Haze is a new 'weather' introduced to me, a week back. First time when I saw it, it appeared like a dense layer similar to fog and air smelt like something was burning nearby. I ignored that day. It persisted in varying density for next two days and started hitting headlines. I heard people discussing about humidifier to which my first reaction was, 'What is that?'
Welcome to South East Asia phenomenon of 'Haze'. Though it happens in other parts of the world also, I was experiencing it for the first time. I could feel it inside home and office, and wondered if that was my imagination or others too felt the same. This feeling led me to do some research on Haze.
Reasons - Haze: There are various reasons for a thick layer of smog getting created in air called Haze. One of the main source for this is the use of old and cheap farming technique of slash and burn by farmers in Indonesia. In this technique, farmers clear piece of land by setting trees and grass (peatland) on fire. After clearing the woody part by burning, land is made ready for re-plantation of rice, vegetables and fruits. After few cycles, fertile quality of land goes down and new area is selected. Other reason of setting land on fire could be to establish control over disputed land and grab it from previous owner. This activity is on rampant as there aren't enough checks, believed to be done mostly by big and multinational players. The area put on fire is called hotspots. Sumantra Island is major area where deforestation with this technique is done on a large scale by Palm oil companies. Winds blowing towards east carries smoke and causes thick layer of haze over the skies of Malaysia and Singapore.
According to Achmad Taufik, South Sumatra Forestry Office,
"They only have to be sparked by cigarette butts and they (peatlands) will go up in flames."
(Peat by definition is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation.)
Preventive measures: During this season the weather is hot and dry. Fire catches easily and controlling it becomes a humongous task. Following checks and balances can help in controlling such activities.
- Imposing heavy fines on large corporations for the use or encouragement of Slash and burn technique. Fines heavy enough that the use becomes non-profitable.
- Educating farmers about the adverse effects of such activities to human and nature.
- Providing incentives to farmers for using alternative ways of farming.
- Extending all kind of help, training and subsidy for poor farmers for whom alternative farming techniques may sound expensive.
Corrective measures: Till such time it is prevented, we have to rely on rains to extingush this fire and give some relief. Indonesian government is believed to be taking measures by using technology to create artificial rains over hotspot areas. It has sent airplanes for water bombing over hotspot areas. It has also sent some 100 firefighters at the sight to extinguish fire.
In Singapore, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) broke 16 year old record of 226 (very unhealthy) to 321 (Hazardous) on 19th June. Since then it is on rise with fluctuations and has even crossed 400 levels.
Singapore government is aggressively pushing Indonesian government to act quickly with some allegations and counter allegations putting relations in strain between the two.
Number of out door activities are restricted. Activities at numerous tourist places like Flyer, Wild Wild Wet, parts of Sentosa are suspended. N95 masks are re-stocked to ensure everyone gets it. Responding to the situation corporates have suggested to work from home if required and be cautious. McDonlad's in Singapore has stopped delivery services.
What can you do? Safety measures:
Wear masks (N95) when traveling outside. Stay Indoor as mush as possible. Drink water at regular intervals. Monitor PSI index and take a call on out door activities. Visit doctor as required.
You can Pray for heavy rains too!
fOoD fOr ThOuGhT: There should be a strong check on playing with nature. Rampant urbanization, alarming level of increase in pollution, oil spills in sea water, deforestation to name a few, is causing major bearing on the health of humans and nature. The temperature is going up and newer diseases are getting introduced each day. Lets work together to make this World greener and a happy playground!
Sources: Internet and first hand experience. Photo courtesy: huffingtonpost