We’ve been visiting good friends in Singapore and having a really fun time despite the smokey haze that is plaguing the city. The smoke is from the “slash and burn” fires on palm oil plantations in Indonesia. I don’t know if western media is covering it, but Singapore and much of this part of SE Asia has been choking in this smoke for weeks. It’s really horrible.

As you can see, when we are outside, we’ve been wearing “N95” masks that (hopefully) filter out much of the dangerous particulates. I doubt they help much with the sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone. Lots of people here wear the N95 masks. In fact we had a hard time finding stores that had the larger masks in stock. They are in high demand!

There are a number of smartphone apps that track the levels of “haze” or air pollution. The specific measure they use in Singapore is the PSI (Pollution Standards Index) which is an air quality index (AQI).

haze levels

Note the level of 274. This is from yesterday afternoon. Here’s what the numbers in the index mean from a potential health standpoint:


The Straits Times newspaper here in Singapore has a good Guide to the #haze with maps of the locations of the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo), and descriptions of the causes and potential health effects of the peat fires.


Until we arrived in Singapore and experienced the conditions here (and the health effects on us) we were planning to stay about a week and then go to Northern Sumatra. The idea was to study the Sumatran ecosystem and rainforests, land use, and local cultures – much like we did with the Rhine River. But with the fires still burning and the air as dangerously polluted as it is, we now have to come up with another plan. We’re going to spend tomorrow inside at the main library doing some research and deciding on our next moves.

In just the few days that we have been here, we can really feel the health effects of the toxic air. Mila has been fighting a sore throat and we just put Jette to bed with a horrible headache. I can feel it in my nose and throat too.

Nasty stuff this slash and burn. It’s ironic that one of the very things we came to study is going to drive us away. Thankfully, we have a choice. It is already proving to be a powerful and memorable lesson.


click to see more photos on DW.com

click to see more photos on DW.com