Best of our wild blogs: 5 Oct 15

It’s World Animal Day!
Life of a common palm civet in Singapore

Critters at USR and Mandai Areas
Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

bar-tailed godwit @ SBWR - 04Oct2015

Sumatran (Common) Pam Civet (Paradoxurus musangus) @ Jedburgh Gardens
Monday Morgue

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Fund-starved Cat Welfare Society barely manages to survive

Ng Huiwen, Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Oct 15;

After 16 years of looking out for its feline friends, the Cat Welfare Society (CWS) almost had to stop its work last month because of insufficient funds.

But the society, which is the main cat welfare group here, earned a new lease of life two weeks ago after extending its fund-raising campaign. It had initially failed to raise its target amount of $200,000 after its five-day online fund-raiser, which started on Sept 17.

However, after the campaign was extended on donation platform by two days, it received more than $231,550 in online and offline donations. A total of 1,220 donors had contributed $200,550 through the website.

Calling it a "fund-raiser for survival", CWS president Thenuga Vijakumar said the society would have had to cease immediate operations if it were unable to raise enough money. However, she described its latest fund-raising success as "short-lived", as the money raised will allow it to operate only till the end of this year.

Efforts are still ongoing to raise funds through other means to tide it over beyond December.

Like CWS, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) does not generally receive government grants and finds it a challenge to garner donations.

SPCA requires about $2 million a year, largely raised through public donations and fund-raising activities, to fund its animal shelter, veterinary services and other services, including its 24-hour emergency service and sterilisation programmes. It is also raising funds for the completion of its new animal shelter and office complex at Sungei Tengah.

Said SPCA executive director Corinne Fong: "Donations made to the animal welfare cause have become increasingly divided among an ever-rising number of animal shelters and rescue groups."

The Sunday Times understands that there are, at least, 30 animal welfare and rescue groups in Singapore. Of these, four - CWS, SPCA, Acres and SOSD, formerly known as Save our Street Dogs - have Institute of Public Character (IPC) status, which means they can issue tax- deductible receipts for donations.

CWS was granted IPC status in 2013. While this led to an increase in donations, from about $440,000 in 2013 to more than $620,000 last year, Ms Thenuga said it is far from enough to cover its expenses.

"People assume that with IPC, donations will start rolling in from large corporations or foundations. The reality is that a lot of them don't include animal welfare in their portfolios," she added.

On average, CWS now requires about $70,000 a month to operate, up from $50,000 a month last year.

The bulk of its funds are channelled to nationwide programmes in sterilisation, and mediation services between those who find stray cats a nuisance and cat lovers - a service which CWS said is facing a growing demand as it looks to go beyond HDB blocks to include condominiums and commercial facilities.

Last year, CWS sterilised a total of 4,749 cats, from fewer than 3,000 in 2012. It aims to sterilise at least 5,000 cats this year.

Cutting back on its operations is not an option for CWS, as this would erase much of the progress it has made in animal welfare over the years, said Ms Thenuga. Agreeing, cat lover and National University of Singapore undergraduate Chesna Goh said: "I've seen CWS greatly improve the stray cat situation. Even if the cats don't get adopted, at least they are properly vaccinated and sterilised."

The 22-year-old, who donated $200 to the society recently, believes that if it were to close down, the stray cat population would increase drastically and the culling rate will rise as well. She said: "A lot of people aren't very tolerant of stray cats. The cats would lose a very important mouthpiece advocating for them and a lot would miss out on the opportunity of being able to find great loving homes."

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Water woes in Johor, cloud seeding to help fill dams

CHUAH BEE KIM New Straits Times 4 Oct 15;

NUSAJAYA: The cloud seeding operation to boost levels at two dams faced with critically low water levels in Johor is expected to be conducted soon.

Johor Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad said no date has been fixed for the operation.

However, he said the authorities were now waiting for the presence of suitable clouds that are needed for cloud seeding.

"The cloud seeding operation will continue until the water levels at the Sungai Layang and Sungai Lebam dams are stabilised.

“Currently, the water levels at both dams have registered only a slight increase," Hasni said , adding that more rain is needed.

"It is hoped the cloud seeding operation, to be carried out continuously whenever conditions are favourable, will solve the water woes by the end of the year," he said after launching the state-level 'Anugerah Desa Sejahtera 1Malaysia 2015 at the banquet hall of the state assembly building in Kota Iskandar, here.

Hasni said the state government will furnish Singaporean authorities with details of the operation such as type of aircraft and technology to be used, and the grace period.

Meanwhile, Hasni said the ongoing water rationing exercise in Pasir Gudang and parts of Kota Tinggi district, which was done to preserve water from the two dams, will continue until Oct 15.

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Malaysia: PM says Indonesia must act against culprits causing haze

The Star 4 Oct 15;

MILAN: The Indonesian government needs to take action against parties causing the haze problem which has not only affected the air quality of Malaysia, but its economy as well, says Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak (pic).

The Prime Minister said only Indonesia could take action against them to ensure and prove if the haze was due to irresponsible plantation companies carrying out open burning or due to the effects of weather changes.

"They are operating there, we want Indonesia to take action. Summoning them is one thing, but proving they conducted such acts is another matter.

"Only Indonesia alone can gather evidence and convict the companies concerned.

"It should also be determined if the cause of the fires are deliberate or due to weather conditions," he said when asked on the worsening haze situation.

He told this to Malaysian journalists before leaving for home after a three-day working visit to Milan since Friday. Najib said the solution to the haze problem needed the close cooperation of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore to formulate more effective measures.

"It will take into consideration the agreement signed by the three countries to combat haze.

"Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are still working on interpreting the agreement into a suitable form of action to ensure the situation does not recur," he said. - Bernama

Indonesia should pay for losses incurred in latest haze episode
PRIYA PUBALAN New Straits Times 4 Oct 15;

GEORGE TOWN: Indonesia should compensate for losses incurred from the worsening haze in the country.

Deputy Women, Family and Community Development minister Senator Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun said this, adding that this was the morally right thing to do.

"Hawkers are selling 30 per cent lesser; people are missing their flights, schoolchildren skipping school.

It is high time we get compensated.

"I understand the hardship that many are going through in these trying times," she said after officiating the Penang MCA Mid-Autumn Festival gathering at Jalan Transfer here today. Chew said she, too, was a victim of the haze as she had missed two flights this morning.

"I was supposed to be in Perlis and Kedah, but all flights were cancelled due to haze," she added.

DPM: Malaysia urges Indonesia for stronger measures to solve haze
ROZANNA LATIFF New Straits Times 4 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has called for stronger measures from Indonesia to solve the haze problem, saying that the current plans in place will take too long to be effective.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Malaysia welcomed the commitment shown by Indonesian president Joko Widodo to strengthen enforcement and fire-prevention measures, but lamented that the plans would take at least three years to see results.

“We are grateful for the measures, but we think it will take too long.

Every day, there is still open burning being carried out by farmers in Indonesia,” he said. He was responding to a BBC interview on Sept 29, in which Joko called for countries to give Indonesia time to tackle forest fires.

Zahid said steps were being undertaken by both countries to fight the haze, including legal action against companies responsible for carrying out harmful practices which contributed to forest fires.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tunku Jaafar had also been sent to negotiate with his Indonesian counterparts on the steps to be taken, Zahid said. “We know that there are measures being taken but it is not enough. This happens every year.

Already, we are spending too much on medical expenses, especially for those with problems such as asthma,” he said. Zahid was speaking at the launch of ‘U-Turn’, a magazine talkshow by TV AlHijrah and the Home Ministry focusing on the spiritual rehabilitation of inmates in the Prisons Department parole programme.

Bomba Malaysia prepared to assist Indonesia put out forest fire
The Star 4 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department is prepared to assist Indonesia in putting out forest fires in that country which has been the main cause for the cross-border haze in the country currently.

