Malaysia: Extreme haze forces 77 schools to close for two days

STEPHANIE LEE The Star 1 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Seventy-seven schools in south-western Sabah are closed for two days after thick smoke enveloped the area amidst simmering peat fires from the Binsuluk Forest Reserve in the Klias peninsula.

Schools in Beaufort (53), Papar (10) and Kuala Penyu (14) were closed as the Air Pollutant Index (API) reached a very unhealthy reading of 279.

In some areas, the visibility was so bad that drivers could only see 20m ahead in the thick haze.

Sabah Education Department acting director Maimunah Suhaibul said the schools, involving over 20,000 students, would reopen tomorrow should conditions improve.

Although the Department of Environment (DOE) does not have a permanent station monitoring the air quality in Beaufort, the reading was taken off a portable machine.

Sabah DOE could not be reached and there were no updates on its website over the API and haze situa­tion.

“It is difficult to breathe. You can smell smoke the moment you walk out,” said housewife Rohani Rowel, 30.

Adding that she was keeping her children indoors, she said the situation deteriorated two days ago des­pite hazy conditions the past week.

Clerk Mazniah Mazta said visibility was sometimes less than 20m and that it was quite difficult to drive.

“The situation improved slightly but the haze came back. I think it is because of the winds,” she said, adding that like many people in Kuala Penyu, they were staying indoors.

As at press time, state Health Department director Christina Rundi had yet to issue any advice or statement if there was an increase in the number of respiratory cases in Beaufort and other parts of Sabah.

Firemen have been battling do­zens of jungle, bush and orchard fires on a daily basis as the dry spell – induced by El Nino – entered its third month in Sabah.

On Saturday, firemen said they had brought the Binsuluk forest peat fires under control after a series of aerial water bombings.

However, they warned that un­­der­growth fires could flare up from time to time.

Despite hazy conditions in Sabah’s west coast, including Kota Kinabalu and parts of Keningau, API readings there were at healthy levels.

77 schools in Sabah to close tomorrow due to unhealthy air index
KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 3 Apr 16;

BEAUFORT: The Sabah Education Department has ordered 77 primary and secondary schools in three districts of Papar, Beaufort and Kuala Penyu to be closed tomorrow due to the unhealthy air index recorded there.

State education deputy director Maimunah Suhaibul announced this is after making a working visit to two schools in Membakut, Sekolah Kebangsaan Binsuluk and Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Membakut 2, which are also affected.

"Our reading is different from the normal Air Pollutant Index (API) caused by haze because we have heavy smoke caused by open fires.

Only yesterday, Membakut recorded an index of 279 due to the rampant open fires.

"We will review the order to close schools on a day to day basis depending on the readings.

So far, no other schools in other districts reported reaching 200 on the index.

"If there is an open fire near a school and there is thick smoke, the principal or headmaster can make the decision to close school so long as they inform the district education office first," she said.

2,019 open fires recorded in Sabah this year
KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 3 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Approximately 2,019 open fires were recorded in Sabah to date since the start of the year.

According to the State Fire and Rescue Department statistics, March alone recorded 1,170 incidents while the first two days of April recorded 120 cases - with the Papar and Penampang fire stations receiving the most number of reports.

The recent El Nino phenomenon which began more than two months ago has led to a dry spell in several areas across the nation.

Sabah's open fire cases were mostly forest fires, followed by bush fires and blazes at plantations.

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