World

Malaysia to push Asean to find solution for haze

Cooperation among member countries needed, says Environment Minister

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will push its South-east Asian neighbours to strengthen cooperation in finding a long-term solution for the haze wafting across the region from forest fires in Indonesia, its Environment Minister said yesterday.

In the past few weeks, Malaysia and Singapore have been choked by smoky air blown in from forest fires that were started to clear land for plantations, forcing schools to shut and many people to wear masks to avoid inhaling smog particles.

"I will have a conference call with the Asean Secretary-General to raise our views and also express our hope for a more effective mechanism at the Asean level for a long-term solution," said Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin.

Yesterday, Cebu city in the Philippines became the next place to be hit by the haze but officials said that for the moment, the air quality was "above safe levels", The Straits Times reported. Cebu is 2,700km away from Sumatra.

All affected countries belong to the 10-member Asean, which set up a regional haze action plan in 1997, but Malaysia thinks the grouping has not done enough to evolve a long-term solution.

Among its efforts to tackle the haze, Malaysia could pass a new law to punish any of its companies responsible for starting fires, but only international co-operation could yield a lasting solution, Ms Yeo added.

"Cloud seeding is only temporary. A law here would only deal with Malaysian companies. What we need is international cooperation for a long-term solution."

Ms Yeo said Malaysia will keep up cloud seeding efforts to bring temporary relief in badly hit areas. This involves spraying chemicals, such as sodium chloride and magnesium oxide, from aircraft to spur rainfall.

CONSIDERING NEW LAW

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had said Malaysia was considering a new law to compel its companies to tackle fires on land that they control abroad.

Malaysia will also consider deploying drones to help in cloud seeding, Dr Mahathir told a separate news conference.

He added that he would like to ask Indonesian President Joko Widodo why Jakarta has refused Malaysia's help to fight the forest fires causing smog in the region, the Malay Mail reported.

"I would like to ask, 'Why you don't want to receive our help?' But I have not done that," he said. "We have airplanes that are specially made for water bombings and I think that can be used."

Thousands of schools were shuttered across Malaysia and Indonesia yesterday.

In Malaysia, at least 1.7 million students were affected by school closures, AFP reported.

It was not clear how many pupils were forced to stay home in neighbouring Indonesia.

Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency said yesterday that the emergency response team had carried out cloud seeding operations in Riau, North Sumatra and Central Kalimantan. The operations will be carried out again, the agency said. - REUTERS

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