Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has asked Indonesia to act against the people setting forest fires that has blanketed southeastern Asia in smog for weeks, causing disruption of nearly 7,000 schools and raising health concerns in the region.
“They (plantation companies) are operating there, we want Indonesia to take action,” Najib said. “Only Indonesia alone can gather evidence and convict the companies concerned. The fires and the resulting haze has become an annual feature as the fires are illegally set to clear land for cultivation on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra and in the Indonesian portion of Borneo island,” Najib said. Nearly 7,000 schools with almost four million students will be closed today and tomorrow because of the worsening air quality over the Malaysian peninsula,Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid said.
He said air quality would be monitored in Kelantan, Labuan, Sabah and Sarawak hourly before deciding on the reopening date of schools there. All teachers and school staff, with the exception of security guards, have also been told to stay at home. The Education Ministry had closed nearly 7,000 schools from nine states, as the air quality reading breached the unhealthy and very unhealthy levels between September 15 and 30.
The nine states were Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Pahang, Johor, Sarawak and Perak. The haze has caused flights and major events to be cancelled, and forced tens of thousands of people in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to seek medical treatment for respiratory problems. Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s office said he was “very serious in tackling the forest fires” but that dry weather caused by the El Nino climate phenomenon posed a challenge.
Indonesia has for years faced pressure from its neighbours to look into this problem, but the haze has now become an annual feature. In Singapore races in the FINA World Championship — swimming’s World Cup — were called off on Saturday, and one of Malaysia’s biggest marathons set for Sunday in Kuala Lumpur was cancelled. Even racing fans had to hold their horses as the Penang Turf Club postponed its race day yesterday to Oct 11 to protect the health of the jockeys and horses. Flights at several airports resumed operations after their runways were reopened again.