Haze blankets much of Malaysia

Air quality in eight of 13 states affected as forest fires continue to burn in Indonesia

The Kuala Lumpur skyline obscured by thick haze yesterday as wind continued to blow haze coming from Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia into Malaysian cities.
The Kuala Lumpur skyline obscured by thick haze yesterday as wind continued to blow haze coming from Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia into Malaysian cities. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Visibility worsened in Malaysia's capital yesterday, with Kuala Lumpur's iconic towers shrouded by haze.

Air quality has dramatically deteriorated this week, with nearly two dozen locations affected by haze nationwide, blanketing eight out of the country's 13 states.

As wind continues to blow haze from Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia into Malaysian cities, officials have resorted to issuing a ban on open burning, and offering help to Indonesia to tackle forest fires.

"The dry spell and the south-west monsoon season have further worsened the impact of transboundary haze in Malaysia," said Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin on Facebook yesterday.

Explaining that haze in Peninsular Malaysia came from hot spots in Sumatra while east Malaysia state Sarawak was affected by haze from Kalimantan, Ms Yeo said the Malaysian government "will continue to do cloud-seeding whenever the situation allows and send assistance to Indonesia if and when they accept the offer".

On Monday, Malaysia formally extended an offer to assist Indonesia in putting out forest fires. However, local news organisation Tempo said Indonesia's meteorology agency denied that the country contributed to haze in Malaysia.

Ms Yeo countered this by citing data from the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre, which says persistent hot spots in Indonesia have led to haze being blown by prevailing winds to Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, western Sarawak and parts of the South China Sea. Over a thousand hot spots were detected in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Malaysia has banned open burning, with exceptions for cremations and religious rituals.

The air pollutant index (API) reading for Rompin, Pahang, went up to 232, with readings of 201 to 300 characterised as "very unhealthy", and an API reading of 101 to 200 deemed "unhealthy".

Malaysian netizens are blaming Indonesia and complaining of illnesses. Twitter user Dina Hantosh posted: "The never-ending haze. It just keeps getting worse. I'm tired of even complaining about this. Coughing, watery eyes, itchy nose, dry throat, hives. My allergies are going nuts!"

The worst may be over for Sarawak for now, after API readings in the state improved from "very unhealthy" to "unhealthy" levels.

Over 400 schools in Sarawak were closed on Tuesday, and half a million face masks were sent to the state after its API readings breached 200.

According to news site Malay Mail, Sarawak state Deputy Chief Minister James Masing wants Indonesia to bear responsibility and be penalised by the international community for causing the haze.

The Islamic department has asked mosques nationwide to hold prayers for rain to ease the situation. Hazy conditions are expected to last until the end of the month when the monsoon wind changes its direction.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2019, with the headline Haze blankets much of Malaysia. Subscribe