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Fires Spread Thick Haze Across Much of Southeast Asia

Fires Spread Thick Haze Across Much of Southeast Asia

Fires Spread Thick Haze Across Much of Southeast Asia

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Haze has returned to Southeast Asia as fires set to clear farm land race out of control in Indonesia.

The haze has enveloped large swathes of the region, from peninsular Malaysia and Singapore and across Indonesia to Brunei.

On Borneo island, residents of the Malaysian border city of Tawau are hurting. They say the past four days have been the worst in years with the pollution index nearing unhealthy levels. The haze can be especially dangerous for those with respiratory diseases such as asthma.

Chua Soon Bui is an opposition politician who represents Tawau in the national parliament. She says the Malaysian government must re-enter talks with Indonesia on fighting the haze.

"In the haze a lot of people are experiencing health hazard and it is not good in terms of social economy. It will create a lot of pollutants and maybe on the acid rain it will be very, very bad," said Chua.

She says the haze is starting to hurt tourism, with flight schedules interrupted and visibility drastically reduced. The sun often appears as a dark orange ball surrounded by dirty brown clouds of smog.

This, Chua says, is in stark contrast to the pristine beaches and rainforests that lie within easy reach of here.

Haze has been a frequent problem in Southeast Asia for a decade. Despite government bans, many farmers in Indonesia and Malaysia, both small landholders and big plantation companies, burn off grassland and jungle to clear space for planting.

Environmentalists complain the burning not only creates haze that can make people ill, it releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which many scientists say contributes to global warming.