Best of our wild blogs: 21 Jun 13

Mark your calendars! The Festival of Biodiversity 2013 is coming! from Raffles Museum News

Nature and the Big City: lots of ways to make a difference!
from wild shores of singapore

Wild chickens
from Life's Indulgences

Random Gallery - Black Veined Tiger
from Butterflies of Singapore

Short Walk At Kent Ridge Park (13 Jun 2013)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Biodiversity and Why it Matters
from Our Planet by Dr. Nancy Knowlton

The untold story – Sun Bears and their impacts
from Bornean Sun Bear Conservation

Building a new generation of local conservationists: how improving education in Uganda may save one of the world's great forests from news by Jeremy Hance

Read more!

Singapore: 'Very unhealthy' air expected Friday

Feng Zengkun And Grace Chua Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE'S air is likely to be "very unhealthy" today, according to the official forecast of the 24-hour PSI.

Elderly people, pregnant women, children and those with chronic diseases should avoid outdoor activity or wear an N95 mask,

the National Environment Agency (NEA) said at a briefing yesterday.

It did not provide one-hour PSI updates, it added, as no scientific study shows the health impact of short-term spikes.

Recent hourly updates have been the averages of readings taken in the previous three hours. These were introduced in 1997 to give more current information.

A spokesman said its health advisories are based on average PSI readings taken over 24 hours.

From today, the NEA will issue a rolling 24-hour PSI reading every hour on its website, in addition to the three-hourly updates, to give a better sense of the likely impact on people's health.

"One-hour updates would result in a lot of spikes over time," said the NEA's Mr Joseph Hui.

Mr Choi Shing Kwok, permanent secretary for the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, added: "We have no scientific studies done on very short exposure periods."

Dr Erik Velasco from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology said the most common practice by the international environmental authorities is to report both hourly and daily average concentrations of PSI readings.

This is alongside pollutant concentrations by regions and from each monitoring station. He said: "With hourly data, we would have seen a gradual increment in the PSI yesterday evening, and not a sudden jump from 190 to 290."

He said studies show health is affected by less than one hour's exposure to high concentrations of pollutants as well as hours of exposure to lower-level concentrations, but these studies were mainly in temperate and not tropical regions. The PSI is often higher at night because the sun's heat helps the air to rise and mix. Without this, pollutants could be trapped near the ground.

The NEA's 11 air-quality monitoring stations use US Environmental Protection Agency benchmark methods. Some particle monitors may show different readings as they use different methods, the NEA said.

Read more!

Not act of nature but man-made: NEA chief

Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

THE haze triggered by fires raging across Sumatra is not an act of nature, but man-made, National Environment Agency (NEA) chief executive Andrew Tan said yesterday.

Hence, Indonesia needs to take more decisive action against errant companies, Mr Tan told The Straits Times, echoing remarks he made at a two-hour meeting held here yesterday afternoon between Singapore officials and their Indonesian counterparts.

Singapore, he added, could work together with Indonesia to map its satellite images of hot spots onto land concession maps of affected areas in Sumatra, and track those responsible.

"I urged Indonesia to take more decisive action, because the situation is likely to deteriorate in the next few weeks and at the onset of the dry season if no further efforts are taken," he said.

"We registered that given the weather conditions, the burning actions are man-made and therefore can and should be averted. We pressed them to take our concerns seriously."

The emergency meeting at Indonesia's Foreign Ministry followed telephone calls between foreign and environment ministers from both countries on Tuesday. In addition, Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishman is due to travel to Jakarta today.

Singapore's Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit a record high of 371 at 1pm yesterday, an hour before the Jakarta meeting began.

"On Singapore's part, we conveyed the very serious concerns that Singaporeans have over the deteriorating haze situation... how this was unprecedented and (how) PSI levels deteriorated very quickly," Mr Tan said.

"(We) are now at a stage where air quality is at hazardous levels. So we can't take this lightly."

Singapore also proposed to bring forward a sub-regional ministerial meeting on transboundary haze set for August, he said.

Indonesian officials were asked to share if they have information about Singapore companies involved in illegal burning so that Singapore can act as well.

"We had a frank discussion with host agencies," Mr Tan said.

The Singapore side was updated regarding a ministerial meeting yesterday morning that saw a national task force on haze being set up. Measures agreed on included stepping up firefighting efforts and enforcement against errant firms. Immediate steps included cloud-seeding to induce rain.

The task force, chaired by Coordinating Welfare Minister Agung Laksono, includes the ministers for foreign affairs, the environment and forestry. Mr Agung told reporters that cloud-seeding would take place as soon as it was feasible, starting today. The salt is ready, the planes are in place, he said, but there must be clouds.

He noted that the burning was not always above ground. Some 850ha of land had been ablaze in recent days, and fires in some 650ha had been put out, he said.

The government is investigating which companies are responsible and will take action against those found culpable. "But there must be a process," he said.

Burning 'the cheapest way to clear farm land'
Poor farmers cannot afford machinery and manpower
Joyce Lim And Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja In Dumai (Riau Province)
Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

WHY do people use fire to clear the land when tractors and earth movers can do the job? It is the cheapest way, came the reply from a plantation manager.

"It takes just 10 litres of diesel costing 50,000 rupiah (S$6.40) to flatten 1ha of land," Mr Fadli, who goes by just one name, told The Straits Times.

"In contrast, it would cost more than 15 million rupiah to hire workers and rent excavators to flatten and clear a plot of land that is of the same size," said Mr Fadli, a field manager at a rubber plantation in Pelintung, Riau.

And it would take men and machines one full day to finish the job, he added.

For poor farmers in Indonesia, it is hard economics and not green issues like environment protection that dictates what they do.

This is why they are likely to continue with a practice that has been used for generations, Mr Fadli said. "But we are not like that," he was quick to add.

He insisted his company does not use the slash-and-burn method, but was hard put to explain why there were burnt logs and branches in some parts of the plantation. Also, a worker was using an excavator to flatten land that had obviously been burned.

Mr Fadli declined to reveal the name of the company he works for or the size of the firm.

His boss, who wanted to be known only as Apeng, said it is common for oil palm plantation owners to hire contractors when they want to clear the land.

Some contractors may sub-contract the work. But as sub-contractors are not paid a lot, they tend to choose the cheapest and fastest way to get the job done.

Mr Apeng said the method of clearing the land is often not specified in contracts.

So, when the question of illegal practices arises, the owners are usually absolved of blame. Legally, they have not have broken the law, said Mr Apeng.

Yesterday, The Straits Times team spent 12 hours looking for hot spots and trying to find out the identity of their owners. Many of these plantations are massive, and it takes about two to three hours to get from one to another.

We managed to find three hot spots, but none had signage that would tell us who the owners are.

The firefighters we spoke to also claimed they did not know who owned the land.

Along the way, our team came across many smaller plots of burnt land. At these smaller plantations, we saw that one part of the plantation would be planted with oil palm trees and another part would be burnt. This is what is known as partial burning.

Plantation owners selectively burn parts of their land to clear it for planting new crops.

They would build canals around the plot of land that they intend to burn. After the land is set ablaze, water from the canals is used to put out the fire. The excavators would then move in to flatten the land and remove burnt tree stumps and branches, leaving no trace of the slash-and-burn method that had been used.


It takes just 10 litres of diesel costing 50,000 rupiah (S$6.50) to flatten 1ha of land. In contrast, it would cost more than 15 million rupiah to hire workers and rent excavators to flatten and clear a plot of land that is of the same size.

– Mr Fadli, a plantation manager who goes by just one name

Read more!

Greenpeace working to link hot spots to firms

Aaron Low Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

GREENPEACE International is mapping hot spots and matching them to companies whose plantations have contributed to the fires, the group said yesterday.

So far, it has identified more than 1,100 hot spots on islands in the Riau archipelago, the biggest source of the haze, said Mr Kiki Taufik, Greenpeace Indonesia's forest campaign manager.

About half of the hot spots were in areas that were supposed to have been protected by Indonesia's forest moratorium, put in place in 2010 to stop further deforestation, he said.

"About 600 of the hot spots were in the areas protected by the moratorium, while another 577 were outside of them," he told The Straits Times yesterday.

The group is working to map the hot spots and link them to the companies given concessions to build oil palm plantations. "But it is hard because the official concessions map does not seem to be complete, so we will need some time to analyse the data," he said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a press conference yesterday that the Government will take action against any Singapore firms found to have been responsible for the fires. He said the Government is studying what action it can take under the law.

Meanwhile, agricultural companies continued to state they did not have anything to do with the fires. One firm, Cargill, sent The Straits Times a map pinpointing its plantations as well as the hot spots identified by the National Environment Agency.

Cargill's map showed that its plantations, PT Hindoli and PT Harapan Sawit Lestari, which are part of a joint venture between Cargill and Temasek Holdings, were not in the hot spots.

Other Singapore-listed palm oil firms also said there were no fires on their plantations.

First Resources said that it had not seen fires on its plantations, while Wilmar said it was "not developing any new plantation in Sumatra, and therefore not contributing to the haze".

Hotspots show weaknesses of Indonesia`s forest moratorium: Greenpeace
Antara 20 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Greenpeace said Thursday half of the hotspots detected on June 11-18, whose smoke travelled to Singapore and Malaysia were in areas that should have been protected by Indonesia`s forest conversion moratorium.

