On Saturday (7 Oct), air quality in Singapore deteriorated to unhealthy levels. Authorities warned of hazy conditions resulting from an increased number of hotspots in Indonesia.
At around 10:00 PM, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) for the eastern, central, and southern regions of Singapore recorded readings of 123 and 117, respectively. The southern region also marked a temporary PSI of 101 at around 4pm.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) considers readings between 101 and 200 as “unhealthy.”
The NEA predicted “slight haze” throughout the day in the northern, southern, eastern, and central regions of Singapore, with only the western region experiencing cloudy conditions.
NEA had stated on Friday night that air quality could enter the unhealthy range over the weekend if the forest fires in Indonesia continued and unfavorable wind directions persisted.
The agency noted a “significant increase” in the number of hotspots in Sumatra, with 212 detected on Friday compared to 65 on Thursday and 15 on Wednesday.
“Smoke and haze have been observed from satellite imagery in the southern and central regions of Sumatra. A brief shift in the afternoon wind direction, from southeast to south, carried some thin haze towards Singapore, leading to a deterioration in air quality,” the agency stated in a media release.
It also added, “There is a possibility that the haze may affect Singapore in the coming weekend if the forest fires continue and the wind direction remains unfavorable.”
The NEA issued warnings and advisories to the public regarding the worsening air quality, stating, “Earlier advisories have been issued to various sectors including healthcare institutions, childcare centers, schools, and workplaces, reminding them to take appropriate haze management measures if the 24-hour PSI enters the unhealthy range, especially to protect vulnerable groups.”
The last time the 24-hour PSI exceeded 80 was in 2019.
Authorities and Task Force Preparedness
NEA announced on the previous Friday that the Haze Task Force, consisting of 28 public agencies, was ready to implement their respective haze action plans if air quality deteriorated to the unhealthy range.
Meanwhile, Singapore’s neighbouring countries had also warned of the possibility of transboundary haze. Indonesia’s dry season this year has been the most severe since 2019 due to the hot and dry El Nino weather pattern, making it challenging to control fires.
Over 267,900 hectares of land have been burnt this year, exceeding last year’s total of 204,894 hectares, according to the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry data.
In both 2015 and 2019, similar fires devastated millions of hectares of land in Indonesia, causing haze to spread across several Southeast Asian countries, resulting in record-breaking emissions, according to scientists.
Challenges and Regional Cooperation
Weak law enforcement has often led to uncontrolled fires, producing smoke that poses health risks to the public and disrupts businesses.
Officials in Southeast Asian agriculture and forestry agreed on Friday to take action to minimize and ultimately eliminate crop burning.
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) acknowledged the “adverse environmental and health impacts” of such practices and pledged to collectively reduce and eliminate them in a statement after a meeting in Malaysia’s capital.
The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that it had received a letter from Malaysia offering cooperation in firefighting efforts.
Significant Increase in Hotspots
On Saturday (7 Oct), the number of hotspots in various regions of Indonesia reached 7,307. This figure marked a significant increase compared to data from the same date in 2022. Laksmi Dewanti, the Director-General of Climate Change Control at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, attributed this increase to the ongoing El Nino phenomenon.
She stated, “If we compare the hotspot conditions on October 7, 2023, with those in 2022, based on [satellite] TERRA/AQUA or NASA with a high level of confidence, there were 7,307 hotspots.”
She continued, “In the same period in 2022, there were 1,139 hotspots. So, there is a significant increase. This is also influenced by the dry conditions and the effects of the current El Nino that we are experiencing.”
President Joko Widodo acknowledged the forest fire disaster in Indonesia, which has resulted in haze spreading to neighboring countries like Malaysia and Singapore.
He stated that he had instructed the Chief of Police General Listyo Sigit Prabowo and the Commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces Admiral Yudo Margono to take swift action against forest and land fires.
“The impact of these fires releases smoke, and if the smoke is carried by the wind, it can go anywhere,” the President stated.
President Jokowi noted that the current hot and dry weather was extreme compared to similar conditions in 2015.
He also mentioned reports of forest fires occurring not only in Indonesia but also in countries like Canada and the United States. However, he assured that Indonesia had learned from past experiences and was better equipped to handle the situation.
“Here, we can control it well. Compare it to 2015; it’s much better now,” President Jokowi concluded.
Progress in Fire Control Efforts
The Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya, stated in multiple media releases that the number of forest fires in certain areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan had decreased.
She emphasized that the Indonesian government was continuously working to extinguish the fires.
Her statements were made as agriculture and forestry ministers in Southeast Asia agreed to take collective action to minimize and eventually eliminate crop burning in the region.
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