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Haze unlikely to hit Singapore next week despite Indonesia fires

SINGAPORE — The likelihood of transboundary haze affecting the Republic is “expected to be low” for the rest of this week and next week, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Thursday (July 27), as parts of Indonesia continued to be shrouded in smoke from forest fires.

Haze unlikely to hit Singapore next week despite Indonesia fires

A man stands on a wooden boat during a haze produced by peatland fires at Meulaboh port, in Aceh Barat, Aceh province, Indonesia July 27, 2017 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Photo via Reuters

SINGAPORE — The likelihood of transboundary haze affecting the Republic is “expected to be low” for the rest of this week and next week, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Thursday (July 27), as parts of Indonesia continued to be shrouded in smoke from forest fires.

This is because “the prevailing winds over Sumatra are expected to continue to blow from the south-east or south”, it said in response to TODAY’s queries.

Six Indonesian provinces have declared states of emergency as peatlands burn and the risk of fires spreading elsewhere increased during the annual dry season.

There are currently about 180 hot spots in Indonesia — Aceh, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan provinces — but the number is significantly lower than in 2015, when haze cloaked large parts of South-east Asia.

Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported 51 hot spots in Sumatra on Thursday, of which 37 were in Aceh province. Northern Sumatra has seven hot spots, Riau four and North and South Sumatra as well as Bengkuli and Bangka Belitung each recorded one hot spot each. 

A number of schools in West Aceh district were closed as a result of the smoke, while visibility at the Meulaboh airport was reported to be about 500m, according to the Indonesian media.

Hospitals have reported an increased number of people seeking treatment for respiratory ailments.

“My throat feels scratchy and uncomfortable from breathing ... smoke has even entered my house,” housewife Yus, who like most Indonesians goes by one name, told Antara news agency. As a result, many residents have left their homes, seeking shelter with relatives.

“The smoke is so thick and it seeped into our home this morning. I decided to move to my parents home as I have a two-year-old child,” said Mr Osi, a resident in the Meulaboh district that is one of the hardest hit areas.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Twitter that forest fires are still burning in West Aceh and he suspected that it was a “deliberate act” caused by those who clear their lands by the traditional slash-and-burn method. He said the authorities have deployed helicopters to conduct water bombing to put out the fires.

Devastating dry-season fires in 2015 burnt through 2.6 million hectares and blanketed Sumatra, Borneo, Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand in health-damaging haze. 

Plantation companies and villagers set the illegal fires because it is a faster and, for them, less-expensive way to clear land than by using machinery.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said on Wednesday that Indonesia has given its assurances that it is fully equipped to tackle the matter, including purchasing three helicopters that have been converted to conduct water bombing activities.

“We believed such steps can avoid the pollution problem from happening this year,” he said. AGENCIES

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