Singapore Smog June 2013
Children cover their noses near burnt land in the Marpoyan Damai subdistrict, on the outskirts of Pekanbaru, in Indonesia's Riau province, on Thursday. Haze from fires in Indonesia blanketing Singapore could persist for weeks or longer, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, as the smoke drove air quality to hazardous levels and disrupted business and travel in the region. Singapore

Areas of Southeast Asia are enduring air pollution at record or near-record levels as a result of an intentional forest fire scorching parts of Indonesia’s Sumatra island, where plantation workers lit it to cost-effectively clear land. However, the unintended consequences of the controlled burning has included extreme levels of air pollution in Indonesia’s neighboring nations, first Singapore and now Malaysia.

Malaysian authorities on Sunday officially declared a state of emergency in one of the country’s southern districts where a thick blanket of haze has descended because of the Indonesian fire. In a statement on Facebook, officials say the hazardous smoke has triggered the nation’s worst air-pollution levels in years.

On Malaysia’s air-pollution index, the southern city of Muar recorded the highest level on Sunday at 750, according to the country’s Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, who noted, “The highest API ever recorded in Malaysia was in Sarawak in 1997 with reading of 860.”

Because of the haze, Palanivel said: “[A]ll schools in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor will be closed tomorrow (Monday). ... The haze situation was worsening as of 5 p.m. [local time] and the schools have ordered to be closed as a precautionary measure since the bad air quality would affect the health of the students.” Schools in other parts of the nation also will be closed Monday.

The hardest-hit city of Muar has roughly 250,000 people who are being affected by the worst of the pollution. As indicated by Malaysia’s statement on Facebook, however, signs of unhealthy air-pollution levels farther north, such as in the country’s capital and biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, have also been seen. Many people on various social-media platforms have uploaded photographs of Kuala Lumpur’s famed skyline, dotted with the Petronas Twin Towers and obstructed by haze.

The Sumatran forest fire previously caused record-breaking air pollution in Singapore, which was at all-time high levels for three consecutive days. The haze forced hospitals to shut their windows, while all outdoor and sporting events in the city-state were cancelled.