Fewer hotspots in Indonesia but haze still an issue for Singapore: Masagos

Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: There are fewer hotspots in Indonesia this year compared to last year, but more efforts are needed to completely eliminate the haze problem, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said on Saturday (Aug 27).

Speaking on the sidelines of a community environment event in Tampines, Mr Masagos said Singapore is happy that Indonesian authorities are stepping up efforts to rein in the haze and reduce hotspots. But what is needed is the total prevention of hotspots, he said.

On Friday, air quality in Singapore hit unhealthy levels for the first time this year, as westerly winds brought smoke from forest fires in Sumatra to Singapore.

“To their credit, the number of hotspots this year is far less than what it was the year before,” said Mr Masagos.”But we can see that even with so few hotspots, with the right amount of wind and enough haze smoke produced, it can give us very bad air for a sustained period.”

In an unprecedented move, Indonesia punished 20 firms last December for their actions in relation to the haze, shuttering operations and revoking licenses.

Mr Masagos said a haze-free situation should be the focus, and that ASEAN is working together to achieve its goal of becoming haze-free by 2020.

“What we need is not reduced hotspots. What we need is no hotspots. That means sustainable production of agricultural products without clearing it by fire,” said Mr Masagos. He added that this problem was not only being tackled regionally and internationally, but also among Singaporeans and companies.

If Singaporeans do not want the haze to come, they must ensure that they do not buy and support companies that produce their products in an unsustainable way, he said. “We must send a clear signal to everyone who produces their product unsustainably that it is just not supportable and unsustainable.

Asked whether Singapore will be sending Indonesia aid to combat the fires – a move Malaysia announced on Friday – Mr Masagos said the mechanism is in place to do so, and that Singapore will step in if called upon to.

“We’ve earlier offered the package. It is up to the Indonesians to activate it. When the level requires it, we will go there to help,” he said.

- CNA/cy


Fewer hotspots, but haze an 'ongoing issue' for Singaporeans: Masagos
AMANDA LEE Today Online 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — There are fewer hotspots in Indonesia this month compared to the same time last year, but the haze situation should be an ongoing issue embedded in people's minds, and consumers should not support companies whose practices contribute to the haze situation, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Saturday (Aug 27).

Yesterday, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) entered the unhealthy range for the first time this year, as westerly winds blew haze from Sumatra to Singapore. Eleven hotspots were detected in Sumatra.

Between Aug 17 and Aug 31 last year, there were 1,237 hotspots in Sumatra.

Continuing to ensure that the issue of haze is not something Singaporeans "forget and then only bring it up periodically" has been something he sought to do since he took over at the ministry last year, said Mr Masagos, who was speaking to reporters at a community event in Tampines. "So we have been attacking this on many fronts-- internationally, regionally and also to raise the awareness among our own country and citizens."

Singaporeans, he said, "do not want the haze to come", but on the other hand, they should not be buying and support companies that produce products in an unsustainable way.

Yesterday, the chief executive officer of the National Environment Agency (NEA) wrote to his Indonesian counterpart to register Singapore's concerns over additional episodes of deterioration in air quality in Singapore, should fires continue.

Asked about this, Mr Masagos said the Government is still waiting for the Indonesian side to respond. "Like I said, we are very happy they are taking up steps to try and remove the hotspots but what we like to see is no hotspots and therefore no haze," he added.

Asked whether Singapore will be sending any aid to fight fires in Indonesia, Mr Masagos said there is a mechanism for aid to be given. "We are always standing ready... it is up to the Indonesians to activate it, when the (level) requires it, we will be there to help," he added.

The latest 24-hour PSI reading as of 3pm was between 74 and 129.

In an advisory issued at 11am, the NEA said conditions have improved this morning, but hazy conditions will remain today.

The latest satellite image showed that hotspots with haze are still persisting in central Sumatra. "The prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the southwest in the evening which could then bring an improvement to the haze situation," the NEA said.

The 1-hour PM2.5 concentration over the next 12 hours is expected to fluctuate between Band I (Normal) and Band II (Elevated). Overall, the PSI reading for the next 12 hours is forecast to be in the high end of the Moderate range or low end of the Unhealthy range, the NEA said.


SINGAPORE IN 'NO-HAZE' PUSH
AIR QUALITY MAY IMPROVE ON SUNDAY
The New Paper 28 Aug 16;

While there are fewer hot spots in Indonesia this year, Singapore is still pushing for a "no-haze" situation, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said on Saturday (Aug 27).

"We can see that even with so few hot spots, the right amount of wind... can give us very bad air," Mr Masagos said on the sidelines of a community event.

Figures from the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre show there have been 401 hot spots in Sumatra so far this year, compared with 7,188 during the whole of last year, The Straits Times reported.

Still, Mr Masagos emphasised that Asean is trying to work together to be haze-free by 2020.

"What we need is not reduced hot spots, what we need is no hot spots," he said, adding that the National Environment Agency (NEA) is waiting for its Indonesian counterpart to respond to a letter it sent yesterday to express its concerns over the haze.

"There is a mechanism for aid to be given, and there is a mechanism within Asean how it can be activated," he said, in response to a question on whether Singapore has offered assistance to Indonesia.

"We are always standing ready. We've already offered the package, it is up to the Indonesians to activate it. When the level requires it, we will be there to help," he added.

PROBLEM

Mr Masagos also said that Singapore has taken steps locally to address the haze problem.

"I have followed up work by my predecessor to ensure that the issue of haze is not something we forget and then only bring up periodically," he said. "We have been tackling this on many fronts, internationally, regionally and also to raise awareness among our own companies and citizens.

"On the one hand, we don't want the haze to come, on the other hand, we should not be buying, supporting companies that produce the products in an unsustainable way."

Caused mainly by palm oil planters and pulp and paper companies using fire to clear peat swamp land in South Sumatra and Kalimantan, the haze has become a public health issue in Singapore, pushing the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) to dangerously high levels at times.

But air quality is forecast to improve in the next 24 hours, NEA said Saturday evening.

The PSI was in the high moderate to unhealthy range on Saturday, dipping slightly through the day.

A "further improvement in the air quality can be expected on Sunday," NEA said.

Winds are expected to change to blow from the south-west or south overnight, with the PSI forecast to be in the moderate range. Thundery showers are also forecast in the late morning and early afternoon on Sunday.

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