Sunday 23 June 2013

Singapore will take all steps to protect citizens against the haze (2013): Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam

By Leonard Lim, The Sunday Times, 23 Jun 2013

Singapore intends to do what it can within the framework of international law to protect its citizens against the haze, said Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

"Our primary duty has to be safeguarding the health, security of Singaporeans," he told Singapore and international media. "We cannot allow this situation to continue, and do nothing and say nothing."

Later, in a separate briefing with local reporters, he said: "We have to take all steps regardless of how it may be viewed by our neighbours... even if it means that our neighbours are upset."

In international law, countries have a duty to control actions within their boundaries when they cause an environmental impact on other countries, he said, citing the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development adopted at a 1992 United Nations conference.

While Singapore will be pursuing this point at Asean meetings in Brunei this week, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, signalled it may also be prepared to turn to other international fora to press its case if it came to that.

But first it will see what steps are taken through the Asean meeting and whether there are concrete results for Singapore. Asked to elaborate on which other meetings the haze issue could be raised at, he replied: "We will calibrate and decide where else this needs to be raised."

In 2006, Singapore raised the haze issue at a United Nations forum, but this was said to have drawn the ire of some Indonesians.

Q&A: Limitations to what can be done about haze
Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam took questions from the media on the haze yesterday. The following are edited excerpts.

Q: The latest comments from Indonesian ministers are that they won't apologise. Do you think they are taking this situation seriously? What else can be done to convey the seriousness to them?

"What we think of their comments, I think Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said what he thinks, so has Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

"I think it's really not so productive to be trading accusations. We are used to being called a little red dot and previously when the haze problem occurred, other ministers have said we should be thankful for the oxygen that the Indonesia forests give us, so why are we complaining about the haze?

"Those sort of attitudes, I think people can see are not best designed to deal with the problem.

"Likewise, comments saying we are childish because we are complaining when haze reaches hazardous levels, I think people can judge for themselves. Our primary focus really is, solve the problem.

"Are they taking this seriously? I think my counterpart, Foreign Minister Marty (Natalegawa), has said Indonesia will not apologise. I'm not sure that we're asking for an apology.

"What we want is for the problem to be solved, that is really the point.

"What else can we do?

"Internationally... I've taken some pains to explain the limits of international law, international relations.

"Basically it's difficult to intervene in the internal affairs of another country to set right something.

"That principle is sacrosanct subject to a few exceptions. In the absence of (a) treaty of obligations, I mentioned that Indonesia has yet to ratify the treaty, the other things that we can do, I have outlined - the Asean ministerial meeting, the other fora.

"These are not without implications or consequences, everyone understands that. If we raise them, talk about them, then there are consequences from raising these."

Q: From how Asean countries discuss this issue, how can it be changed to come up with a better result or solution?

"Asean has looked at it, there's a treaty (Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution) that's in place.

"All countries have signed it, all have ratified it, except Indonesia.

"Of course, if it ratifies the treaty, then this becomes binding obligations.

"But for some reason which is difficult for us to understand, the Indonesian Parliament has taken the view that this treaty is not in the interest of Indonesia.

"I say difficult to understand because it helps the Indonesian people as much as it helps everyone else because they are also suffering from the haze."

Q: There's some disenchantment among Singaporeans that Asean is a paper tiger, nothing has come out on it regarding the haze.

"I can understand the feelings that people have. These are not feelings that are unique to Singaporeans.

"Very often, people in individual countries get upset with international organisations, be it the United Nations or, in this case, Asean.

"But in international law and international relations, as I have explained previously, there are limits to what regional bodies can do vis a vis the territorial sovereignty and the right of countries to take steps within their own countries.

"Nevertheless, Asean and international organisations prove useful and important platforms for issues to be raised and countries have to then account for their actions.

"And that by itself has had, in the past, impact on conduct of countries."

Shanmugam issues warning to companies responsible for haze
By Tan Qiuyi, Channel NewsAsia, 22 Jun 2013

Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said Singapore will offer no succour nor refuge to companies responsible for illegal fires in Indonesia that have caused the haze affecting Singapore.

He said that there were limits in international commercial law to what Singapore can do about companies operating outside the country, but the Attorney General has been asked to look into this.

