Best of our wild blogs: 25 May 16



Faces behind the Chinese Opera (Pulau Ubin) - Part II
Rojak Librarian



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Authorities probing surge of gastroenteritis patients at Owen Road

More than 180 cases have been reported, and many had patronised the Pek Kio Market and Food Centre.
Channel NewsAsia 24 May 16;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH), National Environment Agency (NEA), Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and PUB, Singapore’s national water agency (PUB) are investigating a surge of patients with gastroenteritis in the Owen Road area, they announced on Tuesday (May 24).

As of May 23, more than 180 cases have been reported, the agencies said in a joint press release. Investigation into the possible source has not concluded; however, as a precautionary measure, NEA will close Pek Kio Market and Food Centre for a thorough cleaning and disinfection from May 25 and 26. The market will re-open on May 27.

On May 19, MOH was alerted by a general practitioner at Owen Road that the clinic had seen an unusual increase in the number of cases of gastroenteritis since May 16. Further investigations found that other clinics in the area had experienced a similar increase. In all, more than 180 cases had sought medical treatment for symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain in the past week. The cases typically recovered within a few days. There were seven patients who are warded at Tan Tock Seng Hospital for observation. All of them are recovering well, the agencies said.

One of the gastroenteritis patients told Channel NewsAsia she had patronised the ‘tze char’ stall at a coffeeshop, as well as the vegetarian and bee hoon stalls at Pek Kio food centre last Monday and Tuesday.

The woman, who declined to be named, said she soon developed a fever and started vomiting on Tuesday, which led her to visit Cheong Clinic at Owen Road in the evening.

She said her stomach flu worsened and had to make another trip to the clinic a few days later. By then, the clinic had informed the Ministry of Health (MOH).

“MOH reacted really quickly. I’m very pleased with their efficiency,” she said, adding that officers contacted her to find out what food she had consumed or bought in the neighbourhood.

The resident who has called the Owen Road area home for more than 20 years, also said her neighbours saw MOH officers collecting samples from all food stalls at Pek Kio food centre.

NEA, MOH, AVA and PUB said they had commenced investigations into the cause of the cases immediately on May 19, including collecting food and environmental samples from food outlets in the Owen Road area, as well as interviewing affected cases and screening stool samples from the affected cases. Their investigations found that the majority of the cases stayed near or visited the Owen Road area.

Many of them had also patronised the Pek Kio Market and Food Centre, although the investigations did not identify any specific food stall that could be the source of the reported cases.

Stool samples collected from cases tested positive for Rotavirus, commonly known as gastric flu.

In an update on Tuesday evening, PUB said it had conducted water quality tests on water samples collected from the tap points in the Pek Kio Market and Food Centre and the surrounding blocks, as well as from PUB watermains. It found that the water from these sources met WHO guidelines for drinking water safety.

The water agency said it was involved in investigations as part of "standard operating procedures".

During the period of closure, stallholders and Tanjong Pagar Town Council’s cleaning contractor will conduct a thorough cleaning of the centre as follows:

• Cleaning of all utensils (i.e. plates, bowls, cutlery) with food-grade disinfectants;
• Disinfection of all dining tables and chairs, food preparation surfaces, walls and floors; and
• Disinfection of the public toilets, including all toilet fixtures such as taps, door handles and wash basins.

MOH and NEA said they briefed the stallholders on Tuesday afternoon on the details of the cleaning and disinfection work. NEA will also be issuing advisories to other stakeholders in the area to remind all premises owners to maintain high hygiene standards of public contact surfaces.

- CNA/ly


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A clammy situation for cockle importers

'Si Hum' supply harmed by pollution, rising temperatures
The New Paper 24 May 16;

The cost of blood cockles, commonly referred to as 'si hum', has gone up.

Local importer and supplier Siong Hong Seafood used to pay $100 for 65kg, but now pays as much as $170.

Its general manager Lee Ya Xiong, 48, told The New Paper that pollution and rising temperatures have led to a drastic fall in Malaysia's cockle harvest.

"We have no idea how to solve this problem," he said.

At its peak in 2005, Malaysia produced 100,000 tonnes of cockles for both local consumption and export.

Only 16,000 tonnes were harvested last year, Malaysian newspaper The Star reported.

One of the issues was the deteriorating water quality in the cockles' breeding environment.

Singapore's live cockle imports from Malaysia dipped from 2,500 tonnes in 2014 to 2,000 tonnes last year, Agri-food and Veterinary Authority figures show.

From January to April this year, 600 tonnes of cockles were imported from Malaysia.

Siong Hong accounts for 70 per cent of Singapore's total cockle supply to local food vendors, said Mr Lee.

So far, Siong Hong has managed to keep the price of cockles affordable for hawkers and restaurants here, at $4 per kilogram.

COSTS

One of Siong Hong's customers, 363 Katong Laksa in Holland Village, said that cockles are slightly more expensive now, but it has yet to pass on the higher costs to consumers as it is still bearable.

