Indonesian fires make Singapore air ‘unhealthy’
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Indonesian fires make Singapore air ‘unhealthy’

City-state sounds the first alarm in annual Southeast Asian haze season

Haze, a seasonal occurrence almost every year, hangs over apartment blocks in Singapore in October 2016. (Reuters File Photo)
Haze, a seasonal occurrence almost every year, hangs over apartment blocks in Singapore in October 2016. (Reuters File Photo)

SINGAPORE - Singapore’s air quality fell into the "unhealthy" range on Saturday, official readings showed, as increased forest fires from neighbouring Indonesia brought haze to the city-state.

At 2pm, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index readings in the eastern and central part of Singapore was above 100, levels at which people are advised to reduce prolonged strenuous outdoor activities.

Transborder haze is a perennial problem in Southeast Asia as regulatory loopholes make it hard for authorities to eliminate Indonesia’s slash-and-burn land clearing practices.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency said 212 hot spots were detected on Indonesia’s nearby Sumatra island on Friday, up from 65 on Thursday and 15 the day before.

A brief shift in the wind direction on Friday afternoon blew some of the lighter haze toward Singapore, worsening the island nation’s in air quality, it said.

The traditional land clearing methods are used almost every year to clear land in Indonesia for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations that public records show are owned both by domestic and foreign or overseas-listed companies.

Indonesia was dousing forest fires with water sprayed from helicopters and inducing rain through cloud-seeding, the environment minister said on Friday, denying that hazardous haze was crossing borders.

Earlier in the week Malaysia urged Indonesia to take action on the fires within Indonesia’s borders as the air quality in Malaysia hit unhealthy levels.

In 2015 and 2019, such fires burned millions of hectares of land in Indonesia and sent haze billowing across several Southeast Asian countries, generating record emissions, scientists have said.

The most severe haze conditions recorded in Singapore were in September 2015, when the 24-hour index exceeded 300, a hazardous level that prompted school closures.

Asean agriculture and forestry ministers earlier this week agreed to take collective action to minimise and eventually eliminate crop burning in the region, amid deteriorating air quality and concern about cross-border haze.

Ministers said in a statement that they “recognised the need for sustainable alternatives to crop burning, including the adoption of innovative and environmentally friendly agricultural practices”.

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