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25 June 2013

Haze Hits!

Unless you've been hiding under a stone for the past week you can't fail to have heard about the haze (well in truth smog) that has blighted Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

I've lived in Singapore three years next month and the haze is an annual occurrence but this was on a whole different level to anything I'd seen before.  It became so big it's even got its own Wikipedia page!  Usually it will be hazy for a few days, maybe they'll be a faint smoky smell in the air and that's about it.  In fact because I've barely even noticed it in previous years I haven't even felt the need to write about it here.  This year they seem to have begun the burning earlier which has coincided with a drier period.  In Singapore there has been no rain for well over a week which did not help to damp down the haze which developed.

In case you are wondering the haze has been caused by illegal fires started on the Indonesian island of Sumatra to clear the land ready to plant crops.  Much of the farmland that is alight is owned by palm oil companies.  There is a big demand for palm oil and farmers use what is called 'slash and burn' techniques to clear the land as this is considered the quickest way to do so.

This year's haze began in a similar way to those I've experienced previously.  The tell tale slightly smoky smell and hazy look of the sky.  Last Tuesday evening I met a friend for dinner and we sat outside, whilst it was smoky and did seem worse than I recalled it being it still didn't bother me unduly.  


Early morning on Tuesday, a hazy sunrise

On Wednesday I went to work.  By the nature of my work I can often be in a bit of a bubble from the outside world as I'm usually in a room with no windows and it's only when I come out that I'll realise it's raining, for example.  A similar thing happened last Wednesday when I was shocked and surprised to see just how smoky and hazy it had become since I'd arrived earlier that morning.  I took the following photos from the same view point at work in the Orchard area of the city on Wednesday and Thursday morning.  I think you can see a difference between the two days, particularly if you look at the far tower blocks between the buildings in the foreground.


Wednesday
Thursday

I don't work on Friday's and as the PSI (Pollutants Standard Index) used to measure pollution levels had been climbing on Wednesday and Thursday, breaking the previous highest record in Singapore as it went.  I decided I'd stay at home.  Previously the worst recorded pollution was in 1997 when the PSI reached 226.  On Wednesday evening the three hour reading reached 321 moving into the hazardous zone and at 1pm on Thursday the three hour reading reached 371.  Friday ultimately saw that record broken again with a reading of 401 recorded at 12pm!

Although I didn't get any photos from Friday and was indoors I still felt the effects of such a high reading.  Despite having all our doors and windows shut there are still gaps around doors and the haze crept into our condo on Friday with ease.  I didn't have a mask but if I had I would definitely have wanted to wear it, even indoors.  At the height of the haze, and as I've noticed in many photos, everything seemed to have a yellowish tinge to it and as had been the case for the preceding few days the air smelt acrid and thick with smoke.  I've never given any thought to what it must be like to live in an unhealthy, polluted place but having experienced this I don't think I'll ever take blue skies and fresh air for granted again.

Mercifully the wind direction changed on Saturday afternoon and even though I took this photo, again from work, on Saturday morning by the afternoon the skies were looking a lot clearer and healthier.


Saturday morning

Sadly though it is now affecting Malaysia just as badly and of course parts of Indonesia have also been hit.  The fires are still burning though so a change of wind direction could see the same problems returning to Singapore again.  If it does we can only hope that it won't be as bad as last week.

If you want to see more photos of how bad the haze was take a look at the posts on this blog or to get an idea of the affect of previous periods of haze take a look here.

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