Every year we get weeks, and sometimes months, of poor air quality due to forest fires. This is known as the ‘haze’ and causes chaos on both the roads and everyday life as people struggle to carry out any outdoor activities when it is at its worst.
This week the haze has returned due to local forest fires, caused by a lengthy dry season and the fact that due to peat in the ground the fires are extremely difficult to extinguish once they have started. On Thursday morning my car was covered in ash despite being parked underneath the house, and at first glance it looked as though it was snowing outside. The thick smoke creeps into our house through every nook and cranny like a poisonous fog; unfortunately we live in a wooden house which has a lot of gaps. Last year we bought an air purifier as when I was pregnant I found it really got to me a lot more, so this has been turned up to the max. But it only does so much in getting rid of the smoke.
The haze isn’t just a problem in Brunei. Every year Indonesia has huge problems with forest fires, some of which are started intentionally as a way of clearing large expanses of land for crops or commonly, palm oil plantations. This causes huge problems for neighbouring counties, including Brunei, as the haze is often carried across by the wind and the fires can last for weeks. Singapore was particularly badly affected last year, and the poor air quality was so extreme it caused deaths. The Guardian newspaper claims that last year’s forest fires were the biggest pollution crisis in a decade to hit SE Asia.
Thankfully this time around the haze is not as bad, although it is still causing plenty of disruption and more time spent in the house where the air quality is better, if not perfect. All we can do is wait for the emergency services to win the fight against the flames and hope for some rain.