Indonesian forest fires again cause haze in Malaysia
August 4, 2005
Haze over Malaysia during fires that took place in the summer of 2001.
Image courtesy of the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer
(MODIS), flying aboard NASA’s Terra satellite, on July 9, 2001.
KUALA LUMPUR, Indonesia — Forest fires in Indonesia’s Sumatra province covered Malaysia’s main city Kuala Lumpur and 32 other towns Tuesday with a smoky haze that reduced visibility to as low as one kilometer (half a mile).
The Department of Environment said air quality in an area in central Perak state was “unhealthy,” and it downgraded air quality in 32 other areas nationwide, including Kuala Lumpur, from “good” to “moderate.”
It said in a statement that satellite images showed 587 “hot spots,” or fires, in Riau and northern Sumatra in Indonesia. The province is separated from peninsular Malaysia by the narrow Malacca Strait.
Seventeen hot spots were also seen in Malaysia’s Sarawak state, and 16 in Indonesia’s Kalimantan province, both on Borneo island, it said.
“Southwesterly winds are blowing from Sumatra to Malaysia. We can expect the hazy conditions to persist for the next one to two days until the wind direction changes,” a weather forecaster at the meteorological department told The Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s biggest city and its financial capital, traffic slowed to a crawl as nothing could be seen beyond a distance of one kilometer (a half mile). The acrid smell of burning vegetation filled the air.
The affect of the haze on flights arriving and leaving Kuala Lumpur was not immediately known.
Forest fires often break out in the region during dry spells because of the spread of illegal land-clearing fires, or carelessly discarded cigarettes.
Kuala Lumpur last reported unhealthy air quality levels in 1997, when brush fires in Indonesia destroyed some 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of vegetation, cloaking much of Southeast Asia with haze.
Economic losses from those fires topped US$9.3 billion (euro7.7 billion) and prompted a 2002 agreement among six of the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations members to fight fire pollution.
Malaysia haze prompts state of emergency
By Vijay Joshi, Associated Press Writer | August 11, 2005
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia –Malaysia’s leader declared an emergency in two regions Thursday, closing workplaces and calling on mosques to hold special prayers for rain to rid the country of hazardous haze drifting from forest fires in neighboring Indonesia.
The worst environmental crisis to hit Malaysia in eight years is threatening public health and disrupting traffic by reducing visibility, but its impact on the economy has yet to be assessed. A previous haze crisis cost billions.
Hundreds of forest fires on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, just across the Malacca Strait, have stoked choking, acrid haze that causes eyes to redden and leaves throats raspy.
The fires are an annual occurrence, and Malaysian officials have expressed frustration over Indonesia’s failure to tackle the problem. Indonesia’s forestry minister, Malam Sambat Kaban, countered Thursday that 10 Malaysian firms clearing land in Indonesia had contributed to the problem.
The two countries did agree Thursday to use cloud seeding to try to induce rain over the forest fires.
The smoke has blown over the western coast of Malaysia, shrouding its biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, its capital, Putrajaya, the technology city Cyberjaya and the biggest port district, Port Klang.
“In my office, things look normal, but if I go down to the building’s lobby area, I can smell smoke. Even in the basement car park I can smell smoke,” said Liew Cow Yuan, a consultant with the DHL Express Global Data Center in Cyberjaya.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi declared a state of emergency in Port Klang and in Kuala Selangor, a tourist area known for its fireflies, after the air pollution index reached 500 — the emergency level.
It is the first time the 500-level has been breached in Malaysia.
Under the emergency rules, Port Klang, the country’s biggest and busiest harbor, will be shut down. All educational institutions and government and private workplaces will also be closed, including factories, construction sites and quarries.
However, supermarkets, shops selling food and drinks, pharmacies and essential services will remain open. Road work will be suspended and the use of personal cars and trucks will be discouraged.
Four other areas, including the financial capital Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, had air pollution levels above 300. Schools in and around Kuala Lumpur were closed Thursday and Friday.
But people went to work Thursday, many wearing surgical masks that offered little protection from the noxious air. Landmarks in Kuala Lumpur, such as the tops of the Petronas Twin Towers vanished in the haze. Acrid smoke seeped into office air-conditioning systems.
“The air is so bad that my eyes are stinging,” said Gerard Miranda, a 31-year-old shopper. “I had breathing difficulties when I was outside this building, probably because I’ve a sinus problem that is being aggravated by the haze.”
The prime minister urged people to seek divine help to overcome the crisis and called on mosques to hold special prayers for rain that would wash away the haze.
“This is my approach. When such things happen, we must also pray to God to seek help,” Abdullah told reporters.
Malaysia rushed firefighters to Indonesia during a similar crisis in 1997-98, which caused large parts of Malaysia and Singapore to be enveloped in haze. Economic losses across the region then were estimated at $9.3 billion.
Travel agents said the haze would have minimal impact on tourism because key destinations such as Langkawi and Penang in northern Malaysia were not affected.
“So far we have not received any cancellations and it’s peak tourist season right now,” said Meloni Stevens, an agent dealing mostly with European tourists.
However, Malaysia’s benchmark stock index slipped 0.4 percent Thursday amid worries that prolonged haze could undercut palm oil exports, tourism and other economic sectors.
The Meteorology Department said no respite was expected until October, when rains would help wash away the haze, a mixture of dust, ash, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide.
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