The huge swath of smoke and smog currently covering much of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore — a seasonal event known as the haze — could be among the worst in history according to a NASA scientist.
"If the forecasts for a longer dry season hold, this suggests 2015 will rank among the most severe events on record," Robert Field, of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the Sydney Morning Herald.
The haze is caused annually by Indonesian palm-oil producers burning off forest growth in remote areas to clear land for planting. Cities across the region are shrouded in pollution for weeks as a result, with disruptions to business and transport. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of acute respiratory tract infections are recorded every year.
On Sunday, Malaysia ordered its schools closed for the following two days, the Herald reported. In the capital of Kuala Lumpur, where pollution-monitoring stations are reporting "very unhealthy" or nearly "hazardous" degrees of pollution, a typically gleaming skyline is shrouded in gray. The government has canceled soccer fixtures and a marathon with 30,000 registered participants; in Singapore, swimming officials shut down a final event in the sport's World Cup last weekend, the Herald said.
Last week, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told the BBC that his country was also a victim of the fire, a problem that he said would require years of mitigative effort before positive results emerged.