Air PollutionIndonesiaMalaysiaSingaporeSouth

Smoke from Indonesian illegal plantation burn-offs causing acute problems for south east Asian neighbours

PHOTO: Visibility down to less than a kilometre at KL airport yesterday

Flights cancelled, schools closed and regional environmental ministers trading insults. The minister’s fiddle whilst Indonesian islands burn.

Parts of Indonesia are now opening temporary clinics to treat thousands of people suffering from acute respiratory illnesses in the smoke haze stricken regions around Sumatra island as authorities stepped up efforts to douse forest and peatland fires.

Dangerous smoke from illegal burning to clear land for palm oil and paper plantations is prompting school closures and disrupting travel in the region. But the air quality in Singapore, which slipped to unhealthy levels over the weekend, is now forecast to improve in the next few days.

The fires, an annual burn-off of plantations to prepare for the new year crops, is causing major disruptions and a health hazard for other south east asian countries in the wake of the smoke, including Malaysia, Singapore and southern Thailand.

More than 300 schools in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor were closed on the weekend after the Air Pollutant Index hit very unhealthy levels. (Johor’s weekend is Friday and Saturday with Sunday being a normal work day.)

Authorities have distributed perfunctory face masks to people in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra and Kalimantan as the ash and smoke from more than 2,500 hotspots blanket the region. Authorities now say they have deployed more than 9,000 personnel, with the help of 42 helicopters, to fight the fires.

The total number of hotspots in Indonesia fell to 2,583 on Monday from 2,862 on Sunday, with the Indonesian part of the Borneo island alone accounting for almost 1,200 forest fires. The hotspots have affected 328,724 hectares of forest and farm land this year, data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency show. The agency stands ready to undertake cloud-seeding to douse the fire, it said.

Kuching and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Hanoi and Jakarta were among the world’s top 10 cities with the poorest air quality, according to IQAir AirVisual pollution data yesterday. The air quality index in Kuching in haze-hit Sarawak state was 241 yesterday, a level well in excess of the WHO upper level of 50.

In KL yesterday the levels reached 130.

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