Monday, 24 June 2013

Fighting the Haze

Only rain can help Singapore now

Fire hazard: An aerial photo shows forest fires in Riau on Thursday. The US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite has detected 148 fires throughout the province (Antara/Virna Puspa Setyorini)

As haze from forest fires in Sumatra wreaked havoc on the prosperous city-state of Singapore, Indonesian government has suggested an imminent downpour as the only way to bring an end to the crisis.

Forestry Ministry general secretary Hadi Daryanto said on Thursday that Indonesia could not guarantee that necessary measures taken to combat the fires would be effective without a miracle in the form of a heavy downpour.

Hadi quoted a forecast from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), which predicted a downpour on June 28. 

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Filipinos in Singapore complain about the haze, many fleeing back to Philippines, 23 Jun 2013

MANILA, Philippines—For one Filipino, living amid the haze that has blanketed Singapore for several days now is like standing beside a barbecue grill all day. Only the smoke is everywhere, does not smell as good, and there is virtually nowhere to go. 

Living in the city-state for five years now, the Filipino said she heard of two friends who decided to return to the Philippines for the meantime as “they can’t take it anymore.” 

“You can smell it more now. Parang yun siga sa umaga (It’s like a bonfire in the morning). But here it’s all over the country. Amoy siga ang buong Singapore (All of Singapore smells like a bonfire),” she said.

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Pinoys complaining of difficulty in breathing in smog-covered Singapore

As Singapore continues to be enveloped by smog from slash-and-burn activities in Indonesia, Filipinos in the city-state have been complaining of difficulty in breathing.

Through GMA's citizen journalism arm YouScoop, Lovely Diana Reynante, a Filipina residing in Pasir Ris in Singapore, shared a video showing the fog brought about by smoke blown from Indonesian illegal forest fires to clear out land in Sumatra island.

The Philippine Embassy in Singapore has urged Filipinos to stay indoors to protect themselves from the dangerous haze that blanketed the city-state. In an advisory posted on its website, the embassy said Filipinos should close their doors and windows and clean their air conditioning filtering system to clear their house of the smog.

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Singapore haze choking Filipinos, too

In this combination photo, Singapore’s Central Business District, or CBD, is seen on Thursday with unhealthy levels of haze, top, and at hazardous levels where the CBD is no longer visible on Friday, bottom.

For one Filipino, living amid the haze that has blanketed Singapore for several days now is like standing beside a barbecue grill all day. Only the smoke is everywhere, does not smell as good, and there is virtually nowhere to go

“This haze is really extreme. I never imagined I would experience this. It’s like a movie, an end-of-the world feeling. You have nowhere to go and you feel like you’re suffocating but you can’t do anything,” said the Filipino, a software consultant who asked not to be named to protect her employment

Living in the city-state for five years now, the Filipino said she heard of two friends who decided to return to the Philippines for the meantime as “they can’t take it anymore.”

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Sumatra hotspots double to 118 on Saturday

Thick smoke from raging forest fires rise in Pelalawan regency in Riau province in Sumatra on June 21, 2013

The number of hot spots detected in Sumatra via satellite NOAA-18 on Saturday rose almost two fold to 118 from 64 on Friday.

According to a statement from the Department of Environment (DOE), the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) in Singapore reported that the haze was becoming thicker from fires in Riau Province, Sumatera Tengah, Indonesia.

It said winds blowing from the southwest had carried haze from Riau to the central and southern part of the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

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Not Being Hazy About Haze

Singapore is facing a multi-dimensional crisis due to the haze. The crisis has an environmental origin but it is manifesting itself upon several planes – health is the most obvious. However, given the acute and protracted nature of the phenomenon we will soon see the effects on social, economic and political dimensions as well.

How will we, as a nation, cope with the haze? What needs to be done? First, the nature of the challenge must be recognised by the political, corporate and social leaders. The haze poses structural and persistent risks to Singaporeans and the Singaporean economy. It is likely to disrupt to economic, educational and social routines and for a protracted period of time, measured in months not weeks or days.

