Best of our wild blogs: 16 Sep 15

Little Egret Fishing Tactics
Bird Ecology Study Group

Going Paperless in the Corporate Economy
Zero Waste Singapore

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FAQ on the Singapore haze

Why does the haze look worse than the PSI reading? How does it compare to 2013 levels when the PSI hit a record high? We put your burning questions to the authorities.
Diane Leow, Channel NewsAsia 16 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Singapore is grappling with its worst bout of transboundary haze pollution in two years, with the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index rooted in the Unhealthy range for several days since Saturday (Sep 12).

We put some of your frequently asked questions to the authorities.

The haze outside my window looks worse than the PSI reading. Why?

According to officials from the National Environment Agency and the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), there is no 100 per cent correlation between smell, visibility and the PSI reading, or the 1-hour PM2.5 reading posted on the NEA website.

"PM2.5 particles are measured in a very scientific way, based on the mass of particles as collected in a volume of air. This is accurate as far as the weight of particles in a particular area. Visibility and smell are affected by other factors, other than the mass and the weight of the particles. Visibility could be affected by humidity, and smell could be affected by other types of compounds in the air," MEWR said.

At what point should I wear an N95 mask?

For healthy individuals, the Ministry of Health (MOH) recommends putting on an N95 mask when air quality reaches Hazardous levels, when the 24-hour PSI has surpassed 300.

Authorities also say that those who worry about overexposure to the haze should check the 1-hour PM2.5 reading on the NEA website or app. If the figure is high, it would be advisable to minimise outdoor activities.

MOH says the best way to limit exposure to the haze is to stay indoors, adding that the haze could affect individual people's health differently. Elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise prolonged or strenuous outdoor activity amidst the haze and those with chronic lung or heart diseases should avoid any outdoor activity.

How does this haze episode compare to the one in 2013?

During the 2013 Southeast Asian haze crisis, a typhoon in the Philippines acted as a low pressure zone, causing westerly winds to blow haze from hotspots in Indonesia to Singapore. It propelled the 3-hour PSI to a record reading of 401 on Jun 21, 2013.

This year, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan says authorities are watching a typhoon off the coast of Vietnam. Once it has made landfall, that could result in less westerly or south-westerly winds, which bring haze to Singapore.
MEWR also notes that sudden spikes in PM2.5 readings this year are "very possible", if dense haze clouds are blown towards Singapore by prevailing winds. Looking at 1-hour PM2.5 concentrations, MEWR said sharper spikes were seen in 2013. As such, there could still be sharp spikes from time to time this year.

I've seen social media accounts saying they have the "real haze levels". Are they the real deal?

NEA says there are members of the public who use handheld devices to measure air quality in Singapore, which may not be accurate.

It adds that there are many ways of calculating air quality around the world, as there is no singular international air quality index. Hence, it is best to check NEA's website, Twitter account or refer to the myENV app for accurate PSI and PM2.5 readings, the agency says.

How will the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act help?

The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act enables authorities to prosecute individuals or companies in neighbouring countries that cause severe air pollution in Singapore through slash-and-burn agricultural practices. Errant companies can be fined up to S$2 million if they contribute to the 24-hour PSI remaining at 101 or higher for 24 hours or longer.

NEA says Singapore has been in the Unhealthy zone for close to 70 hours, which has crossed a threshold in the Act.

"In order for us to be able to use some of the provisions in the Act we need to be able to identify where this haze is coming from. This requires some investigation. We would have to have satellite pictures of places where they may be fires and fumes. We are still in the process of doing this investigation for this period that we've been in the unhealthy zone," says NEA.

- CNA/dl

Rain or shine, keep N95 masks on during severe haze: Expert
Rain helps to remove haze particles but it does not do too much to remove toxic gases, says research scientist Dr Erik Velasco.
Chan Luo Er Channel NewsAsia 16 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Heavy rain on Tuesday may have provided respite from the haze, but an expert has cautioned that although the air may seem clearer after the showers, toxic gases are still present.

Dr Erik Velasco, research scientist at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology said the public should still keep their N95 masks on, especially when the Pollutant Standards Index enters the Hazardous range.

“Haze is a mix of particles and toxic gases, and the rain helps to remove particles but it doesn't do too much to remove toxic gases, that is why after this rain, we are still smelling that acrid smell,” he said at an Urban Air Quality and Public Health symposium at Nanyang Polytechnic on Tuesday (Sep 15).

"In previous days we saw the pollution level drop after showers. Yesterday, there was a huge strong shower from 6 to 7pm but it was not capable of reducing the pollution level. In general, rain, strong showers help to clean the air but there are other parameters we need to consider to, meterological winds, the atmosphere, turbulence," added Dr Velasco.

He said this can be attributed to the dense concentration of particles in the air.

On air quality information released by authorities, Dr Velasco urged the public to also pay attention to the PM2.5, which measures particle concentration.

The PM2.5, like the PSI, is available on the National Environment Agency's (NEA) website. On an average day, Singapore's PM2.5 reading ranges between 20 and 40 µg/m³. A reading above 50µg/m³ indicates slight pollution.

"When concentrations go above 150µg/m³, the situation is very bad. More than 200 microgrammes is terrible – that means we have to take drastic measures like closing the schools, avoiding all type of outdoor activities, maybe industry refineries should reduce their activities, traffic should be reduced too. Last night, we reached 341µg/m³ at 8pm in the south sector of the city,” said Dr Velasco.


Another expert noted that the haze may be on everyone's mind, but this does not mean that they are responding appropriately.

Said Dr Christopher L Cummings, from Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information: "We need to be able to get people to react effectively during this time. It's more about people taking their own initiative now and making sure they have ownership over their own actions to protect their own behaviour."

To help Singaporeans do just that, Dr Cummings, along with a team at Nanyang Technological University, is developing an application.

Called Haze Analytics Tools (HATS), this prototype builds on information by authorities to dish out advice, as well as suggest activities best suited to the wearer's health profile. It will also be able to sync with smart watches to monitor a person's heart rate, and in turn, respiratory symptoms.

The team hopes that the app, which will be available in a year or two, will help Singaporeans to alter their daily behaviour when haze levels are high.

- CNA/dl

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Power to stop haze lies in the hands of consumers

All it took was a change in wind direction and now we are engulfed in the choking haze that our neighbours in Sumatra have been enduring.

Haze will not just go away. As long as the forest and peat fires continue to burn, we are playing a game of chance with the wind.

Do we have to suffer helplessly? The answer is no, and the solution is a collective one.

We have been breathing what we buy for far too long. Our consumption choices have been driving the demand for unsustainable palm oil — its production is responsible for forest and peat fires, habitat loss and haze pollution.

From toothpaste to lipstick, unsustainable palm oil has become the accepted ingredient in around 50 per cent of the goods on supermarket shelves. It is in high demand.

It is time for a change, but a boycott of palm oil products is not a viable option.

Palm oil is actually an efficient crop and replacing it with another oil crop would only introduce us to a new set of environmental problems.

What we must change is the way this versatile product is produced, and switch to sustainable palm oil, which does not lead to the generation of haze.

Singapore consumers have the power to insist on sustainable palm oil and WWF Singapore, People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze) and Singapore Institute for International Affairs are providing the platform — the #XtheHaze campaign.

By pledging support online and lending one’s voice to the campaign, we can engage businesses and manufacturers, and work with them to demand clean air on behalf of the public.

As restaurants, bakeries, food manufacturers and other businesses switch to using sustainable sources, the oil palm plantation owners will respond to meet this new demand and clean up their act.

Decades of breathing haze pollution has to stop. And it can be stopped by the people of Singapore if we demand responsible sourcing and production of palm oil for the products we buy.

Join the cause now to make sustainable palm oil the norm in Singapore and rid ourselves of haze for good.

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Scientists from Malaysia and Singapore warn of haze's dire consequences

ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 15 Sep 15;

KUALA TERENGGANU: Even the birds and bees are affected by the haze - that atmospheric mixture of moisture, dust, smoke, and vapour that diminishes visibility and affects breathing of living organisms.

The severity of the current haze has prompted several scientific researchers to call for an urgent need to understand its impact on the ecological land and marine stems.

They also called for a coordinated response plan and effective management to deal with the hazards of open burning of plantations and forests.

Conservation scientist Dr Gopalasamy Reuben Clements said that apart from acid deposition, air pollution, and reduced visibility and ozone, the haze had detrimental effects on the ecological and aquatic systems.

“The acidic deposition of chemicals like volatile organic compounds, ammonium sulphate, nitrates, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ammonia greatly affect living organisms of animals and plants in freshwater and saltwater systems of rivers, streams, lakes, estuaries and seas.

“Anything that breathes air (oxygen) is affected. The toxic chemicals get dissolved in watery environments, thus, reducing the oxygen content.

“Even corals will be affected, what more the protective ozone layer in the atmosphere,” said Reuben, who is also an associate professor of the Keyir Research Institute of the University of Malaysia Terengganu.

Reuben is also the founder of RIMBA, consisting of a group of biologists conducting research on threatened species and ecosystems with the ultimate aim of conserving natural habitats and ecosystems.

