PM Lee urges Singaporeans to be prepared for prolonged period of haze

S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 23 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged the nation to be psychologically prepared for a prolonged period of haze due to the dry season and monsoon winds.

He said this is because of the dry season and monsoon winds.

Speaking at a townhall meeting at Ang Mo Kio GRC and the Sengkang West Division, Mr Lee said PSI readings will fluctuate day to day and hour to hour.

However, Singaporeans must take this in their stride, adapt and continue with their lives.

The Prime Minister emphasised that Singaporeans also must avoid speculation and clarify rumours.

He added that they can do so by checking the haze microsite.

Mr Lee also urged everyone to help their neighbours especially older Singaporeans and young kids.

He said the community clubs have air conditioned haze shelters and more are being created throughout Singapore.

On the supply of the N95 masks, Mr Lee noted that the government is urgently delivering them to GPs, clinics, pharmacies and retailers, and there is no need to hoard or panic-buy the masks.

- CNA/fa

Shanmugam issues warning to companies responsible for haze
Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said Singapore will offer no succour nor refuge to companies responsible for illegal fires in Indonesia that have caused the haze affecting Singapore.

He said that there were limits in international commercial law to what Singapore can do about companies operating outside the country, but the Attorney General has been asked to look into this.

The minister said Singapore will do "whatever it can", though the key to taking those responsible to task still lies with Indonesia.

He said: "Let us be clear about it. This is not slash-and-burn, this is not an act of nature by itself. These are actions by companies for commercial profit… I cannot send my police officers in there to investigate… We have to depend on Indonesia to give us the evidence and tell us what is happening."

On the recent comments of Indonesian Minister Agung Laksono chiding Singapore for behaving "like a child", Mr Shanmugam reiterated Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's position that it is not productive to trade accusations.

Separately, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa was also quoted saying that the Indonesian government would not issue an apology to Singapore for the haze crisis.

"I'm not sure that we're asking for an apology. What we want is for the problem to be solved. That's really the point," said Mr Shanmugam.

In an unprecedented move, Singapore will send two ministers to the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Brunei at the end of June to discuss the haze issue.

Mr Shanmugam said Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu will accompany him to the meeting.

"We have decided this matter has to be discussed at the ASEAN Ministerial Meetings, because it's a regional problem," said Mr Shanmugam.

Indonesia has so far declined any help from Singapore to douse the fires.

A 2004 study by the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology estimated that carbon emissions from the Indonesian peat fires in 1997, the year the region experienced its last major haze crisis, was equivalent to up to 40 per cent of the average annual global carbon emission from fossil fuels.

"We've had a cocoon within Singapore economically and in every way... (but) much of what happens within Singapore can be deeply influenced by what happens in the region," said the minister.

- CNA/ac/jc

Haze: AGC asked to look into possible local actions against companies responsible
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE - Singapore has asked its Attorney-General to “look into” what actions can be done locally towards the errant companies which have contributed to the haze engulfing the city-state for the past week, said Minster for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam in a press briefing this morning.

He said: “We will do everything that we can. We will offer no succour or refuge if the actions have indeed been illegal in Indonesia and impacted on Singapore”.

First and foremost, however, Mr Shanmugam said that he hoped to see “strong firm effective action” taken against them in Indonesia as “that’s where the action are taking place”.

When asked to respond to remarks made by several Indonesian ministers yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said that “people can judge for themselves” while reiterating that Singapore’s main focus is on solving the haze crisis and that it would not be “productive to be trading accusations”.

Mr Shanmugam also repeated Singapore’s commitment to offer assistance to Indonesia while adding that the matter will be brought up during the ASEAN ministerial meeting held next week in Brunei.

Singapore cannot ‘do nothing and say nothing’ about haze: Shanmugam
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 23 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — Noting that the raging forest fires in Sumatra have a “global environmental impact” - on top of the choking haze that has shrouded the Republic for the past week - Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam urged Indonesia to take “decisive action” and repeated Singapore’s commitment to offer assistance “at all levels” to address the situation.

