Region chokes on ‘haze’ again

Smog has made life difficult for Singaporeans in previous years. Source: Wikimedia

“Haze” has returned to Singapore with the air smelling of burning from fires on Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo, which have started polluting the region’s air again.  

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) had reached 58-80, in the moderate range.

The PSI measures sulphur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, including particles that enter the lungs more easily.

Three hotspots were detected in central Sumatra with smoke visible, the NEA said, adding that the low hotspot count was due to cloudy conditions.

The latest satellite image on Friday morning showed some hotspots in central Sumatra, the NEA said.

It said wind convergence over Singapore could have also contributed to the deterioration in the air quality. The NEA said the health impact of smog was dependent on one’s health, the PSI level and the length and intensity of outdoor activity.

“Given the air quality forecast for the next 12 hours, everyone can continue with normal activities. People who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention,” it said.


“The main cause of the haze and smell that Singapore is experiencing is likely to be from the forest and peatland fires from land clearing practises in Sumatra,” said Assistant Professor Janice Lee of the Nanyang Technological University.

Lee said the chances of the haze continuing into next month were high, as it was still the dry season and frequent land-clearing fires would continue.

“The wetter conditions from La Niña are expected to help douse the fires but international climate models do not indicate that these conditions have kicked in yet. Presently, dry weather conditions prevail in Sumatra and Kalimantan and we can expect smoke from fires due to the southwesterly winds in the region,” she added.

Indonesia’s police claim to have stepped up arrests in connection with forest fires, as the authorities attempt to demonstrate increased efforts to stop the burning.

Illegal slash-and-burn clearance has been a perennial problem on the two giant islands, where farmers set their crops on fire to quickly clear them for new planting, causing choking pollution across the region.

In 2015, Jakarta said it had increased efforts to stop the burning. It suspended four corporations connected to pulp and paper plantations that were accused of burning crops and reportedly arrested 70 plantation owners.

Indonesia produced so much carbon dioxide during last year’s dry season that it pushed the archipelago up to fourth in global carbon emissions for 2015. The fires alone tripled Indonesia’s annual emissions for 2015.