Singapore economy chokes


epa03754095 Indonesian firefighters and police officers spray water on a burning peatland area in Rokan Hilir, Riau province, Indonesia, 21 June 2013. Indonesia is to artificially induce rain in an attempt to douse forest fires that have choked parts of the country and neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia, an official said. Two helicopters have been dispatched to Riau province on Sumatra island, where forest fires have raged for days, according to authorities. Thick smog from the forest fires has blanketed much of Riau, Singapore and Malaysia, sending pollution indexes soaring to hazardous levels. EPA/AMRIYADI BAHAR

SINGAPORE: The severe smog over Singapore caused by forest fires in Indonesia could hurt the city-state’s economy if it persists for weeks, economists said as the pollution index hit new record levels.

Tourist spots are shutting down, companies are allowing staff to work from home and a VIP airport has suspended operations. Some Singapore restaurants were almost deserted during the normally busy Friday lunch period.

As thick grey smoke and the acrid smell of burning wood and grass smothered the city-state for a fifth day running, economists said tourism in particular could suffer from Singapore’s worst environmental emergency since the 1997 haze crisis.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday that the problem “can easily last for several weeks, and quite possibly longer until the dry season ends in Sumatra”.

The season lasts from June to September.

“The impact on Singapore from the Indonesian haze is particularly severe this year, and could become worse than 1997,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist at research firm IHS Global Insight.

“If the haze persists over the coming weeks during the seasonal slash-and-burn period in Sumatra, it has the potential to have significant negative effects on the Singapore economy.

“Images of the haze enveloping Singapore are being widely reported on TV channels and other media globally, and can be particularly damaging to Singapore’s world-class tourism industry,” Biswas said. — AFP

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