Speaking at a press conference today held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Shanmugam also responded to criticisms that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been ineffective in fixing the longstanding haze issue.

He added that he has directed the Attorney General to look into what actions Singapore can take against errant companies that were proven to have “contributed in some way” to the problem. By this weekend, the authorities will have a clear idea of what is within their powers.

On the provocative remarks made by some Indonesian ministers towards Singapore’s reaction to the haze, Mr Shanmugam reiterated that it is “not so productive to be trading accusations”. “We are used to being called a little red dot,” he said. Referring to comments made during the 2006 haze episode by Indonesia’s then-Forestry Minister M S Kaban, Mr Shanmugam added: “Previously... another Indonesian minister said that we should be thankful for the oxygen that the Indonesia’s forests give us so why are we complaining about the haze. Those sorts of attitudes, I think people can see are not best designed to deal with the problem.”

“Likewise, comments to say we are childish because we are complaining when the haze reaches hazardous levels... people can judge for themselves. Our primary focus really is, solve the problem.”

Still, he pointed out that these comments - which do not carry “the same tone of cooperation” which Singapore has enjoyed with Indonesia over the years - do not “characterise all of our dealings with Indonesia”.

In response to Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa’s latest remark that Indonesia will not apologise for the haze, Mr Shanmugam said that Singapore is not looking for an apology. “What we want is for the problem to be solved and that’s really the point,” he said.

Mr Shanmugam stressed that the haze was a transboundary problem and the Singapore Government’s “primary duty has to be safeguarding the health and security of Singaporeans. We cannot allow this situation to continue and do nothing and say nothing”.

Outlining all the steps that Singapore has taken over the past few days to engage the Indonesian government - including trips to Jakarta made by ministers and officials to attend meetings and speak with their counterparts - Mr Shanmugam noted that to date, the Republic’s offer of assistance such providing resources to put out the fires has not been taken up by Indonesia.

Nevertheless, Indonesia has agreed to bring forward a meeting of ASEAN environment ministers which was originally scheduled to be held in August.

Mr Shanmugam said that he will also be bringing up the haze issue at an ASEAN ministerial meeting held in Brunei next week. He will be accompanied by Second Minister for Foreign Affairs and Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu.

Mr Shanmugam said: “Depending on what steps are taken - because we have to see concrete results in terms of the impact on us - we’ll have to decide what other fora this has to be discussed.”


When asked to comment on criticisms on the lack of concrete actions over the years and the perception of ASEAN as a “paper tiger” which is toothless to take member states to task, Mr Shanmugam said that he understood such sentiments and conceded that “there are limits to what regional bodies can do”.

“Nevertheless, ASEAN and international organisations prove a useful and important platform for issues to be raised and countries have to then account for their actions and that by itself has had in the past, effect (and) impact in the conduct of countries,” he pointed out.

He noted that Indonesia remains the ASEAN member state which has not ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution that was inked in 2002.

“But for some reason which is difficult for us to understand, the Indonesian parliament has taken the view that this treaty is not in the interest of Indonesia. I say difficult to understand because it helps the Indonesian people as much as it helps anyone else because they are also suffering from the haze.”

On whether there was a need to bring up the haze problem to international bodies such as the United Nations, Mr Shanmugam said that the option was open and it has “not been ruled in or out”.

Turning his attention to the errant companies - the Indonesian government has identified eight firms, including Jakarta-based Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Asia Pacific Resources International which also have links to Singapore - Mr Shanmugam said the Singapore authorities will know “what we can or cannot do by this weekend”.

He added that first and foremost, he hoped to see “strong firm effective action” taken against errant companies in Indonesia as “that’s where the actions are taking place”.

“We would really like to see firm quick action, and any assistance we can render in that respect, we will do so, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

On the mitigation measures rolled out domestically, Mr Shanmugam assured Singaporeans that there will be enough N95 masks as they are being manufactured here. “Let’s not underestimate the problem, it has serious consequences, both economically and for the country as a whole. That’s why... we have been taking this seriously.

