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What You Need To Know About The HAZE In Singapore

Anyone who’s stepped outside recently can tell you, “the haze” is back.

According to an article by The Straits Times, the haze in Singapore may be back to stay as the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) — a measure of air quality here — is creeping towards unhealthy levels.

And as of 18 September 2019, PSI readings across the island hit unhealthy levels.

Even if you have no understanding of PSI readings, you only have to look outside to know this is not good.

What is going on?

Logging and burning of forests to clear land for cultivation is a practice as old as farming. Deforestation in Indonesia began to take off in the 1970s as they saw a dramatic economic benefit in developing industries and they haven’t looked back. Since that time, deforestation of Indonesia has steadily increased.

Known as “slash and burn,” this agricultural technique is cheap, effective, quick and disastrous for the environment. While slash and burn clearance is illegal, many blame corruption and bribery between the Indonesian government and large corporations who operate there for this persistent problem. The fires and consequent haze only seem to be increasing in both frequency and intensity.

The fires can be particularly bad during the dry season and when winds blow from the south or south-west.

What is being done about it?

In June 2013, the haze in Singapore reached a record high PSI reading of 371, prompting outrage among Singapore’s citizens and government. In September 2014, Indonesia’s parliament finally ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (which had been signed in 2002!). Under the agreement, companies are liable to pay hefty fines if they are found causing unhealthy levels of haze. For example, for each day of unhealthy haze, a company can be fined US$80,000. The maximum penalty is capped at US$1.6 million.

However as with any multi-national agreement, implementing and enforcing the fines can be difficult and complicated. Indonesia ratified the agreement with the express understanding there sovereignty would remain unchallenged. Therefore, it is difficult for Singapore (or any other ASEAN nation) to step in and “police” the affairs of corporations and the Indonesian government. Because Singapore is such a large economic powerhouse in the region, some companies may be responsive to pressure from Singapore to curb haze pollution especially if the corporations also operate in Singapore. In order for Singapore to investigate, it must have cooperation from the Indonesia government. As the issue of haze only worsens, hopefully the two nations will see the mutual benefits of increased cooperation.

Singapore has also been working closely with the Indonesian government to try to control and monitor the haze. Additionally, Singapore has recognized the need to move beyond “monitoring” and has been working with farmers to help them develop more sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices.

Cloud seeding, a controversial practice with both critics and supporters, only adds another layer of complexity to the haze issue. While it does provide a short term fix for the haze, as all governments continue to seek ways to combat, control and contain, environmental problems, cloud seeding practices are likely (hopefully) going to be monitored and adjusted carefully.

What can I do?

  • Don’t panic but be smart. Limit your time outdoors.
  • Keep windows shut and if you have an air purifier, keep it on and check to make sure your filters are new and working properly.
  • If you don’t have an air purifier, keep the air con on. It can help filter some dust (though not as well as an air purifier). And, if you are particularly worried about long term air pollution and environmental hazards, you may be opposed to keeping it running.
  • Do not exercise outdoors.
  • Haze can be particularly irritating for elderly, children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.
  • Drink more water. Water is the best way to rid your body of toxins.
  • Build up your immunity with foods rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • If you cannot avoid long term exposure outdoors, wear a mask to cover your nose and mouth.
  • Educate yourself. These issues can’t be left to corporations and governments alone to tackle. The more informed you are, the better you can contribute to creating a healthier planet.
  • Purchase a N95 mask! Pharmacies like Watsons and Guardian stock these masks – but, reports have shown that several stores islandwide has sold out of these masks. Consider purchasing online from stores like Redmart or other stores.

By Kathleen Siddell, August 2015 / Updated by Melodi Ghui, September 2019, image: The Straits Times

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More on The Finder:

Great Websites for Information on the Haze, Your Health and How You Can Help
The Truth about Palm Oil and the Singapore Haze
Traditional Chinese Medicine to Help Alleviate Health Problems Associated with Haze
Common Childhood Allergies and How to Treat Them

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