Singapore enveloped in smog and haze from Indonesian forest fires

For most people, the idea of man-made smog throws up images of countless horror films set in Victorian London. But for communities in Asia it is a very real contemporary problem as polluted haze envelopes their communities and causes an environmental chaos.


Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 20 June

Singapore enveloped in smog and haze from Indonesian forest fires


By Kerra Maddern

For most people, the idea of man-made smog throws up images of countless horror films set in Victorian London. But for communities in Asia it is a very real contemporary problem as polluted haze envelopes their communities and causes an environmental chaos.

Acrid air from forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, has engulfed the city-state of Singapore. The problem has also triggered a row between the two countries over who is responsible.

The air quality in Singapore has been recorded as being “very unhealthy” and “hazardous”, with commuters taking to wearing disposable medical masks to counter the overpowering smells of burnt wood and grass.

The Indonesian government plans to use weather-changing technology to try to extinguish the fires on rainforest island Sumatra, home to the critically endangered Sumatran orang-utan. Concern for the species – the only species of “great ape” native outside Africa – has been growing in recent years with increased human interference on the island.

Experts employed by both governments hope that using “cloud seeding” – where helicopters inject chemicals into clouds to bring about rain – will help. An emergency meeting about the situation took place today in Jakarta.

“This is now the worst haze that Singapore has ever faced. And no country or corporation has the right to pollute the air at the expense of Singaporeans’ health and well-being,” Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s minister for the environment and water resources said. He has offered financial assistance to help Indonesia, which is considerably poorer, fight the fires.

Commenting on the fires and the 173 hotspots detected over Sumatra on Wednesday, Mr Balakrishnan said: “The wind and weather conditions will remain constant and we expect the haze to persist or even worsen before improving.”

As a result of the problem, Singaporeans have been advised to limit prolonged or heavy outdoor activities. Children, the elderly and those with heart or lung conditions have been told they should avoid outdoor activities and seek medical treatment if they feel unwell.

“Singaporeans have lost patience, and are understandably angry, distressed and concerned,” Mr Balakrishnan said.

But an Indonesian foreign ministry official has alleged in the media that Malaysian and Singapore palm oil companies who operate in Indonesia may be responsible for starting the fires as a way of clearing the land so it can be used for agriculture and cultivation.

“Singapore should not be behaving like a child and making all this noise,” Agung Laksono, the minister coordinating Indonesia's response, told reporters.

Politicians in Singapore have asked for the names of any companies who might have carried out illegal burning, but have said if true this would be a matter for officials in Indonesia to deal with.

Questions


  • Should Indonesia be allowed to use weather-changing technology? Do you think that there are any side-effects to interfering with nature?
  • Who do you think is responsible for ensuring the air is safe to breathe? Is the government accountable?
  • Why is it important to protect the rainforests? Should we make an effort to save endangered animals, or is it too late?
  • In the past, London was notoriously polluted with smog. What do you think the environment will be like in your city in the future?

Related resources


Air pollution

  • A complete KS4 lesson with PowerPoint and resources on the causes and effects of air pollution.


Rainforest habitat

  • Introduce the layers of the rainforest to your KS2 class with this colourful presentation with creative activities.


Green TV: Forest Guard

  • Watch this compelling video from Green TV which explains how new technology is being used to detect forest fires in California.

Endangered orangutans

  • Help children understand about endangered animals and conservation efforts with this interesting Hamilton Trust resource on orangutans.



Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week


An ancient city hidden for centuries beneath dense forest on the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, Cambodia, has been rediscovered using airborne laser technology.

"The further away the spaceship drifts, the more you start to miss the sounds of nature, of rainfall," Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova said of her historic journey into space 50 years ago this week.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is rumoured to be planning a dip in a nearby lake, US president Barack Obama is charming local teenaged crowds and UK prime minister David Cameron, the host, is simply trying to keep world leaders from scrapping.

Scientists in Singapore have unveiled a new development in "invisibility cloak" technology that is sure to excite children, even the few who are not fascinated by Harry Potter.



In the news archive index