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Malaysian schools closed, haze spreads to Thailand

KUALA LUMPUR: Most of the schools in Malaysia were on Monday shut for at least two days as thick, noxious haze blanketed the country. The hazardous haze emanates from smoke created by burning of forests in neighbouring Indonesia. The slash-and-burn practice of burning of forests in summer in Indonesia creates haze that blankets parts of the archipelago and neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore. Plantation companies in Indonesia, mostly palm oil and paper companies, burn the forests to clear land for new trees.

Although an annual feature, this time the haze, spreading to Malaysia and Singapore for about a month, has created health problems. It has now reached Thailand also. Thousands of acute respiratory tract infections are recorded every year.

Malaysia ordered closure of 7,000 schools on Monday and Tuesday. Several airports in Malaysia were also closed for hours in the past few days due to poor visibility. An annual marathon in Kuala Lumpur was also among events that had to be canceled.

Mostly the northern states of Malaysia has been hit the worst. The air pollutant index in Shah Alam showed a reading of 308 in the past few days. An air pollutant index reading below 50 is normal, and going above 300 is considered very hazardous.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has promised action but said mitigative efforts would take some years for results. He argued that his country was also a victim of the smog.

Last month also schools were closed in Kuala Lumpur, three adjacent states and the nearby Putrajaya for days. The authorities distributed free face masks. Thousands of people in Sumatra and Borneo had fallen ill. Travel was also disrupted due to poor visibility.

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