Malaysia has shut most schools for two days to protect children from a thick, noxious haze caused by burning forests in neighbouring Indonesia.
The haze, which has shrouded parts of Malaysia and Singapore for about a month, also spread to Thailand on Monday, the first time it has reached so far north.
The air pollutant index hit the hazardous level in Shah Alam, the capital of Malaysia’s central Selangor state, and was very unhealthy in many other areas.
That prompted authorities to order the closure of 7,000 schools on Monday and Tuesday, even though the situation eased early on Monday.
The Air Pollutant Index in Shah Alam dropped to 95, from 308 early on Sunday.
A reading of below 50 is good, 51-100 is moderate, 101-200 is unhealthy, 201-300 is very unhealthy and above 300 is hazardous.
However, 11 areas, mostly in northern states, were in the unhealthy range, with a station in Penang island recording the worst level of 164.
Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi said Indonesia’s efforts to
crack down on the sources of open burning by farmers were not enough.
The forest fires that cause the haze have been an annual occurrence since the late 1990s.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has announced stricter punishment for those engaged in open burning, but said his government would need three years to solve the problem.
Malaysia’s national news agency, Bernama, quoted Zahid as saying that Malaysia welcomes the measures announced by Widodo, but that “three years is too long.”
“We hope its commitment is not only on paper or mere statements pleasant to the ears, but through implementation which could end all haze problems,” Zahid said.