"The fact that fires continue to affect the regions shows how weak is the forest protection enforcement schemes in Indonesia," said Yuyun Indradi, Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner said in a release received here Thursday

Indradi also said that companies should also be responsible for ensuring their supply chain, commit to zero deforestation and stop unlawful practices such as clearing land by burning forests and damaging the country`s air.

According to Greenpeace`s analysis of the current revision of the moratorium, map also found that there are more than 10 million hectares of primary forest and about 32 million hectares of secondary forests in Indonesia are not protected by law.

In each revision, the number of forests legally protected under the moratorium continues to decrease - more than six million hectares, has been reduced since 2011.

"President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently told Greenpeace the government will work harder to strengthen environmental protection and prevent reduction of the protected forest, This is a weakening signal and should be strengthened," said Indradi.

More than 600,000 hectares of peat lands, primary forests and secondary forests-rich carbon content which if destroyed will contribute greatly to Indonesia`s greenhouse gas emissions, have been removed from the latest moratorium map.

The lack of current data and transparency create confusion about where the actual protected forest moratorium. Based on best available data, forest moratorium is overlapping with 5.5 million hectares of forest whose licenses have been given to serve as timber and oil palm plantations, selective logging or mining.

The Government should review the concessions that have been granted, increase transparency in terms of licensing, create a low carbon land database as a credible alternative to the high-carbon land destruction and make a clear plan of land use.(*)

Editor: Heru

Read more!

Singapore PM Lee urges calm amid worsening haze conditions

Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Haze conditions in Singapore worsened on Thursday, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hitting a new all-time high of 371 at 1pm.

As Singapore deals with the worsening conditions, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged for calm.

He has also outlined additional measures the government will take to deal with the problem.

These include setting up the Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee and granting medical subsidies for vulnerable groups with haze-related ailments.

Mr Lee said: "We cannot tell how this problem is going to develop because it depends on the burning, it depends on the weather, it depends on the wind.

"It can easily last for several weeks, and quite possibly it could last longer until the dry season ends in Sumatra, which may be in September or October. So we will need to adapt our response to suit the changing situation and protect ourselves in practical and sustainable ways."

He said the priority is to ensure the health and safety of Singaporeans and that life goes on.

Better data will be made available, so Singaporeans can anticipate what the haze situation might be and take the necessary precautions. There will also be daily media briefings.

Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen, who is the chair of the Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee, said: "We want to give as much information as possible to Singaporeans in as timely a manner as possible. We have had feedback that the current channels of providing information, there are gaps, and we acknowledge there are gaps, and we are trying to plug them."

MOH will implement a special scheme where young Singaporeans aged 18 and below, elderly Singaporeans aged 65 and above, Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) card holders, Public Assistance (PA) and Medical Fee Exemption Card holders who suffer from respiratory problems and conjuctivitis because of the haze can see their GPs, pay S$10 and MOH will settle the rest of the GP bill.

When asked about the possibility of a stop-work order as hazardous haze levels persist, Mr Lee noted that there is no single tipping point.

Mr Lee said: “I don't think there is any single point, where we turn action on and turn action off on stopping work, because it will be depend on what people are doing, what their exposure is, what our assessment of the situation is in the past 24 hours and the outlook.

“I think we will have to calibrate our response as we go along. So I can foresee if the haze gets more and more dense then we would take a gradually escalating series of steps."

"We can ask people to work for shorter periods, outdoors, we can ask people to put off doing the more strenuous work outdoors, we can ask people to take breaks if they're working outdoors. We can ask people to have masks.

"We can eventually say certain categories, you have to stop. So I don't think there's any hard line where we say everything comes to a stop, and indeed it's not possible for everything to come to a stop because life must go on.”

Concerns over why Singapore takes a three-hour average and not hourly to measure pollutants in the air were also addressed.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, minister for environment and water resources, said: “Actually, we are probably the only country that's publishing three-hour rolling average PSI.

"If you look at PSI readings at almost every other jurisdiction, it would be on a 24-hour average and the updating is not going to be at an hourly interval and published almost instantly as what we have now.

"If you look at individual data points, they can be quite spiky but our three-hour PSI already gives a lot more fluctuations than you would see in almost every other jurisdiction.

“I want to give you the assurance that we will give all the data that we have. But I also want you to understand that our reactions have to be carefully and deliberately thought through. It cannot just be on the basis of reacting or following the crowd."

At the international front, leaders said the focus is to stop the burning at source.

Singapore will provide satellite pictures and maps of hotspots to enable Indonesian authorities to pinpoint the source of the fires.

In the long term, Singapore said it will work with Indonesia on sustainable methods of farming.

Indonesia has accused Singaporean companies of being involved in starting the fires, although it has not given any names.

Mr Lee noted that there will be consequences if such companies are identified.

He said: "In principle our view is you have to comply with Singapore laws and if you are doing something which is damaging the environment in Singapore then we have to take it very seriously.

"For example, if an oil tanker passes through the Strait of Singapore and discharges a whole lot of gunk which ends up in East Coast Park, we will track down that oil tanker and do something about it and we have done it before.”

He added: "We have requested (Indonesia) to provide us any evidence they may have on this. If any Singapore companies or companies which are present in Singapore are involved, we will take this up with them.”

Separately, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said he hopes Indonesia will try and control the fires in Sumatra.

Writing on his Facebook page on Thursday, he said: "I know it is not easy as it is a vast country and some of the fires could be sparked off by the dry weather. But it is a member of G20 and these countries aspire to show responsible global leadership."

Mr Goh added Singapore too, must play its part too to help Indonesia as a good neighbour.

He suggested Singapore could offer some useful resources like a team of fire-fighters and aircraft to seed rain, if feasible.

- CNA/jc/xq

Practical, flexible, customised approach for workers during haze: Balakrishnan
Channel NewsAsia 21 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan has recommended a practical, flexible and customised approach for workers during hazy conditions.

The minister was speaking at Channel NewsAsia’s Talking Point programme on Thursday evening.

"For a worker who will have to do hard strenuous work, despite very high PSI level, we may recommend that he uses an N95 mask. And we'll have to make sure that N95 masks are available,” said Dr Balakrishnan in response to a question by a member of the public who asked why construction workers were still working under hazy conditions.

"We have to have a practical, flexible, and in a sense a tailored, customised approach to deal with the different demands and the different vulnerabilities that people will have. So we're not going to have a single on-off, stop-work, carry-on-work, kind of approach," he added.

The minister also noted that there was a great demand for masks, and assured viewers the masks will not run out -- the government has stockpiled a significant amount of N95 masks and has just done a re-stocking at all retail outlets, he said.

Anyone not able to get one should be able to do so later Thursday or Friday.

Also brought up was the scheme to help Singaporeans with their medical expenses, should they fall ill from the haze.

This applies to Singaporeans aged 18 and below, the elderly 65 and above, Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) card holders, as well as Public Assistance and Medical Fee Exemption Card holders.

A caller, who said she was asthmatic and 57 years old, asked if the scheme could target vulnerable groups or those with medical problems, rather than by age group.

"Come and see your local MP and we'll find a way to help you. Don't worry about the finances… just get access to medical care first and we'll sort the things out," said the minister.

- CNA/jc

Q&A: 'No hard line where everything comes to a stop'
Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at yesterday’s haze press briefing with Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen (left) and Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan. PM Lee said the authorities would assess the haze situation daily and give guidelines to all accordingly. -- ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

WITH haze levels here continuing to hit record highs, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong convened a press conference at the Istana to answer queries on how the Government intends to deal with the situation.

Some key issues raised and the responses:

What is the PSI threshold before stop-work orders are issued or schools are closed?
The decision to issue a stop-work order will depend on more than just a single number, said PM Lee.

"I don't think there is any single point where we turn action on or action off on stop-work because it will depend on what people are doing, what their exposure is, what our assessment of the situation is in the past 24 hours and the outlook..."

He said that the Government would likely take a gradually escalating series of steps as the haze worsens, but there is no "hard line where we say everything comes to a stop".

Similarly, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that the Government will carefully consider when to close schools.

"We will assess on an ongoing basis when there is risk to the public at large before we make those decisions," he said.

What can Singapore do to compel the Indonesian government or companies involved to deal with the fires causing the haze?
Singapore will continue to engage the Indonesian government, said PM Lee as he noted that there was no mechanism for one sovereign country to cause another country to do something.

"You can influence, you can encourage, you can persuade, you can request but finally it's within each country's authority and responsibility to deal with the problems within their own country," he said.

He noted that while countries have certain obligations like the Rio de Janeiro Declaration which states that countries have a responsibility to ensure activities within their jurisdiction do not cause environmental damage to other states, it is up to each country to comply with them.

In the long term, Singapore wants to work with Indonesia on sustainable agricultural practices so that they can clear land without destructive burning. An existing partnership in south Sumatra has expired but the leaders of both sides have discussed a renewal.

PM Lee added, however, that the Government would act on any Singaporean companies found to have been responsible for the fires. He said the Government is studying what action it can take under the law.

"In principle, our view is you have to comply with Singapore laws and if you are doing something which is damaging the environment of Singapore, then we have to take it very seriously."

For PSI readings, why do we use a three-hour average instead of a one-hour average?
Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that the focus should not be just on the data but also on how it is analysed, so that it can become "useful, actionable advice".

He pledged that the Government will provide all the data it has, but added: "I also want us to understand that our reactions have to be carefully and deliberately and consciously thought through."