Second, the government must recognise that its responsibility is first and foremost to the well-being of its people and not the important but ultimately secondary consideration of maintaining good international relations. If required, we can afford to tear and repair the bilateral relationship with Indonesia but what we cannot expect is to tear and repair the relationship of trust between our leaders and Singaporeans. That has much more divisive and insidious consequences. Singapore has to get tough with Indonesia to ensure that the effective action is taken at the origin of the problem. What good is a long working relationship if it is of little help when we need it most? Financial sanctions and diplomatic action at international forums such as the ASEAN and the United Nations should be considered should our entreaties to the Indonesian government be met with further recalcitrance or petulance as evident by comments by certain Indonesian politicians.

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Use the law to fight the haze

IT'S become an almost annual ritual for Singaporeans during the South-West Monsoon season: the haze is back.

Effortlessly but sadly, I have built my own Pollutant Standards Index meter. I look out my NUS office window. When I cannot see the Pasir Panjang port cranes, just over 1,000m away, I know that the PSI exceeds 200.

How to solve this vexing issue? Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has suggested that consumers bring pressure on agricultural producers through "name and shame". The idea is good but the challenge is: How would we know who is burning the peat lands in Sumatra?

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Singaporeans Slam Leaders for Not Ordering Work Halt Amid Smog

Smog conditions in Singapore have worsened to unprecedented levels, but a legion of workers in the island state have visibly kept plugging away outdoors, prompting public concern for their health and well-being.

The government has so far resisted calls to order a general halt to all outdoor work activities even though smoke from forest fires in Indonesia has pushed Singapore’s air quality into “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” levels for long stretches this week. Officials said they may issue so-called “stop work” orders if conditions worsen, but stressed that any measures would be gradual and targeted, and would complement existing guidelines requiring employers to look after their staff.

On Friday, as smog conditions intensified to a new record, some citizens took to the Internet to criticize their leaders for perceived inaction. Many posted photographs of construction sites across the island nation that purportedly show many laborers still working outdoors—some without masks—despite the hazardous air quality. 

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Haze 2013: What’s Happening Behind The Scenes in Singapore?

Don’t be led to believe that the government’s inaction over the haze is due simply because of their ineffectiveness. The government’s blasé attitude towards the haze and their delayed actions is also to buy time for the backlog of their undoings.

The government has been waiting for this opportunity to come for a long time.

Within days of the start of the haze, the news was put out that The Straits Times editor was simply warned over the illegal poll that they had conducted during the by-elections earlier this year. It took 6 months before The Straits Times was only “warned” whereas the government had not waited a second to arrest Demon-cratic artist Leslie Chew and filmmaker Lynn Lee.

How PM Lee Should Address The Haze

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Why is there no existing crisis plan to manage haze crisis?

Over the past week, everyone of us in Singapore has been suffering from the horrendous haze, the worst-ever, caused by the slash and burn fires in Indonesia. In addition, we have been frustrated and very disappointed by the lack of leadership shown by our government in putting in place measures that will calm, assure and help the people who are increasingly stressed out by the haze.

There have been numerous on and offline criticisms made about the ineptitude of our government. And lest I be accused of jumping on the bandwagon just to take pot shots at the ministers, let me explain very clearly what I am disappointed with and why I expect much more from them.

Companies that run a business know the necessity of crisis planning and of having business continuity plans. Not every one does it but the larger organisations like the MNCs would have planned for various crisis scenarios and have appointed committees to tackle those crises should they ever arise. This is called pro-active planning so that no one gets caught flat-footed when trouble erupts suddenly. Damage and losses are contained, reputations are preserved and employees, shareholders and consumers are comforted when management show that they have a good grip on the the crisis and are managing it well. If crisis planning is important for those running businesses, it is even more imperative for governments that are responsible for the lives of millions.

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Manpower Ministry criticised for not issuing stop-work order

A view of workers at a construction site near Spottiswoode Residences on Friday 21 June morning. The PSI hit 401 on Friday (Photo: inSing) 

At 1pm on Thursday, 20 June, the Pollutants Standard Index (PSI) hit a record-high of 371 in Singapore. PSI levels 300 and above are considered hazardous. PSI stayed high throughout the day, ranging between the “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” levels.

As reported by The Online Citizen and others, construction workers around Singapore continued to be deployed to work at construction sites, even as the hazy conditions persisted

This prompted many members of the public to urge the Government to issue a stop-work order for these workers, to protect them from the harmful effects of the pollution.