"At least we don't have problems getting cockles from the supplier," said outlet supervisor Gina Tang Qin Yu, 43.

The Katong Laksa outlet uses up 18 to 20 bags of cockles each day, with each bag weighing 500g.

Local harvester Ah Hua Kelong has helped ease the cockle crunch.

The kelong harvests about 20kg of cockles twice a month, said its marketing manager Bryan Ang, 27.

"Most of the cockles that we supply locally are those found together with prawns," he told TNP.

Supply has dropped for the kelong located off Changi and Sembawang. But this has been due to heavy rain in recent months.

Pollution affects its production in Malaysia, while Ah Hua Kelong is in the East of Singapore - far away from the affected areas, said Mr Ang.

"Supply is still not enough to meet demand, but we don't want to spoil the environment," he added.

The blood cockle is an essential ingredient in popular local dishes such as char kway teow and laksa, explained Mr Lee. "It can't be replaced with other meats for the delicious taste. It's just not the same," he said.

The company will continue importing as there is still a huge market for cockles in Singapore.

"Besides, we've heard from our sources in Malaysia that the situation in the sea is improving," said Mr Lee.

Harvesting to be disallowed during spawning

Pollution has put Malaysia's multi-million ringgit cockle breeding industry on the brink.

Mr Abu Talib Ahmad, senior director of research at Fisheries Research Institute, told Malaysian newspaper The Star that all three main cockle-breeding states were affected by pollution.

Selangor, Perak and Johor have been affected by the pollution which resulted in high mortality of cockles and spats (young cockles).

At its peak in 2005, Malaysia produced 100,000 tonnes of cockles for both local consumption and export.

But only 16,000 tonnes were harvested last year, in an industry now estimated to be valued at about RM160m (S$55m).

BAN

The Fisheries Department now wants a ban on harvesting during peak spawning season to revive the swiftly falling numbers, reported The Star.

Research carried out by the department, with the support of Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Sciences, recommended an annual "closed season" on cockle harvesting and permanent sites where harvesting is disallowed completely to allow natural spawning.

It also wants government agencies to step up pollution control as part as an overall management plan.


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Singapore's peak durian season hit as Johor drought hurts supplies

Hot, dry weather in Johor has hit durian production, with plantation owners struggling to deliver in time for the traditional start of the peak season.
Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 24 May 16;

SINGAPORE: Durian lovers in the Republic may have to wait a little longer to get a taste of quality fruits from across the Causeway, after a prolonged dry spell affected crops and delayed the peak season for Johor supplies by more than a month.

Plantation owners and suppliers Channel NewsAsia spoke to said the first batch of durians harvested in Johor this year has been much smaller than normal. A further problem is that the quality is inconsistent, and some are looking further north to compensate.

FEWER DURIANS IN SOUTHERN MALAYSIA

Top Fruits has about 3,000 durian trees in its orchard in Johor, making it one of the largest plantations in Malaysia. Its co-owner, Mr Tan Sue Sian, said the number of durians in the first batch of this year's harvest is down by as much as 70 per cent compared to last year.

Mr Tan said: "For the budding and flowering, it has to be hot and humid for them to bud out. When it buds, it comes out like a matchstick. During this period, it should be very hot. But once it starts flowering, we should have some water coming in. If there is no rainwater during that period, the whole thing will drop and will not successfully bear fruit. In March and April, when it is supposed to be flowering time, there was no rain water. So the success rate in getting the fruits was very small, and that is why the crop has been smaller in quantity and size."

Mr Tan said he has had to increase the price of his durians by about 30 per cent. His company exports the fruit to countries including Singapore and China.

Ah Seng Durian in Ghim Moh is a popular stall among Singaporeans wanting to get their durian fix. Its owner, Mr Shui Poh Sing, said he usually gets his supply from Muar and Tangkak. This year, his suppliers have estimated that only 20 per cent of durian flowers have grown into fruits. So, for the first time he is sourcing durians from Penang.

"In Penang, their durians are more heritage type, like Bak You, D15, Greenskin, Hor Lor, these are old type durian cultivars which are not found in the Southern parts. For those who have been eating Mao Shan (Wang), there is no compromise, because Mao Shan's characteristics are that they have an intense flavour, strong bitter taste and are sweet. Whereas for the heritage durian, either they are bitter or bitter sweet. The pungent smell is also not there," said Mr Shui.

He added that customers have reacted positively to his Penang durians. A customer at his stall, Ms Elaine Hew is one of them.

"I heard about the bad harvest so I was quite worried that it may be true that we will not be able to enjoy the durian compared to previous years. But the price is okay, and the quality is as good as previous years."

Another popular stall, Combat Durian in Balestier, also gets its durians from Johor and Pahang. Owner Linda Ang said the supply of popular durian varieties such as Mao Shan Wang, D24 and Golden Phoenix has been affected.

