Monday, November 18

Schools shut doors over haze fears

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409 schools in nine districts close as ‘unhealthy’ air persists in Kuching, Samarahan and Sri Aman

SK Gita headmaster Jamain Sarap helps adjust the face mask on a pupil about to sit for UPSR at the school. — Photos by Muhammad Rais Sanusi

KUCHING: The current haze situation resulted in the closure of 409 schools in southern Sarawak yesterday, affecting 157,479 students.

The State Education Department in a statement said the schools are in Betong, Bau, Kuching, Lubok Antu, Padawan, Samarahan, Serian, Sri Aman and Lundu.

Padawan District had the highest number of closures at 101 schools (15 secondary and 86 primary) involving 46,572 students, while Samarahan had three (two secondary and one primary).

Kuching had the most number of students affected at 60,509, from 26 secondary schools and 61 primary schools.

Pupils sitting for the UPSR examination arrive in school donning face masks.

The department, however, said that despite the closure of schools, the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) examination proceeded smoothly as scheduled yesterday.

On Monday, state Education Department director Dr Azhar Ahmad said that as long as the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings do not exceed 300, the examination would go on as scheduled.

“If the API readings breach 300, the department will leave the decision to postpone UPSR to the Ministry of Education,” he said when contacted.

An API reading for good air quality is from zero to 50, while 51 to 100 is moderate, 101 to 200 (unhealthy), 201 to 300 (very unhealthy) and 300 and above (hazardous).

A total of 40,448 pupils are sitting for UPSR in Sarawak, which started last Wednesday.

As of 2pm yesterday, one new bush fire was each recorded in Kuching, Samarahan, Sri Aman and Sarikei, bringing the total number of cases to 162 over the past 10 days involving 285,566 acres.

On average, the Fire and Rescue Department in Sarawak has responded to 16 cases of bush fires daily across the state since Sept 1.

The highest number of fires recorded in a day was on Sept 6, with a total of 26 cases, followed by Sept 7 with 25 cases.

Meanwhile, Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) controller Justine Jok Jau Emang said that the fire incidents in the state are still under control, with burning permits frozen since April this year.

“The haze is mostly from Kalimantan, and it is expected to continue until the monsoon shift in October,” he said in a statement yesterday.

However, he cautioned the public against open burning in order not to worsen the situation, saying offenders will be prosecuted.

Across the border, moderate to dense smoke haze continued to emanate from persistent hotspot clusters in South, Central and West Kalimantan, as reported by Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC).

For the next few days, generally dry conditions are forecast to prevail over the southern Asean region, and hotspot activities are expected to persist and may worsen.

Transboundary haze is likely to continue to affect parts of the southern Asean region, including Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Sarawak.

Air Pollutant Index (API) readings as of 6pm yesterday remained ‘unhealthy’ for Kuching, Samarahan and Sri Aman at 145, 122 and 173 respectively. All other stations in the state recorded moderate readings of below 100.

For hourly updates of the readings, go to http://apims.doe.gov.my/.