The skies of Southeast Asia have been blanketed with a smoggy haze recently as raging fires throughout the area pump particulates into the air. Singapore experienced a particularly heavy blow as a result, and the country’s environmental agency states that the 3-hour pollution standards index hit an unhealthy level. Not only has this recent smog-pocolypse resulted in school closures and health warnings, but the pollution cost Singapore $517 million USD in 2015 alone.
The reason for the recent rise in air pollution actually lays outside of the city. Although illegal, slash-and-burn tactics in agriculture account for the increase in particulate matter. The “slash-and-burn” technique involves cutting down vegetation on a section of land and then burning off the remaining undergrowth in order to make space for new plantations. Agriculture is no small player in Indonesia: roughly 35% of the Indonesian workforce lays in agriculture, working mainly in the palm oil and pulp-and-paper industries.
Indonesia has taken steps towards mitigating illicit burning of agricultural land, resulting in the arrest of 454 individuals in connection with forest fires. This number of arrests is nearly double the arrests seen in 2015, totaling 196 according to local police. In addition to arrests, the Indonesian government has taken legal and financial action. Earlier this month, a local agricultural company was fined $81 million USD for its affiliation with widespread fires last year.
Local meteorologists and air quality specialists hope that the number of fires decrease in the coming months and that the ongoing dry spell subsides. There is hope that La Nina weather and increasing rain will help clear out the smoggy gloom that has settled over Singapore.