The government can do no right, it seems

The Internet is such a confusing and overwhelming platform at the moment (and I recognise the irony of penning this piece). Most are dismayed by the lack of decisive leadership, but I think the government has – finally – recognised the severity of this haze crisis. Many refuse to trust it, but do its job, it will. To contend that the agencies and their employees are lackadaisical, apathetic, or resting pedantically on their laurels would be grossly unfair. If you compare the actions taken by the military and the civil authorities, it boils down to the lack of contingency preparations and experience

Who could have anticipated the severity of this phenomenon? We say “yes we should have seen this coming”, “we’ve been plagued by the haze since forever”, “the government should have engaged in more diplomatic overtures”, but hindsight’s 20/20.

Not that we should expect nothing, but the government can’t do everything. Some say a Stop Work Order should be issued, but what will the implications be? Or should the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) determine the outdoor industries most affected, before crafting solutions? Why shouldn’t employers shoulder some of the responsibilities (back to the idea that the government must do everything and anything)? I think they do, without having to wait for some enforcement order from MOM. Some say that we do not have the privilege of time, but I’d rather the government evaluate all the options in a more measured manner (which I trust it is doing), instead of making hasty decisions or announcements that might generate more panic and unease.

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14 companies identified as alleged perpetrators in land and forest fires in Riau

Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said 14 companies had been identified for alleged involvement in land and forest fires in Riau.

“According to data from our staff carrying out investigations, eight companies were identified [for being involved in the land and forest fires]; but, the number has now increased to 14 companies,” said Balthasar in Pekanbaru as quoted by Antara news agency.

Following up on the identification, the minister said a further investigation would be carried out to disclose where the companies came from.

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Singapore Presses Jakarta to Rein In Smog
Children near burned land in Indonesia's Riau province, above. Singapore is protesting the worsening smog from fires in neighboring Indonesia

Smog accumulating over Singapore from fires in Indonesia worsened again on Thursday, prompting concern about widening economic and diplomatic fallout, amid government warnings the haze could cover the small, island country for an extended period.

With public anger rising, Singapore pressed its neighbor for urgent action against the purposely kindled forest fires that have billowed into one of Southeast Asia's worst air-pollution crises.

On Thursday, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned the haze could smother the country for weeks, or even months, due to persistent dry weather and unfavorable winds.

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Haze comes, government in tizzz

Not only has the government’s response to this week’s haze problem been one of weak-kneed impotency, the absence of any effective solution shows how little has been done to prepare for what has, over the last two decades, become an annually recurring problem.

We knew as far back as middle last year that the El Nino weather pattern was returning for 2013. We knew it would mean a hotter, dryer year than normal, so not only would haze be a virtually certain problem, it may turn out to be prolonged and more intense. And yet, when it hit, it looked as if the authorities were caught by surprise.

Falsetto yelps came out from ministers’ mouths, telling citizens they were going to Jakarta to supplicate some action on the Indonesian government’s part. So far, all we’ve gotten are photo calls and excuses why nothing much can be done. “Only rain can help Singapore now” says a headline in the Jakarta Post, 20 June 2013. It quoted Indonesian Forestry Ministry general secretary Hadi Daryanto saying that Indonesia could not guarantee that measures taken to combat the fires would be effective “without a miracle in the form of a heavy downpour.”

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Singapore offers RI help to put out Riau fires

The Indonesian Embassy in Singapore says that the Singaporean government has offered the Indonesian government assistance to extinguish the peatland fires in Riau province.

The peatland fires in Pelintung and Sepahat, which started last week, have engulfed around 850 hectares, 460 hectares of which have been successfully put out.

“Singapore’s minister for the environment and water resources has offered us a hand to put out the fires in Riau,” the spokesman of the Indonesian Embassy, Simon, said as quoted by Antara news agency on Thursday.

Should we pay Indonesia to stop poisoning us?

