Smog levels in Asia are regularly hitting the news all over the world, showing people with masks and smoking chimneys. China and its mega-cities are suffering due to heavy industrial pollution.
Bali is not usually affected by it and although Indonesia is one major source of the problem here in this region. Although some areas in South East Asia can also be affected heavily by smog and haze the reasons lie somewhere different than when we look at China.
Fire and Palm Oil Plantations
One needs to look at Sumatra and its palm oil industry.
Haze pollution can reach regularly hazardous levels in parts of Riau province in Sumatra, where visibility can drop below 200 meters. Some farmers and plantation managements deliberately set off fires to clear land for cultivation. Smog and vast amounts of haze from Indonesia is generated when slash-and-burn farming during the dry season that begins in June starts. Large amounts of hazardous smoke can travel quite far then depending on the weather conditions affecting Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
Palm-Oil production is highly controversial in this region. Plantations keep eating into the jungle of Kalimantan (Borneo) and Sumatra destroying rain forest and the habitat of the Orang Utan. Within the “green movement” you can find more and more restaurants in Bali, who do not use palm-oil for cooking any more.
Singapore for example often gets affected as smoke from these raging forest fires in neighboring Indonesia reaches the heavily populated island. This smoky haze from Sumatra island can be quite dense and even dangerous.
In these cases Singaporean government advise residents to limit prolonged or heavy outdoor activities. The haze can cause respiratory infections and other illnesses such as pneumonia, asthma and eye and skin irritation.
Southeast Asia’s worst haze crisis happened in 1997-1998, causing widespread health problems and costing the regional economy billions of dollars as a result of business and air transport disruptions.
The foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore met mid 2013 to discuss solutions to the choking smog coming from forest fires in Sumatra. The other countries put Indonesia under pressure to do more to stop the setting of fires to clear land for agriculture Sumatra.
Singapore and Malaysia of course demanded that Indonesia punish those behind the blazes.
On the website of NEA, Singapore’s National Environment Agency one can have a look at the haze status.
Or check out Singapore’s Haze Microsite
Quite regularly one of the many active volcanoes erupt shooting huge amounts of ashes into the air, which causes problems in the region.
Beside the sometimes harsh effects on the local people living around the volcano the air traffic in the region can be heavily affected.
The late eruption(s) end of May 2014 of Sangeang Api volcano caused flights to and from Australia, Singapore to get canceled and left travelers stranded at the airports for a few days.
Sangeang Api is rated as a category three by Indonesia’s volcano authority while the the highest level is a category four volcano. The last time Sangeang Api erupted was in 1999 and although many volcanoes are continuously throwing ashes into the air, not all of those activities cause disruption to flights.