In response to criticisms made by some who questioned why the Singapore Government cannot do more about the situation, Mr Shanmugam said: “If it was within our control we will never allow this to happen. My point to Singaporeans is we will continue to do our best, please understand the limitations of international relationships and foreign policy and the fact that every country is sovereign and we have limited control over what happens in Indonesia.”

“The deep unhappiness of Singaporeans over what is happening is entirely understandable, and my own belief is that most Singaporeans also understand that Singapore is doing what it can and these are not being caused within Singapore.”

Singapore will 'take all steps' to protect citizens
Leonard Lim Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Singapore intends to do what it can within the framework of international law to protect its citizens against the haze, said Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

"Our primary duty has to be safeguarding the health, security of Singaporeans," he told Singapore and international media. "We cannot allow this situation to continue, and do nothing and say nothing."

Later, in a separate briefing with local reporters, he said: "We have to take all steps regardless of how it may be viewed by our neighbours... even if it means that our neighbours are upset."

In international law, countries have a duty to control actions within their boundaries when they cause an environmental impact on other countries, he said, citing the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development adopted at a 1992 United Nations conference.

While Singapore will be pursuing this point at Asean meetings in Brunei this week, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, signalled it may also be prepared to turn to other international fora to press its case if it came to that.

But first it will see what steps are taken through the Asean meeting and whether there are concrete results for Singapore. Asked to elaborate on which other meetings the haze issue could be raised at, he replied: "We will calibrate and decide where else this needs to be raised."

In 2006, Singapore raised the haze issue at a United Nations forum, but this was said to have drawn the ire of some Indonesians.

S'pore exploring action against culprits
But primary ability to take steps against firms causing haze lies with Indonesia: Shanmugam
Leonard Lim Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

While the primary ability to act lies with the Indonesians, the Singapore Attorney-General is investigating what can be done against firms involved in causing the haze, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

"We will offer no succour or refuge if the actions of the companies have been deemed illegal in Indonesia and impacted on Singapore," he said during a briefing to reporters.

The stern warning came a day after the Indonesian government named some firms in Riau province involved in the blazes, and which have Singapore links.

The minister pointed out that "serious" issues of jurisdiction and international law need to be considered, so he has asked the Attorney- General to look into what can be done to such companies if there is proof that they contributed to the haze.

Mr Shanmugam, who also holds the Law portfolio, said he expects to know what Singapore "can or cannot do by this weekend".

But the primary ability to act lies with the Indonesians as the firms are located there, he stressed.

"We would like to see strong, firm, effective action taken against them in Indonesia, because that's where they are, that's where the actions are taking place, that's where their offices are, the senior people.

"We'd really like to see firm, quick action and any assistance we can render in that respect, we will do so."

Singapore also needs to depend on Indonesia to provide evidence on who is involved, the minister said.

"Indonesian investigation authorities need to be on the ground, I cannot send my police officers in there to investigate," he said.

"That will be a breach of Indonesian sovereignty and Indonesia will not agree to that."

On its part, Singapore has offered assistance on several levels to combat the fires, he revealed.

These range from aircraft to technical assistance and offers of manpower.

Mr Shanmugam said: "It has yet to be taken up. And (in) 2005, we offered assistance of our aircraft and that was accepted, but this time that offer has not yet been accepted."

In 1997, Singapore also helped in Indonesia's firefighting efforts by providing computers, global positioning systems and a Singapore Armed Forces C-130 aircraft and crew.

Acknowledging that the haze has been a longstanding issue, Mr Shanmugam told reporters that it did not just have an environmental impact on Indonesia or the region, but also a global one.

"In 1997... studies suggest that the carbon dioxide emission from peat fires has contributed to a substantial part of global carbon dioxide emissions in that year. Therefore we have urged Indonesia to take decisive action.

"This is not slash and burn, this is not an act of nature by itself, these are actions by companies for commercial profit."

He also referred to Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa's remark last Friday that they would not apologise to Singapore for the haze.

