I grew up on a farm on the far north coast of New South Wales and have come to realise just how much I took that fresh country air for granted.
My almost three-year-old daughter and 10-month-old son should not be living in an environment where it is unhealthy for them to be outside. However, that is what life has become here in Singapore due to the impact of pollution from forest fires raging in Indonesia as a result of illegal slash-and-burn clearing for palm oil and paper plantations.
We have lived in Singapore for just over two years and have been living abroad since 2006. Good career prospects for me and my British husband and fantastic regional travel opportunities for our young family made “clean and green” Singapore an easy choice to repatriate to from New York City.
The yearly “haze”, as the polluted air from Indonesian agricultural fires is referred to, was a two week inconvenience in 2013 and 2014 with the pollutant standard index or “PSI” reaching a peak of over 400 (extremely hazardous) in 2013 but for only a short period of time.
This year however, we are entering our ninth week in a row of the PSI ranging from very unhealthy to hazardous levels on an almost daily basis.
It may not be widely reported in Australia however the fires burning in Indonesia as a result of illegal slash-and-burn clearing for palm oil and paper plantations have spread out of control.
A record dry spell and wind direction is contributing to the duration and intensity of the smoky haze that we in Singapore and our neighbouring countries are experiencing this year. Sadly, these conditions are forecast by some to continue until January next year.
Watch for more on the South East Asia haze crisis:
At its worst, after only 15 minutes of being outside your nose and eyes burn and it is difficult to breathe so it is better to stay inside.
It has been a challenge keeping the kids entertained. Schools were closed for two days and outdoor play at school is often suspended. A lot of expatriates live in condominiums where there are communal playground and swimming pool facilities which are usually buzzing with activity after school and on the weekends. These areas are currently desolate.
Families are escaping the haze by leaving Singapore for home or a holiday although traditional nearby vacation hot spots like Phuket in Thailand, Langkawi in Malaysia and even parts of Vietnam have been shrouded with the same thick smog we are experiencing here. Last week the airport in Langkawi was closed due to poor visibility. For those of us that can’t return to our home countries for an extended period of time due to work or other commitments, shopping centres and indoor playgrounds get very busy (and boring!), very quickly.
While it is easy for me to sit here and complain about the poor air quality and how much this is impacting the freedom my almost 3 year old and 10 month old should have to run around and play outside like I did growing up, I am not living in Sumatra or Kalimantan, where the PSI reaches over 2000, without adequate infrastructure to protect myself and my children.
While life as an expat is an amazing experience, moving back to Australia is looking more appealing by the day.