Thousands of Indonesians sought divine intervention for the rain to extinguish peat fires to wash away the haze in towns hit on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
Meanwhile, Malaysia plans to shut down schools in several parts of the country, advising students to stay indoors in their homes while the authorities seek solutions to combat the growing health hazard.
Forest fires and palm plantation peat fires are raging in Indonesia in the dry season, and people have resorted to praying for rain.
In the meantime, Malaysian and Indonesian ministers are arguing over who is responsible for the haze. Indonesia lashed out at Malaysian officials who blamed Indonesia’s fires for the haze invading Malaysia, the Indonesian Environment Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has created havoc with her statement.
The minister had said on Sep 11 that the haze in Malaysia did not completely come from Indonesia, and she urged Malaysia to be more transparent about the situation.
Nevertheless, a Malaysian minister did not take Siti Nurbaya’s statement well. She said the haze in Malaysia is caused by Indonesian fires while the official stance in Indonesia is there is no transborder haze blown from Indonesia to Malaysia.
This is reminiscent of the days of former President Jusuf Kalla and the comments by a minister in a previous Indonesian regime.
In 2015, former VP Jusuf Kalla ticked-off neighbouring countries for complaining about the haze when they criticised Indonesia for not putting out peat fires.
He asked the neighbouring countries to be grateful for the clean air they enjoy for the rest of the year.
“For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us,” he said.
“They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset,” he was quoted as saying.
This enraged netizens who blasted him saying he should never travel to neighbouring countries or he should simply quit and stop speaking about issues that he does not understand.
Kalla’s statement was a flashback to the 2013 statement from Agung Laksono, a minister in the previous government. He hit out at Singapore, which was shrouded in haze.
“Singapore shouldn’t be like children, in such a tizzy,” he said.
Indonesian weather officials this week quoted satellite data and images as evidence of no transborder haze movements.
Malaysia’s Energy, Science, Technology, Environment, and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said Siti Nurbaya did not go to the asms.asean.org portal to check on transborder haze.
“It is an Asean-recognised website, where the data indicates the presence of transboundary haze or not,” she said, adding that the data did show that the current haze was from Indonesia.
She said hotspots in Kalimantan increased further to 1,188 yesterday; before that it was more than 480.
In Sumatra, there are 431 hotspots today; while on Malaysia’s side, there are only five hotspots, four in Sabah and Sarawak, and one in the peninsula.
The thousands of people in Sumatra, however, kept praying for rain at a time the Indonesian authorities did not use cloud seeding to bring the much-needed rain to stop the fires.
Many of those taking part wore face masks to protect themselves from the smoke, Antara, the local national news agency reported.
Fires have burnt through parts of Sumatra and Borneo island for more than a month and the government has sent 9,000 military, police and disaster agency personnel to fight the flames, news reports say.
Similar prayers were held in towns in Kalimantan, the Indonesian side of Borneo, where the air quality has been at unhealthy levels.
Schools have been forced to close in Malaysia (Friday 13), and mosques in Malaysia have also been encouraged to hold prayers for rain, said the head of Malaysia’s Islamic Development Department, Mohamad Nordin.
An Indonesian disaster agency said 5,062 fire “hot spots” had been detected in six Indonesian provinces as of Thursday morning. -/TISG