Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Haze Reveals a Short-Sighted Government

20130622_170218The present haze situation we’re facing, which set new records earlier this week, has revealed something worrying about our government. Ministers Vivian Balakrishnan, Grace Fu, and Ng Eng Hen all echoed the same message, that all of us should focus on the 24-hour PSI reading, and not the three-hour PSI reading. This has been repeated so many times now that I’m beginning to get rather irritated.

I think we all understand pretty well that the health impact of pollutant exposure not just depends on the intensity, but also the duration. The smoke from our barbeques can’t be good, but we don’t barbeque all day, nor do we do that often. We walk along busy congested roads, and we walk past dusty construction sites. Sometimes we also get odours of paint thinner from someone’s renovation, or other sort of unhealthy chemicals.

We pretty much get it, as long as we don’t continuously expose ourselves to such pollutants, we’re still quite alright.

Many of us are “fixated” on the three-hour PSI reading for a good reason. It tells us what is happening “right now”. We would have preferred a one-hour PSI reading if one was available. We can easily recognise paint thinner, barbeque smog, and some other sort of pollutants. But most of us appreciate some help with an indication of how bad our haze is.

I don’t think anyone of us will panic and activate our dooms-day plan when the three-hour PSI breaks 400. But we will take precautions, such as avoid going outdoors.

The problem with the 24-hour PSI reading is that it is not only an average over too long a period, but also of a period in the past. I don’t know if our government understand this. The reading is about something that is already over.

Do you want to go through danger, and then when you’re over it, get the information that, oh yah, you were in danger earlier? Surely you want some realtime update about the situation that you are presently facing.

So I’m beginning to wonder. Is this why our Stamford canal can fill to the brim, and then overflow because it is full, to cause flooding in Orchard Road? After the canal has overflowed, and amid much public frustration, then the government decides something needs to be done to alleviate the problem? I am also thinking about whether our various other problems, such as overcrowded public transport and inadequate supply of public housing, might have to do with data averaged over distant history.

This is being reactive, and not proactive. It is being short-sighted, and not forward looking. The three-hour PSI reading is surely every bit as important and relevant as the 24-hour PSI reading. In fact, it would even be better to have one-hour PSI readings.

We know some people who have taken matters into their own hands, publishing pollutant readings that they’ve measured themselves. The measurement and publishing of results can be completely automated, and performed as frequently as every minute. It will cost less than $500. It’s crazy that our government cannot do something better. To put 50 of these around the island will cost only $25K, surely just spare change to the government.

Moving forward, more people from the community are coming forward to build their own measurements. Me too. I’ll share more information when the time comes.

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