Incoming southwest monsoon could trigger forest fires

PETALING JAYA: The lack of rain during the incoming southwest monsoon could increase the risk of forest fires in Malaysia, says Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

The Deputy Prime Minister and National Disaster Management Committee chairman said that with the incoming change in weather, many states will face negative effects from more rainless days.

This was relayed during Tuesday’s joint meeting involving the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) and other agencies, including state government secretaries.

“This will bring several negative impacts that would affect health, reduce water supply, cause forest fires, bushfires and haze and, if prolonged, reduce crop yields.

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“I have also been informed by the Environment Department (DOE) that there have been 2,030 cases of open burning, with a total of nine cases brought to court and 630 cases referred to other agencies, as well as a total of 100 compounds worth RM200,000 being issued between Jan 1 and April 30,” he said in a statement yesterday.

MetMalaysia also said at the meeting that it predicts the transition to El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) will begin this month, lasting until September.

“Meanwhile, La Nina is expected to develop in the third quarter of the year,” he said.

Alternative water supplies were also discussed at the meeting, such as the use of underground sources that could be utilised for fire-fighting efforts at peat soil locations.

“There are 640 active alternative wells for domestic use and 104 wells at peat soil and forest areas, with a capacity of 176.13 million litres per day.

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“The state Disaster Management committees (JPBN) have been informed to take the appropriate steps to face such situations by requesting water operators improve their operations, while also preparing logistics support to mobilise water supplies to affected areas.

“I have also reminded all relevant agencies to always take active steps in reducing the risks of natural disasters,” he said.

He added that as a whole he was satisfied with the readiness levels of all governmental agencies in facing the dry weather and southwest monsoon.

Meanwhile, MetMalaysia director-general Muhammad Helmi Abdullah, in a separate statement yesterday, said the department expects the southwest monsoon to begin on May 17.

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“This change in weather patterns typically results in fewer rain clouds and subsequently, reduced rainfall during the period.

“The monsoon is likely to lead to a predominant number of dry days compared to rainy days across the country,” he said.

Helmi said, however, that residents should remain vigilant as the season does not rule out the possibility of heavy rain accompanied by strong winds and thunderstorms.

He added that haze is a matter of concern during this period, particularly between July and September, if open burning is not adequately controlled.

“The Meteorological Department advises against open burning to minimise the effects of haze and environmental pollution. The public is also encouraged to use water prudently throughout this period,” he said.

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