Thick smog from burn-offs on Sumatra, Indonesia, has forced school closures across southern Malaysia. Police in Indonesia say two farmers have been arrested for setting peat on fire. Aerial water drops seem ineffective.
Indonesia said it deployed a fourth helicopter on Monday to drop water on scrub and peat land fires in Sumatra’s central province of Riau that have spread smoke across southern Malaysia, leaving residents wheezing and forcing school closures.
Indonesian national disaster agency officials said two airplanes sent to conduct cloud seeding to induce rain had only produced drizzle.
A spokesman for Indonesia’s national police, Agus Rianto, said two farmers were arrested in Riau province (pictured above) at the weekend.
“They burned some land but the fires got out of control and spread,” Rianto said.
Malaysia had urged Indonesia to punish suspects, including plantation companies accused of illegally clearing land to plant species such as palm oil trees.
‘Hazardous’ levels shut schools
The Malaysian city of Port Dickson, which lies on the Malacca sea strait opposite Sumatra island, recorded a “hazardous” 335 level on Monday.
Schools were told to close in several Malaysian states and in the capital Kuala Lumpur, where a “very unhealthy” level of nearly 200 was recorded on Monday.
Authorities advised parents to keep their children indoors or make them wear face masks outdoors.
A wind change somewhat spared the densely-populated city-nation of Singapore on Monday. Late last week, it received the brunt of smoke drifting from Riau across the ocean waterway.
Conditions in Singapore began to improve over the weekend. By mid-afternoon on Monday, local time, Singapore’s air quality readings lay in the “moderate” bracket, between 50 and 100.
Nevertheless, organizers postponed an international conference on reducing the threat of nuclear weapons that had been due in Singapore on Tuesday and Wednesday, because of the haze.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had apologized to Singapore and Malaysia for the record air pollution, according to the news agency Associated Press.
It quoted him as saying after a cabinet meeting in Jakarta that he had ordered a “thorough investigation” into the blazes in Riau province.
“In my analysis, there are both natural and human factors,” Yudhoyono said.