September 21, 2019
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia said it would increase pressure on its Southeast Asian neighbors to find a solution to recurring outbreaks of smog-belching forest fires in Indonesia, as air quality plummeted and more schools closed.
Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin signaled she would again pursue the diplomatic route in an effort to find a solution to a crisis that has been recurring every few years for more than two decades.
“I will have a conference call with the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) secretary general to express our views, and we hope there will be a more effective mechanism at the Asean level so that we can cooperate to seek a long-term solution to address this problem,” she told reporters.
Blazes to clear agricultural land in the archipelago are sending toxic haze across Southeast Asia, with Jakarta’s efforts to fight them using water-bombing aircraft and thousands of security forces proving futile.
Malaysia has started cloud seeding operations in its territory in Borneo, while Indonesia has barely started sending team to track the fire base. Borneo is divided among Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
The Indonesian fires are an annual problem during the dry season, but this year’s are the worst since 2015 and have added to concerns about wildfire outbreaks worldwide exacerbating global warming.
Nearly 2,500 schools were closed across Malaysia Thursday — including almost 300 in the capital Kuala Lumpur — as were hundreds on Indonesia’s Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo, where the vast majority of fires are burning.
Satellite images released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Earth Observatory show Borneo covered in a pall of smoke.
The island is divided between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Acrid smog has also clouded the skies of Singapore in recent days, raising fears it may affect this Sunday’s Formula One race.
Officials from Asean have long struggled to come up with fixes for the smog outbreaks, signing an agreement and holding regular meetings, but with little effect.
This week, Indonesia said it had arrested 230 people suspected of being involved in activities that led to out-of-control fires sweeping the country.
Air quality remained at “unhealthy” or “very unhealthy” levels on an official index in most of Malaysia Thursday, with the yellow-ish smog shrouding Kuala Lumpur so dense that the iconic Petronas Twin Towers and other skyscrapers were barely visible.
Indonesia and Malaysia have been carrying out cloud-seeding, which involves using chemicals in a bid to induce rain, since the haze worsened.
Agence France-Presse journalists on a Malaysian air force flight over the country Thursday watched as a liquid solution was sprayed from the aircraft’s open door over clouds and the smog-shrouded landscape below.
Air quality was at unhealthy levels in Singapore, where the striking waterfront skyline has been obscured for days.
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