Malaysia Urges Indonesia to Act on Forest Fires Impacting Air Quality

forest fires impacting air quality
forest fires impacting air quality (photo: roya ann miller - Unspalash)

The ongoing forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan have not only had detrimental effects on Indonesia but have also cast a shadow over its neighboring countries. Most recently, Malaysia has called upon Indonesia to take prompt action in response to the worsening air quality across the nation, primarily resulting from these raging forest fires.

The Ministry of Environment in Malaysia has unequivocally stated that air quality has, in recent days, deteriorated to unhealthy levels in various regions. Kuala Lumpur attributes this alarming situation to the forest fires occurring in Indonesia, though it’s worth noting that the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) has refuted claims of smoke crossing its borders into Malaysia.

In an interview on Thursday, as reported by Reuters on Friday, October 6, 2023, Malaysia’s Minister of Natural Resources, Environment, and Climate Change, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, emphasized the urgency of addressing this issue with the Indonesian government.

He expressed, “We cannot continue to consider haze as something normal.”

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad further highlighted that the majority of identified fire points are located within Indonesian territory. In response, the Malaysian government has taken the initiative to send letters to Malaysian-owned plantation companies operating in Indonesia, urging strict adherence to legal regulations and the prevention of land burning practices.

He fervently appealed for a collective approach, emphasizing that every nation should remain open to seeking effective solutions. He underscored the gravity of the haze’s impact on the economy, tourism, and public health, compelling ASEAN members to act collaboratively, either through legislative measures or bilateral agreements, to prevent the annual recurrence of this environmental crisis.

Furthermore, Malaysia is considering the implementation of legal measures akin to those adopted by Singapore, holding companies accountable for their contributions to air pollution.

Preceding these developments, data released by the ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Centre (ASMC), headquartered in Singapore, identified 52 fire points in Sumatra, with an even more alarming count of 264 hotspots in Kalimantan.

In response to the escalating air quality concerns, Kuala Lumpur has issued advisories to its citizens, recommending preventive actions to mitigate the effects of haze. These measures include reducing outdoor activities and refraining from practices such as smoking, which could exacerbate indoor air pollution.

The Ministry of Health has emphasized the importance of sealing doors and windows to shield against haze, coupled with the obligatory outdoor use of masks, as outlined in their haze warning communicated through social media channels last Wednesday.

Additionally, in cases where air quality deteriorates in specific regions, Malaysia has put contingency plans into effect, such as school closures and the initiation of cloud seeding operations aimed at inducing rainfall, all in a determined effort to address the challenges posed by this environmental crisis.