What do Malaysians think of Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia has the worst air in the world

The air in Southeast Asia is once again thick. Clouds of smoke darken the sky and make it difficult for people to breathe - and there is no rain in sight. The reason for the air pollution is slash and burn, especially in neighboring Indonesia. One speaks of climate protection, but forests and scrubland are burned down.

Malaysia's cities currently hold an inglorious record: They have the worst air quality in the world. The capital Kuala Lumpur has been shrouded in a thick veil of smoke particles for days, which has practically made the silhouette of the metropolis disappear. The individual towers, like the Petronas Towers, tower almost ghostly into the sky. Even the ultra-modern and mirror-smooth seat of government Putrajaya has lost all of its shine. In Port Dickson on the west coast, all schools have been closed since Tuesday. On the scale of the World Air Quality Index, the individual values ​​are now classified as "very unhealthy".

Open fires and smoldering floors

The reason for the misery lies in neighboring Indonesia. On the island of Sumatra, which is less than 100 kilometers away, huge areas of bushland and forest areas are burning. This is not just because of the persistent dry period: Slash-and-burn clearing is still used there to gain areas that can be used for agriculture. Hundreds of so-called hotspots are currently recorded on both Sumatra and the further east island of Borneo (Kalimantan). They are open fires or smoldering floors, some of which cause smoke emissions for weeks.

The worst conditions are currently in the Indonesian Pekanbaru and the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Its provincial capital, Kuching, appears darkened by the smoke even during the day. In large parts of Borneo, four-fifths of which is part of the Indonesian national territory, bush fires are currently raging, which practically color the entire island brown-gray. Depending on the wind conditions, either the northern Malaysian part or the neighboring islands will be affected.

Formula 1 racing in the haze

Singapore has been one of the latter for days. The otherwise good air quality in the city-state has fallen back to health-endangering levels for the first time since 2015. It is measured using the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), with a level of 100 being considered unhealthy. As a result, schools were closed and the authorities advised against sporting activities over the weekend.

If the drought remains, air pollution and cloudiness could reach the level of 2015. At that time, the "Haze" clouds hung over the Republic for weeks and even questioned whether the Formula 1 race would be held at night. It's not that bad this year. But the further development is unpredictable. In any case, there is no rain in sight.

Rainmakers in action

Both Indonesia and Malaysia used so-called "rainmakers" this week. These are special aircraft that spray chemicals, which convert humidity into raindrops. Such interventions, however, only provide temporary and local relief. The main problem remains the drainage of the wetlands and slash and burn operations by human hands.

In 2015 Indonesia's President Joko Widodo personally traveled to Sumatra and Borneo to denounce these customs that are widespread among the rural population. In this context, around 200 people are said to have been arrested this month. Thousands of firefighters and volunteers are now deployed to fight fires in Borneo and Sumatra.

Reciprocal accusations

The "haze" is not only a transnational problem because of the billowing smoke. Foreign companies that have plantations in Indonesia are also accused of slash and burn. For example, the Indonesian government cordoned off the premises of two companies from Malaysia and Singapore over the weekend. Such measures also serve to make it clear to neighboring countries that the question of guilt is not so clear.

There is also no lack of mutual accusations. With satellite images, Malaysia and Indonesia are trying to prove that the majority of the hotspots are in the other country. However, there is broad agreement regarding the scope of the problem: It has existed for 20 years and makes all regional commitments to climate protection obsolete.