Haze – A Burning Issue For Four Decades

singapore haze 2013-4

Singapore is fortunate to be freed of most natural disasters, but we are not spared of occasional floods and haze. The records at the National Archives and Newspaper Archives of Singapore show that the haze issue has been affecting Singapore and Malaysia for the past four decades. Most were due to the massive burning of forests at Kalimantan and Sumatra.

Here are some of the reports:

1972

In October 1972, Singapore and West Malaysia were covered by thick haze after days of burning of extensive forests and grass lands around Palembang, Indonesia. The worst day happened on the 14th October, when practically every part of Singapore was fog-bound. Motorists had to switch on their full headlights at Orchard Road and Nicoll Highway.

1975

A reddish haze hanged over the eastern and southern parts of Singapore due to the jungle clearing works at Johor Bahru and Kota Tinggi.

singapore haze 1977

1977

By October 1977, the smokes from the raging forest fires at Sumatra had covered much of Singapore and the western and southern parts of Peninsula Malaysia. Reported to be 366m high, the thick haze caused visibility to be so low that towering skyscrapers could hardly be seen from short distances.

1979

In May 1979, a combination of mist and haze covered almost three-quarter of Singapore, reducing the visibility to less than 2km. In Bedok, neighbouring blocks of HDB flats 400m away were barely visible. The source of the haze was undetermined.

singapore haze 1979

1982

Many complained eye irritation after the Anti-Pollution Unit of the Prime Minister’s Office detected 300 micrograms of fine suspended particles in the atmosphere, the highest level since there were records. The haze was reported to be originated from forest fires.

singapore haze 19831983

Thousands of hectares of forests at East Kalimantan were burned since March 1983, causing a blanket of smoke over Singapore, Malaysia and Sarawak. Visibility was down to 1km. Fortunately, an occurrence of widespread rain helped to lighten the hazy condition.

1987

Days of smoky haze bothered Singaporeans in September 1987 as a result of dry weather and forest fires at Indonesia. Visibility rapidly dropped from 10-20km to 2-3km.

1991

The 73-storey Westin Stamford, the world’s tallest hotel then, and other buildings at Raffles City were barely visible from the Fort Road flyover of the East Coast Parkway in October 1991, covered by the haze caused by the raging fires in Indonesia.

1994

The thick smoke from the fires, engulfing forests and plantation areas at Jambi and South Sumatra, were blown by strong winds to Singapore in September 1994. The runway lights at the Changi airport had to be switched on during the day to help pilots land safely.

1995

ASEAN ministers (of environment) gathered at Kuala Lumpur to discuss the management of haze and other forms of transboundary pollution.

southeast asia haze 1997

1997

The worst haze issue hit Singapore and Malaysia in September 1997, with the local 3-hour PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) level recorded at the peak of 226 (on 18th September). Known as the 1997 Southeast Asian Haze, it was caused by massive forest fires at Kalimantan and Sumatra. Singapore suffered USD300 million in losses, due to health cost, slowdown in tourism and numerous flight disruptions. Malaysia declared a state of emergency in Sarawak after their pollutant level exceeded the 500-mark. Total regional loss amounted to a hefty USD9 billion.

1998

ASEAN officials met at Manila, seeking ways to deal with future forest fires and the haze that enveloped large parts of the region in the previous year.

1999

Singapore provided more than $600,000 worth of forest-fire and haze-monitoring equipment to Indonesia. The Indonesian enforcement authorities were also alerted of hot spots detected by the satellite. Indonesia also passed a law to ban open burnings. The haze condition in 1999 was lightened by the rainy season.

singapore haze 2005

2000-2005

The strong winds sent the smoke of the burnings at Borneo and Sumatra to Singapore, Peninsula Malaysia and southern Thailand. In October 2002, the PSI recorded 79. The economic losses for Singapore was estimated to be USD50 million. By January 2003, all member nations of ASEAN, except Indonesia, had agreed to sign the environmental treaty in a bid to control the recurring haze issue.

Singapore experienced a PSI of 95 in March 2005, but was spared when a worse haze situation hit Peninsula Malaysia later that year. With the pollutant index shot up to 424, Port Klang was declared an emergency state. Selangor followed suit soon after that. Hundreds of flights were suspended, and schools were shut down.

