Brace for haze season, Malaysians warned

People wear masks during haze season in September last year.

PETALING JAYA: An environmental group has warned Malaysians of the onset of transboundary haze as forest fires rage in the Indonesian province of Kalimantan.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia president Meenakshi Raman said Malaysians’ enjoyment of clean air under the movement control order looked to be short-lived now that more than 700 fires have been located in the province.

Authorities have declared a state of emergency in Kalimantan.

Meenakshi said the situation could be as bad as it was last year or made worse by the drive to recover from the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis.

Air pollution would be worsened by increases in commercial activities and the number of vehicles on the road, she told FMT.

She said officials in Putrajaya must now tell their Indonesian counterparts to take measures to prevent the fires from spreading.

She urged the Asean transboundary haze committee to put pressure on the Indonesian authorities over the fires, adding that the parties responsible for them should be prosecuted.

She also said health authorities would need to keep an eye out for those with respiratory illnesses.

Hundreds of schools across the country were forced to close last September as the haze caused the air pollution index to reach “very unhealthy” levels in certain areas.

When the haze was at its peak, there was a spike in cases of asthma and conjunctivitis.

Kiki Taufik, a spokesman for Greenpeace Indonesia, said recent budget cuts by Jakarta in response to the Covid-19 crisis could leave more communities to try to fend off the fires on their own.

He said this could lead to bigger and more dangerous fires, which might cause Malaysians to experience thicker haze than they did last year.

“Fire hotspots could potentially be bigger and spread to remote peat land areas, especially in burned areas in 2019 that have not yet been restored,” he aded.

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