JAKARTA/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s science ministry will urge Indonesia to take immediate action to fight haze, it said on Friday, as Jakarta detected a spike in the number of hot spots indicating worsening forest fires across the archipelago.
During the dry season, Indonesian farmers use fire to clear land, often for palm and pulp plantations, but the flames can rage out of control to produce a choking haze that spreads to neighbours like Singapore and Malaysia.
A mild El Nino weather pattern this year has aggravated the impact of fires, with the number of hot spots rising to the highest since devastating fires in 2015.
In a statement, Malaysia’s ministry of science, technology and innovation said it would “send a diplomatic note to Indonesia, so immediate action will be taken to put out the fires and prevent repeated burning”.
By Friday morning, disaster officials in Indonesia had detected 6,312 hot spots, which often signal a fire, dotting the western and central areas of its part of Borneo island. That was up from 2,694 a day ago and less than 1,000 earlier this month.
The number had risen from Thursday as many had previously been obscured by smoke, he added.
Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smog caused by slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia’s islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, but governments in the region have failed to stamp out the problem.
The town’s air quality index hit 356 by midday on Friday, a hazardous level, according to the non-profit World Air Quality Index.
“I implore the whole community not to burn land,” local government head Supian Hadi said, according to state news agency Antara. “The impact has been very disturbing to the wider community, on health, education and economic activity.”