MIRI: A comprehensive set of guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) are needed for the prevention and control of peatland fires.
Minister of Transport Sarawak Datuk Lee Kim Shin said peatland fires were normally caused by drainage and land clearing activities undertaken in an inappropriate and unsustainable manner.
“This has caused considerable damage to the ecosystem, our health and property, and sometimes hazards to even motorists,” he said at the 1st Borneo Peat Fire conference organised by Curtin Malaysia Sarawak via Webex today.
Lee noted that in recent years, the impact of peatland fires had been increasingly severe, with 2019 being one of the worst years for Miri and indeed the whole country.
“But nothing was as severe as the 1997 and 1998 forest and land fires in Indonesia and Malaysia that engulfed the entire Southeast Asia region in haze. During that episode, a total of about 10 million hectares of forest and agricultural land were burnt,” he said.
He added that although only 15 percent of the land was peatland, the peat fires contributed an estimated 60 percent of the regional smoke and haze.
In addition, the peat fires burnt longer and were more difficult to put out than all the other fires.
“The damage caused by this major fire and haze event was estimated at USD9 billion. Of course, we are hopeful that such major fires and regional haze will not occur again, but the issue of tackling haze between countries is an international matter which is under the Federal Ministry of Environment and Water in Kuala Lumpur,” he disclosed.
Lee disclosed that the Sarawak government had come up with a number of action plans on how best to deal with issues related to peatlands.
“While guidelines and actions plans to tackle peatland fires are already in place, there are still emerging questions on how to deal with the situation in a practical manner and room for improvement in the future on the wise use of peatland.
“We should look beyond the perennial problem of peat fires and focus on how our vast peatlands can be nurtured and developed to our advantage. Peatlands cover about three percent of the globe and are the most extensive of all wetland types,” he pointed out.
He said that in Malaysia, peatlands cover about eight percent of the country and were most extensive in Sarawak, Selangor and Pahang.
“Peatlands play a very important role in storing carbon (they support up to 25 percent of the carbon in the terrestrial biosphere) and hence their degradation leads to significant release of carbon which will impact the global climate.
“It is my sincere hope that with your active participation and deliberations in this conference, we can further develop a comprehensive set of guidelines and procedures in the prevention and control of peatland fires in this region in the future,” he told conference participants comprising experts from the Natural Resources and Environment Board, Minerals and Geoscience Department and Miri Fire and Rescue Department with vast experience in their respective fields.