Both he and PM Lee noted that the numbers can fluctuate greatly, which means that what someone feels may not always directly tally with the three-hour average.

Go to for an edited transcript of the press conference

Govt unveils slew of measures to tackle haze
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 21 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — As hazardous air levels continued to plague the Republic for the second consecutive day, the Government yesterday announced a raft of measures to combat the haze menace, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong laid out his priorities to tide the country over the crisis.

Speaking at a press conference held at the Istana, Mr Lee announced that, starting yesterday, daily press briefings will be held where the authorities will issue the next day’s air quality outlook and health advisories for different groups of people.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings and the 24-hour PM2.5 Concentration levels will also be published hourly, instead of the previous practice of publishing these at 8am, 12pm and 4pm.

Starting today, the Government will subsidise the needy, the young and the elderly on medical bills incurred at designated general practitioner clinics for respiratory problems and conjunctivitis. At the polyclinics, every Singaporean will enjoy the subsidy. Under this special scheme, most patients will pay S$10 or less per visit.

At the GP clinics, the Government will be subsidising S$30 of the bill for each visit by Singaporeans aged 18 and below and those above 65, as well as Community Health Assist Scheme, Public Assistance and Medical Fee Exemption card holders.

A Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee was also set up. Chaired by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, it will focus on protecting public health and safety and work with Indonesia to reduce the haze at source. On top of issuing clear guidelines on the protective measures at each PSI threshold, it will also review guidelines for protecting vulnerable groups and ensure that society and businesses, especially essential services, continue to operate.

A day after the three-hour PSI reading hit an unprecedented 321, Singapore suffered its worst ever air quality at about 1pm yesterday when the PSI reached 371.

Mr Lee reiterated that hazy conditions are expected “to persist for some time” as the wind and weather conditions will stay the same over the next few days. Flanked by Dr Ng and Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan at the press conference - which was attended by foreign media including the Financial Times and Reuters - Mr Lee called on Singaporeans to “remain calm and look out for one another”.

He said: “Our priority and my priority is to protect the health and safety of Singaporeans, especially for the vulnerable groups like the young and the elderly and those who have heart or lung diseases, for example, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”

Mr Lee assured that the healthcare infrastructure is ready to cope with an expected increase in the number of respiratory-related medical cases.

There is also an adequate supply of masks, with the Ministry of Health yesterday replenishing the pharmacies from its stockpile of about 9 million masks.

On the international front, Mr Lee said that he will be writing to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono “to register our serious concerns and reiterate our offer to help”.

At an emergency meeting in Jakarta yesterday, Singapore – represented by National Environment Agency (NEA) Chief Executive Andrew Tan – repeated its commitment to work with Indonesia to tackle the haze. NEA said that the Indonesian government is considering Singapore’s offer of an assistance package which includes an aircraft for cloud-seeding operations, high-resolution satellite pictures and hotspot coordinates, which are similar to what Singapore provided in previous bouts of haze. Singapore requested for Indonesia to ratify the ASEAN Transboundary Haze Agreement which Indonesia signed in 2002. The Indonesia government said that it would be seeking its Parliament’s approval on the matter.

In a Facebook post, Dr Balakrishnan said he will also be flying to Jakarta today to address the haze situation.

Putting into context the scale of the problem, Dr Ng pointed out that the source of Singapore’s problem is about 250 km away.

“The hotspots are scattered over Central Sumatra which is quite large... Dense haze has dispersed over a wide area measuring thousands of square kilometres with Singapore in the midst of it,” Dr Ng said.

He added: “Like it or not... we are dependent on the Indonesia government to take measures to address the source of this environmental disaster.”

But he stressed that Singapore “must not let the haze overwhelm us”. He said: “There are things that we can do to protect ourselves, get on with our lives and keep Singapore going.”

Dr Balakrishnan reiterated that while “urgent and definitive action on the ground” needs to be taken, “we have to find a way to adapt and to take appropriate precautions so that life can go on”.

On whether the Indonesian government has given any indications as to which parties are responsible for the forest fires, Mr Lee said the Singapore Government has yet to receive any information.

While he noted that it was “very hard to tell” which specific companies were involved, he pointed out that from the satellite pictures, it was possible to tell - based on the topography and features on the ground - whether the areas on fire were “irregular patches” or areas with “regular grid lines” which would in turn indicate whether the land clearing was a big scale operation or a “small holder slashing and burning”.

Mr Lee pointed out: “On the scale of it, it’s unlikely to be just small scale holders just slashing & burning... need a lot of small holders for that.”

Responding to a Greenpeace report yesterday - which had named a subsidiary of Singapore-listed company First Resources as one of the errant companies owning a burning land via its subsidiary - Mr Lee reiterated that the matter will be taken up with the company “if there’s evidence involved”.

First Resources strenously denied Greenpeace’s allegation and clarified that it had long relinquished concession rights to the area in question.

On what action will be taken against errant companies, Mr Lee said that the Government was studying certain measures but “it depends on what we can do under the law and what practical”. He said: “In principle, our view is, you have to comply with Singapore laws and if you are doing something which is damaging to the environment in Singapore, then we have to take it very seriously.”

Data for PSI readings will be published on Government website
Eugene Neubronner and Ng Jing Yng Today Online 21 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — While the Government announced yesterday that it will be publishing haze-related data more regularly, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan argued against calls for spot readings.

This is because “individual data points” can fluctuate a lot, he said — citing how the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings can vary by “a factor of almost a hundred” within an hour, as they did on Wednesday night and yesterday afternoon — and focusing on minute-to-minute readings would be akin to “chasing one’s tail”.

“It is important that we analyse and assess the data appropriately so that it becomes useful, actionable advice,” said Dr Balakrishnan at a press conference yesterday called by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the haze situation. “In planning an appropriate response, we cannot be reacting reflexively without thinking or considering or analysing the implications”. Instead, the Government will look at the situation on a “day-to-day basis” and, based on 24-hour data, give “appropriate advice” on how the public should cope with the haze crisis, he added.

As the haze worsens, some Singaporeans have questioned the accuracy of the PSI readings, arguing that it does not tally with the situation outside their windows. Those who were more cynical even wondered whether data was doctored.

Dispelling the doubts, Dr Balakrishnan said that data for all PSI readings will also be published on the Government’s website “so there is no question about data abstraction or amputation”.

The Government is “committed to total transparency”, he reiterated, noting that Singapore is “probably the only country” publishing these readings which are updated every hourly.

Mr Lee added that there might seem to be discrepancies in the published readings when the haze outside one’s window “looks terrible”, but this was because the figure represented the average reading over three hours, and so could be better or worse than what is experienced on the ground.

Dr Balakrishnan also addressed queries on the delay in the publication of PSI readings on Wednesday night, saying heavy traffic “literally (crashed)” the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) website.

On whether Singapore would follow Malaysia’s decision to shut schools once PSI readings breach the 300 mark, Mr Lee said there would not be an “automatic” line where students would be kept at home. “But if the PSI keeps on going up we will ... look very carefully and ask ourselves what we can and cannot do,” he said.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen added that the professional view was that the haze would have varying impact on individuals’ health, depending on factors such as age, pre-existing conditions and levels of activity. Unlike infectious diseases, he added, the haze has “(much) more variability” and the Government would assess on an “ongoing basis” if there is a risk to the public before making any decisions.

Clear guidelines would be drawn up over the next few days, said Dr Ng, seeking the public’s patience.

Yesterday, it was also announced that the 24-hour PSI and PM2.5 concentration readings will be published hourly, instead of only at three time intervals daily currently. Three-hour PSI readings will also be posted online round-the-clock and not just from 6am to midnight.

At a media briefing yesterday, NEA Project Director (Environmental Monitoring Systems) and Chief Scientific Officer Indrani Rajaram also said the 24-hour PSI index system, which is derived from average values over the period, was in accordance with the United States Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

She added that the index is based on the pollutant that has the highest concentration over a 24-hour period, which, in this haze, is PM10. On queries about the 3-hour and 24-hour PSI readings, Ms Indrani said the 24-hour readings are a “better reflection” of the total exposure of an individual.

Sounding the alarm for collective action
Simon Tay and Nicholas Fang Today Online 21 Jun 13;

The haze in Singapore is at a historic level, exceeding the worst seen back in 1997-98, and blankets the global city in a rancid shroud of grey. Neither is Malaysia spared; several parts of the Peninsula register unhealthy pollution readings.

Reports again point to land and palm oil plantation fires in Indonesia as the cause. The haze is a recurrent phenomenon and its return is greeted with a mix of anger and fatalism. People feel there has been plenty of time to fix the problem, so finger-pointing ensues — at Indonesia, the Singapore Government or palm oil plantations.

It is right to expect that regional governments should send the strongest political signal to address the situation. This is especially as the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will take place next week, notwithstanding other items on the agenda such as ASEAN economic integration and tensions in the South China Sea.

In raising this issue, however, finger-pointing can be counterproductive — because, fundamentally, Indonesian cooperation is needed.


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong did the right thing when he raised the issue with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during their bilateral dialogue back in April. Other Singapore ministers — Dr Vivian Balakrishnan for the environment and Mr K Shanmugam at foreign affairs — have now contacted their counterparts.

Parts of the Indonesian establishment can respond positively. The bilateral relationship between the two countries is positive on many fronts. Indonesia has also taken up a high profile in leading ASEAN and will try to avoid tainting their growing reputation. In addition, Indonesian authorities need to act for the sake of their own citizens — the very worst of the haze afflicts the towns and peoples of Riau, which is nearest to the fires.