The recent flare-up of the Indonesian forest fire problem and the deterioration in our air quality is understandably also causing temperatures to rise in Singapore. Our neighbor Malaysia is also equally if not more severely affected. This happens year after year causing severe respiratory problems for those afflicted with asthma, forcing schools to cancel outdoor activities and keeping people inside. Yet what is notable is that our government seems unable to come up with any solutions despite the fact that this has been going on since 1997.  In particular they do not seem capable of applying some simple lessons from economics.

Economics teaches us that pollution is an example of a negative externality. A negative externality occurs when a third party has to bear the costs or negative impact of the production of another party.  An example within Singapore would be congestion on the roads.  As the roads become congested due to the increasing number of private cars, public transport users and non-car owners have to bear the negative costs in terms of longer and slower journeys, pollution, noise and congestion.

A positive externality is when the third party benefits from the action or production of others. Those who choose to forgo the comfort of a car are benefiting others.  Growing plants for our own pleasure or use on our balconies ( so long as we guard against mosquitoes) actually benefits the whole environment not just us. A government that invests in education produces a host of positive externalities.

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With PSI crossing the 400 mark, we should stand united against the problem

The PSI has crossed the 400 level this afternoon. With atmospheric pollution well into the “hazardous” range, urgent action needs to be taken to address the crisis. As a nation and as a people, we must stand united against the problem, and seek constructive solutions both to the immediate concern of putting out the forest fires, as well as the longer term concern of reigning in the errant companies responsible for this depraved act against mother nature and against humanity.

I back the Singapore government’s efforts to combat the haze situation, and also urge the government to take fast, appropriate measures to safeguard the health and well-being of all those living in Singapore. Surgical masks must be made readily available, and given free of charge to the poor and needy. Polyclinics and hospitals must be on heightened alert to handle cases of respiratory distress, including chronic conditions worsened by the haze.

On a longer term perspective, the Singapore government must work closely with our ASEAN neighbours to bring diplomatic pressure to bear on Indonesia to reign in and punish the recalcitrant companies that have shown a scant disregard for mother nature and for human health. 

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Sg should just give the dirty money back to Indonesia, then we talk about the haze

The past few days have seen some angry words thrown from Indonesia to us regarding the haze. So far, our leaders have taken the soft tone. That's because they suddenly realise that previous harsh words against our neighbours won't work. I mentioned that here - PM Lee's conciliatory tone on haze towards Indonesia undoes all previous chest-thumping 

I have also mentioned that one of the biggest sore points Indonesia has with us is our harbouring of corrupt ex-officials of the Suharto era, safe from Indonesian laws, as well as their dirty money that comes along with it. This money rightfully belongs to Indonesia. So why are we keeping it? Sg has given loads of excuses. From that there's no extradition treaty ratified to there's not enough evidence given by Indonesia that these are corrupt funds. But that is a lame excuse

Don't we have a policy to reject suspect funds? Why are we keeping such billions if they are suspect in the first place? So even if there's no extradition treaty ratified, and even if the Indonesian govt has no legal hard evidence, the fact is that MAS has a system that finance institutions should be prudent, when they accept large funds. The funds are suspect, they amount to the billions, and they are right here in Singapore. So how did that happen?

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To stop work is also sometimes rational

As citizens we understand that the Government of Singapore probably cannot do much about the haze. The forests are burning in Indonesia and the Indonesian government has not even ratified ASEAN's agreement on transboundary haze pollution. In the face of this, I appreciate that our Prime Minister has said that he will not play megaphone diplomacy by responding to the Indonesian Minister's uncalled for remark about Singaporeans

The Head of NEA is in Indonesia, the Minister for Environment and Water Resources too will be off to Indonesia soon, phone calls are going back and forth between the Ministers of both countries, offers of help to put out the fire have been extended, and all these to arrest the problem as soon as possible. All these are done in the best interest of Singapore. And I support the government's efforts at trying to curb the effects of haze on Singapore.

Why then am I angry at the same time with the Singapore government? It is because I feel frustrated and helpless.

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PAP Inter-Ministerial Committee for haze Politicising Haze Responds

This evening PAP Inter Ministerial committee for Haze is politicising the distribution of 1,000,000 N95 Masks to 200,000 lower income families. So I now know what is the cause of the shortage in the first place! So noble, asking NSFs to distribute these Masks to RCs and RCs give to poor families

So does it caused voters in Hougang, Punggol East and Aljunied GRC to feel lousy that they voted Opposition Party instead of PAP?