The minister said Singapore will do "whatever it can", though the key to taking those responsible to task still lies with Indonesia.

He said: "Let us be clear about it. This is not slash-and-burn, this is not an act of nature by itself. These are actions by companies for commercial profit… I cannot send my police officers in there to investigate… We have to depend on Indonesia to give us the evidence and tell us what is happening."

On the recent comments of Indonesian Minister Agung Laksono chiding Singapore for behaving "like a child", Mr Shanmugam reiterated Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's position that it is not productive to trade accusations.

Separately, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa was also quoted saying that the Indonesian government would not issue an apology to Singapore for the haze crisis.

"I'm not sure that we're asking for an apology. What we want is for the problem to be solved. That's really the point," said Mr Shanmugam.

In an unprecedented move, Singapore will send two ministers to the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Brunei at the end of June to discuss the haze issue.

Mr Shanmugam said Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu will accompany him to the meeting.

Indonesia has so far declined any help from Singapore to douse the fires.

A 2004 study by the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology estimated that carbon emissions from the Indonesian peat fires in 1997, the year the region experienced its last major haze crisis, was equivalent to up to 40 per cent of the average annual global carbon emission from fossil fuels.

"We've had a cocoon within Singapore economically and in every way... (but) much of what happens within Singapore can be deeply influenced by what happens in the region," said the minister.

More air-conditioned 'haze shelters' to be created for public
By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 22 Jun 2013

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday said more air-conditioned 'haze shelters' will be created for the public at Residents’ Committees and Community Clubs.

MP for West Coast GRC Foo Mee Har said her constituency would extend the Community Club’s opening hours in case residents need access to air-conditioned rooms.

The club will be open from 9am to midnight, said the MP in a Facebook post. Residents’ Committee Centres will also extend their opening hours to 9am-10pm.

Ms Foo said constituency officers will continue to monitor the situation and adjust opening hours accordingly.

Deputy Prime Minister and MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Teo Chee Hean said the Elias Community Club has also set aside a room for residents who feel discomfort and need a place for a few hours to shelter from the haze. The room will be open from 9am-10pm.

In a Facebook post, the prime minister said he was heartened by the kindness of Singaporeans when faced with the haze.

He said some were distributing herbal tea and masks to needy residents while others were opening up their air-conditioned homes to strangers.

The prime minister urged Singaporeans to unite and help one another through this difficult period.

Mr Lee said the government was also making sure Singaporeans who need N95 masks would be able to get them.

He however pointed out that most Singaporeans do not need the masks unless they have medical conditions like asthma, or have to do strenuous outdoor work.

He said the government will distribute 1 million N95 masks free to low-income households, and push out more masks to retailers, and urged people not to panic buy or hoard masks as there are enough to go round.

In the same Facebook post, Mr Lee said he had sent Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan as his Special Envoy to deliver his letter to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The prime minister said he had shared Singaporeans' grave concern over the haze, urged Indonesia to take action, and offered help, including aircraft for cloud seeding.

Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya had promised Dr Balakrishnan that Indonesia would consider Singapore's offer and explore how to follow up on the suggestions.

Meanwhile, constituencies have also begun receiving their stocks of N95 masks from the Ministry of Health.

Minister for National Development and MP for Sembawang GRC Khaw Boon Wan said they are being made available to residents who need them.

He said this was being done progressively over the weekend and that priority is being given to those who need them for medical reasons.

Balakrishnan delivers PM Lee’s letter on haze to Indonesia
By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 21 Jun 2013

Singapore's Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan has personally delivered a letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the haze problem to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The minister had travelled to Jakarta as Prime Minister Lee's Special Envoy and met Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya to deliver the letter, said a statement from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore wanted to convey in a personal and direct way how serious and urgent the current haze situation is.

He said: "The communication we've had over the past few days, the telephone calls, the letters that have been sent, the meetings that was held yesterday (Thursday) at the officials' level, all these interactions have registered with them. I was very glad therefore when I met them, they said sorry for the situation that had unfolded this way and he (Dr Kambuaya) agreed with our point that there is a necessity for immediate action on the ground."

