Haze chokes parts of Indonesia, Malaysia

Haze chokes parts of Indonesia, Malaysia

A man rides his bike as Malaysia's landmark Petronas Twin Towers (back centre) are seen obscured by haze in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 24. Four districts located on the southern part of the Malaysian state of Sarawak recorded an unhealthy pollution index due to haze, local media reported. (AFP photo)
A man rides his bike as Malaysia's landmark Petronas Twin Towers (back centre) are seen obscured by haze in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 24. Four districts located on the southern part of the Malaysian state of Sarawak recorded an unhealthy pollution index due to haze, local media reported. (AFP photo)

JAKARTA / KUALA LUMPUR —Thick smog is blanketing much of Indonesia and Malaysia as forest fires spread amid concerns about the adverse effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon, officials said Thursday.

Satellite images showed hundreds of hotspots indicating forest fires in parts of Sumatra island and the Indonesian parts of Borneo, said Sutopo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency.

"As the drought worsens, forest fires are spreading," Mr Sutopo said.

A haze emergency was declared in Kutawaringin Timur in Central Kalimantan province on Wednesday after air pollution reached hazardous levels, said local government spokesman Mustazam, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

The emergency period is expected to last until October, he said.

Haze has also disrupted flights at Palembang airport in South Sumatra province, resulting in several delays on Wednesday, an airport official said.

Mr Sutopo said the government was deploying thousands of soldiers, police and members of the Forestry Ministry's fire-fighting squads to extinguish the forest fires.

Four aircraft had been sent to Sumatra to drop water and create artificial rain, he said.

Smog from Indonesian fires also enveloped the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and most of the peninsula Thursday, Malaysia's environment and meteorological departments said.

Hisham Anip, spokesman for the meteorological department said the haze would likely last until mid-September when the monsoon season ends.

He said winds were blowing the smoke from Indonesia's plantation and forest fires to Malaysia and Singapore. Open burning is illegal but is common in Indonesia as it was the fastest way to clear land.

The Indonesian government has warned that El Nino would result in a prolonged dry spell and more forest fires.

The Agriculture Ministry has predicted that El Nino could damage 200,000 hectares of rice fields, or about 1-2 million tonnes of rice crops.

President Joko Widodo warned that legal action would be taken against those who deliberately start fires to clear land.

The drought has hit parts of Indonesia including Java, South Sulawesi, Bali and West Timor, resulting in clean water shortages.

Experts said El Nino is expected to last until October.


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