Haze from Indonesia chokes Singapore
18 June 2013, 13:55
Singapore - Singaporeans rolled back military training, kept
cough-stricken children indoors and considered wearing protective masks to work
on Tuesday after a smoky haze triggered by forest fires in neighbouring
Indonesia caused air pollution to briefly hit its worst level in nearly 16
The Pollutant Standards Index, Singapore's main measure to
determine air quality, crept into the "unhealthy" classification on Monday
as smoke from roaring blazes on Indonesia's Sumatra island drifted across the
sea and cast a gray pall over the city-state's skyscrapers.
The index reached a reading of 155 on Monday night, the
highest level since late 1997, when officials reported a 226 reading.
On Tuesday, the reading mostly hovered between 104 and 123,
still within the "unhealthy" range of between 101 and 200.
Smoke haze is a nearly annual problem for Singapore and its
northern neighbour Malaysia, often beginning in the middle of the year when
farmers in Indonesia seek to clear land cheaply by starting fires. The issue
sometimes strains ties between the countries, with Malaysia and Singapore
urging Indonesia to do more to prevent illegal burning.
Malaysia has been only lightly affected so far this year,
with pollution readings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's largest city, not breaching
the unhealthy mark Tuesday. Indonesia has reportedly said part of the current
problem is caused by peat blazes that firefighters are struggling to put out
amid hot, dry weather.
In Singapore, defence ministry spokesperson Colonel Kenneth
Liow said the armed forces have "reduced physical and outdoor training
accordingly" after the pollution index exceeded 100.
Landscaper Hedrick Kwan blamed the haze after his two young
sons started coughing as an acrid smell of burning filled the air.
"When they woke up today, it was worse," he said.
"We usually leave the windows open but now we can't do that because of all
the dust and smoke."
The National Environment Agency has advised Singaporeans,
especially the elderly, young children and people with respiratory problems, to
avoid prolonged exposure outdoors.
Melissa Cheah, a financial sector worker, said her office
has discussed the possibility of advising employees to wear protective face
Singapore's Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said
his agency is offering assistance to Indonesia to put out the forest fires.
Hospitals and clinics are bracing for more patients in the
"Based on what we have seen over the years, when the
haze hits us, it takes about three to four days before we see all these
additional patients coming in for medication," said family physician
Sarani Ng Omar, who expected a rise in asthma-related cases, nasal problems and