Half a million face masks sent to Sarawak as fires burn

Air pollution levels in Sarawak have spiked amid worsening forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia. (Bernama pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has sent half a million face masks to Sarawak, where air pollution levels have spiked amid worsening forest fires in Indonesia, authorities said on Tuesday.

Indonesian farmers often use fire to clear land for palm oil and pulp plantations. Fires can smoulder for weeks, especially in dry weather, producing a choking haze that drifts over neighbours like Singapore and Malaysia.

In recent weeks, Indonesia has sent in thousands of security personnel to douse fires after declaring an emergency in six provinces on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

“Nadma has acquired 500,000 face masks and sent them to the agency’s branch in Sarawak,” Malaysia’s national disaster management agency said in a statement, referring to itself by its acronym.

The agency and the education ministry were also working to get masks to schools in the affected area, it said.

The air pollution index (API) in Sarawak reached unhealthy levels on Tuesday with one district recording a reading of 201, a “very unhealthy” level.

Unhealthy readings were recorded in five other Malaysian states.

Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smoke caused by slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia, raising worries about health and the impact on tourism.

Indonesia’s neighbours have repeatedly complained and promised to help end the problem but it persists.

Last week, Malaysia said it would send a diplomatic note to Indonesia urging immediate action to fight the haze.

Malaysia has also offered Indonesia help to put out the fires, but has yet to receive any request for assistance, the disaster agency said.