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The Singapore Haze. What’s It All About?

Stepping outside after 3 days behind closed doors and windows, I keep wondering when Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise will arrive. The local streets are subdued, no Mums wheeling buggies, no kids in any of the playgrounds. It all feels a little eerie, especially as everything is bathed in a pall of unrelenting smoke. My daughter asked the question that I’m sure many of us have been thinking, if it’s this bad here, what is it like in Indonesia?

The Facts

The Singapore Haze is caused by winds carrying smoke from forest fires in Sumatra, usually during the period between May to October. This year has been particularly bad with the PSI reading hitting a new all-time high of 401 at 12 noon on Friday 21st June. If, like me, you want to know what this number actually means, air pollution levels are measured through a system called the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI). A PSI value in the range of 0 to 50 is considered ‘Good’ while a PSI value in the range of 101 to 200 is considered ‘Unhealthy’. Anything above 300 is considered ‘Hazardous’.
“General practitioner Philip Koh said he had seen a 20 per cent spike in consultations in the past week, and estimated that about 80 per cent of all his patients are suffering from haze-related ailments.” Telegraph.co.uk
When the air quality reaches 'Unhealthy' levels, it is more likely to trigger mild aggravation of respiratory symptoms among those suffering from chronic lung or heart conditions. For others, it may affect trigger coughs, eye irritation and sneezing. The NEA has summarised the air quality categories based on PSI and how they affect your general health. For more information, please visit NEA’s website. The Singapore Haze is fueled by Indonesian slash and burn farming, popular with plantation owners and farmers who want to clear land cheaply. And while the smog has hit Singapore and Malaysia often through the years, the severity of the current situation has strained diplomatic ties. Officials in Singapore and Malaysia say Jakarta must do more to halt the debilitating fires on the island of Sumatra. it is recommendted to wear haze protection mask when the air pollutant index is high

Is It Worth It?

To answer that question, we need to measure 2013’s fires with others of comparable intensity. According to Remote Sensing Solutions GMBH, approximately 22 million acres of land were damaged by the 1997 and 1998 fires in Indonesia, largely caused by timber and palm oil plantation companies clearing land. The 0.80 to 2.57 billion tons of carbon released during that time was the biggest ever measured, corresponding to 13 to 40 percent of annual global production caused by burning fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas. The estimated financial consequences of the fires were over $3 billion from losses in timber, agriculture, and non-timber products, plus the loss of hydrological and soil conservation services as well as biodiversity benefits. Haze from the fires cost an additional $1.4 billion for health treatment and lost tourism revenues. Still Singaporeans are a resilient bunch, I’m sure as face masks start popping up everywhere many more people will remember the 10 year anniversary of how we survived the SARS outbreak. Face masks are designed to keep out fine particles that travel in the air, although surgical and paper masks do not provide the same amount of protection from airborne pollutants. You can buy respirator masks from commercial pharmacies as well as SingHealth/ National Health Group polyclinics. Always consult with the pharmacists in attendance for advice on choosing the right mask and the proper instructions to use them. If you are traveling from Changi Airport, please do check your travel arrangements and double check that your travel insurance is up to date. You should also check the status of Singapore's other civilian airport if you are departing from Seletar, this was closed at one point and its status will depend on the severity of future conditions. Please also take extra care on the roads and consider delaying your journey should visibility become poor. As always, DirectAsia wishes you and your loved ones well. For more info about NEA Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hourly reading For more info about SARS outbreak