2006-2013

The region practically experienced haze problem every year after the millennium. Singapore experienced its worst ever haze crisis in June 2013, when the PSI level rose to an unprecedented 321 on the 19th June, before hitting an all-time high of 401 two days later.

Previously, the highest record in the new millennium was 150 in 2006 (on 7th October). In that year alone, the regional losses in economic, social and environmental aspects amounted to be approximately USD50 million.

singapore haze 2013

singapore haze 2013-3

Published: 19 June 2013

Updated: 08 July 2013

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15 Responses to Haze – A Burning Issue For Four Decades

  1. Definitely not part of the “good old days” we will want to remember…

  2. rufino1995 says:

    Its amazing that this issue has been allowed to fester for 40 YEARS … thank you again for placing this on record.
    1997 losses $9 billion!! That is an astronomical amount the 3 countries could have gotten together and bought maybe 50 or more fire fighting planes to prevent this from happening again!!

  3. PSI reading on 19th June 2013:
    8pm – 190 (unhealthy level)
    9pm – 290 (very unhealthy level)
    10pm – 321 (hazardous level)

  4. rosalind lee says:

    What is stopping Singapore from taking more efficient ways to prevent this yearly problem from recurring since we know its this time of the year that clearing of land is carried out. With the hefty losses, could we have turn it into preventive or precaution methods like cloud sowing etc within our city if our neighbors are not willing to cooperate.

    • phoebel says:

      the ‘preventive and precaution’ methods can’t happen if Indonesia doesn’t cooperate. cloud seeding is not going to provide lasting results

  5. 21st June 2013 10:30am:
    The same angle shots of the last two photos (Singapore River and Raffles Place) in the article!

    PSI all-time high (again) at 400 (11pm)


  6. rufino1995 says:

    Amazing update, so wonderful of you AGAIN, taking the time and effort to place all This on Record for future generations!
    Thank you.

  7. Terry says:

    Why did we put up with it ??!!

  8. rufino1995 says:

    I am presently away from the country and I am getting all this updates from the news.. in your pic, I am astonished to see that it has an orangy tinge in the air!
    To my fellow Singaporeans, I pray that there will be sufficient rain to cleanse the environment & this will be over very soon with a good amount of rain in Sumatra!

  9. jonno says:

    Much appreciated on your study of the haze phenomena with regards to S’pore. I noted that prior to 2000, haze had occurred on an fairly regular interval between 2-3 years since the 1970s. However, post-2000 – it is now occurring annually between the months of June – October and lasting between 2-4 weeks on average. It is most confounding! My worry is that these days, S’poreans are subjected to this poor air & consequential breathing problems from haze 1-2 months per year from here on. It will be a catastrophic health problem for years to come. How would it affect us in terms of health and aging? We wouldn’t know! However, it is akin to chain smoking without even being a smoker oneself.
    There are many issues to consider:
    1. Slash-&-burn agricultural practice
    2. Severity of fires – is our climate drying out?
    3. Wind patterns? stronger winds pushing smoke over?
    4. Greater land clearing for corporate agriculture like palm oil.
    5. Global warming – more flash fires?
    It needs Indonesia, Malaysia & S’pore to thrash out this yearly problem. No more “beggar my neighbour” attitude we’ve seen so far!

  10. xavi says:

    wow, FORTY YEARS of this crap. unbelieveable. talk about dragging one’s feet over fixing things….

    you should update your article as the psi figure has gone into hazardous levels since the piece was written. having a mention of 400 (401 actually, or has it been higher? am hazy on this) in the comments is not enough.

  11. Joanna says:

    I was in CBD the other week. The first day alright, the second day- I thought
    the haze has toned down unfortunately it increased surprisingly. Was really glad it has really gone down now.

  12. Its amazing that this issue has been allowed to fester for 40 YEARS … thank you again for placing this on record. Nice to see this all.

  13. Haze forces closure of schools across Singapore

    25 September 2015
    The Straits Times

    All primary and secondary schools in Singapore have been forced to close today, after hazy conditions – the worst this year – threatened to become hazardous.

    PSI levels yesterday crossed into the very unhealthy range. At 10pm, the 24-hour PSI had soared to 223- 275. Beyond 300, it is hazardous.

    This is the first time Singapore’s schools are being closed due to the haze.

