Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Haze Descends

Here in Singapore, we haven't seen the sun in about a week.  Everything outdoors smells like a campfire, visibility is awful, and the air is stale with every breath you take.  The constant exposure to the caustic air makes me cough, and headaches have been coming and going all week for me and many others in Singapore.

The haze that has engulfed Singapore is coming from Sumatra, where farmers burning land to plant yet another palm oil plantation (just what the world needs, right?) lost control of the fires, and they burned wild.  The smoke has blown over to Singapore and Malaysia, causing the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) to spike over 100, into the "unhealthy" range.  As if anyone needed to tell us that inhaling smoke for a solid week isn't good for our health.  The Indonesian government has done little to control the situation, despite Singapore's repeated offers to assist with fighting fires.  Perhaps obviously, the problem has been a little worse on the west side of the island where we live, closer to Sumatra.
The view out our window last month (no haze)
View out our window Sat. morning, when the PSI was in the 70's.  On Thurs., the PSI was over 100.
Bryan did a neat juxtaposition- the stripe down the middle is from a clear day last month.
Left= Saturday's haze.  Right= A clear day last month.
One the left, the haze this morning.  On the right, a clear day last month.
Doesn't exactly make you want to step outside for a breath of fresh air, does it?
For the first couple of days, we really didn't know what was going on- there was nothing in the news about the haze, and having never experienced it before, we were kind of clueless.  All the information we got came from asking native Singaporeans what was going on.  Eventually the Straits Times started covering the story, and you can read some of the coverage on the issue here, here, here, and here.  Apparently this is not a new problem- in 1997 and 2006, environmentally irresponsible burning in Indonesia generated haze that spread over Southeast Asia and lasted for months.

For the sake of everyone in Sumatra, who are much worse off than we are, for everyone in Malaysia and Singapore, and for the hard-hit wildlife of Indonesia, I hope that action is taken soon to get the fires under control.  In the meanwhile, we'll be roasting inside our apartment with all the windows and doors shut!

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