Singapore Haze: Discontent Rises

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Although a bustling, densely populated city-state, Singapore has nonetheless managed to maintain a reputation for having relatively clean air. Once a year, though, the island is engulfed in smog and haze, a result of forest fires caused by slash-and-burn tactics employed by plantations in Indonesia. For more than a decade now Singaporeans have endured the consequences of unethical plantations choosing the easy way out in clearing their land. Still, usually people just cough and scratch their noses, grumble a little and continue on their way.

Not this year, though, as the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) climbs higher than ever before. At one point it hit 401, classified by the National Environment Agency (NEA) as “very hazardous”.

It’s all anyone can talk about. The Twitter hashtag “#SGHaze” is constantly trending in Singapore, and social media feeds are clogged with screencaps, comments and postings from those obsessively monitoring the PSI figures. The severity of this year’s haze problem has brought to the surface a plethora of worries and criticism of the government.

Stop work orders

With the smog hitting record levels, people have been advised not to remain outdoors for long periods of time. Several companies and employers have asked their employees to work from home, or stop working completely. McDonald’s temporarily ceased its delivery service, citing health concerns for its workers.

Despite this, the government has yet to issue an official “stop work” order, and many construction workers – most of them low-paid migrant workers from Bangladesh, India or China – are still toiling away in hazardous conditions.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), an NGO focused on migrant workers’ rights, wrote in a statement published on that website that it “is gravely concerned that current bad haze conditions will affect the health of workers in many trades, e.g. construction, marine, sanitation, landscaping.”

Concerned about the well-being of these workers, some Singaporeans have taken it upon themselves to do whatever they can to alleviate the situation. Visiting construction sites dotted across the island, they give out drinks and lozenges. In her blog post, filmmaker Lynn Lee observed the conditions in which the workers were working: “The hot, dusty worksite is also home to some 20 workers. For Zhou and his colleagues, there’s no respite from the haze. No respite from anything. The men sleep here at night – next to bags of cement and machinery and random bits of scaffolding. There’s a thin layer of dust everywhere. Zhou says their bunks are infested with bugs. Cockroaches and rats are a fact of life. There’s just one toilet. … No wonder they don’t see the haze as a big problem. There are other things to worry about.”

Although they have not issued a “stop work” order, the Ministry of Manpower has advised employers to “minimize strenuous work outdoors” for its workers. Tan Chuan-jin, the acting Minister of Manpower, wrote on his Facebook page: “I share many of your concerns, particularly for those outdoors carrying out strenuous activities, in particular construction workers, cleaners from NEA, our Town Councils etc; and also those who spend the better part of their day outdoors. … We have been coordinating with the various Ministries on our approach. … Meanwhile, do watch out for the elderly, young and those who have respiratory conditions as they will be most vulnerable to the worsening conditions.”

Comments
14
Charlton
August 17, 2013 at 11:13

I used to think air was just air until l experienced breathing difficulties during the haze season. That was when I read up on dust particles and found out about the pollution index of the air that we breathe in daily. In fact, airborne pollutants come in all forms such as particulate, gases, vapours, fumes and mists. I searched around for a cost effective dust, fume and particulate removal system and highly recommend www.aafapcasia.com as many of the technologies used today to control air pollution were originally developed by them. With over 90 years of innovation under their belt, they know air better than anyone else.

 

Admiral Cheng
June 30, 2013 at 10:12

The problem here is Islam. As the region is dominated by the Muslims and they do not give a damm for environment. It all the 72 virgins that counts. 

bangsarster
June 30, 2013 at 10:09

The corrupted Indonesian Officials will allow the criminals Business Tycoons with a light slap on their wrists. The haze been an annual occurence for more than a decade. I think its about time that neighbouring countries' send in their secret services (ala Russia and Isreal) to deal once for all with these "Business Tycoons" thus provide them with the opportunities to burn all their hearts out in hell.

