World

Schools close in Sarawak, Jambi as haze tightens grip

But Indonesian authorities dispute findings by Singapore and Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: The haze tightened its unhealthy grip across parts of South-east Asia as growing hot spots in Indonesia sent pollution indexes in Sarawak, areas around Kuala Lumpur and some parts of Sumatra into the unhealthy range.

Singapore, too, was not spared yesterday, though the haze was in the moderate range.

Petaling Jaya and Klang, towns close to Kuala Lumpur, recorded haze in the unhealthy range, according to the government's air pollutant index and the skyline has been shrouded in thick smog.

Around 400 schools were closed yesterday in nine districts of Sarawak state on Borneo island, with more than 150,000 students affected, according to the local education department.

In Indonesia's Jambi province, on Sumatra, some kindergartens will be closed until Friday, while elementary and junior high schools are also temporarily shut, according to local authorities, who did not give exact numbers.

Jambi mayor Syarif Fasha urged residents to wear face masks while Malaysia's national disaster management agency said it has secured half a million masks, which will be sent to the Sarawak state disaster committee.

A total of 537 hot spots were detected in Sumatra yesterday, up from 333 on Sunday, Singapore's National Environment Agency said.

Malaysia's Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said the country is ready to help put out the fires.

"The urgency now is for Indonesia to extinguish the fires and the government is ready to offer any kinds of assistance to help Indonesia in both Kalimantan and Sumatra," she said in a Facebook post on Monday, adding that Malaysia will use all diplomatic channels to get Indonesia to act.

"We will be sending diplomatic notes to Indonesia to underscore the seriousness of haze, as well as to emphasise the urgency in putting out the fires," Ms Yeo said.

She said her ministry is working with the Foreign Ministry on the matter.

But yesterday, Indonesia's climate agency disputed findings by Malaysia and Singapore that both countries were seeing smog from fires on Sumatra island.

"As for transboundary haze, there has been none detected from the area of Sumatra towards the Malaysian peninsula," the climate agency said.

It added that signs of forest fires were also spotted in Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, East Timor and Thailand.

South-east Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smoke caused by slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia, raising worries about health and the impact on tourism.

Indonesia's neighbours have repeatedly complained but the problem persists. - AFP, REUTERS, THE STAR, THE STRAITS TIMES

WORLD