My question is: Why ask RCs to distribute to lower income families? Why not SAF setting up a distribution points at lower income estate to do the distribution? So the RCs will have sufficient manpower to go door to door? Or it is better to score political point by asking balls carrying RCs to do a door to door? Will the RCs order the NSFs to do cheap labor since field training are cancelled? 

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Thinking Out Of The Box

The fact that the Indonesians are attempting to seed the clouds to quench the forest fires of Sumatra does not mean there are no alternatives to addressing the remote sites of conflagration. Our vaunted multi-talented ministers seem to be blinded by their blinkered visions, unable to explore other fire-fighting options.

The Hercules C-130 fitted with a removable water or fire retardant tank in the cargo hold can be a powerful "fire bomber" or "water bomber". A simple nozzle arrangement feeds straight out the open back ramp.

Helicopters can drop water more precisely than fixed wing-aircraft, limited only by how much they can carry. This Huey uses a  hose to suck water from a river, lake or other source and delivers a spectacular splash. 

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Haze watch 2013: Role of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in combatting the haze

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) ability to see, hear, know and act upon military situations that may threaten the Lion City can be optimised to combat environmental calamities such as the haze.

Enhanced situational awareness brought about by being able to see first, see more, decide and act decisively can crimp forest/plantation/peat bog fires before they flare out of control.

Close and long-standing ties between the Indonesian military (TNI) and SAF could, for instance, extend to the realm of overhead surveillance. 

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Haze issue: I was right, Indonesia gives PAPpy govt payback 

In my last post concerning the haze issue, I mentioned that Indonesia have long-time outstanding issues with Singapore – K Shame-mugam’s mind is as hazy as the air in Sinkiepore. The PAP govt, no thanks to their arrogance and high-handedness, has been harbouring corrupt illicit funds on our shores. The rightful owner is Indonesia. And PAPpy govt ain’t got the slightest intention to return a single cent to them

In addition to that, we are giving the corrupt ex-govt officials from the Suharto era a safe haven here, safe from the arms of Indonesian law. You see, Sinkiepore has been giving the excuse that the agreement to have these corrupted guys extradited has not yet been ratified. As if that gives us the right to keep the dirty funds that doesn’t belong to us

Unfortunately, the guy who really pissed off the Indonesians on the above issue is no longer around. He is none other than BG George Yeo, ex-Foreign Affairs Minister

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This haze crisis shows the weakness and unpreparedness of Singapore government

Channelnewsasia Forum, 22 Jun 2013

"If this isn't normal haze but poison gas,SG might already be a dead land.
Wind direction is predictable and poison gas is not a new chemical weapon.
Can our government learn something from this crisis?It's not funny.Very serious matter.
If this really happens,we don't even have time to call for press conference or set up special committee.Instead,we all meet in heaven within minutes"

Do You Trust PAP to Manage Singapore After This Haze Incident? - TR Emeritus

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Hazy days ahead – economic inconvenience, or diplomatic convenience?

The haze that enveloped Singapore for the past few days and caused an historical low in our air quality met with much anxiety from citizens. But distressing as it might be, this latest incident of our environmental woes with Indonesia will come to past, and is clearly not the biggest environment issue that we have to deal with.

Much has been said recently by our leaders on what can be done about the situation. ASEAN agreements, boycotting companies, name-and-shame efforts using satellite images – all cards are on the table, it seems, so something should work. Or should it?

What happens after a few days, weeks or even months, when PSI levels return to normal? Do we still worry about it, or return to our daily routines? “Business as usual” is Singapore’s trademark response to any crisis (make no mistake, this is a crisis, seeing the number of people walking around wearing masks), and nothing is more pressing to us than getting things back to normal.

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beijing haze

While Singapore is experiencing the worst haze known, people who have stayed or come from Beijing probably don’t give much attention to the temporary haze. That’s because it’s like daily occurrence and we used purifiers at home and drink green tea to fight cancers due to the pollution

The technical part of such air-pollution was studied when I was in Beijing, and a way developed to deal with it was conducted when I was in China

This haze in Singapore allows me to observe some interesting points

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Asia haze in graphics

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