Sarawak worst-hit by haze in Malaysia as schools shut

Schools in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur (above), Putrajaya, Negeri Sembilan and Malacca, which were told to close on Tuesday, reopened on Thursday. PHOTO: EPA

SAMARAHAN/KUCHING - Sarawak was the state worst-hit by the haze in Malaysia on Thursday (Sept 17), with the air quality in Samarahan breaching the very unhealthy level in the afternoon.

Samarahan had the highest Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of 205 at about 3pm before improving slightly to 199 an hour later. Kuching also saw a slight improvement in air quality with a reading of 192 at 4pm from 203 at about 1pm.

Air quality with API readings of 0-50 is categorised as good, 51-100 (moderate), 101-200 (unhealthy), 201-300 (very unhealthy) and 301 and above (hazardous).

Beyond Sarawak, many parts of Malaysia recorded moderate air quality.

Schools in Kuching and Samarahan were told to close on Thursday, The Star Online reported.

The haze in Kuching also led to two flights at the Kuching International Airport being cancelled on Thursday morning, the Bernama news agency reported, citing the airport's manager. Several flights also encountered delays.

Other places in Malaysia with unhealthy air included Malacca, Putrajaya and Negeri Sembilan, but the API readings were in the lower end of the unhealthy range.

Meantime, cloud seeding operations in northern Selangor, southern Perak and west Pahang have successfully generated rainfall in the areas, The Star Online reported.

Science, Technology and Innovation (Mosti) Minister Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau said the operations brought rainfall to several areas near the Selangor and Perak border, northern border of Selangor and Pahang and southern Perak and the Pahang border.

"As for Sarawak, cloud seeding was conducted around Tebekang in Samarahan division and the areas of Balai Ringindan Pantu in Sri Aman but it was not successful," he said in a statement.

Tangau said the operation failed due to the dry and stable atmospheric condition which could not promote the growth of clouds during the cloud seeding operation.

Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar is scheduled to meet his Indonesian counterpart in Jakarta next week to discuss measures to tackle transboundary haze, The Star Online reported.

He said the meeting would include talks on a memorandum of understanding by Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand on action to be taken during the occurrence of haze.

"I will discuss what sort of collaboration we can have during the meeting on Sept 25. One area is how we can help Indonesia to put out fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

We realise there are certain obstacles in Indonesia regarding our ability to give assistance. Under Indonesia's federalism, a province has to declare an emergency before the central government can step in to help. Only then can other countries give help, because our agreement is with the central government," he told reporters on Wednesday (Sept 16).

He said he would discuss the matter of reducing red tape between the central government and provinces so that other countries could provide aid quickly.

"We have the capability and expertise to help through the Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (SMART) and the Fire and Rescue Department," he said.

Dr Wan Junaidi also hoped that Indonesia would take steps to prevent forest fires from occurring, such as by installing tube wells in peat soil areas as Malaysia had done.

"The tube wells will be activated in the dry season to moisten peat soil so that it is less flammable. When peat soil is dry, it becomes very flammable and the fire is difficult to put out," he said.

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