Haze hits dangerous levels

The Star, 21 Jun 2013

THE haze in Malaysia has once again reached dangerous levels.

It has now left only 13% of the country with good air to breathe while many schools in Johor have closed as Malaysians there took in the worst of it, so far.

Yesterday, four areas in the state entered the “hazardous” and “very unhealthy” scales of the Air Pollutant Index (API).

Poor visibility at the Senai International Airport also forced two flights to be diverted.

In Kuala Lumpur, this Sunday’s planned 2013 Olympic Day Run for 15,000 participants at Padang Merbok has been postponed, the co-organisers McDonald’s Malaysia said.

The Department of Environment (DOE) said the country was on high alert due to the rapid deterioration in air quality over the past three days. It has alerted the National Security Council to activate the National Haze Action Plan nationwide, with a “3A Warning Level” (the highest level) issued for the worst-affected areas.

The DOE has also stepped up enforcement on the emission of smoke from vehicles and factories.

Only 13% of the areas in the country recorded “good” API levels yesterday, while the air quality in 78% of the country has dropped to “moderate”.

The DOE website showed that 7% of the country had fallen into the “unhealthy” status.

The DOE has contacted its counterpart in Indonesia, urging the country to take urgent action to control the peat and forest fires in the Riau district of central Sumatra in Riau which had sparked the haze, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry said.

A map issued by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre showed the movement of the thick haze from areas in Riau, with strong winds from the South-West carrying the haze to the West Coast and East Coast of Malaysia.

Within our borders, the map also showed 83 hot spots detected, with 70 found in Sarawak, six in Kelantan, two in Pahang and one spot each in Selangor, Malacca, Sabah and Terengganu,

Yesterday, Muar in Johor recorded a “hazardous” API of 383 at 11am, while at 5pm, Pasir Gudang had also fallen into the same category at 333.

The haze also hit Malacca with the state capital and Bukit Rambai recording “unhealthy” API readings of 137 and 119 respectively.

API readings between 51 to 100 are considered moderate, 101 to 200 unhealthy, 201 to 300 is very unhealthy and anything above 301 is considered hazardous. The worst API reading in memory was in 1997, where a state of emergency was declared in Kuching after its API reached 839.

Yesterday, only several locations in Perak, Kedah and Perlis retained a “Good” API reading.

In Singapore, where the API showed 371 at 1pm yesterday, The Straits Times reported a senior Indonesian Minister as hitting out in response to the island nation’s criticism over the haze.

“Singapore shouldn’t be like children, in such a tizzy,” Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Agung Laksono, who is coordinating his country’s relief and response effort, said.

“It’s not what Indonesians want. It’s nature,” he added.

Indonesia has yet to ratify an Asean agreement in 2002 on Transboundary Haze Pollution although it says it is in full compliance with what is required and what is expected.

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