Haze in Singapore

Unless you live far away overseas, or in a cave, you would have known that there is a bad haze situation in Singapore. At 9pm today, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in Singapore is at a record high of 290. This is the highest since 2006 and 1997, where PSI levels reached 226. This means that our air quality is well into the ‘very unhealthy’ range, and is on the cusp of ‘hazardous’. Here is a link about more information on PSI for you: Click me

Let us get into more detail about this haze. While we are accustomed to get the PSI readings now conspicuously located on our TV screens, Twitter updates and SMS updates, there may be another reading worth our interest. In the National Environmental Agency’s website there are two readings to indicate air quality. The more common PSI reading, and the 24-hour PM 2.5 Concentration. The PM2.5 reading actually measures particles in the air that are smaller than 2.5 micrometres. These tend to penetrate even to the gas exchange regions of the lung. As such these particles may be potentially harmful. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that PM2.5 leads to high plaque deposits in arteries, causing vascular inflammation and atherosclerosis. Which is a hardening of the arteries that reduces elasticity, which can lead to heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. Today’s reading is 97-117.

I would like to urge everybody, especially the elderly and young children to stay indoors. While indoors, take precautionary measures such as closing doors and shutting windows. if you have air-conditioning, use it. Sadly, I don’t have air-conditioning and have to withstand unbearable heat and haze. Let’s get to the root of this haze issue. What exactly is the cause of the haze? And why isn’t the Singapore or Indonesian governments doing anything? and if they are doing anything, why isn’t it working?

If you haven’t realised already, the current haze issue stems from Indonesia. What we are breathing now is the burnt corpses of all the dead trees in Indonesia. The forest fires are the result of illegal forest clearings using the infamous ‘slash-and-burn’ method, in which the trees are cut, and lit on fire. The result of this tree massacre is fertile farmland, and lots of smoke and haze.

I don’t know how convincing this may sound, but the NEA “urged the Indonesian authorities to look into urgent measures to mitigate the trans boundary haze occurrence.” The Indonesian forestry ministry said that fire-fighters are already addressing the fires and water-dropping aircraft would only be deployed if the local governors made a request to do so, which has not yet occurred. Well I suggest that the Indonesian fire-fighters better do something more effective as the haze situation could worsen in the coming days, as the number of hot spots in Sumatra quadrupled from 46 to 187 within just a week.

What is Singapore doing then? Let’s take a look. Writing on his Facebook page, Mr Lee Hsien Loong said various ministers have called their Indonesian counterparts to register Singapore’s “serious concerns” and offer help to fight the fires. Mr Lee added that Singapore is monitoring the haze closely and is in touch with the Indonesian authorities.

He said: “We are all affected by the haze. Farmers and plantation owners in Sumatra are burning crops to clear land in the dry season, and unfortunately the winds are blowing the smoke all the way to Singapore.”

In response to criticisms made by some members of the public on why Singapore cannot do more about the haze situation, Mr K Shanmugam said: “If it was within our control we will never allow this to happen. My point to Singaporeans is we will continue to do our best, please understand the limitations of international relationships and foreign policy and the fact that every country is sovereign and we have limited control over what happens in Indonesia.

“The deep unhappiness of Singaporeans over what is happening is entirely understandable, and my own belief is that most Singaporeans also understand that Singapore is doing what it can and these are not being caused within Singapore.” I can only agree with his words. Not surprisingly, Singapore does not have much room for direct intervention. We can only persuade, bargain and assist the efforts that are already taking place in Singapore. This will take time, this will not be an instant solution (it’s not much of a solution). But this is the best we can do at this juncture. Until then, wear your masks, close your windows, and stay safe.

UPDATE: PSI at 10pm is 321 It is now in the hazardous level. Sh*t just got real.

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