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Singapore shuts schools as pollution from Indonesian fires intensifies

Singapore ordered the emergency closure of its primary and secondary schools on Friday as smoke from fires burning in Indonesia caused air pollution in the city to reach hazardous levels.

The Singaporean government said work will continue as normal, but masks are being made available for the elderly and needy and all residents have been advised to stay indoors whenever possible.

The air pollution reading in Singapore for the past 24 hours ranged between 268-320. Any reading above 300 is classified as hazardous according to Singapore’s National Environment Agency.


Singapore chokes

Singapore has been blanketed in haze from forest and peatland fires burning in Indonesia for the past month. Smoke from the fires, which are an annual problem, has intensified this week and winds in Singapore also changed, further exacerbating the problem.

Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong took to social media to warn residents about the dangerous air pollution.

“The air quality worsened into the “very unhealthy” range today. The PSI for the next 24 hours is expected to remain “very unhealthy”, and may even go into the “hazardous” range. This is why we are closing all primary and secondary schools tomorrow,” Lee said in a Facebook post.

“Meanwhile, we have offered Indonesia our help to put out the fires, and asked them to share with us the identity of companies responsible for causing the haze.”

Singapore legislators passed a law last year, aimed at curbing cross-border pollution, that allows regulators to prosecute local and foreign companies involved in illegal forest burning.

Iain Craig, a British middle school teacher who has lived in Singapore for six years, said he would normally have his balcony doors open at home, but has kept them shut this week as the pollution has worsened.

The hazy view of Singapore from the balcony of local resident Iain Craig.


“Exercising outside is simply not an option right now. When I open the balcony door, you can immediately smell it. I can feel it in my throat,” he told CNN.

“All my school football team matches have been canceled over the last week. Kids are brought inside at lunchtime too.”


Indonesia fights fires

Indonesia has deployed more than 4,800 soldiers and policemen to fight the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, according to Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB). However many fires are burning on dry peatland, which makes them hard to extinguish. The ground in the area is particularly arid this year due to the strong el nino.

Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, has said that the fires must be stopped within one month and is visiting the area to monitor the firefighting efforts. However, he was not yet able to make it to Kalimantan, one of the worst hit areas, due to the high levels of pollution there.

Air pollution readings at Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan, soared to 1,986 on Tuesday, according to the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics. Anything over 200 is classified as unhealthy.

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