Mr Shanmugam said: "I'm not sure that we're asking for an apology. What we want is for the problem to be solved, that is really the point."

Q&A: Limitations to what can be done about haze
Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam took questions from the media on the haze yesterday. The following are edited excerpts.

Q: The latest comments from Indonesian ministers are that they won't apologise. Do you think they are taking this situation seriously? What else can be done to convey the seriousness to them?

"What we think of their comments, I think Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said what he thinks, so has Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

"I think it's really not so productive to be trading accusations. We are used to being called a little red dot and previously when the haze problem occurred, other ministers have said we should be thankful for the oxygen that the Indonesia forests give us, so why are we complaining about the haze?

"Those sort of attitudes, I think people can see are not best designed to deal with the problem.

"Likewise, comments saying we are childish because we are complaining when haze reaches hazardous levels, I think people can judge for themselves. Our primary focus really is, solve the problem.

"Are they taking this seriously? I think my counterpart, Foreign Minister Marty (Natalegawa), has said Indonesia will not apologise. I'm not sure that we're asking for an apology.

"What we want is for the problem to be solved, that is really the point.

"What else can we do?

"Internationally... I've taken some pains to explain the limits of international law, international relations.

"Basically it's difficult to intervene in the internal affairs of another country to set right something.

"That principle is sacrosanct subject to a few exceptions. In the absence of (a) treaty of obligations, I mentioned that Indonesia has yet to ratify the treaty, the other things that we can do, I have outlined - the Asean ministerial meeting, the other fora.

"These are not without implications or consequences, everyone understands that. If we raise them, talk about them, then there are consequences from raising these."

Q: From how Asean countries discuss this issue, how can it be changed to come up with a better result or solution?

"Asean has looked at it, there's a treaty (Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution) that's in place.

"All countries have signed it, all have ratified it, except Indonesia.

"Of course, if it ratifies the treaty, then this becomes binding obligations.

"But for some reason which is difficult for us to understand, the Indonesian Parliament has taken the view that this treaty is not in the interest of Indonesia.

"I say difficult to understand because it helps the Indonesian people as much as it helps everyone else because they are also suffering from the haze."

Q: There's some disenchantment among Singaporeans that Asean is a paper tiger, nothing has come out on it regarding the haze.

"I can understand the feelings that people have. These are not feelings that are unique to Singaporeans.

"Very often, people in individual countries get upset with international organisations, be it the United Nations or, in this case, Asean.

"But in international law and international relations, as I have explained previously, there are limits to what regional bodies can do vis a vis the territorial sovereignty and the right of countries to take steps within their own countries.

"Nevertheless, Asean and international organisations prove useful and important platforms for issues to be raised and countries have to then account for their actions.

"And that by itself has had, in the past, impact on conduct of countries."

More air-conditioned 'haze shelters' to be created for public
S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday said more air-conditioned 'haze shelters' will be created for the public at Residents’ Committees and Community Clubs.

MP for West Coast GRC Foo Mee Har said her constituency would extend the Community Club’s opening hours in case residents need access to air-conditioned rooms.

The club will be open from 9am to midnight, said the MP in a Facebook post. Residents’ Committee Centres will also extend their opening hours to 9am-10pm.

Ms Foo said constituency officers will continue to monitor the situation and adjust opening hours accordingly.

Deputy Prime Minister and MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Teo Chee Hean said the Elias Community Club has also set aside a room for residents who feel discomfort and need a place for a few hours to shelter from the haze. The room will be open from 9am-10pm.

In a Facebook post, the prime minister said he was heartened by the kindness of Singaporeans when faced with the haze.

He said some were distributing herbal tea and masks to needy residents while others were opening up their air-conditioned homes to strangers.

The prime minister urged Singaporeans to unite and help one another through this difficult period.

Mr Lee said the government was also making sure Singaporeans who need N95 masks would be able to get them.

He however pointed out that most Singaporeans do not need the masks unless they have medical conditions like asthma, or have to do strenuous outdoor work.

