PETALING JAYA: Smoke from forest fires in Indonesia blew across the country, sending air quality to unhealthy levels in 10 areas yesterday.
The haze came suddenly in Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Malacca after a day of clear blue skies on Tuesday.
Visibility dropped sharply in Kuching, Port Klang and Kuala Lumpur.
Several flights in Kuching, where visibility dipped to 400m at 4pm, were cancelled.
Natural Resources and Environment Ministry parliamentary secretary Datuk Sazmi Miah said the air quality was deteriorating fast due to the high number of hotspots in Borneo and Sumatra.
“There are more than 600 hotspots in Kalimantan and more than 300 in Sumatra, which is the highest in recent times, and the haze is caused by the transboundary effect from these places.
“We are monitoring the hotspots very closely and will hold a meeting tomorrow (today) to discuss the situation and to determine when to implement the Haze Action Plan,” he said, adding that ban on open burning was still on.
Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Khir Toyo said the haze enveloping the Klang Valley was expected to last three days because of the open burning in Sumatra.
He said the weather would improve once the winds change direction.
Selangor state environment committee chairman Datuk Ch’ng Toh Eng: “If the situation warrants it, we will call for a state-level meeting and activate anti-haze measures.”
The Air Pollutant Index (API) recorded “moderate” levels in most areas nationwide as at 5pm yesterday, and “unhealthy” in some areas,.
The API levels for most areas in the Klang Valley were at moderate levels, although the reading for Petaling Jaya increased from 38 to 82 in 24 hours.
API readings, released by the Department of Environment, at 11am yesterday recorded 11 areas at unhealthy levels and 27 at moderate levels. At 5pm, there were 10 areas at unhealthy levels and 35 at moderate levels.
The worst hit areas as of 11am were in Sarawak, and they were Petra Jaya (187), Samarahan (177) and Kuching (171), while in Peninsular Malaysia, unhealthy API levels were recorded in Nilai (109), Seremban (107) and Bukit Rampai (100).
However, by 5pm the levels in Sarawak had risen – Petra Jaya to 231, Samarahan to 191 and Kuching to 187. There was also a slight increase in the peninsula.
Metrological Services Department deputy director Leong Chow Peng said people should abstain from open burning.
“There may be a slight improvement in condition by the weekend as the wind would change direction and blow north westerly,” she said.
The southerly wind from Sumatra is carrying the smoke over to the west coast of the peninsula.
“We are hopeful that the haze will clear up during the weekend,” she said.
A DOE official said if the situation worsened the national haze action plan would be put in place.
Health authorities had also called on senior citizens, children and people with asthma to stay indoors and drink lots of water.
In Kuching the authorities have started clouding seeding operations to induce rain to bring relief to Sarawakians, who are experiencing a prolonged dry spell.
The visibility level was the lowest at Kuching (400m), Bintulu (1km), Sibu (1.2km) and Sri Aman (1.5km) as of 5pm yesterday.
The Natural Resources and Environment Board has started distributing masks to the public.
Seremban was shrouded in a blanket of haze throughout the afternoon and there was an acrid smell in the air.
Negri Sembilan DOE director Rahani Hussin said there was one case of open burning for land clearing in Kampung Kepis, Kuala Pilah, and villagers were told to stop doing so.
Rahani said while such open burning was allowed for land clearing purposes, the DOE found that too many villagers were carrying out the same activity at the same time, causing a hotspot to be created.
In Malacca, the API reading in the city rose to 91 from 51 while in Bukit Rambai, the reading was 100 at 11am.
The city was shrouded in haze despite heavy rain in the morning yesterday.