Local authorities in Malaysia gave out half a million air-filtering face masks to the country’s resident on Tuesday. The distribution was made as thick smoke and smoke enveloped the South East Asian country coming from Indonesia’s large-scale forest fires.
Fires have been ravaging millions of acres of forest land in regions of Indonesia namely, Sumatra and Kalimantan. CNN reports that the flames have been raging for in recent weeks. An estimated 930,000 hectares or 2.3 million acres of forest cover have been laid to waste as residents evacuate and over 9,000 troops have been deployed to put out the devastating blaze.
As forests are charred, neighboring nations Malaysia and Singapore have been suffocating as a dense haze blanket the countries throughout the week. Authorities say that the air has reached dangerous levels of pollution. Over 400 schools in Malaysia’s Sarawak state closed down on Tuesday before reopening on Thursday, as reported by Bernama.
Malaysia’s health officials warned that microscopic particles from the smoke emissions are damaging to health as they are lodged deep into the lungs when inhaled. These can then reach vital organs or the bloodstream. The pressure is mounting on Indonesia as the neighboring nations urge it to immediately act upon the forest fires.
Indonesian officials alleged that the fires were caused by slash and burn techniques used by farmers to clear out the forest lands. The same practice is held responsible for the uncontrollable fires that devastated the Amazon rainforest last month. Indonesia is recorded as having the highest deforestation rates in the world, even higher than that of Brazil.