She said, "Customers have asked me about this and I said 'Yes, it (the durian supply) has been affected because of the weather'. So maybe you can try some other durians instead of taking Mao Shan Wang - such as the Gang Hai, Hor Lor or D13'."

DURIAN SEASON EXTENDED

The durian season typically lasts from June to September, but suppliers and sellers expect the season this year to only get fully underway in July and be extended to October.

Mr Tan said: "In May, we have had quite a bit of rain coming down regularly so the second part of the flowering has started. For that to come out, it takes 150 days. So the next crop will be somewhere around late July and so that will be a big crop. It will make up for the losses in the first batch".

Durian supplier, Mr Nicholas Tan, agreed. "Last year, the trees were already fruiting in May. This year, the volume will be there, but it is stretched over the year," said the owner of T&L Impact Enterprise.

Mr Shui says he will go back to importing durians from Johor once the region starts having a steady stream of fruit.

- CNA/mo


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Malaysia: Rivers may get bigger buffer zones

TASNIM LOKMAN New Straits Times 24 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: All rivers in the country, including those at serious risk of being severely polluted, will have a minimum buffer zone of 20m on both sides of the riverbank.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, concerned about the fate of rivers, is determined to make this happen, and the National Water Resources Council which will convene on Thursday, will hear why this is necessary.

Its minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, told the New Straits Times the woes plaguing the country’s rivers were the result of not only failure to observe regulations but insufficient laws to protect water sources.

The proposals came as good news for environmentalists and rural communities pushing for the preservation of water sources, and will compel stakeholders, including state governments, to protect rivers in their states.

Expanding the river reserves, from the minimum 10m to 20m, Wan Junaidi said, would shield rivers from pollution due to human activities.

This, he added, would serve as a filter for mud, soil and solids washed down from hills, development and construction sites, and agricultural land.

“Mud, loose sand, soil and solids cause siltation in our rivers. The silt affects rivers in many ways. It reduces water volume and turns rivers murky, like teh tarik.

“We are trying to find the best ways to better protect our rivers in line with efforts to preserve the country’s water security,” he said.

Wan Junaidi said reports from his ministry indicated that the agriculture, plantation, logging and development sectors were adversely impacting rivers in the country.

“The effect of human activities on the rivers can be clearly seen.

“This issue is the responsibity of the respective states and we have no choice but to talk to them.

“I will talk to all the states and once I have made my case, I will introduce a new set of rules.”

It is believed that Wan Junaidi will propose that states adopt practical and long-term measures, besides rigid enforcement.

States will have to work with federal authorities in preserving the environment, he said.

Wan Junaidi had told the NST that one of the initiatives to facilitate better protection of water sources was through the establishment of a Central Water Management Agency.

This agency would address all cross-jurisdictional issues between the state and the federal governments.

Wan Junaidi also said his ministry was ready to table several papers on alternative water sources to the National Water Resources Council.

The council, which is headed by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, is expected to look at underground water sources and rainfall harvesting as alternative options in ensuring the country’s water security.

Wan Junaidi said based on studies by a local university, Malaysia harvested only 15 per cent of rainwater each year.

“We have nearly nine million centimetres of rainfall nationwide every year, and only that much is caught.

“The rest goes into the ocean and results in floods. The aim is to harvest more rain and stop flooding.

“We will find out how much the infrastructure to facilitate this will cost.

“This is a new area to explore. We have been suffering and this is a start,” he said.

Wan Junaidi said his ministry would review the current distribution of water for domestic, industrial and agricultural use.

The council, he said, would explore the various options on how to best manage water resources.


Keep land along rivers in natural state, says expert
New Straits Times 24 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: River buffer zones must host native flora and function as habitats for fauna.
Water quality expert Dr Zaki Zainudin said this as he welcomed the proposal to have at least 20m of reserve land along rivers to counter pollution.

“The move is commendable. I hope the stakeholders will adhere to this directive if it comes into effect. The problem is while we have guidelines, many do not follow them.”

He said the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry must ensure that they were not “bald”.

“There is no use in having a buffer if the natural habitat is destroyed. It doesn’t function as a filter if it is bald,” he told the New Straits Times.

Zaki said riparian zones prevented erosion and maintained riverbank stability.

He said they acted as natural filters that removed pollutants such as solids (from erosion), ammonia, nitrate, phosphate (fertilisers) and other substances, in surface runoff.

“From what I see on the ground, besides encroachment, riparian areas are destroyed and left bald. I’m not sure whether this is due to ignorance or greed.”

Zaki said the Drainage and Irrigation Department had published river reserve guidelines but they were not imposed in all states.
He said Selangor was a good example of a state that observed the guidelines.


He said riparian areas that had already been encroached on or destroyed must be rehabilitated.

Due to the enormous scale of the destruction, he said it was not feasible for the government to undertake the work.

Instead, he said, those who were responsible for destroying or encroaching on riparian land should be required to restore them.

Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia (LKIM) chairman Datuk Irmohizam Ibrahim also welcomed the proposal.

