KUCHING (Malaysia): Haze shrouds an aerial view around Sarawak’s assembly building (left) in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak state, on Monday.—AFP
KUCHING (Malaysia): Haze shrouds an aerial view around Sarawak’s assembly building (left) in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak state, on Monday.—AFP

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia prepared to seed clouds after air quality in parts of the country reached unhealthy levels due to smog from forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia, an official said on Monday.

Smog regularly blankets parts of Southeast Asia during the dry season when burning is used to clear Indonesian land for palm oil, paper plantations and other crops, sparking ire from regional neighbours.

In the latest outbreak, parts of Malaysia’s eastern state of Sarawak on Borneo island have been blanketed over the past few days.

The pollutant index in some places has reached “very unhealthy levels”, said Gary Theseira, special functions officer with the environment ministry.

“It is extremely severe in Kuching,” Theseira said, referring to a city of half a million people.

He said Malaysia is prepared to carry out cloud seeding to induce rain in an effort to ease the smog.

“The moment the cloud situation is right, the chemicals will be loaded and the aircraft will take off and proceed with the seeding,” he said.

Some countries conduct seeding during prolonged dry spells to induce rain and clear the air by releasing certain chemicals into the clouds, although some experts have questioned its efficacy.

Boo Siang Voon, a 47 year-old engineer in Kuching described the skies as “hazy, hot with smoky smell”.

“This year the smog is getting worse. Residents are using face masks. We should not pay the price of our health for the open burning. We want a solution,” he said.

The Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and neighbouring Singapore were also experiencing hazy conditions on Monday, with the air laced with the smell of burning foliage, although the pollutant index remained at moderate levels.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2019