KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct. 6 (UPI) — Schools in Malaysia were closed this week due to smoke from forest fires in Indonesia, which caused pollution across Southeast Asia to reach unhealthy levels.
Schools were closed on the Malaysian peninsula Monday and Tuesday, and were scheduled to remain closed in Langkawi province, Malaysia, where Tuesday’s Air Pollutant Index — on a scale of zero to 500 — was 161, which is regarded as “unhealthy.”
Health alerts because of the haze have been issued in Brunei, Singapore, and Malaysia, as well as Indonesia.
Indonesia’s nearby Sumatra island is the site of an annual burning of forests to clear land to grow plants yielding palm oil, Indonesia’s largest export, as well as trees used in paper manufacturing. The practice causes smog and haze throughout the region, especially this year with an increase in palm oil production despite demands to curtail the practice.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak demanded last week that Indonesia rein in the forest burning. Indonesian President Joko Widodo replied it was “not a problem you can solve quickly,” adding it would take three years for any impact after curtailing the burning.
Last week Singapore, which closed its schools for one day, sued five Indonesian companies involved in the fires.
NASA, observing the haze as a weather issue, said this year’s smoke will be the region’s worst on record. A number of events in the region, including a marathon in Kuala Lumpur expected to attract more than 30,000 runners, were cancelled because of the haze.