“The damaging effect of the haze on the environment can deplete forests, crops and plantations, resulting in drought,” he said at the International Ecotourism and Marine Tourism seminar at the Primula Beach Hotel.

Reuben warned that severe depletion of oxygen levels could cause deaths among humans, animals and plants.

“In short, Reuben said prolonged exposure to the haze can reduce life expectancy, especially of infants, pregnant mothers and people with breathing-related illnesses.
“While outdoor and recreational activities will cease, the increased concentrations of certain heavy metals such as aluminium, nickel, cadmium and mercury in watery environments can poison fish and shellfish that are important in human consumption.

“In terrestrial systems, the deposition of nitrates can interrupt nutrient cycling, resulting in increased plant uptake of heavy metals and nitrates, which in turn increases the morbidity and possibly mortality of animals eating them,” he warned.

Similar views were shared by Dr Zeehan Jaafar, a lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore Faculty of Science, and Dr Loh Tse-Lynn, a postdoctoral research associate at the Daniel P. Haerther Centre for Conservation and Research.

Zeehan said the unprecedented levels of transboundary haze in Southeast Asia prompted him to critically evaluate the potential impacts of biomass burning and haze on marine ecosystems.

“Crop residue and forests in many tropical countries are burnt to clear land for agriculture.

“In Indonesia, annual biomass burning activities cause a widespread smoke-haze phenomenon that affects human health, quality of life and incomes locally and in neighbouring countries.

“While the impacts of these large-scale burning on terrestrial and atmospheric habitats are immediate and obvious, little is known about how adjacent coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves are affected,” she said.

Zeehan added that marine ecosystems of Southeast Asia were global hotspots for biodiversity and support many species unique to the region.

Natural resources, she said, derived from these areas sustain local economies and meet global demands.

“Yet, many marine ecosystems in this region are over-exploited and highly threatened.

“The reduction in sunlight from the haze, and the mass deposition of particulates from forest fires into coastal habitats are likely to have a negative impact on these marine ecosystems. Interactions between these primary impacts are likely to further damage these already imperilled ecosystems,” she said.

Loh said that the land, air and sea were highly interconnected.

“Being aware of both direct and indirect impacts to marine habitats help us safeguard these natural resources.

“We call upon scientific institutions, non-governmental agencies, government bodies and policy-makers in the region to recognise the importance of the haze as an additional stressor to marine environments.

“In addition, we propose a coordinated regional response plan for monitoring and studying the impacts of burning and haze to marine ecosystems,” she said.

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New strategy needed to end haze problem

Jessica Cheam Straits Times AsiaOne 16 Sep 15;

Engrossed in the general election last week, many residents in Singapore hardly remarked on the city's steadily worsening air quality brought about by raging forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia.

Then last Thursday - Cooling-off Day - everyone paused for a breather from the hustings and realised, well, that breathing was not quite so easy.

The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which tracks air quality, hit a high of 248 at 3am last Friday.

All across pockets of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, the haze triggered flight delays, health warnings and cancellations of outdoor events. It was a stark reminder of the persistent nature of the problem, which remains unresolved despite several so-called breakthroughs by both the public and private sectors in addressing it.

The annual haze is caused by the slash-and-burn agricultural practices of Indonesian farmers, who favour it as the quickest and cheapest way of clearing plantations for oil palm, paper and other crops. Carbon-rich, waterlogged peatlands are also often drained in this process, leaving behind highly flammable matter that is difficult to put out once it catches fire.

The onset of El Nino, a climate phenomenon involving long spells of hot and dry weather, has only exacerbated the problem.

In June 2013, these fires were so severe they resulted in record-breaking levels of air pollution in Singapore and a state of emergency in towns in Malaysia and Indonesia.

This triggered a series of responses to the haze. Environmental groups like Greenpeace targeted companies in the forest supply chain in high-profile campaigns. As a result, many of these Singapore-based firms - such as Wilmar International, Golden Agri Resources, and Asia Pulp and Paper - made landmark commitments to stop deforestation and to hold their suppliers to the same standards.

Industry groups such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil raised standards for their certification process.

On the governmental front, Singapore passed the Transboundary Haze Bill which allows it to penalise errant companies that cause haze. Indonesia ratified the Association of South-east Asian Nations Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, some 12 years after its launch. Last December, Indonesian President Joko Widodo promised to restore forest peatlands and hold companies that cleared forests accountable.

Despite these efforts, the haze problem persists because its systemic causes are not being addressed.

Indonesia is a central protagonist and holds the key to the solution, but, in many of its efforts, it has been a case of one step forward, two steps back. Take, for instance, the interlinked issues of transparency, land use information and law enforcement. For decades, there has been a lack of transparency when it comes to maps on land ownership. Without a centralised, public map, the task of pinpointing errant companies or landowners is a murky affair.

To address this, Indonesia has embarked on the One Map Initiative - a comprehensive map of land ownership to provide clarity on the exact boundaries of land owned by companies, communities and the government - which is to be completed in two to three years' time. This effort must be accelerated.

Experts have also noted that even as the government works on this One Map, it has been reluctant to make its existing concession maps publicly available to public forest-monitoring platforms such as the World Resources Institute's Global Forest Watch. If Indonesia is serious about tackling the haze issue, it must release data that will facilitate public monitoring.

The other issue is law enforcement. In the past few decades, officials have either been too relaxed in prosecuting those responsible for starting fires - or been bribed not to do so. This needs to change.

There have been some encouraging signals under Mr Joko, with 10 plantation companies reportedly under investigation for intentional burning.

But one other related concern is that the regional community may be looking in the wrong place. While recent attention has largely focused on the behaviour of large companies - and rightly so, as they own large swathes of forest land - there is an increasing body of evidence that points to small- to mid-scale farmers as equally culpable. Reports in the Jakarta Globe point to studies showing that in Sumatra and Kalimantan, 59 per cent and 73 per cent of fire emissions originate from outside timber and oil-palm concession boundaries respectively. These farmers fly under the radar, are immune to any big campaign by non-governmental organisations, and lie outside the influence of industry groups.

It is obvious that efforts to tackle the haze must also shift towards addressing this group, by implementing local initiatives that incentivise these farmers to manage their land with non-burning methods, among other things.

Encouragingly, the civic sector seems to have been shifting its campaigning efforts to address other players in the forest supply chain.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), for example, launched a new report in May that targets financial institutions in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia for their role in the region's haze and deforestation problems.

The report revealed that a large number of banks in these countries - including Singapore's DBS, OCBC and UOB - perform poorly when it comes to applying environmental, social and governance standards to the companies that they make loans to. This means that they are indirectly financing deforestation and, as a result, the haze.

In July, WWF Singapore, the People's Movement to Stop Haze and the Singapore Institute of International Affairs launched the country's first public campaign to tackle the haze, focusing their efforts on the consumer.

The campaign, "We Breathe What We Buy", seeks to educate buyers about the palm oil used widely in products - from lipstick to toothpaste and ice cream - through outreach programmes, ad placements, school talks and art installations.

The ultimate goal is to get people to buy products only from companies that use certified sustainable palm oil, and trigger a change further up the supply chain to get farmers and landowners to operate responsibly.

Singapore will no doubt regain its clear blue skies when the wind changes direction, but it is clear that the region needs to coordinate and reconsider its strategy.

And we must keep at it, regardless of clear skies or not, if there is to be any hope for a long-lasting solution.

Jessica Cheam, who writes this fortnightly column, is the editor of Eco-Business, an Asia-Pacific sustainable business online publication.

Tough to pinpoint haze culprits
David Fogarty and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Straits Times AsiaOne 15 Sep 15;

In a matter of weeks, Indonesia's haze crisis has exploded despite pledges by President Joko Widodo and some provincial governments to maximise efforts to prevent fires from engulfing large parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
But accurately identifying those behind many of the fires is far from simple. It is easy to blame big plantation companies because of the large areas they control and, at times, because of the large numbers of hot spots recorded on their lands.

But the situation is far more complex. For big plantation firms, fires are their top concern because the blazes destroy crops.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and environment experts say there are many actors involved but also point to investigations being hampered by poor law enforcement, corruption and unclear rules on land use.

"Studies of fire and haze in Kalimantan and Sumatra firmly point towards small-scale farmers and other under-the-radar, mid-scale landowners rather than large companies as the main cause of fires and haze," wrote Dr Erik Meijaard, a conservation scientist of the Borneo Futures initiative, in a recent commentary in the Jakarta Globe.

During a visit to Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra province, The Straits Times saw many small grass fires on a trip outside the city.

The fires could have been started by local farmers, fishermen wanting to clear access to streams and illegal loggers.

Evidence shows that the majority of fires usually occur outside timber, logging and oil palm concessions and that farmers are partly to blame. Complicating the picture further is that many pulpwood concessions have communities living inside them. In some cases, transmigrants illegally claim a piece of land by clearing it using fire and then planting crops - particularly in protected forest areas.

Indonesian law allows farmers to clear forested land using fire, provided the area cleared does not exceed 2ha.

"We have seen largely two types of actors involved in fires in Sumatra," Mr Aditya Bayunanda, WWF Indonesia's Forest Commodity Market Transformation Leader, told The Straits Times yesterday.

