• Southeast Asia smog crisis eases as rain douses fires

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    DUMAI, Indonesia: Fires in Indonesia that have blanketed Singapore and Malaysia in thick smog eased on Wednesday after heavy rain, boosting hopes of an end to Southeast Asia’s worst air pollution crisis for years.

    The news came as a report said the crisis had claimed its first victim with the death of an asthmatic woman in southern Malaysia, which has been badly affected.

    The Sun newspaper in Malaysia reported that Li Cai Ling, a resident of the southern town of Muar—which saw intense air pollution at the weekend—died on Sunday with a medical report blaming the polluted air.

    The smog from slash-and-burn agricultural fires on Sumatra island pushed haze levels to a record high in Singapore last week, shrouding residential buildings and downtown skyscrapers.

    Favorable winds have since cleared the air over the city-state but southern Malaysia remains choked by smoke.

    Indonesia deployed thousands of reinforcements on Tuesday to fight the fires, which are centered in Riau province. They are backed by aircraft dropping water and chemically inducing rain by cloud-seeding.

    Their efforts were helped when rain fell on Tuesday and early Wednesday in several areas of Riau, officials and residents said.

    In Malaysia, pollution has spiked to hazardous levels in some places in recent days, with the south seeing its worst air quality in 16 years last weekend.

    Malaysia’s environment minister traveled to Indonesia on Wednesday morning to meet his counterpart in the hopes of resolving the problem, which earlier sparked a testy exchange between Indonesia and Singapore.

    In 1997-1998, a severe bout of haze cost Southeast Asia an estimated $9 billion from disruptions to air travel and other business activities.

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