The Government is bracing itself against such a scenario, with a triple whammy of factors suggesting that Singapore may see pollutant levels hitting new highs in the months ahead.
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan and the National Environment Agency (NEA) outlined the potential seriousness of the situation in a briefing on Thursday.
First, haze hit Singapore earlier this month as the region suffered a prolonged dry spell. This is unusually early compared to the traditional June to September dry season in Indonesia, when most burning to clear land takes place.
Second, the recent haze in Riau province in Sumatra, Indonesia, is worse than last year. Riau, directly across the Straits of Malacca from Singapore, has suffered from severe haze since February.
Third, the NEA confirmed that most climate models are predicting that an El Nino weather phenomenon – linked to droughts in Southeast Asia – will develop in the second half of 2014. A dry, El Nino year in the region “is usually associated with aggravated haze”, said Dr Balakrishnan.
The northeast monsoon has so far kept haze from Riau away from Singapore, said NEA chief scientific officer Indrani Rajaram. But the coming inter-monsoon season means lighter winds, and the southwest monsoon will begin around June and could blow haze in Singapore’s direction.
The Government is acting early to prepare for the haze by rolling out the new Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) a month earlier than scheduled. It will now be used from Apr 1 instead of May 1.
The new PSI will incorporate small, hazardous pollutants called PM2.5 to give a better picture of Singapore’s air quality.
The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Manpower have also revised haze health advisories for the public and workplace guidelines for employers to protect their workers.