June 23, 2013

Smog

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The last few days in Kuala Lumpur have been smoggy. Today visibility is down to a few hundred meters and according to the government the air quality is “unhealthy”. The image below is a comparison of the view when we arrived here in December and today. If anything the haze is a little worse in the hours since taking the photo.

KL smog comparison

Yesterday, when the official air quality was not quite “unhealthy”, we walked to the supermarket 30 minutes away and returned with headaches and coughing from scratchy throats. Today we have not dared adventure outside. It is hard to imagine how bad it must be in Singapore right now where the pollution index is over 400, compared to 100 here. Other places like Beijing have had even worse. Here the city feels barely livable and there are less people on the streets. One person commented it is like the horror movie The Mist.

The air smells smoky. Only the fires producing the smoke are hundreds of miles away in Indonesia. The fires are deliberately started in order to clear farmland. Prevailing winds then blow the haze from Sumatra over the straits to Singapore and southern Malaysia. Apparently it happens every year around this time (the start of the dry season – so there is little rain to clear the air, or douse the flames), and can last for weeks. However, this year it is particularly bad and setting new records for pollution levels.

The locals are understandably upset. The need to “do something” is regularly mentioned and there is a substantial degree of anger towards Indonesia. The smog disrupts business as people stay at home and falls during an important month for Malaysian tourism. It is Arab month – the time when many people from Arabic countries come to Malaysia on holiday to escape the heat at home. Perhaps next year many of these people will visit a different country instead? We have already started planning for a holiday abroad this time next year!


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