Illegal Fires in Sumatra Send Dangerous Pollution to Singapore

Billowing smoke from illegal fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra engulfed Singapore last week, pushing air pollution to record levels for three consecutive days. The smoke, which is captured in a new NASA satellite image, has created an acrid blanket of smog across the region and historic levels of air pollution.

According to government officials, Singapore’s air pollution index reached 401 on Friday, a level considered hazardous for breathing. Before last week, the previous high was 226. The smoke has been blowing east toward southern Malaysia and Singapore from Sumatra, where farmers set illegal fires to clear land for new crops during the mid-year dry season.

The fires are yet another sign of the large-scale deforestation taking place on Sumatra. As citizens in Singapore inundated stores for gas masks to protect against the acrid air, government officials urged people to stay indoors. While Indonesia’s disaster management agency said it would use helicopters to dump water on the fires, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned that the thick smog could last for weeks.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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