Malaysia: Haze may force schools to close

Haze may force schools to close

(Source: The New Strait Times, June23, 2004)

The haze worsened in parts of Peninsular Malaysia today, the result of more open burning in Sumatra.

Little immediate relief is in sight, as more than 250 “hot spots” were detected on the Indonesian island in satellite images today, up from 84 yesterday.

If there is any further deterioration in the air quality, the Education Ministry will consider closing some schools.

Education Minister Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein said that he had directed all state and district Education Departments to keep a close watch on the air quality index. As a first step, he would consider banning all sports and outdoor activities.

“The safety of our children is important and we cannot take it for granted. If the haze causes harm to their health, we will ask them to stay home.

“It is best to allow students in areas with very bad air quality to temporarily stay home,” he told reporters after attending the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka’s 48th anniversary here.

“I would not be worried about students missing school for one or two days, but in the end they might fall sick and not go to school for one or two months.

“We have to take pro-active measures, but we must ensure the air quality is really unhealthy (before doing so).” Smoke from brush fires in Indonesia has been drifting to Malaysia on the southwesterly winds, shrouding Kuala Lumpur and Penang, obscuring the skyline and sending the air quality to unhealthy levels.

The Environment Department said the air quality in five places — Gombak, Klang, Shah Alam, Petaling Jaya and Manjung in Perak — was unhealthy.

It noted that air quality had improved in the north, such as in Seberang Prai.

The department urged the public to help put out small fires and report cases of open burning.

The visibility at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport was down to three kilometres from the normal 10km, but no flights have had to be cancelled.

The haze could remain over parts of the country for the next two or three days if the air remains dry.

In 1997 and 1998, the haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia enveloped parts of the region, causing serious health problems and badly affecting tourism.

In Malacca, Chief Minister Datuk Ali Rustam today directed that outdoor activities involving schoolchildren be suspended. He also advised motorcyclists to wear protective masks as a precaution (by Jason Gerald).


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