The Online Citizen

“The Haze”: An Unofficial Chronology?

June 24
13:31 2013

By Leong Sze Hian

Discombobulation?

It has been days of utter confusion (to put it mildly). So as not to further discombobulate you, I shall write in chronological order (something that I have not done before).

Let the games begin:

PSI also got delay?

On 19 June at 9 pm – PSI hits a new record high of 290. Netizens complain as to why the 10 pm PSI is still not out on NEA’s web site at around. 10.30 pm? Eventually, the 10 pm PSI is published – its 321. The last peak was 226, in 1997, 16 years ago.

As one of my friends jokingly said – maybe breached the “read the right things index” (RTI)? – that’s why delay mah!

TV news 10 years behind time?

TV news reports “a new record high of 290 this hour. This is the highest PSI ever recorded. The PSI last hit 226 in 2007″. (Was the TV news 10 years behind time?) (source)

History Channel – Haze real action?

I watched the  History H2 channel on 22 and 23 June 2013 showing “Haze Hell Over Asia”. In the documentary, it was said that Malaysia sent about 1,200 volunteer firefighters to Indonesia to fight the Haze in 1997.
As one of my friends said – Wow, Malaysia Boleh – take the bull by the horns and put your money where your mouth is! How many firefighters or what has Singapore done to help the Indonesians fight the haze all these years?
Fly to Jakarta?
20 June 1 pm – PSI hits a new all-time high of 371.
“Dr Balakrishnan said NEA’s CEO Andrew Tan will be leading a Singapore team to Jakarta to attend an emergency haze meeting convened by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Indonesia today. He said Singapore expects to reach further agreement on concrete steps to tackle the haze, which it hopes the Indonesians will take.
The inter-agency Haze Task Force’s plan?

All 23 government agencies that form the inter-agency Haze Task Force have been activated and are co-coordinating their action plans to mitigate the effects of the haze on the public” (“Haze: At 371, PSI smashes record, reported dengue cases drop“, TR Emeritus, Jun 20).

As one of my friends said – the inter-agency Hasze Task Force should make public their National Haze Emergency Plan (surely they have one right after 16 years of the haze) – can reassure the  public and maybe also score points for the next election.
“Meanwhile, on a positive note, there were fewer reported cases of dengue fever yesterday compared to Tuesday (18 Jun). MOH said there were 39 reported cases of dengue fever yesterday, a large drop from the 140 cases reported on Tuesday.”
Behaving like a child?
“Singapore should not be behaving like a child and making all this noise,” Agung Laksono, the minister who is coordinating Indonesia’s response to the haze crisis, told reporters in Jakarta.
“This is not what the Indonesian nation wants, it is because of nature.” The minister for people’s welfare also said Jakarta would reject any offer of financial aid from Singapore unless it was a large amount.“Unless (Singapore) wants to give us a large amount, we won’t consider accepting it,” he said.
“If it is only half a million, or one million dollars, we don’t need that. We would rather use our own national budget.”The comments came as the neighbours prepared to hold emergency talks in Jakarta to ease the severe smog enveloping the city-state.“There are Indonesian, Singaporean and Malaysian companies there,” he said, echoing previous comments from officials in Jakarta seeking to shift the blame away from solely Indonesian firms” (AFP, Jun 20)
”Amid criticism from its neighbors, Malaysia and Singapore, over the cross-border haze and deteriorating air quality affecting the two countries, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa talked tough on the issue, saying that ASEAN members should collaborate to address the situation rather than lay blame.“The approach must be one of collaboration and partnership, not one of apportioning blame here and there. Let’s focus on putting the fires out,” Marty told a press conference.”

Singapore has urged Indonesia to provide data on the companies and concession maps to enable it to act against the plantation firms that employ slash-and-burn methods, adding that air pollution on the island had hit unhealthy levels with some of the worst readings since the 1997 regional haze crisis.

“Calls of such a type are actually a bit redundant, in the sense that we in Indonesia, the government and our people, want those responsible to be held accountable,” said Marty, commenting on the request.

“There is actually no need for such a demand. We are fully aware of the impact and consequences and the need for action,” Marty added.

“Recently, we have seen a number of forest fires in the US and Australia. When those broke out, I think the first instinct was to express sympathy and solidarity, rather than wanting to blame somebody,” he continued, adding that there would be technical meetings between Indonesian and Singaporean officials on the issue in the coming few days.”

