Malaysia: Defence Ministry doing cloud seeding to deal with haze

The Star 17 Aug 18;

KLANG (Bernama): The Defence Ministry has mobilised its assets to carry out cloud seeding to help deal with the hot and hazy conditions in several parts of the country.

Its minister, Mohamad Sabu, said two Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) aircraft were sent out this morning to locate suitable clouds in the Selangor and Perak airspace, to precipitate rain.

"We need to find suitable clouds and locations to make cloud seeding a success," he told reporters after visiting the peat soil area at Johan Setia here today.

Also present was Selangor Fire and Rescue Department director Azmi Osman.

According to Mohamad, the hazy condition in the country was not caused by forest fires here but had been blown over from Sumatra, Indonesia.

For the record, the Air Pollutant Index readings for Banting and Johan Setia at 4pm today (Aug 17) were unhealthy at 106 and 117 respectively.

Meanwhile, Azmi said the forest fires in the peat soil area were under control and currently only eight hectares (20 acres) of the area were still on fire as compared to 16 hectares (40 acres) yesterday.

Peat soil fires are notoriously hard to put out as they burn deep underground. They often occur in former peat swamps that have been drained dry to plant oil palm.

Mohamad said the dry and hot weather this time around had made firefighting a problem and as such he advised the public, especially oil palm estate and farm owners not to carry out open burning.

"This month the Selangor Fire and Rescue Department received 545 reports on open burning ,” he added. -- BERNAMA


554 acres burnt in 178 Sarawak wildfires
stephen then The Star 17 Aug 18;

MIRI: Some 554 acres (224ha) of forests throughout Sarawak have been burnt in 178 different wildfires since Aug 2.

The latest statistics from the Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) showed that in the past 24 hours, firefighting teams statewide had been tackling 15 such wildfires.

The wildfires are in Miri, Kuching, Sri Aman, Sibu, Mukah, Song and Bintulu districts.

According to the Bomba Sarawak operation centre, there was a huge wildfire raging in Sri Aman over an area of some 100 acres (one acre is about the size of one football field).


Haze hits Negri Sembilan; fishermen hope situation improves soon
Mohd Khidir Zakaria New Straits Times 17 Aug 18;

PORT DICKSON: Business is as usual for fishermen in the district despite the haze that has been enveloping the state since yesterday.

One of them, Taufik Abdul Ghani, 56, said he hoped that the situation would improve soon.

“The air pollutant index (API) recorded a moderate with visibility had yet to be affected. We can still carry out activities and daily chores as usual.

“It was worse two years ago when we couldn’t go even go to the sea due to the limited visibility,” he said when met here today.

As of 6pm today, the API readings at three locations, namely, Nilai (97), Port Dickson (73) and Seremban (90) recorded a moderate level.

An API reading of 0 to 50 indicates good air quality; 51 to 100, moderate; 101 to 200, unhealthy; 201 to 300, very unhealthy and 300 and above, hazardous.

For the latest API readings nationwide, visit www.apims.doe.gov.my.


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Indonesia: Shoot-on-sight order issued in Riau as growing forest and peatland fires cause choking haze

Lee Seok Hwai Straits Times 17 Aug 18;

A commander tasked with preventing fires in Riau said he has issued a shoot-on-sight order across the Indonesian province against those found clearing land by burning, as growing forest and peatland fires shroud several areas in smog ahead of the Asian Games.

The order came as satellites detected 121 hot spots in Riau on Thursday morning (Aug 16) - a big jump from the 22 spots detected on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

"Ninety-nine per cent of the land and forest fires in Riau Province are related to the intentional acts of irresponsible people," Brigadier-General Sonny Aprianto, Commander of the Riau Land and Forest Fire Task Force, was quoted by Antara news agency as saying on Thursday.

He said he had ordered army personnel to shoot "arsonists" across Riau. The Indonesian military has previously issued similar orders, as was the case in Jambi, central Sumatra, last year, to deter fire culprits.

Land-clearing fires have been seen as a serious threat to the 18th Asian Games, which will be held in Palembang, South Sumatra Province, from Aug 18 to Sept 2.

President Joko Widodo and other senior leaders have ordered efforts to combat land fires be stepped up to ensure that the quadrennial games would not be affected.

Brig-Gen Sonny said on Thursday that he had discussed the shoot-on-sight policy with Riau Police Chief Inspector General Nandang, and soldiers would be deployed to every military district compound in Riau to enforce the order.

The authorities had asked locals not to clear land by burning but without much success, the one-star general noted, according to Antara. Indeed, he said the slash-and-burn method for clearing the land has become more widespread.

Several arsonists have been nabbed, he added, with at least three cases in Dumai city now ready for trial.

Meanwhile, the fires have blanketed several areas in Riau, including the provincial capital of Pekanbaru, in smog.

"At first I thought it was morning dew, but apparently the environment was dimmed by the haze," Pekanbaru resident Musfarin told the Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Similar conditions were also reported in Dumai city, where visibility dropped to 4km on Thursday morning on the back of the thick haze, the newspaper said.

The haze in Dumai originated from local forest and land fires as well as hot spots from the neighbouring area of Rokan Hilir regency, where the worst fires in Riau were burning.

