Since its independence from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore has grown to become one of the most economically successful countries in the world, despite its small size.
Its strategic location at the southern tip of Malaysia, and between key trade flows from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, has contributed to making it one of the largest ports in all of Asia, second only to Shanghai.1
Whilst the country benefits from its close proximity to larger countries, it can also be subject to influence from their emissions.
Today, the country’s trade, transport, and petroleum activities only contribute to 0.11% of the world’s carbon emissions, yet local residents occasionally do suffer long stretches of poor air quality due to land and forest fires occurring in nearby Indonesia, a seasonal practice used by farmers to turn wildland into peatland ready for farming.2
But these emissions generated by this traditional farming practice are no small amount.
For context, in 2015, concentrations went above 300ug/m3, corresponding to a US AQI of 350 (well above the 301 “Hazardous" threshold). In roughly three weeks’ time, 2 million hectares of land were burnt and 600m tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions released — roughly Germany’s annual output.3
Why does Singapore air quality get so bad?
With only dozens of kilometers separating Singapore from the closest Indonesian island, the city-state is often covered in haze when peatland fires occur. When haze strikes, a number of measures are generally taken by the Singaporean government to reduce citizen exposure.
In 2016, schools were closed, events cancelled, and trading activities delayed. Meanwhile, political pressure was placed on the companies related to the fires, with legal accountability enforced, as stated in the ASEAN Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014.4
Other companies, such as Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd, have taken another approach, offering grants to villages in Indonesia who manage to stay fire-free.5
Citizen scientist: Leslie in Singapore
Of the 6 monitoring stations reported by AirVisual that cover the country’s 720km2, one is a public outdoor AirVisual Pro belonging to engaged mother Leslie.
With young children, Leslie’s first concern was for the health of her family: “I was worried about the potential harm it would cause young children if they spent too much time in conditions I wasn’t able to quantify.”
For Leslie, quantifying pollution levels is important for knowing how best to respond. Finding that her home was relatively far from government stations, and that the government reports these values via Singapore’s own PSI (Pollutant Standard Index) system based on 3-hour averages, Leslie wanted more responsive and representative air quality monitoring around her home.
Since outdoor air pollution levels can be unpredictable, for Leslie, it was important “to know if [she] could take the kids to play at the local playground or go exercise outside.”
While the primary motivation for establishing a monitoring station in Minton was for her family, Leslie is now able to provide her broader community access to the same readings she gains so much value from.
Giving access to air quality data is the first step towards better protection and a healthier life: she believes that “educated, knowledgeable communities are key to making positive change in the world, particularly when it comes to the environment.”
Having discussed with other families concerned about air quality, she decided to install her AirVisual Pro outside her condo, so that the outdoor data collected could be a benefit to many others.
“Devices like AirVisual Pro empower communities to make change, based on hard facts”, Leslie believes.
The data, she says, has helped friends and neighbors become more aware and proactive in responding to air quality changes. Today, there is peace of mind in knowing, rather than speculating, her family's personal exposure risk.
Interested to set up your own local AirVisual Pro network, and put your community on the map with data and recommendations tailored to your specific environment?
Find outhow to become an outdoor data contributor.