THREE years is way too long to solve Indonesia's annual haze problem, said Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as it forced the authorities to order nearly all schools to close for two days and to cancel an international marathon.
As the haze reached hazardous levels near Kuala Lumpur yesterday, Mr Zahid told reporters that while KL welcomed Indonesian President Joko Widodo's promise to tackle the decades-long open burning problem, "the efforts are not yet enough".
"We face this problem every year. There's always open burning. While we are grateful that the Indonesian government is doing what they can to solve the issue, we think the plan takes too long for us to see the effectiveness," he said.
Besides water-bombing and cloud-seeding operations, Indonesia has already deployed more than 10,000 soldiers and policemen on the ground to fight the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Mr Joko told the BBC last week that it would take three years to solve the haze problem caused by illegal forest fires as measures from building water reserves and canals in the forest to improving enforcement against burning take time.
But Mr Zahid said yesterday that the steps being mooted by Indonesia must be implemented and not remain as proposals on paper.
The haze, which has shrouded not only parts of Indonesia but also Malaysia, Singapore and perhaps Cebu in the central Philippines, even sidetracked discussions at an ASEAN ministers' meeting on trans-national crime chaired by Mr Zahid last week.
Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid yesterday ordered all schools except those in Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak to suspend classes today and tomorrow.
The new closures, the third in less than a month, also affect the largest number of states.
The "very unhealthy" air, as measured by the Air Pollutant Index (API), also prompted the cancellation of the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur marathon yesterday and several football matches at the weekend. In June 2013, the marathon was similarly affected and the race was postponed to October.
At least seven areas recorded "very unhealthy" PSI readings, while that for Shah Alam, just west of Kuala Lumpur, dipped into the "hazardous" range yesterday morning. Of the 52 areas that Malaysia monitors, more than 20 had unhealthy air.
The Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang, just north of Shah Alam, reopened at 9.15am after it was closed nearly three hours earlier when visibility was only 350m. The airports in Alor Setar and in Ipoh also reopened after 11am when visibility levels improved.
Get MyPaper for more stories.