Again schools were ordered to shut (for at least two days) in Malaysia in order to protect children from inhaling smog as the air quality remains at very unhealthy levels (nearly hazardous in some regions). The air pollutant index still shows readings of between 201 to 300 in six districts around Malaysia's capital city of Kuala Lumpur. The haze, which - reportedly - may become the worst haze ever, is caused by companies' and people's illegal slash-and-burn practices to clear land for planting on parts of the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. The situation is exacerbated by the (El Nino-related) prolonged dry season.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak urged Indonesia to act against those that are responsible for the forest fires on Sumatra and Kalimantan (usually palm oil and pulp & paper companies) as the consequences jeopardize people's health as well as economic activity in those countries that are covered by haze (consumption reduces as people tend to stay at home, airports close as visibility is bad, while outdoor events are cancelled). Last week, Singapore (where the air quality improved to a moderate level on Monday) mentioned five companies as having contributed to the forest fires. These are Rimba Hutani Mas, Bumi Sriwijaya Sentosa, Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries, Wachyuni Mandira, and Singapore-based Asia Pulp & Paper Co.
Last week, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told the BBC that stricter punishment will be enacted for those that are engaged in illegal slash-and-burn practices. He added, however, that it will require three years to solve this problem.
The current haze in parts of Southeast Asia is probably already worse than the haze that covered parts of the region in 1997. The 1997 haze caused an estimated total USD $9 billion in economic damages.