"First of all, people are actively setting fires to clear lands, often as part of grabbing new lands. Land-grabbing has recently been increasing inside protected areas as much of Sumatra's lands had been leased to companies. Such illegal encroachments are often sponsored by companies, financiers or even government officials," said Mr Aditya, who is also a member of Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of local NGOs.

Second, he said, oil palm and pulp plantations prime the landscape for fire by opening up lands, particularly flammable peat lands.

"Such fires can occur through various causes, for example, (being) set deliberately by people who have conflicts with the companies," he said.

Mr Achmad Santosa, who was in charge of monitoring law enforcement under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, told The Straits Times yesterday: "The environment law says companies must douse a fire within their concessions, regardless of where the fire started.

"There are companies that do not meet the requirements to have adequate fire-fighting systems. This must be regularly audited and followed up," he said .

Government officials privately say companies pay off prosecutors and the police. Officials and NGOs also say some companies pay third parties to start fires to avoid being directly linked. Local communities are then blamed.

Some companies also take advantage of Indonesia's lack of a unified land-use map, meaning there is often confusion and conflict over how land can and should be used. This makes it easier to illegally clear land and avoid prosecution.

The Global Forest Watch (GFW) programme, run by Washington-based World Resources Institute, produces daily analyses on the fires in Indonesia. Between Sept 7 and yesterday, GFW's analysis of accumulated hot spots for that week showed 48 per cent of fires were outside pulpwood, logging and palm oil concessions. Of the remainder, 48 per cent were on pulpwood concessions and 3 per cent on oil palm concessions. This, though, does not mean the companies started the majority of the fires.

Researchers at the Centre for International Forestry Research in Bogor, near Jakarta, say it is essential that the government understands the political economy around land use and the risk of formulating policies based on incomplete, erroneous or misinterpreted fire data.

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Malaysia, Singapore should take responsibility for fires too, says Indonesian expert

Today Online 15 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR — An Indonesian forestry expert has urged Malaysia and Singapore to do more to fight the smog problem in the region, even as Jakarta declined Singapore’s offer to help put out forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post, Dr Herry Purnomo argued that both countries should be more responsible as the forest fires were caused by companies owned by their citizens.

“About 50 per cent of palm oil companies operating in Indonesia are owned by Malaysians and Singaporeans,” said Dr Purnomo of Bogor Agricultural University, who is a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

He said Malaysia and Singapore should issue regulations and law enforcement for the companies, adding that all three countries should allocate up to US$10 billion (S$14 billion) to cope with the forest fires.

“The cost is equal to the estimated total economic losses resulting from the recent smog,” he told JP, adding that losses by Indonesia alone is estimated at US$4 billion this year.

Dr Purnomo said the swidden method, or clearing lands by burning them, would reduce production costs of Indonesia’s oil palm plantations which are spread over some 11 million hectares across the archipelago. As such, burning land is now adopted by the industry as the best method for cost cutting.

“So, the swidden method has become a policy and common practice for many plantation companies,” he told JP.

Indonesia’s Riau province declared a state of emergency due to worsening air quality, while tens of thousands of children stayed away from schools in Malaysia after authorities ordered schools to close in three states and the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

Joint attempts to stop the smog, which results in the annual “haze” problem enveloping cities in the region, have not yielded any solutions.

An offer by Singapore this week to help put out forest fires was politely turned down by Jakarta, which said it had adequate resources.

Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar said Jakarta has already deployed a host of resources to tackle the fires.

“We have deployed soldiers. We have conducted water bombing in Riau with 18 million litres of water, in South Sumatra and Jambi with 12 million litres of water. Cloud-seeding in Riau with 120 tonnes of salt and 56 tonnes of salt in South Sumatra,” she was quoted by Channel NewsAsia as saying.

“We have done everything. We are serious in putting out the fire.”

Reuters reports that the minister has also agreed to give the Singapore government the names of companies that are owned by the island republic’s citizens. THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER

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Long-term solution necessary to overcome haze problem: Singapore`s Ambassador to Indonesia

Antara 15 Sep 15;

Bandung (ANTARA News) - A long-term solution is required to overcome the problem of haze arising from forest fires in Indonesia, Singapore's Ambassador to Indonesia Anil Kumar Nayar stated.

"We must unite to overcome the problem of haze. We should find a long-term solution. The problem should be addressed properly," Nayar noted here on Tuesday.

According to the ambassador, haze is an environmental, economic, and health problem that has been faced by Indonesians.

"Therefore, we must cooperate to find a solution as soon as possible," Nayar emphasized.

Speaking in connection with Singapores assistance, Nayar remarked that the country is ready to deploy an aircraft to extinguish the forest fires in Indonesia.

"We have offered the aircraft and expertise. This is not just for now," Nayar stated.

The haze has reached Malaysia and Singapore.

Earlier, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) had instructed the concerned parties to send one thousand military personnel to Riau Province in order to help extinguish forest fires in the region.

"Although I am on a visit to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar, I continue to monitor the developments relating to the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan," the president informed journalists in Doha on Monday.

"I have just issued orders to immediately dispatch one thousand soldiers to Riau to overcome the thick smog," the head of state affirmed.

Last week, a total of one thousand soldiers were sent to help put out the forest fires in South Sumatra.

"Previously, one thousand soldiers had been sent to Ogan Ilir, Musi Banyuasin, and Banyu Asin due to the concentration of forest fires in the three districts. Now, we have sent an additional one thousand military personnel to Riau," Jokowi stated.

In addition, the president has also received information about rainfall in Riau.

Even though it rained and the extinguishing efforts are ongoing, however the president insisted that law enforcement efforts should be carried out, so that forest fires will not recur every year.

"I have urged the chief of the National Police to uphold the law, so they (forest fires) will not occur every year. I also appeal to the local government and citizens to jointly extinguish the forest fires," he explained.

Previously, President Jokowi had ordered every stakeholder to help extinguish forest fires and to tackle haze engulfing parts of Indonesia over the past few weeks, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Head Willem Rampangilei stated.

"The presidents instruction on the ongoing haze disaster is to extinguish the fires and to end the haze problem immediately," Rampangilei remarked while visiting the command post of the forest fire task force at the Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base, Pekanbaru, recently.

"Within two weeks, plantation fires must be put out," Rampangilei quoted Jokowi as saying.

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No plans to amend Singapore F1 Grand Prix programme: Organisers

"The haze situation is highly changeable not only from day to day, but from hour to hour. Therefore, it is currently not possible to reliably predict what the PSI level might be over the race weekend," says Singapore GP.
Abhishek Ravikrishnan Channel NewsAsia 15 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Organisers of the Formula 1 (F1) Singapore Grand Prix say based on the current PSI (Pollution Standard Index) levels, there are no plans to amend the published racing and entertainment programme despite Unhealthy levels of haze shrouding Singapore.

The Singapore Grand Prix will be taking place at the Marina Bay Street Circuit from Sep 18 to 20.

"The haze situation is highly changeable not only from day to day, but from hour to hour. Therefore, it is currently not possible to reliably predict what the PSI level might be over the race weekend. We will continue to work closely with all the relevant government authorities to receive the best possible forecasts when they are available," Singapore GP said.

Organisers said they have put in place a number of measures for the race weekend:

The PSI reading and relevant health advisory will be displayed on the Singapore GP website (, official Singapore GP mobile app, and on the giant screens between races and broadcast on the in-circuit radio system. The Government health advisory will also be posted at all Circuit Park entrances.

N95 masks will be available for patrons throughout the Circuit Park at cost price.

All 24 medical and first aid posts have been placed on standby to handle any possible haze-related conditions
Said Associate Professor Koh Tieh-Yong from the Division of Earth Sciences at Nanyang Technological University: "Singapore lies in the tropics, and in the tropical regions, the predictability of our weather is never more than a day, sometimes less. So it's very hard at this moment, Tuesday, to make a pronouncement on how's the wind conditions going to be like by the time the weekend comes. The winds will determine, to a large extent, whether this mass of air, with this haze, with all these suspended smoke particles, comes over Singapore or not."

Fox Sports' F1 analyst Alex Yoong said visibility is a safety factor not just on the race circuit.

"Where it'll actually get dangerous is if the haze is so bad that a helicopter cannot take-off," he said. "If that happens, the FIA (the organisers) will definitely suspend track running. Because in case there's a bad accident and they need to extract a driver to a hospital straightaway, you need that helicopter to be available to them. That's the only thing I see stopping the race."

The former F1 driver also believes drivers will not be deterred by the conditions. "You can always get one or two drivers who might complain, but they drive race cars around a track and go around really fast. That's not really the safest thing in the world," said Mr Yoong. "I'll be very surprised if all of them decide to boycott just due to a little bit of smoke in their lungs."

- CNA/ly/ek

The race will go on
LOW LIN FHOONG Today Online 15 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — The Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix at the Marina Bay street circuit is expected to go ahead this weekend in spite of the haze situation here.

Race promoters Singapore GP said in a statement issued today (Sept 15): “Based on the current PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) levels, there are no plans to amend the published racing and entertainment programme.”