As one of my friends said – Aiyah as usual lah – NATO – No action talk only-  blame everybody else except yourself – What have you done all these years, mate?

Issue stop work order?

Netizens like blogger Ravi Philemon complains about the “Manpower Ministry’s reluctance to issue a Stop Work Order despite the 3 hour average PSI hitting 391, which is viewed as reluctance by this government to place the well-being of its citizens above the economy”.

Another Ministerial Committee formed?

“Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Thursday there will be a Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee, led by Minister Ng Eng Hen, to tackle the haze problem.

The Ministerial Committee will focus on “protecting public heath and safety, working with the Indonesians to mitigate the haze at source and maintaining economic and social resilience”.

It will also review guidelines for protecting vulnerable groups, ensure that society and businesses, especially essential services, continue to operate. Clear guidelines on the protective measures at each PSI threshold will be issued by the committee.

“I ask Singaporeans to remain calm and look out for one another,” said PM Lee. “Watch out for your neighbours, especially older Singaporeans and young kids. If any of them have respiratory problems, bring them to a clinic immediately.

ngenghen20e
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Thursday, June 20, 2013, there will be a Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee, led by Minister Ng Eng Hen (above), to tackle the haze problem. – ST FILE PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

“Contact your RCs and MPs if you have any questions. I am confident we can manage this problem, and get through if we stay united and work together.”

The Prime Minister added he will write to the Indonesian president to register Singapore’s serious concerns and repeat the Republic’s offers to help.

He also promised to take action against any Singapore companies or companies in Singapore responsible for causing the fires in Sumatra.” (Straits Times, Jun 20)

- As one of my friends said – “Oh no – not yet another Ministerial Committee – after 16 years of haze then now only form hah?”

Sick & poor due haze how?

21 June – PSI hits a new record of 400 at 11 am

“Speaking on CNA’s Talking Point programme yesterday, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said, “For a worker who will have to do hard strenuous work, despite very high PSI level, we may recommend that he uses an N95 mask. And we’ll have to make sure that N95 masks are available.”

He was responding to a question by a member of the public who asked why construction workers were still working under such terrible conditions.

“We have to have a practical, flexible, and in a sense a tailored, customised approach to deal with the different demands and the different vulnerabilities that people will have. So we’re not going to have a single on-off, stop-work, carry-on-work, kind of approach,” Dr Balakrishnan added.

Another caller who said she was asthmatic and 57 years old, asked about the scheme to help Singaporeans with their medical expenses, should they fall ill from the haze. She asked if the scheme could help vulnerable groups or those with medical problems, and not just the elderly.

Dr Balakrishnan said, “Come and see your local MP and we’ll find a way to help you. Don’t worry about the finances… just get access to medical care first and we’ll sort the things out.”

The minister did not elaborate on what he meant by “sorting things out” later.” (TR Emeritus, Jun 21)

Stop work – who can decide?

The Online Citizen reported that construction workers continued working in the haze without being given masks or being briefed about the risks. It also noted that contractors would not make safety decisions unless authorization came from the government agency in charge of the project.

Pay $10 at clinic?

News report that those under 18 & above 65 will pay $10 (subsidised) for haze related illnesses at private clinics. If you are poor, how likely are you to readily go see a doctor when your eyes are merely teary, or your throat is a bit sore?

NCMP Lina Chiam was the first to start the in-thing of distributing free masks to residents?

“SG Haze Rescue is seeking volunteers give out masks to neighborhoods with aging population. Interested, please send an e-mail to tyac.sg@gmail.com.

We are also looking for people/groups who able to donate masks for us to give out – thanks! Please send an e-mail to the address above if you can help out in anyway!”

Child better learn?

“the Singapore Child better learn to survive the tortuous smog and haze” [Source]:https://www.facebook.com/MParader

N95 cost how much?

I would like to share this link with all the readers here of a compilation of prices of N95 mask by various netizens: Spreadsheet

For example, NTUC unity is selling at $2.50 apiece (I’ve called to verify).

Mount Alvernia Hospital was selling them for $3.80 each this morning (I know ‘cos my friend bought some there). Mount Alvernia restricted buyers to 3 masks each and there was a queue of 10-15 people who found out by word of mouth that they had masks.

