Malaysia — Fires blazing in Indonesia sent a blanket of haze over neighboring Malaysia’s largest city on Wednesday, obscuring the sun and leaving an acrid smell in the air.
The pollution caused the air quality to drop to to unhealthy levels in Kuala Lumpur and Sarawak state in eastern Malaysia.
The haze, which can cause health problems, drifts across the region each year in the dry season when Indonesian farmers illegally set brush fires to clear land for planting.
Malaysia’s Department of Environment readings showed air quality was ‘unhealthy’ in six areas around Kuala Lumpur and Sarawak ? both of which are close to areas in Indonesia. Only three of 50 monitoring stations across Malaysia recorded ‘good’ air quality, while elsewhere it was ‘moderate.’ Visibility in one town in Sarawak was down to less than 800 metres, according to the Meteorological Department.
Environment Department director general Rosnani Ibarahim said hundreds of forest fires were blazing in the Indonesian provinces of Kalimantan and Sumatra, and in Malaysia?s Sarawak state on Borneo island.
The Air Pollutant Index (API) recorded unhealthy levels of between 102 and 137 in six areas on Wednesday morning, including a district of the capital Kuala Lumpur, two in surrounding Selangor state, and three in Sarawak.
The API considers a score of 101-200 to be unhealthy, while 51-100 is moderate. An official from the Meteorological Services Department said the heavy haze caused visibility levels to fall to 2 km in Selangor as well as Malacca, a tourist destination south of the capital.
Generally visibility throughout Malaysia was at least 4 km. Visibility on a clear day exceeds 10 km. Environment Minister Douglas Unggah Embas is scheduled to fly to Riau province in Indonesia to attend a regional meeting on the problem this weekend.
Mr Unggah has reportedly proposed building dams in peat swamps to pull water from them to fight the fires. Malaysia and Singapore have complained since 1997 about haze drifting from Indonesia. The last time a severe haze affected those countries was in 2006.
The smog causes health problems and losses amounting to billions of dollars from lost tourism revenue and flight delays due to low visibility, among other things.
Indonesia has argued it lacks the money and the ability to stem the illegal practice of setting the fires as well as the resources to effectively fight them.