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Innovate to Combat Haze

Petaling Jaya, 18 March 2021 - Greater efforts from all parties and technological innovations are needed to combat haze in Malaysia.

WWF-Malaysia Conservation Director Dr Henry Chan said all stakeholders including the Government, corporations, local communities and individuals have to play a role in conserving forests and steering agricultural practices towards greater sustainability.

He was commenting on reports of “local haze” outbreaks in several areas of the country including Selangor. According to a news report by Bernama, these haze incidents were further exacerbated by the hot weather and lack of rainfall. Fires were also reportedly breaking out in forest reserves.

These media reports corroborate findings by WWF and Boston Consulting Group, which estimate that humans are responsible for around 75% of all wildfires with much of the increase in fire incidents in 2020 directly linked to human actions. These actions include open burning.

In Malaysia, open burning is an offence under Section 29A of the Environmental Quality Act 1974, which is punishable by a RM2,000 compound, a fine of up to RM500,000 or a prison term not exceeding five years, or both.

Chan said inaction on this recurring phenomenon will have dire consequences on Malaysians, ranging from health issues such as acute respiratory infection and bronchitis, to loss of the country’s biodiversity.

“The haze can be mitigated through sustainable, long-term national efforts as well as regional and international cooperation to prevent land and forest fires.

“We must all do our part to protect the planet," he asserted.

In the era of climate change where occurrences of extreme weather such as prolonged droughts will more frequently occur, resulting in greater extent of forest fire in the region, WWF-Malaysia stressed that there is an urgent need to find innovative solutions to the problem.

This is why WWF-Malaysia launched the XFire Innovation Challenge in September 2018 to find the most innovative techniques to suppress large wildfires.

Conventional fire suppression methods including using water and retardant, fire barriers, water bombing and cloud seeding have their constraints, such as difficulties of deploying these methods to remote areas and weather dependency.

For that matter, the XFire Innovation Challenge seeks technological solutions to suppress large wildfires in Southeast Asia’s inland and peatland forest.

In June 2021, when the annual drought would normally begin, participants will showcase and test their solutions on a degraded peatland in Sabah. WWF-Malaysia hopes that the winning innovation will be scaled up and applied to other parts of Southeast Asia with further developments and customisations.

“Forests and other ecosystems contribute to both carbon removals from the atmosphere and also climate resilience building. All environmental impacts could be reduced or even avoided if ecosystems are allowed to function properly.

“If forests continue to be degraded or destroyed, human beings can no longer enjoy irreplaceable services that nature provides which all of us depend on – clean air, water, and food resources, among others,” Chan concluded.  

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