Its director-general, Datuk Wan Mohd Noor Ibrahim (pic) said on Sunday that the department was willing to offer aid if they (Indonesia) needed external support including from Malaysia to help in tackling the haze problem which was becoming critical lately.

"Usually, when a foreign country requests for help from our country to resolve a disaster, they will certainly contact our Government beforehand.

"As such, we are prepared to help if the situation warrants, but it depends on the government itself because it will decide whether to send the fire personnel to join the mission to put out the forest fire in Indonesia," he said when contacted by Bernama.

He said the Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department had the complete assets and skills needed if the department was chosen to carry out the mission to put out the forest fires in Sumatera and Kalimantan.

"Forest fires are different from the normal fires because the forest is very demands the security agencies to deploy all assets available to put out the fire because the operation is most challenging.

"In addition, the operation also needs the services of many personnel because it covers a very large area," he said.

As at 9am today, air quality in most areas throughout the country deteriorated with several areas in the Klang Valley recording unhealthy air pollutant index (API) readings and one area posted a dangerous level with the API in Shah Alam at 308.

On Saturday Science, Technology and Innovations Minister Datuk Madius Tangau said in a statement that the severe haze affecting the country since the middle of last month would ease briefly from Oct 6 to 9.

However, he said the haze would return on Oct 10 following a tropical storm forecasted in eastern Philippines if the fires in Sumatera and Kalimantan were not extinguished.

Commenting further on the haze situation which was of greater concern now, Wan Mohd Noor advised the people to stop any open burning activity to prevent the haze from becoming worse. - Bernama

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Malaysia: Minister announces two-day shutdown due to haze danger

OH CHIN ENG The Star 5 Oct 15;

ALOR SETAR: Close to 7,000 schools with almost four million students will be closed today and tomorrow because of the worsening air quality over the peninsula.

Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid said schools in Peninsular Malaysia, except those in Kelantan, would be closed.

As for Kelantan, Labuan, Sabah and Sarawak, he said the ministry would monitor the air quality levels hourly before deciding on schools there.

“If the levels deteriorate in these four places, we will take the same steps,” he told reporters at SMK Seri Ampang in Jalan Kuala Kedah yesterday.

The directive affects 6,798 schools, which have a total enrolment of 3.7 million students and more than 300,000 teachers.

All teachers and school staff, with the exception of security guards, have also been told to stay at home.

“This matter must be addressed correctly and quickly as it can harm our children in school,” he said.

Mahdzir also said that schools ordered to close because of the haze need not replace classes.

He also announced that the Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3, Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia and Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia examinations would not be postponed because of the haze.

“These examinations will be postponed only if the Air Pollutant Index (API) levels breach 500 or ‘emergency’ level,” he said.

Mahdzir said state education departments and schools should make arrangements to supply face masks to students sitting for examinations.

Afternoon sessions of schools in Kedah, Terengganu and Johor continued as usual yesterday but some schools recorded a low turnout due to rumours over social media that classes had been cancelled.

The Education Ministry had closed 4,561 schools from nine states, involving 2,617,432 students as the API reading breached the unhealthy and very unhealthy levels between Sept 15 and 30.

The nine states were Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Pahang, Johor, Sarawak and Perak.

In KUALA LUMPUR, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Selangor cancelled all classes because of the deteriorating air quality.

In a statement, it said the final examinations for diploma students would be carried out as scheduled, adding that staff were also required to attend work as normal.

“UiTM will continue to monitor the situation and keep the students notified from time to time.

“Announcement of any cancellation of classes will be made a day earlier,” it said.

As for the campuses in other states, it said their heads would make the announcement.

The last time a state of emergency was declared over the haze in the peninsula was on Aug 11, 2005, covering Kuala Selangor and Port Klang.

The API readings rose beyond the very hazardous level of more than 500 in the two areas.

Schools, government offices, businesses and the ports were closed but shops selling essential goods, supermarkets, clinics and pharmacies remained open.

The worst case of air pollution caused by the haze, however, occurred in September 1997. An emergency was declared in Kuching and eastern areas of Sarawak when the API reading reached the extremely hazardous level of 839.

Malaysia shuts schools as haze worsens
Close to half of Malaysia's 52 pollutant monitoring stations registered unhealthy levels of air quality, with this year's pollution set to be the worst on record.
Channel NewsAsia 4 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian authorities on Sunday (Oct 4) ordered most of the country's schools shut for two days because of possible health risks posed by the thick haze from Indonesian forest fires.

The education ministry said all schools, except a handful in outlying areas, must close their doors on Monday and Tuesday.

"The haze that is happening is beyond our control," said Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid. "This issue has to be addressed wisely and quickly as it can do harm to our children. We will not compromise with anything that may bring harm to our children in schools."

The persistent smog has afflicted large swathes of Southeast Asia for weeks, sparking health alerts, numerous school shutdowns and affecting flights. The pollution is on track to be the worst on record, surpassing the US$9 billion damage recorded in 1997.

Close to half of Malaysia's 52 pollutant monitoring stations around the country registered "unhealthy" air quality on Sunday. Six stations, including one in Kuala Lumpur registered "very unhealthy" levels, with one area in the outskirts of the capital hovering close to the "hazardous" level.

While Malaysia, Singapore and large portions of Indonesia have for weeks choked on pungent smoke from forest fires on Sumatra Island, the Philippine island of Cebu also suffered its seventh straight day of haze on Saturday.

Monsoon winds blowing northeast from the Indonesian blazes could have carried the smog, state weather forecaster Romeo Aguirre told AFP. Meanwhile, Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Sunday he hoped Indonesia could discuss long term measures to tackle the crisis.

"We hope its commitment is not only on paper or mere statements pleasant to the ears, but through implementation which could end all haze problems," he was quoted as saying by Bernama.

The worsening haze has also affected key sporting events in the region. Day one of the Singapore leg of the FINA World Championships - swimming's World Cup - which included four-time US Olympic gold medallist Missy Franklin, was cancelled on Saturday.

One of Malaysia's biggest marathons set for Sunday was also cancelled because of health fears for the 30,000 runners, and local football league matches have been shelved.

- AFP/yt

Haze: Malaysia Cup match between Perak and JDT postponed
IVAN LOH The Star 4 Oct 15;

IPOH: The Malaysia Cup match between Perak and Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) has been postponed.

After getting instructions from the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), the match was called off as the Air Pollutant Index (API) exceeded 160.

Speaking to journalists on Sunday after the announcement, Perak Malaysia Cup team caretaker manager Datuk Azhar Ahmad said another date would be decided by the FAM later.

"JDT has an upcoming AFC match. We need to accommodate their schedule," he said at the Perak Stadium.

Four Malaysia Cup matches have been called off on Saturday due to the haze.

The FAM earlier announced that matches at venues where the API reading exceeded 150 would be postponed.

Azhar said tickets that have been sold for the match could be kept and used on the rescheduled match date.

"Tickets will continue to be sold at counters," he said.

Very unhealthy air quality in seven areas
RAHMAH GHAZALI The Star 4 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: Seven areas recorded very unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings with Shah Alam being the highest at 299.

As of 8am Sunday, the haze situation worsened in six other areas.

Very unhealthy readings were recorded in Batu Muda (278), Petaling Jaya (250), Banting (244), Port Klang (234), Putrajaya (231) and Seremban (202), according to the Department of Environment’s website.

Twenty-four areas had unhealthy API readings including Nilai (198), Port Dickson (191), Cheras (182), Bukit Rambai (179), Bandaraya Melaka (174) and SK Jalan Pegoh (171).

Other areas include Kuala Selangor (167), Seberang Jaya 2 (162), USM (159), Jalan Tasek (153) and Muar (146).

Moderate readings were recorded in Langkawi (98), Tanjung Malim (94), Kangar (83), Kuching (80) and both Kota Baru and Tanah Merah (77).

The haze, which has affected the country for more than a month, was due to the open burnings in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan.

It had also forced closure of schools with flights cancelled. The annual Standard Chartered KL Marathon was also called off.