The global implications of the fires and haze for climate change are another dimension. The haze represents a huge spike in climate change gases that sends Indonesia into the uppermost bracket of worldwide polluters.

In ongoing negotiations at the United Nations, Indonesia stands to gain billions in funds from schemes to reduce carbon emissions by avoiding deforestation and land degradation. But any funding is contingent on proof that Indonesia can stand by pledges to conserve forests lands. The current fires vividly undercut such belief.

There are, therefore, domestic, regional and international reasons for Indonesia to do better in addressing the problem. Some elements in Indonesia will respond positively. After all, in 2006, President Yudhoyono pledged to reduce the number of fires, and this had some effect. That presidential pledge should be renewed. Furthermore, Indonesia should finally ratify the ASEAN Haze Agreement that was concluded more than a decade ago.


Yet, even if it does, doubts remain about how effective Jakarta promises will be in the now de-centralised provinces. This is especially as the Indonesian forestry and agricultural ministries seem to take quite a different attitude. When criticised, a forestry official responded recently that Singaporean and Malaysian companies are to be implicated. When the Singapore Government asked Indonesia to name the companies responsible, an Indonesian government official warned “foreign parties” not to meddle in its internal affairs.

Yet, this is a critical question to be answered. If it is true that the Indonesian operations of Singaporean and Malaysian corporations are involved, nationality must not excuse inaction. It instead shows the importance of cross-border governance.

The burgeoning industry of plantation and forestry resources in South-east Asia is linked by trade, consumption and finance, and governments need to work together to better regulate the corporations across borders.

It does not, however, make sense for Singapore to try to act alone. Without evidence, any ban on trade would run the danger of demonising the entire palm oil industry. This is unfair and, indeed, counterproductive when some companies are trying to green themselves in response to consumer demands and have pledged not to use fire. Even if Singapore did boycott the trade, unless others join in the move, the industry would simply shift elsewhere while the haze remains.


The reality is that there is no silver bullet for an immediate solution. The issue can, however, be managed, and it has been better managed in the recent past. Witness the relative drop in haze and fire after 1997-98, before again spiking in the last two years.

But even management needs consistent attention and considerable resources, whereas for most people, concern over the haze is only really activated when the problem is literally in our face.

Cooperation is also complicated across borders and across sectors — with governments and large corporations, as well local communities involved. This was tested and showed signs of success when Singapore’s National Environment Agency worked from 2007 with Indonesian provincial authorities on limited sites in Jambi.

A multi-level approach is needed. First, there needs to be a clear and consistent political signal from regional leaders and ministers. We should expect that the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting next week will address the issue, at least on the sidelines, among the concerned countries. Indonesia should also ratify the ASEAN treaty.


Beyond this, there is harder work to reach the palm oil companies as well as the supply chain and financial companies that support the industry.

Governments need to adopt a carrot-and-stick approach towards companies operating on the ground. Even as errant companies are brought to account, firms that are sincerely and successfully implementing sustainable measures in their operations should be commended. This would encourage other companies to follow suit.

For this, the role of non-government organisations will be important. Some NGOs in Indonesia, such as the national branch of Greenpeace, have been collating hard evidence of plantation owners conducting illegal burning activities, raising public awareness of these errant companies and assisting in the prosecution of some. Others, like the World Wide Fund for Nature, have been helping to set aside tracts of rainforests to protect them from loggers and burners alike.

Ultimately, the question remains of how to put all these together. What is required is a regional dialogue among the different stakeholders — agencies of government, diverse corporations and community and environmental groups. Only then can common points be agreed upon and cooperative work begun, rather than pushing the blame around. But this will require much more consistent attention, persistent work and resources than have been given to the issue to date.


Simon Tay and Nicholas Fang are, respectively, Chairman and Executive Director of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA). The SIIA has analysed and held a series of dialogues on the fires and haze since 1997.

PM lists priorities in tackling haze
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

AS HAZE levels soared to a record high yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pledged to focus on protecting vulnerable Singaporeans, working with the Indonesians to stem the problem and keeping the country going.

He outlined his approach during a press conference at the Istana, as Singapore endured yet another day where air quality reached the hazardous range.

At one point, it hit 371 on the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), making yesterday the most hazy day in the country's history. To carry out those priorities, the Prime Minister has asked Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen to head a Haze Inter-ministerial Committee.

It will review guidelines for protecting vulnerable groups, make sure society and businesses continue to operate, and issue clear guidance on the protective measures at each PSI threshold, said Mr Lee.

His comments were an apparent signal that the haze response would involve action at home, not just engagement with Indonesia.

Mr Lee warned that it was hard to tell how the haze situation would develop. It could last for a few weeks, or even until Sumatra's dry season ends in September. He said: "We will need to adapt our response to suit the changing situation, and protect ourselves in practical and sustainable ways."

For example, the Health Ministry will introduce a scheme allowing Singaporeans who suffer haze-related respiratory problems to see a general practitioner at certain clinics for just $10 if they are 18 or below, 65 or above, or are on public assistance. The Government will also hold daily briefings to keep the public up to date.

Companies have been taking measures to protect their staff, such as giving out face masks, letting them work from home or, in some cases, sending workers home. But there is no magic PSI number that will trigger a work restriction order from the authorities, said the Prime Minister.

Instead, the approach will be to assess the haze situation on a daily basis and give guidelines to individuals, schools and companies.

"So, I don't think there is any hard line where we say everything comes to a stop, and indeed, it is not possible for everything to come to a stop, because life must still go on," said Mr Lee.

He also stressed the importance of collaborating with the Indonesians to solve the problem, instead of taking an antagonistic stance. For instance, Singapore has been promoting sustainable agricultural practices in Jambi, South Sumatra, so farmers and plantation owners do not need to clear their land by burning.

The pact is up for renewal, and Singapore is looking forward to continuing the partnership, said Mr Lee.

But he added that there are no levers that Singapore can pull to compel Indonesia to put a stop to the illegal burning as it is a sovereign country, just like Singapore.

"You can influence, you can encourage, you can persuade, you can request, but finally, it is within each country's authority and responsibility to deal with the problems within their own country."

Despite this, Singapore will take action against local firms - or foreign ones operating here - if they are guilty of contributing to the haze, said Mr Lee.

He urged Singaporeans to stay calm and to look out for one another: "I am quite confident that we can manage this problem, and we can go through it if we stay together and work on it together."

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, who was also at the press conference, said he was hoping to meet Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on his trip to Indonesia today.

PM Lee has also written to Dr Yudhoyono.

Yesterday, Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency said that Dr Yudhoyono has instructed its chief Syamsul Maarif to immediately use all national resources available to extinguish the forest fires raging in Riau. Personnel, equipment and cloud-seeding material to induce rain have already been sent to Pekanbaru, it added. The agency also said the Indonesian leader had ordered it to control the haze as soon as possible.

National Environment Agency chief Andrew Tan, who was in Indonesia for emergency talks, also urged Jakarta to take more decisive action.

Seek solutions, not harsh words: PM
Zakir Hussain and Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

INSTEAD of countering scathing remarks made by a senior Indonesian minister, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday that he preferred to focus on solving the haze problem and reassuring Singaporeans they will be fine.

Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono, who is coordinating his country's relief and response efforts, had hit out at Singapore earlier at a press conference in Jakarta, saying: "Singapore shouldn't be like children, in such a tizzy."

PM Lee said it would not be "fruitful" for him to respond, and refused to be drawn into what he called "megaphone diplomacy".

"What we need to do is to solve the problem and also reassure our people that they will be okay and taken care of, and that everything which can be done is being done," he said.

"And I think we should work towards solving the problem rather than exchanging harsh words."

Mr Agung earlier told reporters that Singapore said nothing when there was fresh air, but complained about the occasional haze.

He also rebutted criticisms that Indonesia had yet to ratify an Asean pact on transboundary haze pollution. "Singapore is like that. The border issue hasn't been settled, neither has extradition, corruption."

Asked about offers of assistance from Singapore, he said: "If it is just half a million (dollars), better we use our own budget."

His remarks quickly drew a flurry of angry responses on The Straits Times' Facebook page. "We are not children, we are just taking precaution as it (the haze) is hazardous to our lives," said reader Mildred Lee.

Why naming, shaming might help
Jessica Cheam Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE, the clean and green garden city, turned hazy and grey this week when winds blew in the thick smog caused by more than 100 hot spots over Sumatra.

The haze that enveloped the Republic was the worst in history, hitting a record of 371 on the Pollutant Standards Index yesterday, curtailing outdoor activities.

The Asean bloc has tried to address the haze pollution for more than a decade with limited success. Each year, its ministers meet to discuss the issue and pledge cooperation on tackling it. There has been some progress like in Jambi province, where Singapore and Indonesia worked together to implement steps to address forest fires.

But notably, the 2002 Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which legally binds countries to prevent and control haze, has not been ratified by Indonesia, rendering it toothless because most of the burning originates there.

Indonesia has taken umbrage at suggestions it has not done enough, but over the years, it has been relatively ineffective in enforcing and prosecuting those who start the forest fires. Short of engaging ministers in more talk, Singapore and Malaysia have their hands tied as the burning is not in their territory.

So, what options do we have?

If the authorities are unable to make progress, then commercial and public pressure could be the key to addressing the problem.

