A thick haze from forest fires which have been raging for two weeks sent pollution in Malaysia’s Sarawak to critical levels on Tuesday, according to official data.
The country’s Air Pollution Index (API) indicated that readings of the pollution from the fire in the state in north-west Borneo hit levels of 311 in the city of Sri Aman at 3 am (1900 GMT), and steadily climbed to reach a peak of 367 by 9 am.
Readings above 300 are considered hazardous to human health, as they can cause breathing difficulties, trigger asthma and exacerbate the development of conditions like bronchitis.
Good to moderate air quality readings are between 0 to 100, and readings between 101 to 300 can vary between unhealthy to very unhealthy.
About 500 schools in Sarawak are expected to close on Tuesday due to the haze, as API readings around the state exceeded 200.
Malaysia has been engulfed in the haze for weeks and has attempted to reduce the hazardous fumes, which mostly originate from the Indonesian regions of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Artificial rain created in a government operation on Monday brought about some relief in several districts, however the ensuing showers were “not as encompassing as expected,” the Meteorological Department said in a Facebook post.
The annual practice of burning forest land to make way for agriculture in Indonesia has drawn complaints from neighbouring South-East Asian countries.
However, Indonesia has denied that it is responsible for the haze, claiming that fires were also raging in parts of Malaysia and on Malaysian-owned plantations in Indonesia.