‘Snuff out the open burning now’: M’sian environmentalists

There must be stricter enforcement of laws against open burning, which is expected to increase, the authorities say.

Martin Carvalho and Benjamin Lee

Martin Carvalho and Benjamin Lee

The Star


January 25, 2023

KUALA LUMPUR – The wet and cool weather will make way for hotter and drier conditions in the coming months, according to experts.

This has prompted calls from environmentalists for the authorities to crack down on illegal open burning activities once the wet spell ends.

Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia president Andrew Sebastian said there must be stricter enforcement of laws against open burning, which is expected to increase.

“Besides fines and imprisonment, those that intentionally cause open burning should be blacklisted.

“They are committing crimes not just against the environment but also against humanity due to climate change.

“Such punishment would also serve as a stern warning to discourage others from deliberately or accidentally starting open fires,” he said.

He added that the relevant enforcement agencies must be properly equipped to deal with any open burning scenarios and begin identifying potential hotspots.

Several states had recorded open burning activities since the start of the year, namely in Johor, with over 161 reports as of yesterday.

The number of open burning incidents is expected to increase in the coming months, with the Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) predicting a 51% chance of warmer weather due to the coming of El Nino.

El Nino – Spanish for “the child” – is the warm phase of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (Enso) and is associated with warm ocean currents that develop in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific.

It also brings about the opposite effect of La Nina. While La Nina means more rain in Malaysia, El Nino tends to bring drier and hotter weather.

MetMalaysia director-general Muhammad Helmi Abdullah said the country usually experiences drier weather and receives relatively less rain during the south-west monsoon between May and September.

“During this period, the westerly winds will consistently blow a drier atmosphere with lower moisture in the air.

“This results in fewer rain clouds throughout this monsoon period,” he said when contacted.

Muhammad Helmi advised the public not to engage in open burning activities as the weather gets drier.

Universiti Malaya’s climate expert Prof Datuk Dr Azizan Abu Samah said the wet spell during the Chinese New Year was due to the influence of the La Nina.

“From a climate point of view, above-normal rain was expected.

“This particular rain episode was driven by a cold surge, or what MetMalaysia deemed a monsoon surge,” he said.

He added that the recent wet spell was also due to the convergence of winds on both the east and west coasts of the peninsula.

“This condition should begin to ease beginning Jan 24,” said Prof Azizan.

Environment Protection Society of Malaysia executive committee member Randolph Jeremiah said that apart from monitoring the local situation, the issue of open burning should also be brought to the attention of neighbouring countries.

“The warmer climate affects both us and our neighbours, especially when most Asean nations are major agricultural-based economies,” he said.

Jeremiah singled out dried peatland in the region as posing a danger during the dry season.

“Like in Johan Setia, Klang, the peatland can easily catch fire after only a few days under the hot sun, which can then spread to nearby forests,” he added.

EcoKnights founder and president Dr Yasmin Rasyid said that illegal open burning activities should not be taken lightly as they pose a health risk to the community.“It will exacerbate the deterioration of air quality if traffic in the city remains congested during the transition period, coupled with open burning,” she said.

She added that strong political will and leadership are needed to tackle the never-ending problem of open burning during the annual dry spell.

Yasmin said the community must also be made aware of the issue and report illegal burning activities to the relevant authorities.

Last May, the Environment Department and the Fire and Rescue Services Department issued warnings against open burning before the onset of the dry season.

Based on the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre’s website, hotspots have already been detected in parts of Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia this month.

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