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. Air quality poorer in Malaysia's Borneo after forest fires

by Staff Writers
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Aug 9, 2009
Air quality in Malaysia's Sarawak state on Borneo island edged towards "very unhealthy" levels of pollution Sunday as wildfires raged in forests and peat-growing land in the state.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) recorded unhealthy levels of between 122 and 197 in four areas on Sunday morning, three in Sarawak and one in southern Johor state, the Environment Department said on its website.

The API considers a score of 101-200 to be unhealthy, while 201-300 is very unhealthy.

According to the Star newspaper, wildfires were raging in more than 1,000 hectares (around 2,500 acres) near the Sarawak-Brunei border, causing thick smoke.

Malaysia was hit with the worst haze levels recorded this year on Wednesday and Thursday, when the API recorded six "unhealthy" areas.

Officials said the haze was caused by hundreds of forest fires that were blazing in the Indonesian provinces of Kalimantan and Sumatra, and in Sarawak.

Farmers in Indonesia and Malaysia's half of Borneo island burn forests every year to clear land for agriculture, sending plumes of smoke across neighbouring countries.

The haze hit its worst level in 1997-1998, costing the Southeast Asian region an estimated nine billion dollars by disrupting air travel and other business activities.

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