Haze pollution



Haze is an air-borne mixture of pollutants that includes soot particles, carbon dioxide and other toxic gases.1 Haze pollution affects several Southeast Asian countries on a regular basis, notably Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, and to a lesser extent Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.2 The condition is largely caused by the burning of large tracts of forested land in Indonesia. The haze usually occurs during the southwest monsoon season between June and September, and becomes more severe during periods of dry weather.3

Causes
Forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, are the main cause of the haze in Singapore. Many farmers in Indonesia practice shifting agriculture, which is a traditional farming method that involves clearing tracts of forested land for cultivation using the slash-and burn method. This practice has intensified in recent decades as large-scale burning is carried out to prepare land for the planting of commercial crops such as oil palm.4 Coupled with El Niño-related droughts, poor forest management and fire control, the number of forest fires in Indonesia has increased and become more widely distributed.5


El Niño is a climatic phenomenon caused by a prolonged increase in the sea surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon can disrupt weather patterns, resulting in less rainfall and storms.6 The resultant hot and dry weather conditions are conducive for sparking forest fires.7 Strong winds during the southwest monsoon season (usually between June and September), which usually coincides with periods of El Niño-related weather conditions, help spread the haze produced by such fires throughout Southeast Asia.8

Pollutant Standard Index (PSI)
In Singapore, haze levels are measured using the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI). This index was developed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to measure the daily levels of air pollution. PSI is computed based on a 24-hour average reading of the concentration levels of pollutants.9


Singapore’s air quality is monitored through a network of 15 air-monitoring stations using a telemetric air quality monitoring and management system. This system measures air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, ozone, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter such as soot and dust particles. The PSI then converts the measured pollutant concentration into a number on a scale of 0 to 500.10

The PSI values indicate the air quality and are generally divided into five main categories: good (PSI 0–50), moderate (PSI 51–100), unhealthy (PSI 101–200), very unhealthy (PSI 201–300) and hazardous (PSI 300 and above).11

Haze outbreaks affecting Singapore (1970s–2000s)
The haze caused by forest fires in the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan have long affected neighbouring countries. One of the worst haze outbreaks in Singapore occurred in 1972. Visibility was as low as 1 to 2 km across parts of the island due to the thickness and persistence of the haze during the first two weeks of October that year. The cause of the haze was forest fires started by shifting cultivators in Palembang and South Kalimantan, Indonesia. The hazy conditions eased by mid-October due to a change in wind direction and the onset of rains in the originating areas.12


There were sporadic reports of haze over Singapore in the 1980s. During that period, the haze was generally caused by dry weather conditions that increased the amount of dust in the air,13 occasional bushfires in Singapore14 and forest fires in Indonesia.15

During the 1990s, one of the worst haze outbreaks occurred in 1997. The outbreak was the result of raging fires in Indonesia caused by the large-scale burning of forested land. The fires that year were more severe due to the dry weather conditions caused by the El Niño phenomenon.16 The hazy conditions lasted for around two months and attracted much attention from the news media, government, businesses and general public.17 Between August and October that year, the island experienced 14 days when the PSI was in the unhealthy range. As a result, more Singaporeans were affected by respiratory and haze-related ailments,18 and the tourism industry was severely affected. Experts estimated the economic loss caused by the haze to be between S$97.5 million and S$110.5 million.19

In September 2006, Singapore again experienced serious haze pollution. Like in 1997, the haze was caused by widespread forest fires in Indonesia that were exacerbated by the El Niño conditions. The PSI reading peaked at 128 on 7 October that year.20 Conditions returned to normal in mid-November with the onset of the monsoon rains.21

2013 haze outbreak
The 2013 haze outbreak was one of the most serious haze episodes to affect Singapore in the past 16 years. It was the first time that the PSI level reached the hazardous range, with the highest PSI reading of 401 recorded on 21 June 2013.22 At the peak of the outbreak, the general public was advised by the authorities to minimise outdoor activities and to wear N95 masks if they needed to engage in outdoor activities.23

Like the previous haze episodes, the cause of the 2013 haze outbreak was due to the widespread burning of forested land in Indonesia. The severity of haze this time was attributed to the massive burning of land carried out by palm oil companies. The Indonesian authorities claimed that some of these companies were owned by Singaporean and Malaysian investors.24 In response to such claims, the Singapore government warned that it would take action against any Singapore-linked company found to be involved in the illegal burning activities.25 The Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) urged its members to boycott the firms involved, 26 while the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) criticised the companies responsible for such activities.27

Domestic action against the haze
In September 1994, the Haze Task Force was formed to help coordinate the Singapore government’s efforts against the haze. As of June 2013, the Task Force comprises representatives from 23 government agencies.28 The Task Force meets yearly to prepare for the annual dry season (usually lasting from June to September), which often coincides with cases of haze pollution over Singapore.29 In 2013, the aims of the task force were to protect public health and safety, work with Indonesia to curb the burning of forested land, and maintain social and economic resilience.30 In June 2013, in response to the severe haze conditions, the government set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee chaired by Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen to oversee the overall national efforts against the haze.31


