Smoky smell. Poor visibility. You can smell it inside buildings or your homes. It lingers in your hair and clothes. Your eyes itch. Your throat parched.
IT here is the HAZE.
And this is despite Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar saying the haze this year is expected to be milder compared to last year.
Just 3 days ago, he said there were 27 locations nationwide categorised as having good air quality, with only five to six places as moderate on the Air Pollutant Index.
He said there were two reasons to expect a milder haze, the first being the efforts of the Indonesian authorities in curbing the forest fires and the second, rainfall.
Indonesia working non-stop
“Non-stop” are the words used since the morning of August 29 to describe Indonesia’s fire-fighting work.
Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said the country “respects the complaints from neighbouring countries” over the haze caused by land and forest fires, but the government is tackling the issue “not because of pressure by other countries”.
“All outsiders should withhold unnecessary comments but see the efforts which are systematically and seriously being carried out by the government of Indonesia,” she said in a statement on Sunday.
But are these efforts enough and will we stop complaining?
Is it even possible for this annual feature of life in Indonesia’s neighbouring countries including Malaysia, to simply go unnoticed.
No to fight, yes to help
“We don’t want to pick a fight but we just want to notify them (the Indonesian authorities) that the haze is back,” said Wan Junaidi, as reported by The Straits Times.
Others in the Malaysian Cabinet however think otherwise.
Especially since 6 provinces in Indonesia have been declared to be in a state of emergency.
Instead of just complaining and notifying, Malaysia is now extending its support to tackle the haze created by the constant burning of forest in Kalimantan and Sumatra.
The haze is generally caused by the illegal slash-and-burn cultivation widely practiced in Indonesia.
Minister Shahidan Kassim announced Malaysia is ready to send 2 Bombardier aircraft, capable of transporting 6,000 litres, to Indonesia.
“We are ready to assist Indonesia. But there has been no official request yet; the two bombardiers are ready to go,” said Shahidan,
Last year, Malaysia assisted Indonesia in tackling the haze crisis. Malaysia sent its Bombardier to douse raging forest fires.
Besides Malaysia, Singapore has also been shrouded in a thick blanket of smog.
On Friday, Singaporeans posted on social media, photos of the hazy Singapore skyline as they detected burning smell in parts of the nation.
Air pollution is officially measured in Singapore Pollutant Standards Index (PSI). Anything over 100 is considered unhealthy. Though the 24-hour average so far on Friday was only slightly over that, the three-hour reading at 14:00 local time was 215.
What is Indonesia really doing?
Indonesia says it has arrested 450 people so far this year in connection with fires, including some linked to companies.
President Joko Widodo has ordered extra resourcing for monitoring and fire-fighting efforts, but told the BBC last year it would take at least three years for the results to be seen.
Is it dangerous?
It irritates the respiratory tract and the eyes and the pollutants can cause serious long-term damage to health.
The indices used to measure air quality in the region usually measure particulate matter (PM10), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone.
PM2.5 can enter deeper into the lungs. It has been associated with causing respiratory illnesses and lung damage.
Ways to deal with the haze:
- Be informed on API and its health implications
An API reading of between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 (moderate), 101 to 200 (unhealthy), 201 to 300 (very unhealthy), and 301 and above (hazardous).
- Download an app to check air quality
We should be aware of the air quality in our area. If the air quality is bad, we can minimise going outdoors or wear a face mask. An easy way would be having the information in your phone. You can download My Air Index app for this.
- Get air-filtering indoor plants or air filters. Among the air-filtering indoor plants are Boston Fern, Palm Trees, Rubber Plants & Janet Craigs, English Ivy, Peace Lily and Golden Pothos.
- Wear the right mask
- Respirators, also known as particulate respirators, are devices designed to protect the wearer from inhaling harmful dusts, fumes, vapors or gases. There are two main forms of respirators: disposable and reusable.
- Disposable respirators are masks that have the word “NIOSH” and either “N95“, “N99“, “N100“, “R95“, “R99“, “R100“, “P95“, “P99” or “P100” printed on them. NIOSH stands for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. A product that bears the word NIOSH means it meets certain standard recommended by the agency.
- The number indicates the minimum amount of airborne particles (in percentage) that the respirator is able to filter. For instance, if a respirator is “N95” certified, it means it can filter at least 95% of particles that do not contain oil.
- Stay hydrated
Best to stay hydrated at all times, and always carry a bottle of water with you wherever you go.
- Avoid smoking and cigarette smoke
With polluted air quality, smoking just makes everything a lot worse, and you won’t be doing yourself or anyone around you any favour. Be considerate and avoid smoking (or cigarette smoke if you’re a non-smoker) for the time being.
- Minimise outdoor activities
Depending on where you live and the current API reading, try to minimise your outdoor activities if they’re not that important. If you do have to go out, make sure you wear the right mask and stay hydrated.
- Drink less or avoid coffee and alcohol
The dry season makes us dehydrated even more, so you might want to reduce your coffee and alcohol intake, or just avoid them for the time being until the haze is gone. Drink plenty of water instead to stay hydrated at all times.
- Eat more green leafy vegetables, fruits, oily fish, nuts
Aside from drinking plenty of liquid, you need to fuel yourself with green veggies, fruits, oily fish, nuts and other healthy food to boost your wellbeing.
- Close all windows and doors
For better indoor air quality, close all windows and doors and have air-filtering plants or air-conditioner on standby.
By Anne Edwards