This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
A Malaysian government official claims that the haze her country is experiencing right now was caused by its its neighbour Indonesia, but the latter defends that that is not the case.
On Sept. 6, Malaysian Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment, and Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin said that haze from forest fires in Sumatra, an Indonesian province, had made it to Malaysia. In response, Siti Nurbaya, Indonesian minister of Environment and Forestry, held a meeting with the Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) on Sept. 10, and concluded that Indonesia wasn’t responsible for the haze enveloping parts of Malaysia.
Nurbaya said the Malaysian claim wasn’t based on credible data and took it upon herself to pen a letter to the Malaysian ambassador.
“I will write a letter to the [Malaysian] ambassador for him to pass on to the minister to clear any misconceptions on data they may have. Indonesia tried to systematically solve this issue to its best ability. But it must be clarified where they obtained the data that became the basis for their claim, and what patterns arose,” Nurbaya told CNN Indonesia.
Earlier this week, the Air Quality Index (AQI) of a number of Malaysian cities reached 200 (unhealthy), forcing 409 schools to temporarily shut down. The Malaysian government plans to continue to hold exams according to schedule if the AQI doesn’t exceed 300, as long as students wear face masks and drink more water than usual. Malaysia’s National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) has sent 500,000 masks to the affected regions.
Nurbaya said that based on satellite imaging, the BMKG confirmed that between Sept. 2 and 7, no haze crossed over to Malaysia or Singapore from Indonesia. The only time haze crossed borders was on Sept. 8, but this only occurred for an hour, which wouldn’t have caused the full-blown crisis Malaysia is currently experiencing.
Head of the BMKG Dwikorita Karnawati supported Nurbaya’s statement with BMKG data from the Japanese Himawari-8 satellite and the European Sentinel satellite. He said factors like wind direction would make it impossible for the haze to reach Malaysia.
“We did not detect that the haze from Sumatra crossed over the Malacca strait because dominant, strong winds in the strait moved from the southeast towards the northwest,” Karnawati told local media.
He also stressed that the number of heat centres increased from 1,038 to 1,423 in the Serawak and Semenanjung regions of Malaysia between Sept. 6 and 7, which he said makes it more likely that the haze originated locally.
“Based on data from the Himawari-8 satellite and the BMKG’s Geohotspot analysis, the haze detected in Malaysia between September 5 and 7 originated from a local hotspot,” Karnawati said.
BMKG Deputy head Mulyono R. Prabowo said that between Sept. 4 and 7 — the time frame Malaysia claims the haze crossed the strait from Sumatra — the BMKG detected a total of 2,510 heat centres across Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Timo Leste, and Thailand. If this is the case, Prabowo said, why is Indonesia being singled out?
As we approach the peak of the dry season, forest fires in Indonesia are ablaze, especially in Sumatra, destroying over 2,000 hectares of land. Meanwhile, the regional government of Jambi, another Indonesian province, has also shut down its schools due to poor air quality. In Riau, dozens of students have reported suffering from Acute Respiratory Tract Infections due to smoke inhalation.
Indonesian Police have identified 175 individuals and 4 corporations as suspects in the Sumatra and Kalimantan forest fires, which according to one Riau NGO, implicates a number of Malaysian corporations as well.