Singapore enveloped by Sumatran smog

Air quality has hit a record low in Singapore this week as forest and land fires in Indonesian Sumatra cover the region with a thick pall of grey smog.

Pollution can be a problem in Singapore and on Monday harmful particulates reached their highest level this year.

Annie Then, a spokesperson for the National Environment Agency, told edie that while Singapore’s air quality meets standards laid down by the World Health Organisation, smoke haze is an annual issue in the dry season between July and October.

This week’s problem came after winds carrying smoke from the fires in Jambi and South Sumatra shifted, bringing the haze to the shores of Singapore.

A spokesperson for the National Environment Agency said: “Early this morning, the wind direction had changed to the westerly direction and this had helped to alleviate the smoke haze situation in Singapore.

“However, the wind direction has since changed back to south-southwesterly by mid-morning. As in yesterday afternoon, the south-southwesterly winds had carried the smoke haze from the land and forest fires from Jambi and South Sumatra to Singapore.

“The smoke haze has also obscured the sunlight and lowered the temperature and visibility. The 24 hour PSI level at 4pm is 73, which is in the ‘moderate’ range. The level is the highest recorded this year.”

Ms Then told edie that the Singaporean authorities work closely with their Indonesian counterparts to help them deal with land and forest fires.

“NEA’s Meteorological Services Division currently hosts the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) which alerts the ASEAN region, including Indonesia to outbreaks of land and forest fires,” she said.

“The ASMC also provides assessment of weather conditions and monitors the spread of hotspots and smoke haze for the entire ASEAN region, and provides satellite pictures of hotspots, together with the coordinates of the hotspots, to Indonesian authorities.”

The ASMC’s eyes in the sky showed that there are currently almost 100 hotspots of dense smoke haze in Sumatra mainly in Jambi and South Sumatra.

NEA also provide additional training to Indonesian officials in monitoring forest fires using satellite imagery. In August last year, 54 fire-fighters from Singapore were deployed to assist with fire-fighting operations in Riau. A military aircraft was also sent to assist Indonesia in carrying out cloud seeding operations in Riau.

The current dry weather conditions in southern parts of Sumatra are expected to persist until mid-October, which means more fires will be started both accidentally and intentionally as a land management technique.

The smoke from Indonesia has become an annual regional problem that has angered the country’s neighbours (see related story).

As well as a resistance to political pressure to curb the burning, Indonesia faces practical problems in putting them out, as many are inaccessible in forests several days travel overland from the nearest road.

Sam Bond

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