He said it was a good decision to focus on protecting the ecosystem as it would automatically improve aquaculture in rivers.

“This helps to protect all types of fish in our rivers. It will filter pollutants and improve the health of the river.”

Irmohizam added that the ministry should work with the National Fishermen’s Association.

“Engaging with them is the key. Their feedback will be vital in implementing the proposal as they utilise the rivers daily,” he said.

Irmohizam said fishermen, such as those who breed patin and tilapia in Sungai Pahang, were known as nelayan darat (land fishermen).

He said LKIM was ready to assist fishermen who were affected by last year’s flood and patin breeders in Temerloh who had suffered losses during the recent drought.


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Malaysia: Illegal farmers are back in Cameron, barely a year after Ops Gading

RAHMAT KHAIRULRIJAL New Straits Times 24 May 16;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Illegal farmers have returned to Cameron Highlands, barely a year after the authorities had launched a massive joint operation to curb illegal farming and land encroachment here.

National Security Council (NSC) secretary Datuk Seri Alias Ahmad said areas which had previously been cleared of illegal farming were Ringlet, Sungai Mention, Kampung Raja and Lembah Bertam.

“We have discovered that illegal farmers have returned to their old ways in three locations near Blue Valley and Lembah Bertam, involving seven hectares of state land.

"The Irrigation and Drainage Department have also identified 26 rivers which had been encroached for the same activity. "We view this matter seriously.

Those who found guilty will face the consequences under Ops Gading 2, which was launched on March 3," he said after chairing the Cameron Highland Rehabilitation Technical Committee meeting here today.

He said phase two of the operation from March to July will focus on encroachment, eradicating illegal workers, as well as rehabilitating Cameron Highlands.

"Various actions will be taken against the culprits if they are found to be working in cahoots with the illegal farmers," he said.

He said enforcement officers, who conducted the operation, were threatened by gangsters believed to have been hired by illegal farmers.

A total of 83 per cent out of 2,258.16 hectares land for illegal farming had been destroyed from Dec 2014 to Dec 2015.

It was reported that the government needed at least RM2.2 billion in order to fully rehabilitate Cameron Highland, which had been ravaged by the scourge of illegal farming.


Evicted farmers from Cameron Highlands can seek state government help
FERNANDO FONG New Straits Times 24 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Small farmers in Cameron Highlands who are evicted from their farms can seek help from the state for resettlement purposes, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

He said the Federal government, through the Cameron Highlands Action Council Committee chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, has been working with Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob to help them.

New settlements will be set up to relocate small farmers who are evicted in the first place because they do not have TOL (temporary occupation licence).

Access to basic facilities such as water, road and electricity will be provided at these settlements, to be planned by the Rural and Regional Development Ministry, he added.

The small farmers had been evicted during "Ops Gading”, a joint operation led by the National Security Council (NSC) to curb illegal farming and land encroachment.

The operation was launched in Dec 2014 following mud floods that devastated the agriculture town of Bertam Valley.

“It is intended to crack down on large-scale commercial farmers who occupy vast amounts of land with labour provided by illegal foreign workers.

"Some of the illegal foreign workers even ventured to set up farms on their own,” said Wan Junaidi.

He was replying a question from Fuziah Salleh (PKR-Kuantan) who wanted to know the solution for small farmers who had been evicted for occupying state land without permission.

Fuziah said when they tried to apply for land to resettle, they were told by the District Office that there was no more land available for farming.

Wan Junaidi said Fuziah can help them by submitting a name list to the Menteri Besar.

At the same time, he said the Bertam river widening project is almost ready and will increase the water capacity by six times.

“This will help to avert flood in Bertam Valley as we want to save the place. “The government takes note of the farmers’ contribution and we will always consider their needs,” he said.

The Bertam Valley project, which is carried out at a cost of RM 30.8 million, will widen as well deepen the river by up to 200,000 square metres, benefiting some 3,000 people.


Three more areas illegally cleared
IVAN LOH The Star 25 May 16;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Despite the curbs and the many efforts taken, several new areas here have been illegally opened up for farming, worsening what was already a bad situation.

National Security Council secretary Datuk Seri Alias Ahmad said the ongoing Ops Gading had found three new areas, involving some 7.28ha of land, that have been illegally cleared.

“These were found at Blue Valley and Bertam Valley.

“We have asked TNB to cut off the electric supply to these areas,” he said after chairing an Ops Gading Phase II meeting at the district council here yesterday.

“We will seize the heavy machinery found at these illegally-cleared sites,” he said, adding that the second phase of the operation, which began on March 3, would end on July 30.

Alias also said the Drainage and Irrigation Department had identified 26 areas along river reserves that have been encroached.

These areas, he said, included two areas in Sungai Mansion, four in Ringlet and one each at Kampung Raja and Bertam Valley.

He added that existing operators or farmers were also returning to their illegally cleared land to continue their farming operations there.

