Smoke from fire at a peatland in Rimbo Panjang Village, in the Riau Province, Indonesia. © Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Smoke from fire at a peatland in Rimbo Panjang Village, in the Riau Province, Indonesia. © Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Firms threatened with legal action over Asian haze

Firms have been threatened with legal action over the Asian haze caused by burning plantations in Indonesia.

Forest fires in Indonesia, including Borneo and Sumatra, have caused a haze of smog to spread across parts of Malaysia, with air quality reaching “very unhealthy” levels, according to Malaysia's Air Pollutant Index.

Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said: “These Malaysian companies which have estates outside Malaysia are contributing toward the haze. We will ask them to take action to put out the fire.

“But of course, if we find that they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law which will make them responsible for fires in their property, even if its outside of Malaysia,” he told told reporters, according to Channel News Asia.

The haze has led to flight cancellations, school closures and an increase in acute respiratory infections across Southeast Asia. All schools in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya were closed.

Some agricultural companies, such as palm oil plantations, burn land to clear it for farming. Last week, the Malaysian Department of Environment banned open burning with the exception of cremation, religious purposes, grilling/barbecue and flaring until the end of the monsoon period. 

The method of “cloud seeding”, whereby increased condensation and artificial rain is created by dropping substances into clouds, is being used to tackle the fires.

Joko Widodo, the Indonesia president, tweeted on Monday: “Handling of forest and land fires in Merbau Village, Bunut District, Pelalawan Regency, Riau, today. A total of 5,600 additional personnel have arrived in Riau from yesterday. Water bombing has been held at the scene of the fire by deploying at least 52 aircraft. Earlier I had a chance to review the operational readiness of the seeding aircraft which today would make artificial rain in the field.

“We are making every effort to stop forest and land fires in Riau and surrounding areas. However, the most correct is prevention before the incident. One hotspot appeared, immediately extinguished before becoming hundreds of hotspots.”

He added: “I remind all parties not to burn peatlands or forests. For perpetrators, both corporations and individuals, law enforcement will be carried out indiscriminately.”

In August a ban was declared on deforestation activities in 66.1m hectares of forest and peatland in Indonesia.

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