Sumatra smoke clouds sky over M’sia, S’pore

The Jakarta Globe

The towering Marina Bay Sands casino resort is obscured by smoke from hundreds of fires burning across Sumatra. (Reuters Photo)

Haze from fires burning in Indonesia has drifted over Malaysia’s west coast, sending air pollution to dangerous levels in one town where schools were reportedly forced to shut on Wednesday.

In Muar, a coastal town on the narrow strait that separates the two countries, pollution levels shot up to 415 micrograms per cubic meter by Wednesday morning, well into the hazardous range which begins at 301. A rating of 0-50 is considered good.

“This is because of a hotspot in Sumatra. You can see the affected area on satellite images, it’s caused by land clearing and plantations,” an environment department official said.

Malaysian Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said schools in Muar had been closed and thousands of face masks were being distributed, the Star daily reported on Wednesday.

Authorities were also rushing to carry out cloud seeding to create rain to disperse the smoke.

Muar is situated in Johor state, where most other towns were not so badly affected. However, in the west coast tourist centre of Malacca, air quality had deteriorated to 106, which is in the “unhealthy” range.

Agus Salim Lacuda, an Indonesian climatologist and meteorologist, said the haze was likely caused by the forest fires, and slash-and-burn logging in certain parts of the Sumatra Island.

It has blanketed the sky above islands around Batam, including Rempang and Galang.

The haze has also infiltrated the air in Singapore, about 25 kilometers northwest of Batam, since Tuesday.

But despite the cloudy sky, flights remained unaffected.

“The pilots’ visibility from Wednesday morning to midday remains at 6,000 meters. So this is still good for airplanes,” said Lacuda, head of the Hang Nadim International Airport’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics office.

A US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite detected 202 hotspots on Sumatra Island on Tuesday.

The Indonesian government has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak law enforcement means the ban is largely ignored.

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