Malaysia urges Indonesia to take action over air quality, ‘haze cannot be the norm’

Malaysia called on neighbour Indonesia and a grouping of Southeast Asian nations (Asean) to take action as air quality worsens across the country due to fires in Indonesia, its environment minister told Reuters on Thursday.

Air quality has hit unhealthy levels in several parts of Malaysia in recent days, with Kuala Lumpur blaming fires in Indonesia – though Jakarta has denied detecting any smoke drifting over its borders into Malaysia.

Almost every dry season, smoke from fires to clear land for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations in Indonesia blankets much of the region, bringing risks to public health and worrying tourist operators and airlines. Many of the companies that own these plantations are foreign or foreign-listed.

‘Don’t talk carelessly’: Malaysia spars with Indonesia over haze, pollution data

Fires that sent haze billowing across the region in 2015 and 2019 burned millions of hectares of land and produced record-breaking emissions, according to scientists.

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Malaysia’s minister of natural resources, environment and climate change, said he has sent a letter to his Indonesian counterpart this week on the haze.

“We submitted our letter to inform the Indonesian government and urging them to hopefully take action on the matter,” he said in an interview. “We cannot keep going back to having haze as something normal.”

Students ride a wooden boat through the Ogan river, which is covered by smog due to wildfires, in Palembang, South Sumatra province, Indonesia. Photo: Antara Foto/Nova Wahyudi/ via Reuters

He reiterated that most of the hotspots indicating fires were in Indonesia.

The government has also sent letters to Malaysian-owned plantation companies that operate in Indonesia to ensure they comply with laws and prevent burning, he said.

He called for joint action by Asean either through legislation or agreement to prevent the yearly haze.


Malaysia blames Indonesia for haze sparked by cross-border fires, prompting rebuff from Jakarta

Malaysia blames Indonesia for haze sparked by cross-border fires, prompting rebuff from Jakarta

“I hope that every country will be able to be open in order to find a solution because the damage to the economy, to tourism, but especially to health, is immense from the haze,” he said.

He said Malaysia was still “seriously” considering a law similar to Singapore that holds companies liable for air pollution.

But there were concerns over whether Malaysia would be able to prosecute polluters based overseas, he said.

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