The fires in Rokan Hilir have burned down hundreds of hectares of oil palm plantation and peatland as well as 20 houses and several vehicles in Tanjung Leban village in Kubu district, reported Jakarta Post.

The fires have also forced residents to evacuate, the report said, without giving a number.

"We have informed land owners not to clear their land for plantation during the dry season, but apparently they ignored it. We did not have the proper equipment to put out the fires and it was hard to find a water source so the fire spread quickly," Tanjung Leban village secretary Wandri was quoted as saying. He said thousands of residents needed surgical masks.

"Four villages near us are covered with smog from the land fires. All the villagers now breathe in haze. The government must take action to help the people."

Mr Edwar Sanger, deputy head of Riau forest and land fires task force who also heads the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency, said his team had tried putting out fires in Rokan Hilir both from land and air.

"But the dry season has helped the fires spread. Strong winds have also complicated wildfire suppression efforts," he said. Residents should "pray for rain", he added.


Indonesia faces challenges in ensuring haze-free Asian Games
Rahmad Nasution Antara 17 Aug 18;

Bogor, W Java (ANTARA News) - Jakarta and Palembang are gearing up for the opening ceremony of the 18th Asian Games, due to be held at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in the Indonesian capital city on Saturday.

The two cities that will co-host the world`s second biggest multi-sport event after the Olympics from August 18 to September 2 are located on two different islands -- Java and Sumatra. However, Indonesia`s success mainly depends on the two cities` preparedness.

The Asian Games venues and facilities have been readied for use in both Jakarta and Palembang, but Indonesia`s success in convening the event will not just be measured by its excellent services to both athletes and officials of the 45 participating countries.

Its success will largely be measured by the related authorities` capability to ensure that the air quality of Jakarta and Palembang, the capital city of South Sumatra Province, is relatively healthy enough for the competing athletes.

Weather-related issues, particularly the air quality and air pollution in Jakarta, have been brought into the spotlight by the local and foreign news media, including Al Jazeera, considering the importance of clean air for those competing in the event.

The Qatar-based news channel, Al Jazeera, has criticized Jakarta`s air pollution level because it has reached an "unhealthy level of 154 micrograms per cubic meter" (Bayani, 2018).

The air quality of Palembang is relatively similar to that of the country`s capital city, Jakarta.

Palembang has been continuously challenged and threatened by haze, caused by land and forest fires in certain areas of South Sumatra and several other provinces in Sumatra Island.

On August 14, the Riau Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency reported that some 169 hotspots were detected in seven provinces across Sumatra Island, including South Sumatra.

Referring to satellite images, the agency remarked that South Sumatra Province had 13 hotspots, while 90 others were detected in different parts of Riau, 27 in Bangka Belitung, 22 in North Sumatra, 10 in West Sumatra, four in Jambi, and three in Lampung. Instead of having a fewer number of hotspots, on August 15, Riau Province had 103 hotspots. The majority of the hotspots were detected in the province`s northern coastal areas.

Head of the Riau Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Sukisno argued that the relatively low rainfall intensity makes Riau Province, whose area is just a few hundred kilometers away from Palembang, vulnerable to the spread of potential land and forest fires.

The BMKG has forecast that mild rain was likely to hit the areas of Rokan Hilir District early in the morning, while the maximum temperature at mid-day could reach 35 degrees Celsius, he said.

The Riau Land and Forest Fire Task Force will continue its ground and aerial firefighting operations through four water-bombing choppers.

However, the dry-bulb temperature and blowing wind have hampered the task force firefighters` efforts in extinguishing the land and forest fires on the wetland.

President Joko Widodo had earlier asked the related authorities to do their best to ensure that the 18th Asian Games are not disrupted by the land and forest fires.

"As the host of the Asian Games, we must be able to ensure that the land and forest fires do not occur during the multi-sport event, so that our image and flights are not disrupted by the haze," he said at a coordination meeting for the Forest and Land Fire Mitigation in Jakarta last February.

In response to the ongoing threats of land and forest fires in Riau, Commander of the Riau Land and Forest Fire Task Force Brig. Gen. Sonny Aprianto issued a shoot-on-sight policy.

He ordered army personnel across the province to implement it against arsonists found burning land.

The shoot-on-sight order was given because the land and forest fires along Riau`s coastal areas tend to spread fast.

The arsonists` acts have been seen as a serious threat that can disrupt the convening of the 18th Asian Games in Palembang, the capital city of South Sumatra Province, he said.

By enforcing the law, the local police have been conducting a thorough investigation into the cases of land and forest fires on 45 land areas across the province.

The investigators have set police lines and notice boards along the areas, prohibiting anyone from working on the land, Aprianto remarked.

The dossiers of several suspected arsonists had been completed so that their cases could immediately be tried at local courts. "In Dumai city, for instance, there are three cases with `P21` status. This means that the suspects in the cases are ready for trial."

Aprianto said the suspects, whose cases are being handled by the local police, were all individuals, and none of them represented a company.

"Ninety-nine percent of the land and forest fires in Riau Province are a result of intentional acts by irresponsible people," the one-star army general remarked.

Aprianto further added that he had observed the areas of Dumai city and Rokan Hilir District from a chopper and found massive hotspots there.

