Malaysia declares emergency over smoke from Indonesia

Malaysia has declared a state of emergency in two parts of the southern state of Johor, as smoke from land-clearing fires in Indonesia pushed air pollution above safe levels.

The Malaysian natural resources and environment minister, G. Palnival, said Sunday that the edict was made after pollution levels in Malaysia reached their highest levels in 16 years.

Air quality in neighboring Singapore improved Sunday after reaching record pollution levels Friday for a third straight day.

Indonesia has deployed helicopters to help battle raging fires and to seed clouds in a desperate attempt to create rain to douse the flames.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the haze that began afflicting the city-state Monday could persist until the end of the dry season on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island in September or October.

Singapore’s national environment agency chief, Andrew Tan, has called on Indonesia to take decisive action against companies suspected of burning forests on Sumatra as a cheap way of clearing land.

However, the Indonesian minister for people’s welfare, Agung Laksono criticized Singapore’s reaction to the haze, accusing the city-state of acting like a child.

Indonesia has defended its response, saying it is investigating companies suspected of setting the fires and trying to educate plantation owners about alternatives to traditional burning methods.

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