Air quality ‘unhealthy’ as haze worsens in Singapore, Emergency declared in Sumatra’s Riau province


In 2013, Singapore experienced the worst haze with Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hitting 400, owing to forest fires in Indonesia and the resultant smog being blown over to Singapore. The haze which is a yearly occurence, has affected the city-state of Singapore yet again this year as a result of farmers in neighbouring Sumatra burning forests to clear their land for agriculture.

Source: NEA
Source: NEA

According to a media advisory issued by National Environment Agency (NEA) dated September 13th, air quality in Singapore is expected to be in the mid to high sections of the Unhealthy range in the next 24 hours, and may enter the low section of the Very Unhealthy range.

As at 4:30 pm on Tuesday, the 24-hour PSI was 130-154,  in the Unhealthy range. The 3-hour PSI was 137. 

Also, satellite images showed that the hotspots in Sumatra rose to 982 on Monday, caused by forest fires in the provinces of South Sumatra, Jambi and Riau. A hotspot is a satellite image pixel with high infrared intensity, indicating a heat source, in this case forest fires. With the number of hotspots increasing, the air quality in these provinces reached the ‘hazardous level’ with PSI hitting 301, forcing airports and schools to close. Indonesia has declared a state of emergency in Sumatra’s Riau province after forest fires put its air quality at a dangerous level.

The smoke from these fires have caused the neighbouring countries, Singapore and Malaysia to be blanketed in haze in recent days, with air quality reaching ‘unhealthy levels’.

Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told Channel NewsAsia that, “The government is serious about putting out the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan but it would take up to three weeks”. 

Currently, Jakarta has set up a task force to tackle the situation and has also deployed about 1,050 soldiers to south Sumatra, one of the main centres of the fires. If necessary, Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) would also send in additional helicopters to help water-bomb fires.

“We’ve deployed soldiers. We’ve conducted water bombing in Riau with 18 million litres of water, in South Sumatra and Jambi, with 12 million litres of water, cloud-seeding in Riau with 120 tonnes of salt and 56 tonnes of salt in South Sumatra. We’ve done everything,” Mr Nurbaya explained.

The haze is afffecting health of the residents of Sumatra too. South Sumatra alone has reported 22,585 cases of acute respiratory tract infections since Friday.

Early on Friday, Singapore’s Pollutants Standard Index rose to 248, which categorizes the air as “very unhealthy”, or one level below the index’s highest air pollution category of “hazardous”.

Mitigation measures: 

As the schools in Singapore reopened for term four today, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has assured that the ministry and schools would take mitigation measures based on the health advisory and air quality level for the day.

MOE said it would consider closing all primary and secondary schools to students if the health advisory for the next day indicates air quality to be at the hazardous level.

On Sunday, many outdoor activities were cancelled due to haze and poor air quality. The Singtel-Singapore Cancer Society Race Against Cancer, originally scheduled to take place at 7am, was cancelled altogether. The POSB Passion Run for Kids, a charity event held by the People’s Association and POSB bank, was cancelled.

Also, the organisers of the Singapore Grand Prix which is scheduled on September 20th are alert over the haze threat and are monitoring the situation in case it worsens and effects driver visibility. “In the event that the haze caused visibility, public health or operational issues Singapore GP would work closely with the relevant agencies before making any collective decisions regarding the event.”, a Singapore GP spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters.

With PSI levels inching above 100, authorities advise healthy people to reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor activity. The elderly, pregnant women and children should do as little of such activity as as possible, while those suffering from chronic lung or heart disease should not engage in these activities.