SINGAPORE, 8 October 2006 — Southeast Asia’s haze situation took a turn for the worse with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore suffering from record levels of pollutants in the air. Visibility in part of the Indonesian Island of Borneo plunged to 50 meters while Singapore recorded its worst level of pollution this year. Malaysia also recorded unhealthy air pollution levels.
Singapore’s pollution standard index (PSI) hit a record level of 145. A PSI reading between zero and 50 is considered healthy, 51-100 moderate and 101-200 unhealthy. The city state’s National Environment Agency issued its first health warning to the public. Singaporeans were advised that “people with existing heart or respiratory ailments should reduce physical exertion and outdoor activity and the general population should reduce vigorous outdoor activity.” In Borneo and Central Kalimantan hundreds of people sought medical attention for respiratory illnesses with satellite pictures showing more than 500 fires.
Purwasto, head of forest fire control in Indonesia’s Environment Ministry, said “the worst situation is in Central Kalimantan. Most areas in the province contain peat which can burn for years.”
He admitted that it was currently impossible to estimate the extent of the fires and said that experts were being sent to Central Kalimantan to help the authorities deal with the worsening situation.
The haze, which has been an annual problem in Southeast Asia, has been a source of tension between Indonesia and her neighbors, mainly Malaysia and Singapore. Malaysia’s environment minister, Azmi Khalid, was quoted in Malaysia’s Star newspaper as saying “frustration is an understatement,” and Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday Southeast Asian countries must take concerted action to set up a sizable fund to tackle the annual blazes. Malaysia has suffered particularly from the haze. In the Malaysian state of Sarawak, Deputy Chief Minister George Chan said the state’s hospitals were treating 200 daily cases of repertory illnesses, up from the usual 40 to 50. Malaysian authorities have begun to distribute face mask.
The Star said in a front-page story yesterday that readers have sent e-mails and text messages expressing anger and frustration at the lack of action to tackle the problem.
Another newspaper, New Straits Times, said Malaysians were fed up with the haze “and with the same litany of excuses offered by Indonesia and the authorities here for this unwelcome visitor every year.”
The haze has also sparked a demand for air purifiers and face masks in Singapore. Mustafa Center, one of the largest shopping malls in Singapore, has been recording high sales of air purifiers, face mask and eye-drops.