Malaysia Blanketed in Smoke from Indonesian Fires

KUALA LUMPUR — Fires blazing in Indonesia sent a blanket of haze over neighboring Malaysia's largest city on Wednesday, obscuring the sun and leaving an acrid smell in the air. pollution caused the air quality to drop to unhealthy levels in Kuala Lumpur and Sarawak state in eastern Malaysia.
Smoke rises from wildfires in Pelalawan, Sumatra island, Indonesia on July 23. Government negligence, rampant development and illegal land clearing often combined to spark wildfires in Indonesia that annually ravage thousands of acres of forest and could cover parts of neighboring Malaysia and Singapore in thick, noxious haze.)

The haze, which can cause health problems, drifts across the region each year in the dry season when Indonesian farmers illegally set brush fires to clear land for planting.

Malaysia's Department of Environment readings showed air quality was "unhealthy" in six areas around Kuala Lumpur and Sarawak — both of which are close to areas in Indonesia. Only three of 50 monitoring stations across Malaysia recorded "good" air quality, while elsewhere it was "moderate."

Visibility in one town in Sarawak was down to less than 800 yards (meters), according to the Meteorological Department. Generally visibility throughout Malaysia was at least 2.5 miles (4 kilometers). Visibility on a clear day exceeds 6 miles (10 kilometers).

Environment Minister Douglas Unggah Embas is scheduled to fly to Riau province in Indonesia to attend a regional meeting on the problem this weekend.

Unggah has reportedly proposed building dams in peat swamps to pull water from them to fight the fires.

Malaysia and Singapore have complained since 1997 about haze drifting from Indonesia. The last time a severe haze affected those countries was in 2006.

The smog causes health problems and losses amounting to billions of dollars from lost tourism revenue and flight delays due to low visibility, among other things.

Indonesia has argued it lacks the money and the ability to stem the illegal practice of setting the fires as well as the resources to effectively fight them.