“The haze situation is highly changeable, not only from day to day, but from hour to hour. Therefore, it is currently not possible to reliably predict what the PSI level might be over the race weekend. We will continue to work closely with all the relevant government authorities to receive the best possible forecasts when they are available.”

A number of measures will be put in place for the Sept 18 to 20 race, said Singapore GP. These include displaying PSI readings and health advisories on the Singapore GP website (, the official Singapore GP mobile app, and on the giant screens between races. They will also be broadcast on the in-circuit radio system. The government health advisory will also be placed at the entrances of the circuit park.

Singapore GP will also make N95 masks available to spectators throughout the circuit at cost price, and all 24 medical and first aid posts will be on standby to handle any haze-related medical conditions.

The current haze situation is the worst here in two years, with PSI levels hitting the 24-hour range of “unhealthy” (101-200) air quality during the past few days. A number of outdoor events have also been affected. Last Sunday’s Singtel-Singapore Cancer Society Race Against Cancer was called off, while the organisers of the POSB Passion Run for Kids cancelled the 10km category and Kids’ Run from its line-up after the three-hour PSI hit 147.

While Singapore GP’s decision to go ahead with the race will be met with relief by fans, sponsors, and advertisers, some fans are adopting a wait-and-see approach for the weekend.

“I will gauge how the weather is as I feel this is the worst case of haze that we’ve ever had,” said Ning Cai, 32, who had planned to watch American band Maroon 5 on Saturday.

“I will bring my own mask, but if it gets really bad, there is no point going as I wouldn’t want to fall ill. (PSI) numbers aside, it’s more about how I feel on the weekend. I just recovered from a fever and still have a sore throat (from the haze).”

Designer Justin Cheong, 24, felt that the measures were sufficient for spectators. He said: “That’s more than good enough for me because I won’t give up my ticket.”

“I am going with my colleagues and there is a bit of worry about the haze, but we will be bringing our masks. It (the situation) is not that bad yet so it won’t stop us.”

Singapore Grand Prix officials unfazed by haze
Reuters 15 Sep 15;

Organisers of this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix have played down concerns about the cloud of haze hanging over the city, saying it was not expected to impact on Sunday's Formula One race.

The city-state has been blanketed by thick smog for the past week, a result of farmers in neighbouring Sumatra burning forests to clear their land for agriculture.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in Singapore has fluctuated well above 100, levels considered "unhealthy", for the past few days, and reached as high as 249 on Monday night, putting it in "very unhealthy" territory.

Race officials said they were monitoring the situation and planned to place first-aid stations on standby to treat any possible haze-related conditions over the weekend, as well as selling face masks at cost price.

But the officials said there were no plans to change any of the scheduled events over the race weekend, including the pop concerts held each night at the Marina Bay street circuit.

"Based on the current PSI levels, there are no plans to amend the published racing and entertainment programme," Singapore GP said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The haze situation is highly changeable not only from day to day, but from hour to hour. Therefore, it is currently not

possible to reliably predict what the PSI level might be over the race weekend.

"We will continue to work closely with all the relevant government authorities to receive the best possible forecasts when they are available."

The Singapore Grand Prix is the 13th race of the season and defending world champion and last year's winner Lewis Hamilton will be a strong favourite to extend his championship lead, currently 53 points, with an eighth victory of the campaign.

(Reporting by Julian Linden and Pritha Sarkar)

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Worsening haze situation likely to affect businesses: Industry watchers

Observers say that while the direct impact is currently still manageable, companies should adopt the appropriate risk management and business contingency plans.
Nicole Tan Channel NewsAsia 15 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: With the worsening haze situation, the drop in air quality is expected to affect businesses. While industry watchers have said the disruption is likely to be manageable, they also urge that appropriate risk management and business contingency plans be put in place.

Business activity in the construction industry, as well as F&B and retail sectors, is expected to slow down over the next few weeks as the haze situation deteriorates. Some firms are already taking measures to keep employees indoors.

Still, industry watchers said the haze is not likely to hurt businesses significantly.

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME), said: “This would be something that is disruptive for businesses. The Government is also addressing with the Indonesian government how Singapore can help, so everyone is quite mindful about how we can prevent it from escalating.

“But in the event that it escalates and spikes, I believe it would not last for a prolonged period of time. It might hit us for a few days or even a week, where people have to be indoors or receive instructions to stay at home. Some would still be able to work from home. There will be those who will not be able to carry on their work, kids will not go to school and people will not go out much.

"So you might have a few days of quite serious disruption, but relative to what we have been through - SARS, bird flu and some of the much bigger situations we have dealt with - this is something we are quite capable of handling."

While the direct impact is currently still manageable, observers said firms should have preemptive risk management measures in place to avoid a knee-jerk approach. In particular, they caution firms of potential disruption to their value chain, which depends on goods and services delivered by other business partners.

Industry watchers said firms need to be prepared to address supply chain interruptions.

Said Mr Lim Sek Seong, vice president & BCM Service Leader (Asia) at Marsh Risk Consulting: "It is very important to start the dialogue. What if the haze really disrupts the operation? How will it affect you? Then the next thing is, if I can't use my people to deliver, can I work with another business partner or a competitor to deliver the service.

"Of course my people will still be overseeing it. It is important that they start the conversation now rather than later, and once the arrangement is put in place, they should have all these documented.

“The next thing is, before the next incident like the haze happens again, they need to rehearse. Because if we don't rehearse, how do we know whether the measures in place are effective? The idea is to avoid a knee-jerk reaction. When the thing happens you react. Typically yes you can avoid the service failure. But if you have rehearsed it, you could have done it better."

Contingency plans aside, observers said businesses should also consider enhancing their insurance coverage to mitigate against the risk of any business disruption.

- CNA/ek

Businesses suffer as haze keeps customers away
MARISSA YEO Today Online 16 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — Businesses islandwide are taking a hit as a result of the persistent haze putting a dampener on customers’ desire to head outdoors.

And bracing themselves for a prolonged slump are those that were anticipating a bump from Formula 1 week — one of the biggest weeks in the year for many businesses. Some of these firms have already seen takings go down.

Singapore River One, a non-profit that manages businesses at Clarke Quay, Boat Quay and Robertson Quay, said establishments with outdoor dining have been affected. Among them is Dallas Restaurant & Bar, which saw the number of customers nearly halved. Restaurant supervisor Nikkie Caube said: “Usually we have an average of 200 to 250 customers in a day. However (due to the haze), we have only 100 to 150 customers daily.”

Another restaurant, Pasta Fresca Da Salvatore at Boat Quay, saw only one table occupied yesterday (Sept 14), compared with the usual 10 to 12 tables occupied daily. Ms Eleonora Caroppo, public relations manager of Pasta Fresca, added: “During this time, everyone wants to sit inside and we don’t have enough space to (accommodate) all the customers indoors, so we had to reject several customers on some days.”

The Penny Black Victorian London Pub saw sales go down by 20 per cent, and had been counting on the F1 season to boost their sales. Its customer service manager Declan O’Donnell said: “Tourists will usually pass by our pub while walking down the river (during) the F1 period and some make a pit-stop for drinks here.”

Even coffeeshops have not been spared, with some reporting declining sales. Mr Steven Chan, 55, supervisor of Siang Ho Coffee Shop in the Chinatown area, said he was closing an hour earlier at 7pm because of the haze and drop in patrons. He estimated business was down by about 10 per cent. Mr Tian Titao, 47, owner of Ampang QQ Fishball Noodles, also in Chinatown, said he noticed more takeaways. Business was also down about 10 per cent.

Elsewhere, restaurants boasting cityscape views said reservations remain steady, but have plans in the wings should the situation worsen. At Equinox Restaurant, which is located on the 70th floor of Swissôtel The Stamford, restaurant reservations over the race weekend have not been affected. But noting that haze conditions may vary in the upcoming days, the management said it would take into consideration guidelines set by the National Environment Agency.

1-Altitude, located on level 63 of OUB Centre, said it has prepared two other indoor venues at Altimate and Stellar in case conditions worsen.

A spokesperson for Marina Bay Sands — which has several rooftop establishments — said health advisories for guests have been placed at ticketing booths, and those who require a mask before they venture outdoors can approach staff for assistance.

Meanwhile, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) and Sentosa Development Cooperation have prepared contingency plans. RWS said it has advised guests and staff to stay hydrated and take regular rest periods. It is prepared to adjust outdoor shows and entertainment schedules, and has placed trained medical personnel on standby.

Sentosa Development Cooperation said it has issued N95 masks and eye drops to staff working outdoors and rostered more breaks for them. If the PSI exceeds 300, or if the experience of the attraction is compromised, operations of some outdoor attractions may be suspended, it said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STACEY LIM

Haze a dampener for business but toll minimal so far
Marissa Lee and Jacqueline Woo, Straits Times AsiaOne 15 Sep 15;

The return of the annual haze has so far taken only a minimal toll on business here, though some outdoor tourism outfits are suffering.

Iconic venues such as the Singapore Flyer were noticeably quieter this weekend as the Singapore skyline remained for the most part shrouded in haze.

"Our sales from walk-ins have been most negatively affected by the haze," said Ms Veronique Ye, director of marketing and sales at the Singapore Flyer.

