Haze sweeps back to peninsula

KUALA LUMPUR: The haze is back. After weeks of respite, Malaysians woke up yesterday morning to grey skies and muted sunlight. Worst hit was Sarawak where pollutant readings classified as “very unhealthy” were recorded in several areas.

The only reassurance: It is only a temporary condition, due to changes in wind direction, from south-easterly to south-westerly. A spokesman for the Malaysian Meteorological Services Department also attributed the situation to transitioning weather, from the current inter-monsoon season to the North-East monsoon, which is expected to hit the country next month. “As a result, we are having intermittent haze (due to inconsistent wind patterns), which is moving from Sumatra to Malaysia,” he said. As of 7pm yesterday, 124 hotspots were detected in Sumatra and another 29 in Kalimantan. The spokesman added the current situation would continue until the monsoon season next month. However, rainfall is expected for the next few days in the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, with scattered rain in the interiors of Sarawak to help alleviate the problem. Visibility levels as of 7pm yesterday saw a drop in a majority of areas. Among the worst-hit were Kuching with a visibility of 400m, Sibu (800m), Bintulu (1km), Sri Aman (1.5km) and Mersing (2km). At the same time, visibility at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport was reduced to 1.5km, but Department of Civil Aviation director-general Datuk Kok Soo Chon said flights were not affected. However, the department would be monitoring the situation closely.

Despite the condition, the Department of Environments Air Pollutant Index (API) readings at 5pm showed 10 areas in four states Sabah, Sarawak, Malacca and Negri Sembilan were at moderate levels. For the first time in a long while, the API reading for Petra Jaya in Sarawak rose to a “very unhealthy” level of 213, up from its previous reading of 135 and 130 on Tuesday and Monday respectively. Readings for 35 areas in the country, including Selangor, were moderate. Kuala Lumpur recorded a reading of 87; Putrajaya, 90; Petaling Jaya, 82; Shah Alam, 84; Miri, 89; and, Tanjung Malim, 67. They were caused by high concentration of dust particles and ground-level ozone. Another 13 areas recorded a reading of good. An API of between 0 and 50 indicates that the air quality is “good”; between 51 and 100 is considered “moderate”; between 101 and 200 is “unhealthy”; between 201 and 300 is “very unhealthy”; while 301 onwards is “hazardous”. Meanwhile, the haze, previously concentrated in Sarawak, spread to Sabah at an alarmingly rapid rate despite torrential rain on Tuesday night. The haze, particularly thick in the east coast town of Tawau, where the API reached the level of 142 on Tuesday evening, was at 133 yesterday. And despite heavy rain throughout the morning, the haze here continues to plague the city, while Keningau and Sandakan both experienced moderate conditions at 80 and 70 reading respectively. State Environment Department assistant director Mohammad Ruslan Mu- hamad said that people should not worry yet but “be cautious” and not aggravate the situation by conducting open burning. He said that it would be hard to predict whether the situation would get better or worse as it would depend on the wind pattern and the rain. The worsening haze, coupled with strong winds and torrential rain has worried citizens here, although no emergency calls and serious damage have been reported as yet.