Haze days

Like a sick cloud, the haze has smothered Singapore for several days under terrible air and a tinted sun. Children, pregnant women, and the elderly are advised to remain at home during the day.

“My eyes have been really itchy, sometimes stinging,” said Louis Eppel, a senior, on a particularly hazy day. Other students report symptoms from headaches, trouble breathing, and even fatigue.

As schools in Malaysia and Singapore close for the smog, SAS is taking precautions to ensure safety for various outdoor activities and the Soccer Exchange, which is taking place this weekend.

Illustration by Sam Judy

“The haze has most certainly affected the athletics here,” said Athletic Director Kim Criens, who has been coordinating with other schools on the status of the haze. “They’re wondering if it’s worth sending their teams here if there might not be any play at all.”

But the predictability of the haze has made it easier for SAS to design a haze policy to cope with its inconvenience. When the PSI registers between 100 to 150, SAS outdoor training teams must adjust the level of rigor during practice. If it exceeds 150, they will cancel practice altogether.

Games held during the smog will have frequent and irregular breaks indoors to limit the intensity and athletes’ exposure to the poor air. Athletes with pre-existing respiratory problems are not allowed to compete. Other athletes who are not comfortable competing in the haze may be excused from the games.

Every year, countries along the Malaccan Straits get slapped with a pollutant from the palm oil industry. Although the main culprits appear to be palm oil companies harvesting for the season, the real situation is more complex.

The Singaporean government has protested the massive amount of pollution drifting through the strait, but Indonesia claims that some of the lucrative oil companies are actually Malay and Singaporean. 

The fires in Sumatra sparked because of the dangerous techniques used during the harvest of the palm trees. Because the trees take years to fully biodegrade, plantation owners speed up the process by simply burning through the used plantation, reducing months’ worth of work to mere days.

Unfortunately, these fires often burn out of control, resulting in massive forest fires and a region drowned in carbon emissions. On Sept. 17, 2015, Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar reported that nearly 190,000 hectares of land were burned to a crisp over the span of just a few weeks because of one of these accidents. The sheer amount of rainforest burned would be comparable to two and a half Singapores.

Effects of the haze in Singapore. Creative Commons license
Effects of the haze in Singapore. Creative Commons license

A similar haze incident occurred in 1997 and was estimated to have done around $300 million dollars worth of damage to health care, productivity, and tourism in Singapore alone. The Singaporean government has estimated that the damage this time around could be as high as $9 billion.

Needless to say, the haze situation in Singapore has not gone unnoticed. The Ministry of Health has distributed over five million N95 breathing masks and advised schools to close their doors should the pollution exceed 300 PSI. People are advised to stay indoors and stay hydrated, as well as avoiding most strenuous outdoor activity. Despite these concerns, the upcoming F1 races will not be cancelled and masks will be distributed if conditions become hazardous.

Although it’s easy to place the blame on the Indonesian archipelago, some of the worst hit areas by the haze are the Indonesian towns and cities with PSI levels of 300 or above, with one area even close to 1000. With those numbers, it is painfully clear that the quick and easy harvest that comes with the slash and burn technique also brings harsh repercussions to the entire Southeast Asian region. 

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