"Until now, we have not received any cancellation of flights from tour groups, (but) the haze situation is quite unpredictable, so we do allow passengers to reschedule their flights."

The haze has also been a dampener for Singapore's many rooftop bars and alfresco eateries as more customers opt to stay indoors. But Ms Low Seow Yee, music and marketing manager at Timbre, which owns several alfresco dining establishments, remains upbeat.

"Given that the haze situation has not been as bad as last year, customers are still coming out to dine at our venues and attend gigs," she said. She noted that it is only the start of the haze season, but so far the group has not seen a marked increase in cancellations.

Most firms have come to accept the haze as an annual phenomenon, to one degree or another, and, with the proper protocols in place, they can carry on with business as usual.

Work has not stopped at the construction sites of developer Koh Brothers, said group public relations manager David Tay. He said the firm had established a haze management system two years back, when Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) levels rocketed to about 400.

As at 6pm yesterday, the 24-hour PSI was between 119 and 147. The unhealthy range is 101 to 200.

Spokesmen for rigbuilders Keppel Corporation and Sembcorp Marine said operations at their shipyards have yet to be affected as the firms have laid out guidelines on the measures to take according to the PSI level. Some 14,000 of Keppel's staff work at its yards, with a significant number involved in operations outdoors.

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Govt rolls out help as haze lingers

Office workers wearing masks pass buildings in the central business district shrouded by haze after a rain shower in Singapore September 15, 2015. Photo: Reuters
Agencies to revive mitigation plans drawn up during record-breaking episode of haze in 2013
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 15 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — With the haze that has cloaked Singapore unlikely to let up over the next two days, various government agencies are reviving mitigation plans drawn up during the record-breaking episode of haze in 2013, including the scheme that subsidises medical treatment for haze-related conditions.

Singapore’s skies are expected to be hazy for the next two days, with fluctuations likely through the day, according to the Meteorological Service Singapore (Met Service).

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) is likely to be in the unhealthy range for much of today, and may creep into the low end of the “very unhealthy” (201-300) range if denser haze is blown in by unfavourable winds, it said in a media briefing yesterday evening.

Some respite could come on Friday, in time for the Formula One race this weekend. The Met Service said prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the south-east then, leading to an improvement in haze conditions.

But until then, air quality here could deteriorate at some points over the next two days to levels seen on Monday night, when the 24-hour PSI hit 166 at 9pm, and one-hour PM2.5 concentrations hit 341 microgrammes per cubic metre at 8pm. As of 11pm yesterday, the 24-hour PSI was 108 to 127.

Air quality has deteriorated over the past few days because of shifting winds blowing from south and south-west that swept the haze in from Sumatra, said the Met Service. The wind direction was due to the presence of a tropical storm in the South China Sea.

Government agencies including the Education Ministry and People’s Association stand ready to protect the population, assured Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday. He was hopeful that Singapore’s haze situation this time round will not be as severe as in 2013, when the PSI crossed the 400 mark.

This is because the typhoon in the South China Sea off Vietnam has made landfall and could decrease in intensity, resulting in less westerly or southwesterly winds bringing haze to Singapore, he said. “But it’s a very dynamic situation, we cannot make foolproof, 100 per cent predictions. My key message to Singaporeans is to be ready, to be psychologically prepared, to make use of all the measures and precautions and stockpiles we have in place,” said Dr Balakrishnan after the media briefing.

Under the Haze Subsidy Scheme, those aged 65 and above, those aged 18 and below, as well as the lower-income, will get subsidised treatment for haze-related conditions such as bronchitis and asthma at polyclinics and more than 450 participating clinics. Pioneers pay no more than S$5, other eligible Singaporeans pay no more than S$10, and those on Public Assistance will be fully subsidised.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will today kick off the distribution of 30,000 packs containing items such as instant noodles, N95 masks and Vitamin C tablets to the vulnerable groups such as the elderly living alone or with respiratory conditions. If the haze worsens, the People’s Association will open air-conditioned rooms at community clubs and residents’ committee centres for residents such as students studying for exams.

The Education Ministry assured the public it has sufficient enclosed spaces in schools for students. Primary and secondary schools could be closed if air quality is forecast to reach the hazardous level.

Other measures are outlined on its website.

The Singapore Armed Forces will adjust physical and outdoor activities accordingly when PSI readings exceed 100.

It will issue N95 masks to servicemen performing essential outdoor duties when the 24-hour PSI exceeds the “very unhealthy” range.

The Manpower Ministry said its haze guidelines from 2013 have been updated, with stronger measures for very high haze levels. Should the 24-hour PSI breach 400, workers should use full-face respirators instead of N95 masks when doing prolonged outdoor work, it advised.

It will also look into complaints related to workplace safety and health, such as if crane operations are conducted in low-visibility conditions.

“We expect the employers, who know their own operations best, to take appropriate precautions so that you don’t endanger human life and you don’t risk the health of the employee. In particular, employers need to be aware of which … employees have heart or respiratory problems,” said Dr Balakrishnan, whose ministry is investigating sources of haze for action to be possibly taken under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

The Ministry of Defence remains in close contact with the Indonesian authorities and the Singapore Armed Forces “stands ready to support and assist Indonesia when activated”.

Be ready, make use of all measures, stockpiles in place for haze: Dr Balakrishnan
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan says Singapore needs to take an "expectant monitoring posture" and adjust its response as the haze levels increase or decrease.
Diane Leow, Channel NewsAsia 16 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Singapore cannot just stop because haze has arrived on its shores, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan. Instead, it should adopt an "expectant monitoring posture" and adjust its response accordingly, he said to the media on the sidelines of a technical briefing by the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Tuesday.

"As the haze levels increase, we have to increase our level of precaution. As the haze levels decrease, we can afford to relax. So we have to take kind of a expectant monitoring posture and adjust our responses accordingly," Dr Balakrishnan said.

"My key message to Singaporeans is to be ready, be psychologically prepared and to make use of all the measures and precautions and stockpiles that we have in place. And because we’ve been through this before I am very sure we will get through this very well this time, as well," he said.

He added that Singapore is focused on three key objectives: To protect its population; to work with the Indonesians to put out the forest fires causing the haze and identify and culprits; and to send an "unequivocal signal" that Singapore "will not hesitate to take the full action under the law" against companies involved.

He added that the haze is a "very dynamic situation", and authorities are unable to make "foolproof, 100 per cent predictions."

"I’m sure Singaporeans will rise up to the occasion and we will make sure no person, no child, no elderly person who’s vulnerable will be left alone, or left behind or not have access to the support of the community," Dr Balakrishnan said.


Dr Balakrishnan also spoke about the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act in the context of this year's hazy conditions. The Act enables authorities to prosecute individuals or companies in neighbouring countries that cause severe air pollution in Singapore through slash-and-burn agricultural practices. Errant companies can be fined up to S$2 million if they contribute to the 24-hour PSI remaining at 101 or higher for 24 hours or longer.

"The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act sets up certain threshold conditions at which certain provisions can be evoked. As far as I know, these two conditions have been met. That's why when I called the Indonesian Minister for Environment and Forestry yesterday, I made a special appeal to share the names of the companies who are currently being investigated by the Indonesian authorities," said Dr Balakrishnan.

Who is responsible for the fires needs verification from the Indonesian authorities, he added. "We know this is El Nino season, it’s a very dry season so you can have bush fires but we know from experience, the majority of these fires, in fact the Indonesians have said so – the majority of these fires are started by human beings. We can argue whether it's small holders or large companies or where large companies are working in cohort with the small holders.

"I want to make sure all executives, shareholders, owners, financiers of such companies know how seriously we take this issue, and that if we can get the evidence we will not hesitate to take the fullest action possible against these companies. But this is new. Last year it wasn't triggered. It's the first time it's been triggered," he said.

“We need effective, enforcing and investigation on the ground. And that’s why we called upon the Indonesian government to fulfil its own laws and to impose its own laws on the companies that are engaged in such behaviour. Regardless of whether the company has a connection to Malaysia or Singapore or Indonesia, as long as we can find a means to take action against the companies, we will do so," Dr Balakrishnan added.

On Tuesday, the NEA said Unhealthy levels of haze have persisted since 8pm on Sep 12 and that the haze situation is unlikely to see significant improvement over the rest of the week.

- CNA/dl

Haze subsidy scheme for medical treatment to be revived tomorrow
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 16 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — Hazy conditions in Singapore are likely to persist for the next few days, fluctuating through the day, the Meteorological Service Singapore said. For the next 24 hours, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index is expected to be unhealthy and could enter the low end of the very-unhealthy range if denser haze is blown in by unfavourable wind conditions.

But an improvement could be seen by Friday — in time for the Formula One Grand Prix — as prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the south-east by then.

From tomorrow (Sept 16), the Haze Subsidy Scheme will be revived to help reduce medical costs for haze-related conditions for the elderly, the young (aged 18 and below) and lower-income Singaporeans, the authorities announced at a press briefing today. First introduced in 2013 when the haze hit record levels, under the scheme, pioneers pay no more than S$5 and others eligible pay no more than S$10 when they see participating healthcare providers for conditions such as asthma, conjunctivitis and allergic rhinitis. Those on public assistance will be fully subsidised.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will kickstart distribution of packs containing items such as instant noodles, N95 masks and Vitamin C tablets to the more vulnerable groups tomorrow. By next Tuesday, 30,000 packs will have been distributed to people including the elderly living alone or with respiratory conditions, said the People’s Association.