Singapore has now called on Indonesia to publish the concession maps that will show which companies own the burning spots. Indonesia has suggested that it was Malaysian and Singaporean palm oil companies behind the hot spots, and has since said it will check and "then we will coordinate".

This is a long overdue move, and governments, non-governmental organisations and wider society must put pressure for such information to be made transparent.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan hinted as much when he said: "I am sure consumers will know what to do."

In other words, the power to stop this lies with us.

When I say "us", I mean not just Singaporean consumers - as we are only a small country with limited buying power - but the wider international community, because the haze pollution knows no borders.

We might suffer most of it due to our proximity to the burning, but the larger concern is the huge amounts of carbon emissions the burning is adding to the atmosphere, worsening climate change and destroying biodiversity.

As educated consumers, we have the capacity to demand that companies conduct their business responsibly and without detriment to the wider public.

To some extent, this has already been demonstrated in campaigns by environmental groups against major palm oil players. A recent Greenpeace campaign targeting consumer giants like Unilever and Nestle, for example, has led to these companies dropping Singapore-listed Golden Agri- Resources (GAR) as a supplier. The storm of public criticism had forced Unilever and Nestle to relook their supply chains and in turn, forced players like GAR to clean up their act. GAR has since engaged external parties such as the Forest Trust to look into their operations, and Unilever has also resumed buying from it.

It is unrealistic to expect these companies to clean up overnight, but at least there is a process of improvement.

In the current era of technological innovations and crowd-sourcing, it is also difficult to withhold information from the public.

It is then up to us to demand these firms to do the right thing. After all, we are the shareholders who buy their stock and the consumers who buy their products.

This is the only way to make progress. Sooner or later, the rain will wash away the smog and the skies will clear again. But even though we may no longer see it, the haze problem still exists.

And it will never go away until we take the necessary steps to address it.

Strengthen reach of environmental laws
Burton Ong For The Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

THE legal issues shrouding the annual haze problem we are facing in Singapore are complex, but more can certainly be done on the Singapore side.

On the one hand, there are tricky international law issues between Singapore and Indonesia - independent sovereign states with distinct legal regimes - set against a backdrop of multi-layered sociopolitical forces which animate the Asean regional grouping.

On the other hand, the essence of the dispute lies in the irresponsible actions of one group of people in one country causing harm to a much larger group of people in a neighbouring territory. Open burning causes air pollution which is harmful to the environment and public health.

In Singapore, a clear statutory prohibition against the open burning of refuse or waste can be found in Section 6A of the Environmental Public Health (Public Cleansing) Regulations. Other criminal and civil sanctions may also be levied against the parties responsible for such air pollution where the air pollution generated causes personal injury, property damage or a nuisance to others.

A similar spectrum of Indonesian legal remedies may be triggered where both the polluter and the injured party are located within Indonesia.

If both countries have environmental laws which can be invoked to punish those who engage in open-burning activities, why is the problem intractable once the air pollution crosses national boundaries and inflicts harm upon victims in another territory?

The immediate obstacle is whether the legal system of the country whose residents bear the brunt of the ill effects of the pollution can be used against the perpetrators. In other words, whether the Singapore courts and other organs of state have jurisdiction over those who engage in harmful activities outside of Singapore.

As a general rule, principles of national and territorial sovereignty preclude states from applying their laws to parties and conduct beyond national borders.

Exceptions are made where, for example, there is some important public policy consideration at stake, or where the foreign conduct produces a direct adverse impact on the affected state.

Extraterritorial jurisdiction would thus be justified on the basis that serious harm is suffered by a state, such that it has a legitimate interest in extending the scope of its laws beyond its territorial limits.

Singapore is no stranger to enacting laws which have an extraterritorial reach. These include statutes directed at prohibiting overseas drug consumption by Singaporeans and curbing corrupt acts of Singaporeans overseas.

Our laws also prohibit foreign economic undertakings from engaging in anti-competitive behaviour outside of Singapore that adversely affects competition within Singapore. Why not extend the scope of our environmental laws to cover those responsible for engaging in pollutive open- burning activities in Indonesia?

The economic and social impact of the haze on public health, tourism and a broad range of other economic activities provide more than ample justification for Singapore to assert such extraterritorial jurisdiction.

To be sure, extraterritorial laws are not easy to draft or enforce. But in principle, it is possible for Singapore judgments to be awarded against foreign entities, to be enforced outside Singapore by foreign courts.

Difficulties of enforcement are not insurmountable.

Difficulties in identifying which parties should be held legally accountable - landowners, plantation operators, parent companies and subsidiaries, downstream economic operators and so forth - can be dealt with by legislation which expands the circle of liability beyond those who actually light the fires to include parties who profit from such activities while knowing of or acquiescing to such land-clearing practices.

Difficulties relating to proving which fires in Sumatra contributed to the haze in Singapore would require drafting laws which allow the prosecuting agency to establish causation by proving certain basic facts. For example, an evidential presumption could be raised if the prosecutor could show that open burning on a certain scale took place on a particular date when haze was felt in Singapore, with prevailing winds blowing towards Singapore on that date.

As for difficulties in imposing and enforcing financial penalties, these may be overcome by targeting the Singapore bank accounts of the corporations and corporate officers found jointly liable of such misconduct. Jail terms could enhance the deterrent effect.

It would be ironic if those whose selfish decisions harmed Singapore's people and economy were to enjoy the financial rewards of their conduct by using our banking and other services.

Merely applying "commercial pressure" to discourage such behaviour is not enough. We must give serious thought to strengthening our environmental law regime to fight this annual scourge.

The writer is Associate Professor, Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore and the Deputy Director- designate of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law.

Use the law to fight the haze
Encourage whistle-blowers, and introduce laws that compel producers to clean up their act if they want to ship palm oil products through Singapore
Ivan Png For The Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

IT'S become an almost annual ritual for Singaporeans during the South-West Monsoon season: the haze is back.

Effortlessly but sadly, I have built my own Pollutant Standards Index meter. I look out my NUS office window. When I cannot see the Pasir Panjang port cranes, just over 1,000m away, I know that the PSI exceeds 200.

How to solve this vexing issue? Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has suggested that consumers bring pressure on agricultural producers through "name and shame". The idea is good but the challenge is: How would we know who is burning the peat lands in Sumatra?

An Indonesian forestry official has countered that Malaysian and Singapore palm oil plantation companies are responsible for the open burning. Dr Balakrishnan and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam have asked Indonesian ministers to name the companies responsible for the burning. But the silence from the government of Indonesia has been deafening.

Let me suggest two more practical approaches. One is to shift the burden of proof from the consumer to the producer.

We should legislate that palm oil and other agricultural products may be imported or trans-shipped through Singapore only if the product is certified as not produced on land cleared by open burning. This law would be similar to the way that the world regulates trade in endangered species through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

Cites came into effect in 1975. It regulates the export, import and trans-shipment of endangered plants and wildlife. Such plants and animals may be traded only with the proper licence.

We can apply a similar policy to agricultural products. A difference with Cites is that we do not need to wait for an international treaty. We can pass the law on our own. (With this policy, Singapore could set an international example, just as it has done with "opt out" organ donations, road pricing, and other world-first policy innovations.)

Responsible agribusinesses should have no problem complying with the law. The law would precisely target the companies that are slowly killing us with fine smoke particles. By cutting the sales and profits of the culprits, we would give them a clear financial incentive to clean up their act.

My other suggestion is to revise our environmental law to prohibit any acts, wherever they may be located, that cause air pollution in Singapore. Isn't it ironic that a factory in Jurong that pollutes our air will be prosecuted, but a plantation in Sumatra that pollutes even worse gets off scot-free?

Importantly, the law should also include a whistle-blower provision to reward anyone who provides information leading to convictions. Currently, we are stuck with a free rider problem. It is very costly (perhaps impossible) for any individual person to identify the culprits. The work requires organisation and resources. But the benefit is spread across many, including all of the people in Singapore and West Malaysia. So, the job does not get done.

The purpose of the whistle-blower provision is to give a strong incentive for people to pinpoint those responsible for open burning. Whistle-blowers have been instrumental in exposing white-collar and environmental crime in the United States and Europe.

We can apply the same concept to combat the haze. We might then even get the help of local government officials and plantation workers in Sumatra. The prospect of a whistle-blower reward worth perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars would certainly focus their minds.

The writer is Lim Kim San Professor at the NUS Business School and professor of economics and information systems, National University of Singapore.

Read more!

Singapore: PSI hits new all-time high on Thursday

Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The haze in Singapore reached hazardous level on Thursday afternoon, with the PSI reading hitting a new all-time high of 371 at 1pm.

The latest reading surpassed the previous high of 321 recorded at 10pm on Wednesday night.

At 5pm, the PSI was at 268, which is classified as very unhealthy.

Singapore and Indonesia are scheduled to hold emergency talks in Jakarta later Thursday to tackle the haze issue.

According to the National Environment Agency, dry weather conditions and prevailing winds blowing the haze into Singapore are expected to persist for the next few days.

On Wednesday night, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said whether a stop-work order will be issued will depend on the severity of the haze conditions.

Hear what Mr Balakhrishnan has to say on the haze situation on Channel NewsAsia's Talking Point which will telecast a Haze Special "LIVE" on June 20 at 8pm. Other guests on the show include Dr Loo Chian Min, Deputy Chair of the Haze Advisory Panel.