Dewey Last [formerly But....]
June 28, 2013 at 05:29

@Haze Singapore

With a GDP of 240 billion, the cost of 50 portable water-pumps is beyond the reach of the country, we can understand this. I suggest they buy Sumatra and make it into a parking lot. Every time I drive in Singapore the cost of parking a car is prohibitive so I take I have to take taxis. I am also sure the cost of helping is negligible. The Singaporeans are known to frame the first dollar they ever made. I mean how much will it cost to give farmers modern equipment? 

And American tax-evaders: better to move to Hong Kong. If things get hot, there will be a cot open at the airport in Moscow very soon.

tocharian
June 28, 2013 at 04:48

Singapore traditionally has always been a money-laundering safe haven for all these "business tycoons, drug dealers and corrupt dictators" from eighbouring countries, the kind of people who do not give a damn about environmental issues as long as they can make their dirty money, but now the air is also dirty in that neighbourhood!

In general most Asians do not take environmental issues seriously enough. They think it's just a matter of politics and either the governmenit or the "market forces" will take care of Planet Earth. I predict there will be a lot more ecological disasters like this if people don't value the delicate harmony of nature. Fresh water might be the next issue for Singapore.

Paul Banyan
June 27, 2013 at 23:33

ASEAN countries plus Australia, Japan, and Amerika should unilaterally waterbomb Indonesia's wanton burning of its forests. There is no need to ask Indonesia for permission. Their negligence and omision is hazardous and a clear and present danger to others.

Haze Singapore
June 27, 2013 at 21:06

Dear friends, Can anyone pls donate 50 sets of Robin, portable water-pumps to one group of haze-fighters, called the ' Peatland Fire Community ', formed in 2002 under the village chief, Juliar in East Sumatra. This group is managed by volunaters, a local Indonesia villagers, who was not even paid for salary. Plse kindly donate this water-pumps to them, so that they can fight the fire and help to control the haze.

G T Lee
June 27, 2013 at 18:49

I wonder why the NEA is still focussing on PSI readings and advising steps for the public to take, when PM 2.5 readings is more precise in gauging the air that can affect our health?

Similarly, why is the media in Singapore not updating the public about PM 2.5 readings? What should be the alert and danger levels of PM2.5 readings? 

Can we have answers?

Aida Nilsson
June 27, 2013 at 16:16

I have not been back to Singapore for more than 10 years and finally when I decided to go back for a visit in July, i heard about the haze that have badly hit Singapore. Half part of me still wanted to go due to the only time now that my family are free from school, work etc, plus I have promise my parents, siblings and family members who are waiting for us. The other half of me really hesitated to go now as I know that the haze will effect all our health especially my small children.

ATH
June 27, 2013 at 15:48

I think we need to be active citizens ourselves. It is always easy to bash the government for going for GDP at all cost and not caring for the people's welfare. It is a gravely unfair accusation. It is precisely because the government is very concerned about the people's welfare that they need to work on it GDP pursuit because Singapore has nothing else beside good economics and good people. We all know the government is putting aside millions of dollars to help those in the lower income.

 

achmed
June 27, 2013 at 14:23

Yes, it will affect everyone. you will die, i will die, everyone will die if you try to breathe in haze. Here we we buy our own portable biosphere to breathe in.

JohnHay
June 27, 2013 at 13:44

You can log in to some of our local media websites like StraitTimes, AsiaOne, ChannelNewAsia, etc

They have regular update on the haze situation. This will give you a clearer picture to decide your options..

 

Mohd Yusoff Aziz
June 27, 2013 at 11:44

I am very disappointed with the Singapore Government as the general impression they had given to the public was the importance of economic growth (GDP) over the health and well-being of Singaporeans. What was lacking is in the area of engagement with the public on this matter. A work stop order may not be necessary, but it would have been nice to see the Prime Minister or relevant ministers go on air, give assurances and update the public what was going on. This is afterall a National issue and health threatening.

Rajkumar Kandaswami
June 27, 2013 at 11:29

Sir
I wish to visit Singapore during. August ie from 9/8/13 to 15/8/13 with my family on tourist. Visa.Is it advisable ? Will the haze affect us?

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