Singapore Smog: Schools Close Over Dangerously Poor Air Quality

Smog has worsened in Singapore, bringing air quality to dangerous levels and forcing the city-state to close most of its educational institutions.

Bloomberg reports air quality was simply too poor this week for primary and secondary schools to remain open, leaving Singapore officials no choice but to close them. The National Environment Agency warned that the three-hour pollutant standards index “would hit 341 as of 5 a.m. Singapore time.” Anything over 300 is considered “hazardous.” Such a reading also means that members of the public are strongly advised to spend as little time outdoors as possible.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the smog covering Singapore is that the air pollution is largely outside of its control. The haze is largely blamed on the ongoing forest fires burning away in Indonesia. CNN reports Indonesia deployed more than 4,800 policemen and soldiers to battle blazes in Sumatra and Kalimantan. However, it’s an extremely difficult task.

Since much of the fires are burning on dry peatland, it makes the flames very hard to extinguish. As it’s an El Niño year, the ground is much drier and more vulnerable to wildfires.

But the source of these flames are plantation owners who set the fires annually. Indonesia passed laws against their behavior and claimed (as reported by Bloomberg) to have revoked or suspended the permits of companies blamed for this latest round of fires. Indonesian officials also claim that key executives and other persons of interests related to the forest fires were detained.

Singapore hopes to help Indonesia bring the parties responsible to justice. The city-state passed a law last year against cross-border pollution. That means persons who create the dangerous haze across Singapore are prosecutable regardless of having done so in another country. As such, it recently asked Indonesia for the names of persons blamed for the latest forest burnings. Singapore also offered its assistance in putting out the widespread flames.

It’s clear that the annual smog problems are no longer something that Singapore and its citizens are willing to tolerate. With air quality reaching such dangerous levels, putting millions of people across Southeast Asia at risk, the affected nations must push for change. Otherwise, they risk a scenario where the air gets so bad that it can make certain locations utterly unlivable.

It’s likely that Indonesia and Singapore will have to get tough with the plantation owners and corporations responsible for the fires. Failure to do so means schools in the region will be probably be closed next year due to hazardous smog.

[Image Credit: Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Image]

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