API readings of between 0 and 50 indicate good air quality; 51 and 100 (moderate) 101 and 200 (unhealthy), 201 and 300 (very unhealthy) and over 301 (hazardous).

Flights delayed and cancelled in Penang
ROYCE TAN The Star 4 Oct 15;

GEORGE TOWN: The worsening air quality has caused several flights from the Penang International Airport (PIA) in Bayan Lepas to be cancelled and delayed.

PIA senior manager Ariff Jaafar said on Sunday that three flights to Subang were cancelled while five other flights to Subang and Johor Baru were delayed.

He added that the operations of PIA remained normal and the Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) was monitoring the situation with the Malaysian Meteorological Department and airline companies.

Ariff urged passengers to be patient and check for the latest updates on MAHB’s Twitter, which uses the handle @MY_Airports.

As of noon, API readings recorded by the Department of Environment stood at 148 in Perai, 174 in Seberang Jaya and 172 on the island.

Figures from the Malaysian Meteorological Department showed that horizontal visibility as of noon was at 0.8km in Bayan Lepas and 0.4km in Butterworth.

Several events in Penang including the Seberang Perai Municipal Council’s (MPSP) car free morning were cancelled.

Haze forces closure of three airport runways
RAHMAH GHAZALI The Star 4 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: The runways of three airports were forced to close due to the deteriorating haze on Sunday morning, Malaysia Airports Berhad (MAB) said.

In a series of tweets, MAB said the affected airports were the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang, Sultan Abdul Halim Airport in Alor Setar and Sultan Azlan Shah Airport in Ipoh.

MAB said visibility fell to 350m at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport as of 6.35am.

"The airport runway was declared closed until further notice. All passengers are advised to check with the respective airlines on the flight schedules," it said.

MAB also said that visibility was at 500m for both Sultan Abdul Halim Airport and Sultan Azlan Shah Airport as of 7.20am and 7.30am respectively.

It, however, said that operations were running as usual at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2).

"Visibility at KLIA and KLIA2 was reported at 1000m as of 8am this morning. Airport operations are currently running as usual.

"However, all passengers are advised to check with the respective airlines on their flight schedules," it added.

Haze: Less than 3km visibility
New Straits Times 4 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Haze-induced low visibility of less than three kilometres is expected to persist till tomorrow over the waters off the Straits of Melaka, Tioman, Bunguran, Kuching and Reef South.

The condition is dangerous to sea vessels without navigational equipment, according to a Meteorological Department statement today.

Low visibility is also expected to persist over the waters off Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Johor, Pahang, and Sarawak.--BERNAMA

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Indonesia: Govt proposes life insurance aid for haze disaster victims

Antara 4 Oct 15;

S Sulawesi (ANTARA News) - The government will propose a life insurance assistance for 1.2 million holders of Welfare Family Card (KKS) affected by thick smoke from hundreds of forest and land fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

"We have communicated with the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) regarding a life insurance assistance for the affected people. It is possible for them to get a life insurance assistance," Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa said here on Sunday.

According to Parawansa, the haze disaster caused by forest and land fires had disrupted the income of the affected people.

"The Social Service Ministry has calculated the number of the affected people. Nearly 25 percent or 1.2 million of the poor people in six provinces currently hold Welfare Family Card (KKS)," she said.

"The plan is being discussed by the Directorate General of Budget, Ministry of Finance," she said.

Based on the proposal, she noted, every person will receive a grant of Rp10,000 for 90 days.

According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), tens of thousands of Indonesians have been treated for upper tract respiratory infection caused by thick smoke.

The National Police Headquarters is currently handling 236 cases of forest and plantation fires in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

"Up till October 2, 2015, the National Police have handled 236 reports of forest and plantation arson," Head of the National Polices Crime Investigation Department (Bareskrim) Commissioner General Anang Iskandar, said here, Saturday.

The cases involve 190 individuals and 46 companies including two foreign corporations.

The police have also named 216 suspects in those cases.

"Of the 216 suspects, 205 are individuals, and 11 are connected to corporations," he stated.

Further, he explained that of the 216 suspects, only 72 have been detained. They comprise 67 individuals and five suspects representing corporations.

Of the total, four cases are handled by Bareskrimhas, 34 cases by the South Sumatra provincial police, 68 cases by the Riau provincial police, 20 cases by the Jambi provincial police, 61 cases by the Central Kalimantan provincial police, 29 cases by the West Kalimantan provincial police, 9 cases by the South Kalimantan provincial police and 11 cases by the East Kalimantan provincial police 11.

The two foreign companies being investigated are PT ASP of China, which is being handled by the Central Kalimantan provincial police, and PT KAL of Australia, which is being handled by the West Kalimantan provincial police.(*)

S. Sumatra Companies Face Charges Over Fores Fires
Jakarta Globe 4 Oct 15;

Jakarta. Two more corporations and 126 individuals who are allegedly responsible for the slash-and-burn practices causing the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan have been criminally charged by the National Police, a source revealed on Tuesday.

To date, the police have investigated a total of 130 incidents and 24 companies involved in the paper and palm oil businesses, but have only been able to charge three companies. Bumi Mekar Hijau, which operates in Riau, was the first corporation to be charged for the offense this year. On Tuesday, a police source revealed that Tempirai Palm Resources and Waymusi Agro Indah, both located in Ogan Komering Ilir district of South Sumatra, have also been charged.

President Joko Widodo visited Ogan Komering Ilir last week to personally inspect efforts to control forest fires, which have affected the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan and are also sending choking haze as far as Singapore and Malaysia.

During the visit, Joko instructed National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti, who accompanied the president, to not only investigate individuals involved but also corporations believed to be using slash-and-burn practices to clear land to make way for rubber and oil palm plantations.

Director of the police's criminal investigation department Brig. Gen. Yazid Fanani defended the process of investigations saying, “don't compare [investigations] in the field with those done in Jakarta. We have to deal with bushes, mountains, jungles and ravines. [At times, we can't] even access areas because there are no roads.”

Badrodin echoed the sentiment on Tuesday, saying that slash-and-burn cases are more difficult to solve than those involving drugs or terrorism. “In terrorism and drugs [cases], we have access to preliminary information, there’s the links and networks [of offenders],” he said, adding the police in such cases can also question people who know the suspects and use wiretapping or tracking methods to go after perpetrators.

“However, for [forest] fires, [the problem is] how do we get this [preliminary information] fast, and [how do we figure out] who started it?,” Badrodin said.

Badrodin added that satellite technology can now detect a fire, but there are also drawbacks, “we can’t possibly install CCTV to monitor every [part of] the forests."

However, some Indonesian scientists and businesses have called on the government to revise laws that allow for small subsistence farmers to perform slash-and-burn practices.

Meanwhile, the World Resources Institutes said in a statement on Saturday that fires have reached crisis levels in South Sumatra and Kalimantan, arguing that the situation is worse this year than the major outbreaks in June 2013, March 2014 and November 2014.

The WRI said satellites have detected 1,189 "high-confidence" fire alerts, exceeding the highest peaks of the last two years and it said “many of the fires, which are used to clear land for agriculture, are occurring on carbon-rich peat soils, causing widespread haze.”

Sumatra hospital says no jump in acute respiratory illnesses despite haze
Hospitals in South Sumatra are not seeing a rise in serious respiratory illnesses due to haze, says hospital director Dr Mohammad Syahril.
Jack Board Channel NewsAsia 4 Oct 15;

PALEMBANG: Despite making emergency preparations, hospitals in South Sumatra are not seeing a rise in serious respiratory illnesses due to lingering and hazardous haze, according to staff at one of the region's largest facilities on Saturday (Oct 3).

Since the beginning of September, the state-run RSUP Dr Mohammad Hosein Hospital in Palembang has placed a haze contingency team of eight doctors and three nurses on standby 24 hours a day to respond to any escalation in the situation.

At least 125,000 people are suffering from haze-related illnesses across Indonesia, said the head of the country's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPNB), Willem Rampangilei.

But according to hospital director Dr Mohammad Syahril, the air pollution, which at times has exceeded 1,000 API in South Sumatra, is not causing problems for the health system. "The impact of the smoke is not really heavy," he said. "The increase in the number of people suffering from ISPA (acute respiratory system infection) is not big."

Dr Mohammad said although his hospital and the local government understood the possible severity of the situation, not all locals heeded the warnings.

"Most of them take this as a serious problem, but some don't. If the situation is like this they're still not aware about wearing a mask," he said. He added that most people will only seek treatment at public health clinics and general practitioners if they are suffering from eye, throat or skin ailments.

He argued that even the cases of patients admitted to the hospital with severe ISPA may not be related to the haze problem. "We can't be sure. Although a long time ago there was no smoke, there was still ISPA," he said.

Local media reported that several children had died from respiratory illnesses in Riau and Jambi, but officials said it could not be confirmed if the cases were conclusively haze-related.

A report released last year by Greenpeace found that an average of 110,000 people across Indonesia die every year as a result of long-term exposure to the hazardous conditions. The casualties peaked in 1997-98 at about 300,000 when El Nino conditions prolonged the dry season.

A study in the nature journal Nature estimated that worldwide, 3.3 million people die every year from air pollution, most of them in Asia. This year is set to be one of the most severe events on record, according to scientists at NASA, and on a similar trajectory to the crisis years when deaths increased.

However, Dr Mohammad said his hospital has recorded no haze-related deaths and said the number of admissions were only up 10 per cent on normal months.


At a primary level, many local people visit smaller health clinics if they are feeling unwell. In one Palembang clinic, there have been consistent numbers of people complaining about haze-related illness, but no serious cases that required further medical attention, said midwife Fitri.

"There have been more patients than normal but still not too many," she said. "Many of them are complaining about having fever and a sore throat as well as asthma."

At Ogan Kemering Ilir, where most of the hotspots have been recorded in South Sumatra in 2015, locals said they were worried about the health impacts, but despite the risks, chose not to wear glasses, face masks or long sleeves to negate the impact of living and working around smoke.

"Actually it really disturbs our health but there are many other problems we have. Lots of our land is burning. The people here are losing their business," said local farmer Eddy.

Most schools have also remained open in the region throughout the crisis, but in West Sumatra, authorities on Friday ordered kindergartens to close indefinitely and consider closing elementary schools if the situation worsened.

Health officials have advised people to take precautionary measures and ensure they are hydrated and stay indoors when possible.

- CNA/xq

Respiratory cases up but most residents shrug off bad air
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Oct 15;

The air is thick with smoke that to this correspondent is unbearable to breathe in, but at an open-air Internet cafe in Central Kalimantan provincial capital Palangkaraya, eight out of every 10 of the young people who are about 20 to 30 years old are without a mask.

Sitting on wooden benches, they are intent on surfing the Internet and checking e-mail at this outdoor facility with affordable Wi-Fi connection, oblivious to the hazardous air that they are breathing in.

This was the spot my colleague, photographer Seah Kwang Peng, and I sent our photos and stories from last Thursday when the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit 1,800, way over the 350 mark, above which the air is considered hazardous.

The air was so heavy, it felt like liquid was seeping into my nose the moment I took off my mask. I put the mask back on quickly, so unbearable it was to breathe in the dense and acrid air. My eyes also watered the way they would not at, say, PSI 400, the reading in Sumatra when I was covering the haze there in 2013. I could also take the mask off for a minute or two then.

Yet, when the people at the Internet cafe were asked why they were not wearing a mask, a college student sitting on one of the benches who identified himself as Mr Hamdi said: "We are used to it."

Palangkaraya has been suffering from hazardous haze from the illegal burning of forests to clear land for cultivation for more than a month now, with the PSI breaching 2,000 in the fourth week of last month and hitting a record high of 2,300 for Indonesia on Sept 26.

The majority of its residents, however, have been stoic about the discomfort from the bad air and doing little to protect themselves from it, possibly because they underestimate its dangers.

"They don't know what the haze could do to their health. They may not suffer now, but later... as a long-term effect, they may do. The worst case is they could get lung cancer," Dr Theodorus Sapta Atmaja, head of human resources and public relations of the state-owned Doris Sylvanus hospital, told The Sunday Times.

To increase awareness among the people of the need to wear a mask to protect themselves against the haze, local governments throughout Central Kalimantan province have stepped up campaigns.

A huge street billboard in Palangkaraya had bold letters that read: "Warning!!! Haze could cause upper respiration infection - wear a mask, drink 2 litres of water a day, eat fruits and vegetable, reduce outdoor activity and have enough sleep."

Ms Gayantri, 27, a divorcee who lives in a 35 sq m landed house with her mother and only daughter in the Antang Kalang area of the city, has tried her best to keep the haze out of her house.

"We bought a second fan, turned both of them on and closed all the windows tight," she said. "This would help us get a good night's sleep."

But during the day, even when they are outdoors and the PSI level is hovering around 2,000, Ms Gayantri and her family do not bother to wear masks.

Not everyone is throwing caution to the wind, however.

For university lecturer Ester Sonya, wearing a mask is her new day-to-day norm, not only outdoors, but also at home when she is in the kitchen or living room. This is because the haze has permeated her house, she said.

When this correspondent spoke with the 45-year-old last Thursday at the Doris Sylvanus hospital, she was seeing a lung specialist for a haze-related problem, after dosing herself with cough medicine did not help her condition.

But Ms Ester, who has an eight-year old son, had put a strategy to work three weeks ago when the haze got uncomfortable, to protect her whole family.

"We have designated one air-conditioned bedroom in the house for daily living, sealing it by taping the windows from the inside and the door. This bedroom has become our home now. We sleep and do most of our daily activities there," she said.

It was possibly a wise move, for the number of upper respiratory cases (or locally called Ispa) in Palangkaraya has been rising steeply in the past two months.

While most Ispa cases can be treated on an outpatient basis, those with pre-existing conditions like asthma and weak lungs need to be hospitalised, said Dr Theodorus.

The number of Ispa inpatients at Doris Sylvanus was 34 last month, up from 18 in August.

Children in the age groups of one to four and five to 14 have been the most vulnerable.

Schools in the city were closed for three weeks from Sept 10 to keep the children at home. However, parents had to go to the schools to pick up their children's homework, so that they could keep up with their schoolwork.

"We make parents go to school and students stay home.

"Every Friday, morning to noon, parents are invited to pick up homework instructions at school," said Ms Masmunik Tambang, 59, a teacher at the Langkai primary school in the city centre, who has been teaching for 35 years.

Last Friday, schools were allowed to resume but were told to close again from yesterday to Tuesday as thick haze came back.

"This is the longest forced holiday period I have ever experienced (because of the haze)," said Ms Masmunik.

A new normal: Life goes on for Indonesians despite haze
Despite the API rising to hazardous levels, life goes on for the people of South Sumatra, with many choosing to ignore warnings to remain indoors.
Jack Board Channel NewsAsia 5 Oct 15;

PALEMBANG: Three boys laughed and shouted as they kicked a dusty football around on the lake's edge at Kambang Iwak Park on Sunday afternoon (Oct 4).

It is a popular place for sport and leisure for families and children, especially on the weekends, and under a sky leaking a sallow yellow hue, the 12-year-olds were largely untroubled by the unhealthy air.

Like for many other local people, despite a thick haze hanging over South Sumatra, life goes on. The Air Pollution Index (API) has risen to deeply hazardous levels in Palembang over the past few weeks, caused by fires burning in forests and plantations throughout the region.

Despite advice to remain indoors and wear a face mask, most do not take heed. The boys playing football said the weather does not affect their game. "We always play, it doesn't matter if it's smoky. But we do get tired more quickly," one of them said.

They are far from alone. On a busy running track, two joggers set the pace despite the API hovering around 300.

Sahrul and Rio are members of the Indonesian army and said they need to remain fit, even if the weather is far from ideal. "We run at least 10 kilometres every day, and we're used to the smoke so it doesn't affect us. " Sahrul said. "Our eyes and throats are fine."

Another jogger, Rico, 14, said he would rather not be outdoors, but the hazy conditions have prolonged and he wants to keep fit. "I'm worried about my lungs, it's harder to run now," he said.

Right across the city, there are clear signs of the local population having become accustomed to the haze and ignoring any warnings from health authorities to take precautions.

Yet, at least 125,000 people are suffering from haze related illnesses across Indonesia, according to the head of the country's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPNB), Willem Rampangilei.

But the futsal courts are constantly in use, people are walking the dogs and a group stands in a circle in a makeshift karate competition. It is the new normal in the middle of an environmental crisis.

- CNA/yt

Indonesian govt 'taking multiple steps to battle haze'
Francis Chan Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Oct 15;

Indonesia faces a monumental challenge in resolving the decades-old haze crisis but with President Joko Widodo, there is hope, said his chief of staff Teten Masduki.

The Joko administration has already done more than any previous administration, in terms of how it has responded to the current state of emergency, he added.

However, Mr Teten said he is aware the problem is more pressing this time because Indonesia is not just fighting fires in its own backyard but also going up against Mother Nature, with the vast archipelago experiencing an extended dry spell.

"If you compare with 2014, it is certainly more difficult for our government to solve this problem, and a lot of it is due to the weather and the impact of El Nino," said Mr Teten. El Nino refers to the climate phenomenon that causes a warming trend conducive to burning.

Speaking to The Sunday Times at his office in the Bina Graha presidential complex in Jakarta on Friday, Mr Teten outlined the President's three-pronged approach to deal with the haze.

The first was to deploy thousands of troops to support the Environment and Forestry Ministry's early response to get the flames under control. These measures include water bombing and cloud seeding - which creates artificial rain to douse the fires - as well as building canals to make it easier for landowners to "re-wet" gambut or dry peatland, which burns easily.

Next was the unprecedented step of openly going after those who practise outlawed slash-and-burn techniques to clear land, to cultivate crops like oil palm.

"We know very well that forest fires are an economic crime," said Mr Teten. "They burn the forest to cut the cost for land clearing, mostly at oil palm plantations. So, the President gave a very firm direction to the chief of police to implement the harshest sanctions against not just persons but also companies that are involved in the burning."

Hundreds of suspects have been arrested, and investigations into several plantation firms suspected of starting illegal forest fires have begun. Firms and landowners found guilty could have their business licences revoked and may also be subjected to criminal prosecution.

Another move was to restrict errant landowners from using the land for other businesses, trade or as collateral for loans, said Mr Teten.

No other president has put in place such economic disincentives to prevent future incidents of burning. "So I think this message is very strong," he added.

Mr Teten was made Chief of Presidential Staff just a month ago. The former anti-graft activist is a close aide of Mr Joko. He took over from another Joko insider, Mr Luhut Pandjaitan, who was appointed Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs as part of a recent Cabinet reshuffle.

Mr Teten said he was given the task of coordinating Indonesia's efforts to deal with the haze by Mr Joko. "My duty is to control and make sure that our Posko, or haze task force, is working, and to coordinate their efforts with the other ministries under Pak Luhut."

The transboundary haze crisis this year has sent air pollution levels soaring, affecting millions across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Some observers remain sceptical about whether Mr Joko is able to fix such a longstanding issue. But others, like Singapore Institute of International Affairs chairman Simon Tay, said it is clear the haze crisis is a priority for Mr Joko, who has said it may take up to three years to solve the problem.

Professor Tay said Mr Joko is fighting the fires, and has also pledged to prosecute the firms behind the fires. "If these efforts proceed efficiently and effectively, it will be something not seen before," he said. "The fires and haze are, first and foremost, an economic loss to Indonesia, and most hazardous to its citizens. This is now recognised by the Jokowi government."

Dr Nirarta Samadhi, from the World Resources Institute, said the public should not expect the issue to be entirely solved in three years. "It is too complex for that but, with a concerted effort on transparency and prevention, we could, hopefully, eliminate these extreme public health crises in the coming fire seasons."

Hot spots doubled in Central Kalimantan
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times AsiaOne 4 oct 15

Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province continued to be shrouded in thick haze as the Pollutant Standards Index in its capital Palangkaraya rose to 1,917 before sensors stopped sending updates after 11am yesterday.

The province has been the worst hit by forest fires raging over land embedded with coal deposits that make them almost impossible to put out during this dry spell. This has led to a spike in the number of hot spots recorded by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, particularly in September this year.

Data from the ministry show that Central Kalimantan - on Borneo island - registered 12,327 hot spots in September this year, compared with just 5,574 fires in the same month last year. South Sumatra, the other badly hit province, on Sumatra island saw about 11,450 hot spots, more than three times the number in the same period last year. This brought the total number of hot spots in September to 39,672 this year, compared to just under 15,000 fires recorded last year.

Central Kalimantan is struggling to deal with the haze that forced schools to close again after they reopened for one day on Friday. Schools had previously been forced to close for a record three weeks from Sept 10. "We water-bombed the fires in Pulang Pisau regency on Friday, but the fires re-emerged at the same spots this morning, coming from underneath," Ms Rani Anggraini at the Central Kalimantan governor's office told The Sunday Times by telephone yesterday.

A much larger amount of water - possible only through rains induced by cloud seeding - is needed to put out the fires in Pulang Pisau, where the layers of peatland can reach more than 5m deep. "We are closely monitoring (the situation). Cloud-seeding operations will start as soon as Central Kalimantan has clouds," Ms Rani said.

On Friday, clouds that had the potential to be seeded formed above Central Kalimantan. But they did not stay for long before they were broken up by winds and blown towards West Kalimantan province and Sumatra island, she added.

Cloud seeding in Central Kalimantan may only be possible above Pangkalan Bun city, which is to the west of the province near the border with West Kalimantan and about 400km west of Pulang Pisau. But the areas most hit by fires are to the south and south-east of the province.

Forest and plantation fires have intensified since August, causing more than 100,000 Indonesians nationwide to suffer upper respiratory infections or colds, delaying hundreds of flights at affected airports and temporarily shutting schools.

Thousands of troops have been deployed in Sumatra and Kalimantan to help douse fires.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has underlined three challenges in fire fighting operations. They are: The availability of ground water to douse fire is declining and the prolonged dry weather - coupled with high temperature - is worsening the fires. In addition, ground fire-fighting crew have started to have their health affected due to exhaustion and exposure to haze.

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Insufficient evidence from studies to use an hourly PSI

Today Online 3 Oct 15;

We thank Mr Tan Zhi Rui for his suggestions in “Hourly PSI readings would allow for better decision-making” (Sept 28). The National Environment Agency (NEA) is providing hourly, real-time haze information on our various platforms.

Since April last year, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), three-hour PSI and one-hour PM2.5 concentrations have been published hourly, on the hour, on the NEA website, the haze microsite ( and our myENV mobile app.

The scale used to convert PM2.5 concentrations to the PSI has been derived based on health studies of exposure over a 24-hour period. This is why the NEA uses the 24-hour average concentrations to compute the PSI.

Although there have been recent studies of sub-daily or shorter PM2.5 exposure, the evidence from these studies is insufficient for the development of one-hour PSI based on exposure to PM2.5 for a one-hour period.

During periods of transboundary haze, the primary pollutant determining the PSI level is fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. Only the 24-hour PSI value has a corresponding Ministry of Health advisory because scientific and epidemiological studies of the health effects of exposure to particulate matter have been based on this duration of exposure.

The forecast of 24-hour PSI levels, which the NEA issues every evening during haze periods, and the corresponding health advisory can be used to plan ahead, such as for activities for the next day. For a guide to more immediate activities, the three-hour PSI and one-hour PM2.5 concentration levels can be used as indicative measures to make adjustments to daily activities.

For example, if the three-hour PSI and one-hour PM2.5 concentration levels are high, people may wish to postpone strenuous outdoor activities such as jogging.

The health impact of air pollution is related to the concentration levels of pollutants, the duration of exposure, as well as the individual’s health status and level of activity.

For more information, members of the public may visit our website ( and the haze microsite, follow us on Twitter (@NEAsg) and Facebook ( or download the myENV app.

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Singapore's haze problem dates back to the 1970s, records show

Samantha Boh, Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Oct 15;

Singapore has been plagued by haze since the 1970s, and it is unrealistic to think that the problem can be solved in three years, as Indonesian President Joko Widodo has predicted, experts told The Straits Times.

While some of the measures he put in place may help alleviate the situation, broad changes must happen both on the ground and at the government level there to have a real impact.

Said Professor Euston Quah, head of Nanyang Technological University's Department of Economics: "It will certainly take more than three years to greatly reduce the fire episodes."

Among other things, laws need to be changed and greater coordination is required among various government institutions, he said.

And National University of Singapore law professor Alan Tan noted that the problem was not just about companies setting fires, but hinged on the unfair parcelling of land.

"There is a deeper problem of land use inequity affecting local communities whose lands are taken by the companies, often with the collusion of corrupt officials. This results in villagers encroaching into plantation lands, and both sides use fires indiscriminately for their own ends," he said.

"This aspect of the problem cannot realistically be solved in a matter of a few years. It must involve fundamental reform of land use policies."

Prof Tan stressed that there is no way to ban fires altogether, as it remains the fastest and cheapest way to clear land in an agrarian economy like Indonesia.

"The goal should be to ensure controlled burning, and this must take into account complexities like weather patterns, peat lands, land use disputes, local government autonomy and corrupt local officials."

Records show that the haze has plagued Singapore as far back as 43 years ago.

On Oct 18, 1972, a Straits Times article headlined "Persistent haze" warned Singaporeans to prepare for several more weeks of haze discomfort caused by extensive fires in Sumatra and Indonesia Borneo.

Shocked citizens had then said they were suffocating in their flats. An earlier article that month had reported that a "heavy dust haze enveloped large area of Singapore", affecting thousands of commuters.

That was to be the first of many similar experiences. The haze has shrouded the island time and again, and now, Singapore is bracing itself for what could be its worst prolonged spell of haze to date.

Scientists have warned that this year's episode could be as bad as or even worse than 1997's conditions - widely regarded as the most serious haze event on record.

That year, the haze lasted three months and cost Singapore an estimated US$163 million (S$232 million).

This year, it has so far stretched for 11/2 months, with no respite in sight.

Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, said: "If it is true that the current conditions are tracking those experienced in 1997, we should be prepared for a longer period of haze, with levels similar to those experienced during the last three weeks."

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Haze crisis set to be 'one of the worst on record'

Francis Chan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Oct 15;

The transboundary haze crisis, which has sent air pollution levels soaring, is on course to set a new precedent with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) the latest to say it could become one of the worst on record.

Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan - one of the hardest hit by smoke from raging forest fires in Indonesia - yesterday had a Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) level that hit 1,936. In Indonesia, a PSI reading of 350 and above is considered hazardous.

It takes a far lower reading for schools to be closed. Thousands of troops and policemen have been deployed to fight forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra, the other island where fires are burning on peatlands starved of moisture due to the lack of rain.

The Indonesian national police have arrested hundreds of suspects and started probes into several plantation firms in connection with the use of outlawed slash-and-burn techniques to clear land.

Canals with dams in fire-prone areas are being built to prevent peatlands from drying out in the dry season.

These measures, observers told The Straits Times earlier this week, are by far the most wide-ranging effort by any Indonesian government in dealing with the annual haze crisis since 1997.

However, Nasa warns that the prolonged dry season ahead means air pollution levels in the region may be among the worst on record.

"Conditions in Singapore and south-eastern Sumatra are tracking close to 1997," said Dr Robert Field, a Columbia University scientist based at Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in an Agence France-Presse report yesterday.

"If the forecasts for a longer dry season hold, this suggests 2015 will rank among the most severe events on record."

Climate experts here have said the dry weather will continue to pose the greatest challenge in the fight against the haze.

Most agree with Dr Field, noting that the extreme dry weather during this El Nino season will continue to cause peatlands to burn more readily.

Palangkaraya-based weather forecaster Roland Binery told The Straits Times that the haze in the area worsened again yesterday because there were new fires developing and spreading in the Tumbang Nusa and Pulang Pisau areas.

"The prevailing wind blew from the south carrying the smoke from there to Palangkaraya," he said.

Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) said yesterday that it had reiterated on Thursday the country's offer of help to tackle the fires, including providing aircraft to conduct water bombing and cloud-seeding operations.

"Indonesia clarified at the meeting that it had enough resources of its own and did not need to call on the assistance offered by Singapore at this time," said MEWR, referring to the high-level meeting between Singapore and Indonesia on Thursday, initiated by the Indonesian government.

Kuala Lumpur marathon cancelled as city turns grey with smog
AFP AsiaOne 4 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR - One of Malaysia's biggest marathons was cancelled on Saturday over fears the health of more than 30,000 runners was at risk from thick smoke caused by Indonesian forest fires that have sparked a regional environmental crisis.

Organisers of the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon set for Sunday said it would not be held due to worsening air quality in Kuala Lumpur, which was shrouded in an acrid grey haze from the slash-and-burn fires.

The haze has afflicted large swathes of Southeast Asia for weeks, sparking health alerts,school shutdowns and affecting flights.

Robert Field, a Columbia University scientist based at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been quoted by the space agency as saying that a possible longer dry season might make the 2015 haze crisis "the most severe on record".

Scientists predict the current crisis could surpass 1997 levels, when out-of-control fires sent pollution soaring to record highs in an environmental disaster that cost an estimated US$9.0 billion.

The fires on plantations and peatlands that are being illegally cleared by burning are located on Indonesia's huge islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

Close to half of Malaysia's 52 pollutant monitoring stations around the country, including those in the capital, registered "unhealthy" air quality on Saturday.

"The health and safety of all our runners remains our top priority," organisers of the marathon, with prize money at US$120,000, said in a statement on their website.

Runners applauded the cancellation of Kuala Lumpur's 42.2-kilometre marathon, with some taking digs at Indonesia over the mess.

"This cancelation needs an apology from (the) Indonesian government as well," read one comment on Facebook.

Another social media remark read: "Wise decision by the organisers. No one wants to cancel a big event like this but the air quality is really bad. Safety of runners is of paramount importance."

The annual Kuala Lumpur race has gained popularity since it started in 2009 with more participants from overseas taking part over the years.

Indonesia under pressure to control forest fires cloaking the country and its neighbours in smoke
Forests deliberately set alight for agriculture have caused pollution beyond state’s borders, which has now reached dangerous levels
Charlie Cooper The Guardian 3 Oct 15;

Pressure is mounting on Indonesia to control forest fires that continue to cloak the country and its South-east Asian neighbours in a choking haze. US Space agency Nasa is warning that the smog could be one of the worst on record. Despite Indonesian government efforts to contain the fires, which are deliberately started by companies using “slash and burn” techniques to clear land for agriculture, this year’s haze has been exacerbated by unusually dry conditions. Once started, fires can spread many miles from their source and are fuelled by peat-rich soils.

According to the Global Fire Emissions Database, this year’s burn has produced 600m tons of greenhouse gases – equivalent to what industrialised Germany produces in carbon dioxide annually.

The extent of the haze is now polluting relations between Jakarta and its neighbours, who are also suffering.