    The decision was made “given the prediction that we cannot rule out the possibility of the haze condition getting into the hazardous range,” said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat last night, at a multi-agency briefing also attended by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say.

    Some GCE O-level exams set for today have been postponed, while the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) hangs in the balance, as written papers are set to begin next week.

    http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/haze-forces-closure-of-schools-across-spore

  14. Haze in Singapore: A problem dating back 40 years

    02 October 2015
    The Straits Times

    SINGAPORE – A prolonged spell of haze has affected Singapore this year, with forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia contributing to the hazy conditions over the past month and a half.

    Air quality also reached hazardous levels in late September, which resulted in the unprecedented closure of all primary and secondary schools on Sept 25.

    But the haze is not new – records show that the issue has plagued Singapore from as far back as 1972.

    The Straits Times delves into its archives for a look at some of the more prominent haze events.

    In the 1970s


    A car driving with full headlights on a brightly-lit street due to the thick haze on the evening of Oct 13, 1972.


    A heavy haze hanging over Orchard Road on Oct 10, 1972.

    Hazy conditions first surfaced at the start of October 1972 and got progressively worse, with every part of Singapore “fog-bound” by 9pm on Oct 13. Visibility was so poor that motorists had to drive with full headlights even on brightly-lit streets. The haze was blamed on local land cultivation habits around Indonesia’s Palembang.


    The city centre enveloped in a reddish haze at about noon on Feb 20, 1975.

    A mysterious red haze, which caused the sun to turn orange, was reported on Feb 20, 1975, over a large area in Singapore. It was attributed to smoke and ash particles from a fire in Johor Baru, said to have been caused by jungle clearing work for land development.


    A view of the haze- and mist-hit Jalan Kolam Ayer area at around 1.30pm on Oct 27, 1977.

    On Oct 27, 1977, Singapore was blanketed in a smoky haze that was reportedly 366m high, which was probably blown in from forest fires raging in Sumatra. Towering skyscrapers could hardly be seen from short distances, owing to the poor visibility.

    In the 1980s


    A plane taking off from Changi Airport amid hazy conditions on Sept 7, 1982.

    The worst haze in 30 years in Singapore, coupled with mist, reduced visibility to less than 1km in the early morning of April 25, 1983. The main cause was suspected to be primarily forest fires originating from Kalimantan and central Sumatra.

    Forest fires in Kalimantan were again the culprit when the haze reared its head on Sept 19, 1987. Many tall buildings and highrise flats were “lost in a mass of grey” as visibility was reduced to between 2-3km from the usual 10-15km.

    In the 1990s


    Singapore’s CBD shrouded in haze on the evening of Sept 18, 1997.

    The decade was marked by two significant regional summits where Asean officials gathered to discuss transboundary pollution, resulting in the 1995 Asean Cooperation Plan on Transboundary Pollution and the 1997 Regional Haze Action Plan.

    On Sept 18, 1997, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit an all-time high of 226 at 10pm, with visibility plummeting to a few hundred metres in the worst-hit western part of Singapore.


    A pedestrian attempting to cross a street thick with haze in western Singapore on Sept 18, 1997.

    The next day, the Environment Ministry outlined a haze action plan, which involved shutting down schools and sports complexes should the PSI cross the 300-point mark. The economic cost of the haze that year, which coincided with the Asian Financial Crisis, was estimated at US$300 million (S$428.3 million).

    In the new millennium


    Cable cars to Sentosa disappear from view as the three-hour PSI hit 401 at noon on June 21, 2013.

    The haze proved to be a perennial issue for Singapore in the 2000s, but panic ensued in 2013 when the three-hour PSI hit a record 401 on June 21. Long queues formed at pharmacies and shops selling the N95 mask, although stop-work orders and closure of schools did not materialise as the 24-hour PSI did not reach hazardous levels.


    Heavy haze over a street in Whampoa estate at around 1am on Sept 25, 2015.

    Those events were superseded in September 2015, when the 24-hour PSI crossed the hazardous mark on Sept 24. The Ministry of Education proceeded to close all primary and secondary schools on Sept 25, while the Government announced a slew of measures to help the more vulnerable citizens. The situation prompted the Sports Hub to suspend activities at all its outdoor venues; major fast food chains such as McDonald’s also halted their delivery services.

    http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/haze-in-singapore-a-problem-dating-back-40-years-ago

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