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  Bernama 17 Aug 06
Haze-Hit Sarawak Imposes Total Ban On Open Burning

Yahoo News 17 Aug 06
Haze in Malaysian Borneo poses threat to air operations

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Aircraft operations on Malaysia's side of Borneo island are threatened as air quality and visibility worsened badly due to open burning on plantations, officials have said.

Authorities in Sarawak state distributed 1.3 million face masks as the haze began to take a toll on people's health, with a sharp rise in asthma, conjunctivitis and respiratory tract infections.

The Air Pollutant Index showed six areas had soared into the unhealthy range of 101-200, the Department of Environment said on Thursday. In the Sarawak state capital Kuching the index reached 157. Visibility dropped to below 1.0 kilometre (about half a mile) in Kuching, 1.8 kilometres in Sri Aman and 3.0 kilometres in Bintulu.

An official at the Meteorological Department told AFP that normal visibility was 10 kilometres and anything below 4.0 kilometres posed a risk for air travel and could disrupt flight operations.

"As standard practice, we release an advisory to the various airports but it is at their discretion whether or not it's safe to fly," he told AFP.

The official said that peninsular Malaysia had escaped the worst of the haze this week due to the southwest monsoon which was blowing the smoke and dust in a different direction.

Burning in Indonesia and some parts of Malaysia to clear land for crops causes an annual haze that afflicts Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as well as Indonesia itself.

Sarawak on Thursday banned all open burning with immediate effect as the haze began to take a toll on health, the official Bernama news agency said.

The state's deputy chief minister George Chan said hospitals had reported a sharp rise in the number of haze-related ailments, and that the surgical masks would be distributed particularly to those working outdoors.

Bernama 17 Aug 06
Haze-Hit Sarawak Imposes Total Ban On Open Burning

KUCHING, Aug 17 (Bernama) -- Sarawak Thursday banned open burning with immediate effect as the worsening haze, caused mainly by fires in neighbouring Indonesian Kalimantan, begins to exact a toll on the health of people in the state.

Fires burning in oil palm plantations in parts of the state are also contributing to the deteriorating situation.

Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan, who announced the total ban on open burning, said the Sarawak General Hospital and government clinics here had reported a sharp rise in the number of respiratory tract infection cases. He said the hospital and clinics were daily treating some 200 cases of haze-related ailments, including asthma and conjunctivitis, up from the normal 40 to 50 cases. "The 200 cases per day and over 50 asthma cases represent the alert level," he told a news conference.

The haze that has been affecting whole regions of Sarawak since last month began to worsen last week with the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings climbing rapidly into the unhealthy zones. According to the Department of Environment's website as at 11am today, Kuching recorded the highest level of API reading at 157 followed by Sibu (151), Samarahan (149), Petra Jaya (146), Sri Aman (134), Sarikei (113), Bintulu (84), Miri (67), Kapit (87) and Limbang (58). An API reading exceeding 100 means the air quality is unhealthy.

Dr Chan said the Education Department had been asked to instruct all schools to stop their co-curricular and outdoor activities until further notice. Some 1.3 million surgical masks would be distributed, particularly to people doing vigorous outdoor work, he added.

Earlier, Dr Chan, who is the state Disaster and Relief Management Committee chairman, attended a briefing on the haze situation given by heads of relevant government departments and agencies.

He was informed that there were 642 hot spots in Kalimantan, 75 in Sarawak and 10 in Sabah as of yesterday. Meanwhile, a new problem -- water supply shortage -- looms as the dry spell has been forecast to continue for another few weeks.

Dr Chan advised the public to start conserving water. He said the Public Works Department had been asked to prepare the necessary equipment and vehicles to distribute water should the need arise.

As to whether the state planned to introduce cloud seeding to produce rain, he said: "We have requested an aircraft from TUDM (Royal Malaysian Air Force) to do cloud seeding."

Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department acting deputy director Morni Mamat said 200 firefighters were battling fires in about 2,000 hectares of plantations in Samarahan, Sri Aman, Gedong and Betong. He said another 100 firefighters from Sibu and Miri would join their colleagues by Saturday.

The department hoped to extinguish the fires by next week unless the dry weather and strong winds further fan the fires, he added.

Related articles on Singapore: Haze
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