Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Haze Worsens - Malaysia in the State of Emergency

Well, the haze continue to fog the nation. Schools in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor have been ordered to close. UiTM Shah Alam students also got holiday until Sunday (Waaa!!! We want holiday too!!!). Regardless of the haze, assignments keep flowing in. In Port Klang and Kuala Selangor, IPU have reached 500, but I don't know if the government have put the area in the state of emergency. In Kuala Lumpur and other Lembah Klang area, IPU read between 200-300+.

updated:
STATE OF EMERGENCY IN MALAYSIA

Malaysia has declared a state of emergency over worsening air pollution levels, as Indonesian and Malaysian officials hold crisis talks over the choking haze.

The smog has been caused by forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and air pollution has soared to extremely hazardous levels on the west coast, according to an official from the National Security Council.

"We are now in a state of emergency," said the official, speaking to AFP, adding that the areas affected by the emergency include the capital Kuala Lumpur.

Hundreds of schools have been ordered closed, residents have been advised to stay indoors and wear a mask when outside, and rain-seeding will begin, in an effort to wash away the dust and smoke in the air.

The capital has been shrouded in a yellow mist and its second airport has been closed, with visibility down to 200 metres.

The smog has blanketed Malaysia for over a week and has also disrupted shipping and other transport as well as raising fears for public health, with asthma attacks and respiratory conditions on the rise.

The fires are an annual event as farmers use the dry season to burn forest and clear land, and each year Malaysia faces similar haze problems.

Indonesian Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban met Malaysian Environment Minister Adenan Satem in Sumatra, however no details about their talks have been disclosed.

The pair is also expected to meet in Jakarta on Friday to discuss how to cope with the smog and avoid long-term political tensions.

"We must sit down and discuss and consult, this is the common interest," said Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar.

"We cannot go into an open conflict. That will not be good for the region," he said.

Malaysia on Wednesday said air pollution levels above 500 would trigger a state of emergency, and levels have reached 529 in the shipping centre of Port Klang, 531 in the coastal town of Kuala Selangor and 321 in Kuala Lumpur.

The state of emergency measures extend across the whole of the Klang valley in which the capital is located.

The opposition Democratic Action Party said Malaysians are furious about the pollution, and will stage a protest at the Indonesian embassy on Friday and a public rally on Sunday.

"As the source of the haze is in Sumatra, Malaysians are powerless to do anything to fight this threat to their and our children's health and safety unless Indonesia is serious about taking action," said DAP leader Lim Kit Siang.

He said Indonesia needs to do more than just apologise and actually douse the fires and prevent them from recurring.

In 1997 and 1998, choking haze caused mainly by Indonesian forest fires enveloped parts of Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, for months.

MALAYSIA HAZE TRIGGERS EMERGENCY

Malaysia has declared a state of emergency after air pollution in parts of the country reached danger levels.

Smoke from forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia has pushed an air pollution index over an emergency mark of 500.

A reading above 500 is judged extremely hazardous, and the haze has already prompted the closure of some schools.

Malaysian and Indonesian officials are to meet to discuss the fires, mainly caused by illegal land clearance on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The readings over 500 have only been detected in the western towns of Port Klang and Kuala Selangor.

However, government officials said the state of emergency would extend inland to the entire Klang valley, covering the country's capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Schools in Kuala Lumpur have already been ordered to close because of worsening pollution.

Fighting fire

The BBC's Malaysia correspondent, Jonathan Kent, says the acrid smog that has enveloped Kuala Lumpur and cities nearby shows no sign of lifting.

On Wednesday, Malaysia's government said that an air pollution reading of over 500 would automatically prompt the declaration of a state of emergency.

That in turn could prompt the government to order the closure of all non-essential government and private workplaces.

With stock markets falling and hospitals inundated with people complaining of eye, throat and chest problems, Malaysia is offering Indonesia help to put out the fires that are causing the problem.

The two countries' leaders spoke on Wednesday, and ministers and are due to meet on Sumatra, where some 300 hot spots are being monitored.

Malaysian officials would say only that there is a definite willingness to co-operate.

Authorities in Kuala Lumpur and parts of the state of Selangor have decided to close schools in the worst affected areas for two days.

Students in schools that remain open are being told to stay in their classrooms, drink warm water and wear masks if they have to venture outdoors.

Our correspondent says there is no silver lining to this smog for those students who been told to stay at home.

They will have to make up for missed lessons on Saturdays once the pollution has eased.

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