- CNA/fa

Hazewatch: PSI readings today
Today Online 20 Jun 13;

Tourism in Singapore takes a hit due to haze
Dylan Loh Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Flyer and Seletar Airport, which services charted flights, have fallen victim to the haze on Thursday.

Both were closed as precautionary safety measures.

Seletar Airport was closed on Thursday from 11am till 11pm, and may be extended subject to visibility conditions.

Singapore Flyer will reassess the situation Friday morning to decide when it will re-open.

Visitors with tickets can get a refund or opt to visit it again when it re-opens.

Tourist Angelian Merry said: "I feel so sad because the Singapore Flyer is closed… We came from Indonesia just to ride the Singapore Flyer and see the view."

Chris Armand, a tourist from New Zealand, said: "To arrive in a place which is supposedly modern and very efficient and come to something like this is a complete shock. We've cut short our holiday. We were going to stay three days. We're now only staying one."

At Changi Airport, the haze completely blanketed the aerodrome, even as the air hub remained operational.

As a precaution, intervals between departing and arriving flights were doubled from a minute to two.

Two flights at Singapore's other civilian airport at Seletar were diverted to Changi and Johor Bahru in Malaysia, and eight departures cancelled.

Kuah Kong Beng, director of air traffic services at Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, said: "Seletar is a visual environment airport. Aircraft that intend to land at the airport must have the runway visual. So during the haze, the visibility at Seletar has dropped to less than 1,500 metres, and the visibility is now a range between between 700 to about 1,200 metres and as a result we will not be able to accept arriving aircraft or departing aircraft."

Meanwhile, Resorts World Sentosa said it had fewer visitors to its Adventure Cove Waterpark.

The integrated resort also tweaked the format of some shows due to the haze.

- CNA/xq

PAP town councils, PCF kindergartens take steps to help community cope with haze
Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The PAP town councils and PCF kindergartens are also taking steps to help the community cope with the haze.

A post on the People's Action Party's Facebook page said to ensure safety and health of its workers, the town councils will adhere to MOM guidelines as they continue to provide essential conservancy services.

Non-essential outdoor services such as block washing will be postponed.

As for kindergartens under the PAP Community Foundation (PCF), they will follow guidelines under the Early Children Development Agency (ECDA) to limit outdoor activities and keep programmes to indoor air-conditioned spaces.

All centres will remain open unless instructed otherwise by ECDA, exercising vigilance over children with illnesses, especially those with asthma.

MPs will also be actively promoting information, as well as the specially-launched CHAS package to residents announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a news conference on Thursday afternoon.

Meet-the-People Sessions will continue to be held, with queue priority given to the elderly and vulnerable in the community.

PAP said it will assist fellow Singaporeans “to help them continue life as normal and to pull through this difficult period together”.

- CNA/xq

Companies take steps to protect staff from haze
Tan Qiuyi and Wong Siew Ying Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Companies from various industries are taking steps to protect their staff from prolonged or unnecessary exposure to the haze.

These include distributing masks, redeployment of work and allowing staff to work from home.

Smoke from forest fires that is blanketing Singapore has hit hazardous levels on several occasions in recent days.

Homegrown company Pestbusters has issued N95 masks to some 80 workers who are required to work outdoors.

It has placed orders for two weeks' supply of masks at about S$5,000.

Despite the cost involved, the company has also instructed workers to cut down on outdoor work as far as possible in the interest of health.

It is also providing hourly updates on the air pollution level to staff through phone messaging.

Thomas Fernandez, chairman and CEO of PestBusters, said: “It will reduce our productivity, eventually there will be backlog of work to catch up. If there is an order from MOM to stop all the jobs, then we are looking at between S$15,000 to S$20,00 a day. This is not including loss of opportunities when other people looking for us to do certain jobs and we have to turn them down."

If the haze situation does not improve, Pestbusters said operations could be scaled back and staff may be put on rotation or asked to go on leave.

Meanwhile, logistics players such as SingPost and FedEx have also issued N95 masks to their outdoor staff.

Older employees or those with respiratory conditions have been re-assigned indoor tasks.

Fast-food chains like McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut have suspended their delivery services to protect their despatch riders.

Most organisations have a business continuity plan where they identify potential threats and devise measures that ensure business operations are not severely compromised. The scenarios planned for could include bomb threats, a pandemic and natural disasters like earthquakes. Experts said haze will probably be added to that list.

Professor Richard Arvey, department of management and organization at National University of Singapore Business School, said: "There is enough precedence here in Singapore and in Asia that there are sort of airborne vulnerabilities and that should spur companies to be more proactive. If individuals become ill as a result of this there's potential insurance cost. Psychologically if companies are not responsive, it sort of signals that they are not particularly conscious or aware or care about their employee's physical well-being. By being proactive I think signals a very positive, caring environment and that has intangible rewards in terms of morale, employment satisfaction and even turnover.”

Singapore lenders DBS Bank and OCBC Bank are installing carbon filters in the air distribution systems at their office premises and branches.

Meanwhile, Shell has taken steps to minimise staff exposure to the outdoors and has cancelled a family carnival on 19 to 22 June.

The Association of Banks in Singapore has postponed an outdoor event on Saturday which will be attended by some 1,000 bankers and top executives.

However, outdoor work continues in Singapore despite the haze.

In Nee Soon, the town council distributed masks to more than 300 cleaners.

The majority of town councils are postponing all non-essential work like landscaping and tree pruning.

Essential services like refuse removal will continue.

Teo Ho Pin, coordinating chairman of PAP Town Councils, said: "Let us focus on the PSI situation, the haze situation, and look into the welfare of our workers, and from there I think let us prioritise the maintenance work, and continue to provide essential services during these challenging times."

In addition, taxi drivers whom Channel NewsAsia spoke to are having a harder time than usual finding passengers, and they are seeing fewer flag-downs on the road.

The National Taxi Association said taxi drivers are feeling the brunt as business is down 25 per cent.

The drivers are still required to meet a minimum number of hours and mileage.

The association hopes the Land Transport Authority will review the indicators when the PSI level goes past 200.

On Thursday and Friday, 3,000 masks and 1,000 bottles of eye lotion will be handed out to taxi drivers at Changi Airport, taxi kiosks and pump stations.

- CNA/xq

Retailers in Singapore badly hit by haze
Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The haze has hit local retailers badly with reduced foot traffic and sales are estimated have have dropped by 8 to 12 per cent, according to a dipstick survey by the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA).

In response to Channel NewsAsia's queries, SRA said suburban malls have not been as badly affected as stores in the city, as most people prefer not to venture too far away from their homes.

The haze is also expected to affect mall operators and retailers' promotional events during the June school holidays.

Most of the events are targeted at children, who are now expected to stay home.

SRA warned that the retail industry would be badly hit if the haze situation continues or worsens.

Many retailers, who are already facing high operating costs, could see their profit margins being further eroded, as more people stay indoors or at home.

- CNA/xq

Clinics & hospitals in S'pore see more patients with haze-related conditions
Olivia Siong and Hu Jielan Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Some hospitals and medical clinics in Singapore said more people are seeing the doctor for haze-related conditions.

As of 4pm, the National University Hospital said there was a 10 per cent increase in patients on Thursday alone, compared to a week ago.

More workers have also taken ill.

The hospital said it has deployed portable or mobile air-conditioners to all subsidised wards.

Employees were also advised to review plans for outdoor activities. The hospital's playground area has also been closed off.

Associate Professor Malcom Mahadevan, head of emergency medicine department at National University Hospital, said: "There was a gentleman who was exposed to the haze and started developing chest pains. We had to admit the gentleman for a minor heart attack. Some of them already had preceding asthma and respiratory conditions that were exacerbated by the haze. So they were admitted for stabilisation, and hopefully (they will) be discharged soon."

Doctors said the young and the elderly are the most vulnerable.

Then Mun Tat, manager at Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home, said: "The patients who had heart and lung problems, respiratory problems before, we are putting a list to check on them two-hourly to make sure they have no breathing difficulties or irritations to the eyes, to the skin. We stopped all outdoor exercises, physiotherapy. The physiotherapist is doing massage indoors. Additionally, my nurses are donning N95 masks so they can carry on caring for our patients."

As for medical clinics, Raffles Medical said its patient load has gone up by 10 to 20 per cent over the past few days.

It has also issued 10 per cent more medical certificates.

Clinics under Parkway Shenton too, have seen an increase of about five per cent of patients with haze-related ailments in a week.

It has given out five per cent more medical certificates as well.

With the haze getting worse, doctors said that even those without existing medical conditions are likely to start to feel the effects of the haze. This is particularly so in the upper tract region, that is the eyes, nose and throat area.

Dr Gilbert Yeo, family physician at Parkway Shenton, said: "The most common would be those having asthma, so they have exacerbation of asthma and COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, otherwise known to layman as smoker's lung. So these are the people who are very vulnerable to the haze.

“We also see patients coming in for exacerbation of their allergic rhinitis, this which means sensitive nose in layman's terms and also their sensitive eyes.

“As for the normal person like myself, we feel a bit of throat discomfort, very irritable eyes, some of us may also have irritation of our noses. A simple remedy to do would be to drink water, of course, because that would reduce throat irritation. The other thing is to actually use a mask, even at home, or when you go out, and to avoid doing outside activities.”