“At least 83% of these illegal farm sites were destroyed during the previous operation.

“Many farmers are returning to these sites. We will be taking action against them again,” he added.

Alias said enforcement personnel had received threats from some people, including tontos, during the operation.

“There were verbal threats and bottle throwing. Some were shot at with darts.

“We will not view this lightly, although no one was hurt,” he said.

Alias said this year’s operation was on a smaller scale compared to the first one.

“It involves about 57 personnel from 18 agencies,” he said.

Noting that the operation was aimed at preventing illegal clearing of land, Alias said it was also focused on curbing illegal immigrants.

“We are now adopting a softer approach to educate and to create awareness on preserving the environment, which is the main pull factor for the highlands as a tourism destination.

“There were also some foreign companies involved, financing some local farmers. We are still investigating that,” he said.

“We will propose to the Companies Commission to blacklist them and the Immigration to bar them from entering the country,” he added.

Alias said enforcement efforts were not a long-term solution to curb land clearing activities.

“This is why we are looking at using a soft approach.

“Education is the key. We want to create awareness among the people and farmers,” he said.


‘Clearing has been going on non-stop’
The Star 25 May 16;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Land clearing activity on the highland has been continuing non-stop despite Ops Gading, said Regional Environmental Awareness Came­ron Highlands (Reach) president R. Ramakrishnan.

“I know it won’t stop overnight but the Government needs to be serious about this,” he said when interviewed.

“The only positive change is that the Federal Government is continuing with Ops Gading.”

Ramakrishnan said Reach had been highlighting the illegal land clearing issue for the past 16 years.

Corruption, he said, was one reason land clearing activities were still happening.

“After the matter was highlighted, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission set up an office here but no serious action has been taken.

“They said no reports (on land clearing) have been lodged with them, which is an excuse. If they charge someone, the public can trust them,” he added.

Ramakrishnan said the temperature at the highlands had been gradually rising since the 1980s, caused by land clearing activities.

“The greenhouse farming method used by farmers is also having an effect,” he said.

He said one good indicator that the temperature was rising was the effect on nature.

“We can see changes in the climate especially on the flora and fauna.

“Some mountain birds can’t be found anymore. The dendrobium brinchang ensis orchid, which only grows here, is rarely found now,” he added.

In April, National Security Council secretary Datuk Seri Alias Ahmad said phase one of Ops Gading, from December 2014 to 2015, had seen 98 illegal farming cases probed by the police.

The second phase that is on now will continue until July.

The plan is to rid Cameron Highlands of illegal farming and development, re-greening the area and legalising undocumented workers by 2030.


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Malaysia: Three environmental NGOs get go-ahead to challenge Taman Rimba Ampang closure

HIDIR REDUAN New Straits Times 24 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and two other environmental organisations got a High Court nod to challenge the closure of Taman Rimba Ampang to make way for the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE).

This was confirmed today via telephone by lawyer Kwan Will Sen, who said judge Datuk Hanipah Farikullah granted leave for commencement of judicial review on May 11.

Kwan is acting for MNS and the other two judicial review applicants, Treat Every Environment Special Sdn Bhd (TEES) and Association for the Protection of Natural Heritage of Malaysia(PEKA).

He said the court had ordered a temporary halt to the park's closure and related construction works pending disposal of the legal challenge.

On April 11, the three environmental organisations filed the legal action in reaction to the Jan 9 decision by the three respondents to close the park from Jan 5 to May 5.

According to court papers, the park (Taman Rimba Ampang) is the main access of the public to the Ampang Forest Reserve in Gombak, which is targeted for the EKVE project.

The EKVE project involves a proposed toll highway connecting Bandar Sungai Long and Ukay Perdana.

MNS, TEES and PEKA seek to nullify the authorisation - by the Selangor Forestry Department and co-respondents Ampang Jaya Municipal Council and the Selangor state government - for the construction works and related logging in the Ampang Forest Reserve.

The three organisations claimed that the three respondents' action are in conflict with the Federal government's position on deforestation as Malaysia had ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on July 13, 1994.

They claimed that the construction works in the Ampang Forest Reserve would threaten the biological diversity and balance of the Selangor State Park, via destruction of its unique habitat for endangered animals like tigers, tapirs, Malayan Sun Bears, leopards and Sumatran Serows (species of goat-antelope).

They alleged that any construction in the Ampang Forest Reserve would jeopardise a key water catchment area and pollute the water source to the people of Selangor.

They also claimed that the construction would adversely affect dam integrity and safety, negatively impact eco-tourism, and cause deforestation which could lead to microclimate change.

They seek a declaration that the Ampang Forest Reserve is a Rank 1 Environmentally Sensitive Area, which if granted would make the park closure a violation of government policies under the Town and Country Planning Act 1976.

Rank 1 Environmentally Sensitive Area designation bars any development projects in designated areas, like national and state parks, and water catchment areas.

