Haze hits Singapore as hot spots in Indonesia's Sumatra increase

By Reuters   October 7, 2023 | 04:16 pm PT
Haze hits Singapore as hot spots in Indonesia's Sumatra increase
Police officers use a hose in effort to extinguish wildfires in Ogan Ilir regency, South Sumatra province, Indonesia, September 20, 2023, in this photo taken by Antara Foto via Reuters
Singapore's air quality fell into the unhealthy range on Saturday, official readings showed, as increased forest fires from neighbouring Indonesia brought haze to the city-state.

At 2 p.m. (0600 GMT), the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index readings in the eastern and central part of Singapore was above 100, levels at which people are advised to reduce prolonged strenuous outdoor activities.

Transborder haze is a perennial problem in Southeast Asia as regulatory loopholes make it hard for authorities to eliminate Indonesia's slash-and-burn land clearing practices.

Singapore's National Environment Agency said 212 hot spots were detected on Indonesia's nearby Sumatra island on Friday, up from 65 on Thursday and 15 the day before.

A brief shift in the wind direction on Friday afternoon blew some of the lighter haze toward Singapore, worsening the island nation's in air quality, it said.

The traditional land clearing methods are used almost every year to clear land in Indonesia for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations that public records show are owned both by domestic and foreign or overseas-listed companies.

Indonesia was dousing forest fires with water sprayed from helicopters and inducing rain through cloud-seeding, the environment minister said on Friday, denying that hazardous haze was crossing borders.

Earlier in the week Malaysia urged Indonesia to take action on the fires within Indonesia's borders as the air quality in Malaysia hit unhealthy levels.

Indonesia's president Joko Widodo told reporters on Saturday extreme dry weather was causing wildfires in many areas, but the situation was much better than in 2015 when 2.6 million hectares (6424739 acres) of land got burned, according to an estimate from the World Bank.

He urged the authorities and the local government to immediately put out any fires before they spread.

In 2015 and 2019, such fires burned millions of hectares of land in Indonesia and sent haze billowing across several Southeast Asian countries, generating record emissions, scientists have said.

The most severe haze conditions recorded in Singapore were in September 2015, when the 24-hour index exceeded 300 to the hazardous level, prompting school closures.

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