Friday, November 22

Sri Aman folk plead for intervention as haze hits hazardous level

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The forest fire just eight kilometres away from the API monitoring station in Sri Aman.

KUCHING: The people of Sri Aman are hoping that the relevant authorities would take action to lessen the effects of the worsening haze, especially after the air quality in the division hit hazardous levels.

President of the Federation of Chinese Associations Sri Aman and Betong Divisions Datuk Dr Ngu Piew Seng said the authorities need to carry out cloud seeding as soon as possible to lessen the impact of the haze.

“There is an urgent need for cloud seeding from the relevant authorities. This (haze) is very unhealthy and hazardous to health.

“(Sri Aman) is the worst hit in the whole nation and the API (Air Pollutant Index) reading keeps on rising,” he said, adding there was also an urgent need for face masks to be distributed to the people of Sri Aman.

As of 6pm yesterday, the API reading in Sri Aman was a hazardous 416.

An API reading of zero to 50 denotes good air quality; 51 to 100 (moderate); 101 to 200 (unhealthy); 201 to 300 (very unhealthy); and 301 and above (hazardous).

The forest fire, which broke out just 8km from the API monitoring station in Sri Aman is said to have contributed to the high API readings.

Meanwhile, Sri Aman District Council walikota Anthony Abell Chendan expressed relief that people in Sri Aman were listening to safety precautions disseminated by the authorities.

“I think the authorities had disseminated enough information with regards to the necessary precautions to take. Most people in town I saw in the morning had put on face masks.

“However, at around noon, the haze was getting worse and very few cars were seen moving around, and most people were confined in their own house,” he said, while lamenting that there was no sign of imminent rain yesterday.

Self-employed Edwin Raoh, 50, said he too felt the need for cloud-seeding operations to be carried out urgently in view of the worrying situation.

“I hope the relevant authorities could carry out cloud-seeding as soon as possible.

“Now I rarely go out of the house, and when I do, I constantly sneeze. The haze will even enter the room if any doors or windows are left open.

“I also had to advise my Form 5 son, who often plays football, not to go out of the house,” he told The Borneo Post.

Earlier API readings in Sri Aman, based on the Department of Environment’s MyIPU app, showed the air quality in Sri Aman had deteriorated steadily since early yesterday.

The API reading breached the 300-mark at 3am and rose to 352 at 6am, 367 at 9am, 377 at 2pm, 386 at 3pm, 397 at 4pm, and 407 at 5pm.

However, a second check by The Borneo Post using the same app showed the readings from 2pm onwards had changed – 371 (2pm), 374 (3pm), 377 (4pm), 379 (5pm) and 389 (6pm).

Meanwhile, the Fire and Rescue Department, in a statement to the press, said a 13-acre forest fire in Taman STC in Sri Aman, situated just 8km from the API monitoring station there, could have contributed to the earlier high API readings.

The haze shrouding Kuching city. – Photo by Muhammad Rais Sanusi

Also yesterday, the National Disaster Management Agency said cloud-seeding activities would take place in Sarawak on Sept 19 should weather conditions allow it.

“A state of haze emergency will only be declared when the API readings exceed 500,” the agency said, adding that such an emergency had been declared in Kuching on Sept 19, 1997 when the API hit 650; Aug 1, 2005 in Kuala Selangor and Port Klang when it hit 531; and June 23, 2013 in Muar and Ledang in Johor when the API exceeded 500.

For Kuching, the API reading remained at a ‘very unhealthy’ 213 as at 6pm yesterday, despite an earlier shower.

Other parts of Sarawak recorded moderate to unhealthy air quality as of the same time, with Sibu at 172, Sarikei (156), Samarahan (163), Mukah (127), Bintulu (125), Miri (121) and Samalaju (102), SK Kuala Baram (85), Kapit (83), ILP Miri (97) and Limbang (78).

On Monday night, the Education Ministry ordered 298 schools in the state to be closed due to the worsening haze situation, according to a press statement from the Sarawak Education Department.

Out of the 298 schools, 53 were secondary schools and 245 were primary schools in Betong, Bau, Kuching, Lubok Antu, Padawan, Samarahan, Sri Aman and Lundu, involving 128,291 students.

IPL Miri recorded a hazardous reading of 442 on Aug 22 – the highest in the country during this year’s hazy season, when the API shot up due to forest and peat soil fires in Kuala Baram.