The Manpower Ministry and its partners advise employers to have flexible work arrangements and take measures to protect employees from the haze. These include identifying susceptible employees and minimising prolonged strenuous outdoor work.

SAF to adjust training, outdoor activities as haze worsens
Activities will be adjusted “accordingly” when the 24-hour PSI reading exceeds 100 to ensure that servicemen train and operate safely, the Ministry of Defence says.
Channel NewsAsia 15 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: With the haze hitting unhealthy levels, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will adjust outdoor activities and training to limit servicemen’s exposure, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said on Tuesday (Sep 15).

When the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading exceeds 100, activities will be adjusted “accordingly” to ensure that servicemen train and operate safely, the ministry said. Servicemen performing essential outdoor duties will be issued N95 masks when the 24-hour PSI reading exceeds the “Very Unhealthy” range, which is a reading between 201 and 300.

Activities will continue as normal when the reading is below 100.

MINDEF also said it has in place a set of PSI activity guidelines which are formulated for the SAF population and take into account servicemen’s medical fitness and the nature of activities.

"In spite of the PSI-activity guidelines, the SAF stands ready to safeguard Singapore's peace and security, and the SAF training has largely continued," it said.

The ministry also said that it is in close contact with the Indonesian authorities, and "stands ready to support and assist" Indonesia to combat the fires causing the haze.

Indonesia had earlier accepted the SAF’s offer to send C-130s for cloud seeding and Chinooks for large water buckets to douse fires, but later declined and said they had sufficient resources of their own.

- CNA/ss

Check ECDA site for haze guidelines for childcare centres, kindergartens: MSF
Centres should minimise outdoor activities, and avoid strenuous indoor physical exercises, when the 24-hour PSI is above 100, the Early Childhood Development Agency advises.
Channel NewsAsia 15 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: In light of the persistent levels of haze categorised as Unhealthy, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on Tuesday (Sep 15) said childcare centres and kindergartens should refer to the Early Childhood Development Agency's advisories on its website, and check the National Environment Agency website to ensure the safety and well-being of children.

For PSI approaching “Unhealthy levels” (i.e. 24-hour PSI above 100):

Centres should minimise outdoor activities, and avoid strenuous indoor physical exercises. Children with asthma, respiratory, heart or lung problems should be exempted from physical exercises. Centres should monitor the health of all children. Should any child become unwell or develop respiratory problems, centres should inform the parents and seek immediate medical attention for the child. In the meantime, the child should stay in an air-conditioned room.

For PSI approaching “Very unhealthy levels” (i.e. 24-hour PSI above 200):

Centres should minimise outdoor activities, and modify indoor programmes to be less physically intensive. They should cancel indoor and outdoor physical exercises. Children should stay in enclosed indoor spaces, including air-conditioned spaces and classrooms with doors and windows closed, where possible. Centres are also advised to monitor the health of all children. Should any child become unwell or develop respiratory problems, centres should inform the parents and seek immediate medical attention for the child. In the meantime, the child should stay in an air-conditioned room.

For PSI approaching “Hazardous levels” (i.e. 24-hour PSI above 300):

Centres are advised to cancel all outdoor activities and indoor physical exercises. They should modify indoor programmes to be less physically intensive and provide more rest time. Children should stay in enclosed indoor spaces, including air-conditioned spaces and classrooms with doors and windows closed, where possible. Centres should monitor the health of all children. Should any child become unwell or develop respiratory problems, centres should inform the parents and seek immediate medical attention for the child. In the meantime, the child should stay in an air-conditioned room. ECDA will align centre closure with MOE’s decision for mainstream schools, if necessary

- CNA/xk

Suppliers see spike in demand for face masks due to haze
The National Environment Agency says hazy conditions are expected to persist for the next 24 hours.
Liyana Othman and Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia 16 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Pharmacies and other mask suppliers have reported a spike in demand for face masks as hazy conditions persist.

Unity Pharmacy, for example, on Tuesday (Sep 15) said it has seen increased demand for N95 masks in the past week. Staff worked overnight from Monday evening to collect masks from suppliers and deliver them to all its 59 outlets.

The pharmacy is progressively stocking 800,000 pieces of masks at its outlets and monitors its stocks hourly, so that they can be replenished when needed.

Another supplier, US-based Vogmask, is experiencing a similar surge in orders of its N99 masks, which come in various sizes. It opened its Southeast Asian arm last year and in three days has sold the amount it previously needed eight months to move.

"The minute they come in, they have no chance to even touch the floor,” said director of Vogmask Southeast Asia Pamela Koh. “We are re-sorting and getting them all out into packages to our customers. We have to turn around very, very fast, because we are in the midst of the haze and everybody needs to wear the mask, and there is a sense of urgency."

Vogmask is a sponsor for the People's Movement to Stop Haze (PM Haze). The group started a campaign to encourage companies in Singapore to switch to using certified sustainable palm oil, which does not involve the burning of forests that results in haze.

Called "X the Haze", the ground-up initiative works with WWF Singapore and the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. Its outreach efforts include giving out 9,000 masks from 3M to the public.

"What we want to do is not only to give the mask, but to use that as a topic opener to share with them, ‘Why (don't) you also help to clean the air? Not just your own air, but the air for this region’,” said PM Haze's president, Tan Yi Han. “We want consumers here to make a stand, to show companies that we do want this kind of sustainable palm oil. So we also have this online platform,, where consumers and ordinary people can show their demand for sustainable palm oil."

"X the Haze" aims to collect 50,000 pledges.

In an initiative to ensure that vulnerable groups are protected from the haze, the People’s Action Party (PAP) team which contested Aljunied GRC in the recent General Election distributed masks to residents, especially the underprivileged.

Mr Victor Lye, chairman of the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Citizens' Consultative Committee, said: "Originally, we were going to do our thank you to our residents, but we noted the haze situation getting worse. In fact this morning, we found out it might be quite bad this evening.

"Thank goodness for the rain in the afternoon, but before the rains came, we felt that between saying thank you to people and doing what we believe in, we decided to do what we believe. So we decided to go to our own divisions and take care of the people."

The National Environment Agency said hazy conditions are expected to persist for the next 24 hours.

- CNA/ek

Govt lays out measures to tackle effects of haze
Audrey Tan and Linette Lai, Straits Times AsiaOne 16 sep 15;

The authorities are rolling out measures such as health subsidies and contingency plans for schools to mitigate the effects of the haze.

In the meantime, weather predictions held out hope that things could get better from Friday, when the wind pattern changes.

Until they do, however, those under 18 or over 65, as well as low- to middle-income earners, can get subsidised treatment at over 450 general practitioner clinics and polyclinics for haze-related ailments.

The reinstatement of the Haze Subsidy Scheme was among measures announced at a joint briefing yesterday by the National Environment Agency (NEA) and various ministries and statutory boards.

The People's Association will distribute 30,000 face masks to vulnerable households comprising seniors and residents with medical conditions who live alone.

The Manpower Ministry also laid out guidelines for employers regarding contingency plans.

And the Education Ministry outlined the steps it would take if the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) worsened, including closing schools if air quality reaches hazardous levels.

A ministry spokesman said that in the event of a school closure, national examinations would be rescheduled and exam periods possibly extended.

But the NEA had good news that wind direction could change on Friday. Until then, however, hazy conditions are expected to persist, owing to dry weather and south southwesterly winds blowing smoke haze from Sumatra.

In fact, conditions can still deteriorate if denser haze is blown in by unfavourable winds, the NEA said in a separate update on its website.

Today, the weather agency expects air quality to be in the mid to high sections of the unhealthy range, and warned it could even go up to the low section of the very unhealthy range.

Air quality is considered unhealthy when the 24-hour PSI reading is in the range of 101 to 200, and very unhealthy when 24-hour PSI readings are between 201 and 300.

When it crosses 300, air quality is deemed hazardous. Yesterday's rain brought a temporary respite, with the 24-hour PSI staying between 114 and 138 as of 8pm.

Assistant Professor Winston Chow of the National University of Singapore's geography department said the respite from rain would be very brief unless it rains over hot spots to help firefighting efforts in Indonesia.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan told reporters after the briefing that Singapore was working to identify those responsible for causing the haze, and would not hesitate to take action.

He said Singaporeans had to be psychologically prepared as the haze situation is unpredictable.

Firms take steps to protect employees
Samantha Boh, Priscilla Goy, Linette Lai and Seow Bei Yi, Straits Times AsiaOne 16 Sep 15;

Many organisations here have already taken steps, such as issuing masks or adjusting outdoor activities, to cope with the haze.

At 8pm yesterday, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was between 114 and 138, putting it in the unhealthy range.

SingPost issued N95 masks and eye drops to its delivery personnel; staff older than 65 or who have respiratory and heart conditions were redeployed to do indoor work.