Prime Minister Lee noted in the letter that he and President Yudhoyono had agreed to cooperate to combat transboundary pollution at their recent Leaders' Retreat in Singapore in April.

He conveyed his grave concern at the impact the severe haze was having on Singapore and Singaporeans, urging Indonesia to take timely and concrete actions to solve the problem.

Prime Minister Lee offered Singapore's help to put out the fires in Sumatra, including an aircraft for cloud seeding, satellite pictures and hotspot coordinates to identify the culprits involved in the illegal burning.

He also encouraged Indonesia to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

Dr Kambuaya acknowledged Singapore's concerns and informed Dr Balakrishnan of the measures Indonesia had taken to combat the fires in Sumatra.

This included water bombing and investigating plantation companies involved in illegal burning activities.

Dr Kambuaya also agreed to convene the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze earlier than the original date in August.

Dr Kambuaya promised to consider Singapore's offer of assistance and explore how both countries could follow up on the suggestions in Prime Minister Lee's letter.

"I would characterise the meeting as frank, constructive, (which) showed some early signs of potential progress," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"We (now) have to see over the next few days whether this translates into effective actions or not on the ground. We want to see concrete attempts to put the fires out, we want to see publication of suspect companies behind these fires and I'm sure we then can make progress on the other medium to long term issues," he added.

Dr Balakrishnan said bilateral relations between the two countries remain strong and that both countries are committed to work together to resolve the real, serious and urgent problem.

Govt moves to address concerns over haze
It spells out game plan to tackle issue, including free masks for needy
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2013

THE Government yesterday set out to assure a country coming to grips with the haze, as it pledged to give out free one million N95 masks to lower-income households and sketched its game plan if pollution levels rise.

For a start, some 200,000 of the poorest households and the vulnerable will get the free masks, which will be distributed by grassroots groups from tomorrow, with the Singapore Armed Forces helping with the roll-out.

National guidelines will also be spelt out for how businesses and the community should respond if the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading rises beyond 300, which has not happened to date.

In the first briefing by the Haze Inter-ministerial Committee, chairman Ng Eng Hen also urged people not to let the haze overwhelm them as the country cannot grind to a halt because of it.

"We need to keep Singapore going even if the haze worsens, but take further steps to alleviate the exposure," he said, stressing that therefore stop-work orders or closure of schools were not sensible or sustainable prescriptions.

His comments came after the grey fog shrouding the island worsened yesterday at one point to another record high, hitting the three-hourly PSI reading of 401 around noon, even as queues formed at pharmacies for the N95 masks. Some shops put up sold-out signs, as tempers frayed.

Giving the assurance that there are enough masks for Singapore's needs, Dr Ng, who is also the Minister for Defence, said panic-buying was creating "supply chain bottlenecks". "We are dealing with this decisively, to push more masks to retail outlets."

Popular outlets, including FairPrice, will be getting more masks. FairPrice will cap the price, but also limit the number a person can buy.

Dr Ng also reiterated that healthy people do not need masks unless they work outdoors when the 24-hour PSI reading is over 300. Indeed, whether a person needs an N95 mask depends on the PSI level, the state of his health and only with prolonged exposure, such as having to work outdoors for hours.

On the free masks, he said the task of distribution will take a few days. "I ask for understanding and cooperation from the public," he said.

People with pre-existing diseases who have difficulty getting such masks can also approach their grassroots organisations, and "we will give it to them", he said.

Turning to guidelines for when the 24-hour PSI reading crosses 300, he said these should not be treated as "panic lines" to enforce work stoppage or school closure. Rather, the focus should be on protecting the vulnerable and limiting their exposure.

The haze pollutants exist "all around us", he noted.

Various ministries and the agencies they work with will draw up continuity plans that will minimise exposure to the pollutants. These include childcare centres, voluntary welfare organisation homes, schools and shipyards.

The Manpower and Trade and Industry ministries are also working with businesses to ensure that they get N95 masks needed for employees who work outdoors.

At the press conference, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that public hospitals can cope with the expected surge of patients caused by the haze.

Focus on 24-hour PSI, not 3-hour average
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2013

SINGAPOREANS should focus on the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading rather than the three-hour PSI, as the latter is not the best indicator of the health impact of the haze.

