Friday, 21 June 2013

Polar Blasts and Hazy Recollections

Shoppers cover their mouths while out along Orchard Road, in Singapore.
Photo: Mark Cheong / The Straits Times
It's six in the morning and as I write a polar southerly is rattling the windows with hail and rain announcing the dawn.  The only thing in favour of this climatic reality is that the air is fresh; too fresh for the farmers in New Zealand's South island who are waist deep in snow trying to protect their livestock.

What a contrast with the choking stillness of the Indonesian haze that is enveloping Singapore in a caustic blanket.

I remember clearly my first experience of this  haze and wrote about it back in 2007 and in subsequent posts.  The thing that angered me then and angers me still, is the total disregard Indonesia has for its neighbours when it come to air pollution of this sort.

Singapore's NEA Regional Haze Map
Currently the Haze being experienced by my Singaporean friends is at record levels - PSI 250 at 11 pm last night which virtually guarantees respiratory problems for anyone who inhales it. Early in the day, at 1 pm, it had reached a record-high level of 371, beating the previous 1997 record of 226.

Air becomes "hazardous" when the PSI breaches 300 but believe me as one who has experienced it, it is very unpleasant to live and work in at much lower levels.

The Strait's Times reports that a senior Indonesian minister has hit out at Singapore on the haze, saying: "Singapore shouldn't be like children, in such a tizzy."  I note that this same Minister, one Agung Laksono,  is pictured in his air-conditioned office far away from any pollution (if you discount Jakarta's traffic).

Singapore's  Ministry of Health (MOH) having been doing what they can, closing schools and issuing N95 face masks and urging the population not to stockpile so there are enough to go around.

Out of the mouths of babes
A seven year old American child who is visiting her grandparents in Singapore is so upset that she cannot go outside to play that she wrote to the US President Barack Obama, asking him to tell his "good friend the President of Indonesia to stop burning the forest".

Sumatra Hotspots that generate the haze - Meteorological Service Singapore
What is particularly galling about this is that Indonesia does virtually nothing to curb this annual problem, despite taking money from the Singaporean government in the past to alleviate the situation and educate their farmers and those illegally clearing the land for oil palm plantations, using fire.

There is little the Singapore population and its government can do if its larger neighbour continues to behave in such a cavalier fashion. It is a small comfort to know that there is now a special subsidy scheme in place for Singaporeans who are suffering from respiratory problems or conjunctivitis because of the haze.

They can see their GP and only pay $10 with the Ministry of Health picking up the the rest of the bill. Meanwhile flight sin and out of Changi are disrupted, constructions sites and school closed down and even McDonalds has suspended its fast food delivery service.

My suggestion, stop sending money to Indonesia from support schemes that are clearly failing. Instead tally up the total cost of this economic impact due to the Sumatran haze and send the bill to the Indonesia through a world court.  See if that prompts their cooperation.

Stop Press: Haze PSI hits 401 at mnidday today!
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