HAZY SKIES AS OLD ISSUES RESURFACE

Written by Bryan Goh

What Happened?

For the first time since 2016, air quality in Singapore hit unhealthy levels on Saturday (14 September) as the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) went beyond 100. This came on the back of a rise in the number of hotspots in Indonesia and a shift in prevailing winds. Indonesia’s National Agency for Disaster Countermeasure (BNPB) said that more than 3,600 fires have been detected in Sumatra and Borneo, while the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre has flagged Sumatra and Kalimantan as sources of haze engulfing the region. More than 300 schools and kindergartens in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor have been ordered to close on Sunday (15 September) after the haze reached “very unhealthy” levels. Singapore’s Ministry of Education also announced that it will consider closing schools should the PSI enter “hazardous” levels.

Situation in Indonesia

Back in Indonesia, frontline soldiers and firefighters are working round the clock to put out blazes raging across rainforests and farmlands. These fires are usually illegally set by farmers  clearing land for farming. Thousands of civilians have been affected, with one Pekanbaru clinic treating as many as 75 smog patients daily. Meanwhile, the Indonesian authorities resorted to water bombing to put out the fires, with helicopters pouring millions of litres of water on forests to douse the flames. Many are concerned over the long term impacts of such forest fires, especially the effect on global warming and after the Amazon Rainforest fire just a month ago.

Finger Pointing and Diplomacy

Unsurprisingly, diplomatic disputes have risen over the hazy skies, with Malaysia Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahatir preparing to write a letter to Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo about the transboundary haze. However, Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) maintained that forest fires in Indonesia were not the main culprit of the haze in Malaysia, and how Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and other neighbouring countries were also responsible. Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli spoke on the need for stronger cooperation amongst ASEAN countries and stakeholders, while offering Singapore’s help to fight the forest fires. Indonesia, however, claims to have things under control and will not be accepting any foreign help.

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