In the past month, pollution readings in Singapore have hit levels considered dangerous. Throughout the region, schools have been periodically closed, flights grounded and the elderly issued with pollution masks as smog levels spike. In Pekanbaru, in Sumatra’s Riau province, one of the worst-hit areas, a makeshift clinic for new-born babies was set up in an air-conditioned room in the mayor’s office. Malaysia evacuated 173 of its citizens from the region last month. The conditions have prompted protests outside Indonesia’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Nasa satellite evidence revealed particle levels similar to the peak of the last major haze event in 2006. “If the forecasts for a longer dry season hold, this suggests 2015 will rank among the most severe on record,” said Dr Robert Field at Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Indonesia has repeatedly faced calls from its neighbours to control the fires. This year, 20,000 troops have been deployed to Sumatra and the country’s Kalimantan territory on Borneo, using water-bombing and even chemically-induced rainfall to help control the fires.

Wildlife has also come under threat, with orang-utan sanctuaries reporting a rise in the number of rescued animals, left stranded and without food by fires.

Dr Karmele Llano Sanchez, veterinary director at International Animal Rescue’s sanctuary in Kalimantan, Indonesia, said the fires were also making it easier for hunters to find and trap infant orang-utans for the illegal pet trade.

Campaigners’ hopes for a legal crackdown on the fires in Indonesia have been raised by the government’s successful case last month against palm oil company PT Kallista Alam, which was forced to pay $25.6m (£17.5m) in compensation for illegal burning.

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Maybe monkeys too need N95 masks

Natalia Huang, The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Oct 15;

Dry throat and itchy eyes - Singapore residents have all become reluctantly familiar with the effects of haze on our bodies. Even pets are suffering from haze-related illnesses, as reported recently.

So what about the wild animals in Singapore's forests and streams? They don't have the luxury of N95 masks or air purifiers (whose value in a forest would be questionable), and they can't escape behind closed windows. Are they dying in the dozens or doing just fine?

Essentially, the scientific answer is: We don't know. Little research has been conducted on the topic.

As an ecologist, I've spoken to several zoologists and botanists on this topic recently. Based on what we know about animals and their needs, and what we know about the haze, these experts shared their observations and opinions on the potential impact of haze.

The haze has two main effects on the environment that affect animals: smoke and sunshine.


First, smoke. This is the most obvious effect of haze. Animals need to breathe, and the presence of smoke and pollutants in the air could cause breathing difficulties for them just like it does for humans.

Birds, for example, consistently take in oxygen to support their active lifestyles of flying, foraging for food, looking for a mate and singing. With less available oxygen in the smoky air to fuel them, birds might be expected to be less active.

And that seems to be the case - captive birds are reported to be quieter and less active on hazy days, and researchers have noticed bird activity to be lower this month in an ongoing rooftop garden study. This means less time spent doing important things like looking for a mate.

Frogs, too, are less active during the haze, not unlike their response during dry periods, Dr David Bickford, an expert on frogs, says. Their permeable skins and need for moisture might mean they are sensitive to the hotter and drier air the haze brings. Frogs may be quieter during hazy periods, with the males not calling as passionately.

The effects of smoke on mammals are probably easier to understand as they are most like us. For example, monkeys have eyes like ours and lungs like ours (albeit smaller and therefore less able to handle pollutants), and probably experience a dry throat and itchy eyes like we do.

In the immediate term, young and elderly monkeys might suffer the most, but the rest of the population is likely to be fine, if slightly less rambunctious than usual.


If we are lucky, the haze-filtered sun casts an eerie orange light on the country; if we are unlucky, the sun is blocked out entirely, and this seems to bother some animals.

Two butterfly experts, Mr Anuj Jain and Mr Simon Chan, told me they recall seeing fewer butterflies during the 2013 haze event, and think this might have been related to the lack of sunshine.

Butterflies are more active on sunny days, frenetically feeding and frolicking with potential suitors. When butterflies are less active, they might not reproduce - and given that the average lifespan of an adult butterfly is three weeks, (well within the normal timeframe of a haze event), the butterflies might die without reproducing.

But decreased activity in one or two generations is not enough to impact the populations, Mr Jain says, as insect numbers naturally fluctuate over time. Butterflies have a neat survival trick of choosing to spend more time in egg or pupae stages until they sense better environmental conditions for life.

Butterflies and other wildlife in this region have probably not evolved to deal with fire and haze, given that it is a recent human- induced phenomenon. Short-term disruptions may not affect entire species or ecosystems, but long-term effects are unknown.

Apart from animals, plants also depend on sunshine. They need sunshine to photosynthesise, and this gives them food to grow and to produce leaves and fruit. Less sunshine is available to plants when dust settles on their leaves and when the sun is blocked out by the haze.

Extensive research in Indonesia has been conducted on plant response to haze since the 1990s - their findings show that plants grow slower, lose leaves faster and photosynthesise less due to reduced radiation and elevated pollution levels.

This means plants will probably produce fewer fruits when it's hazy. This is why palm oil production is expected to be lower this year as less palm fruit is expected.

But there is yet another consequence of haze that could damage the health of plants, wildlife and entire ecosystems: the effect of acidity and nutrients.

If the haze is a result of forest fires, it follows that haze is composed of carbon-based particles. When these particles dissolve in rainwater, it could result in acidification of the rainwater, which in turn would increase the acidity of any environment that the rainwater lands in.

Such acidic rain could dissolve protective leaf cuticles, increase soil acidity leading to root death, and affect vital soil cycles. All of this would weaken plants, leaving them vulnerable to pathogen attack, says botanist Lahiru Wijedasa.

"Increasing acidity just needs to affect one plant process in a magnitude enough that will affect everything else - and the same applies to all ecosystem processes," Mr Wijedasa told me.

Ecosystem-level changes could be more dangerous than changes to individual species as such changes could impact entire ecosystems and the plants and animals that make up that ecosystem.

Increasing acidity could also directly affect aquatic animals such as tiny insects, crabs and frogs. Such species can be more sensitive to pollutants, and may also react to any increase in nutrient levels in the streams. While nutrients are desirable, excess nutrients can have devastating effects on ecosystems, particularly freshwater systems.

Researchers found nutrient levels of nitrogen and phosphorus were up to eight times higher in the coastal waters of Singapore during previous haze events - but we don't know if similar effects occur in our forest streams too.

Frog eggs and tadpole development could be compromised, especially in our less hardy forest species, which are more likely to undergo high physiological stress, says Ms Mary-Ruth Low, amphibian and reptile researcher.

But the impact of haze may not be direct. A real risk is that the haze depresses the immune system of an animal and leaves it open to attack from bacteria, viruses and other baddies - this is why we often get colds during a haze event. A disease a healthy animal can fight off under normal conditions might become the straw that breaks the camel's back in the haze.

In the absence of rigorous studies, all we can offer as wildlife and ecology experts are our observations and considered opinions. Wildlife - and humans - might be able to handle short bouts of haze, but of concern is prolonged exposure, repeated exposure, high extremes and the impact over the long term.

How to mitigate the impact of the haze on wildlife is similar to that for humans - reduce the haze through better agricultural practices - for example, sustainable oil palm practices which do not burn forests or peat forests for planting crops.

What's good for Homo sapiens in this case is good for wildlife too.

The writer is principal ecologist at Ecology Matters, an environmental consultancy providing ecological advice and biodiversity studies for environmental impact assessments.

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Multiple events in Singapore cancelled due to haze

Day one of the FINA/airweave Swimming World Cup, FOX's zombie apocalypse challenge and a heritage trail challenge were among the events cancelled on Saturday (Oct 3).
Channel NewsAsia 3 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Multiple events were cancelled on Saturday (Oct 3) due to the deteriorating air quality in the Republic.

Day one of the finals at the FINA/airweave Swimming World Cup, slated to start that evening, were among them. Organisers of the two-day event say the upward trend in the 3-hour PSI readings prompted the cancellation, for the safety of all, including athletes and spectators.

The heats of the international event had also been rescheduled in the morning.

The Corporate Community Games also cancelled its opening ceremony, as well as events such as the dragon boat competition. This, after the 3-hour PSI at 7am was 172, while the 24-hour PSI was in the Unhealthy range.

Also cancelled was a zombie apocalypse challenge - FOX The Walking Dead Mission Survive - meant to be held in the Marina Bay area.

