Spore presses Indonesia 
    to act on forest fires

  Agence France Presse
October 22, 2010

SINGAPORE on Thursday, Oct 21, urged Indonesia to take action on forest fires on Sumatra island as air pollution reached health-threatening levels in the neighbouring city-state.

"It is a matter of very serious concern as a health hazard that has not just affected Singapore but also the southern part of West Malaysia," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement.

"Our ambassador in Jakarta has been instructed to inform the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Minister for Foreign Affairs (George Yeo) would like to speak to the Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa tomorrow," it said.

Air pollution in Singapore reached unhealthy levels on Thursday due to smoke from forest fires in Sumatra, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said.

The situation had deteriorated since Wednesday, the first day the haze was detected in Singapore.

The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) recording rose to 108 as of 6pm, according to data on the NEA's website. A PSI reading between 101-200 is considered unhealthy.

"Hazy conditions are expected to persist as the prevailing winds will continue to bring smoke haze from Sumatra to Singapore," the NEA said.

Singapore's environment minister Yaacob Ibrahim has already expressed "deep concern" about the haze to his Indonesian counterpart Gusti Muhammad Hatta.

The minister "expressed his deep concern that the haze situation would further deteriorate if Indonesia does not put in place immediate and enhanced measures to curb the hotspot situation in Sumatra," the NEA said.

"He urged Indonesia to allocate the necessary resources, and implement timely and effective measures to solve the haze situation."

The problem has also affected Malaysia, where schools in the coastal town of Muar have been closed since Wednesday after air quality reached dangerous levels.

The haze, which came less than a week after an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Brunei on how to deal with the problem, was a hot discussion topic on the Internet.

"OMG... No wonder I'm feeling so terrible today," said candycetoh in a message on the social networking site Twitter.

In a Facebook post, Farin Jaffar said he was "super irritated" with the haze, which builds up during the dry season when farmers clean their land by burning, affecting tourism and contributing to health problems across the region.

Indonesia's government has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak law enforcement means the ban is largely ignored.