The preliminary results of the aerial firefighting patrols that the taskforce team members had conducted indicated that the land and forest fires in Rokan Hilir District areas were intentional acts by those wanting to extend palm oil plantation areas.

"In Teluk Nilam, Rokan Hilir District, alone, the land and forest fires are expected to reach around 17 kilometers. The fires engulfed empty pieces of land located next to a palm oil plantation. This is evidence that the land was intentionally set on fire."

As the host country, Indonesia has no choice but to make utmost efforts to ensure that the over 14,000 athletes competing in Jakarta and Palembang can breathe relatively healthy air.


Editor: Fardah Assegaf


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Thailand: Indonesian smoke haze arrives

ASSAWIN PAKKAWAN Bangkok Post 16 Aug 18;

Smoke haze from this year's burning-off in Indonesia is starting to affect the health of people in Narathiwat, Satun, Songkhla and Yala provinces, the Pollution Control Department said on Thursday.

Particulate matter up to 2.5 microns in diameter had exceeded the safety ceiling of 50 microgrammes per cubic metre of air over the past 24 hours in the four southern provinces, the department reported.

Particulate matter up to 10 microns exceeded the safety threshold of 120 microgrammes in Betong district of Yala.
Officials said the haze was caused by people clearing forest on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo to turn the land into palm and rubber plantations.

The smoke was being carried to Thailand by prevailing winds.

Regional Environmental Office 16 in Songkhla reported the haze was expected to lessen as the number of hotspots on Sumatra had dropped from 62 on Sunday to eight on Wednesday.








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Older than dinosaurs: last South African coelacanths threatened by oil exploration

Just 30 of the prehistoric fish known to exist, raising fears oil wells will push it to extinction
Tony Carnie in Durban
The Guardian 17 Aug 18;

Bright blue, older than dinosaurs and weighing as much as an average-sized man, coelacanths are the most endangered fish in South Africa and among the rarest in the world.

Barely 30 of these critically-endangered fish are known to exist off the east coast of South Africa, raising concern that a new oil exploration venture in the area could jeopardise their future.

Coelacanths, whose shape has remained almost unchanged for 420m years, captured world attention when the first living specimen was caught off the port city of East London in 1938. This discovery was followed by the subsequent capture of several more off the Comoros islands in the early 1950s, confirming that coelacanths were definitely not extinct.

December 2000 brought further excitement when divers found a small coelacanth colony in underwater canyons near South Africa’s Sodwana Bay, adjacent to the iSimangaliso wetland park and world heritage site.

Now the Rome-based energy group Eni plans to drill several deep-water oil wells in a 400km long exploration block known as Block ER236.

Dr Andrew Venter, the chief executive of Wildtrust, one of several conservation groups lobbying for a significant expansion of South Africa’s protected ocean areas, said: “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 decimated fish populations – so if we had an oil spill off iSimangaliso it is very likely it could wipe out these coelacanths.”

The Sodwana coelacanths are about 40km from the northern boundary of the Eni exploration area and nearly 200km north of the first drilling sites, but Venter said oil spills spread far and swiftly.

His concerns have been echoed by the coelacanth expert Prof Mike Bruton, who said the fish are specialist creatures, sensitive to environmental disturbance.

“Anything that interferes with their ability to absorb oxygen, such as oil pollution, would threaten their survival. The risk of oil spills or blowouts during exploration or future commercial production in Block ER236 is a source of serious concern.”

Last year, Eni commissioned a mandatory environmental impact assessment (EIA) but the scoping report makes scant mention of the potential threat to the Sodwana coelacanths.

Instead, the report suggested that coelacanths were unlikely to be found next to the first exploration wells.

Responding to fears the fish could be wiped out by leaks or undersea blowouts, the oil drilling company said: “Eni always applies the highest operational and environmental standards, which often exceed local compliance regulations.

“Prior to any operation we undertake sensitivity mapping to identify sensitive offshore marine habitat which guide our planning. In addition to this, Eni would comply with all the requirements of the environmental management programme which is based on the outcomes of the impact assessment.

“Specialist studies have been conducted for both marine ecology and oil spill modelling scenarios and no specific threat has emerged in relation to this. The specialist study pertaining to accidental spillage modelling is currently being independently third-party peer-reviewed.”

Bruton said studies on coelacanths caught off the coasts of Indonesia and Tanzania showed that the remoteness of their habitat had not protected them from exposure to pollutants such as PCB and DDT, which had been used on land but had drifted over the sea on atmospheric winds and had accumulated up the food chain to the top predators, such as the coelacanth.

If oil were to be spilled in the ocean, Bruton feared the coelacanth colony could be destroyed. “The risk needs to carefully evaluated before this commercial venture has progressed too far and it is too late,” he said. “Oil spills do not respect the boundaries of marine protected areas.”


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Florida’s worst red tide decimates dolphins, fish, sea turtles

Over 100 tonnes of dead sea creatures have washed up as US state experiences worst red tide in 10 years
The New Paper 17 Aug 18:

SARASOTA, FLORIDA A state of emergency has been declared in Florida as the worst red tide in a decade blackens the ocean water, killing dolphins, sea turtles and fish at a relentless pace.

