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KUALA LUMPUR, March 20 — The ongoing heatwave is expected to last until June, instead of April as previously reported, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau said.
He added that this year’s hot spell will likely match levels seen back in 1997, which also resulted in widespread water shortages and forest fires in Malaysia.
“The El Niño this year is looking to be almost equal in strength to the one in 1997-98 This phase of El Niño is a continuation of last year’s, when we were affected by a thick blanket of haze.
“Researchers concluded this El Niño poses almost the same threat as the one we faced nearly two decades ago. It is worrying,” he was quoted as saying by local English daily the New Sunday Times (NST).
NST also reported that the scorching heat this time around could result in water shortages, air pollution, haze and massive forest fires, as it did back in the late 1990s.
According to reports, the heatwave resulting from the El Niño phenomenon in 1997 to 1998, one of the most severe in the country’s history, saw massive droughts hit Malaysia, Indonesia and Brazil, as well as “countless” cases of respiratory problems.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said schools would be closed if the extreme heat and reduced rainfall continued.
A multi-agency taskforce, which was created during the Cabinet meeting last Friday, will also declare a state of emergency should temperatures stay at 40°C for seven consecutive days.
The heatwave has seen temperatures soaring to as high as 38.5°C in some areas, with the worst affected being Penang, Kedah and Perlis. Extremely low rainfall has also been recorded in Sabah and Sarawak.
El Niño is a dry weather phenomenon that leads to scorching weather across Asia and east Africa, but heavy rain and floods in South America.