Singaporeans reduced military training exercises, kept cough-stricken children indoors and wore protective masks to work after a smoky haze triggered by forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia caused air pollution to hit its worst level in nearly 16 years.
Singapore’s main measurement of air quality has hovered at the unhealthy classification as smoke from blazes on Sumatra island drifted across the sea and cast a grey pall over the city-state’s skyscrapers.
The readings on the pollutant standards index were mostly between 104 and 123 on Tuesday, within the unhealthy range of between 101 and 200. A peak reading of 155 on Monday night was the highest since late 1997, when officials reported a 226 reading.
Smoke haze is an annual problem for Singapore and its northern neighbour, Malaysia, often beginning midyear, when farmers in Indonesia seek to clear land cheaply by starting fires. It sometimes causes diplomatic strains as Malaysia and Singapore urge Indonesia to do more to prevent illegal burning.
Malaysia has been only lightly affected so far this year, with pollution readings in Kuala Lumpur, its largest city, not breaching the unhealthy mark. Indonesia has said part of the current problem is caused by peat blazes that firefighters are struggling to extinguish during hot, dry weather.
The forest ministry spokesman, Sumarto Suharno, said the government was continuing to educate farmers about alternatives to traditional slash-and-burn agriculture. “We have been able to reduce the regional haze problem significantly for years with help from local communities and will continue to undertake all efforts to prevent it from spreading,” he said.