Alarm raised over haze in Malaysia

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - Authorities are stepping up vigilance nationwide against the haze that is expected to worsen in the next few days.

The Department of Environment (DOE) has imposed a blanket ban on open burning in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya while the Education Ministry is monitoring the situation.

The Malaysian Medical Association is also advising the public on how to deal with the haze.

The ministry opened an operations room in Putrajaya yesterday to monitor the haze and keep schools informed on whether to stay open.

"We know the haze is becoming worse," said Education director-general Tan Sri Abd Ghafar Mahmud.

He added that the operations room would liaise with district education offices to keep them informed on how bad the haze is at the different locales.

The 2005 circular issued to school heads when Malaysia was hit with one of the worst incidents of haze remains in force.

Schools will be closed once the Air Pollutant Index (API) in their area reaches 400 while all sporting and outdoor activities will be cancelled once the API hits the "hazardous" level of 300.

Abd Ghafar said: "We want the principals to monitor the situation in their schools and to contact the district education office for the next course of action."

As at 5pm yesterday, the air quality had deteriorated in Selangor with seven areas recording an unhealthy reading of more than 100 on the API up from Friday's four areas.

It was reported that the haze originated from peat and forest fires in the Riau district of central Sumatra.

Yesterday morning, a Nasa satellite reported 591 hotspots in Sumatra.

Several parts of Selangor, however, got a brief respite from the choking smog after heavy rain in Hulu Selangor.

The DOE warned: "Those convicted of open burning will be fined up to RM500,000 (S$204,700) or jailed up to five years or both. A maximum compound of RM2,000 may also be meted out."

Its director-general Halimah Hassan said in a statement yesterday that cremation, burning of religious paraphernalia and barbecues were exempted from the ban.

However, the situation is not so bad as to require flight diversions, according to Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd.

"So far, there are no abnormal operations," said senior general manager of operations Datuk Azmi Murad.

Become a fan on Facebook