He said the government will distribute 1 million N95 masks free to low-income households, and push out more masks to retailers, and urged people not to panic buy or hoard masks as there are enough to go round.

In the same Facebook post, Mr Lee said he had sent Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan as his Special Envoy to deliver his letter to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The prime minister said he had shared Singaporeans' grave concern over the haze, urged Indonesia to take action, and offered help, including aircraft for cloud seeding.

Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya had promised Dr Balakrishnan that Indonesia would consider Singapore's offer and explore how to follow up on the suggestions.

Meanwhile, constituencies have also begun receiving their stocks of N95 masks from the Ministry of Health.

Minister for National Development and MP for Sembawang GRC Khaw Boon Wan said they are being made available to residents who need them.

He said this was being done progressively over the weekend and that priority is being given to those who need them for medical reasons.

- CNA/jc

PSI computation based on US regulations: NEA
Kimberly Spykerman Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: It may seem that PSI readings do not tally with what you see outside, but the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Saturday that a standard set of methods and equipment that is based on the United States' Environmental Protection Agency regulations is used to measure PSI.

The National Environment Agency monitors five key pollutants -- sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, ozone, and particulate matter -- and the 24-hour PSI reflects the pollutant with the highest concentration averaged over a 24-hour period.

During the haze, the PM10, or particles 10 microns and smaller, is the predominant pollutant.

Authorities have also urged Singaporeans to refer to the 24-hour PSI reading rather than the three-hour figure.

Indrani Rajaram, project director of Pollution Control Development at NEA, said: "The three-hour PSI is something that was introduced in 1997 during the 1997 smoke haze period. This index is an indicator only because it will correspond to what you see outside your window but it's not the index used to assess the impact of air pollutants on the health."

The three-hour PSI reading is unique to Singapore and is not used in any other country.

Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu also reiterated on Saturday the importance of the 24-hour PSI reading.

She said: "To us, that is the best measurement for both the concentration of the particulate and the duration of the exposure. Scientifically that has been the benchmark method across various jurisdictions, used by many countries."

Separately, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the haze was different from a virus and that “a lot depends on your state of health and the lack of exposure”.

He added: “So far we have set the right tone by allowing the various agencies to make their own assessment but we want to keep Singaporeans informed of the right thing because there is too much misinformation circulating about the haze."

Some have questioned the accuracy of the PSI readings, but NEA said the readings are calculated based on guidelines from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

PSI readings are derived from 11 ambient air monitoring stations mostly located in schools.

Each of the five pollutants has its own analyser which stores data and transmits it via a wireless modem at regular intervals to a data management system at the Environment Building. The system uses a special software to compute the PSI based on data feeds from the various stations.

However when it comes to deciding whether to head out, authorities said the public should look to health advisories which are pegged to 24-hour PSI readings.

Joseph Hui, Deputy Chief Executive of NEA, said: "Short-term exposure according to the advisory for today for individual is OK... In the case of an asthmatic for example, even the walk to the MRT may be too much for them. So preferably try not to go out, but if they have to, put on the mask."

- CNA/ac/jc

NEA spells out how PSI is compiled

Agency also explains the rationale for measuring haze the way it does
Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

On a hot day, looking at a thermometer would tell you precisely what the temperature is where you are.

Many seem to think the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), Singapore's main indicator of air quality, works the same way. They expect it to correlate to the haze they see or smell around them at that moment.

This has given rise to some disquiet about the PSI readings in recent days, as the haze conditions worsened. Some members of the public expressed concerns when the posted PSI values - averaged over the past three or 24 hours - turned out different from what they observed.

Yesterday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) spelt out just how it compiles the PSI and why it does it that way.

It explained that it uses a specific way of collecting air samples over time and measuring the amount of micro-particles in them to determine their quality.

It also requires a wider base of samples, taken from various parts of the island to get a better picture of how polluted the air is across the country.

The NEA said that its methods and equipment to measure pollutants are based on the United States Environmental Protection Agency standards.

