Singapore seen under a blanket of haze in June, 2013. Pic: AP.

Singapore seen under a blanket of haze in June, 2013. Pic: AP.

In Singapore, June, 2013 was marked by 16-year high levels of air pollution. Known as “Hazepocalypse”, forest fires in Indonesia and Malaysia caused the city-state to be blanketed in an unhealthy haze of smoky air for days on end. While the smog was largely caused by slash and burn agriculture in neighboring countries, the fires also set Singapore’s social media alight, with posts on Twitter and Facebook not only complaining of air quality, but placing the blame firmly at the feet of Indonesia’s palm plantations and both Malaysian and Singaporean investment in the palm oil industry.

Now, over a year later — and just one month after the government passed a transboundary haze bill — it seems that Hazepocalypse is creeping back. At 6am Monday the National Environment Agency Pollution Standards Index (PSI) peaked at 113, prompting authorities to warn residents with chronic heart or lung problems to avoid strenuous or extended physical activity. The new transboundary law exposes responsible companies to fines for each day they contribute to PSI levels over 101, which is officially considered “unhealthy”. Fines can reach $100,000 Singapore dollars ($79,000 US) per day with a cap of $2 million ($1,582,000 US). Singapore’s PSI reached a dangerous 401 last year with nearby Johor State in Malaysia calling a state of emergency.

Deforestation due to palm oil industry. Pic: Oil Palm Concession/H Dragon (Flickr CC)

Deforestation due to palm oil industry. Pic: Oil Palm Concession/H Dragon (Flickr CC)

Monday’s poor air quality prompted the National Environment Agency (NEA) to release a statement saying that the smog was…

…most likely due to the hotspots (forest fires) in South Sumatra detected over the past three to four days.

Given the continued dry weather in southern Sumatra, we can expect the hotspots to persist and the 24-hour PSI for Singapore to fluctuate between the high-end of the moderate range and the low-end of the unhealthy range for the rest of the day.

While Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia suffer periodically from severe air pollution due to forest fires resulting from irresponsible practices within the palm, pulp and paper industries, no Southeast Asian countries are included on the World Health Organization’s recent list of the world’s 10 countries with the worst air pollution. The study measured concentrations of particulate matter in 16,000 cities in 19 countries and found nine out of the 10 worst offenders to be Asian countries (all 9 in Western and South Asia).

The 10 countries with the worst air (according to the WHO) are:

  1. Pakistan
  2. Qatar
  3. Afghanistan
  4. Bangladesh
  5. Iran
  6. Egypt
  7. Mongolia
  8. United Arab Emirates
  9. India
  10. Bahrain

To keep up-to-date on Singapore’s air quality via social media, follow the Haze-Free Singapore Facebook page. Fires that destroy rainforest do not only result in unhealthy, hazy air, they also ruin livelihoods, endanger rare wildlife, damage biodiversity and contribute significantly to climate change. For more on the problems of the palm oil industry, check my previous article.

Hazepocalypse 2013. Pic: Brian Jeffery Beggerly (Flickr CC)

Hazepocalypse 2013. Pic: Brian Jeffery Beggerly (Flickr CC)