Jun 27, 2013

    Smog claims first victim in Malaysia

    FIRES in Indonesia that have blanketed Singapore and Malaysia in thick smog eased yesterday after heavy rain, boosting hopes of an end to South-east Asia's worst air-pollution crisis in years.

    The news came as a report said the crisis had claimed its first victim with the death of an asthmatic woman in southern Malaysia, which has been badly affected.

    The Sun newspaper said Li Cai Ling, a resident of the town of Muar - which saw intense air pollution over the weekend - died on Sunday, with a medical report blaming the polluted air.

    The smoke from slash-and-burn agricultural fires on Sumatra island pushed haze levels to a record high in Singapore last week, shrouding residential buildings and downtown skyscrapers.

    On Monday, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono apologised to Singapore and Malaysia, and scolded his top aides for making confrontational remarks against the two neighbours, The Jakarta Post reported.

    Indonesia deployed thousands of reinforcements on Tuesday to fight the fires, which are centred in Riau province. They are backed by aircraft dropping water and chemically inducing rain through cloud-seeding.

    Their efforts were helped by rain, which fell late on Tuesday and early yesterday in several areas of Riau, officials and residents said.

    Yesterday morning, the number of fire hot spots had fallen to 54 from 265 the previous day, national-disaster-agency official Agus Wibowo said from Riau.

    "The rain has definitely helped our efforts," he said. "With the improving weather on our side, we are taking the opportunity to quickly fight the blazes on land."

    Conditions improved dramatically in the badly-hit city of Dumai, Riau, after a storm broke at dawn.

    "We were hoping for rainwater because our water supply for bathing and washing clothes had run out," said Ms Lisa Rahmawati, a 25-year-old secretary.

    In Malaysia, the haze eased yesterday but continued to hang over some areas, including the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

    The situation also forced newly-promoted English Premier League side Cardiff City to cancel a Malaysia visit that had been set to begin this week.

    The club said in a statement on its website on Tuesday that it has abandoned the scheduled week-long trip to Malaysia - home of its billionaire owner, Mr Vincent Tan - "due to the current poor air quality in the region".

    The haze has travelled north to Thailand. The Nation newspaper reported that seven provinces in southern Thailand have been affected.