The PSI is derived from measurements at 11 ambient air monitoring stations located at places such as Temasek Polytechnic and Nanyang Technological University.

Five key pollutants are measured separately. But the PSI is not a composite index. Instead, it reflects the pollutant of the highest concentration.

But just how does the NEA measure levels of tiny particles in the air like PM2.5 and PM10 and translate them into a PSI reading?

An air sample is drawn into a chamber where particulate matter sticks to a filter;

Then, a beta ray (a form of radiation) is passed through the filter;

The particles on the filter would weaken the ray's intensity, and how dim it gets tells you how much particulate matter there is;

These readings are then averaged over three or 24 hours before they are fed into a standard set of indices, based on the health impacts of the pollutant at different observed levels. This translates the reading into a PSI.

NEA said yesterday that health advisories will continue to be based on the 24-hour PSI and PM2.5 values as those are what there is most scientific evidence for.

It explained that the 24-hour PSI is also the best indicator for the health impact of prolonged exposure to the haze than shorter-term measures, which can fluctuate quite a bit over the course of the day. This was evident yesterday, for example, when Singapore enjoyed blue skies in the afternoon when the haze seemed to clear temporarily.

Summing up small particles
Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Singapore is blanketed by its worst haze in 16 years. But what goes into air quality measures?

What is the PSI?

The Pollutant Standards Index, or PSI, is Singapore's main indicator of air quality.

It measures five key air pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and PM10, which is particulate matter 10 microns or smaller in size - about one-seventh the diameter of a strand of human hair.

The reading reflects the pollutant with the highest concentration.

Any reading above 100 is considered unhealthy, and anything higher than 300 is hazardous.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has been publishing hourly updates of its three-hour average PSI reading on its website. For example, the three-hour average at 3pm is taken from readings from noon to 3pm.

This means that the PSI at, say 3pm, is not strictly speaking a reflection of the haze you might see around you at that time, but an average of the situation over the previous three hours at various recording stations around the island.

Each hour, the NEA also publishes the 24-hour average PSI for the past 24 hours. The 24-hour PSI is from readings over the past 24 hours, averaged out. This reflects the sustained exposure levels that a person might face, and is said to be a better indicator of the health impact of the haze.

What is PM2.5?

PM stands for particulate matter, while PM2.5 refers to very fine particles that are less than 2.5 microns in size - a thirtieth of the diameter of a human hair.

The NEA also publishes hourly PM2.5 readings, averaged over 24 hours, which measure micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre.

Readings above 40 trigger health advisories. At 9pm yesterday, the 24-hour PM2.5 reading was 199-242 µg/m3, varying by geographical area.

Where does particulate matter come from?

Fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, can come from many sources all around us, such as burning plants, automobiles and natural sources like volcanic eruptions. It can even be formed in the atmosphere by chemical reactions. In this latest case, much of it comes from burning plant matter in Sumatra.

What are the health effects of PM2.5?

Because these very fine particles can get farther into the lungs and pass more easily into the bloodstream, long- and short-term exposure to PM2.5 can cause cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes. PM2.5 exposure is linked to increased hospital admissions and emergency department visits for respiratory effects. These include asthma attacks as well as increased respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Concerns about the health effects of PM2.5 levels have led governments to push for the use of higher quality diesel fuels in vehicles since these produce exhaust fumes with less of these tiny particles. Efforts to raise fuel quality have been ongoing for many years, quite separately from concerns over the haze that comes and goes.

Why is the PM2.5 reading better than the PSI in some regions and worse in others?

Climate researcher Matthias Roth, an associate professor of geography at the National University of Singapore, said the distribution of PM10 and PM2.5 depends on the burning source. Different areas in Singapore may have been affected by haze from different spots in Indonesia, which may vary in their vegetation or soil composition.

Why does the PSI peak in the evening and drop overnight?

The wind tends to drop in the evening, meaning smoke accumulates then, said the NEA. But calmer breezes do not bring as much haze from Sumatra, so the PSI falls some hours later.

Professor Roth said this could partly be because the sun's heat helps the air to rise and mix. Without this, pollutants could be trapped near the surface.

