Dr M to write to Jokowi as row over haze flares

Dr Mahathir Mohamad with Indonesian president Joko Widodo when they met last month in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR: Dr Mahathir Mohamad is writing to Indonesia’s leader to raise his concern about cross-border haze, as a row over smoke from forest fires simmers.

Fires have burnt through parts of Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands for more than a month, and the Indonesian government has sent thousands of security personnel to try to douse the blazes. They are usually set during operations to clear land for palm oil and pulp plantations.

In what has become an almost annual occurrence, especially in dry years, Indonesia’s neighbours are becoming alarmed by the thick haze wafting in, and raising concern about health and the impact on tourism.

But Indonesian officials caused further anger in Malaysia this week by disputing reports that the smoke was coming from their country.

“I have discussed this with the prime minister and he has agreed to write a letter to President Jokowi to draw his attention towards the issue of trans-boundary haze,” Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin told reporters, referring to Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Yesterday, Indonesia’s forestry minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said the problem should be viewed “more objectively” and the smoke could have originated from fires in Malaysia.

In response, Yeo said Malaysia’s data was drawn from the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre, a Singapore-based weather station that tracks forest fire “hotspots” throughout the region.

Just five hotspots were detected in Malaysia today, compared with more than 1,500 in Indonesia, Yeo said.

“The data clearly shows that the haze is from Indonesia,” she said.

Malaysia closed hundreds of schools and sent half a million face masks to Sarawak this week, after the smoke built up to unhealthy levels.

The government had also prepared aircraft for cloud seeding in the hope of generating rain, Yeo said.

Several parts of Southeast Asia have endured unusually dry conditions in recent months including Indonesia, which has seen very little rain because of an El Nino weather pattern, its meteorological department has said.

Thousands of Indonesians prayed for rain in haze-hit towns on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.