Dr Yeo added: "Most of the common questions are the long-term effects, whether it will cause lung cancer. It will not cause lung cancer for this short-term haze. But those who already have asthma or lung disease tend to be very badly affected this period of time, and also the elderly and the young ones."

Polyclinics under SingHealth and National Healthcare Group (NHG) said they have not seen a noticeable increase in patients. NHG said it expects more patients in the next few days.

- CNA/xq

NTUC urges employers to ensure workers' safety amid ongoing haze
Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is urging employers to take immediate and proactive measures to ensure that the health and safety of their workers are safeguarded all times, as the haze situation here persists.

In a statement, NTUC's Assistant Secretary-General Cham Hui Fong said while no stop-work order has been issued by the relevant authorities at this point, employers should exercise discretion and flexibility and make necessary adjustments to their operations.

This is to minimise the risks posed by haze exposure to workers.

NTUC said appropriate protective masks must be issued to workers for outdoor work.

If they are unwell, workers must have the right to stop work and rest indoors.

Ms Cham added that workers should not be penalised for absence from work if it is due to the haze as this is beyond our control.

She said where appropriate, employers may also consider allowing workers to telecommute.

- CNA/fa

Pre-schools, nursing homes gird for more haze ahead
Ng Jing Yng Today Online 21 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — One pre-school operator will designate “isolation rooms” for children who have respiratory issues at all its centres, while another is trying to procure air purifiers for its facilities. Others have ceased outdoor activities and kept their windows shut, providing masks for their staff and their young charges where possible.

These were among the measures taken by pre-school operators as they began girding themselves for what could be weeks of noxious haze. Nursing homes, likewise, have take steps to mitigate the situation for their elderly, such as by cutting down physiotherapy and strenuous activities.

The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) yesterday morning issued an advisory to all childcare centres instructing them to cancel all indoor and outdoor physical activities for children, keep them “strictly indoors” and close all doors and windows should the Pollutant Standards Index’s (PSI) 24-hour readings exceed 200.

YWCA Childcare Manager Sandy Koh said some children with caregivers have decided to stay home. “Across our centres, there is a 10 to 20 per cent absentee rate. Right now, we are trying to work out a deal with a supplier to purchase air purifiers but we are not sure if that is possible, as we will require several units for all our centres.”

At Agape Little Uni, staff decided to designate isolation rooms after an emergency meeting on the haze. Said its Overall Director Chris Lim: “We have also air-conditioned all our centres and kept the children indoors.”

A spokesperson from EtonHouse said its teachers have redesigned lesson plans and moved all “outdoor experiences” indoors.

Operators have also taken care to keep parents updated on developments and some said they have advised them to plan for alternative care arrangements should childcare centres have to close, as advised by the ECDA.

The PAP Community Foundation said all its centres will remain open unless instructed otherwise by the ECDA.

Another operator, NTUC First Campus, said a communications plan is in place to ensure that parents are informed promptly in the event of a centre closure. “Activity materials have been prepared and will be given to parents so that children can continue to learn and be engaged even at home,” it said.

Meanwhile, nursing homes like Ju Eng Home are keeping their spaces as well-ventilated as possible.

“We also cut down on physiotherapy as that can be too strenuous. We are keeping a very watchful eye over our elderly as well as our staff so that they won’t fall ill during this period,” said Nursing Director Helen Lee, adding that the elderly will be given masks if they ask for one.

Dr Tony Chia, Director of LC Nursing Home, said it has enough N95 masks on standby. “Our activities are all kept indoors now and we are monitoring the haze situation very closely,” he said. NG JING YNG

Seletar Airport closed due to haze
Today Online 21 Jun 13;

The authorities announced yesterday morning that Seletar Airport was closed to all departing and arriving flights until 5am today due to “prolonged poor visibility caused by the haze”.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said the closure may be extended, “subject to visibility conditions”. Yesterday’s visibility fluctuated between 700m and 1,200m, below the airport minimum operating requirement of 1,500m.

“The airport, which operates under visual meteorological conditions, is therefore not able to accept aircraft arrivals and departures as pilots would not have a clear view of the runway,” the CAAS said. Two arrivals were diverted to other airports and eight departures were cancelled.

Separately, a CAAS spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia that Changi Airport’s air traffic controllers have taken the precaution of increasing the separation between flight take-offs and landings, as the airport’s Runway Visual Range (RVR) was below 1,500m. This has not led to any “significant delays” in flight departures and arrivals, she said.

She added that the RVR fell to a low of 800m during the prolonged period of haze in 1997, but Changi Airport remained open for flight operations.

Companies take steps to protect workers from haze
Alfred Chua Today Online 21 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — As the air quality worsened to a new low yesterday and the Government warning that hazy conditions could persist for weeks to come, some employers here have gone beyond distributing masks and provided workers with some measure of relief from the smog, although others chose to wait for the Government’s lead.

A day after the Republic registered a historical high Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading of 321 — which soared to 371 yesterday afternoon — some bosses, especially those whose employees work outdoors for prolonged periods, told them to cease work completely, suspended work when haze levels breached a threshold, or halted certain kinds of work. Others granted workers the day off, allowed employees to work from home, and even prepared chrysanthemum tea for workers.

For many companies, however, it was business as usual as they wanted “clearer direction from the relevant authorities” first, as construction firm Antara Koh’s Managing Director Jimmy Koh put it.

Meanwhile, the Labour Movement reiterated its call for employers to “take immediate and proactive measures” to safeguard the health and safety of workers.

The plight of those working outdoors for long hours, in particular, was highlighted by Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union (BATU). Writing on his Facebook page, Mr Tan said: “Our areas of (concern) remain focused on those working outdoors, especially if under strenuous conditions and/or being outdoors on a prolonged basis. We also need to ascertain essential services and how best to provide these in a manner that is safe for our workers.”

BATU Executive Secretary Zainal Sapari also urged companies “not to penalise workers who are unable to complete certain tasks or are taken ill due to the effects of the haze”.

Non-government organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) also urged equal access to “precautions” against the haze for migrant workers.

Hiap Hoe Ltd, which has two ongoing building projects, was one of those not waiting for the authorities to act first. Its General Manager for constructions Charlotte Tan said work will cease when the PSI breaches 350, adding that workers are being asked to carry out more indoor work, such as plastering, “so that they don’t get exposed to the haze for too long”.

The PAP town councils also said non-essential maintenance services — landscaping work, block washing and spring-cleaning of market and food centres — will be postponed.

Maintenance workers will also avoid going to rooftops and water tank areas except for “emergency purposes”. Robert Bosch (South-east Asia) has advised its 750 employees to work from home with immediate effect, while photography company Meese Studios gave its workers the day off yesterday.

Its Director Irvin Tan said: “Should I (risk the health) of my wage workers? If these people, whom I’ve painstakingly sought to hire, fall ill, then it reflects badly on the humanity of our company and what we stand for.”

Royal Plaza on Scotts hotel is brewing chrysanthemum tea for all its employees, saying the tea’s anti-viral properties will provide relief for sore throat and respiratory problems.

Doctors urge precautions against exposure to haze
Tan Weizhen Today Online 21 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — The health impact of the haze should not be underestimated and doctors have urged Singaporeans to take precautions against prolonged exposure to the poor air quality, which has plunged to hazardous levels in recent days.

In particular, they cited the record levels of PM2.5 concentration, or very fine particulate matter.

They added that while the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading of PM10 concentration — which was updated more regularly until today — tend to dominate the headlines, Singaporeans should pay attention to the PM2.5 reading as well.

For example, the PM2.5 concentration went up to about 304 μg/m3 at 4pm yesterday, way past its normal levels of between 20 and 40 μg/m3.

The PM2.5 concentration reading measures small particles of less than 2.5 microns in diameter, which can slip past the nasal passages into the lungs and blood streams, potentially creating an entire host of problems from heart attacks to stroke and even brain damage in extreme cases.

In comparison, the PM10 concentration reading tracks particles that are less than 10 microns in diameter, which get trapped in the nasal passage.

Nevertheless, the doctors stressed that the severity of conditions depends on the amount of pollutants breathed in by a person, so the exposure during normal commuting would not be considered too hazardous.

Associate Professor Philip Eng, a Senior Consultant in respiratory medicine, said: “The much smaller PM2.5 particles can go anywhere in the body, any organs. This can trigger inflammation of the blood vessels and lead to heart attacks, even in people with no history of heart disease.”

He added that inflammation could occur in unborn fetuses and these children have a higher risk of developing asthma after they are born.

Mount Elizabeth Respiratory Consultant Ong Kian Chung said one of the effects could even be brain damage, occurring at a similar level to people with Alzheimer’s disease. “But the effect is dose dependent. How long people need to be breathing in the polluted air to suffer such hazardous effects is not known,” he said.

Dr Ong added that, for average office workers, the PSI levels of beyond 300 do not pose a threat so severe that they have to stop working or work from home. “But for people who work outside, such as delivery drivers, it is hazardous, as they work outside all day long. Their number of working hours should be limited and they must be made to wear N95 masks,” he said.

The doctors also recommended that people wear N95 masks and close all windows and doors at home to bring down their exposure to the haze.

But Dr Lee Lay Tin, Head of Occupational Health Department at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, cautioned that these masks are only effective if they are of the correct size and fit. She advised those with respiratory ailments to consult their doctors on the use of respirator masks before buying them.

She said as much as 60 per cent of the haze particles may penetrate indoors, depending on air flow, and using air-conditioning and closing windows and doors may bring down the level.