At the height of the outbreak, various government ministries, including the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Defence, issued health advisories urging the public to monitor their health and limit outdoor activities.32 The government’s stockpile of N95 masks was also released and distributed to various retail outlets. The masks were distributed free to low-income families.33 Medical health subsidies were also granted to vulnerable groups such as the elderly and young children.34

Regional action against the haze
Since the 1980s, some regional efforts have been made to control the forest fires in Indonesia.35 In light of the serious haze outbreak in 1997, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) strengthened the 1995 ASEAN Co-operation Plan on Transboundary Pollution and developed it into the Regional Haze Action Plan.36 The objectives of the plan were to prevent forest fires through better management policies and enforcement, establishing mechanisms to monitor land and forest fires, and strengthening firefighting capacity.37


Singapore adopted a monitoring role in the plan and has been providing satellite pictures and coordinates of fire hotspots to Indonesian authorities since 1997. In addition, Singapore has also conducted training courses on the health effects of haze pollution, air quality monitoring and GPS satellite information interpretation for Indonesian officials. In 2006, Singapore offered the Indonesia government an assistance package that included an aircraft for cloud-seeding operations, visuals to help identify fire locations and a contingent of firefighters, but the offer was not taken up.38

At an emergency meeting convened by Indonesia in June 2013, Singapore offered a similar assistance package, which included an aircraft for cloud seeding operations as well as high resolution satellite pictures and hotspot coordinates. The Indonesia government considered the offer but eventually decided not to accept assistance from Singapore.39

Timeline
1994: Haze Task Force formed.
1997: Haze outbreak between August and October, with the highest PSI reading of 226 recorded in September.
2002: ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution signed by ASEAN members.
2006: PSI reading peaked at 128 on 7 October.
2013: Haze returned to Singapore in June. Highest ever PSI reading of 401 recorded on 21 June, following a PSI reading of 371 on 20 June. Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee established.



