Thursday, 17 September 2015

All I Ever See is Haze


State of emergency declared in Indonesia's Riau as forest fires worsen
An aerial view of a burning forest at Ogan Komering Ulu area in Indonesia's south Sumatra province.(Photo: REUTERS/Beawiharta)

Indonesia declared a state of emergency in Sumatra’s Riau province after forest fires put its air quality at a dangerous level.

The worsening situation in Sumatra, west of Java, prompted the Indonesian military to step up efforts to extinguish the fires and assist residents facing health issues caused by the smoke.

An assessment is being made to determine if more troops should be deployed, Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told Channel NewsAsia.

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Malaysia closes some schools due to haze

All schools in Malaysia's Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negeri Sembilan and Melaka were closed on Tuesday (Sep 15) due to the worsening haze.

"The API (Air Pollutants Index) is approaching 200. All schools in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negeri Sembilan and Melaka will be closed tomorrow 15.9.2015," said Malaysia’s Education Ministry in a statement issued late Monday.

Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid had said schools will only be closed when the API reading reached 200. An API of between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 (medium), 101 to 200 (unhealthy), 201 to 300 (very unhealthy) and 300 and above (hazardous).

related: Unhealthy haze readings recorded across Malaysia

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Nearly 1,000 hotspots detected in Sumatra as haze thickens

Hotspots in Sumatra rose to 982 on Monday (Sep 14) the highest in two months. Satellite images showed most of the hotspots, suspected to be caused by forest fires, were in the provinces of South Sumatra, Jambi and Riau.

Air quality in the three provinces has reached hazardous levels which means the Pollutants Standard Index is above PSI-301.

The very high levels of pollutants has forced schools and airports to close. The seriousness of the situation has also prompted health experts to urge authorities to evacuate residents from affected areas.

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Singapore reiterates offer of assistance to Indonesia to fight forest fires

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday (Sep 14) spoke with Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar and reiterated Singapore's offer of help to combat forest fires, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement. The offer came as the number of hotspots in Indonesia's Sumatra island soared to a two-month high of 982 on Monday, and a state of emergency has been declared in Riau province.

Indonesia had earlier accepted the Singapore Armed Forces' offer to send C-130s for cloud seeding and Chinooks for large water buckets to douse fires, only to decline it later. "While the Indonesian authorities accepted our offer of assistance initially, they have since expressed appreciation for the offer, and said they have sufficient resources of their own for now," Singapore's Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

"WE HAVE DONE EVERYTHING": INDONESIAN MINISTER - Dr Siti Nurbaya told Dr Balakrishnan that Indonesia has already deployed a host of resources to tackle the fires but said she would consult Indonesian President Joko Widodo who is personally overseeing the effort again on Singapore’s offer.

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Indonesia’s fire outbreaks worsen than 2013’s but decline help from Singapore

The Indonesian government has made a u-turn and declined Singapore’s offer to help with fire-fighting in Sumatra. Just three days ago (Sep 10), Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen confirmed that Indonesia has accepted Singapore’s offer to help fight the fire in Sumatra. Singapore has offered 3 C-130 planes and a helicopter in its assistance pledge.

Indonesia’s Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar announced yesterday (Sep 12) that Indonesia have enough planes and equipment to deal with the forest fire by themselves and Singapore’s help is not needed. The Indonesian government’s spokesperson Eka Soegiri confirmed these comments with Singapore’s media today.

Currently, the number of fire outbreaks, known as hot spots, exceeded the number in June 2013 where Singapore experienced its worst haze ever at a PSI of 401. Fortunately, wind direction is not blowing in Singapore’s way but if the weather changes, Singapore will likely see smog worse than before.

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Hazy days are here again

NOW that the General Election is over, can we turn our attention to a more pressing, life-and-death issue? The haze? It is happening more often than a GE, and lasts longer too. Yet the solution seems outside our grasp, and not even within Indonesia’s control. We’ve heard the haze mentioned at least twice this GE, both times by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who reminded the people about an Indonesian official’s comment that we should be grateful for the 11 months of oxygen that the Indonesian forests give out.

So shall we just say “thank you” and to please water-bomb yourself for that remaining one month? Singapore would be pleased to help.

After several years of wrangling at the ASEAN and bilateral level, Singapore seems no closer to dousing forest fires, or preventing them from happening. On Sept 10 and 11, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit the unhealthy range of between 101 – 200, resulting in cancellations of outdoor activities over the weekend. Every year, we seem to worry about whether Formula 1 race, to be held this weekend, would be affected. It’s no different this time.

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Updated: At 8pm, 3-hour PSI is 223, hazy conditions to persist until tomorrow

The National Environmental Agency said the PSI reading in the next 24 hours is still expected to be in the mid to high sections of the Unhealthy range, and may enter the Very Unhealthy range.

Thundery showers are expected in the pre-dawn and early morning hours of Tuesday, but respite will be temporary. This is due to the haze from Sumatra being blown in by the prevailing winds from the southwest this afternoon, putting conditions in the low to mid sections of the Unhealthy range.

In other haze-related news: Indonesia had initially accepted the Singapore Armed Forces’ offer to fight the haze but declined it later.

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The haze at night was so terrible last night, the psi was 167 if i'm not wrong. Saw a blind man standing patiently at the road side to cross. This Malay guy who was the passer-by took the first initiative to guide a blind man to his destination by crossing the road.

I was flagging the cab when i overheard the blind man telling the Malay guy that he was sad because he is not making money at the previous block, business was not good for him, so he wanted to try a different block. He was seen on block 147 at Yishun avenue 5. If you happened to see him do approach and support him by buying his tissue, key-chain and pen which was seen on the pink basket that the Malay guy was carrying.

I felt that it was a very respectable act. This is a kind act from a fellow Singaporean. Kudos!

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South East Asia's haze - social media reacts
Despite the regional hazy pollution, some managed to make light of the situation with jokes and memes

The Haze - annual air pollution caused by forest burning in Indonesia - is back across parts of South East Asia, and social media has once again been flooded with complaints about the filthy skies.

From memes to citizen campaigns, Facebook and Twitter users in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have not held back when discussing rising pollution levels.

"Guess who's back, back again - the haze is back, tell your friends," commented a Twitter user in the Malaysian capital city, Kuala Lumpur, putting a smoggy spin on an Eminem song.

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Indo VP Kalla shoots down complaints about haze

"For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us. They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset."

Indonesia's Vice-President Jusuf Kalla criticises neighbours for grumbling about haze
"Singapore shouldn't be like children, in such a tizzy,"

Cabinets may change but Indonesian leaders remain touchy when it comes to the haze brought on by forest fires.

Yesterday, in an echo of seasons past, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla rapped neighbouring countries for complaining about the haze, and asked them instead to be grateful for the clean air they enjoy for the rest of the year.

Jakarta Globe quoted him as saying on Tuesday:
  • "For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us,"
  • "They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset,"
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VP Jusuf Kalla on haze complaints

According to Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, Singapore and Malaysia should be more fair and balanced when talking about the toxic haze, caused by rampant forest fires in Indonesia, that have been sweeping over their countries and choking their citizens.

“For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us. They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset,” Kalla said yesterday, as quoted by The Jakarta Globe.

The veep went on to say that Indonesia has already apologized plenty of times for the haze problems, but also noted that it was foreign technology and foreign companies that were behind the forest fires causing the international air pollution.

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The cost of haze

Most of us know the haze is caused by forest fires in Indonesia. But underlying that is the lucrative palm oil trade, and most people don’t realise how improbable it is that strong action will be taken against this industry.

Indonesia surpassed Malaysia as the world’s largest producer of palm oil in 2006. In 2012, Indonesia exported around 28 million tonnes of palm oil, which generated around USD $17.6 billion (UN Comtrade data). The palm oil sector in Indonesia employs an estimated two to three million people.

It’s a huge, billion dollar industry that’s of concern to Indonesia’s poor and rich. And in order for this industry to grow, it needs significant land space.


The Haze is back again
– Inconvenient Questions: Hazy brake to Formula One?
– Loh and Behold: Donald Trumpet is Who We Need to Fight the Haze
– Singapore Life & Times: Thick Haze+Rain = ?
– Mamawearpapashirt: 8 indoor activity ideas for kids on hazy days
– DKSG: Spotify playlist for #SGHaze
– The Middle Ground: Hazy days are here again
– ASS: Do not complain about d white haze, you brainwashed 69.9% voted for it
– Blogging for Myself: Haze: Getting the facts right
– Lime Sorbet: Inconsiderate and incompetent neighbours
– Wild Shores of Singapore: How does haze affect marine life?
– New Nation: S’pore Flyer will be refurbished to rotate faster to blow haze away

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