It has been observed that the visibility level in Malaysia has been fluctuating for more than a month, due to a condition called haze. Since the beginning of August this year, postcard-perfect settings throughout the nation has been engulfed by the misty smoke-like surroundings.
Due to the fact that earth’s population is growing at an alarming rate, 7.7 billion people currently, a booming industry fueled by demands for food has enticed an aggressive approach to farming, utilizing the slash and burn technique to clear large areas to cater to agricultural demands. The areas that are badly affected across the nation will be the big cities, especially those on the western coast of the Peninsular (due to the dense urbanization and lack of greenery) and the state of Sarawak on the Malaysian part of Borneo, due to its close proximity to the hot spots in Kalimantan and Sumatra.
This situation is an international issue that does not recognise borders, social standing or political leanings. With the element of fire ravaging furiously at various locations simultaneously, further aggravated by the wind, the haze creeps over from a neighboring nation and envelops the region. Hot spots are visible in Sumatera and Kalimantan, with efforts currently being made to eradicate the raging flames.
Haze, in layman’s term, is an atmospheric anomaly that rises from dust and other forms of dry particulates, rendering our surroundings to various hues of grey. Haze may be caused by numerous factors, ranging from smoke that is generated from factories and vehicles to wildfires, mostly caused by the arid condition in the rainforest during the dry season that may cause fires to ignite easily or sadly, resorting to the intentional open burning of parts of the jungle as the cheapest method to make way for agricultural land by anybody involved in the business of cultivation of crops, be it farmers and plantation corporations.
Here on our beloved island, views of Langkawi’s panorama, and also the Andaman seascape that surrounds the archipelago for that matter, is reduced to a certain degree, depending on the humidity level, the length of this situation and also the source of this phenomenon.
Fortunately for us here on Langkawi for this year’s haze spell, the readings had been consistently registered under the AQI of 100 (once in a while going beyond that point to an unhealthy level), which is still moderate. This is due to less vehicles on the island, consistent wind movement, occasional rain and also the large pocket of rainforest that absorbs carbon emissions.
Depending on the intensity of the haze, it is measurable by the Air Pollutant Index (API) for Malaysia or Air Quality Index (AQI), depending on which part of the globe that you are from. An API that is valued from 0-50 is considered good and 51-100 is moderate. Any other value from 101-500 is counted as unhealthy to hazardous. For readings that exceed the 500 limit, a state of emergency will be declared, with the government shutting down ports, businesses, schools and all outdoor activities.
This situation may pose serious threats to our health, especially to children, senior citizens, those who are sensitive to their surroundings and also people with existing heart or lung diseases. Even short term exposures of a few days to the haze may cause irritation to the eyes, nose and also throat. It has been noticed that a significant spike in the number of people seeking medical assistance from the hospitals and clinics is apparent during this period.
You may see that a number of people in the country are prone to using surgical masks to protect themselves from this situation, but honestly speaking, this method will only provide minimal protection against the effect of the haze. It is advisable to use N95 masks that are able to filter at least 95 per cent of the fine particles and also provide a more secure and comfortable fit to the face of the wearer, while providing better protection as well.
The Malaysian government has also deployed planes for cloud seeding efforts by spraying a concoction of sodium chloride and water into the clouds. The water that is already in the air, in gaseous form, condenses around the newly-introduced particles, thickening the clouds and increasing the probability of rain. Do note that in order for cloud seeding to work, there has to be enough cloud cover to produce rain and to locate suitable clouds is time-consuming.
For a more detailed and comprehensive report of the haze situation in Langkawi and also Malaysia in general, you may proceed to this website, http://apims.doe.gov.my/public_v2/home.html.
Stay safe peeps! q
*As of yesterday, Langkawi’s AQI reading dropped to a healthy level.