Delivery firm food panda Singapore also issued masks and antiseptic wet tissues to its delivery drivers. "Riders have been advised to inform their manager immediately if they feel unwell, and are instructed to rest until their symptoms ease," said Ms Emma Heap, managing director of foodpanda Singapore.

Security firms such as Certis Cisco and Force-One Security have also taken steps to protect employees.

Apart from N95 masks, Certis Cisco also issues hourly PSI updates and advisories. "When the PSI reaches hazardous levels, outdoor patrols may be temporarily suspended," said its spokesman.

Meanwhile, Force-One Security has issued its "Haze Carepack", comprising masks, wet wipes, hand sanitiser sachets and brochures on how to wear a mask properly and howto keep healthy.

Malls under CapitaLand and Frasers Centrepoint closed all outdoor features such as playgrounds and cancelled all outdoor activities at their mall premises when the air quality turned unhealthy.

They have also stepped up checks on their air-conditioning filters to ensure they are running optimally.

"To maintain the air quality, we will also lock the automatic sliding doors and direct shoppers and tenants to use the manually operated side doors when the PSI readings exceed 150," added Mr Jason Loy, head of operations for Singapore at CapitaLand Mall Asia.

Those who are feeling unwell can also obtain haze kits comprising masks and water bottles from the customer service counters at CapitaLand malls.

Meanwhile, the Early Childhood Development Agency has issued an advisory to pre-schools.

It lists haze management measures including minimising outdoor activities, and modifying indoor programmes to be less physically intensive once the 24-hour PSI hits unhealthy levels of 101 to 200.

Over at NTUC's My First Skool, school principals have also been watching out for pupils who are unwell.

Portable air purifiers may also be deployed if needed. On Monday, a surge in traffic on the National Environment Agency's haze microsite caused it to crash for three hours.

There had been around 40,000 searches per second on the website before it crashed, about 40 to 50 times the number before the haze season started.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources said yesterday that it has since put in place new software to try and prevent further crashes.

However, the haze microsite was down again last night.

Read more!

Haze situation not likely to improve significantly for rest of the week: NEA

However, there could be an improvement in the haze conditions over the weekend with a change in wind direction, the National Environment Agency says.
Diane Leow, Channel NewsAsia 15 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: The Government has contingency plans in place to tackle the worsening haze situation, the Permanent Secretary for Environment and Water Resources Choi Shing Kwok said on Tuesday (Sep 15).

At a technical briefing at the National Environment Agency (NEA) headquarters, NEA's chief scientific officer for Pollution Control Development Indrani Rajaram said air quality in terms of the Pollution Standards Index (PSI) has remained in the Unhealthy range starting from 8pm on Sep 12. The highest 1-hour PM2.5 reading since then was recorded at 8pm on Monday at 341. She noted that air quality in neighbouring Malaysia has entered Very Unhealthy levels as well. In Selangor, the Air Pollution Index (API) reading hit 211 - translated into Singapore's PSI readings, it would be 330.

The 24-hour PSI readings for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the mid to high section of the Unhealthy range, and may enter the low section of the Very Unhealthy Range. Rain in the late morning on Tuesday only brought temporary respite and winds are still blowing from the southwest.

A met services officer said the lingering haze has been due to a tropical storm in the South China Sea.

"Basically what we've been experiencing in the last few days is partly because of abnormal wind pattern brought about by a typhoon. That brought more dense haze over Sumatra into Singapore. That pattern is likely to continue until Friday or Saturday, when the typhoon has gone onshore," said Mr Choi.

However over the weekend, winds blowing from the east could blow the haze away from Singapore, he added. "After that, according to our best estimates, it will go back to blowing from the southeast, and at that point of time, there will be occasional haze coming in. We expect (the haze then) to be more occasional rather than continuous as it has been for last few days."

Separately, Mr Choi apologised for the NEA website and its micro site going down for three hours on Monday evening. He attributed the downtime to a surge of web traffic, saying there were about 40,000 hits per second on the website, 40 to 50 times of what it was before the haze season. The downtime for the website affected channels that relied on its data on PM2.5 concentration levels.


A representative from the Ministry of Health (MOH) said there has been no change in health advisories but that there has been a 7 to 8 per cent rise in the number of people visiting polyclinics for respiratory conditions, compared to the three Mondays before the school holidays.

MOH will be reactivating the Haze Subsidy Scheme to ensure that vulnerable groups of Singaporeans have access to affordable treatment for haze-related conditions. Under this scheme started in Jun 2013, medical fees are capped at S$10 for eligible Singapore citizens seeking treatment at participating GP clinics or polyclinics for haze-related conditions, with MOH subsidising the remaining costs for the patient. The fees for those in the pioneer generation will be capped at S$5. The scheme will be reactivated on Wednesday.


In a joint media release from with other Government agencies such as NEA, MOH, the Ministry of Education (MOE), and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) urged employers to check guidelines for general measures to minimise or mitigate the effects of haze on their employees.

"Given the ongoing haze conditions, employers should consider taking risk mitigating measures such as use of mechanical aids, job rotation, instituting indoor rest breaks, and ensure adequate hydration of employees. If employees experience breathing difficulty from wearing masks while working outdoors, employers should deploy them to work indoors where the pollutant concentration may be lower," MOM said, adding that employers are encouraged to adopt a flexible approach in implementing flexible work arrangements for staff members, especially those with heart and respiratory illnesses.


As for possible closure of schools, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will only consider this if the 6pm forecast for the next day issued by the NEA is Hazardous, or above 300 in PSI. Schools are equipped with air purifiers, MOE said.

Teachers will look out for students who are unwell, and ensure that they receive medical attention promptly, the ministry said. Schools also have a list of students who have pre-existing heart or lung conditions, and will monitor their well-being, MOE added.

MOE also asks parents to ensure their children to have their medication - such as inhalers for asthma - with them, as children respond differently to haze.


Separately, the People's Association (PA) said grassroots volunteers will start distributing WeCare packs with N95 masks and Vitamin C tablets to vulnerable people in all 29 constituencies on Wednesday. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will kick off the distribution from Wednesday evening and that for the rest of the constituencies will take place over the week. If the haze worsens, the PA said it will open air-conditioned rooms in community clubs and Residents' Committee centres to residents.

On Monday, Indonesia detected 982 hotspots in Sumatra, the highest in two months. In Singapore, the 3-hour PSI hit 249 at 9pm on Monday - the highest so far this year.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources had on Monday also spoken with Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar and reiterated Singapore's offer of help to combat forest fires. Indonesia had earlier accepted the Singapore Armed Forces' offer to send C-130s for cloud seeding and Chinooks for large water buckets to douse fires, only to decline it after.

- CNA/dl

Air quality in S'pore still unhealthy despite rain
AsiaOne 15 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE - Heavy rains did not improve the hazy conditions in Singapore on Tuesday, Sep 15, as the air quality remained in the "unhealthy" range.

Despite heavy showers with gusty winds over many areas of Singapore in the late morning and early afternoon, the 24-hour Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) was between 114 and 138 as of 8pm, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA).

A 24-hour PSI reading of between 101 and 200 is considered to be within the unhealthy range.

Meanwhile, the three-hour PSI at 8pm was 112, a further improvement from the previous reading of 117 at 7pm, following a reading of 137 recorded at 4pm.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, NEA said that hazy conditions can still be expected on Wednesday, Sep 16, and the air quality could deteriorate further due to unfavourable winds blowing in denser haze from Sumatra. NEA added that the 24-hour PSI may enter the low section of the "very unhealthy" range (between 201 and 300).

The current haze situation has forced a number of schools to cancel or move outdoor activities indoors.

However, the Singapore Grand Prix organisers clarified in a statement that the racing and entertainment activities during the upcoming race weekend on Sep 18-20 will proceed as planned for now.

With the present air quality forecast, healthy people are advised to reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion, according to NEA's health advisory. The elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise outdoor activities, while persons with chronic lung or heart disease should avoid outdoor activities.

For more updates on the haze, visit NEA's haze microsite (

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Air pollution from daily sources ‘also a health risk’

LAURA PHILOMIN Today Online 16 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — Much has been made of the annual episodes of transboundary haze from Indonesia, but experts have warned that people also need to pay attention to everyday air pollution generated from a variety of sources, and how it affects them.

For example, contrary to popular belief, a study had found that pollution from road traffic tends to be worse for residential units on the middle floors of a housing block near a road than those on its lower floors, research scientist Dr Erik Velasco from Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology told reporters today (Sept 15).

He was speaking ahead of his presentation at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), which held a symposium on the effects of urban air quality on health. Dr Velasco also said that, aside from smoke haze, Singapore’s air quality is not as clean as it appears, and stressed the need for daily and hourly measures of air pollutants. “We have over one million cars, the second largest refinery complex in the world, all ships coming from China to Europe … we have factories … we have construction. So we have many types of emission sources (and) we are exposed to those pollutants,” said Dr Velasco.

Currently, the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) website provides only real-time figures for PM2.5 and nitrogen oxide. Hourly average figures are provided for four other air pollutants: Carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone and PM10.

