Singapore: Schools Close as Pollution from Indonesian Fires Intensifies

Singapore: Schools Close as Pollution from Indonesian Fires Intensifies

On Friday, September 25th, Singapore closed all primary and secondary schools due to the intense fires burning in Indonesia. This elevated Singapore’s pollution rate to hazardous levels [1].

The decision to close schools was based on the premise of protecting children from the hazardous air. Work continued, with masks readily available for all adults. The air pollution level on Friday varied from 268 to 320, with any reading over 300 considered hazardous. Many civilians have testified to the staggering impacts of the smog[2]

Iain Craig, a middle school teacher living in Singapore, stated that although he normally keeps his balcony windows open, the smog forced him to shut the windows. He also attested that exercising outdoors was not an option as the smog was palpable in his lungs and throat[3].

Singapore has assisted Indonesia in putting out the land fires in return for the names of the companies involved in the illegal burning of land. Indonesia’s president has stated that it is imperative that the fires be put out within the next month; however, matters are more difficult this year due to especially arid land as a result of El Niño* [4].

Smoke from Indonesia has been an annual issue for Singapore (in addition to its neighbor Malaysia.) Indonesia burns land annually for the production of pulp, paper, and palm oil. For the past 18 years, various companies have practiced burning land in order to cultivate the soil for the next growing season. The resulting smog has become so bad that Indonesia’s government has declared a state of emergency for some of the most impacted areas. Indonesia’s government—along with Singapore’s government—has arrested the leaders of the companies that endanger the respiratory health of civilians by burning land excessively [5].

Singapore and Indonesia’s mutual step to arrest those who illegally burn land is imperative to not only local human health, but to the environment and economy as well. Over the past 18 years, fires have cost Indonesia $20.1 billion and cost Singapore $9 billion for increased health care costs as well as disruptions to business. The present issue of the Indonesian fires has implications not only for locals, but for surrounding nations as well [6].

*warm phase of the warm-cold cycle caused by fluctuations in sea surface temperatures [7]

by Bradford Lin ’18