More than 100 tonnes of dead sea creatures have been shovelled up from smelly, deserted beaches in tourist areas along Florida's south-west coast as a result of the harmful algal bloom this month alone.

In the past week, 12 dolphins washed ashore dead in Sarasota County, typically the toll seen in an entire year.

"It is physically and mentally exhausting," said Ms Gretchen Lovewell, who is in charge of a skeleton crew at Mote Marine Laboratory that collects dead or distressed sea turtles and marine mammals. She and two colleagues "have been literally working around the clock".

On Sunday, Ms Lovewell recovered the remains of a dolphin. A faint number, 252, was visible on its dorsal fin.
SPECK

It was a 12-year-old male named Speck, who had been spotted more than 300 times by researchers monitoring generations of bottlenose dolphins in the Sarasota Bay.

"It was devastating," said Mr Randall Wells, director of the Chicago Zoological Society's Sarasota Dolphin Research Programme, the world's longest-running study of a wild dolphin population, under way since 1970.

"Speck is somebody we have known from the time he was born," said Mr Wells. "He was named after my dad."

Red tide is suspected as the cause of death, but researchers won't know for certain until the lab results come back.

A natural phenomenon, red tide is caused by a microscopic single-celled organism called Karenia brevis. It releases a neurotoxin that can become airborne, causing headaches, watery eyes, coughing and asthma attacks in people.

Ecologists have said the organism acts like a forest fire, clearing out weeds and allowing the landscape to start anew.

Karenia brevis is found year-round at low levels. But once it multiplies, sea turtles and manatees may inhale it, or die from eating too much neurotoxin-laced fish and sea grass.

The smell of rotting fish has choked Florida's economy, sapping millions in revenue from fishing and tourism.

"Our life is tourism here in south-west Florida," said Mr Omar Botana, owner of a boat rental firm. "It has hurt our business around 40 per cent."- AFP


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Best of our wild blogs: 17 Aug 18



Celebrating the life of Tay Lai Hock of Ground-Up Initiative
Green Drinks Singapore

Black-crowned Night Herons – Stages of Growth
Singapore Bird Group

Ubin Also Instagrammable: 17 AUG - 23 AUG
Wan's Ubin Journal


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Project aims to quantify worth of forests and marine habitats

Siau Ming En Today Online 16 Aug 18;

SINGAPORE — How much are Singapore's forests, parks, waterways, and coastal and marine habitats worth?

A team of researchers from the Singapore-ETH Centre (SEC) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) will try to put a value on nature through the first national assessment to measure and quantify the benefits of Singapore's environment or natural capital.

Natural capital are natural assets that include habitats, living things, water, soil and air. These assets provide "free services" such as carbon storage, coastal protection, food production, air purification.

Some economic and social benefits that countries have today would not be possible without the environment, said NUS Associate Professor Dan Friess at the launch of the three-year Natural Capital Singapore project on Thursday (Aug 16).

"But we don't often consider the environment as an asset because it is providing all these things for free. We tend to take it for granted, especially in accounting systems where it is easier to account for economic capital," said Assoc Prof Friess, the co-lead principal investigator of the project.

The project is funded by the National Research Foundation and also works with public agencies such as the National Parks Board (NParks), Housing and Development Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). The team's researchers include biologists, ecologists, economists, architects, geographers and software engineers.

Dr Lena Chan, senior director of NParks' International Biodiversity Conservation Division, said policymakers need to know what types of ecosystem services Singapore has, the externalities and the free benefits that people are unaware of, among other things.

"Every minute we sit here, breathing in and out, we need oxygen. But do we ever measure the amount? What do we pay for our oxygen? Trees provide it but we don't have a value for it," she added.

The benefits of natural capital can be quantified in monetary terms and the socio-cultural value people place on nature, said NUS Assistant Professor Roman Carrasco, one of the researchers.

The monetary value would be based on people's preferences, the willingness to pay for the benefits of natural capital, and the cost of replacing a particular type of natural capital, for instance. The socio-cultural valuation would be derived from how people think nature defines their identity, community and help them lead a more fulfilling life, he added.

Given Singapore's small land area, urban development and planning decisions sometimes compromise the country's natural capital, said the Singapore-ETH centre in a press release.

The researchers for this project will look into terrestrial, and coastal and marine habitats here. They will study the current health of these habitats, whether the benefits of these places are accessible to all – for example, are there enough parks in an area where people are keen to use them – and prioritise certain ecosystems and areas to protect.

Their work will involve conducting surveys to gather people's views on these habitats, collecting field data and working with published literature. They will also use information on the Internet and social media to see how people are using green spaces. Photos of vegetation and trees found on Google Street View for instance, can determine how much shade they provide.

An interactive digital planning tool will also be developed to help planners and developers visualise data on the benefits of natural capital by the end of the project.

For policymakers deciding if they should redevelop a green space, the tool could provide information on the impact of different construction methods, and the thermal comfort of a place should the green space be removed, among other things, said ETH Zurich Professor Adrienne Gret-Regamey, who is also the project's co-lead principal investigator.

It should also be able to reflect the economic value of the green space and redevelopment works, as well as the social and cultural value Singaporeans place on the space.

A current prototype of the tool is able to use existing data to map out places that have sufficient or insufficient person to green space ratio, she noted.

This project is believed to be the first national-scale assessment of the benefits of nature in an urban tropical country. Similar studies have been conducted in temperate climates such as the United Kingdom.

Ms Hwang Yu-Ning, deputy chief executive officer and chief planner at URA, said the authority hopes the project will result in a more evidence-based approach to the value of greenery.

The Singapore Index on Cities' Biodiversity is one of the existing tools to manage natural capital. It is a self-assessment tool for cities to evaluate and monitor the progress of their biodiversity conservation efforts.

There have been other studies here that have tried to determine the monetary value of selected benefits provided by natural capital. For instance, scientists from NUS and Singapore-ETH Centre found that HDB units near parks or street trees commanded higher resale prices.

Three-year project will quantify benefits of Singapore's natural environment
Jose Hong Straits Times 16 Aug 18;

SINGAPORE - An ambitious project to quantify all the benefits provided by Singapore's natural environment was launched on Thursday (Aug 16), aiming to provide a framework for developers to assess the trade-offs between development and conservation.

The project will determine the economic, social and environmental benefits of the country's forests, parks, waterways, and marine habitats. The effort to study the nation's "natural capital" will take three years.

"In spite of the national effort towards greening the city-state, we still need to know more about how to incorporate nature into holistic planning at a national scale," said a spokesman for the Singapore-ETH Centre, one of the project's leaders.

For example, trees can lower urban temperatures through providing shade and transpiration - when water evaporates from leaves, stems and flowers. While the effect of trees on temperature can be measured easily, other advantages they bring may not be as well-known.

Trees also help to slow storm-water runoff and help soil to absorb more rainwater, which reduces the strain on Singapore's drainage network. Furthermore, forests provide outdoor recreational possibilities that positively impact physical and mental health.

The National University of Singapore is the other project leader, and the two organisations will bring together architects, biologist, ecologists, economists, geographers, and software engineers.

The team will create a framework to define Singapore's most important ecosystems, determine their benefits and agree on tools to measure them.

They will then assess the current state of the country's land, coastal and marine habitats, quantifying their economic, societal and environmental benefits.

With this information the team will programme a tool for planners and developers that can both visualise data on the benefits of natural capital and simulate the impact of various scenarios on Singapore's natural capital.

Singapore-ETH Centre principal investigator, Dr Dan Richards, said: "This will equip planners and developers to make better- informed decisions when faced with development-environment trade-offs, and also identify opportunities for the stronger incorporation of natural capital into our urban landscape."

Professor Adrienne Gret-Regamey, one of the lead principal investigators of the Natural Capital Singapore project, said: "Besides providing the framework and tools to guide policy, our team seeks to share knowledge on natural capital and bring about a greater awareness and appreciation of what nature has to offer."


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Malaysia: Haze descends on large parts of Malaysia, raising alarm

New Straits Times 16 Aug 18;

KUALA LUMPUR: The much-dreaded haze began creeping across the country today, with several states recording unhealthy Air Pollution Index (API) readings as of 6pm.

A check with the Department of Environment's website revealed that Alor Star recorded the highest reading of 145, followed by Kangar at 137 and Mukah, Sarawak at 134.

In the Klang Valley, Klang registered a reading of 110.

A slew of other areas nationwide recorded moderate readings. They were led by Sungai Petani 99, followed by Seberang Jaya (96), Sibu (94), and the Kulim Hi-Tech Industrial Park and Seberang Perai (both at 91).

The day’s highest reading was registered by Kangar at 11am (160).

The API categorises a reading of between 0-50 as ‘good’, 51-100 as ‘moderate’, 101-200 as ‘unhealthy’, 201-300 as ‘very unhealthy’, and 300 and above as ‘hazardous’.


Eight places in four states record unhealthy API levels
razak ahmad The Star 17 Aug 18;

PETALING JAYA: The number of towns and cities with unhealthy air quality has gone up as the haze worsens.

At 6pm yesterday, eight locations in Penang, Perlis, Kedah and Sarawak recorded Air Pollutant Index (API) readings of more than 100.

They were led by Kangar with an API of 141, followed by Alor Setar (140), Mukah (139) and Seberang Jaya (117).

Sibu had an API of 112, while Sungai Petani and Seberang Perai both recorded an API of 107.


Air quality is classified as good when the API is 50 and below, and moderate when the API reading is between 51 and 100.

An API of between 101 and 200 means the air quality is considered unhealthy.

A reading of 201-300 means that the air quality is very unhealthy, and an API of more than 300 is hazardous.

Temperatures in several parts of the country have been rising due to the current southwest monsoon, which started in the third week of May.

The hot and dry weather during this time contributes to the spread of forest fires and open burning, which causes the haze.

Meteorological Department ordered to be at the ready to carry out cloud seeding
FALIQ LAJIM New Straits Times 16 Aug 18;

SHAH ALAM: The Malaysian Meterological Department has been ordered to be ready to carry out cloud seeding if the haze situation in the country reaches a critical stage.

Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said her ministry would activate the process for cloud seeding to ensure that air quality returns to normal.

“We will refer to the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) to get the agency to inform the Defence Ministry to carry out cloud seeding. The haze affecting the country right now is due to open burning in Sumatera and Kalimantan.

“So, we will be ready to carry out cloud seeding, but this will also have to depend on the weather,” she said after visiting the site of a peat fire in Kampung Johan Setia, here, adding that the peat fire was also contributing to haze in nearby areas.

Present were Department of Environment director-general Datuk Dr Ahmad Kamarulnajuib Che Ibrahim; Selangor Fire and Rescue Department director Azmi Osman; and Sungai Kandis assemblyman Mohd Zawawi Ahmad Mughni.

Yeo said the Air Pollution Index (API) being used in the Air Pollution Index Malaysia (APIMS) website was now based on the 2.5 micrometre Particulate Matter (PM2.5) reading.

“This is a more accurate reading (of air quality) compared to PM10 which was used before this,” she said.

Yeo advised the public, and especially school authorities, to constantly keep track of API readings via the APIMS website.

“Information about the API readings for the entire country can be gotten from the apims.doe.gov.my website or via the MyIPU mobile application which is available on Google Playstore and Apple App Store,” she said.

Penangites told to stop open burning activities as haze returns
Audrey Dermawan New Straits Times 16 Aug 18;

GEOGE TOWN: The Penang government has advised the people against engaging in open burning activities in light of the worsening haze situation in the state.

As of 3pm today, the air pollutant index (API) readings on the island recorded a moderate level of 96 in Minden and 93 in Balik Pulau.

However, the API readings on the mainland showed an unhealthy level with 120 in Seberang Jaya and 109 in Prai.

An API reading of 0 to 50 indicates good air quality; 51 to 100, moderate; 101 to 200, unhealthy; 201 to 300, very unhealthy and 300 and above, hazardous

State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh also advised the people to keep watch on their lands and to prevent from open burning activities. He warned that stern action could be taken against the perpetrators.

“With the API reading reaching the unhealthy level, we hope the people can refrain from open burning activities to further aggravate the situation.

“Failing which, action can be taken under Section 29(A) of the Environmental Quality Act 1974. Those found guilty can be fined a maximum of RM500,000 or maximum five years’ jail or both, upon conviction.

“A maximum RM2,000 compound can also be slapped for each of the offence,” he said.

Phee said the haze in Penang was a result of the cross-border haze pollution from Kalimantan and Sumatera in Indonesia, no thanks to the southwest monsoon wind.

Meanwhile, Phee also advised the people to reduce outdoor activities and to don face masks if they are outside.

“We have prepared 20,000 masks to be distributed to the people. We also advise the people to consume more liquid during this hot spell,” he added.


Drones to monitor open burning nationwide
NUR IZZATI MOHAMAD New Straits Times 16 Aug 18;

BATU KAWAN: The Fire and Rescue Department will use drones to monitor open burning hotspots throughout the country to tackle the annual haze problem that made a return since early this week.

Its director-general Mohammad Hamdan Wahid said the drones would be used in selected areas to make it easier for firefighters to provide information on open burning to the relevant authorities, particularly the Department of Environment (DOE).

He said both departments had previously carried out checks using helicopters, but with the use of the latest technology, it would provide more options of monitoring methods for both agencies.

“We believe that the DOE also has their own drones to monitor the situation. As a rescue agency, we will continue to furnish the relevant information and be prepared at all times to face any eventualities such as open burning which can further aggravate the haze situation.

“This is an annual occurrence, especially when there is open burning in our neighbouring country.

“However, to minimise the impact, we have to play our part in tackling the open burning activities (here), particularly in peatland forests because whenever there is a fire in peatland forests, we face great challenges in putting it out,” he said in his official working visit to the state Fire and Rescue Department headquarters here today.

During his visit, Hamdan also launched the ‘Fly the Jalur Gemilang’ campaign in conjunction with the National Day celebration before a dialogue session with officers and personnel here.

Elaborating on the issue, Hamdan said each state has its own open burning hotspots.

“In Selangor, for example, the hotspots include Sepang, Batu Arang and Batang Berjuntai while in Penang, Bukit Bendera.

“For Sepang, we have to monitor the situation closely since it is a sensitive area, for aircrafts to land and take off. If haze happens at a critical level, then this can affect the navigation system at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA),” he added.

Meanwhile, Hamdan said the Fire and Rescue Department would introduce the ‘Metropolitan Fire Brigade’, similar to the one implemented in Australia, come 2025.

“Through my visits to all the state Fire and Rescue Department headquarters nationwide, (I found that) there are numerous needs to be looked into, especially the role towards society who need our services to effectively handle safety cases.

“As such, we feel that the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, based in Kuala Lumpur, is most apt in our move towards a develop nation, to ensure we give better focus to cases in major towns with high density population and more complex system,” he said.

Minimise exposure, M’sians told
The Star 17 Aug 18;

PETALING JAYA: Exposure to the haze may cause adverse health reactions with long-term effects such as increased risk of death from cardiovascular diseases, says the Health Ministry.

In its advisory for workplaces, the ministry said the small particles that cause haze are composed of microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems.

