October 26 1994
Haze, haze and nothing but haze. It has dominated our lives for six weeks and each day we look out we’re confronted by a grey fog nothing at all like the ‘bright golden haze on the meadow’ in Oklahoma.
Look at the atlas and you’ll see that to the west of Singapore lies the large island of Sumatra and to the south-east lies the equally large Kalimantan and both have dense tropical forests. In the annual clearance, farmers and loggers set fire to vast patches of undergrowth and the fires have been smouldering for the past month and a half and plumes of smoke have been pouring forth. We’re affected when the wind blows from the west one day and from the south-east the next. Both islands are waiting for the winter monsoon and while they are we’re being smoked out of it. Things are fine when it rains, the rain washes the haze away, but an hour later it’s back. The Ministry of the Environment tells us it’s in the ‘unhealthy’ range at present, about 130 on the PSI, the Pollution Standard Index. On a scale of one to five hundred that isn’t alarming but it’s uncomfortable for people with asthma and a slight risk for patients with heart conditions. To everyone else it’s a nuisance and a literal eyesore for many. On worse than normal days, outdoor activities such as PE in schools and jogging are officially discouraged. In a hot humid climate such as ours there’s no question of keeping windows and doors shut; besides, the bloody smoke would get in anyway. It isn’t smelly most of the time but on occasion it is. The monsoon rains are due in Indonesia at the beginning of next month so they should put the fires out once and for all. These fires are on a huge scale and thousands of hectares of forest are affected. Ground access to these areas is either difficult or impossible as there aren’t any roads in the heart of the forest where fire engines and the like can go. The idea of dropping water from the air has been discussed but it’s expensive and furthermore most of the fires are in undergrowth and in coal seams which water from the air in superficial amounts wouldn’t penetrate; only sustained rain can do that.
It has just turned midday and as i look out the window i can see the haze is back with a vengeance. Now it’s a bluish grey, not unlike a dull november afternoon in Ireland when the sky seems to come down to the ground and it’s in smelly mode, the acrid pungent odour of burning bush.
I wrote that 21 years ago and today in September 2015 we still have a haze
problem in Singapore. Right now, the reading is 317.
Despite meeting after meeting and promise after promise that the issue
would be resolved nothing has been done. Powerful people with vested
interests will always have their way.