A thick haze from huge forest fires in Indonesia has spread to neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore leading to closure of schools as authorities here are set to begin cloud-seeding operations to induce rain to help clear the air. The forest fires, which happen every year, are caused by burning fields and open areas on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Paper and palm oil companies have been widely blamed for the practice.
Indonesia which is blamed every year has sent hundreds of military personnel to try to put them out. It has declared a state of emergency in Riau province, where the haze has been building for several weeks and pollution levels reached hazardous levels. In Malaysia, schools have been closed in the administrative capital of Putra Jaya, in Kuala Lumpur, and several other areas, while Singaporeans have been advised to avoid strenuous activity outdoors.
Malaysia now plans to start cloud-seeding for three days to clear the air but the operation would depend on cloud availability and weather conditions. A plane equipped with chemicals will release solvents in the air that will help clouds produce rain, officials at meteorological department said. The inter-monsoon season is expected to start in late September, bringing more rain over Malaysia to clear up the haze.
Air quality has sharply deteriorated across the states. Over 22,500 cases of acute respiratory tract infections have been reported in southern Sumatra with 100,000 in East Kalimantan province. Fears were mounting that the upcoming Grand Prix in Singapore this weekend might be called off.