Air pollution in South East Asia

This video is called Singapore’s air pollution level hits new record high amid haze.

By Gustav Kemper:

Air pollution emergency in South East Asia points to systemic failure

27 June 2013

On Sunday, June 23, 2013, the government of Malaysia declared a state of emergency for the two southern districts of Muar and Ledang, where raging forest and plantation fires are causing air pollution at a level not seen in history.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) climbed to 746 at 7 a.m., reaching double the level considered to be hazardous and life threatening to elderly people and young children if exposed over a long period of time. Government offices, schools, factories, plantations and construction sites were closed as well as schools in the region of Malacca, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

In Singapore, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) spiked at 401 on Friday afternoon, surpassing by far the level for unhealthy air, which is at 100. All values above 300 are considered as hazardous.

While wild fires and haze are an annual occurrence in the dry season in Indonesia and Malaysia, with small farmers burning crops to clear the land for new plants, the dramatic expansion of large palm oil plantations and deforestation for pulp production of paper mills have the largest impact on the air pollution in the region.

With the estimated production of some 31 million metric tons (MT) in 2013, Indonesia supplies 53 percent of the world palm oil trade. Malaysia follows with some 33 percent, or 19 million MT.

The Indonesian government was quick to blame Malaysian or Singaporean companies owning large oil palm plantations, while the Malaysian and Singaporean authorities pointed at the responsibility of Indonesia to enforce anti-burning laws in Sumatra.

As the financial district of Singapore vanished in thick haze, the government hurried to insure the public that all measures are being taken to tackle the issue. However, the health authorities were ill prepared as air filter masks were on short supply and pharmacies were out of stock for several days.

Fearing the negative impact on the tourist business and damage to the reputation of a “clean city” and ideal headquarter for foreign investors, the government hurried to announce an action plan, distributing 200,000 free face masks to the poorest households and offering support to the Indonesian firefighters.

At the same time, they tried to downplay the issue by pointing out that the PSI index of 401 was measured as a 3-hour average index and thus more sensitive to the peak values of the air pollution. They suggested that a 24-hour average index was a more realistic indicator of the health risk.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was meeting with residents of the Ang Mo Kio constituency, insisted that “for most people, the haze is an inconvenience; life can carry on”. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, chairing the Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee, stated that while companies were advised to distribute masks to construction workers, the “country cannot grind to a halt” because of the haze.

While governments are clearly more concerned about the commercial impact of the haze, ordinary working people are angry that after many years, the recurring problem of haze has not been brought under control.

In fact, it is impossible to deal with the problem in a system where a quick return on investments is the guiding mantra of business.

June 2013. WWF has renewed calls for zero-burn policies to be enacted and enforced, as satellite hotspot analysis showed the single jurisdiction of Riau Province, Sumatra as the location of over 88% per cent of the fire hotspots that have seen Singapore and parts of Malaysia blanketed with the worst haze and pollution since 1997: here.

Singapore pressed Indonesia today to share maps that could identify plantation companies responsible for setting fires that cause deadly smogs: here.

After three weeks of improved air quality, the thick haze of smoke from deliberately lit forest fires, which began to spread across Indonesia in July, has returned to the province of South Sumatra. On October 14, the haze descended on the provincial capital of Palembang, causing the city’s Air Pollutant Index (API) to soar to an all-time high of 921. The return of the smog forced the closure of Palembang’s airport and most of its schools: here.

3 thoughts on “Air pollution in South East Asia

  1. Pingback: Air pollution kills 29,000 Britons a year | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Pollution killing millions of Europeans, Asians | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Indonesian journalists murdered by palm oil corporation | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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