Making this point yesterday was Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu, who said: "The health impact of the air pollutants is actually determined both by the concentration and also the duration of exposure."

She added: "The 24-hour measurements are a better reflection of the total (length of) exposure of an individual to the particulate matter.

"It is important for the public... not to be too overly concerned with the three-hour PSI, which may show spikes and drops from time to time."

Her comments came after the three-hour PSI reading hit a new record of 401 at noon yesterday.

The three-hour PSI, which is averaged from readings taken in the past three hours, was introduced in 1997 to give people more current information about air quality.

However, there is very little data showing the health effects of short-term exposure to pollutants, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who is leading an inter-ministerial committee to tackle the haze problem.

"The Environment Ministry has repeatedly pointed out that studies co-relating exposure to pollutants (to health) have been related to 24-hour measurements. For this reason, our health guidance is based on 24-hour PSI," he said.

The 24-hour PSI is averaged from readings taken over the past 24 hours. The National Environment Agency started to report a rolling 24-hour PSI reading every hour on its website yesterday, to give a better sense of the likely impact on people's health.

Turning to another measurement of pollution - PM2.5, which measures very small particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs - Dr Ng said the Government will not issue a separate daily health advisory for it.

"It is confusing to give the public two tables," he said, but promised that the authorities will track 24-hour PM2.5 levels.

The daily health advisory will still be based on the PSI.

But if the PM2.5 levels rise to a level that triggers a stronger health advisory, that will be issued instead.

"It is very confusing for the public to have three figures in their heads - the 24-hour PSI, the three-hour PSI and the PM2.5 - so we decided to simplify this, and medical professionals have said this is a sensible way to do it," he said.

SAF distributes masks to constituencies
Channel NewsAsia, 22 Jun 2013

One million masks were distributed to the People's Association (PA) and various PA Constituency Offices on Saturday afternoon by some 200 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel.

The half-day operation saw SAF vehicles transporting the N95 masks to 88 locations.

Grassroots leaders will distribute the masks to needy families on Sunday.

Also present were Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
Both urged Singaporeans to use the masks wisely.

"The most important thing is to make sure we have sufficient supplies for our Singaporeans. And also sufficient outlets to make them available at normal retail price," said Mr Gan.

Dr Ng said: "This is a very good example of partnership. So that we can help first of all, those who are vulnerable and in this instance, those from poorer households as well as people who need the masks but can't get it."

MPs meet residents to allay concerns
They give out masks to needy; some open air-conditioned centres overnight
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Sunday Times, 23 Jun 2013

Cabinet ministers and MPs are fanning out across Singapore over the weekend in a coordinated effort to distribute face masks to the needy and address residents' concerns on the haze.

Some MPs have also extended the opening hours of common areas, like community centres, in their estates for those who wish to spend the night in air-conditioned comfort.

Among the political leaders on the ground yesterday was Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, who visited several homes at a block of rental flats in Holland Close, part of the Tanjong Pagar GRC, of which he is an MP.

Some 120 grassroots leaders and volunteers also visited 150 low-income families there to hand out the masks.

They are among 4,000 grassroots leaders that have volunteered for the islandwide exercise.

Today, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam and other ministers will be distributing masks to residents in their respective constituencies.

The pool of N95 masks comes from the one million stockpile announced on Friday for 200,000 of the poorest households and vulnerable Singaporeans.

Mr Chan told The Sunday Times that the effort was "not just a mask distribution exercise". It also allowed the ministers and grassroots leaders to have direct contact with residents to "provide information to them, answer their questions and address their concerns".

This community outreach will be vital should the haze stretch on, he added.

On the sidelines of a Mendaki event, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the intent was to keep Singaporeans informed as there was "too much misinformation circulating around about the haze".

For instance, he said, N95 masks should be used only outdoors, and are not needed indoors or in a car.

From today, the one million masks earmarked for the 200,000 low-income households are expected to be delivered by the Singapore Armed Forces to all constituencies, including opposition-held ones. Each constituency will get about 10,000 masks.

