As forest fires continue to rage in southern Sumatra, producing smoke that has sickened thousands, Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Friday the country is sending troops from Singapore to help in fighting the blazes.
Speaking at a Toa Payoh polling station, Dr. Ng said he had called his counterpart in Indonesia who accepted his offer. Singapore has been helping Indonesia fight the traditional dry season fires since 2005, according to the Straits Times.
Their assistance packages usually include a C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding, up to two C-130s to ferry a fire-fighting assistance team from Singapore there and a Chinook helicopter with a water bucket, used in aerial firefighting.
Dr Ng said: “Thankfully the winds shifted this morning and the haze has come down. But we have to find some way of bringing down the problem, and I’m glad the Indonesian authorities are looking at it.”
At 500 a.m. Friday morning, local time, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI2.5) rose to between 152 and 182, the highest level since the new PSI2.5 was installed last April. Today’s readings came very close to the unhealthy level (201-300).
Slash-and-burn versus El Nino
This year’s fires are particularly bad, partly due to farmers using slash-and-burn methods to clear forests for agriculture. Indonesia has promised in the past to end these seasonal fires but has failed time and again to stop them.
Many parts of the forests being burned are in large peat reserves, and because of the amount of carbon stored in peat, when it starts to burn, it can sometimes take years before the fires finally burn themselves out. The whole problem is very distressing for the authorities because these fires are illegal in Sumatra.
El Nino is a global weather changer, and this year’s El Nino event is probably going to be a record-breaker. Regions of the world, like Indonesia are experiencing drier weather, almost to the point of drought-like conditions, and this has added to the problem.
There is good reason to be concerned about these forest fires in Indonesia, even if you are living in North America.The smoke from these fires travels along the Jet Streams, bringing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases along for the ride, degrading air quality around the globe.
Reuters is reporting the smoke is toxic, and in South Sumatra, one of the main centres with these fires, over 22,585 cases of acute respiratory tract infections have been reported as of Friday.