Authors
Jaime Koh & Stephanie Ho



References
1. Schweithelm, J., & Glover, D. (1999). Causes and impacts of the fires. In D. Glover & T. Jessup (Eds.), Indonesia's fires and haze: The cost of catastrophe. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 363.3790959 IND)
2. Schweithelm, J., & Glover, D. (1999). Causes and impacts of the fires. In D. Glover & T. Jessup (Eds.), Indonesia's fires and haze: The cost of catastrophe. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 363.3790959 IND)
3 Fong, M. (2012). The weather and climate of Singapore. Singapore: Meteorological Service, Singapore, pp. 90–92. (Call no.: RSING 551.695957 FON)
4. Tahir Qadri, S. (2001). Fire, smoke, and haze: The ASEAN response strategy. Manila, Philippines: Asian Development Bank, p. 37. (Call no.: RSEA q634.9618 FIR); Singapore Institute of International Affairs. (2013, July 1). More plantations, more haze to come? Retrieved from http://siiaonline.org/page/commentariesDetails/id/242/ArticleCategoryId/4#.UhWtB7-BIy4
5. Schweithelm, J., & Glover, D. (1999). Causes and impacts of the fires. In D. Glover & T. Jessup (Eds.), Indonesia's fires and haze: The cost of catastrophe. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 5–7. (Call no.: RSING 363.3790959 IND)
6. Tahir Qadri, S. (2001). Fire, smoke, and haze: The ASEAN response strategy. Manila, Philippines: Asian Development Bank, p. 11. (Call no.: RSEA q634.9618 FIR)
7. Tahir Qadri, S. (2001). Fire, smoke, and haze: The ASEAN response strategy. Manila, Philippines: Asian Development Bank, pp. xiv–xv, 41–42 (Call no.: RSEA q634.9618 FIR)
8. Tahir Qadri, S. (2001). Fire, smoke, and haze: The ASEAN response strategy. Manila, Philippines: Asian Development Bank, pp. 47–48. (Call no.: RSEA q634.9618 FIR)
9. National Environment Agency. (2013, July 8). FAQs on the haze. Retrieved from http://app2.nea.gov.sg/anti-pollution-radiation-protection/air-pollution/faqs-on-the-haze
10. Hon, P. M. L. (1999). Singapore. In D. Glover & T. Jessup (Eds.), Indonesia's fires and haze: The cost of catastrophe. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 52. (Call no.: RSING 363.3790959 IND)
11. National Environment Agency. (2013, July 8). FAQs on the haze. Retrieved from http://app2.nea.gov.sg/anti-pollution-radiation-protection/air-pollution/faqs-on-the-haze
12. Gan, T. L. (1972). Smoke haze over Singapore, Oct 1972. Singapore: Meteorological Service, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 551.655957 GAN)
13. Dry weather brings on hazy mornings. (1989, February 24) The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Bushfires cast blanket of haze over Singapore. (1989, February 14). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Blaze partly responsible for the haze in Singapore. (1987, September 21). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Tahir Qadri, S. (2001). Fire, smoke, and haze: The ASEAN response strategy. Manila, Philippines: Asian Development Bank, pp. 36–37. (Call no.: RSEA q634.9618 FIR); Taconi, L. (2002). Fires in Indonesia: Causes, costs and policy implications. Jakarta: Centre for International Forestry Research, p. 1. Retrieved from http://www.cifor.org/publications/pdf_files/OccPapers/OP-038.pdf
17. Hon, P. M. L. (1999). Singapore. In D. Glover & T. Jessup (Eds.), Indonesia's fires and haze: The cost of catastrophe. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 363.3790959 IND)
18. Hon, P. M. L. (1999). Singapore. In D. Glover & T. Jessup (Eds.), Indonesia's fires and haze: The cost of catastrophe. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 54. (Call no.: RSING 363.3790959 IND)
19. Hon, P. M. L. (1999). Singapore. In D. Glover & T. Jessup (Eds.), Indonesia's fires and haze: The cost of catastrophe. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 79. (Call no.: RSING 363.3790959 IND)
20. National Environment Agency. (2006). Annual Report 2006/2007. Retrieved from http://www.nea.gov.sg/ar07/climate-haze.html
21. National Environment Agency. (2006). Annual Report 2006/2007. Retrieved from http://www.nea.gov.sg/ar07/climate-haze.html
22. Singapore haze update: PSI 401 at noon; many pharmacies still out of masks (2013, June 21). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
23. National Environment Agency. (2013, July 3). Advisories: Haze forecast and health advisory for 22 June. Retrieved from http://app2.nea.gov.sg/co porate-functions/newsroom/advisories/year/2013/month/6/category/air-quality/haze-forecast-and-health-advisory-for-22-june
24. Chua, G. (2013, June 18). Haze update: Vivian urge Indonesia to name companies responsible for forest fires. The Straits Times. Retrieved from http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/haze-update-vivian-urge-indonesia-name-companies-responsible-forest-fi
25. S'pore PM Lee urges calm amid worsening haze conditions. (2013, June 20). Channel NewsAsia; S'pore asks Indonesia for evidence on companies responsible for haze. (2013, June 24). Channel NewsAsia; Shanmugam issues warning to companies responsible for haze. (2013, June 22). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
26. Lee, A. A call to boycott firms responsible for haze. (2013, June 25). Today. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
27. CASE criticises companies responsible for haze. (2013, June 24). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
28. National Environment Agency (2013, June 19). Singapore government agencies coordinate effort to mitigate haze impact on public [Press release]. Retrieved from http://app2.nea.gov.sg/corporate-functions/newsroom/news-releases/singapore-government-agencies-coordinate-effort-to-mitigate-haze-impact-on-public#.dpuf
29. Woo, S. B. (2013, July 9). Govt ‘prepared for national emergencies’. Today. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
30. Chua, G. (2013, July 8). Singapore’s haze task force met before the crisis struck. The Straits Times. Retrieved from http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/spores-haze-task-force-met-the-crisis-struck-20130708
31. Woo, S. B. (2013, July 9). Govt ‘prepared for national emergencies’. Today. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
32. National Environment Agency (2013, June 19). Singapore government agencies coordinate effort to mitigate haze impact on public [Press release]. Retrieved from http://app2.nea.gov.sg/corporate-functions/newsroom/news-releases/singapore-government-agencies-coordinate-effort-to-mitigate-haze-impact-on-public#.dpuf
33. Woo, S. B. (2013, July 9). Govt ‘prepared for national emergencies. Today. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Toh, Y. C. (2013, June 23). MPs meet residents to allay concerns. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. S'pore PM Lee urges calm amid worsening haze conditions (2013, June 20). Channel News Asia. Retrieved from http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/specialreports/hazewatch/news/s-pore-pm-lee-urges-calm/718162.html
35. Tahir Qadri, S. (2001). Fire, smoke, and haze: The ASEAN response strategy. Manila, Philippines: Asian Development Bank, p. 58. (Call no.: RSEA q634.9618 FIR)
36. ASEAN Haze Action Online. (2013, August 22). Regional Haze Action Plan. Retrieved from http://haze.asean.org/?page_id=213
37. Tahir Qadri, S. (2001). Fire, smoke, and haze: The ASEAN response strategy. Manila, Philippines: Asian Development Bank, p. xvi. (Call no.: RSEA q634.9618 FIR)
38. National Environment Agency. (2013, June 20). Singapore attends emergency haze meeting convened by Indonesia. Retrieved from http://app2.nea.gov.sg/corporate-functions/newsroom/news-releases/singapore-attends-emergency-haze-meeting-convened-by-indonesia
39. National Environment Agency. (2013, June 20). Singapore attends emergency haze meeting convened by Indonesia. Retrieved from http://app2.nea.gov.sg/corporate-functions/newsroom/news-releases/singapore-attends-emergency-haze-meeting-convened-by-indonesia; Indonesia chides Singapore over reactions on haze situation. (2013, June 20). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/indonesia-chides/717798.html



The information in this article is valid as at 25 August 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Air pollution
Atmospheric haze
Pollutants