Singapore may sow rain clouds as smog fails to abate
21 Jun 2013
The smog crisis in Asia's financial capital Singapore showed few signs of abating today, as summer fires continue to burn in neighbouring Indonesia.
|Part of Singapore shrouded by haze on 20 June 2013. Courtrsey: Global
For a week now, the island state of Singapore has been blanketed in the worst smog in a decade.
Recent reports say that an acrid haze continues to drift from neighbouring Indonesia, where forest fires continue to burn – particularly in Sumatra.
Singapore officials say this is the worst air pollution crisis in its history.
Government agencies are trying to induce rain in an attempt to stop forest fires spreading a smoky haze across three south-east Asian countries.
The average Pollution Standard Index (PSI) – the measurement for air pollution – hit 401 at midday today, beating previous records of 371 and 321 on the previous two days. A reading between 101 and 200 is considered unhealthy. Anything over 300 is ''hazardous''. A Twitter post read: "Birds are falling out of the sky in Singapore's Punggol area due to the smog".
It is six days since the clouds of smoke first descended on Singapore, the result of fires in neighbouring Sumatra, Indonesia. Blaze season usually runs from June to September, when land is illegally cleared for palm plantations.
Michael Graham Richard, an editor with the sustainable living websit treehugger said in a column, "A lot of these forest fires are started by palm oil planters who illegally clear virgin forest in neighboring Indonesia, so not only do they destroy large portions of very fertile ecosystems, releasing carbon into the atmosphere, killing animals and plants and destroying habitats, but they also cause a lot of air pollution."
Singapore today sent a government minister to Jakarta to discuss measures to tackle the forest fires.
The Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency said it plans to use helicopters in a 'water-bombing' operation, as well as more than 100 firefighters on the ground. Planes would be sent over parts of Sumatra in the next few days in a 'cloud-seeding' effort to induce rain chemically.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told his people several days back to remain indoors as far as possible. On Thursday, he warned that the smog could last for weeks.
More than 100 companies across Singapore have sent their staff home, opting not to wait for the government to decide to stop work.
The National Environment Agency has advised residents, especially the elderly, the young and those with respiratory problems, to avoid prolonged spells outdoors. School closures are being considered and hospitals are preparing for an increase in the number of cases of asthma, bronchitis and conjunctivitis.
The Singapore human resources ministry published guidelines for construction workers.
Hotels in Singapore are now handing their guests masks before they go out; managements have also issued staff with eye-drops.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) has advised residents, especially the elderly, the young and those with respiratory problems, to avoid prolonged spells outdoors; and school closures are being considered.
Malaysia, which has also been badly affected by the haze, has closed 200 schools and banned open burning in some areas. Singapore's minister for the environment and water resources, Vivian Balakrishnan, said he would push for action ahead of a hastily convened meeting with Indonesia's foreign ministry in Jakarta.
''No country or corporation has the right to pollute the air at the expense of Singaporeans' health and wellbeing,'' Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post.
Tensions escalated when Agung Laksono, the minister co-ordinating Indonesia's response, told reporters Singapore should stop ''behaving like a child''. Indonesian officials have added to the tension by suggesting Singaporean companies may be partly responsible for the fires.
Wilmar International Ltd, Golden Agri-Resources Ltd and First Resources Ltd, Singapore-based firms with palm oil concessions in Indonesia, defended their position, saying they used only mechanical means to clear land.
Commentators say an effete United Nations should prevent Indonesia from burning its few remaining patches of tropical forest in order to create scratch plantations. Borneo and other islands are burning; and our children will never see an orang-utan except in a picture.
But with America in depression and Japan only looking for cheap timber, the forest fires will lay waste to many dreams.