Classes scrapped for 1.5m Malaysian kids as haze nears hazardous levels

SK Taman Desa school teacher Noor Salfarina Yahya informing a student’s family that the school in Kuala Lumpur had to close because of the haze.
SK Taman Desa school teacher Noor Salfarina Yahya informing a student’s family that the school in Kuala Lumpur had to close because of the haze.PHOTO: THE STAR PUBLICATION

There will be no classes for more than 1.5 million school children on Monday (Sept 28) after schools in five states as well as the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya were told to close after smoke from fires in Indonesia approached hazardous levels over the weekend.

The Education Ministry's order came after the Air Pollutant Index (API) shot up to 281 yesterday afternoon in areas around Kuala Lumpur - just shy of the 301 mark deemed hazardous.

The affected schools are in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan. The western districts of Sarawak are also affected. The government later added schools in Pahang and southern Perak.

Out of 52 monitoring locations nationwide, at least a dozen areas fell in the 201-300 "very unhealthy" zone and just as many were deemed "unhealthy" (101-200).

The haze in Sarawak forced all flights between Kuching and Pontianak in Indonesia's West Kalimantan province to be grounded. The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) level for Pontianak was 832 yesterday afternoon.

Flights from Kuching International Airport heading to and from Kuala Lumpur and Sibu were also delayed. On Saturday, Subang airport was closed for two hours in the evening after visibility fell below 500m.

This is the second time that thick haze from Indonesian fires blanketed parts of Malaysia this month. Several airports were closed last week, as were more than 2,000 schools on Sept 15, forcing 1.5 million children to stay home. A larger number of school children are likely be affected today.

Though the Malaysian authorities began cloud-seeding last week to try to induce rain, the relentless haze has led Prime Minister Najib Razak to advise people to reduce outdoor activities or to use a mask if they need to go out.

His asthmatic cousin and Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, said on Twitter he had already lost his voice and his nose was blocked.

Hazy conditions are likely in states on peninsular Malaysia's west coast and Sarawak's western region until Friday, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

In Indonesia, the haze in Pekanbaru, the capital of Sumatra's Riau province, worsened over the weekend, halting flights to and from the city. The PSI readings on Sunday were consistently above 450. Any reading over 350 is considered hazardous.

Sixty-one hot spots were detected yesterday in Sumatra - mostly in the south - but Singapore's National Environment Agency said the low count was due to cloud cover.

• Additional reporting by Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja in Jakarta

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2015, with the headline 'Classes scrapped for 1.5m Malaysian kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe