Singapore Haze

Every year around September there are a few weeks of haze.  A very slight burning flavor in the air, and a bit of scratchiness in your throat, maybe some itching in the eyes.  The sky is overcast, and it’s an irritation as the PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) shifts from the typical below 50 reading–healthy to the 50-99 range–moderate.  Rarely it may even approach the 100-199 range–unhealthy.  In 1997, the PSI hit an all time high of 226.
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screenshot of PSI chart for June 20, 2013

Children, elderly and those with existing diseases are advised to stay indoors and avoid outdoor activities.

In the last two days, the number has spent the plurality of the time in the 201-300 range–very unhealthy, and crossed into 300+ territory–hazardous.  Last night the highest number ever recorded in Singapore was 321 (topping the 1997 high)…today, as you can see, that number was then topped again by the 1pm reading of 371.  The PSI is actually a 3 hour average–real time PSI numbers have gone into the 400+ range (life threatening to ill and elderly people).

Our haze is caused by slash and burn farming tactics in Sumatra (an Indonesian island).  June-September is the dry season, and this sort of slash and burn allows farmers to both clear large patches of land.  From what I understand, the process means that the burned plants then act as fertilizer for the soil.  These fires are often large and prevailing winds blow some of the smoke into Singapore.

The current haze crisis is a combination of a large number of fires in Sumatra, lack of clouds (which means a lack of rain to damp down the haze and put out the fires), stagnant air, and other factors.  Prime Minister Lee said today that the haze may persist for several weeks.

IMG_7692The picture above was taken opposite the Marina Bay Sands resort last December.  It’s a fairly clear day with a bit of cloud, no haze.  I show this for comparison.

mbs hazeThis photo was take today (June 20) from Ravi’s work, which is a similar difference in distance to MBS as the photo above.  On a normal day you can easily see the Singapore Flyer, the Gardens By the Bay Super Trees, tons of condos and other features.

For a more dramatic before and after shot, check out 21st Century Mummy’s Blog–she lives just up the road from me on River Valley.

Singaporeans first started getting feisty and cranky on June 16th when levels were rising to 80+.  Quotes from my twitter feed include…

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On June 19th, the 10 pm reading wasn’t released.  10, 10:15, 10:30, 10:45 all passed without the NEA updating the PSI number.  People were less than pleased, but our sarcasm remained intact.

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When the number was finally released at 1050-something, and was a record setting 321…

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Since then, today’s numbers set new records

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Sarcasm aside, there is a lot of frustration and anger from those of us who live in Singaporea.  People are questioning why workers who must be outside haven’t been given masks, or been ordered to stop work (does that condo/mall really need to be built so badly that you have to be out in toxic air?)–worth noting that many companies have issued stop work orders, including McDelivery Drivers, KFC, and other food delivery services.  People are angry that there is a major shortage of N95 masks-the masks that help filter out the most harmful particles (current word is that they won’t be available for purchase before Saturday at the earliest).

Singaporeans are calling on Indonesia to address the issue of the haze and the slash and burn farming that cause it. Indonesia lashed out at Singapore in response…

“Singapore should not be behaving like a child and making all this noise,” Agung Laksono, the minister coordinating Indonesia’s response, told reporters.

“This is not what the Indonesian nation wants, it is because of nature.”

The minister for people’s welfare also insisted that Indonesia did not want any financial assistance to fight the fires from Singapore unless it was a large amount.

“If it is only half a million, or one million dollars, we don’t need that.

We would rather use our own national budget,” he said.

His comments came as an emergency meeting hosted by Indonesia’s foreign ministry in Jakarta and attended by the chief executive of Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA), Andrew Tan, got under way.

What does it feel like to live in the midst of this haze?  You walk around with irritated eyes-as if you were surrounded by a group of smokers, or were at a bar all night.  There’s a constant acrid taste in the back of your mouth.  You’re tired, because you’re not sleeping well.  Anytime you walk outside, even from just the car to the building, my chest feels tight.  I also feel vaguely nauseous all the time, and have almost no appetite.  One of the few times you get relief is in the shower, but when you step out of the bathroom, it’s like getting hit in the senses by a wall of smoke.  In short-it’s pretty unpleasant.

Ravi and I decided to send the girls to school today.  But after my physical therapy appointment, the PSI was rising fast enough that I decided to get them and bring them home.  I have a feeling that we will be going stir crazy very soon, especially on the heels of being home on Tuesday and Wednesday because Ellie had been sick (not haze related-stomach bug).

Tomorrow was supposed to be bring your kids to work day at GNB.  I was relieved when Ravi forwarded me an email noting that the event had been postponed due to haze.  Ellie has been really looking forward to it, but I don’t know that we would’ve been happy allowing her to do so.

At this point, it seems like all we can do is hope that there is soon enough cloud cover to do cloud seeding (firing chemicals into the clouds to trigger rain-not something I’d usually be a fan of, but in the current environment, I find myself surprisingly unfazed by the notion), or that Indonesia will do something to curb the burning.

Wish us luck…and send oxygen tanks.  I’ll be here, obsessively refreshing the page waiting for the new PSI numbers.

Edited to add–On June 21, the PSI hit an even newer high of 401 (very hazardous)

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3 Responses to Singapore Haze

  1. Karien says:

    I know, it is crazy isn’t it? On my blog I suggested a rain dance… need to keep the kids occupied somehow 😉

  2. Pingback: Daily SG: 21 Jun 2013 | The Singapore Daily

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