Malaysia, Indonesia shut thousands of schools over forest fires haze

Fires belch smog across Southeast Asia annually, but this year's are the worst since 2015.

Thousands of schools were shuttered across Malaysia and Indonesia Thursday, affecting at least 1.7 million pupils, officials said, as toxic haze from rampant forest fires sent air quality plummeting.

Nearly 2,500 schools were ordered to shut their doors in Malaysia — including nearly 300 in the smog-hit capital Kuala Lumpur — over soaring health concerns sparked by toxic haze from out-of-control blazes in Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands.

Indonesia said hundreds of schools in hard-hit Riau province on Sumatra would also be shut Thursday, with 800 closed in one district alone, while about 1,300 were shut in its Central Kalimantan province on Borneo.

Thursday’s school shutdown marked the first mass closure in Kuala Lumpur as air quality deteriorated to “unhealthy” or “very unhealthy” levels on an official index in many parts of peninsular Malaysia, to the east of Sumatra, with the capital’s skyline shrouded by dense smog.

Malaysia’s Sarawak state, on Borneo, was also smothered in toxic haze, as the fires hike diplomatic tensions.

“The forest fires in Indonesia and the resulting haze have affected the health and well-being of people in Indonesia and the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region,” Singapore’s environment chief Masagos Zulkifli said on social media. “It is regretful that so many lives and livelihoods have been impacted.

“The amount of carbon emissions generated from the fires will present a major setback to the global fight against climate change,” he added. The haze crisis comes as Singapore gears up to host a Formula One motor race on Sunday.

Poor visibility closed several airports in the Indonesian part of Borneo, and scores of flights have already been diverted and cancelled in the region in recent days due to the smog.

By AFP                                                                                                               Source: Bangkok Post