MIRI (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The haze situation has worsened in several parts of Malaysia, forcing more schools to close on Wednesday (Sept 18) morning, affecting hundreds of thousands of students.
The Sarawak State Disaster Relief Management Committee said the Education Department had issued the latest notice on the closure.
The nine districts hit by very unhealthy air pollution levels are Betong, Bau, Kuching, Lubok Antu, Padawan, Samarahan, Sri Aman, Lundu and Kanowit.
Sri Aman again had the highest Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of 354 on Wednesday morning.
An API reading from 0 to 50 is good while 51 to 100 is moderate, 101 to 200 is unhealthy, 201 to 300 very unhealthy, and 301 and above is deemed hazardous.
According to the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma), a state of emergency will be called only if API readings exceed the 500 mark.
Kuching district has the most number of affected schools, with 57,504 students forced to stay home.
These areas in the state are badly hit by the transboundary haze from Kalimantan. However, there are also local wildfires inside Sarawak that are contributing to the haze.
The latest updates from the Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department showed that there are local forest fires in Sri Aman and Lundu too.
Bomba Sarawak said firefighters are on the ground battling these fires.
Meanwhile in Perak, the worsening haze situation has forced 265 more schools in Manjung, Bagan Datuk, Hilir Perak and Central Perak districts to close on Wednesday morning, bringing the total number of affected schools in the state to 288, Bernama reported.
Perak Education director Mohd Suhaimi Mohamed Ali said the schools were ordered to close after the API hit 202 at 5am.
"The closure of the 265 schools today was made based on the API reading at the Seri Manjung station.
"Seri Manjung today recorded the API reading at 206 as of 3am but dropped to 197 by 7am,” he said when contacted by Bernama.
In Selangor, an additional 99 schools in Petaling Perdana, Kuala Selangor, Gombak and Petaling Utama were ordered to close on Wednesday due to the worsening haze, bringing the total number of affected schools in Selangor to 214.
According to the Ministry of Education (MoE) in a statement on Wednesday morning, the schools were ordered to close after the API reading in the areas exceeded 200, beginning at midnight.
"The temporary closure of 99 schools, on top of 115 schools, was made based on the API reading at the Shah Alam station.
"This brings the total number of students involved to 231,921,” the statement said.
It said any changes or updates would be issued from time to time.
In a statement issued on Tuesday night, MoE announced that 115 schools in Sepang, Hulu Langat, Kuala Langat, Klang and Sabak Bernam were ordered to close on Wednesday due to worsening haze situation.
Meanwhile, according to the Department of Environment’s website as of 7am on Wednesday, the API reading of 219 was recorded in Shah Alam, 202 in Petaling Jaya and Klang, and 186 in Banting.
In Penang, all 111 schools on the island's northeast district have been asked to close at noon on Wednesday. This includes primary and secondary schools along with vocational colleges.
The order was issued only at 10.15am after the hourly update of the API showed that the district's API had shot up to 203 from 197 an hour earlier. Parents and school bus drivers were requested to pick up the children early.
At 7am, the API in the southwest district, where Balik Pulau and Bayan Lepas are located, reached 204, and all 51 schools in the district were ordered to close.
Earlier, 51 schools in the island's south-west district were ordered to close as the API hit 204 at 7am on Wednesday. At 8am, the API there rose to 211.