Elaborating further on particles produced during construction activity — one of the major sources of pollution — Dr Saji George, senior lecturer at NYP’s School of Chemical and Life Sciences, said people living on lower floors near construction sites are exposed to greater concentrations of particles, which pose health risks. Smaller particles can reach the deeper layers of the lung and even enter the bloodstream, he said, and with chronic exposure can lead to respiratory illnesses or even heart-related illnesses.

With the current haze levels, Dr Velasco also suggested taking stronger safety measures, starting with the closing of schools. This episode has seen PM2.5 levels ranging between 100 to 200 micrograms per cubic metre, even hitting a high of 341 micrograms per cubic metre on Monday night. This far exceeds the international standard of a 24-hour average of 25 micrograms per cubic metre, he observed, adding that in Mexico, factories sometimes have to shut down.

Dr Christopher Cummings, assistant professor of strategic communications at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), noted that Singaporeans may be well educated, but are unlikely to delve into the science behind pollution to conclude if it is safe to be outside.

To that end, Dr Cummings, who is also a member of the Centre for Healthy and Sustainable Cities at NTU, said he and his colleague, Professor Theng Yin Leng, have been developing the prototype app known as HATS (Haze Analytic Tools). The app, which could be launched in a year or two, uses NEA data, the user’s personal health profile and location-based Pollution Standards Index levels to give the user real-time advisories.

“At the end of the day, we want the public to have the information they need to make an informed decision about how best to protect themselves,” said Dr Cummings.

As for tackling sources of pollution, Dr Velasco said reducing road traffic — a major source of pollution — investing in public transport and encouraging cycling and walking could help. He also suggested stricter regulations such as fuel restrictions for passing ships. “In Europe and the United States, it’s mandatory for the ships when they approach the coast to switch to burn clean fuels (which emit less sulphur dioxide),” he said, adding this should be implemented here.

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Southeast Asia wheezes in haze, Indonesia cracks down on land burning


A worsening haze across northern Indonesia, neighboring Singapore and parts of Malaysia on Tuesday forced some schools to close and airlines to delay flights, while Indonesia ordered a crackdown against lighting fires to clear forested land.

Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smog caused by slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan islands, but governments in the region have failed to address the problem.

The fires have been exacerbated this year by the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon, as a prolonged dry season in Indonesia has parched the top soil, fuelling the flames.

"The fire problems have reached a critical point," Luhut Pandjaitan, coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, told reporters.

"Our neighboring countries have protested for years. We are not playing around."

President Joko Widodo, who was on an official visit to the Middle East, instructed security forces late Monday to accelerate efforts to extinguish the fires and revoke land permits from companies found responsible.

Nearly 3,000 military and police personnel, 17 helicopters and four cloud-seeding aircraft have been deployed to fight the fires, according to the country's disaster management agency.

A state of emergency has been declared in Indonesia's Riau and Central Kalimantan provinces as an air quality index has hit "dangerous" levels, rising to as high as 984, officials said.

In Singapore, the index has fluctuated well above 100, levels considered "unhealthy", for the past few days, and reached as high as 249 on Monday night, putting it in "very unhealthy" territory.

Indonesia has struggled for years to contain forest fires and the resulting haze despite repeatedly promising to punish perpetrators.


The unhealthy air has caused acute respiratory infections for around 26,000 people in Indonesia's Riau province alone, a government official said.

It has also increased the workload for doctors in Malaysia and Singapore, where the haze has clouded the build-up to the Formula One night race later this week.

Malaysia said it was preparing to conduct cloud-seeding operations to reduce the haze as schools were closed in several states and some flights were disrupted due to poor visibility.

The smog is usually caused by firms and small-holder farmers clearing land adjacent to existing concessions for palm or pulp and paper.

Major plantation companies like Asia Pulp and Paper say they have a "zero burning" policy but have often been criticized by green groups for not doing enough to stop the haze.

Indonesian authorities plan to sanction this week three or four companies of the total 26 under investigation, said Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, with the revoking of their land permits a possibility.

(Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina and Eveline Danubrata in JAKARTA, Trinna Leong in KUALA LUMPUR and Fathin Ungku in SINGAPORE; Editing by Randy Fabi and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Indonesia fights fires as haze cloaks region before Singapore F1
AsiaOne 15 Sep 15;

A view of the Marina Bay Street Circuit from Swissotel The Stamford at 7pm on 21 September 2014.

JAKARTA - Indonesia Tuesday deployed an extra 1,600 military personnel to fight forest and farm fires that have cast a thick haze over the region, closing schools in Malaysia and shrouding Singapore in smog just as it prepares to host the glitzy Formula One race.

President Joko Widodo ordered the military ramp-up on Sumatra after authorities declared a state of emergency in the island's hard-hit Riau province Monday.

The personnel were dispatched to Riau and South Sumatra provinces to help local authorities fight fires, joining over 1,000 soldiers sent to the area last week, Indonesia's disaster agency said.

Tens of thousands of people in smoke-choked regions of Indonesia have fallen ill, while air travel there -- as well as in parts of Malaysia -- has been hit by sporadic flight delays or cancellations due to poor visibility.

Malaysian authorities ordered the closure of more than 2,000 schools, affecting 1.5 million students, while the haze reportedly forced Prime Minister Najib Razak to scrap a planned helicopter ride and take a 90-minute road journey instead.

Najib had been due to travel by helicopter from Kuching, capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, to the town of Sematan 100 kilometres (62 miles) away, state-run Bernama news agency said.

But he instead had to travel by car to an event held to officiate the construction of a highway, it said.

Fears are mounting that the smog enveloping regional financial hub Singapore, where air quality remained at unhealthy levels, could affect this weekend's Grand Prix.

Organisers of Formula One's only night race, which sees cars speed along a brightly illuminated track alongside landmarks and is coupled with pop concerts, have said they are closely monitoring the haze.

A heavy downpour brought clearer skies over the affluent city-state Tuesday, but a strong smell of burning wood and foliage remained in the air. Businesses and schools were operating normally.

'Firm legal action'

Smog-belching blazes, an annual problem in Southeast Asia during the dry season, have intensified in Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo island in the past two weeks, sending a cloud of acrid haze across the region.

The illegal fires are started, often by local farmers and landowners, to clear land to make way for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations, and Indonesia has failed to halt the practice despite years of pressure from its neighbours.

More than half of Malaysia's 52 pollutant monitoring stations around the country registered "unhealthy" air on Tuesday.

After announcing late Monday that more troops would be sent to Sumatra, Widodo said he had ordered law enforcement agencies to take action against "parties responsible for the forest fires".

"I want to stress that very firm legal action will be taken," said the president, who is currently on a trip to the Middle East.

Around 100 people and 15 companies are being investigated over the blazes, according to the disaster agency.

Pressure to stop the annual outbreaks of smog has increased since 2013 when Southeast Asia suffered its worst air pollution crisis for more than a decade, but attempts to find a regional solution have moved slowly.

Singapore said this week Indonesia had agreed to share the names of companies suspected of causing the fires. Indonesia has previously faced criticism for failing to hand over such information, which could be used to prosecute law-breakers.

Malaysian Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told AFP he was worried as the haze "affects the health of our people" and said he planned to meet his Indonesian counterpart, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, later this month to discuss the issue.

Indonesia orders action against land burning as haze chokes SE Asia
Kanupriya Kapoor Reuters 15 Sep 15;

Indonesian President Joko Widodo called late on Monday for strong action against anyone caught lighting fires to clear forested land, as a worsening haze blanketed the north of the country and neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smog caused by slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan islands, but governments in the region have failed to address the problem.

Air quality dipped to "unhealthy levels" in Malaysia and Singapore this week. Schools were closed in several Malaysian states and some flights were disrupted on Tuesday due to poor visibility. The haze can cause respiratory problems, and irritate the eyes and throat.

The fires have been exacerbated this year by the effects of the El Nino weather phenomena, as a prolonged dry season in Indonesia has parched the top soil, fuelling the flames.

Widodo, who is on a state visit to the Middle East, said he had instructed security forces to accelerate efforts to extinguish the fires.

"I have asked authorities to take strict legal action against those responsible for the forest fires, including revoking their land permits," Widodo said in a statement.

Indonesian police have named over 100 people as suspects in slash-and-burn cases in Kalimantan and Sumatra, according to local media.

The smog is usually caused by palm oil and pulp and paper companies, some of which are listed in Singapore. The firms blame small-holders for the fires but have been criticized by green groups for not doing enough to stop the haze or rampant deforestation in Indonesia.

Singapore's environment minister said late on Monday that Indonesia had agreed to share names of companies causing the fires once the information had been verified.

Indonesian Forestry and Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar last week said authorities were investigating 10 firms, which could face sanctions if found violating the law.

Indonesia's Riau province declared a state of emergency this week as, according to local media, nearly 25,000 people there and on Sumatra island suffered respiratory problems. The PSI air quality index hit a "dangerous" high of 984 in the provincial capital this week, according to the national disaster management agency.

Indonesia has deployed hundreds of military troops to fight the fires and would send in additional helicopters to water-bomb the affected areas if necessary, the national disaster management agency said.

(Additional reporting by Trinna Leong in KUALA LUMPUR; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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