Thursday, October 17, 2002

Borneo haze clouds Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (Reuters) -- Thick haze from forest fires in neighboring Indonesia returned to Peninsular Malaysia this week and may linger for a while due to low rainfall, a government official has said.
Visibility in parts of Kuala Lumpur and other areas in central and southern Peninsular Malaysia has fallen to five km (three miles), 50 percent below normal, as winds blew in smoke from the island of Sumatra across the Straits of Malacca.
"We expect to see some rains, but I don't think it's going to be heavy," said the official from the meteorology office.
"Winds have blown the haze from Sumatra to Peninsular Malaysia. We learned there were 22 hot spots in Sumatra and another 30 in Kalimantan as of yesterday," he added.
Smoke from forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo island, have frequently drifted to Malaysia and Singapore since early this year.
On Tuesday, Singapore advised residents with heart and respiratory ailments to reduce hard physical activity and stay indoors as the thickest haze of the year blanketed the island state.
Malaysia has asked Indonesia to take tougher measures to contain fires blamed on land clearing and slash-and-burn farmers. It also plans to send a team to Kalimantan to help study the cause of forest fires there.
Indonesia's Environment Minister Nabiel Makarim said earlier this month his country would try to do a better job of fire prevention, adding that tougher law enforcement had reduced cases of open burning in Sumatra.
Earlier this year, Malaysia banned open burning, even barbecues, with exceptions made for cremations and destroying animal carcasses, following a spate of forest and scrub fires around the country and in Indonesia.