We are here because of the haze, we are all affected by it. Today I would just like to share how we will address the problem and also to explain to Singaporeans how each of us can protect ourselves and our families.
Haze is not a new problem for us in Singapore or for Malaysia.,This afternoon the three-hour number for PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) reached 371. It has come down a little bit since then, which is a new high. If you look at the 24-hour number, the last reading at 2pm, was in the range 175 to 207, which is in the unhealthy to the very unhealthy range, and our health advisories are based on the 24-hour PSIs, So over the next few days according to our metrological people,the wind and weather conditions are likely to stay about the same as they are today, So we expect the haze to persist for some time.
I think we know the source of the problem, which is illegal burning by errant companies in Sumatra.,We are actively engaging the Indonesian government to solve the problem , Foreign Minister Shanmugam and Minister Vivian Balakrishnan have been in contact with Indonesian counterparts,they spoke to them yesterday, And our CEO of the National Environment Agency, Andrew Tan,,is in Indonesia today having a meeting with the Indonesian officials.
I am also writing to President Yudhoyono to register our serious concerns and to reiterate our offer to help Indonesia to solve this problem.
We have provided satellite hotspot data and imagery to the Indonesians to help them to identify the companies which are responsible. Some Indonesian officials have suggested that these errant companies may be linked to Singapore and Malaysia, so we have asked them for the evidence which they have and to provide us with these evidence and if any Singapore companies are involved or any companies which are present in Singapore are involved,then we will take up these matters with the companies.
But our priority and my priority is to protect the health and safety of Singaporeans, and especially of the vulnerable groups, like the young and the elderly, and those who have heart or lung diseases, for example asthma or,COPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
I think we can expect a higher incidence of respiratory diseases under these conditions.,It happens every time, it is natural.,And our MOH medical system – the doctors, the polyclinics, the hospitals -they are all on alert and ready for this, to treat the patients.,So if you fall ill or anybody you know falls ill, and it is a respiratory problem particularly,,please see a doctor or your GP promptly.
If anybody needs financial help with their medical expenses, we will make sure that it is available. MOH will be implementing a special scheme where the vulnerable ones -,young ones, 18-and-below; elderly Singaporeans, 65-and-above; those who are CHAS Card holders;,those who are on PA (Public Assistance) and Medical Fee Exemption Card holders,who have respiratory problems or conjunctivitis because of the haze, they can see their doctors, pay ten dollars, and MOH will settle the rest of the bill. It is a special scheme to deal with this exceptional situation. But for most of us who are in good health, I think we will be fine if we just take basic precautions,like limiting outdoor activities and staying indoors where possible, depending on how bad the haze is.
Starting today, later this evening, the government will hold daily press briefings,to update Singaporeans on the haze situation, and to recommend protective measures for the day ahead. NEA’s website will be kept updated with information and with the guidelines and advice. Our ministries and agencies are prepared.,The Haze Task Force has met several times to coordinate all the agencies’ plans,,and the Crisis Management Group (Haze) has also been convened.
We cannot 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.,So we will need to adapt our response to suit the changing situation,,and to protect ourselves in practical and sustainable ways.
To oversee the overall national effort, I have set up a Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee.,It will be chaired by Minister Ng Eng Hen, and it will have representatives from Environment and Water Resources,,from MFA (Foreign Affairs), from MCI (Comms and Information),,from Health, from MSF (Social and Family Development),,from MOE (Education), and from MOM (Manpower).
The ministerial committee will focus on protecting public health and safety,,on working with Indonesians to mitigate the haze at source,,and to maintain our economic and social resilience.
It will reveal the guidelines for protecting vulnerable groups.,It will ensure that society and businesses, and especially essential services, continue to operate.,And it will issue clear guidelines on the protective measures, depending on the PSI level and the projections.
So I ask Singaporeans, please remain calm, look after one another.,Watch out for your neighbours, especially the older Singaporeans, or the kids.,And if any of them have respiratory problems, please advise them or bring them to a clinic immediately.
And if you have any questions, contact your RCs (Resident Committees), your grassroots, or your MPs.,They will have advice for you and assistance for you.,And I am quite confident that we can manage this problem,and we can go through it if we stay together and work on it together.