Malaysia has declared a state of emergency in two regions of Johor, a state in the southern part of the country, on Sunday as smoke from fires has caused a spike in air pollution levels that specialists believe are hazardous to citizens. The cause behind this air pollution is the illegal burning of forests on Indonesia‘s island of Sumatra, which creates a “haze” in many parts of the country and even Singapore.
“Prime Minister Najib Razak has agreed to declare emergency status in Muar and Ledang with immediate effect,” Malaysian Natural Resources and Environment Minister G. Palanivel said in a Facebook post, according to Reuters.
Domestic media quoted the minister as saying cloud seeding would be carried out in the affected areas.
All 211 schools in the area are to be closed until further notice, residents have been advised to stay indoors and face masks have been distributed, Khaled Nordin, chief minister of the state, said, also via posts on Facebook.
Schools have been ordered shut in the neighbouring state of Malacca, where pollution has also reached hazardous levels. Schools were also ordered to close in one district in Pahang state.
All domestic airports managed by Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) are operating as usual despite the haze, the national news agency quoted the airport operator as saying.
The current visibility level of 1 km was still safe, but runways would have to close if visibility fell under 300 m, it quoted Malaysian airports official Azmi Murad as saying.
Indonesian officials have deflected blame by suggesting companies based in Malaysia and Singapore may be partly responsible. Malaysia-listed Sime Darby and Singapore’s Wilmar Group both deny the charge.
Earlier this year, China’s air pollution levels were breaking records and reaching dangerous levels. So much so that the Chinese media had taken a stand on air pollution in China by calling on the government to take action against pollution, which according to the media, had reached dangerous levels in the capital city, which is home to around 20 million people.
According to the media, the air quality in Beijing reached 755 on an index measuring particulates of matter in the air. For an idea of how bad 755 is, know that the World Health Organization recommends a daily level no higher than 20 and a level of 300 is deemed to be dangerous. According to Zhou Rong, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace, 755 is the worst recorded air pollution in Beijing.
“How can we get out of this suffocating siege of pollution?” asked the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, in a front-page editorial, according to Reuters. ”Let us clearly view managing environmental pollution with a sense of urgency.”
The media’s sense of urgency at the time (and currently) is apt, as the the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found that a particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers can cause cardiopulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infection.
What’s more, the capital of China was forced to cancel flights due to poor visibility and temporarily shut down factories due to the high levels of smog. The Associated Press wrote: “The capital was a colorless scene. Street lamps and the outlines of buildings receded into a white haze as pedestrians donned face masks to guard against the caustic air. The flight cancellations stranded passengers during the first week of the country’s peak, six-week period for travel surrounding the Chinese New Year on Feb. 10.”