Haze Shrouds Malaysian Capital Amid Forest Fires and Drought

Photographer: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

A resident walks past water containers as she waits for water distribution in Balakong, outside Kuala Lumpur. Close

A resident walks past water containers as she waits for water distribution in Balakong,... Read More

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Photographer: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

A resident walks past water containers as she waits for water distribution in Balakong, outside Kuala Lumpur.

Smoke from forest and peat-soil fires drove air quality to unhealthy levels in and around Malaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur today, adding to the burden of water rationing after a month-long drought.

The government’s air pollutant index climbed to as high as 137 in Port Klang this morning, with seven parts of Kuala Lumpur and the states of Selangor and Negri Sembilan recording levels above 100, which is classified as unhealthy. Cloud-seeding has begun to induce rainfall over dams and water-catchment areas, the Star reported today, citing Malaysia’s Meteorological Department.

“We are trying to identify fire-prone areas, especially peat-soil land and steps are being taken,” G. Palanivel, Malaysia’s natural resources and environment minister, said in a text message to Bloomberg News today.

Disputes over haze flare up regularly between Indonesia and its neighbors. The latest was in June, when smog in Singapore reached a record because of Indonesian forest fires. The pollution now blanketing Kuala Lumpur isn’t being caused by this, Malaysia’s Department of Environment said.

“The medium-level of haze that the country is experiencing now is due to internal sources resulting from land and forest fires in a few states,” the government said in a statement on its website. “The chances of Peninsular Malaysia experiencing cross-border haze at this time are low because of the wind patterns.”

Riau Emergency

Officials in Indonesia’s Riau province declared a state of emergency last month due to forest fires causing local haze. About half of those burning are on land managed by oil palm, timber and logging companies, according to a report today by the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Parliament in neighboring Singapore, which has suffered drought since Jan. 13, discussed today whether the country had sufficient face masks if conditions escalate. Air quality deteriorated to “moderate” from “good” in the city-state today, the National Environment Agency said.

An El Nino weather pattern may occur in the coming months, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said on Feb. 25. This could parch growing areas in commodities-producing countries including Malaysia and Indonesia.

Drought may curb palm oil output, tighten inventory and push up prices, PT Mandiri Sekuritas analysts including Rizky Hidayat wrote in a report today. Palm oil futures rose have risen 5 percent this year on Bursa Malaysia Derivatives, touching an 17-month high yesterday on weather concerns.

El Nino

While the development of El Nino would affect production, Malaysia could meet its target for record palm oil output of 19.5 million tons this year, said Douglas Uggah Embas, Malaysia’s plantation industries and commodities minister.

“Water is a very important component of the palm oil plant,” said Embas in a Feb. 28 interview. “Any long stretch with a reduction of water definitely will have some impact. There will be a challenge.”

To help prevent future water shortages, Malaysia’s central government is preparing funding to help opposition-run Selangor state nationalize water assets in the region surrounding the capital and commission an additional treatment plant.

The drought’s fallout may lead to slower economic growth if it continues through March, Mustapa Mohamed, Malaysia’s international trade minister, said last week.

To contact the reporters on this story: Chong Pooi Koon in Kuala Lumpur at pchong17@bloomberg.net; Manirajan Ramasamy in Kuala Lumpur at rmanirajan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Barry Porter at bporter10@bloomberg.net

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