Intense forest fires continue to spread across the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan in recent weeks. More than 930,000 hectares of land have been burned, hundreds of residents evacuated, and more than 9,000 personnel have been deployed to fight the fires.
The number of wildfires in Indonesia’s rainforests has escalated, spreading smog across southeast Asia and raising concerns about the impact of increasing wildfire outbreaks worldwide on global warming.
Smoke from the fires is causing intense and life-threatening haze and smog in Malaysia, Singapore, and part of southern Thailand. Borneo island is also being affected.
A haze exacerbated the conditions in Malaysia, clinics in the Klang Valley reported a hike in the number of patients seeking treatment for cough and respiratory infection.
Several private clinics reported the inclined trend this month, as several regions of Malaysia recorded unhealthy air levels which the environment ministry blamed on transboundary haze from Indonesia.
Dr. Kavitha Ramochandran from Klinik Nadia in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, said on Friday that she has been treating around 20 to 30 patients per day for upper respiratory tract infections.
“That is serious,” she said.
“Patients with asthma are also experiencing attacks that are more severe than usual, and I can say that it’s definitely because of the haze,” she added.
The receptionist, who asked not to disclose the name, said the clinic used to observe between 50 and 100 of such cases in a month but received the same quantity of complains within a week since the haze triggered.
Malaysia is among one of the Southeast Asian nations affected by the annual haze caused by the slash-and-burn agricultural practice in Indonesia.
Malaysia sent a diplomatic letter to Indonesia asking for immediate actions to counter the haze.
Indonesia on Friday rejected Malaysian complaints about hazardous smoke drifting from its forest fires across the border, saying blazes were also raging in parts of Malaysia and on Malaysian-owned plantations in Indonesia.
A total of 29 schools in Selangor were summoned to shut down, affecting 45,265 students.
While schools in Kuala Lumpur remained open, Mdm Liyana Arif, a housewife, said she decided not to send her child to school.
“My nine-year-old has been asthmatic since birth, and although she hasn’t had any attacks, I don’t want to risk it,” she said.
In Rompin, Pahang, where 16 schools were closed on Thursday, bus driver Mdm V. Saratha reported many of the children were coughing and sneezing.
“I also fell sick and was unable to drive for three days,” the 44-year-old said.
The Malaysian Health Department director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah advised Malaysians to stay indoors and avoid unnecessary travel when the API readings reached 100.
“This is especially pertinent to children and those suffering from respiratory illnesses and heart problems as they would be more affected by exposure to haze,” he put forward a statement on Thursday.