Haze worsens in Sarawak and Sabah

Bad visibility: Planes and helicopters grounded at Kuching International Airport.
PHOTO: The Star/ANN

KUCHING - The haze in Sarawak could get worse, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said.

His warning came as schools were ordered to halt outdoor activities and hospitals reported a rise in cases of respiratory illnesses.

"If the wind direction does not change in the next 48 hours, then the present unhealthy level in Kuching will reach Sarikei and Sibu in central Sarawak," Junaidi said.

In the afternoon, three areas in southern Sarawak recorded the highest air pollutant index (API) readings in the whole country for this year.

At 2pm, the API was 150 in Kuching, in Samarahan it was 174 and in Sri Aman it was 155.

The API was 100 in Sarikei and 91 in Sibu. Up north, it was 64 in Miri.

No hotspots were detected in Sarawak and Sabah. Most of the haze is from across the border.

Dr Wan Junaidi said "four-fifths" of the Indonesian portion of Borneo was "under a cloud of smoke".

The haze is so thick that at least two satellites have been unable to detect hotspots.

"The satellites did not get a clear picture perhaps because of the thick haze. We could not discern the number (of hotspots). There's nothing much we can do if the wind doesn't change. This cloud of smoke will keep coming," he said.

In one of the last complete passes by the satellite AQUA on Sept 8, it detected a staggering 951 hotspots in Borneo.

Yesterday, the API in Pontianak, the closest Indonesian city to Kuching, was reportedly above 500.

Sarawak Assistant Public Health Minister Datuk Dr Jerip Susil said there had been a marked increase in respiratory illness cases in hospitals and clinics in the state.

"All the hospitals are seeing more asthma patients. In clinics, we are seeing more cases of flu-like symptoms, including runny nose, coughing and red eyes," Dr Jerip said.

An Education Department circular has been issued to all schools to stop sporting activities.

With visibility in the state capital as low as 400m in the morning, several flights at Kuching International Airport were rescheduled or diverted.

Meanwhile in Kota Kinabalu, the situation worsened overnight, with visibility in the city reduced by more than half and more districts enveloped by the smog.

State Meteorological Services Department director Abdul Malik Tussin said visibility in Kota Kinabalu dropped to 3.5km as at 2pm yesterday compared to 8km a day earlier.

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