Those on public assistance or with per capita income of $900 and below will get the free masks, with each family getting four masks. They can collect them from the 107 community centres from today.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong also said that more than two million masks were distributed to pharmacies yesterday.

He added that the manpower and trade and industry ministries are identifying companies which have more outdoor workers, and will ensure that these workers get masks so they can continue their work.

Public assistance recipient Hoong Mary was among those who received a free mask yesterday.

The 73-year-old said: "The burning smell spoils my appetite, so I am glad the Government is doing something."

Meanwhile, MPs like Ms Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) and Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) are opening air-conditioned areas in community clubs and residents' committee centres at void decks.

This is to allow residents without air-conditioners in their homes to stay in these facilities overnight or during the day.

This will lessen residents' hardship and inconvenience, Mr Lim said, adding: "We need to look after them."

Volunteers brave haze to continue elderly outreach
By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 22 Jun 2013

Some volunteers are making sure the elderly who live alone in Singapore get what they need to cope with the haze situation.

This includes educating them on the precautions to take, and equipping them with face masks.

Wee Poh Leong, 63, doesn't like wearing a face mask even though the PSI skyrocketed over the past few days. He says wearing the mask makes it difficult for him to breathe.

"I'm not worried because I don't go out much," he said.

He lives alone in a rental flat in the Henderson area, and elderly Singaporeans like him are the ones Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) want to reach out to during this period.

Lions Befrienders, for example, have been touching base with 2,800 such elderly Singaporeans across the island.

Volunteers visit them at their home to make sure they are okay, especially those with heart or lung problems, or who have asthma. These volunteers bring masks to the homes as well.

Goh Boo Han, executive director of Lion Befrienders, said: "We have sent out a letter to all our volunteers to continue visiting the seniors, especially in this difficult period. But we also stress that they should look after their own health, and if they feel the haze situation is causing them discomfort, they should refrain from visiting for the time being. But they should let us know, so that our staff can visit the seniors instead."

The VWO has already distributed 3,600 masks to residents and elderly who go to its six senior activity centres, should they need them.

Elderly Singaporeans who live alone may not have anyone to advise them on the precautions to take during the haze. So, centres like these are essential in equipping them with information they need to get through this period.

Jean Quek, a volunteer with the Henderson Aged Reach-Out Programme, said: "Two days ago, the haze just started, so we told them about the haze and what PSI is, and how to drink lots of water, and asked them to keep indoors as well."

Mrs Quek added that some 60 elderly residents go to their centre to take part in activities every week.

It is hoped that these efforts will go some way to help vulnerable elderly cope with the smog.

No fires on land co-owned by Temasek
By Alvin Foo, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2013

A TEAM sent by Temasek Holdings to check on Sumatran plantations it co-owns with United States commodities giant Cargill has confirmed there are no fires or hot spots on its land.

The Singapore investment agency said yesterday that the joint venture's plantations are at South Sumatra near Palembang, about 500km south of Singapore. The spots causing the haze are in Riau province, central Sumatra, less than 300km west of Singapore.

Temasek has 30 per cent of the joint venture CTP Holdings, with Cargill owning the rest. Earlier this week, the US firm had issued maps showing that the hot spots were not within its plantations.

CTP has a no-burn policy and clears land by mechanical means, said Temasek, with the whole process overseen by its staff. It also has emergency equipment and water tanks on standby, as well as fire patrol and security teams to monitor potential hot spots near boundaries and prevent fires spreading onto its property.

A Temasek spokesman said: "As a matter of good governance, Temasek expects the boards and management of its investee companies to oversee their operations according to sound commercial principles, including compliance with laws, regulations and recognised industry practices."

Golden Agri-Resources, SMART, say no fires in their concessions
Channel NewsAsia, 22 Jun 2013

Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources and its Indonesian subsidiary PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) on Saturday said that there were no hotspots or fires in the concessions they hold.

They also said they welcomed inspection by authorised parties of all their operating areas, and that they will cooperate in any such inspection.

In a statement released on Saturday, the two companies also reiterated that they were absolutely against burning.

Golden Agri-Resources and SMART said they were deploying all their resources and working closely with the Indonesian government and other relevant parties to put out fires.

These relevant parties include civil society organisations, local communities and other growers.

