Singapore to press Indonesia to ‘do the right thing’ amid haze alarm

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan speaks at a press conference in the aftermath of the haze reaching "hazardous" levels in Singapore.

As the haze in Singapore reached hazardous levels for the first time ever, its government moved to assure the people that necessary efforts would be undertaken to alleviate the situation.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit a new high of 321 at 10pm on Wednesday, higher than the previous peak of 226 in 1997 and right into the "hazardous" range of above 300, according to data from the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Speaking at a press conference late on Wednesday night, Minister of Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan promised "urgent, concerted action" against the "unprecedented levels of the haze".

He announced that NEA chief executive Andrew Tan would be leading a delegation to Jakarta, Indonesia Thursday for an emergency haze meeting with authorities "to get them to do the right thing".

The haze is brought about by prevailing winds from fires in Indonesia’s Sumatra island.

The minister also revealed that high-resolution pictures of all hotspots would be published for NEA to identify the responsible firms. This would then facilitate commercial action against the companies blamed.

In the meantime, said Vivian, expect the haze in Singapore to worsen.

Of immediate concern is for Singaporeans to "make adjustments to their daily routines".

"I recommend that you don't go out unless you have to," said Vivian.

He added that contingency plans are in place to close schools and sports complexes if necessary. The Ministry of Manpower will also be issuing detailed guidelines to employers, and may even issue stop-work orders.

"Only rain and sudden wind changes will improve the situation, but chances of it happening are slim," he admitted. "But we must not get fixated on numbers."

"Things will get worse before getting better."

The haze crept into Singapore since last week and first crossed into the "unhealthy range" of 105 at 3pm Monday. Two days later, it soared to a "very unhealthy" 290 at 9pm before peaking at a "hazardous" 321, inciting widespread concern and a profusion of online debate over the government's next move.

"This is a crisis but I'm confident we can survive this," said Vivian.