x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Singapore remains under haze as Indonesia prepares to put out forest fires

Singapore remained blanketed in thick, smoky haze yesterday as Indonesia's Air Force prepared to water-bomb forest fires raging on the island of Sumatra and the nations' governments bickered over responsibility.

JAKARTA // Singapore remained blanketed in thick, smoky haze yesterday as Indonesia's Air Force prepared to water-bomb forest fires raging on the island of Sumatra and the nations' governments bickered over responsibility.

Singapore's Pollutant Standards Index stood at 143, a level deemed unhealthy, the National Environment Agency (NEA), said on its website. Earlier in the day, it had reached a hazardous reading of 401, a record. The NEA said it expected the 24-hour PSI to remain in the 200-300 range.

"There's clearly a lot of frustration, a lot of anger here in Singapore," Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and former chairman of the NEA, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television today. "Not just from the Singaporeans, from the various foreigners who have planted offices here in Singapore, who have made a home here in Singapore, who want to live in a global city."

Singapore's prime minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday he expressed "serious concern" in a letter to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and requested evidence that Singaporean or Malaysian companies were responsible for the "illegal burning", as suggested by some Indonesian officials.

Disputes between the countries flare up regularly over haze. The Malay Peninsula has been plagued for decades by forest fires in Sumatra to the west and Kalimantan on Borneo island to the east.

"Singapore should not be behaving like a child and making all this noise," Agung Laksono, the minister coordinating Indonesia's response to the haze, told reporters in Jakarta, according to the Jakarta Globe.

Indonesia deployed two planes to create artificial rains yesterday, according to Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Agency for Disaster Management. It was preparing seven Air Force planes and three helicopters for water bombing, Mr Nugroho told reporters in Jakarta.

Officials had detected 60 hot spots in the Riau region of Sumatra, Mr Nugroho said, down from 148 two days ago, with 80 per cent of those in plantations and 20 per cent in forests. Singapore has provided satellite data to help identify the companies responsible for the fires.

Malaysia's Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister James Dawos Mamit said his country was willing to send firefighters. "If they need our help, we will offer whatever assistance we can," Mr Dawos was quoted by the New Straits Times as telling reporters yesterday.