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Spectre of haze as hot spots spike

SINGAPORE — With a “sharp increase” in the number of hot spots detected in parts of Indonesia over the past few days, a shift in the wind direction could bring back the haze, the National Environment Agency (NEA) warned yesterday.

Spectre of haze as hot spots spike

A satellite view of hot spots and movement of smoke from Sumatra to southern Malaysia and Singapore taken at 4.40pm yesterday. Image: NEA

SINGAPORE — With a “sharp increase” in the number of hot spots detected in parts of Indonesia over the past few days, a shift in the wind direction could bring back the haze, the National Environment Agency (NEA) warned yesterday.

The number of hot spots detected yesterday was 488 — similar to that recorded when Singapore experienced its worst bout of haze on record in June, when the PSI hit 401. Then, over 400 fires were detected in Sumatra. By contrast, only 29 hot spots were detected last Tuesday. Most of the hot spots detected yesterday were in the Riau province. The NEA said “moderate to dense smoke plumes” were observed over some hot spots in central Sumatra. It added that its Chief Executive Officer Ronnie Tay has written and spoken to his Indonesian counterparts to register Singapore’s concerns over the spike in the number of hot spots, and has “sought an urgent update from the Indonesians on the situation”.

Calling the spike in hot spots “an exercise in frustration”, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan last night said Singapore has been spared so far because of the wind direction. “We remain at risk. Have to keep up the pressure on the Indonesian authorities and companies to do the right thing for the sake of their own citizens and ours,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

As at 7pm yesterday, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading was 24 to 32, and the 24-hour PM2.5 reading was 12-15 micrograms per cubic metre.

The NEA said dry weather conditions are expected to prevail in central and southern Sumatra, while the low-level winds over Singapore are expected to blow from the south or south-east.

“Should the winds weaken and blow from the south-west over the next few days, there is a possibility that Singapore could experience slightly hazy conditions,” the agency said in a statement yesterday evening.

The NEA said thundery showers are expected today in the late morning and early afternoon. Given the favourable wind conditions, the 24-hour PSI reading until 6pm today is expected to be in the “good” band — 50 and below — and the 24-hour PM2.5 reading is expected to be slightly elevated.

The ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre, hosted by the Meteorological Service Singapore, has placed Sumatra on Alert Level 2 — out of three levels — of its regional warning system for the fire and haze situation. Level 2 is activated when 150 hot spots or more are detected on two consecutive days, with dry weather conditions persisting and prevailing winds blowing towards other ASEAN countries.

The alert levels are issued to the interim ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution, which in turn disseminates it to member countries.

The public — including the elderly, pregnant women, children and those with chronic medical conditions — can still continue with normal activities for the day. The NEA said it will update the public if there are any changes in the haze situation.

Last Tuesday, the three-hour PSI readings crept up to hit the moderate range of 56 in the afternoon, but dipped back to the good range in the evening, as a result of wind conditions.

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