Haze from Indonesian fires causes pollution spike in Malaysia
PHOTO: Kuala Lumpur has been blanketed in haze from agricultural fires in Indonesia. (Instagram: fizoomar)
Pollution readings soared past the 200-point level in the Malaysian government's hourly air-quality index on Sunday morning (local time).Acrid smoke billowing from agricultural fires in Indonesia has caused a spike in air pollution in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur.
The Ministry of Education ordered schools shut on Monday in the capital and three states due to health concerns, the second time this month it has had to issue such an order.
On Saturday, as the haze built up, an airport just outside Kuala Lumpur closed temporarily as visibility dropped to less than 400 metres.
The closure forced at least 20 flights to be cancelled, according to Malaysian media reports, and followed Singapore's shuttering of schools on Friday as air there worsened to "hazardous" levels.
Parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have been shrouded for weeks in a choking smoke haze from tinder-dry parts of Indonesia's Sumatra island.
The haze crisis — the worst since mid-2013 — grips the region nearly every year during the dry season, when agricultural land is illegally cleared by burning.
Indonesia has faced pressure from its neighbours to address the problem since it first emerged about 20 years ago.
But the issue has persisted, especially as plantations have expanded, driven in large part by rising global demand for palm oil, a key ingredient in a vast range of everyday consumer products.
Malaysian skies have been a smoky grey for most of the past month, and authorities on September 15 ordered schools closed in Kuala Lumpur and neighbouring states.
On Friday, Singapore's foreign minister K Shanmugam lashed out at what he called "shocking statements" by senior Indonesian officials perceived as making light of the problem.
Haze levels in Singapore had improved by Sunday, dropping below the "unhealthy" mark.
Indonesian authorities have indicated the problem may not clear up anytime soon.
National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the "fires continue to rage" despite a push to extinguish the blazes on farm expanses and peatlands that has included the deployment of military personnel.
He said new fires were cropping up, while those that were previously extinguished had re-emerged in peatlands or had been deliberately reignited.
He added that pollution readings in several Indonesian cities were at hazardous levels, and that nearly 168,000 people in affected areas has sought medical treatment for respiratory problems.
Indonesia had earlier declared a state of emergency in Sumatra's hard-hit Riau province.