They seek a declaration that the closure decision violated environmental laws, which are the National Forestry Act 1984, National Forestry (Adoption) Enactment 1985, and Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, and the Town and Country Planning Act.

The judicial review is set for case management before the High Court Registry here tomorrow.


Organisations granted leave to challenge Taman Rimba Ampang closure
M. MAGESWARI The Star 24 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Three organisations have been allowed to challenge the decision of the Selangor Forestry Department to close Taman Rimba Ampang to make way for the construction of the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE).

According to court papers made available to the media on Tuesday, Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Treat Every Environment Special Sdn Bhd and Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka) have obtained an interim stay for the EKVE project be suspended until the disposal of hearing.

The applicants want a declaration that the decision to close the park is against the policies of the Government which had identified all national and state parks and water catchment forests as “environmentally sensitive areas”.

Taman Rimba Ampang is the main access point for the public to the Ampang Forest Reserve. It is a popular tourist spot for families and birdwatchers.

The three applicants have named Selangor state government, the Selangor Forestry Department and Ampang Jaya Municipal Council as respondents.


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Malaysians waste 15,000 tonnes of food daily

The Star 25 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians waste 15,000 tonnes of food daily, including 3,000 tonnes still fit for consumption. Fifteen thousand tonnes is equivalent to 1.5 million bags of 10kg rice.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Nogeh Gumbek said the increasing food wastage, especially during festive seasons, should be curbed.

“Research conducted by the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) shows that 28.4% of the padi produced is wasted.

“As for fruits and vegetables, 20%-50% is thrown away,” he said after opening the “MySaveFood” forum here yesterday.

Nogeh said the Government through Mardi was conducting several programmes nationwide to educate the public on the consequences of food wastage.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) senior enterprise development officer Dr Rosa Rolle said the Food Loss and Waste (FLW) Standard would be launched next month in a bid to address the challenges of quantifying food loss and waste.

“The FLW Standard will enable a wide range of entities, countries and other regions to account for and report in a credible, practical and internationally consistent manner, how much food loss and waste is created and identify where it occurs, thus enabling the targeting of efforts to reduce it,” she said.

Rolle said the development of the standard was being coordinated by the World Resources Institute together with the Consumer Goods Forum and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

“Globally, about 1.3 billion tonnes of food valued at RM4.4 trillion is lost or wasted yearly,” she added.

The “MySaveFood” forum attended by 100 participants from government agencies and the private sector aimed to create awareness about the food life cycle and to reduce food waste.

It was jointly organised by FAO and Mardi. — Bernama


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Indonesia revises regulations on managing forest fires

All stakeholders - from local administrators to companies that own the concessions - were summoned to the forestry ministry on Tuesday (May 24) to be briefed on the revisions.
Sujadi Siswo Channel NewsAsia 24 May 16;

JAKARTA: The ministerial regulations on the management of forest fires have been reviewed following last year’s transboundary haze disaster that cost the Indonesian economy billions of dollars and affected millions of people in Indonesia and parts of Southeast Asia.

All stakeholders - from local administrators to companies that own the concessions - were summoned to the forestry ministry on Tuesday (May 24) to be briefed on the revisions.

A major part of the revisions revolves around placing greater responsibility on plantation companies to detect and prevent fires.

“In this Ministerial Regulation No. 32, we have made it compulsory for companies to involve communities in fire prevention programmes,” said Raffles Panjaitan, director of forest fire prevention at the ministry. “It was compulsory before, but their capacity was not increased. There's better technology now. We can use satellite technology. There's also CCTV using thermal camera. Previously, monitoring was done from a fire tower."

These revised regulations give authorities a firmer hand in dealing with errant companies and individuals.

More coordinated forest patrols have also been launched in more than 500 villages in fire-prone Sumatra and Kalimantan. With these provisions in place, Jakarta wants to demonstrate that it is able to tackle forest fires on its own.

“We hope there’s mutual respect between governments,” said the ministry's secretary-general, Bambang Hedroyono. “We have done many things with the same intention (that) there’ll be no more smoke and fire. And that is what we want to show. We are working very hard in the concession and non-concession areas.”

There has been unhappiness in some quarters in Jakarta over Singapore’s move to initiate legal action against Indonesian companies that allegedly caused last year’s haze. Some Indonesian officials see it as harassment.

It is also said to have triggered Jakarta's review of its collaboration with Singapore on preventing forest fires in Sumatra. A ministry official said the review will be completed in about a week’s time.

With the revised ministerial regulations now in place, Jakarta may have less reason to join forces with its neighbour to tackle forest fires.

- CNA/ek


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Indonesia: Are We Ready for the Haze Season?

TEMPO 24 May 16;

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta-It has been more than six months since devastating forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan caused the annual havoc not only in Indonesia but also in neighboring Singapore and parts of Malaysia. There were loss of life, health hazards and massive environmental degradation.

With another dry season just around the corner and about 50 hotspots already detected by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) in Sumatra and the Riau archipelago, the question that needs to be asked is just how ready we are to deal with yet another potential disaster.

