Indonesia is being asked by Singapore to get control of its forest fires after the pollutant index in the air rose to a staggering 155 on Monday, the highest it’s been since 2006.
Officials asked employers to provide masks to anyone spending time outside during work, and children and the elderly were advised not to spend too much time outdoors. The scent of burning wood and a smoky haze still filled the air on Tuesday morning as commuters made their way in to work, though pollutant levels had dropped a bit. They are still well over the safety range, however.
The Indonesian Ministry says they have firefighters on the scene but may have to deploy aircraft to drop water over Sumatra Island; however, a ministry official says the fires aren’t solely to blame.
“The slash-and-burn technique being used is the cheapest land-clearing method and it is not only used by local farmers, but also employees of palm oil investors including Singaporean and Malaysian companies,” Hadi Daryanto said. “We hope the governments of Malaysia and Singapore will tell their investors to adopt proper measures so we can solve this problem together.”
Singapore’s minister for environment and water resources fired right back, saying that Indonesia has been allowed to keep commercial interests in higher regard than concerns for the environment. Malaysian officials are concerned, as well, and issued a warning via their Facebook page to residents.
“The haze situation in Malaysia is going to worsen in the coming days with winds carrying smoke from hot spots in Sumatra,” Prime Minister Najib Razak wrote. “Please reduce outdoor activity and drink a lot of water during this period. Health should remain a number one priority for everyone.”
Doctors in Singapore are expecting to see a surge in patients this week, especially those with existing lung conditions like asthma or bronchitis.
“The usual complaints during haze are throat irritation, eye irritation, cough and difficulty breathing,” Dr. Ong Kian Chung said.