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Malaysia, Indonesia shut thousands of schools over haze

Malaysia, Indonesia shut thousands of schools over haze

Students cover their faces with masks at a school in Puchong as haze shrouds Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, September 12, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

KUALA LUMPUR: Thousands of schools were shuttered across Malaysia and Indonesia on Thursday (Sep 19), 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 on Thursday, with 800 closed in one district alone, while about 1,300 were shut in its Central Kalimantan province on Borneo.

The closures affected at least 1.7 million students in Malaysia. It was not clear how many pupils were forced to stay home in neighbouring Indonesia.

READ: Cutting through the haze: When do you need an N95 mask?

Jakarta is deploying thousands of security forces and water-bombing aircraft to tackle the blazes, mostly started by illegal fires set to clear land for plantations.

The fires belch smog across Southeast Asia annually, but this year's are the worst since 2015 and have added to concerns about wildfire outbreaks worldwide exacerbating global warming.

READ: Firefighters on frontline of Indonesia’s peatland blaze face uphill battle

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.

Borneo is divided between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

A growing number of Malaysians were suffering health problems due to the haze, with authorities saying there had been a sharp increase in outpatients at government hospitals - many suffering dry and itchy eyes.

READ: 'Every year we go through this': Malaysians urge Putrajaya and Jakarta to tackle haze

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.

Authorities have tried to induce rain through a technique called cloud seeding in a bid to extinguish the fires in Indonesia.

But the onset of the rainy season, which usually starts in October, could be the only thing able to douse the blazes.

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Source: AFP/cy


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