KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia is ready to help Indonesia put out its raging fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra in order to ease the severe haze in the region, said Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin.
Haze regularly blankets parts of South-east Asia during the dry season, when burning is used to clear Indonesian land for oil palm and paper plantations and other crops, sparking ire from regional neighbours.
Parts of Malaysia's eastern state of Sarawak on Borneo Island have been blanketed by smoke over the past few days.
"The urgency now is for Indonesia to extinguish the fires, and the government is ready to offer any kinds of assistance to help Indonesia in both Kalimantan and Sumatra," Ms Yeo said in a Facebook post on Monday, adding that Malaysia will exhaust all diplomatic channels to get Indonesia to act.
"We will be sending diplomatic notes to Indonesia to underscore the seriousness of the haze, as well as to emphasise the urgency in putting out the fires."
She said her ministry is working with the Foreign Ministry on the matter following a scheduled meeting between the Malaysian ambassador and his Indonesian counterpart on Monday.
Responding to a query from The Straits Times yesterday, Dr Agus Wibowo, acting spokesman for Indonesia's national disaster mitigation agency BNPB, said Indonesia did not need foreign assistance yet to deal with the matter, and that it was capable of handling it.
Malaysia on Monday said it was preparing to carry out cloud seeding to induce rain in hard-hit areas with sufficient clouds.
Sarawak's Deputy Chief Minister Douglas Uggah Embas said the earliest possible date for cloud seeding would be tomorrow, depending on the weather, Bernama reported.
National disaster management agency Nadma said yesterday that it has sent 500,000 face masks to the state amid the air pollution, Bernama reported.
MetMalaysia director-general Jailan Simon said the haze situation in Sarawak has been easing, except in Kuching, Sri Aman and Samarahan. He said the improvement in the central and northern regions of Sarawak was due to early morning showers, which also helped reduce the number of hot spots in southern Kalimantan.
"The haze in the western part of Sarawak is expected to continue as long as the fires in Kalimantan are ongoing," he said.
Schools in Sarawak with air pollutant index levels exceeding 200 - the very unhealthy range - have been directed to close immediately.
As of yesterday, 409 schools - comprising 347 primary and 62 secondary schools - have been ordered to close due to the haze. A total of 157,479 students are affected by the closure. But the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah examination, or primary school assessment, proceeded in Sarawak as scheduled.
Jakarta has deployed thousands of extra personnel since last month to prevent a repeat of the 2015 fires, which choked the region in haze for weeks and set off a diplomatic spat.
Indonesia's national disaster agency said last Friday that the number of hot spots with medium-to-high potential to break out in blazes soared nearly sevenfold to 6,312 over a four-day period this month.
In Jambi province on Sumatra Island, some kindergartens will be closed until Friday, and elementary and junior high schools are also temporarily shut, the local authorities said. Jambi Mayor Syarif Fasha has also urged residents to wear face masks.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE