Best of our wild blogs: 18 Jun 13

Job: Two RA positions (BSc) for “Bird and butterfly diversity on roof gardens” from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

“The ozone is thinning and we still keep burning” – “Hijau” by Zainal Abidin (1990) from Otterman speaks

Seagrass Watch - Training Workshop (8-9 and 15-16 Jun 2013)
from Psychedelic Nature

eagleantics @ marina bay - June 2013
from sgbeachbum

The rarest parrot in Singapore
from Life's Indulgences

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Singapore, Malaysia share some blame for haze: Indonesian official

Devianti Faridz Channel NewsAsia 18 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: An Indonesian official said Singapore and Malaysia share some of blame for the haze that has raised air pollution to "unhealthy" levels. The accusation was levelled at Singapore and Malaysian palm oil companies which he said also use the "slash and burn" method of clearing land.

Hadi Daryanto, who is the secretary-general of Indonesia's Forestry Ministry, has been quoted in a newspaper as saying that the "slash and burn" technique being used is the cheapest land clearing method but it is not only used by local farmers.

He said that employees of palm oil investors, including those from Singapore and Malaysian companies, also use this method.

Thus, he is asking also the Singapore and Malaysian companies to pay more attention to what is being done on the ground -- their farmers using this illegal "slash and burn" technique.

The haze from forest and peat land fires in Riau province are covering areas like Bengkalis, Dumai and Pekanbaru.

It has also disrupted flight schedules. In Dumai, municipality flight schedules at the Pinang Kampai Airport have been affected. Thick haze has hampered visibility -- which has been recorded at around 500 to 800 metres, posing a risk for flights.

The Dumai health office has also begun distributing over 50,000 masks for free to local residents.

The illegal clearing of forests by burning is a recurrent problem in Indonesia, particularly during the annual dry season that stretches from around June to September. This year, the haze came from forest and peat land fires in Bengkalis and Rokan Hilir Regencies.

The Bengkalis Disaster Mitigation Agency has said nearly 600 hectares of oil palm plantation and rubber plantation areas in three areas -- Sepahat, Tanjung Leban, Bukit Kerikil -- are currently burning.

Firefighters from a number of plantation companies, including local residents, are making efforts to extinguish the fires. However, they are facing difficulties in controlling it because of water shortages and strong winds.

At least 138 hot spots are currently being monitored in Jambi, Riau and South Sumatra -- that is significantly up compared to less than 100 spots the week before.

- CNA/ac

Singapore, Indonesia tussle over haze problem
AFP Yahoo News 18 Jun 13;

Smog from forest fires in Indonesia stayed at unhealthy levels in Singapore on Tuesday as the two neighbours blamed each other for the seasonal problem.

Singapore's Pollutant Standards Index stood at 115 as offices opened -- still above the "unhealthy" threshold of 100 but down from the peak reached late Monday when the entire island was shrouded by a smoky haze.

Most commuters walked in bright sunshine on Tuesday without covering their faces despite the lingering smell of burnt wood in the business district.

The Ministry of Manpower has urged employers to issue protective masks to staff with heart and respiratory problems, and those working outdoors. The elderly and children have also been told to reduce strenuous outdoor activity.

The pollutant index soared to a peak of 155 late Monday, the highest since Southeast Asia's prolonged haze crisis in 1997-1998, but eased off overnight.

On Monday, Singapore urged Indonesia to take "urgent measures" to tackle its forest fires as smoke blown from Sumatra island choked the densely populated city-state as well as parts of Malaysia.

But the Indonesian forestry ministry said firefighters were already tackling the blazes and water-dropping aircraft would be deployed if local governors made a request.

A ministry official, Hadi Daryanto, also attempted to shift some of the blame onto Malaysia and Singapore, saying their palm oil companies that had invested in Indonesia were also responsible.

"The slash-and-burn technique being used is the cheapest land-clearing method and it is not only used by local farmers, but also employees of palm oil investors including Singaporean and Malaysian companies," he said.

"We hope the governments of Malaysia and Singapore will tell their investors to adopt proper measures so we can solve this problem together."

But Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's minister for environment and water resources, kept up the pressure on Indonesia.

In remarks carried Tuesday by Singapore media, he said "commercial interests in Indonesia have been allowed to override environmental concerns."

He repeated an offer of help from Singapore, which has a modern military and civil defence system including firefighters.

The Singapore military came to Indonesia's aid after Aceh province was devastated by a tsunami in 2004.

Singapore pressures Indonesia to identify firms behind haze
Kevin Lim Reuters 18 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE | Tue Jun 18, 2013 6:37am EDT

(Reuters) - Singapore's worst air pollution in 16 years sparked diplomatic tension on Tuesday, as the city-state urged Indonesia to provide data on company names and concession maps to enable it to act against plantation firms that allow slash-and-burn farming.

Singapore's environment minister made the request to his Indonesian counterpart by telephone as air pollution on the island hit unhealthy levels for a second straight day, with some of the worst readings since a 1997 regional haze crisis.

"We need to exert commercial pressure against companies causing the haze," Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on his Facebook page, without saying what measures Singapore might take.

"We are also waiting for Indonesia to publish the concession maps. The combination of satellite photos, which are updated daily, and these concession maps would enable us to pinpoint the errant companies," he added.

Indonesia's environment minister could not be reached for comment, but senior official Sony Partono told Reuters, "Foreign parties should not be interfering with our domestic affairs."

He added, "The most important thing is that we have attempted to control the damage resulting from the forest fires," and said fire trucks had been dispatched to affected areas.