Dr Grandey from Censam suggested a few other possibilities. Some pollutants are produced or destroyed by sunlight. So the amount of sunlight may affect the pollution to some extent. Or the daily pattern could just be spurious. But more research and analysis would have to be done to test these theories, he said.

What filters out PM2.5?

Ministry of Manpower guidelines say employees who work outdoors for sustained periods and have health conditions that make them susceptible should be issued with N95 masks or other protective devices when the PSI goes above 100.

And high-efficiency particulate air filters (Hepa filters) can remove particles that are as small as 0.3 micron in size.

Grace Chua

WP statement on haze situation
Today Online 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party has issued a statement on the haze situation in Singapore. The statement is as follows:

The Workers' Party is concerned with the haze situation that is affecting everyone in Singapore.

We note that the Government has convened a task force to monitor and to act on the situation. We stand ready to support the initiatives of the Government in responding to the haze.

We welcome the Government’s efforts in giving priority to protect the health and safety of Singaporeans, especially the vulnerable groups. The Workers’ Party calls on the Indonesian Government to do its utmost to extinguish the fires with urgency.

We also urge the Indonesian Government to invest more resources to curb the slash-and-burn practices in the plantation sector. Indonesia has been a good friend and neighbour to Singapore and is respected as an influential nation in ASEAN. We hope that Indonesia will do its best to bring the haze issue to a close.

In this difficult situation, we have seen many Singaporeans from all walks of life helping one another.

We ask that Singaporeans continue to look out for each other and check on neighbours, colleagues and friends. Singaporeans are a resilient people; we will live through the smoke to see a clear sky.

Lee Li Lian
Deputy Webmaster, The Worker’s Party
Member of Parliament for Punggol East SMC

Support for Govt's efforts to get Jakarta to douse fires
Toh Yong Chuan Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

The authorities' efforts to persuade Indonesia to do more to douse the fires causing the haze received support from different quarters yesterday, ranging from an opposition party to ordinary Singaporeans at Speakers' Corner.

Punggol East MP Lee Li Lian, who is also the Workers' Party's (WP's) deputy webmaster, said in a statement that the party stood ready to "support the initiatives of the Government in responding to the haze".

"The WP calls on the Indonesian government to do its utmost to extinguish the fires with urgency. We also urge the Indonesian government to invest more resources to curb the slash-and-burn practices in the plantation sector."

She ended on an optimistic note, calling Singaporeans a resilient people who will "live through the smoke to see a clear sky".

Meanwhile, the first public protest at Hong Lim Park against the haze was poorly attended despite being touted on several prominent websites, including The Online Citizen.

It was organised by writer Patrick Low, 68. He tried to coax passers-by to pen their frustration on banners with the words, "Singaporeans unite against the deadly haze".

The Sunday Times counted four signatures in one hour, and Mr Low claimed that 12 people had signed over the course of the day. He said he would be passing the banners to the Indonesian Embassy.

And at a separate event at Hong Lim Park in the evening, 26-year-old trainee lawyer Wilson Foo hit out at the Indonesian government for not tackling forest and plantation fires over repeated years.

Don't get mad, get organised
Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

The haze this week has dominated conversations, hogged attention and generally caused us all in Singapore much grief.

The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index has crept to historic highs, reaching 401 at one point on Friday.

We've all smarted from it and choked on it.

And I'm not just talking about the smog caused by fires burning in the Riau province forests in Indonesia.

I'm talking about Singaporeans smarting from and choking on the callous indifference of Indonesian ministers and officials to Singaporeans on this issue and their shameless attempts to shift the blame.

On Monday, Forestry Ministry official Hadi Daryanto was quoted as saying that the slash-and-burn method of clearing land for cultivation was used not only by local farmers "but also employees of oil palm investors, including Singaporean and Malaysian companies".

"We hope the governments of Malaysia and Singapore will tell their investors to adopt proper measures so we can solve this problem together."

This is a valid point.

