Singapore’s prime minister has warned that the haze engulfing the city-state could last for weeks, as air pollution soared to record levels.
He warned further that Singaporeans tmay have to learn to live with the smog, stating, “We can’t tell how this problem is going to develop because it depends on the burning, it depends on the weather, it depends on the wind. It can easily last for several weeks and quite possibly it could last longer until the dry season ends in Sumatra which may be September or October.”
That does not sound good for Singapore.
The haze, which is smog, comes from smoke produced by “slash and burn” cultivation from nearby Sumatra, Indonesia.
This year, the smog has broken Singapore’s Pollutant Standards Index record by hitting 401 at noon on Friday—the highest in Singapore’s history. Anything over 300 is extremely hazardous and life threatening.
Singapore’s previous record was 226 in 1997.
Singaporeans lined up outside pharmacies for face masks only to find out that many had sold out. These particulate-filtering N95 respiratory masks block out 95% of airborne particles larger than 0.3 microns. These particles can travel through the lungs and enter the blood stream with fatal effects.
Those Singaporeans who can, are fleeing the country on impromptu vacations.
Singapore’s economy affected
However, health is not the only problem. The severe smog over Singapore could also hurt the city-state’s economy if it persists for weeks, according to economists.
The pollution is hitting tourism-related industries in Singapore, which make up about 5% to 6% of the economy.
Singapore welcomed 14.4 million visitors last year who generated SG$23 billion (US$18 billion) in revenues. The tourism sector contributed 4.0% directly to Singapore’s gross domestic product.
Now, with the smog, tourist spots are shutting down as companies allow staff to work from home. Singapore restaurants are nearly deserted.
Seletar Airport, which services the private jets of VIP guests, was forced to close due to “poor visibility caused by the haze,” authorities said. There are also reports of flight delays affecting Singapore’s Changi airport.
Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist at research firm IHS Global Insight, pointed out, “Images of the haze enveloping Singapore are being widely reported on TV channels and other media globally, and can be particularly damaging to Singapore’s world-class tourism industry. If the number of tourist visitors falls sharply even for several months, this will hurt Singapore’s GDP numbers for the third quarter of 2013.”
Biswas noted that such a decline would come at a time when Singapore’s manufacturing sector, is hurting from weak orders from its main markets the United States and Europe.
Singapore’s external trade has dropped my 1.4% in May 2013. According to Singapore, its national economy contracted by 0.6 per cent on a year-on-year basis in the first quarter of 2013.
Currently, Singapore’s GDP is expected to grow only between 1% and 3% this year, historically low by Singapore standards.
Singapore’s flooding is not just a health problem but an economic problem, as well.
 Airborne Particulate Matter and Mortality: Timescale Effects in Four US Cities. Am J Epidemiol. 2003; 157:1055-1065.