Singapore: PM accepts haze apology, urges swift, sustained action

He welcomes Yudhoyono's pledge to tackle fires, and offers help
Rachel Chang And Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta Straits Times 26 Jun 13;

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong welcomed Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's apology for the haze yesterday as Jakarta stepped up efforts to stop the burning in Riau.

In a statement responding to Dr Yudhoyono's apology on Monday for the worst haze in the region's history, Mr Lee said that Singapore "wholeheartedly" accepted the "gracious" gesture.

He also welcomed the Indonesian leader's pledge to spare no efforts in tackling the forest fires, and said he hoped for "swift and sustained action" against illegal land-clearing practices.

To that end, PM Lee reiterated Singapore's offer of assistance to the Indonesian authorities to put out the fires, and said the country stands ready to work with neighbours to end haze-related issues.

He called for a "permanent solution to prevent this problem from recurring annually".

Across the Causeway and in Jakarta, the apology also drew plaudits, with Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman saying he "saluted" Dr Yudhoyono.

"I think the most important thing is for us to work together with Indonesia. We cannot just expect Indonesia to solve the problem," he said.

The conciliatory gesture from Indonesia had come in a televised press conference on Monday, where Dr Yudhoyono also chastised officials for statements implying that Singapore and Malaysia had overreacted. He pledged to do more to put out the haze- causing fires.

Yesterday, he sought to back up that promise by sending off 1,400 more disaster officials, soldiers, police and civil servants to the affected areas, telling them to "overcome the burning and smoke" and to "do it well, complete". They join 2,300 already on the ground, while another 1,600 are slated to head there today.

Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) chief Syamsul Maarif told reporters the men would be deployed for aerial operations - cloud-seeding and water-bombing - as well as firefighting operations on the ground.

Meanwhile, Riau officials arrested eight farmers on Monday and yesterday after catching them red-handed in the land-burning act. Local police did not say if they were hired by large firms or had acted of their own accord.

In Singapore, the PSI stayed in the moderate range as the much awaited rain, and some unexpected hail, fell yesterday afternoon.

But with the prospect of the dry season lasting until October, the Government added two new schemes to its slew of haze-related initiatives.

Childcare centres and kindergartens will get financial subsidies to install portable air-conditioning units on their premises, said the Ministry of Social and Family Development. Separately, the Ministry of Health said that it is providing standing fans and portable air coolers to 15 nursing homes, community hospitals and day- care centres for the elderly.

As the changing winds sent the haze to its southern part, Thailand expressed support for Malaysia's suggestion to bring forward a regional ministerial meeting on transboundary haze pollution. Singapore also backs the move.

NEA reveals haze contingency plans for essential services
S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 26 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) has put in place haze contingency plans for essential services like dengue inspections, waste collection and public cleaning.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan revealed this during his visit to several blocks in the Bukit Panjang Division on Wednesday morning.

He was there to inspect waste collection and dengue wipeout operations.

For dengue inspections, NEA operations will continue with minimal disruptions.

All officers checking public areas will don N95 face masks in accordance with the health advisories issued.

Dengue inspections have remained in a stepped-up mode as the epidemic is still sustained with 842 cases last week and 268 this week.

In the event the haze worsens again and is prolonged, NEA may consider scaling back the hours of outdoor work.

However, indoor checks in homes and application of insecticides will continue.

On waste collection, NEA will reduce refuse collection frequency from daily collection to alternate days.

This is because manpower is expected to suffer a shortfall during severe haze conditions.

As for ensuring public cleanliness, NEA will reduce the cleaning frequency according to the haze condition.

Urgent work such as the cleaning of animal carcasses and spillages will be given priority.

- CNA/xq

Water quality not affected by haze: Vivian Balakrishnan
S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 26 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: There has been no impact on the quality of Singapore's water as a result of the haze.

This assurance is from Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

He said the PUB has been monitoring the water quality over the past couple of weeks, both in terms of the raw water as well as the treated water that has been distributed to the public.

Speaking to the media after visiting the Chestnut Avenue Waterworks Plant on Wednesday, Dr Balakrishnan added that the plant is self-sufficient in terms of manpower, technology and electricity supply.

As far as PUB is concerned, there was no such thing as a stop-work order.

The minister explained: "Whatever happens, your water will continue to flow from your tap, the water is going to be good and safe to drink and that's the key message of continuity and safety of our water supply."

When asked on the actions being taken by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono following his apology to Singapore and Malaysia, Dr Balakrishnan said what Singapore is most concerned with is action on the ground.

Dr Balakrishnan added: "I hope that his signal to his ministers and to the agency is 'let's get on with the job to do it' and the offers of assistance from Singapore remain on the table. We would be very happy to help them and this would be good opportunity for ASEAN solidarity to be seen in action.”

Looking at the satellite pictures on Tuesday, the minister said the total volume of haze generated from the hotspots in Sumatra was still very significant.

He said: "Our latest meteorology assessment is that the haze in this region is likely to persist for quite some time more and as long as it persists, Singapore remains at risk because once you get even a slight shift in wind direction, the haze will be back and what you read now happening in Malaysia could very easily have been us, could even be us in the days and weeks if the winds change. So this is not a time for us to let our guard down.

“We have been given a respite of a few days at least. Let's use it to catch our breath, check our plans, get everything in place, secure and give confidence to our people and once there is confidence, then life can continue whether it is the reopening of schools, the continuation of essential services and making sure that people know that life will go on."

- CNA/xq

Govt clears the air on haze rumours
Kenneth Low Today Online 26 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — It is not true that the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings on the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) website do not take PM2.5 readings into account, said a new webpage set up by the Government.

According to a section on the Government microsite for haze called “Cut thru the haze” — http://www.e101.gov.sg/haze/cutthruehaze.htm — which seeks to dispel rumours and errors about the haze, “PM10 would also capture what is captured in the PM2.5 readings”, since it includes all “particulate matter smaller than 10 microns”. The PM2.5 is a “concentration reading which is expressed in micrograms per m3 and not a composite reading like the PSI”.

This is “why though PSI levels on some days may be “Moderate”, the health advisories are more cautious as they expect 24-hour PM2.5 levels to be higher, posing some risk to the susceptible groups”, according to the clarification on the page, which was provided by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

Another rumour that the webpage attempted to address was the one that suggested that one of the PSI readings posted by the NEA on June 19 was altered from 393 to 321. The authorities confirmed that “there was no PSI value posted that was higher than the three-hour PSI reading of 321” and that “records also show that there had been no editing or deletion of that PSI reading on the website”.

As for Singaporeans who have been wondering whether Tan Tock Seng Hospital was overcharging for their N95 masks, the webpage featured a Facebook post by the hospital stating that it has not raised prices.

“It has always been at S$60 for a box of 20 pieces even before the onset of haze,” the hospital said.

It also assured that it will “bring the price down to S$50 for a box of 20 pieces of N95 … to make it more affordable for the public”.

Those who need more information about the haze can also refer to a new website by the NEA — http://www.haze.gov.sg/Home.aspx

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