Singapore smog gets worse - can chemically induced rain clear the air?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Governments in south-east Asia meet to discuss growing crisis and people are warned to remain indoors

Singapore has been hit by the worst air pollution crisis in its history, while government agencies try to induce rain in an attempt to stop forest fires spreading a smoky haze across three south-east Asian countries.

The average Pollution Standard Index (PSI) – the measurement for air pollution – hit 401 at midday today, beating previous records of 371 and 321 on the previous two days. A reading between 101 and 200 is considered unhealthy. Anything over 300 is “hazardous”.

It is six days since the clouds of smoke first descended on Singapore, the result of fires in neighbouring Sumatra, Indonesia. Blaze season usually runs from June to September, when land is illegally cleared in this fashion for palm plantations.

Singapore's environment minister flew to Jakarta today to discuss measures to tackle the forest fires, and the Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency said it plans to use helicopters in a "water-bombing" operation, alongside more than 100 firefighters on the ground.

The agency added that planes would be sent over parts of Sumatra in the next few days in a "cloud-seeding" effort to try to induce rain  chemically.

Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has told people to remain indoors as much as possible, and warned that the smog could last for weeks.

Staff at Singapore’s famous Fullerton Hotel point to the skyline where the nearby Swissotel, The Stamford, used to be visible. It all but disappeared from view on Wednesday.

The hotel is now handing its guests masks before they head out; its revolving door at the front has closed, a small precaution to keep the noxious air from wafting in. The management has also issued eye drops for its staff.

More than 100 companies across Singapore sent their staff home, opting not to wait for the government to decide to stop work.

Along the Boat Quay waterfront, some restaurants are reporting a 30 per cent drop in tourist traffic since the haze arrived last weekend. At the BQ Bar, however, bookings have held up. “It doesn’t affect people that much,” says Sue Ksumayu, assistant bar manager. “They can take off their masks when they’re drinking.”

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has advised residents, especially the elderly, the young and those with respiratory problems, to avoid prolonged spells outdoors and school closures are being considered. Hospitals are preparing for an increase in the number of cases of asthma, bronchitis and conjunctivitis and the Singapore Manpower Ministry published guidelines for construction workers.

“People should also stop work until the PSI drops back below 200,” said Professor Goh Lee Gan, from the College of Family Physicians Singapore (CFPS). “The PSI level is very unhealthy... this is the first time it’s got so bad.”

Malaysia, which has also been badly affected by the haze, has closed 200 schools and banned open burning in some areas. Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Vivian Balakrishnan, said he would push for action ahead of a hastily convened meeting with Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry in Jakarta. “No country or corporation has the right to pollute the air at the expense of Singaporeans’ health and wellbeing,” he said in a Facebook post.

Tensions escalated when Agung Laksono, the minister co-ordinating Indonesia’s response, told reporters Singapore should stop “behaving like a child”.  Indonesian officials have added to the tension by suggesting Singaporean companies may be partly responsible for the fires. Wilmar International Ltd, Golden Agri-Resources Ltd and First Resources Ltd, Singapore-based firms with palm oil concessions in Indonesia, defended their position, saying they used only mechanical means to clear the land.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links