Air quality in Malaysian Borneo is worsening as large numbers of fires rage near the Sarawak-Brunei border, reports the Star newspaper.
The Air Pollutant Index (API) reached as high as 197 in parts of Sarawak on Sunday, according to Malaysia’s Environment Department.
Fires are set in Sarawak to clear brush and forest in and around forestry concessions, including oil palm plantations. While open burning is technically illegal in Malaysia, fires are generally set on an annual basis. In dry years the fires can burn widely, triggering dense “haze” that can cause regional health and transportation problems. During the current haze ground visibility has fallen to less than 100 meters in some area.
Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Robert Lau Hoi Chew told Bernama that rural residents are worse off than urban dwellers. He suggested that NGOs should distribute aid to affected communities.
Dry conditions — and haze — are expected to last into October.