Forest fires in Indonesia have forced the Malaysian authorities to shut schools for two days to prevent any health problems for students. Education minister Mahdzir Khalid, who ordered that the majority of schools remain closed on the 5th and 6th of October, says the country will not allow children’s health to be put at risk.
“The haze that is happening is beyond our control,” the minister said. “This issue has to be addressed wisely and quickly as it can do harm to our children. We will not compromise with anything that may bring harm to our children in schools.”
More than 25 pollution monitoring stations around Malaysia flagged air quality as ‘unhealthy’ on Sunday while five stations have characterized air as ‘very unhealthy’ and one as ‘hazardous’. All Malaysian schools except for schools in Kelantan, Sarawak and Sabah did not open.
Mahdzir said authorities will continue monitoring and reporting on the air pollution index and if air quality levels worsens, the three states of Kelantan, Sawawak and Sabah might by required to shut down their schools as well.
Students taking the Form 3 (PT3), 5 (SPM) and 6 (STPM) examinations have been notified that the exams will take place as usual and were reminded to comply with instruction on how to protect themselves from the smoke.
According to Mr. Mahdzir, schools forced to shut down because of the smoke do not have to make up for the classes missed.
This is the third time schools have been forced to close due to smog from forest fires in the region of Kalimantan and the island of Sumatra in Indonesia.
Apart from Malaysian territory, many Southeast Asia regions including Singapore and regions across Indonesia have been affected by the haze, which has resulted in schools being shut down and airplanes being kept on the ground. According to Channel News, the pollution is far worse than the 1997 air quality epidemic that cost about $9 billion.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called for Indonesia to take action against those companies responsible for annual illegal forest fires that are used to make room for new plantations. During a visit to Italy, the Malaysian Prime Minister said:
“Only Indonesia alone can gather evidence and convict the companies concerned.” According to Bernama he also commented: “We hope its commitment is not only on paper or mere statements pleasant to the ears, but through implementation which could end all haze problems,”
A Sunday marathon, one of Malaysia’s largest, was also cancelled due to fears that the smog could affect the 30,000 runners.