Short-term adverse effects, as underlined by the ministry, include eye irritation, watery eyes and/or conjunctivitis (a type of eye inflammation), running nose, stuffy nose, sneezing and/or post-nasal drip.

Other effects include throat irritation, dry throat, sore throat and/or coughing, phlegm, headache, dizziness, fatigue and/or stress, decreased lung function, depressed respiratory immune defence, chest tightness, chest pain, shortness of breath and bronchitis (lung inflammation).

“However, in susceptible individuals such as diabetics or the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases, especially respiratory and heart diseases, their condition may be worsened by haze and they are likelier to experience more severe haze-related effects than healthy people,” said the ministry on its website http://www.moh.gov.my/index.php/pages/view/192.

One of the long-term risks associated with the exposure to fine particles is the faster rate of thickening of the arteries, promoting the development of vascular diseases.

General measures at the workplace could be taken such as minimising outdoor activities, closing all windows, doors and any openings that may allow haze to enter the workplace, as well as ensuring maintenance of air conditioners with regular cleaning and servicing.

“An air purifier or air cleaning device may be used to reduce the amount of air contaminants that may be circulating in the building,” said the advisory.

Malaysia is currently experiencing soaring temperatures, with 18 towns and cities nationwide on heatwave alert.

Haze has also made a comeback in certain parts such as in Sarawak, with hotspots and open burning being the factors.

Complaints pertaining to environmental pollution, including open burning, can be made with a call to the Environment Department at 03-8889 1972, its hotline 1-800-88-2727 or online at https://eaduan.doe.gov.my//eaduan/index.php.


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Indonesia: Haze blankets Riau amid heightened forest and land fires

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 16 Aug 18;

Haze has covered several areas in Riau province following a growing number of hot spots detected from heightened forest and peatland fires and has started to choke residents.

White smog has blanketed provincial capital Pekanbaru in the past few days, prompting residents to put on surgical masks to protect themselves from the toxic material.

“At first I thought it was morning dew, but apparently the environment was dimmed from the haze,” Pekanbaru resident Musfarin said on Thursday.

Similar conditions also occurred in Dumai city, where visibility dropped to 4 kilometers in the morning on the back of the thick haze. The haze thins at noon with the help of the wind.

Besides coming from local forest and land fires in the city, the haze in Dumai also came from the neighboring area of Rokan Hilir regency, which suffers the worst fires in the province.

The forest and land fires in Rokan Hilir not only burned down hundreds of hectares of oil palm plantation and peatland areas but also 20 houses, a hut, a car and two motorcycles in Tanjung Leban village in Kubu district. The fire forced residents to evacuate to their relatives’ houses.

“We have informed land owners not to clear their land for plantation during the dry season, but apparently they ignored it. We did not have the proper equipment to put out the fires and it was hard to find a water source so the fire spread quickly,” Tanjung Leban village secretary Wandri said.

He said currently thousands of residents needed surgical masks for the choking haze.

“Four villages near us are covered with smog from the land fires. All the villagers now breathe in haze. The government must take action to help the people,” Wandri added.

Riau forest and land fires task force deputy head, who is also the head of Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency , Edwar Sanger, said the team had monitored and conducted fire extinguishing efforts in Rokan Hilir both from land and air.

“But dry land in the dry season triggered the fire's spreading. The strong wind has also complicated wildfire suppression efforts,” he said.

Edwar urged residents to pray for the rain to help with the current situation.

Terra and Aqua satellites have recorded 121 hot spots detected in Riau on Thursday morning according to data compiled by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG). The number jumped from 22 hot spots detected by the satellites on Wednesday afternoon. (rin)


More than 1,000 hot spots detected in West Kalimantan
Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 16 Aug 18;

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) plans to add two more helicopters to be used for water bombing as more than 1,000 hot spots have been detected in the forest area in West Kalimantan emitting haze, which is affecting activities of the residents.

Satellite images recorded 1,061 hot spots divided into 592 medium fires and 469 large fires, spread in a number of locations on Thursday, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

He said the agency had deployed four helicopters to support the forest and land fire mitigation efforts in the province for water bombings and patrol.

“We plan to add two more helicopters. We must extinguish the fire as the haze is starting to disrupt people’s activities,” he said in a press statement on Thursday.

Based on Aqua and Terra satellite monitoring, West Kalimantan recorded the most hot spots in the archipelago. There are a total of 1,490 hot spots across the country amid the height of the dry season, according to BNPB data. (rin)


Forest fires decline significantly - President
Antara 16 Aug 18;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo has said land and forest fires have declined significantly this year compared with previous years due to the country`s strong stance in protecting its forests.

"This assertiveness would not have achieved these ideal results without public support and participation," the president stressed in his presidential speech on the occasion of the 73rd anniversary of Indonesia`s independence at the parliament building here on Thursday.

The head of state expressed his gratitude to the Indonesian military and police, local administrations and the public for their dedication in preventing forest fires.

"We need courage to make the leap. We have to be firm in making the best decision for the people of Indonesia, including being firm in protecting our land and forests," he stated.

Present at the annual session were Vice President Jusuf Kalla, cabinet ministers, foreign representatives, former presidents BJ Habibie and Megawati Sukarnoputri, and former vice presidents Try Sutrisno and Boediono.

