I suppose I should also update about the haze/smog situation in Singapore and Malaysia since it's so famous now.
To give some reference -
Singapore on a normal day:
Singapore on a normal day starting 2 weeks ago (PSI in the 100-200+ range):
And finally, this is Singapore 2 days ago (PSI 401):
Air filters and masks are sold out and by the way, the government didn't issue a work-stop order, including for construction workers. They left it at the discretion of the companies, so basically if you work outdoors, you've been screwed lately.
Some background - Indonesia is the region's most mature gold mine. Not literally for gold but suffice to say it's a huge country with loads of natural resources and labour/cost of business there is freakishly cheap. It has a huge population, of which a very small minority is freakishly rich based on the business that the rest of the region (and the world) likes to do there.
In context, Singapore as a small island state doesn't have much by way of resources except its people. It sells itself as a highly trained, intellectual work-force and as the safest/only developed country in the region. It's a hub for people to stay if they want to do business in Asia, without the nitty gritty issues like oh a high crime rate, corruption, etc. My expat friends like to call Singapore 'Asia 101'.
Anyway, many major companies do business in Indonesia, and palm oil is one of the most valued resources in the region. It's grown in Malaysia as well but in comparison, Indonesia has loads more land. Cue Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean and other international companies making big money in Indonesia, and primary industry. The cheapest way to get fertilizer and clear land for the new planting season is to slash and burn the crops. Palm oil smokes like a bitch, and anyway whenever a land that big decides to simultaneously burn entire fields of plantations, the smoke from that is going to be insane. Until a cheaper and eco friendly alternative can be found for field clearing, it's not going to stop.
The other possible action is for the region, the world, especially Malaysia and Singapore to boycott Indonesia. This is never going to happen because of what I said above - cheap gold mine - and the simple geographic reality that Malaysia and Singapore don't have the resources to continue making so much money on their own. Also the rest of the world doesn't care, and won't care until they're all choking as well. (Apparently, Indonesia can't be charged for transboundary environmental damage because this isn't a warzone. When Saddam Hussein decided to burn all the oil fields in Kuwait, he was charged for the environmental damage made to the middle eastern region from the oil smoke - it was considered Environmental Terrorism. http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1426&context=auilr
So what can be done? Suppose Malaysia and Singapore can start simply by...not using maids (shocker what a concept! :P). Seriously, most cheap maids that are used in Malaysian and Singaporean households are from Indonesia, it's a major industry. But I think that Malaysian and Singaporean culture has evolved to a point where its way too spoilt for that option to go through either. There are other options though for those who absolutely NEED a maid - Cambodia and the Philippines mainly (though the latter is more expensive).
Anyway this is a yearly issue, it's just gotten on the news because it's especially bad this year. In 1997 the PSI was in the 200 range (second picture) and that was the highest. This year, Singapore got twice that - 401. Today, Johor (Malaysia's southern state) registered 530. That's worse than Beijing's record last winter. UPDATE - The Malaysian state of Johor in the city of Muar hit a whopping 750+ score today!
In 1997 the spread of the haze was wider - it reached the southern tip of China, and the world responded. This year, thanks to wind directions, it's really Malaysian and Singapore's problem, and it's concentrated here.