Dubbed as the worst transboundary haze pollution since the first severe one in 1997, last year's fires occurring from June to October destroyed some 2.6 million hectares of forest and farmland in Indonesia and caused losses estimated at US$33.5 billion.

Furthermore, thousands of residents in six provinces-Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra and West, Central and South Kalimantan-had to be relocated away from their homes after the government declared a state of emergency in those areas. The health of more than 43 million people were affected, with the worst cases of respiratory diseases suffered by young children and senior citizens.

What lessons have been learned from the disaster and what action has since been taken to prevent a recurrence of the fires or to at least lessen their destructive impact?

President Joko Widodo's immediate response to impose a moratorium on new forest and peatland clearances is certainly commendable, along with his declaration that peatland restoration will be the keystone of the government efforts to prevent fires and reduce carbon emissions.

As a result, all eyes are now on the newly established Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG), led by former environmental activist Nazir Foead. The BRG has become the main institution mandated to address a problem that has kept recurring over the past two decades. Speaking at the 3rd Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources last April, an annual event organized by the Singapore Institute of International Studies, Foead declared there would be no repeat of the severe haze that affected the region last year.

"There will be fires, but the scale of the haze-creating fires will be dramatically reduced," said the former director of World Wildlife Fund Indonesia. "Our target is to have no haze choking our communities, our farms, our cities or our neighbors."

Those are encouraging words indeed and we hope Foead's promises are deliverable. But just what are the new resolutions that can ensure a better preparation for this year's haze season?

First, the political problem of having to coordinate all related governmental units-both central and regional-seems to have been addressed with the establishment of regional task forces in nine provinces, comprising local governments and law enforcement authorities working under the direction of the coordinating ministry for politics, law and security.

This shows good commitment, given that the failure to respond rapidly to last year's disaster was because of a woeful lack of coordination between local administrations and the ministries of the environment and forestry, health, social affairs, finance and transportation. The primary responsibility for preventing and tackling forest fires will continue to rest with the respective provincial and local governments.

Most importantly, are the underlying causes of the fires being seriously addressed? What is being done to ensure that the moratorium on new land clearances-despite its many shortcomings-is being complied with by all government units and what mechanism is in place to monitor that compliance? Is the One Map policy being enforced? This initiative was intended to avoid the overlapping of laws and regulations and above all, to ensure that measures such as the No Deforestation policy can be transparent and effectively supervised.

It is also encouraging to hear that in addition to the physical preventive measures being put in place-such as the water canals surrounding peatlands and additional wells in villages-the private sector also finally seems to be playing its part in forest protection.

Although it might be a case of too little too late, companies like Golden Agri Resources appear committed towards a sustainable forest economy with its long-term financing program aimed at helping independent small-holders increase their productivity without opening up new lands.

All these measures seem hopeful but their effectiveness still need to be tested and proven when the haze season comes to haunt us once more.

Yuli Ismartono


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Review of Singapore-Indonesia haze-linked programmes to be done by next week: Jakarta environmental official

Arlina Arshad Straits Times 24 May 16;

JAKARTA - A senior Indonesian environmental official said on Tuesday (May 24) that a review of collaborative programmes between Indonesia and Singapore will be completed by next week.

Mr Bambang Hendroyono, Secretary-General of the Environment and Forestry Ministry, did not elaborate but his comments come after tensions between the neighbours increased over Singapore’s decision to take action against a director of an Indonesian company linked to last year’s haze.

On May 14, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar reportedly said that certain bilateral collaborations would be terminated and others subjected to a "substantial review".

The Indonesian government has not elaborated on the collaborative programmes.

Ms Siti’s comments came after Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) obtained a court warrant against an Indonesian company director after he failed to turn up for an interview despite being served a legal notice to do so. The director, whose name and company were not disclosed, was expected to explain his firm’s measures to tackle fires on its land.

The NEA has said that its actions were in line with the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014, which allows for prosecution of companies that cause the haze. But some critics say the NEA’s move was an attack on the nation’s sovereignty.

Mr Bambang told reporters that Indonesia was “fighting hard” not only to prevent a repeat of last year’s haze and was also going after errant companies responsible for the wildfires.

“We hope from government to government, that we can respect each other... we have done a lot of things with the same intentions, that there will be no more haze, no more forest fires,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting on forest fire and haze management among relevant ministries, agencies and companies in Jakarta.

Without singling out Singapore, he said countries “cannot just be looking from one perspective”.

The ministry’s director of forest fire control Raffles Panjaitan had stronger words. He told reporters: “Don’t let others harass us and destroy our companies. They’re our people.”


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Indonesia: Reviving peatlands needs strict control

Erlinda Ekaputri Jakarta Post 24 May 16;

The initiative of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to establish the Peatland Restoration Agency ( BRG ) is a very positive step for sustainable development. The agency is tasked with restoring 2 million hectares of degraded peatland that resulted from land clearing and burning by industrial plantations for agricultural cultivation.