The two firms said they were committed to a multi-stakeholder approach to find solutions for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Their contractors who clear land must also comply with their zero burning policy, said the firms.

Golden Agri-Resources and SMART also said that they will release the coordinates and locations of their estates in Sumatra in due course.

They are currently preparing the details.

Three companies rebut haze claims
By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 22 Jun 2013

Three companies -- Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL), Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), and Sime Darby -- have issued rebuttals after being named by Indonesia's Senior Presidential Aide Kuntoro Mangkusubroto as being among several responsible for fire hotspots in Riau Province.

In a statement released to the media, Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) said Indonesia's accusation requires verification.

"They do not correspond with intensive monitoring on-the-ground conducted by APRIL in its own concessions over the past several weeks nor with information on Friday from Indonesia's official national body for Meteorology, Climate and Geophysiccs, which identified 13 hotspots in Riau, none of which are on APRIL's concessions," APRIL said in a statement.

The company said the Director General of the Ministry of Forestry, Bambang Hendroyono, had confirmed Friday the fires causing the haze were mostly occurring on community land, not forestry concessions.

APRIL said it had maintained a "strict no-burn policy in its concessions" since it began operations in 1994.

It added the small number of fires within its concessions over the past three weeks were spread from those that began outside its concessions and were extinguished by its fire fighting teams.

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) also said it does not practise, and "highly condemns" the slash and burn activity for its detrimental impact on the environment.

The company said it is deeply concerned about the forest fires and resulting haze in Riau, Sumatra, and is urging others to support it in implementing "zero burning and zero deforestation practices".

APP said its fire fighting crews and community members have been working to control the fires in its suppliers' concessions.

"The task is very complex because of the combination between strong wind, high temperature and the fact that the fire has reached peat land," APP said in its statement.

APP added that it welcomes opportunities to work with NGOs, companies, communities and governments to address the haze problem.

Malaysian plantation giant Sime Darby, which runs PT Tunggal Mitra, has also denied reports of any fires on its property.

Sime Darby Plantation said there were no fires in any of its operating areas in Indonesia, and that it strictly adheres to a zero burning policy in its operations.

Tunggal Mitra Plantation covers almost 14-thousand hectares, the majority of which is used for planting and development.

Sime Darby said there are some parts occupied by local communities, and that it is unable to exert control over those areas.

Indonesians' kind gesture
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2013

AS SINGAPORE chokes on the haze drifting over from Sumatran fires, a group of Indonesians have been trying to make amends.

Yesterday, seven of them handed out surgical and N95 masks to passers-by on Orchard Road.

They also held up signs which said "Singapore, we're sorry".

The IndoCare group was brought together by Indonesian Community Forum president Yoga Dirga Cahya, whose organisation puts on events for the 200,000 or so Indonesians living here.

"We want to tell Singapore that we care and send a message to our government that the problem is serious," said the 26-year-old.

He added that the group had spent a few hundred dollars on the masks, and will be buying more for the needy and elderly.

More than 50 Indonesians have pledged support to IndoCare.

Singaporeans approached by Mr Yoga and his friends said they were touched by the kind gesture.

Engineer Stanley Phua, 36, said: "It isn't their fault, but it is nice that they are doing this."

PSI: What and why
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2013

The National Environment Agency provides haze updates. Here are the things you need to know about the agency's reports.

What is the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) based on?

During a haze, it is usually based on the concentration of PM10, which are very small particles that are 10 microns or smaller.

What is the difference between the 24-hour PSI and three-hour PSI?

The 24-hour PSI is based on readings taken over the past 24 hours. The three-hour PSI is based on readings taken in the past three hours.

Why are Singapore's health advisories based on the 24-hour PSI and not the three-hour PSI?

The haze's health impact depends on both the pollutants' concentration and how long people are exposed to them.

Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen said studies on the haze's effect on health have been mostly related to 24-hour measurements, so Singapore takes its cue from the 24-hour PSI.

What is PM2.5 and why are people worried about it?

PM2.5 refers to particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller.

This makes PM2.5 a subset of PM10.

Because PM2.5 particles are so small, they can penetrate deep into the lungs.

This makes them more toxic.


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