No haze yet? Thank favourable winds and recent rains

No haze yet? Thank favourable winds and recent rains

If you have been holding your breath for the haze to hit Singapore and wonder why it has not, it is because of favourable wind conditions and recent rains.

Over the last two weeks, prevailing winds have blown largely from the south south-west or the south south-east, instead of south-west, which would have transported the haze from Sumatra to Singapore.

Satellite images on the National Environment Agency's (NEA) haze portal showed that winds last month carried a plume of haze caused by fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, north towards the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, giving Singapore a miss. This caused unhealthy levels of haze on June 24 in several areas, including Selangor and Putrajaya.

Recent rains also lowered the number of fire hot spots in Sumatra, the NEA haze portal showed.

Weather researcher Winston Chow of the National University of Singapore's geography department said recent rains were normal for the ongoing south-west monsoon, but these could end once the El Nino weather phenomenon - linked to drier weather - kicks in later this year as forecast.

"The prevailing winds are also rather variable for now. They should get more south-westerly as we progress into July, August, September," he said. If so, and if fires are present in Sumatra, the haze may hit Singapore, he added.

In Parliament yesterday, Nominated MP Nicholas Fang asked Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan if the recent weather would prompt a change in the ministry's haze assessment. But Dr Balakrishnan said Singaporeans are well aware that the haze can arrive "unpredictably and very quickly".

"It takes about six hours from the onset of the plume in Riau to be brought across... the narrow straits to us," he said.

The Government has warned that the haze could be imminent for several reasons. The dry season from June to September in Sumatra generally leads to burning as farmers clear land to grow crops. This season's low rainfall could be worsened by El Nino. And the period coincides with the onset of the south-west monsoon, which is likely to carry smoke plumes from Sumatra.

Yesterday, six hot spots were detected in Sumatra. Thundery showers are expected this morning, as well as tomorrow and Thursday. Air quality is expected to be in the moderate range.

Key amendments made to draft Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill

Fine of up to $100,000 for each day, or part thereof, that haze affects Singapore (for a continuous 24 hours or more), up to a cap of $2 million. An additional fine of up to $50,000 a day, or part thereof, for entities that ignore requests by Singapore to prevent, reduce or control haze pollution.

Provides a more specific definition of such entities, which also includes those with agreements or arrangements with landowners or occupiers relating to farming or forestry operations to be carried out on that land.

To avoid being fined when charged, entities have to prove that they had no control over or knowledge of fires on their land started by persons unconnected to them and that they have put in all reasonable measures to prevent such conduct by these persons.

Courts given the authority to prevent individuals from leaving Singapore if they have been served notice.

They could be fined up to $5,000 or jailed for up to a month if they fail to comply with the notice.

A clearer definition provided for the term "condone" in the Bill. Entities would be considered to have condoned the causing of haze if they failed to prevent, stop or reduce burning started by another person.


This article was first published on July 08, 2014.
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