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FROTH AND BUBBLE
Singaporeans rejoice as smog from Indonesia abates
by Staff Writers
Singapore (AFP) June 22, 2013


Singapore Muslims advised to skip mosques in haze
Singapore (AFP) June 21, 2013 - Singapore's top Islamic authority on Friday allowed local Muslims to skip Friday prayers at mosques as smog levels hit a new record high due to forest fires in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation.

"The Office of Mufti opines that it is permitted for male Muslims not to attend Friday prayers during the subsistence of haze which may have hazardous effects to their health or may potentially threaten their lives," the religious authority said.

It said that the men may perform the midday prayers somewhere else instead of mosques.

Friday mosque prayers are obligatory among devout Muslim males.

Muslims, mostly ethnic Malays, comprise more than 13 percent of Singapore's population, according to 2012 data.

Singapore's smog index breached the critical 400 level on Friday, which is potentially life-threatening to the ill and elderly people if sustained over a 24-hour period. The index eased off in the afternoon but remained at officially "unhealthy" levels.

Indonesian and Singaporean officials have been holding emergency talks on how to extinguish the fires on farms and plantations on Sumatra, which are also affecting Malaysia.

Indonesian helicopters have been sent to Sumatra for cloud-seeding operations to trigger rain and douse the fires, some of them deliberately set off to clear land for cultivation.

Indonesia is a sprawling archipelago stretching between mainland Asia and Australia.

Despite generating the haze, Indonesia remained a popular destination for Singapore residents seeking short-term relief from the bad air, a survey showed Friday.

Skyscanner, a global travel search site, said in a statement that online queries on outbound flights had risen by 22 percent from Singapore between June 17 and 20, with Indonesia's resort island Bali as the top destination followed by Bangkok, Hong Kong, Phuket in Thailand and Indonesia's capital Jakarta.

Bali and Jakarta are located far enough from Sumatra to remain unaffected by the smog.

Residents of Singapore rejoiced Saturday as thick smog from forest fires in Indonesia gave way to a spell of blue skies and smoke-free air, but the government warned it was a temporary respite.

The pollutant standards index (PSI), which stood at hazardous levels above 300 early Saturday, progressively dropped to a moderate 73 by late afternoon in the densely populated city-state of 5.3 million people, more than a third of them foreigners.

Shoppers eagerly returned to posh shopping district Orchard Road -- many still with their protective face masks on -- as the skies started to clear during lunchtime and social media postings were full of cheerful messages after days of gloom.

Residents of private condominiums began using their swimming pools and tennis courts again.

However, broadcaster Channel News Asia's website quoted the environment agency as saying that the improvement "was due to a temporary area free of dense haze upwind of Singapore" and "transient changes in the local wind conditions" before the haze returns on Sunday.

Shawn Lim, 22, said he was taking advantage of the situation to go outdoors to distribute protective masks to those who have not been able to get their hands on one due to a run on the products.

"I am going around City Hall this evening to give out masks to people who don't have them," said the media executive.

"It is great that the weather is clear, I am enjoying it while I can before the haze comes back."

Law student Akesh Abhilash, 25, said he was planning to play football with friends if the PSI remained within double digits in the evening.

Some however erred on the side of caution, fearing that the air was still unhealthy.

Lecturer Gangasudhan, 36, said he was going to spend the evening indoors as "looks can be deceiving".

While the PSI had gone down, Gangasudhan, who goes by one name, cited another reading -- the concentration of fine particles measuring 2.5 micrometres or less -- which remains at a high level across the island nation.

"I am going to wait for the PM2.5 level to drop to safer levels before resuming normal activities," he said.

Smog from forest fires in plantations and fires on Sumatra island are blown to Singapore and Malaysia by monsoon winds during the June-September dry season.

The index has been fluctuating since reaching unhealthy levels on Monday.

On Friday, much of the population retreated indoors and when the index hit a record 401, which could have been life-threatening to the ill and elderly if it had lasted 24 hours.

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