JOHOR Baru, Malaysia - The deteriorating air quality in southern Johor caused by indiscriminate slash and burn farming practice in Indonesia has irked politicians and the business community here and they want the Indonesian authorities to address the issue urgently.
The air quality here, in Pasir Gudang and Kota Tinggi breached unhealthy levels yesterday, with the air pollutant index (API) at 109, 113 and 107 respectively.
Pasir Gudang, the largest industrial zone in the south, had the highest API reading in the country on Thursday at 91.
API reading in other parts of the country was either good or moderate yesterday.
BN Johor Baru youth division chairman Khalid Mohamad criticised the Indonesian authorities for failing to control the forest burning, which brought a huge mass of haze to the peninsula annually.
"This affects our health and economy as our people are getting sick and tourists cancel their holiday plans to come here.
"The most annoying thing is that the haze comes every year without fail. Enough is enough, we will submit a memorandum to the Indonesian consulate here next week," he said.
The annual haze usually occurs in either May, June or July, but it came as late as mid-October this year.
What brings the haze across the Straits of Malacca is the on-going south-west monsoon.
MCA Johor Baru division chairman Kua Song Tuck hoped the Indonesian authorities would understand that they were the main cause of the haze problem faced by Malaysians now.
"The slash and burn farming practice has become an unfailing norm every year because of the lack of preventive measures and enforcement carried out by the Indonesian authorities.
"I hope Indonesia will be sincere in addressing the problem quickly," he said.
Johor Tourist Guides Association chairman Jimmy Leong said the tourism sector was badly hit during the haze period every year, with tour cancellations or postponements of up to 50 per cent.
"The situation now is not alarming yet. But if the haze worsens, all tourism-related sectors will be badly affected as in the past," he said.
Johor Indian Businessmen Association chairman P. Sivakumar said Indian traders who operate stalls selling festive goods in conjunction with the coming Deepavali were severely affected as very few were willing to go out to shop, even at night.
Pasir Gudang MP Datuk Seri Mohd Khaled Nordin said he was monitoring the situation in his constituency with the Department of Environment daily.
He advised the people in his constituency to reduce all outdoor activities especially those with respiratory and heart problems.
"While the situation in the next few days could be unpredictable, what the people could do is to put on face masks for protection," he said.
In Kuching, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah said he and his officers were surprised at the haze which hit parts of Johor this week.
He said they were bracing for "heavier rain than usual" because that was the forecast for the coming season.
"Based on reports from the Meteorological Department and the ministerial steering committee on trans-boundary haze, heavier rain than usual was to be expected from this month until early next year.
"(So) we were preparing for a more wet season," he told reporters when inspecting a flood mitigation project at Sungai Lajim in Kampung Bandarshah that had fallen behind schedule.
However, Uggah does not believe the haze would get any worse.
He said cloud seeding operations in hard-hit areas of Johor had already been conducted and the latest report showed the number of hot spots in Sumatra had reduced.
"We hope the rain will come soon. If the situation in Sumatra is not very serious, then other states in the peninsula will not be affected."