MALAYSIA’s Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar has declared the country’s willingness to help neighbouring Indonesia to extinguish forest fires.
Last week, Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) warned of increased risk of major fires as the peak of the dry season looms. Fires have already been reported in the province of Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra, close to Peninsular Malaysia.
Speaking at a public event on Sunday, Wan said, “I have discussed it with Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, who oversees the Fire Department and the Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (SMART).”
“He has given the assurance they are ready at any time,” Wan Junaidi said as quoted by Malaysia’s state news agency Bernama.
In much of Indonesia, August and September are generally the hottest and driest months of the year.
Slash-and-burn techniques, generally implemented as a cheap way to clear peatland by oil palm producers in the regions of Sumatra and Kalimantan, are partly to blame for forest fires each dry season in Indonesia.
Wan Junaidi said he had met with the governors of Riau and Jambi – provinces in Sumatra whose economies are heavily reliant upon oil palm production – and that he intended to meet with the Aceh governor to discuss the matter.
Back in May, Indonesia’s Environment Ministry promised Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand tough measures implemented since 2016 would prevent the disastrous scale of fires two years prior, which resulted in toxic haze choking much of the region.
The fires in 2015 – deemed a “crime against humanity” – burnt an area 30 times the size of Singapore and cost Indonesia an estimated US$16 billion in losses to agriculture, the environment, tourism and health. It also provoked diplomatic tensions between Asean members.
A subsequent study from Harvard and Columbia universities claimed the pollution had caused 100,000 premature deaths in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.