MIRI (Sarawak) • Malaysia started cloud-seeding operations in Sarawak yesterday, as the haze situation in the southern part of the state, which is closest to Kalimantan, deteriorated further.
Sarawak has been among the Malaysian states worst-hit by the ongoing haze, caused mainly by forests fires in Indonesia, with 700 hot spots seen in several Kalimantan provinces.
There were also smaller pockets of wildfires in Sarawak that added to the haze.
The Air Pollutant Index (API) in Sarawak's Sri Aman division shot up to a hazardous level of 402 at 8am, even as cloud-seeding attempts started in an effort to create rain and reduce the effects of the smoky haze. An API reading of 301 and above is deemed hazardous.
Visibility in state capital Kuching and the Sri Aman division declined further compared with previous days, with many urban and semi-rural areas seeing visibility reduced to only 200m.
To accelerate the seeding of clouds to induce rain, the government said it may consider deploying drones.
More than 2,600 schools remained closed yesterday in Malaysia, affecting more than 1.7 million students.
In Kuching, the State Disaster Relief Management Committee said it would use an aircraft that will fly from Kuching airport to parts of southern Sarawak in the cloud-seeding operations.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday that the use of drones has been mooted as an alternative to conventional cloud seeding. "We have a suggestion to use drones to form artificial rain... We can use several drones at one time and deploy in a particular area such as Putrajaya, which is badly affected by haze," Tun Dr Mahathir told a news conference after a meeting.
He was asked about Malaysia's efforts to manage the haze crisis.
"Of course, other things that we have done include cloud seeding, advising people to wear masks and now using drones to create artificial rain," he added.
On why Indonesia did not accept Malaysia's offer of assistance to put out forest fires in the country that is causing the haze, Dr Mahathir said he had no idea.
"We offered help (to Indonesia) all the time. We have airplanes with water-bombing equipment.
"I have never asked Jokowi (Indonesian President Joko Widodo) why they do not want to receive our help. Why don't you ask Jokowi?" he said.
Of the 2,600 schools closed, 987 were in Sarawak, the most affected state. Next came Selangor (939), Penang (399), Kuala Lumpur (296) and Putrajaya (25), according to the Education Ministry in a statement on Thursday.
The ministry said all schools in Perak and Negeri Sembilan were to resume classes yesterday due to improvements in the API readings, which had fallen to below 200 in the two states.
The Education Ministry reminded parents, teachers and students that the situation is subject to change and that officials would regularly update the list of affected schools and districts on its Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram and official website.
Malaysia has issued procedures on what to do when the haze hits hard. A ministry circular dated Jan 15 states that schools must stop all outdoor activities when the API level reaches 100 and above.
Schools are to be closed imme-diately if the API readings are 200 and above.
The Higher Education Department has advised all colleges in states with API readings of 200 and above to postpone all lectures as the health of staff and students could be affected by the very unhealthy levels of air pollution.
Meanwhile, the Human Resources Ministry has recommended that employers implement flexible work policies during the ongoing haze period and allow workers to work from home, the Bernama news agency reported.
The ministry said the matter was raised at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, and that it was the responsibility of employers to ensure the safety and health of workers.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK