Singapore Schools Open After 1st Closure in 12 Years on Haze

  • Pollutant index worsens in Singapore on Monday morning
  • Economic impact expected if haze prolongs: Mizuho economist

Singapore schools reopened on Monday after pollution from Indonesian forest fires led to their first closure in 12 years on Friday, while Malaysia closed more education institutions as the air quality remains unhealthy in some areas near Kuala Lumpur.

The three-hour pollutant standards index in Singapore worsened on Monday morning, rising to 161 at 11 a.m. in the upper end of the "unhealthy range" after the city-state got some respite with the air quality in the moderate for most of the weekend. The measure had climbed to the year’s high of 341 on Friday morning, entering the hazardous level for the first time. A reading exceeding 300 is classified as “hazardous”.

In addition to shutting its grade and high schools the first time since the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2003, the city-state also suspended some outdoor events on Friday as smoke from the forest fires shrouded the city-state with a layer of haze. A prolonged period of high pollution levels would hurt its economy, said Vishnu Varathan, a Singapore-based economist at Mizuho Bank Ltd.

‘Not Significant’

“So far, the impact on the economy is not significant as the haze didn’t last long,” Varathan said. “That would change if we had higher levels of air pollution for three weeks or longer.”

Singapore residents are expected to adjust their plans for now, heading to the malls instead of outdoor activities, he said. If it lasts longer, people may choose to stay home, which will dent industries such as transportation and entertainment, he said.

Malaysia ordered more schools to close after air quality in areas surrounding Kuala Lumpur worsened to “very unhealthy” levels over the weekend. The Air Pollutant Index has since improved with two districts near the capital recording unhealthy levels as of 10 a.m compared to eight districts earlier on, according to data on the Malaysian Department of Environment website. Schools in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, one district in Perak and two areas in Sarawak were asked to shut on Monday, the education ministry said.

More Fires

Smoke from Indonesian forest fires has blanketed Southeast Asia with a layer of haze in the past few weeks. Data compiled by Global Forest Watch showed a concentration of fires in parts of Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan, driving the air quality of cities located in the areas to hazardous levels.

Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s environment minister, said in a statement at the United Nations on Sunday that the issue of the forest fires can’t be resolved unilaterally. The haze is affecting the health of millions of people, aircraft safety and the regional economy.

“We need closer regional and international cooperation to apply legal and commercial pressure on errant companies to prevent them from profiting from unsustainable land and forest clearing,” he said.

Weather Pattern

The effects of the haze depends on wind direction, with the weather pattern playing a role in pollution levels, said Gabriel Lau, an earth system science professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Singapore also named four Indonesian companies that it says may have contributed to the fires and said it would apply more pressure on palm oil and forestry companies responsible for the burning.

Temasek Holdings Pte, Singapore’s state-owned investment company, reiterated in a statement Monday its support for a “no burn” policy and called on plantation owners to do the same. The state investor said its joint venture with Cargill Inc., the world’s biggest food-production company, has confirmed there are no fires on its plantations.

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