Hazy Singapore

The air quality in Singapore has been worsening over the past few days, and today entered the unhealthy range, with a PSI index of 122 – 145 as reported by the National Environment Agency.

The hazy conditions are the result of the forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia. This has been an annual phenomenon and both Malaysia and Singapore have been at the receiving end of the fires sending plumes of particles across the sea, aided by the wind. While the Indonesian Government has been mounting big efforts to put out the fires this time, the result is yet to be seen.

The haze puts off lot of usual activities like taking a walk in the morning (it was not possible today due to the very bad air quality levels), or even going out to shop. My family decided to stay completely indoors today, and I am sure most people would have done the same. This is not good for business to be sure. Of course, one can argue that once you get into a mall it would be fine, but nevertheless the exposure to haze is unwelcome. All the more critical to avoid haze if one has some medical conditions, or breathing problems. Surely the haze is no good for very young kids and old people.

This phenomenon of haze demonstrates that when it comes to certain matters (like air in this case), the receiving countries have no influence whatsoever over the country pushing the air towards them. It is the weather pattern which helps the particles move towards us. And, it is a bad thing. But, what control can one have, despite being more prosperous as a nation ? Such things are inherently uncontrollable, unless there is a total ban on causes which lead to these forest fires.

Three major economies are involved – Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – and even then, the cooperation which needs to be demonstrated as ASEAN members is not seen in full force. What are the specific set of actions that the countries affected will need to take to avoid this problem recurring every year ? What is the consensus ? Are there technological solutions ? What are the political solutions ? Why are businesses in Indonesia which are involved in these fires not in a position to stop the fires ? How can countries help each other ?

We have some answers to the above questions, but not all. It is time to find a permanent solution to the haze problem, sooner than later.

Such atmospheric weather conditions are no good for the people, and no good for the business environment. Immediate tangible actions are required by the concerned governments.

Who would have thought that haze is a yearly recurring thing in Singapore ?


Vijay Srinivasan

13th September 2015


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