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  Channelnews Asia 18 Jul 06
Haze makes air quality "unhealthy" in parts of Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR : Air quality in parts of Malaysia including Port Klang west of the capital has plunged to unhealthy levels after being hit by haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia, officials said Tuesday.

Meteorological authorities also warned that the haze, the first seen this year which is also affecting southern Thailand, could sweep over the Malay peninsula as it did in 2005.

The environment department said air quality in several locations including in the resort state of Penang, Perak state which borders Thailand, and the major shipping centre of Port Klang had registered unhealthy levels.

The meteorological department said that if the situation worsened, it could carry out rain-seeding activities to try to disperse the haze which is being caused by forest fires in Indonesia's Sumatra and Borneo islands.

"It is a transboundary haze. In view of the current dry spell, we anticipate the haze to sweep across the whole peninsula. That is our concern," said Mohamad Helmi Abdullah from the department's central forecast office.

The majority of Malaysia's 26 million population live on the peninsula, especially on the western side facing Indonesia's Sumatra island. Mohamad Helmi told AFP that authorities have detected 29 "hotspots" or fire zones in Sumatra and 134 on Indonesia's side of Borneo island, and that the dry spell could last for another three months.

Visibility Tuesday was reduced to two kilometres (1.24 miles) in Butterworth in Penang state and Alor Star in Kedah, and to three kilometres in Sitiawan in Perak state, he added.

Southern Thailand has also been affected by haze from the forest fires. Health officials urged vulnerable residents to stay inside Tuesday as air quality fell to potentially hazardous levels in some areas.

Some 1,500 Indonesian firefighters are battling the fires on Sumatra and Borneo islands. Burning in Indonesia and some parts of Malaysia to clear land for crops causes an annual haze that afflicts countries in the region, including Singapore and Thailand.

Last August a state of emergency was declared in Port Klang and another town on Malaysia's west coast which bore the brunt of haze that sent pollution levels soaring to extremely hazardous levels.

The Food and Agriculture Organization in 2005 called on Asian nations to enforce bans on open burning to prevent the annual haze crisis. - AFP/ch

Related articles on Singapore: Haze
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