Reporting by Dewanto Samodro
Editing by Sri Haryati

Editor: Bustanuddin


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Malaysia: Authorities on hunt for elephant which attacked Kelantan farmer

Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah New Straits Times 17 Aug 18;

KOTA BARU: An elephant which attacked a man at his farm in Laloh, Kuala Krai on Wednesday is believed to be a member of a herd of 12 pachyderms dubbed ‘Gajah Sungai Rek.’

In the incident, Norshahrin Bakar, 40 and his nephew, Norshahrin Che Ibrahim, 38, were collecting durian when they encountered the pachyderm.

The female elephant charged at Norshahrin, but he escaped by climbing a durian tree. He suffered minor injuries and was rushed to the Kuala Krai Hospital.

"Our rangers began their operation to track down the elephant soon after we received a report on the incident.

"However, until yesterday, they have failed to find her as it is believed she has escaped back into the jungle," Kelantan Wildlife director Mohd Hasdi Husin told NSTP today.

He added that the department received 87 complaints on elephant rampages in the state since early this year.

Mohd Hasdi said that Jeli recorded the highest number of incidents with 49 complaints, followed by Gua Musang (18) and Kuala Krai (10).

"Five elephants have been captured so far and all were in Jeli," he added.


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Malaysia: Another jumbo rescued from snare

muguntan vanar The Star 17 Aug 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Another Borneo Pygmy elephant was rescued from a trap in east coast Sabah as the endangered jumbos in the state continue to face threats of extinction.

Sabah Wildlife Department rangers rescued a young male elephant aged between seven to nine years that suffered an injury to its front right leg due to a snare in Taliwas area in Lahad Datu late Tuesday.

The department’s public relations officer Siti Nurain Ampuan Acheh said the snare caused a 2-inch deep wound on the leg and was infested with maggots at the area of the knot.

She said with initial treatment the elephant showed signs of healing but the veterinarians treating it remained guarded about its full recovery.

The elephant will be transferred to the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary for further treatment and observation.

On the post-mortem results conducted on the male elephant found floating in the Kinabatangan river near Pangi Forest Reserve on Aug 13, Siti Nurain said no external injuries were found and preliminary findings showed that the jumbo suffered from ulcerative gastritis that led to severe loss of blood in its gastrointestines.

“The cause of ulcerative gastritis can be of infectious or non-infectious origin,” she said, adding that samples of vital internal organs were taken for toxicology and bacteriology analysis.

Confirmation on the cause of death could only be ascertained when results of the analysis of the samples were obtained, she added.


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Thailand to ban imports of high-tech trash, plastic waste

Panarat Thepgumpanat Reuters 16 Aug 18;

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand will ban imports of 432 types of scrap electronics within six months, an environment ministry official said on Thursday, the latest country to respond to China’s crackdown on imports of high-tech trash this year.

Southeast Asia nations fear they are the new dumping ground for the world’s trash after China banned the entry of several types of waste as part of a campaign against “foreign garbage”.

Thailand’s ban comes weeks after regional neighbor Vietnam said it would stop issuing new licenses for waste imports and crack down on illegal shipments of paper, plastic and metal.

The Thai ban covers 432 types of electronic refuse — from electronic circuit boards to old television and radio parts — and will take effect within six months, a senior environment ministry official told Reuters on Thursday.

He said the ban was agreed at a meeting on Wednesday chaired by Surasak Kanchanarat, the environment minister.

“The meeting yesterday passed a resolution to stop importing 432 kinds of electronic waste and to ensure...that this is enforced within six months,” said the official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Mongukol Pruekwatana, director general of the department of industrial works, told Reuters a full list of banned items would be announced soon.

E-waste - commonly defined as any device with an electric cord or battery - can be mined for valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper. However, it can also include hazardous material such as lead, mercury and cadmium.

Surasak told Thai media on Wednesday that imports of some electronic appliances and second-hand devices would be allowed if these items can be repaired and reused.

Scrap metal, including aluminum, copper and steel, can still be imported for industrial use, but must be separated at the country of origin and cleaned, he said.

Thailand’s e-waste ban follows a series of raids that began in May on factories accused of illegally importing and processing electronic waste.

Environmentalists say waste once destined for China is being re-routed to Southeast Asia, and new laws are needed or existing laws better enforced to prevent illegal imports.

Vietnam’s central bank said on Wednesday it has asked banks to tighten lending to projects deemed environmentally unfriendly. It said banks must have strategies for environmental risk management by 2025.

Thailand also planned to ban imports of plastic waste in the next two years, the environment ministry official said, but he gave no details of the program.

The death of a pilot whale in June found with some 80 pieces of plastic rubbish in its stomach focused attention on what environmentalists call Thailand’s “addiction” to plastic bags and packaging.

Thailand’s military government has said improving the country’s waste management infrastructure is a priority and set goals for 2021.

They included cutting the use of plastic bags and bottles in government agencies and businesses, and plastic bans in tourist destinations. A tax on plastic bags has also been mentioned, along with a target to recycle up to 60 percent of plastic by 2021.

Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpant and Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Additional reporting by Khanh Vu in HANOI; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Darren Schuettler


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