On the use of air purifiers, she noted that they “may help reduce levels of smaller airborne allergens, particles, or, in some cases, gaseous pollutants in a home”. “However, air cleaners may not reduce adverse health effects, particularly in sensitive populations such as children, people with asthma and allergies, and the elderly. They also need to be properly maintained to be effective,” she said.

Air-con, fans for subsidised wards
Hospitals keep windows closed but provide cool, clean air for patients
Salma Khalik and Poon Chian Hui Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

PUBLIC hospitals are rushing to set up mobile air-conditioners, air blowers and fans to ensure clean air for their subsidised patients.

With the haze hitting hazardous levels, patients in B2- and C-class wards can no longer enjoy fresh air through open windows.

It becomes very stuffy when all the windows are closed, said Mr Joe Sim, chief executive of National University Hospital (NUH).

So, it has taken out its stock of more than 100 mobile air-conditioners and put them in these wards.

Changi General Hospital, on the other hand, is "blasting" air into the wards, said Mr T.K. Udairam, head of Eastern Health Alliance, which runs the hospital. This forms a positive pressure that forces used air out through the doors, so the air in the wards remains fresh.

At Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), fans and air blowers are being rented and leased. It is also grouping patients at greater risk from the haze in special wards with greater protection.

Last night, the Health Ministry's director of medical services, Professor K. Satku, said not all patients need to be in wards with closed windows, only those who are frail or have underlying medical conditions.

KTPH is also limiting each patient to two visitors at one time.

"This is especially important as the windows in the ward areas are closed or nearly closed. Having many visitors in the wards may compromise the comfort level of our patients," said its spokesman.

The hospital's emergency department is seeing about 30 per cent more patients with asthma this month. NUH reported 10 per cent more patients at its emergency department yesterday.

At a press conference last night, the Health Ministry said there was usually a one- to three-day lag between bad haze and a rise in patient numbers. But polyclinics and hospitals are ready to cope with an expected surge.

It advised people to stay indoors today, as the 24-hour PSI is expected to be between 200 and 300. If they need to be outside for long periods, they should wear an N95 mask. Even healthy adults should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor activity, it said.

Already, more people are heading to neighbourhood clinics with haze-related ailments, from itchy eyes to cough, asthma and chest pain. Doctors are also handing out more medical certificates (MCs) for sick workers to stay home.

Raffles Medical, which has 72 clinics, has seen the number of patients surge 20 per cent, said Dr Tan Joo Peng, its senior manager and physician leader.

Dr Philip Koh, chairman of the medical board at the Healthway chain of 53 clinics, said he has given about 20 per cent more MCs at his Tampines branch. "I haven't had to send anyone to hospital yet, but if this situation persists, I might have to," he added.

SingHealth Polyclinics has seen about 400 asthma patients since Monday, up from 340 in the same period last week, said family physician Jason Tan.

At Bukit Batok Polyclinic, shipyard worker Zaw Min Aung, 35, was spotted with a mask over his face. The Myanmar national, who was upset that the haze has interrupted his work and sleep, had to take the next two days off work.

Beauty consultant Faezah Sanim, 20, said her family of four has fallen ill from the haze.

But many acknowledge there is little they can do. Housewife Jolene Quek, 50, is relying on her air-conditioners. "I make warm chrysanthemum tea for my children and make sure they stay indoors as much as possible," said the mother of two.

Dr Elaine Tan of the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics said that with the dengue outbreak and the threat of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, clinics "may need to prioritise in attending to at-risk groups and those in need of urgent care".

N95 masks will not run out: MOH
Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

By yesterday afternoon, most pharmacies had run out of N95 masks. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE will not run out of N95 masks, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said as it released some of its stock of nine million masks to pharmacy stores last night.

These are the only commercially available masks that will keep out the microscopic PM2.5 particles. These particles, if breathed in, could sink deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. This could affect the lungs and the heart.

By yesterday afternoon, most pharmacies had run out of these masks owing to overwhelming demand. But fresh stock from the ministry arrived on their shelves by last night.

MOH's director of medical services K. Satku said it had ordered more masks, so there is no likelihood of Singapore running short of them.

With an expected 24-hour PSI of between 200 and 300 today, people who are outdoors for long should protect themselves with an N95 mask, MOH advised. Employers should provide such masks to staff who work outdoors.

Firms provide help for workers
Many issue masks to staff or cut back duties
Daryl Chin, Lester Wong And Andrea Ong Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

WITH the haze at record levels, Singapore's companies adopted varying approaches yesterday to protecting employees working outdoors.

Most tried to balance the continuing need to meet deadlines and deliver essential services with the welfare of their workers. So, while it was business as usual for most of the construction firms, many issued masks and conducted safety briefings.

Some, like engineering firm McConnell Dowell, which has ongoing projects in Jurong Island and Orchard Road, went further. It sent its 500 workers home yesterday afternoon.

"A few of our guys were coughing or had eye irritation, so we let them all go," said regional operations manager David Christodoulou, "Some clients may not be too happy, but in the long run, it is our workers who will get sick if they continue working."

Hexacon Construction general manager Dominic Choy suspended strenuous activities, such as plastering or working on reinforcement bars, in the afternoon, and added that work would stop if the Pollutant Standards Index went beyond the 400 mark.

The PSI level soared to a record-high level of 371 at 1pm yesterday, surpassing Wednesday's record of 321 and 1997's record of 226.

The polluted air is deemed "hazardous" when the PSI breaches 300.

On Monday, the Manpower Ministry said employers had a duty to protect their employees' safety and health at work, and must carry out proper risk assessments to mitigate the effects of the haze.

Workers providing essential public services were given the necessary protection or had their duties cut back or modified.

SingPost also set up a hotline for its 1,400 couriers and postmen in case they needed assistance. Masks and eyedrops were also given to them on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Comfort has started issuing masks to its taxi drivers, and advised them to drive carefully, as visibility on the roads is poor.

Over at the ports, operators like Jurong Port reduced outdoor work assignments for employees with existing heart or respiratory conditions and those above 55 years old, or reassigned them indoors.

A National Parks Board spokesman said workers had been told to scale back on outdoor activities and to seek medical attention if they were feeling unwell.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, coordinating chairman for People's Action Party town councils, said non-essential maintenance services such as landscaping works, block washing, tree pruning and the removal of bulky items have been postponed.

Essential services such as lift rescues and emergency repairs will continue as usual, but these workers will be issued masks, he added.

An Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council spokesman said projects delayed by the haze would be granted a deadline extension. Staff were given masks and advised to stay indoors whenever possible.

But there were also service providers that decided to cease operations altogether.

The Red Cross said it was keeping its First-Aider on Wheels - a volunteer patrol along East Coast Park - behind closed doors.

McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut all suspended deliveries completely.

Pastamania initially suspended deliveries but later re-started the service using vans and cars instead of motorcycles. "We cannot promise that we can deliver to all areas, but we will do our best," it said on its Facebook page.

S'poreans join hands to help people weather haze
They donate and distribute masks to needy, or offer homes as shelter
Amelia Teng Straits Times 21 Jun 13;

AMID the haze, groups of people have shown there is a kinder side to Singaporeans.

Several ground-up initiatives to help others have emerged, with one formed yesterday by Mr Jeremy Chua, a liberal arts student at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, United States.

It is called SG Haze Rescue.

The 25-year-old started a Facebook page calling for people to help and donate their excess masks, almost immediately after seeing the Pollutant Standards Index rise to 321 on Wednesday evening.

Mr Chua, who is back home for the summer holidays, was inspired by community initiatives in the US where people offer shelter to the needy in times of crises.

"The haze is a crisis for us, and Singaporeans should come together not to complain, but to do things for one another," he said.

Within a day of making his call on Facebook, Mr Chua received a donation of 200 masks.

He and a group of 10 volunteers spent two hours last night distributing them in five Housing Board blocks at Toa Payoh Lorong 2.

"I see a lot of people complaining about the haze on social media, but hardly anyone is doing anything about it, so I am trying to make a difference and help others," he said.

About 120 people have e-mailed him to offer help.

He expects to receive nearly 2,000 masks by today, and intends to distribute them in the next few days.

He has also started a Google Documents form for people who want to offer their homes to anyone who needs temporary shelter.

Fewer than 10, however, have responded, and one of them is Mr Tong Yee, 39, director of a group of social enterprises known as Thought Collective.

He offered his Namly Crescent home in Bukit Timah, where he lives with his family - his parents, younger sister, wife and three daughters.

"My family's a bit concerned that I am offering our home to strangers, but it is a small risk compared to people's needs," he said, adding that his group of friends are also keen to offer their homes.

As of yesterday, there were no takers, but he said that his home and those of his friends can accommodate about 50 people altogether.

Other civic-minded Singaporeans are also going to HDB flats to distribute masks to the needy.

A group of friends, including Mr Tong and Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Clarence Ching, 18, have arranged for about 5,000 masks to be given to families in four estates: Bukit Ho Swee, Toa Payoh, Jalan Besar and Jalan Kukoh.

Singer Elson Soh, 25, with volunteers from Project Awareness, a group he started to help the needy, will also distribute masks and herbal tea drinks to more than 50 families tomorrow.

"Most of these families do not know how to protect themselves from the haze, and they cannot afford to fall sick because many of them are old and have medical conditions," said Mr Soh.

Read more!