SGH and NUH are also reported to be selling masks for $2.50 each.

However, someone also posted on Facebook [Link] that CGH is selling at $4.70 apiece” (“Prices of N95 mask“, TR Emeritus, Jun 21)

24-hour reading?

22 June – “Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu also said that it is “important for the public to refer to the 24-hour PSI” and “not be too overly concerned with the 3-hour PSI which may show spikes and drops from time to time”.

She said, “The health impacts of air pollutants are actually determined both by the concentration and also the duration of exposure. So when we measure the health impact and determine the advisory, the 24-hour measurement is a better reflection of the total exposure of an individual to particulate matter.””

“Defence Minister and Chairman of the Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee Ng Eng Hen on Friday urged the public to refer to the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading rather than the three-hour reading. He said that most studies on the exposure to pollutants are based on 24-hour measurements, and explained that was why the government’s guidelines are also based on 24-hour measurements.”

Only country publishing 3-hour PSI?

“We are probably the only country that’s publishing 3-hourly rolling average PSI. If you look at PSIs in almost any other jurisdictions, it will be on a 24-hour average and the updating is not going to be at an hourly interval and published almost instantly as what we have now.”

Roy (* The author blogs at http://thehearttruths.com) produces proof from 4 countries - Hong Kong, USA, UK and Taiwan – that still publish hourly readings?

As one of my friends said – Revelation lah – after years of talking about three-hour reading, all of a sudden focus on 24-hour reading? How many years did it take to discover this?

Stop work if?

“PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his press conference on Thursday, indicated that stop-work orders may be issued if the haze situation deteriorates and persists” (“PM lists priorities in tackling haze”; Jun 21).

But he stopped short of giving an actual number that the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) must reach for such orders to be issued as other factors must be taken into consideration.

While a stop-work order would have a serious impact on our economy, it should be issued for outdoor workers when the PSI reading goes above 300.

The PSI reading issued is currently a three-hour average. As such, when the PSI rises above 300, the actual reading on the ground may be higher.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has classified any reading above 300 as “hazardous”, which means that prolonged exposure to such haze conditions is hazardous to one’s health.

Private businesses take the lead?

Certain private businesses have already taken it upon themselves to stop employees who usually work outdoors.

Fast-food chains such as McDonalds and Pizza Hut, for example, have temporarily stopped their delivery services to protect the health of their riders.

These profit-driven entities are concerned enough to impose stop-work orders at the expense of profits.”

MOM declined to comment?

“The Manpower Ministry regulates labor issues and workplace conditions, and a ministry-appointed commissioner for workplace safety has powers to order work halts over health and safety concerns. A ministry spokesman declined to comment on possible government orders to halt outdoor work, saying that the matter was under consideration by a government panel set up to tackle haze-related issues.” (Wall Street Journal, Jun 22)

200,000 needy families?

“Defence Minister and Chairman of the Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee, Ng Eng Hen, announced yesterday (21 Jun) that “poorer households” will get free N95 masks.

He said that he will get SAF NSmen to help in the distribution of the N95 masks to about 200,000 households.

He said, “The government will distribute N95 masks free to poorer households in all constituencies through grassroots organisations. About 200,000 households will receive 1 million N95 masks. We will utilise the SAF to help get masks from warehouses to grassroots organisations.”

However Dr Ng did not define “poorer households”, leaving Singaporeans desperate for masks to wonder who falls into this category. Singaporeans are also wondering if the health of “richer households” is not worth safeguarding.

Meanwhile, NTUC Unity Healthcare said it is stocking some 800,000 pieces of N95 face masks progressively in its retail outlets from today (22 Jun).

It said that it is also giving a 10% discount on all N95 face masks. However, it will be limiting the purchase of the masks to 10 pieces per customer.

N95 masks were sold out at many shops across Singapore yesterday. The Health Ministry has urged Singaporeans to be patient, as it works with suppliers to speed up deliveries to shops.

Netizens have also reported seeing masks sold for $10, when the usual price is around $2 or $3 per piece. Some netizens are banding themselves on the Net to report on individuals and companies trying to profiteer from the current shortage of N95 masks in the market (‘Let’s expose all the individuals and companies profiteering from sales of N95 masks‘):

CASE has advised consumers to exercise caution when purchasing face masks from unknown brands or retailers online. It said that such masks may not provide adequate protection from the haze.”

