* Air in Singapore, parts of Malaysia "hazardous"
* Barclays report sees "hit to tourism" in Singapore
* Indonesia says investors from Singapore partly to blame
By Kevin Lim and John O'Callaghan
SINGAPORE, June 20 Haze from fires in Indonesia
blanketing Singapore could persist for weeks or longer, Prime
Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday, as the smoke drove
air quality to "hazardous" levels and disrupted business and
travel in the region.
Illegal burning of forests and other land on Indonesia's
Sumatra island to clear space for palm oil plantations is a
chronic problem during the June to September dry season.
One Indonesian minister accused Singaporeans of acting like
children, but pollution levels in the normally pristine
city-state have shattered records set in 1997, raising
diplomatic tensions and concerns about the economic impact.
"It can easily last for several weeks and quite possibly
longer until the dry season ends in Sumatra," Lee told a news
conference, warning of action if Singapore-linked companies were
behind the burning. "On the scale of it, it's unlikely to be
just small stakeholders slashing and burning."
On the fourth day of heavy smog, the smell of burned wood
filled the air, skyscrapers were barely visible and haze hung in
the tunnels that link Singapore's metro stations and shopping
malls in the central core. Some residents wore surgical masks or
covered their faces with hankerchiefs when they walked outside.
Singapore will suffer "an immediate hit to tourism",
investment bank Barclays Plc said, noting that retailers,
hotels, restaurants, gaming and other tourism-related sectors
make up about 5-6 percent of the city-state's economy.
"We think arrivals will recover quickly when the haze
dissipates," it said in a report. "But the situation is fluid -
prolonged hazardous conditions could affect Singapore's
An Australian couple on holiday said they cancelled a visit
to the zoo and would probably stay indoors.
"I'm never coming back to Singapore at this time of the year
again," said the husband, who identified himself only as Rob.
Singapore, a major financial centre, sent officials to an
emergency haze meeting in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
"We will insist on definitive action," Environment and Water
Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on his Facebook
page. "No country or corporation has the right to pollute the
air at the expense of Singaporeans' health and well-being."
As Singapore put pressure on Jakarta to act, the Indonesian
minister leading the response efforts hit back.
"Singapore shouldn't be like children, in such a tizzy,"
Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono told
reporters, adding the government was investigating whether large
companies were behind the fires.
"If there are, some are owned by Indonesians, Malaysians,
Singaporeans," he said. "We will take action if they are found
responsible. But there must be a process."
To identify the culprits, Singapore has provided satellite
data to Indonesia and will publish high-resolution photographs
of the hotspots with the geographical coordinates to help
interest groups such as Greenpeace pinpoint the sites.
MCDONALD'S SUSPENDS DELIVERIES
Singapore, which usually enjoys clear skies, saw its air
quality deteriorate sharply on Monday. Its pollution standards
index soared to a record of 371 at 1 p.m. on Thursday and then
swung between the "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" levels.
The pollution readings in Singapore have exceeded the peak
of 226 hit in 1997 when smog from Indonesian fires disrupted
shipping and air travel across Southeast Asia.
In Malaysia, the southern state of Johor was the worst
affected. Air quality in the coastal town of Muar worsened in
the "hazardous" category, forcing 211 schools to close.
Air traffic controllers in Singapore gave more time for
aircraft between taking off and landing at Changi Airport, a
major aviation hub, because of poor visibility.
"It's disgusting, terrible," Dennis Wong, an information
technology professional at a foreign bank, said as he smoked a
cigarette in the business district. "It feels very uncomfortable
when you walk on the street. Better to stay at home."
Work at several Singapore construction sites slowed with few
workers seen outdoors. Fast-food operator McDonald's
suspended its delivery service across the city-state.
Singapore's drug stores have run short of face masks and
residents have taken to social media to complain about their
giant neighbour and the ineffectiveness of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to tackle the haze issue.
Indonesia's Forestry Minister, Zulkifli Hasan, said there
were more than 100 hotspots - 80 percent of them on agricultural
and plantation land and the rest in forests.
Singapore-based palm oil companies with land concessions in
Indonesia include Wilmar International Ltd, Golden
Agri-Resources Ltd and First Resources Ltd.
All three said on Wednesday they had "zero burning" policies
and used only mechanical means to clear land. Cargill,
whose Asia-Pacific hub is in Singapore, said there were no fires
on its plantations in South Sumatra and West Kalimantan.
While companies may ban burning, those rules were hard for
them and the central government to enforce with farmers and
local officials, researcher Jackson Ewing told Reuters.
"The lack of actual control on the ground is a real issue,"
said Ewing, a fellow at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security
Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, who has
done studies at the plantations. The small-scale farmers, he
said, were often "contracted by corporate entities".