While there are fewer hot spots this month in Indonesia's Sumatra than the same time last year, Singapore is still pushing for a "no haze" situation, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli.
"We can see that even with so few hot spots, with the right amount of wind and enough of this haze, smoke produced can give us very bad air for a (sustained) period," he said yesterday on the sidelines of a community event in Tampines.
According to latest figures from Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre, there have been 401 hot spots in Sumatra in Indonesia so far this year, compared with 7,188 for last year as a whole.
Still, Mr Masagos emphasised that Asean is "trying to work together to achieve what we call Asean haze-free by 2020", referring to a road map set out earlier this year to ensure that the region is free from transboundary haze by 2020.
He said Singapore is happy that the Indonesian authorities are stepping up to prevent the recurrence of land and forest fires, but what is needed is the total prevention of hot spots. He added that the National Environment Agency (NEA) is waiting for its Indonesian counterpart to respond to a letter it sent to express its concerns over the haze situation on Friday.
PERIOD OF BAD AIR
We can see that even with so few hot spots, with the right amount of wind and enough of this haze, smoke produced can give us very bad air for a (sustained) period.
MR MASAGOS ZULKIFLI, Environment and Water Resources Minister, noting that Singapore is still seeking a "no haze" situation.
On Friday, air quality in Singapore hit unhealthy levels for the first time this year, as westerly winds brought smoke from forest fires in Sumatra to Singapore.
The fires, largely blamed on oil palm and pulp and paper companies, had last year caused one of the worst environmental crises for South-east Asia in recent history, pushing Singapore's Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) to dangerously high levels at times.
The blazes, which occurred mainly in September and October, caused thousands to fall ill, and led to flight cancellations and school closures across the region.
In response to a question on whether Singapore has offered help to Indonesia, Mr Masagos said Singapore has already done so and it is "up to the Indonesians to activate it". "There is a mechanism for aid to be given, and there is a mechanism within Asean how it can be activated," he said.
Mr Masagos also said that Singapore has taken steps locally to address the haze problem. "I have followed up on work by my predecessor to ensure that the issue of haze is not something we forget and then only bring up periodically."
He said Singapore has been tackling this on many fronts regionally and internationally, and has also worked to raise awareness among Singapore companies and citizens.
He added that "we should not be buying (from), supporting companies that produce the products in an unsustainable way".
NEA said in a haze advisory at about 6pm yesterday that air quality is forecast to improve in the next 24 hours. As at 10pm last night, the 24-hour PSI reading was 68 to 121. The PSI was higher in the west (87) and north (121). It was 68 in the south and east, and 77 in the central region.
Air quality is considered unhealthy when the 24-hour PSI is within the 100-200 range. The newly introduced one-hour PM2.5 concentration was mostly in the normal range at 10pm yesterday.
Readings were 48 in the south, 37 in the west, 38 in the east and 52 in the central region.The north had a reading of 64 in the elevated range, the second of four bands.
Huge fires hard to put out: Indonesia
Vast swathes of land are burning in western Riau province and prevailing winds may continue blowing the smoke towards Malaysia and Singapore.
Indonesia's weather authorities gave the update yesterday along with a warning that the fires would be hard to put out given the dry and hot conditions.
About 30 hot spots were detected in Riau yesterday, up from 17 on Friday and just seven on Thursday.
Most sports events continue despite haze
Although the haze blanketed most parts of Singapore yesterday, with the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) ranging from 68 to 121 (unhealthy), most sports events around the country carried on and participants enjoyed their day out with no hitches.
Yesterday's Puma Night Run at the Seletar Aerospace Park, which began at 6pm, saw the 12km and 6km Open runs go on as scheduled. All races would have been cancelled if the 24-hour PSI exceeded 200.
"It's heartening to see the great turnout and energetic participants despite the gloomy outlook," said Mr Gabriel Yap, Puma South-east Asia's marketing head.