Singapore’s Air Quality Remains Unhealthy as Haze Worsens

  • Hotspots Appearing in Indonesia’s Sumatra, West Kalimantan
  • Haze is annual occurence, can spur Singapore-Indonesia tension

Singapore skyline blanketed with haze Aug. 26.

Photographer: Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images

Singapore’s air quality stood at unhealthy levels as haze from Indonesian forest fires intensified Friday, blanketing the city-state in a layer of smoke as the weekend approaches.

The three-hourly air pollution index peaked at 215 as of 2 p.m. before easing to 127 at 6 p.m., according to the National Environment Agency. Readings above 200 are classed as “very unhealthy” and the government advises people to reduce prolonged outdoor activities.

The haze, caused by forest and land fires in Riau, is being carried by wind toward Singapore, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman at Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Authority which reported 67 hotspots. Fire hotspots have appeared over Indonesia’s Sumatra island and West Kalimantan, where the Indonesian government said last week it deployed fire fighters.

The number of hotspots is lower than 2015, when dry conditions from the El Nino weather phenomenon drove the pollution reading to a record, forcing the city-state and neighboring Malaysia to shut schools.

For an explainer on deforestation and haze, click here.

Satellite data showed a total of 1,950 hotspots from January through to Aug. 18, compared with 6,595 in the same period a year ago.

The haze caused by plantation land-burning has become an annual occurrence in Southeast Asia and leads to periodic tensions with the Indonesian government. Smoke from illegal burning to clear land for palm oil and paper plantations that blanketed Singapore, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand last year briefly turned Indonesia into the world’s biggest climate polluter.

Smoke from Indonesian forest fires shrouded the city-state to such an extent last year that the pollution index went well above 300, forcing Singapore to close schools and cancel a number of public events. A reading exceeding 300 is deemed hazardous.

As Singapore distributed N95 masks to “vulnerable and needy” citizens and permanent residents across the island last year, there were concerns that rising pollution would affect the annual Singapore Grand Prix. The event went ahead and this year’s Grand Prix is scheduled for Sept. 16-18.

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