Hazy Prospects – Is the haze back in Singapore

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By Vincent Tan

A long time visitor Singaporeans would rather forget just arrived. A hazy smell was detected in Singapore yesterday, along with a moderate PSI reading. Haze is expected again this year (as we all know). But, the annual haze season isn’t due until later this year – so what could be the cause?

What is causing the haze now?

This time round, even the NEA isn’t clear on where the source of the haze is, stating that the smell of haze may not be reflected in the PSI reading. They speculate localised fires of the smoky odour, but even if there was a fire raging somewhere in Singapore or in the region, there has been no report of anything of a scale large enough to cause a hazy odour throughout much of the island.

There is also the possibility that it could come from as far as Indochina. According to some satellite images, there are widespread hot spots in Indochina, and the strong trade winds from the northeast may have a hand in pushing the smoke this way. The hotspots are caused by the same reason we have them in Indonesia: the annual clearing of forests for a new planting season.

Image from NASA

Earlier this month, Riau declared a state of emergency over forest and land fires blazing on the island of Sumatra. And once the winds change direction, we can expect a hazy summer unless the fires are put out. At present, there are a few hotspots in Brunei and parts of northern Borneo.

To date, northerly winds had kept Indonesia’s smoke away from Singapore and Malaysia; Malaysia itself is not expecting smoggy skies till May. However once the south-west monsoon arrives in May and June, it would blow any smoke from Indonesia towards peninsular Malaysia, and likely Singapore.

From as early as January this year, Indonesia’s President Jokowi Widodo tweeted about the need to tackle re-emerging hotspots. The following month, 70 forest fires were spotted in the country and in March, the province of Riau declared a state of emergency to deal with the spread. In a bid to head off a repeat of last year’s record-breaking haze, hundreds of army and police staff have been sent out, along with a water-bombing helicopter – as several fire-prone regions in Indonesia are also expected to experience drier weather in March and April, further stoking fears of a deepening haze problem.

With a more determined Jakarta struggling already this year to enforce regulations, the forests are likely to keep burning as the GDP of Indonesia continues to dip annually, and the region’s skies flood with scorched forest potpourri for yet another year.