But as Singapore made clear, it can do so only if Indonesia named the companies responsible, so the government here can take action. Consumers too are up in arms: Name the companies and we know what to do, said numerous Facebook posts.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said he thought Singapore's requests for Indonesia to identify the culprits were "redundant" as "we are fully aware of the impact and consequences and the need for action".

The Indonesians have named some companies this weekend. That's welcome, even if it comes about a decade late, considering that the haze is an annual affair and enforcement action should have been taken promptly after each episode. But still, late is better than never.

What's needed next is for green groups and consumer groups to look into the details and organise campaigns to mobilise consumers to put pressure on the commercial players to stop open-burning methods all down their supply chain.

But the remark that takes the cake came from Mr Agung Laksono, the minister coordinating the haze response in Indonesia. He told reporters in Jakarta: "Singapore should not be behaving like a child and making all this noise.

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

At this point, the PSI shot up to stratospheric levels. That's the Pour Salt (into wounds) Index.

Forest burning is not an act of nature. It is a wilful act of greedy company executives and irresponsible farm owners, condoned by officials who close an eye to such practices.

I considered writing an open letter to Mr Agung, inviting him and his pals to come to Singapore to enjoy the Sumatra forest-laced air.

They could stay in naturally ventilated Sentosa chalets, or al fresco accommodation on the beach under the stars. Drive around in open-top trucks. But maybe it's better to ask them to hotfoot it down to Riau instead.

At this stage, I told myself, don't get mad. Get even. In particular, get organised.

Unlike some folk online who think the Singapore Government has waffled/ not done enough/ massaged PSI numbers, I think Singapore ministers are doing their best with a bad situation in such a cross-border issue. When Indonesian ministers complain that Singapore is making too much noise, you know the diplomatic and government channels are feeling our officials' sustained verbal pressure.

Leaders are constrained by diplomatic conventions. Private citizens are free to say what we think. But we should direct our ire at the right channels.

Get organised. Lawfully, of course, and civilly. The people of Singapore have not made it clear enough to the Indonesian authorities that we are fed up of smarting from and choking on the haze year in and year out, and just as fed up with their inaction and insensitivity.

The haze is an annual affair. Indonesia hasn't ratified the 2002 Asean transboundary haze pollution treaty signed by other members. Singapore has offered technical and financial assistance to Indonesia to fight the fires.

Each year, the heat and rhetoric level goes up with the PSI. And then the rains come, or the winds blow elsewhere, and the issue fades - until the next year.

More coordinated and sustained action is needed this time. A big protest at Hong Lim Park would be ideal, but is hard to pull off given the hazardous air outdoors - although that hadn't stopped intrepid campaigners from getting one going yesterday.

But a social media campaign is useful.

Start a SMASH movement: Singaporeans Mobilise Action to Stop the Haze.

Use social media to organise to help ourselves. Some have already done this to good effect: getting Singaporeans to donate masks to distribute to low-income families, and persuading companies to stop outdoor work to protect workers from the hazardous air. These are all laudable.

Some energy can also be spent harnessing Singaporeans to speak out on the haze to persuade the Indonesian authorities to take this more seriously. With companies being identified, it's also time for consumer protests and boycotts.

Sign a petition like this one:

Join the Haze Elimination Action Team (H.E.A.T) group on Facebook, led by university professor Ang Peng Hwa. The page says H.E.A.T "is a group of volunteers who want to breathe fresh air outdoors".

The group started in 2007 raising funds for an educational effort in Jambi, which has not seen major fires. It's being revived "to mobilise anyone in the region interested to join; to mount an education campaign for farmers; to boycott companies identified as offenders; to raise funds for the above effort".

We can all get creative. Netizens can haze out blogs and websites with protest photos. Send e-mails to protest the haze to the Indonesian embassy. E-mail relevant government departments in Jakarta. Share information on the commercial activities of the companies on whose land and concessions the burning is taking place.

Staying indoors this weekend because of the haze? Be a keyboard warrior. We can do our part to SMASH the haze.