Peat soil areas to be flooded to tackle fires

SIBU:  The Department of Environment (DOE) has been instructed to raise the water level in peat soil areas in states with large tracts of such soil in order to fight possible outbreaks of fire.

Yesterday, Bernama reported that Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas said this was one of the plans to stop the current haze problem from deteriorating. 

"We have peat soil areas in Sarawak (Miri), Johor, Selangor and Pahang. I've told DOE to pump water from tube wells in these states to flood their peat areas." 

Embas said this was critical because once the peat dried up, it would become very combustible and fighting fires would be very time-consuming and challenging, based on past experience. 

"The moment the water level in these places drops by three to four metres, DOE will have to act. As such, the officers will have to go to the ground to monitor the level closely and daily," he said.

The minister highlighted the DOE had also activated its action plan to prevent any open burning and its standard operating procedure to fight peat soil fires which were a local source of the haze.

"For Sarawak, which is the only state to permit open burning by plantation owners, its Natural Resources and Environment Board has been directed to put a freeze on the permit after a week of continuous dry weather. In view of the dry season, I would like to appeal to all to minimise open burning, including by smallholders who should take steps to ensure their fire does not spread to other areas."

Embas then said he would attend the Asean Ministerial Steering Committee meeting on transboundary haze scheduled to be held in Thailand next month. He added that Malaysia currently had very few hot spots while there were still several in Sumatra which contributed to the haze.

In Kuala Lumpur, Minderjeet Kaur reports that checks on the water level at all four of the fire-prone peat soil areas were now underway. DOE director-general Datuk Rosnani Ibarahim said the wells would be filled with groundwater before the peat soil was flooded.

"Surveillance is being carried out. We will note the level of water in these wells first," she said, adding that the wells were built three years ago to flood peat soil areas prone to fires during prolonged dry spells.

Meanwhile, as at 7am yesterday, the Air Pollutant Index readings taken at 52 DOE stations nationwide indicated that the air quality had improved with no station reporting unhealthy air.

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