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Haze in Singapore: A Persistent Challenge with Regional Roots


Haze in Singapore

Haze, a smoky air pollution caused by land and forest fires in Indonesia, is a recurring environmental and public health challenge for Singapore. Unlike its neighbors, Singapore itself doesn't experience significant fires. Instead, it suffers the consequences of smoke from seasonal wind currents, impacting air quality, health, and even the economy.


The Cause: Beyond Borders

The primary culprit behind Singapore's haze problem is land-clearing practices in Indonesia. Farmers often resort to slash-and-burn methods to prepare land for agriculture, particularly during the dry season. This widespread burning, exacerbated by dry conditions, sends plumes of smoke across the region, including Singapore. Research suggests a link between the El Niño weather phenomenon and worsened haze due to drier conditions in Indonesia.


The Impact: Beyond Reduced Visibility

While reduced visibility due to haze disrupts air travel and outdoor activities, the more significant concern lies in the health impacts. The haze carries fine particulate matter (PM2.5), microscopic particles that lodge deep in the lungs and can trigger respiratory problems, especially for vulnerable populations like children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions. A study by the National University of Singapore (NUS) linked the severe 2015 haze crisis to over 100,000 premature deaths across Southeast Asia, highlighting the potential health risks.


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Monitoring and Mitigating the Threat

Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) monitors air quality through the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI). The PSI provides a standardized measure of air quality, with higher readings indicating unhealthier conditions. Residents can access real-time PSI readings on the NEA website or air quality monitoring platforms like http://aqicn.org.


The Economic Toll

The haze isn't just a health concern but also a significant economic burden. The 2015 episode, considered one of the worst in recent history, resulted in an estimated $1.83 billion in economic losses for Singapore. This impact stemmed from disruptions in transportation due to low visibility, increased healthcare costs associated with respiratory issues, and lost productivity.


Looking Forward: A Regional Approach

While Singapore implements measures to reduce local air pollution sources, the most effective solutions require regional cooperation. Singapore works with neighboring countries like Indonesia to tackle the root causes of haze, such as promoting sustainable agricultural practices and fire management strategies.


Individual Preparedness

Despite ongoing efforts, haze episodes persist. Here's how Singapore residents can stay informed and protected:

Stay Ahead of the Curve:

  • Monitor Air Quality: Make the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) your go-to resource. Track it on the National Environment Agency (NEA) website or mobile app. Consider using air quality monitoring platforms like http://aqicn.org for real-time PSI readings and forecasts. Knowing the PSI allows you to plan your activities and take precautions when necessary.

Minimize Exposure:

  • Limit Strenuous Activity: When the PSI reaches unhealthy levels, prioritize your health by reducing outdoor exertion. Opt for indoor exercise routines or postpone strenuous activities for clearer days.

  • Create a Safe Haven: Keep windows closed to minimize smoke infiltration and create a clean air haven within your home. Consider investing in air purifiers, especially for vulnerable individuals like children, the elderly, and those with respiratory conditions.

Protect Yourself:

  • Mask Up Wisely: Wear a well-fitting N95 mask if venturing outdoors. Unlike surgical masks, N95 masks effectively filter out fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – the tiny particles in haze that pose the greatest health risk.

  • Hydration is Key: Haze can irritate the respiratory tract, making hydration even more crucial. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your airways moist and help your body eliminate toxins.

Stay Updated and Informed:

  • Follow Health Advisories: The Ministry of Health (MOH) provides essential health precautions and potential school closure updates during severe haze episodes. Stay informed by following their official channels.

  • Local News is Your Friend: Local news channels will provide real-time updates, including the PSI, potential health risks, and official advisories. Tune in to stay informed and make informed decisions.

By understanding the causes and impact of haze, Singapore residents can be better prepared to protect themselves and their loved ones during these recurring air quality challenges.


📍Disclaimer: The information provided in this content is not intended to serve as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is imperative to consult with your Physician or another qualified healthcare provider regarding any medical queries or conditions. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it due to information contained within this content.


References

Hansen, A. B., Witham, C. S., Chong, W. M., Kendall, E., Chew, B. N., Gan, C., Hort, M. C., and Lee, S.-Y.: Haze in Singapore – source attribution of biomass burning PM10 from Southeast Asia, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 19, 5363–5385, https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-19-5363-2019 , 2019.

National University of Singapore. (2022, April 1). Transboundary haze in Southeast Asia: What’s peat got to do with it? Transboundary haze in Southeast Asia: What’s peat got to do with it? https://news.nus.edu.sg/transboundary-haze-in-southeast-asia-whats-peat-got-to-do-with-it/ 

Understanding air pollution risks: Case study of haze in Singapore. Ipur.nus.edu.sg. (n.d.).

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