KL to urge Jakarta to take swift action on haze amid spike in hot spots

Hazy conditions yesterday in Kuching, Sarawak, where the air quality index was 155 in the evening, in the unhealthy range. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Hazy conditions yesterday in Kuching, Sarawak, where the air quality index was 155 in the evening, in the unhealthy range. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

JAKARTA/KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's science ministry will urge Indonesia to take immediate action to fight haze, it said yesterday, as Jakarta detected a spike in the number of hot spots, indicating worsening forest fires across the archipelago.

During the dry season, Indonesian farmers use fire to clear land, often for oil palm and other crops, but the flames can rage out of control to produce a choking haze that spreads to neighbouring Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.

Drier than normal weather this year has aggravated the impact of fires, with the number of hot spots rising to the highest since devastating fires in 2015.

In a statement, Malaysia's Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation said it would "send a diplomatic note to Indonesia so immediate action will be taken to put out the fires and prevent repeated burning".

A spokesman for Indonesia's Foreign Ministry, Mr Teuku Faizasyah, declined immediate comment, but said he would check if Jakarta had received the note.

Indonesia faces global pressure to put an end to slash-and-burn clearance of land, especially as fires have also engulfed swathes of the Amazon and parts of Africa.

By yesterday morning, disaster management officials in Indonesia had detected 6,312 hot spots, which often signal a fire, dotting the western and central areas of its part of Borneo. That was up from 2,694 a day ago and fewer than 1,000 earlier this month.

"This is the height of the dry season, hence the... number of hot spots," said Mr Agus Wibowo, a spokesman for Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency. The number had risen from Thursday as many hot spots had previously been obscured by smoke, he added.

Indonesia has deployed more than 9,000 military, police and disaster agency personnel to douse the fires, having declared an emergency in six provinces on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

Air quality hit unhealthy levels in several parts of Malaysia yesterday, including Kuala Lumpur (right) and Sarawak, next to West Kalimantan. Indonesia is battling a surge in the number of hot spots, and thick smoke and dry conditions are expected to
Air quality hit unhealthy levels in several parts of Malaysia yesterday, including Kuala Lumpur (above) and Sarawak, next to West Kalimantan. Indonesia is battling a surge in the number of hot spots, and thick smoke and dry conditions are expected to persist. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK SEE TOP OF THE NEWS A8

Transboundary haze was detected on Thursday spreading from the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan on Borneo to the island's Malaysian side, Indonesia's climate agency said.

Haze also reduced visibility to just 10m to 20m in the town of Sampit in Indonesia's province of Central Kalimantan, said media reports.

The town's air quality index hit 356 by midday yesterday, a hazardous level, according to the non-profit World Air Quality Index (WAQI). It later fell to an unhealthy 177, WAQI's online map showed.

"I implore the whole community not to burn land," local government head Supian Hadi said, according to state news agency Antara.

The air quality index in Kuching, Sarawak, was 155 by the evening, also in the unhealthy range.

Singapore's National Environment Agency said in an update yesterday evening: "With the weather likely to remain generally dry over the next few days, the hot spot and haze situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan can be expected to persist."

It added that the prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the southeast or south. "Singapore may experience slightly hazy conditions if the prevailing winds blow smoke haze from hot spots in nearby areas towards Singapore," it said.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2019, with the headline KL to urge Jakarta to take swift action on haze amid spike in hot spots. Subscribe