Haze hits Malaysia again; fewer hot spots this time

MALAYSIA - Parts of Malaysia are again shrouded in haze, although Indonesia is reporting a decline in the illegal burning that causes it.

The number of hot spots in Sumatra plunged to 99 on Wednesday from 308 on Tuesday, but smoke from the earlier fires lingered.

As a result, the air quality in northern states in Malaysia such as Kedah spiked at an unhealthy 104 on the Air Pollutant Index.

Perlis, Penang and Langkawi also suffered although their levels remained moderate.

Singapore's air quality was "Good", or under 50 on its Pollutant Standards Index, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said. Though Singapore this time has been spared a choking blanket of haze, the situation could get worse in the next few days if the wind direction changes, said weathermen.

The return of the haze over the weekend comes even though the hot, dry season in Sumatra is not expected to peak until October.

Indonesian officials vowed not to let up in their water bombing and firefighting efforts.

"Part of the reason the hot spots have come down is due to our water bombing sorties and land operations to douse fires," said Mr Said Saqlul Amri, chief of the disaster management agency in Riau.

Two helicopters, each carrying 4,500 litres of water, have been deployed to regencies with the highest number of hot spots to drop water on burning land, he said. Two Cassa planes and a Hercules lent from the military are also being used for cloud-seeding.

One more cloud-seeding instrument was at the Riau airport.

At least two flights could not land there on Wednesday as visibility plunged to less than a kilometre.

One was a SilkAir flight from Singapore which had to be turned back, and the other was a Mandala flight from Jakarta which was diverted to North Sumatra.

Health officials in Riau have sent a letter to the education authorities recommending that schools stay closed until the air quality improves.

The return of the haze comes as senior environment officials from all 10 ASEAN countries are meeting in Jakarta to discuss a range of environmental issues, including air pollution that crosses borders, climate change and environmental preservation.

The officials include Singapore's Ministry of Environment and Water Resources permanent secretary Choi Shing Kwok, and NEA's CEO Ronnie Tay.

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