Malaysia mulls school closures, cloud seeding as haze chokes country

Minderjeet Kaur and Ili Shazwani
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia mulls school closures, cloud seeding as haze chokes country Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur shrouded in haze on Oct.3, 2023.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Malaysia will shut schools and begin seeding clouds to induce rainfall if air quality worsens in parts of the country, the Department of the Environment said, amid accusations that haze from forest fires in neighboring Indonesia was behind the pollution.

Malaysian air quality was deteriorating, particularly on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, with a growing number of areas recording “unhealthy” readings of above 150 on the Air Pollutant Index (API), Wan Abdul Latiff Wan Jaffar, the department’s director general, said late Monday.

Malaysia last week blamed fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and parts of Borneo for spreading a noxious haze across its borders.

Wan Abdul Latiff said measures to improve air quality such as cloud seeding would be activated when API readings stayed above 150 for more than 24 hours. 

Schools and kindergartens must also stop outdoor activities when API levels reach 100, and close if they climb above 200, he said in a statement.

“For this purpose, schools, kindergartens and nurseries are required to constantly monitor the API readings,” he said.

“If the reading trend shows an increase towards 200, preparations need to be implemented to close the relevant schools, kindergartens and nurseries.”

Malaysia’s Ministry of Health has advised people in affected areas to stay hydrated, reduce outdoor activities and wear masks if they need to go outside.

Some 315 hotspots had been detected in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo island, 49 in Sumatra and one in Peninsular Malaysia, according to Singapore-based ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Centre (ASMC) on Tuesday.

Dry weather in Sumatra and Kalimantan meant that elevated hotspot activity and widespread moderate-to-dense haze were likely to continue to affect southern parts of the region, the ASMC said.

Forest fires are an annual occurrence in Indonesia, where they are often lit to clear land for pulpwood and palm oil plantations. In 2019, fires that ravaged large swathes of Indonesian forest cost the country U.S. $5.2 billion in damage and economic losses, the World Bank estimated.

Haze from the blazes caused hundreds of thousands of people to suffer from respiratory health diseases, halted airport operations and temporarily closed hundreds of schools in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

But on Monday, Indonesia’s Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya disputed Kuala Lumpur’s claims that fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan were the source of the recent poor air quality.

“We continue to follow the developments and there is no transboundary haze to Malaysia,” she said in a statement.

Transboundary haze act

Environmental watchdog Greenpeace, meanwhile, called on members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to each enact a domestic transboundary haze law to tackle the recurring haze problem in the region.

“Many of the responsible companies that contribute to haze locally and globally are not being held accountable,” it said in a statement Tuesday.

“The domestic transboundary act must compel companies to pay reparations to victims of transboundary haze pollution, as well as accelerate preventive action in hotspot areas through health support.”

In May, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, the Malaysian minister of natural resources, environment and climate change, said that a law on transboundary haze was under review.

He said the government needed to consider diplomatic relations, challenges in obtaining evidence for prosecution and the sovereignty of the country allegedly responsible for the haze pollution. 

Niz Nazmi said legislation alone would not solve transboundary haze as had been highlighted by Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014, which has struggled to obtain evidence.

A law to deal with transboundary haze was proposed by Pakatan Harapan when it was in power in 2018 but it was shelved in 2020 by Muhyiddin Yassin’s government.


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