Malaysians cannot seem to catch a breather.
Just when we thought it could not get worse, the Air Pollution Index (API) readings for Sri Aman, Sarawak hit 367 – considered “hazardous” – at 10am on Tuesday (Sept 17).
The Department of Environment’s hourly API table shows that the API reading for Sri Aman steadily climbed overnight from a “very unhealthy” (237) at 12am to 290 at 2am, before the “hazardous” level of 311 at 3am.
Sarawak is situated near the border with Indonesia’s Kalimantan, where forest fires have been rampant for weeks, sending thick smoke haze into the Malaysian town.
The haze in other parts of the nation has hardly gotten better from Monday’s (Sept 16) readings as four areas were still in the “very unhealthy” range, while 28 were in the “unhealthy” range at 10am on Tuesday.
API readings of 0 to 50 represent “good” air quality, while 51 to 100 is considered “moderate”, 101-200 is classified as “unhealthy”, 201-300 is “very unhealthy”, and above 300 is deemed “hazardous”.
As a result of the pollution, the Education Ministry has ordered hundreds of schools in Malaysia to close. According to The Star, 298 schools in Sarawak, 138 schools in Selangor and 65 schools in Port Dickinson have been ordered shut. 25 schools in Putrajaya have also been ordered to close, as reported by Bernama.
As of 10am, Malaysia was fourth on the World Air Quality Index’s list of countries with the worst air quality, while Indonesia was third. Singapore was ranked 16th with an air quality reading of 154, which falls in the “unhealthy” range.
Meanwhile, Kuching and Kuala Lumpur maintained their first and third spots on air pollution app AirVisual’s ranking of major cities worldwide from the day before. Singapore, which was not in the top 10 on Monday morning, was at sixth place on Tuesday morning.
The situation in Indonesia has gotten so bad that a baby girl and an elderly man in south Sumatra, Indonesia, have reportedly died due to the worsening haze crisis. According to The Straits Times, the four-month-old was rushed to the hospital for a severe respiratory problem, while the 59-year-old man was found dead against a tree in his own plantation.
In Singapore, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement on Tuesday morning that the Government had set up a Haze Task Force (HTF) comprising 28 government agencies to implement measures “for the protection of the health and well-being of the public”. This includes issuing advisories for different population segments such as motorists and students.
It will meet annually in May, which is typically the start of the dry season, to update its plans.
The 24-hr Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in Singapore was between 86 to 95 as of 12pm on Tuesday, higher than the 78 to 84 recorded on Monday night. 24-hr PSI readings of 50 and below signify “good” air quality, while readings between 51 to 100 are classified “moderate”, and those between 101 to 200 are “unhealthy”.
The 1-hr PM2.5 readings ranged from 48 to 74 – considered “Band I (Normal)” and “Band II (Elevated)” on Tuesday afternoon. Readings of 151 to 250 are considered “Band III (High)”, and those above 250 are “Band IV (Very High)”.