According to a statement from Singapore’s Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, meteorological data and satellite images indicate that forest fires occur on land concessions controlled by Rimba Hutani Mas, Bumi Sriwijaya Sentosa, Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries, Wachyuni Mandira, and Singapore-based Asia Pulp & Paper Co.

It was the first time Singapore had to close its schools since the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) back in 2003. Apart from disrupting education, there has also emerged concern that a prolonged haze will impact negatively on the economy of Singapore as people tend to stay at home (consumption eases).

The severe haze that has been plaguing Southeast Asia in the past couple of weeks is caused by forest fires on Kalimantan and Sumatra. Forest fires and haze are a recurring problem in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, as people and companies (usually palm oil and pulp & paper companies) use illegal slash-and-burn practices to clear land on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. A prolonged dry season (due to the impact of the El Nino weather phenomenon) exacerbates the situation. Over the weekend, the criminal investigation agency of Indonesia’s national police force named 195 individuals and nine companies on Sumatra and Kalimantan as suspects of such illegal slash-and-burn practices.

Last week, Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla made a bold remark by saying that Indonesia does not need to apologize to neighbouring countries over the current haze as these countries also fail to express their thankfulness during the 11 months in which Indonesia’s forests bring fresh air to these countries. Kalla also stated that companies in these neighbouring countries pay locals to use slash-and-burn practices to clear land.

As the haze negatively affects the health and economies of surrounding nations, Singapore is stressing the need for closer regional and international cooperation to apply legal and commercial pressure on errant palm oil and forestry companies in order to prevent them from profiting from unsustainable land and forest clearing.

Malaysian authorities asked schools in the Kuala Lumpur region to close on Monday as the air quality remained unhealthy. On Sunday readings were between 207 and 272 on the air pollutant index (a reading between 201 and 300 is classified as ‘very unhealthy’).