It has been the talk of the nation and it even made international news. The Singapore haze descended on us last Monday, and the acrid yellow bonfire smoke has only just started to desist. I am suffering from cabin fever and my local pool is still closed, with the National Environmental Agency continuing to encourage residents go stay indoors. The smog reached over 400 on the Pollution Standard Index (PSI) yesterday, which is the most toxic air Singapore has ever recorded, and it seems as though the problem may stick around for weeks longer.
Smog shrouding the Marina Bay Sands hotel yesterday (via Getty Images):
What is causing the smog?
The local news sites are mainly focusing on two things – the cause and who is responsible. The annual deforestation in Indonesia has caused some environmental concerns before, especially in 1997 where Singapore suffered a similar bout of smoggy skies. This time round, farmers near Sumatra are illegally burning the land in order to prepare it for crops at minimum expense, but at the cost of polluting the air in Indonesia and neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore. In order to reduce the smoke in the air, Indonesian authorities have deployed choppers spraying water, and are also attempting ‘cloud-seeding’ techniques to produce rain clouds and douse the flames. However, as it is the dry season in this part of SE Asia, the smog may continue ‘for weeks’ according to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Tensions are growing between Indonesia and Singapore after a political regroup in Jakarta on Thursday, where the Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Peoples’ Welfare told Singaporeans to stop ‘acting like children’ to the haze epidemic.
Effects of the smog
Although Singaporeans initially responded with some humour, the longer the skies remain hazy the more concerned its residents are becoming for their health. Common symptoms include sore eyes, throats and trouble breathing. Face masks and eye drops were so high in demand that pharmaceutical stores sold out. School children were sent home and their outdoor activities have been postponed until after June. Even the army was forced to abandon its outdoor drills. Family businesses who rely on the popular al fresco food courts suffered as citizens stayed inside, and the fast food delivery chains like McDonald’s and KFC cancelled their home delivery services to protect their moped-driving staff. To appease those stuck inside, national media tycoon StarHub offered free previews of channels on their cable service. It’s estimated that Singapore stands to lose billions in tourism revenue, with visitors cutting short their stay and others cancelling flights in favour of destinations with fresher air, and parks and swimming pools that are safe for the public to use.
A potential remedy that my local supermarket was promoting:
‘Businesses hit as Singapore haze moves in’, by Paneet Pal Singh, BBC Business News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22999205
‘Indonesia says Singapore ‘acting like a child’ over smog,’ by unknown author, New Straits Times, http://www.nst.com.my/latest/indonesia-says-singapore-behaving-like-a-child-over-haze-1.304002
‘Apocalyptic scenes as smog engulfs Singapore,’ by unknown author, MSN News, http://news.xin.msn.com/en/photos-apocalyptic-scenes-as-smog-engulfs-singapore-6#image=1
‘Singapore smog reaches ‘hazardous’ all time high on fires,’ by Kyunghee Park and Jasmine Ng, Bloomberg News, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-19/singapore-urges-indonesia-to-name-firms-in-worst-smog-since-1997.html
‘How to make jokes about the Singapore smog,’ by Natalie Kay-Es-El, WordPress, http://nkayesel.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/how-to-make-jokes-about-the-sg-haze/
‘Singapore haze craze lights a fire on social media,’ by Steven Millward, Tech in Asia, http://www.techinasia.com/singapore-haze-infographic/