Health concerns multiply as water runs low in Kuching

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 September, 1997, 12:00am

Children are suffering throat infections, eye problems and diarrhoea while their parents search shops for the last remaining bottled water in the smoke-stricken city of Kuching, capital of Malaysia's Sarawak state.

'If you step out of the house without a mask, you're immediately out of breath and your lungs feel congested,' said a nurse whose three-year-old daughter is among the ill.

'Even adults are coming down with conjunctivitis, runny noses, fevers, sore throats and diarrhoea.

'My sister is urging us to go to Singapore, but there is no way we can go . . . the planes can't land.

'Government ministers have declared a state of emergency - but none of them are in town.' Sarawak state's 1.9 million population was urged to stay indoors as air pollution figures soared to 839 on Monday and hovered above 600 yesterday, eclipsing the 'extremely hazardous' mark of 500.

Fires burning out of control in Indonesian Kalimantan have produced the pungent smoke plaguing the Malaysian state, which shares the island of Borneo.

'If we open the doors, the haze comes in,' one woman said. 'You can smell an oily smell now . . . they say the coals are burning now,' a businessman said last night.

Kuching international airport remained closed because of the thick haze. Stand-by passengers waited in vain for a flight out.

'A few days ago we heard the water was going to be affected, but when we went to the shops to buy some, we found there was no bottled water of any kind left,' said a would-be passenger.

'We've filled pails, we'll wait and see what happens. Even if it rains, the rain falling into the reservoir is going to be full of toxic materials so you can't drink it.'