMalaysia and the DOE, he added, would closely monitor the weather forecast, hotspots, number of days without rainfall, and fires.

“The government has also expanded the number of patrols and monitoring areas that are prone to open burning and increased the use of drones for monitoring purposes,” he said, adding that the ministry had a meeting on April 18 to ensure coordination.

“We will be holding a national committee on haze and dry weather meeting on May 26 to keep abreast of developments,” he said.

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