Massive forest fires in Indonesia have sent a thick cloud of smoke eastward. Now hovering over Singapore, the fires are causing the worst air pollution the country has seen in four years. The forest fires are on the island of Sumatra and although the cause is unknown, environmental activists are speculating that farmers may have lit the blaze to clear out land for crops.
Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Tene says the Singapore haze has sent hundreds of firefighters to Indonesia to help contain the blaze, but it’ll take some time before their efforts will have any effect:
Certainly we will send the necessary resources, in terms of manpower and equipment to deal with the fire but we have also to take into account [that] the geographical situation on the ground might be quite difficult. This is happening in the middle of a forest. That may hamper some of the efforts being taken.
Part of the problem lies underground. Southeast Asia is home to 60 percent of the world’s tropical peatlands with most of them in Indonesia. Comprised mostly of decomposed plant material, peat soil easily catches fire. Because they can smolder below the surface and then resurface, peat fires are difficult to extinguish and produce a thick haze and an abundance of carbon.
The haze happens every year but according to the Singapore government, the air pollution index has now reached unhealthy levels and many have reported becoming ill. Also, respiratory issues such as asthma are on the rise. Flights have also been canceled due to the haze in Malaysia and neighboring Singapore.
Dr. Elly Sabrina Ismail, a general practitioner at Banyan Clinic advises people on how to stay safe: “Try to limit the amount of time you spend outside. And please do take your medications if you are on them. For those with no medical problems, it may cause irritation, cough, runny nose, sore throat. Please try to also limit the time you spend outside, especially if you find the PSI index has gone sky high.”