Masks – 1 million free, 3 million sell?

“MOH pushes out four million masks from govt stockpile” (Straits Times, Jun 24) – “one million going to various constituencies for their lower-income residents and vulnerable groups and three million sent to retailers” – Does this mean that three million masks bought with taxpayers money as an emergency stockpile is now being given or sold to retailers to make money in this arguably, time of national crisis and emergency?

As one of my friends said – we hoard about $900 billion in the reserves which we keep saying is for a rainy day – so, why so stingy about only giving masks to 200,000 needy families (1 million free masks)? If this is not a rainy day – then what is hah?

We are very prepared?

23 June – “Defence Minister and Chairman of the Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee, Dr Ng Eng Hen, told the media today (23 Jun) that the government is prepared should haze readings soar far beyond the level considered hazardous.

His comments came as Malaysia declared a state of emergency in parts of Johor, where the Air Pollution Index surged past 750 today.

Dr Ng said, “If a situation arises like in Muar where the PSI equivalent is over 700, nearly 800, we may have to close certain sectors. We will obviously consider what we need to do.”

“And if we need to continue essential services, we have the ability to mobilise assets and personnel to make sure at least essential services continue. So I would say to Singaporeans not to worry.”

Although the government was clearly unprepared for the haze that hit Singapore last week as the lack of masks in shops clearly shows, Dr Ng was not shy to use the word “prepare” repeatedly.

He said, “We were fortunate this weekend, the winds changed and went up north… But you know the winds can change back and come down south and I think we have to prepare for that. We don’t know how long the haze will be with us. We certainly hope it won’t, but let’s prepare for it so I think it’s wise for us to literally make hay while the sun shines.”

Employers could be penalised?

24 June – “Employers who flout the Government’s health advisories for the haze could be penalised, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin warned yesterday.

“If employers do not follow the advisory and are wantonly disregarding the safety and health of their workers, action we taken. Our inspectors will go out to inspect and we will follow up on feedback provided,” he said.

Speaking to reporters at Chai Chee where grassroots organisations were distributing face masks to residents, Mr Tan said some irresponsible actions include expecting crane operators to hoist heavy loads when visibility is bad.

“If the conditions are such that outdoor workers are expected to work with masks, we expect that to be adhered to. If there are circumstances where they are not, that’s something we need to follow up on with the companies,” he added.

Take it up with the unions?

Mr Tan also spelt out avenues of help for employees who feel their health is being threatened: “We encourage workers to take it up with the unions, their supervisors, with management.

“If they can’t find a solution or they are worried or afraid, call us and that’s something we’ll look into and address as best we can.”

Need masks how?

Mr Tan added that the Manpower Ministry is working with the Ministry of Health to make sure companies have enough face masks for their employees.

“Those who need them can call in and we will make the arrangements and push it out to them,” he said.

Asked whether the Manpower Ministry would consider stopping work for specific groups such as outdoor construction workers when the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index crosses a threshold, Mr Tan reiterated that the Government is basing its health advice on the 24-hour forecast.” (Straits Times, Jun 24)

“I know that when we see the PSI spike and the haze is particularly thick we tend to get panicky, and that’s perfectly understandable… but it’s the cumulative effect (of) exposure over the course of a day that has the real impact,” he said.

Employers need to be responsible?

That being said, firms also need to be flexible. “Employers do remain responsible to exercise their discretion and adjust their work practices based on the prevailing circumstances,” he said

Workers can call the Manpower Ministry’s call centre on 6438-5122, and if there are significant safety concerns on outdoor work during the haze situation, they can call the ministry’s safety hotline on 6317-1111 or e-mail oshd@mom.gov.sg.”

Wait for Government health advisories?

- As one of my friends said – a lot of words but what exactly is the action and do they mean? – “”Employers who flout the Government’s health advisories for the haze could be penalised” – only “could be penalised”?  ”take it up with the unions” – by that time die already lah!

In this connection, I particularly like Devadas Krishnadas’ remarks ”To put it bluntly, we cannot ‘wayang’ our way through this – it is going to require genuine and sincere social inclusiveness and cohesion from the individual level up for us to tough this out till clearer days” (“A test for S’pore: Not being hazy about the haze“, Today, Jun 24).

 

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