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Is DOE’s enforcement strong enough, with over 100,000 deforestation, 329 fire alerts in a week?

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 – There were more than 100,000 forest change alerts and 329 fire alerts reported in Malaysia including in the states of Sabah and Sarawak for the past one week by external sources, namely Global Forest Watch and NASA FIRMS.

Regular reports of open fires was also reported by the Department of Environment (DOE) in the same week, some attributed to the current hot spell, although many were also confirmations of fire complaints made by the public and environmentalists long before the hot and dry spell.

These were fires taking place during cool, rainy days and with the additional “help” from the Movement Control Orders (MCOs) and Enhanced MCOs where supposedly very little activities were allowed and traffic was significantly reduced, said an environmentalist.

Graphics courtesy of Global Forest Watch (GFW). The online platform provides comprehensive data on the state of forests worldwide.

The question is how many of these fires were investigated properly and where are the full explanations of what were causing these fires?

“The chances are the department may not have enough resources and there is more that should come from the Ministry of Environment and Water as well as other ministries such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries as some of the open burnings are done for agricultural purposes,” said naturalist Andrew Sebastian.

“The DOE has been doing its part by way of issuing warnings and spelling out the consequences of open burnings from time to time,” he said.

The fines and penalties are there. But are these measures sufficient?

DOE, which said 418 open burning cases were detected in July, also expects the number to rise if hot and dry weather conditions continue until mid-term September 2021.

It also issued a total of 358 compounds, 72 instructional notices and opened 9 investigative papers for open burning offences under Section 29 A, Environmental Quality Act, 1974 [ACT 127] from January to July 22, this year and that it has increased open burn and enforcement activity on factory and motor vehicles.

It also continued to highlight the consequences of compromised air quality on the health of people, pointing out that that carbon dioxide and other toxic gases released in the air during fires will not help the Covid-19 situation.

While stale indoor air with high concentration of Carbon (CO2) contributes to risk of getting infected by airborne viruses, including the Covid-19, it is established that the air outside also contributes to ill human health.

Many local communities are also contributing to keeping the environment clean, but all these measures may not be enough if there is an absence of integrated action, Andrew reiterated.

The Fire Department and State Forest Department must work together to ensure a more holistic approach towards safeguarding the environment.

“Currently, the scenario is if you call on a fire happening in a forest, the standard DOE reply is that it is not their area but that of the forest department and that they should be contacted. Sometimes, the complainant will be directed to the fire department. When will the fires in the country be collectively addressed by all agencies responsible for the care of the environment,” asked another environmentalist.

“For example, a fire that was ongoing in Sepang earlier in June was reported. It was claimed to be a peat fire and several weeks later, a report on the DOE’s Facebook said the fire was investi