Singapore haze levels hit PSI 400, worst in 16 years

A woman covers her mouth and nose with a face mask as she walks past the central business district of Singapore, on Friday, June 21, 2013.

The haze in Singapore, a yearly occurrence, hit the worst levels in 16 years since 1997, this year.
The haze, which enveloped Singapore starting mid-July, was caused by smog blown over from forest fires in Indonesia.
On 18 July, haze levels climbed to Pollution Standards Index (PSI) 155. As the week passed, PSI levels worsened. It eventually hit 400 on 21 July, a critical level deemed by the National Environment Agency (NEA) as "potentially life threatening to ill and elderly people".
The record breaking haze levels sent people scrambling to medical stores for N95 masks.

The government announced that it had a stockpile of 9 million N95 masks, but many who went to hunt down these masks at retail pharmacies were "vastly disappointed" to learn that the masks had been sold out temporarily.

The government explained that it was panic-buying that created an “artificial shortage” which caused "supply-chain bottlenecks", and reassured Singaporeans that efforts were being taken to ensure consumers could get masks to protect themselves from the haze.

The haze also worsened relations between Singapore and Indonesia, with Singapore frustrated that Indonesia was not taking more decisive action over its forest fires.

Environment minister Vivian Balakrishnan promised "urgent, concerted action" against the "unprecedented levels of the haze", in a press conference on 19 July.

The next day, then-NEA chief executive Andrew Tan led to a delegation to Jakarta to discuss the haze issue, saying that there was a "very frank exchange of views".

However, Indonesian Minister Agung Laksono hit back openly at Singapore the same day, saying "Singapore should not be behaving like a child and making all this noise".

Indonesia eventually began seeding clouds in an attempt to create rain to extinguish blazes.

On a lighter note, the haze led to some humorous memes on social media, poking fun at the worsening air qualities. One meme replaced the Singapore Flyer with a giant fan blowing away the haze. Another meme showed the Merlion wearing a gas mask.

Changing wind conditions eventually put a stop to the smog, although mild haze persisted till as late as end August. 

Related links:
Singapore haze clearing up
How does Singapore measure haze levels?
Haze may return due to increase in Sumatra hotspots: NEA