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Fires In Raja Musa Forest Reserve destroy Rehabilitation Effort

Petaling Jaya, 13th March 2014: A fire started by land owners just outside the boundary of a rehabilitation area in Raja Musa Forest Reserve is now burning inside the peat swamp forest reserve. The fire was spotted near Parit 6, Bestari Jaya at 3.20 pm yesterday (Tuesday 11th March) and it quickly blew out of control, entering the forest reserve and destroying years of rehabilitation work which started in December 2008. 

With not a drop of rain recorded in the past four weeks, the peat soil is extremely dry and the water level is at 70 cm below ground. Aided by and strong winds that constantly change directions, the fire has spread to 500 hectares of the forest reserve, an area 4 kilometers long and 800m wide.     

Currently, massive fire-fighting efforts are underway, led by the Fire and Rescue Department (BOMBA). The effort is assisted by the Selangor Forestry Department, Kuala Selangor District Office, Department of Drainage and Irrigation, Public Works Department, Department of Civil Defence, Global Environment Centre and the local community, especially members of the North Selangor Friends of the Peat Swamp Forest group. Other than ground suppression, helicopters are also being used for water bombing to stop the fires.
“We much regret the irresponsible acts of the public who started open burning in dry weather despite the ban by DOE. 200 hectares of recovering forest, from Parit 5 to 7 is completely destroyed”, said GEC Director, Mr Faizal Parish.
The affected area is a rehabilitation zone that is part of the *ASEAN Peatland Forests Project (APFP) and SEApeat projects. The forest reserve is managed by Selangor Forestry Department and the Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia while rehabilitation efforts are coordinated by Global Environment Centre (GEC).  Since December 2008, RM2.4 million has been spent on rehabilitating the degraded forest reserve with funds from corporate sponsors and several project funds. In addition, much effort was put in by thousands of volunteers who came from far and wide to help in the rehabilitation by planting trees and constructing canal blocks.
Members of the public are reminded not to commit open burning in the current hot and dry conditions. Those who come across wildfires should immediately call 999 for the Fire & Rescue Department or the Department of Environment hotline at 1-800-88-2727.


Haze From Riau Reaches Malaysia

Press release for immediate action as 4th march 2014 with regards to Fire and Haze Issue over to Malaysia

Petaling Jaya, 4th March 2014: Haze from intense forest and peatland fires in Riau Province in Sumatra reached Malaysia yesterday due to changes in wind direction.

Riau Province in Sumatra declared a State of Emergency last week as more than 1500 fires burned out of control.  Dense haze covers most of Riau Province and the Pollutants Standard Index (PSI) – similar to Malaysia’s API - rose to 773 in Dumai. Nearly 30,000 people have sought medical treatment for respiratory problems.  Intense fires are burning at Pulau Rupat – less than 40km from Port Dickson.

Mr Sugarin, head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) station in Pekanbaru stated last Friday that wind movement that was previously from the north east has begun to reverse, so there's a chance the haze could reach Singapore and Malaysia.
On Sunday BMKG confirmed that thin haze caused by land and forest fires in Riau had reached Singapore, due to a change in wind direction. “At 7,000 to 10,000 feet of elevation in the atmosphere, there was a vortex that altered the direction of the haze,” BMKG Pekanbaru staff member Ardhitama said as quoted by Antara news agency.

He said the haze heading toward the Malacca Strait would likely be thicker, as there was a typhoon potential in the northern part of the Philippines, which could affect the wind direction. Typoon activity in the Philippines was partly responsible for the intense haze in Malaysia in June 2013 when the API reached 746 in Muar.
Satellite images and haze maps (see Figure 1 below) released by the ASEAN Specialised Meterological Centre (ASMC) in Singapore yesterday showed that moderate haze was spreading across the Malacca Straits and moving north towards the coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

API readings in coastal towns in Peninsular Malaysia rose significantly in the last 24 hours with Klang reaching 150 at 2am this morning. Seri Manjung and Muar both exceeded 100 yesterday and Penang reached 96 at 3pm yesterday.

Today the API most of the Klang Valley is in the unhealthy range  with Banting, Klang, Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam and Kuala Lumpur above 100 according to the DOE website.  The concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5 (often indicators of smoke haze) also rose by 50% in the past 12 hours in Singapore.

“Although much of the haze in Malaysia is from domestic sources – such as the significant peat fires in Sepang, Hulu Selangor and Kuala Selangor Districts as well as other open burning and pollution – an important contribution now appears to be coming from Riau in Indonesia” said Faizal Parish, Senior Technical Adviser of the ASEAN Peatland Forests Project based here at the Global Environment Centre in Petaling Jaya. 

“Fires in Riau appear to be mainly associated with land clearing by medium-scale plantation developers and small scale farmers in peatlands.  Riau province has more than 4 million ha of peatland which are vulnerable to serious fires when they are cleared and drained. Fire in Peatland may generate hundreds of times more smoke compared to fires on mineral soils as they mainly comprise of undecomposed plant material accumulated over thousands of years” – said Faizal.

The ASEAN Peatland Forest Project and the related SEApeat project are working with local communities in Riau and Selangor to reduce fire risk by promoting sustainable peatland management at local level. While good progress has been made with extent of fires in target villages reduced – more support is needed to scale-up the activities. In September 2013 - the ASEAN Ministers responsible for the Environment have agreed on the establishment of an ASEAN Programme on Sustainable Management of Peatland Ecosystems (2014-2020) to, amongst other issues, eliminate transboundary haze from peat fires.

The Global Environment Centre is running a Stop the Haze Campaign from now till October this year to enhance understanding on the root causes and solutions to the haze and also to provide opportunities to the public to contribute to measures to reduce the haze. Further details are found on www.gec.org

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