The restoration target is part of the government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas ( GHG ) emissions by 26 percent.

Some 80 percent of Indonesia’s GHG emissions arise from land use, particularly the clearing and burning of forests driven by land cultivation interests, and peatland fires.

Fires on peatland are particularly difficult to detect and extinguish — made worse by activities like draining of peat forests for land use, which result in peat decomposition and CO2 release, as well as increased vulnerability to fire.

Every year, these forest and land fires lead to huge economic losses, devastating health impacts and major destruction of ecosystems and key species.

A 2015 World Bank study found that the last fire and haze crisis caused a US$16 billion loss to the economy — twice the cost of reconstruction efforts following the 2004 tsunami and earthquake in Aceh and North Sumatra.

Of the many locations of the peatland restoration program, Pulang Pisau regency in Central Kalimantan is a priority for the agency.

This region was selected due to the 3,808 hot spots detected last September, the highest number of hot spots in Central Kalimantan.

Last year’s analysis of burn scar mapping published by the Environment and Forestry Ministry shows that the destroyed land area reached 217,398 ha.

Moreover, research conducted by the USAID Lestari project on the impacts from the 2015 forest and land fires in the Katingan-Kahayan Landscape underscored the significant economic losses endured by communities in Pulang Pisau.

Almost 80 percent of the paddy fields, rubber plantations, oil palm plantations and rattan forests were burnt. The income of more than 2,000 households in seven subdistricts declined by 75 percent.

These households also had to bear rising expenses amid increased prices of basic goods resulting from higher distribution costs faced by suppliers.

Health costs soared by more than 200 percent. The most common health problems were acute respiratory infections and diarrhea resulting from poor quality drinking water.

Forest fires are considered common and locals have become accustomed to the haze.

However, hotspots are increasing every year. Locals mostly blame the forest fires on the long drought due to El NiƱo conditions, followed by land clearing by locals and land clearing by private plantation companies.

Alternatively, the spreading of forest fires can be seen as a result of a lack of government intervention. This may be apparent in the weak law enforcement in addressing violators, limited firefighting equipment, the need for more water canals to be built in the region and the necessity for more programs empowering local community institutions to prevent forest fires.

Covering 12 million ha, 80 percent of the total area in Asia, carbon-rich peatland is vital to reducing GHG emissions and improving local livelihoods. Peatland is strategic in supplying and managing millions of cubic meters of fresh water in Indonesia.

Therefore, we must ensure harmony between the natural function of peatland and people’s activities in that environment.

Excessive exploitation of peatland that is converted to oil palm plantations should be avoided, as this would significantly increase CO2 emissions.

Peatland converted to oil palm plantations with average drainage capacity of 60 centimeters can produce 54.6 tons of CO2 per ha annually, according to earlier studies.

Therefore, the utilization of peatland should be either minimized or stopped completely. It should no longer be used for human settlement, agriculture, or industrial plantation development — except with strict and enforceable controls in place.
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Without a moratorium, it is predicted that 300,000 ha of peatland will be converted every year ...

The government’s plan to issue a moratorium on new licenses for oil palm plantations is certainly a breath of fresh air. Without a moratorium, it is predicted that 300,000 ha of peatland will be converted every year for the next 20 years to achieve the palm oil production target of 40 million tons per year.

After last year’s forest fires, peatland restoration was mostly carried out by involving revegetation and rehabilitation of the hydrological system through rewetting and installing barriers and canal covers.

Another measure was strict law enforcement against corporations and individuals involved in causing forest fires. The government’s efforts were based on good intentions.

However, poor implementation may cause even more damage.

For example, if canals are built without compliance to regulations, this would start destroying the peatland.

As the researcher Bambang Setiadi wrote over a decade ago for the Center for International Forestry Research, “Don’t build any water canals if you do not know where the water will flow to. The water will run uncontrollably and this would be the beginning of destruction of the peatland.”

Researchers have identified two major issues in the utilization of peatland. The first relates to reclamation that includes providing accessibility, land clearing, drainage construction with wood mulch, erosion due to the sinking surface and management of the surface water.

The second issue relates to agronomy, namely management of land fertility that leads to low productivity and intensified fertilizing.

Another issue is that local people — those most affected by the forest fires and those first to know when a fire starts — should be supported by institutionalizing their roles in preventing and extinguishing fires and reviving the peatland.

Traditional communities should also be encouraged to apply local wisdom in controlling forest fires.

Such efforts would ensure that local communities do not become apathetic and leave fire prevention and suppression responsibilities to the government.

Reviving peatland is considered “indispensable” to curb forest and land fires, while preventing wider deforestation and mitigating the effects of climate change.

Without protecting our peatland from forest fires, Indonesia will not only be infamous for spreading haze to its own people but also for “exporting” it to neighboring countries.
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The author is the knowledge management coordinator at the Lestari Project for forestry under the US Agency for International Development ( USAID ).


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