KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s premier has called upon Indonesia to act against those responsible for raging forest and agricultural fires that have blanketed the region in smog for weeks, as Malaysian schools closed again for two days out of health concerns.
“They (plantation companies) are operating there, we want Indonesia to take action,” Prime Minister Najib Razak was quoted saying by state news agency Bernama late on Sunday.
Bernama said Najib blamed this year’s annual “haze” problem for deteriorating air quality in Malaysia and added it was affecting the economy, giving no further details.
It said Najib made the comments while on a visit to Italy.
“Only Indonesia alone can gather evidence and convict the companies concerned,” Najib was quoted saying.
The fires flare annually during the dry season on plantations and peatlands that are being illegally cleared by burning on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra and on the Indonesian portion of Borneo Island.
This year’s bout has been one of the worst in years, blanketing huge areas of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in acrid smoke.
It has sparked health alerts and repeated school shutdowns, affected flights, and forced tens of thousands to seek medical treatment for respiratory problems.
Malaysian authorities had earlier ordered schools closed across much of the country on Monday and Tuesday — following previous school closures last month — as pollution levels spiked at the weekend.
Indonesia has faced pressure from its neighbors to address the problem ever since it first emerged nearly 20 years ago, but a long-term solution has proven elusive.
Najib said the three countries must work to formulate an effective strategy to tackle the annual environmental disaster.
His remarks followed comments last week by Singapore officials expressing impatience with Indonesia.
Experts warned last week this year’s flare-up was on track to equal or surpass an infamous 1997 haze outbreak that sent pollution soaring to record highs and caused an estimated $9 billion in economic damage.
The poor air quality has begun to force the cancellation of major events in the region.
In Singapore, races in the FINA World Championship — swimming’s World Cup — were called off on Saturday, and one of Malaysia’s biggest marathons set for Sunday in Kuala Lumpur was canceled.
Some local Malaysian football league matches also have been shelved.