Jun 17, 2013

    Haze hits Malaysia, skies here get clearer

    MALAYSIA was yesterday shrouded in haze from forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, causing "unhealthy" levels of pollution in six areas.

    Environment-department director-general Halimah Hassan said 46 hot spots in Sumatra had been detected via satellite.

    The Air Pollutant Index showed unhealthy levels of between 101 and 129 in six areas yesterday morning, including two places in Malacca state, along with Port Dickson and the country's largest port, Port Klang.

    As at 11am yesterday, the Department of Environment detected unhealthy air-quality readings in Port Klang (104), Malacca (129), Linggi (117), Sungai Udang (120), Muar (125) and Kijal (101), with the rest of the peninsula showing good and moderate levels.

    In the capital Kuala Lumpur, the skies were hazy with air-pollution readings at 92, just below the unhealthy threshold.

    A level of 101-200 is considered unhealthy, while 51-100 is moderate.

    In a statement late last Saturday, Datuk Halimah attributed the haze to the westerly monsoon season, during which winds blow the smoke towards Malaysia.

    She added that although the dry spell had resulted in six peat-soil fires in Selangor, the fires did not contribute to the haze and were being put out.

    In Muar, district police chief Nordin Osman said operators of vessels, especially fishing trawlers, are advised to navigate with care along the Strait of Malacca and the Muar estuary due to thick haze.

    He said the haze had enveloped the district over the past four days, but it worsened yesterday, with visibility dropping to below one nautical mile.

    "We advise all ship captains plying the strait to be alert for passing fishing trawlers," he said yesterday.

    Meanwhile, Muar Health Department officer Mohd Zulkipli Othman advised schools to limit outdoor activities for students.

    "People, especially those with asthma and breathing problems, should stay indoors and drink plenty of water," he added.

    In Singapore, the hazy conditions last week have given way to clearer skies as Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings eased to a range of 64 to 76.

    The National Environment Agency advised people with heart and lung diseases, those above 65 years of age and children to avoid exertion outdoors.

    The index hit a year high of 88 last Friday.

    A PSI reading of zero to 50 is "good", while 50 to 100 is "moderate". Anything above 100 is considered "unhealthy".

    Haze, mostly caused by fires in Indonesia, builds up during the dry season, affecting tourism and contributing to health problems across the region.

    Indonesia's government has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak law enforcement means the ban is largely ignored.

    It is an annual problem during the monsoon season from May to September as winds blow the smoke across the Malacca Strait to Malaysia and Singapore.