Meanwhile, a heritage trail challenge organised by CapitaLand was also affected. Organisers had informed participants of the cancellation via SMS at about 5am on Saturday.

- CNA/ek

FINA Swimming World Cup finals cancelled due to haze
A FINA spokesperson says they will monitor the PSI for events scheduled for Sunday, but are currently set to go ahead as planned.
Channel NewsAsia 3 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Day one of the finals for the FINA/airweave Swimming World Cup Singapore 2015 scheduled for 6pm on Saturday (Oct 3) has been cancelled due to the haze situation in Singapore.

Organisers said: “Considering the guidelines and regulations suggested by NEA (National Environment Agency), and the deteriorating haze situation today, we have decided to cancel the finals scheduled for this evening.”

"Spectators who have purchased tickets for this evening's session will be eligible for a refund," organisers added. Those with season passes will be notified on refunds by Thursday.

The payment of the prize money for Saturday’s races that were cancelled will be based on the comparison of the best times made in other events of the second cluster in Hong Kong and Beijing, said the Singapore Swimming Association.

"With the haze caused by the fires in Indonesia, the health and safety of all athletes, guests, officials, spectators, volunteers and staff remain as our top priority," said Organising Committee of the Cup's chairman Ang Peng Wee.

Following the cancellation, the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) said they may consider any class action suits against any Singapore-listed company linked to the burning of forests in Indonesia.

"The haze caused by the raging fires in Indonesia not only poses a threat to our health, but it also destroys the months of hard work put into preparing for programmes and events like the FINA/airweave Swimming World Cup Singapore 2015, which was to be held at the OCBC Aquatic Centre this evening," said SSA Vice President of Finance Jose Raymond.

"The investment put into the event, through sponsors, time spent by our staff and volunteers, and the effort taken by athletes and officials to travel to Singapore have been wasted beyond measurement," added the former CEO of the Singapore Environment Council. "The Singapore Swimming Association, along with FINA deeply regrets cancelling day one of the finals.

"On our part, the SSA will seek legal advice and may consider joining other parties and individuals in any class action suit which is brought against any Singapore-listed company which is linked to the burning of forests in Indonesia which is now causing one of the worst haze episodes to affect the region and in particular Singapore."

Saturday morning's heats went ahead, but the men's 1,500-metre and woman's 800-metre freestyle events were cancelled, also due to the haze. The 3-hour PSI at 5pm on Saturday was 222, while the 24-hour PSI was 144-182, in the Unhealthy range.

Singapore Swimming Association President Lee Kok Choy says those who were scheduled to swim Saturday evening would be disappointed at the cancellation.

"We are disappointed, because of the haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia," he said. "Some of them managed to swim in the morning, and that went quite well, but those who were scheduled to swim in the evening will be quite disappointed I'm sure."

Among them was Singapore swimmer Danny Yeo who was set to compete in the 100m and 400m freestyle.

"I am pretty disappointed as I wanted to improve my times from the heats this morning in the finals, but I understand that it is for the safety of the swimmers and completely understand that it had to be cancelled," he said.

Executive Director of FINA Cornel Marculescu says the schedule for Sunday "is still unchanged depending on weather condition".

More information can be found on their website.

- CNA/ek

Haze causes evening session of FINA/airweave World Cup to be cancelled
GERARD WONG Today Online 3 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — The organisers of the Singapore leg of the FINA/airweave World Cup have cancelled this evening (Oct 3)'s session as a result of the worsening haze situation.

According to a status update on the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA)'s Facebook page, the decision to cancel the session at the OCBC Aquatic Centre was made after the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading hit 190 at 4pm, veering close to the Very Unhealthy Range (201-300).

A media statement by Organising Committee Chairman Ang Peng Wee said: With the haze caused by the fires in Indonesia, the health and safety of all athletes, guests, officials, spectators, volunteers and staff remain as our top priority. Hence, with the deteriorating 3-hr PSI reading, we have made the decision to cancel the finals scheduled for 6pm this evening.

Organisers added that spectators who purchased tickets for this evening's session will be eligible for a refund.

The organisers are adopting a wait-and-see approach with regards to tomorrow's scheduled heats (10am) and finals (6pm).

According to them, the events will run as per normal.

FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu said in a statement: "Considering the guidelines and regulations suggested by NEA, and the deteriorating haze situation today, we have decided to cancel the finals scheduled for this evening.

"The schedule for tomorrow is still unchanged depending on weather condition.

We apologise to the local organizing committee, to our partners, to our local and overseas broadcasters who have bought broadcast rights for events, to our title sponsor airweave, series sponsors Omega and Speedo, and to all partners engaged by the local organizing committee.

We also apologise to all the fans of swimming around the world.

We look forward to providing an outstanding swim meet tomorrow."

Top swimmers at this year's FINA/airweave World Cup leg in Singapore include American Missy Franklin, who has won four Olympic golds, and Hungary's Katinka Hosszu who holds multiple world records.

Haze disrupts global swimming event
Chua Siang Yee, The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Oct 15;

The haze yesterday cost Singapore part of a star-studded international sporting event, one of the highlights of the Singapore swimming calendar. And similar haze conditions are expected to continue today, although there is a chance of relief depending on wind direction.

Organisers of the Singapore leg of the Fina Swimming World Cup yesterday decided to cancel the evening finals at the Sports Hub's OCBC Aquatic Centre, an open-air facility. And that meant spectators who paid $25 for a day pass or $40 for a two-day season pass had to miss world-class clashes, such as the 200m backstroke final featuring American Olympic champion Missy Franklin and Australia's world champion Emily Seebohm.

Instead, the medals went to the three fastest swimmers in the morning heats, while spectators were informed that they could get a refund for the affected session.

The event, which ends today, features over 260 top swimmers from around the world as they try to qualify for next year's Olympics. Said Seebohm: "It's disappointing for us but nothing can be done. The health of the swimmers is important and I wouldn't want to risk my health."

Ms Felicia Ayling, a teacher who had bought tickets to yesterday's final for her daughter and herself, also spoke of her disappointment. "We've got tickets for tomorrow and we hope the haze clears up," added the 44-year-old.

The Singapore Swimming Association and world swimming body Fina, the organisers, said on Friday that races would be scrapped if the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was above 200 just before the start of each session.

With yesterday's reading increasing from 168 at 2pm to 190 by 4pm, they decided to cancel the 6pm evening session, which comprised 15 finals. The eventual three-hour PSI reading at 6pm was 242.

Fina executive director Cornel Marculescu, who apologised for the cancellation, said the decision was made after considering National Environment Agency (NEA) guidelines and yesterday's deteriorating haze situation. He said today's race programme, in which the heats are scheduled for 10am, and finals are set for 6pm, remains unchanged.

The haze also forced the Sports Hub to close its water sports centre and Splash-N-Surf facilities. It said on its Facebook page that all activities at its outdoor venues would stop if the three-hour PSI reading exceeds 200. If it rises above 300, all activities at the Hub would stop. Singtel TV and Fox television channel also called off a morning event at Marina Bay for around 1,500 fans of The Walking Dead series, ahead of its return next week.

Thursday's 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Singapore and Afghanistan at the National Stadium is also at risk.

A Football Association of Singapore spokesman said: "Should the haze in Singapore worsen considerably, a decision will be taken by Asian Football Confederation match officials on the most appropriate course of action in the best interests of all parties."

At 9pm yesterday, the 24-hour PSI was at 152 to 187 - well into the unhealthy range. Haze levels were worse in the afternoon, said the NEA, as haze from the surrounding region was blown in by the prevailing southerly winds.

Today, the haze levels are expected to be between the high end of the unhealthy range and the low end of the very unhealthy range (when the 24-hour PSI goes above 200). But with prevailing southerly winds forecast to shift gradually to blow from the south-east, the haze may drop to the mid-level of the unhealthy range.

Additional reporting by Priscilla Goy

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