Call for permanent solution to haze threat

The haze situation took a predictable turn for the worse by engulfing Johor and its immediate neighbour, Singapore, prompting environmentalists to demand for a permanent solution to the annual health catastrophe.

While Malacca and Negri Sembilan were also badly affected, it was Johor that took the hardest hit with the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings in Muar and Pasir Gudang shooting past the hazardous level of 300, Muar recorded the highest reading of 383 at 11am and Pasir Gudang with 333 at 5pm.

Two other areas, Kota Tinggi and Larkin Lama, recorded 291 and 219 respectively at 5pm.

API readings of 0 to 50 are considered good, followed by moderate (51-100), unhealthy (101-200), very unhealthy (201-300) and hazardous (past 300).

The health hazard forced the authorities to close all 221 schools in Muar and Ledang for two days. A similar directive was also given to shut down all schools in Batu Pahat.

The decision was made by the state education department after many students reportedly faced breathing difficulties.

More schools may follow suit, with Education director-general Tan Sri Abdul Ghafar Mahmud saying yesterday that all schools in areas recording a reading of more than 300 would automatically be closed.

Ghafar said in cases where the API breached 150, schools must halt all outdoor activities which involved students with high risk. "If it is to reach 250 or more, then the school should stop all co-curricular and outdoor activities.

"Any school located in areas with an API exceeding 300 should be shut down immediately, after which the school authorities are required to report to the District Education Office (PPD) and the National Registration Department (JPN)," he said in a statement yesterday.

Ghafar urged school authorities to constantly monitor and keep tabs on the haze situation from credible sources such as the media and the Department of Environment's website.

"Students are advised to wear masks, while school authorities are urged to seek immediate medical attention for students found to be ill.

"The ministry has opened an operations room to monitor the phenomenon."

The Johor Health Deparment yesterday issued a reminder for the public, especially children and the elderly, to limit heir outdoor activities and seek immediate treatment for breathing difficulties.

State director Dr Mohd Khairi Yakub said all API reading stations in Johor had showed unhealthy readings since Saturday.

In Malacca, state Health and Sports Department Development exco Datuk Ab Rahaman Ab Karim said government hospitals and clinics across the state had seen a sudden influx of patients seeking medical attention for haze-related illnesses, with a jump of 2,781 patients since Monday.

Department of Environment director-general Halimah Hassan said it had alerted National Security Council (MKN) to activate the haze management coordination committee in badly affected areas.

"The call for activation of the committee was in line with the National Haze Action Plan and it will be first carried out in Kota Tinggi and Muar as these places continue to show readings at worrying level," she said in a statement yesterday.

She added 83 hot spots were detected nationwide, with Sarawak recording 70. This was followed by Kelantan with six, Pahang (two), and Selangor, Malacca, Sabah and Terengganu with one each.

Halimah said that a report by the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre also revealed the number of hot spots in Sumatra, Indonesia, decreased slightly to 173 yesterday from the previous 187 spots recorded on Wednesday.

Malacca city centre and Bukit Rambai in Malacca also recorded increases in API readings with 150 and 129 respectively.

In the Klang Valley, several areas, including Putrajaya, Pelabuhan Klang, Kuala Selangor and Petaling Jaya, recorded moderate readings.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said he would meet his Indonesian counterpart, Professor Dr Balthasar Kambuaya on June 26 with Halimah to discuss measures to handle the haze condition affecting the region.