Plantation companies with land concessions in Indonesia include Wilmar International Ltd, Golden Agri-Resources Ltd and First Resources Ltd.

Singapore's pollutant standards index (PSI) rose to an unhealthy 155 on Monday night, prompting the U.S. embassy to advise Americans planning a visit to consult their doctors about the effects of air pollution.

Visibility improved slightly on Tuesday and the PSI score slipped back to a "moderate" level of 85 after peaking at 123 in the morning.

A map on the site of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) Specialized Meteorological Centre showed dozens of satellite-detected fires on Sumatra island on Tuesday with winds blowing east towards Singapore.

The haze has also enveloped some parts of neighboring Malaysia, with four regions suffering "unhealthy" PSI levels above 100 for a second day.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak took to his Twitter page on Tuesday to advise people to reduce outdoor activities and drink plenty of water, warning that the haze was expected to worsen.


Images of smog-shrouded Southeast Asian cities this week have highlighted the limited progress the region has made in fighting the problem since 1997, when the haze caused an estimated $9 billion in economic, social and environmental losses.

The illegal burning of forests to clear land for palm oil plantations is a recurrent problem in Indonesia, particularly during the annual dry season from June to September. Yet Indonesia is the only ASEAN member not to have ratified a 2002 pact on preventing haze pollution.

"Without the (Indonesian) republic, especially since the hotspots are found mainly there, little can be done," Malaysia's New Straits Times said in an editorial on Tuesday.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia's largest economy, has vastly expanded its palm oil plantations in the past decade, overtaking Malaysia to become the world's biggest supplier. In doing so it has cleared huge swathes of forest and peatland areas.

Corruption and Indonesia's decentralized political system have hindered efforts to stem the haze problem, said Jackson Ewing, a researcher at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

"Burning is quick, efficient and requires very little labor to clear land," he said.

"Government actors at the local level are colluding with private interests and central government authorities have difficulty influencing what is happening on the ground."

(Additional reporting by Dhea Renaldi in Jakarta and Stuart Grudgings in Kuala Lumpur; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Government to release more population data on the Web

Eugene Neubronner Today Online 18 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — Instead of poring over spreadsheets and data tables found across a myriad of Government websites, the public can now access more Government data on topics ranging from lightning activity to property rentals, as the Government continues its e-governance push.

The Government will be releasing more data to the public, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday, calling the move a “proactive” one that will “encourage more feedback, as well as research and analysis on issues of public concern”.

Users of the Government’s OneMap site can select from a dropdown menu what data they wished to peruse with respect to the geographical area they searched for. For example, in future, the Government will add rental transactions for all public and private properties onto the interactive map. Users can then overlay such information against, say, school locations or transport nodes to keep themselves informed when deciding to rent a property.

Another example is PopulationQuery, a new service launched yesterday on OneMap that allows users to sieve data on Singapore’s population according to filters like age group and household monthly income. Such a service, when combined with other filters such as restaurant clusters, could help businesses decide on their product mix or whether to even set up shop.

The Ministry of Manpower will launch a Labour Market Statistical Information site next month, which generates graphs and tables using the ministry’s survey data, allowing employees to benchmark their salaries against the national or an industry’s average.

Mr Tharman — who was speaking at the launch of the fourth eGov Global Exchange at Marina Bay Sands — said the move was meant to help meet “increasingly dynamic, multi-faceted and complex” challenges and reach out to tech-savvy citizens, and the information would be presented in a user- and machine-friendly manner.

The news was greeted with cautious optimism from experts TODAY spoke to.

Director of International Property Advisor Ku Swee Yong welcomed the move, but said users should be careful of relying on raw daw that would be interpreted wrongly. For example, rental figures might not capture extras — rent-free periods for businesses, whether a property has been renovated — that affect the final price.

Director of Research and Consultancy at Chesterton Suntec International Colin Tan said rentals could be driven up if individuals flocked to areas with low rentals indicated, prompting landlords to hike rents, but added it is “still better to have more information”.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said he hoped to see more data on poverty, social mobility, citizens, permanent residents and foreigners. “Quality data matter for academic research and policy analysis.”

As for the labour market, human resources consultancy Hudson Singapore’s Executive General Manager Andrew Tomich said more information “may help spur competitiveness and productivity from both employees and employers”. But he echoed concerns that the data, which might not capture information such as work experience or qualifications, might be misread.

Mr Tharman also announced yesterday that the Government was launching Corporate Pass — similar to SingPass — which will allow authorised staff to access multiple corporate e-services for a company through one common system, come early 2016.

Population data now available on OneMap
DPM Tharman says more information will be made available on Government websites following Population Query launch today
Eugene Neubronner Today Online 17 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — Big data has been given a push, with more the Government planning to make more information available on various Government websites here soon, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmaguratnam said today (June 17).

Speaking at the launch of the eGov Global Exchange this morning, Mr Tharman announced more information will be made available for citizens to tap on — and in ways that allow users to make more sense of them.

One example is Population Query launched today. It is the latest service on the Singapore Land Authority’s OneMap website and gives users graphic and visual representations of Singapore’s demographics. This can then be combined with other services such as school locations or property prices to give citizens new insights into, for example, the best place to move.

More than 1,700 services are already available online, he noted.

Last year, the government revamped the ecitizen portal, a move that was “motivated by a simple principle that we must start with information and services that customers want”, said Mr Tharman.

Another example is the Ministry of Manpower’s Autobenchmark, to be launched later this year. It will collate and allow users to check salaries against the national benchmark, as one service.

Find population data on OneMap
Users can find information like age group of residents and housing type
Irene Tham Technology Correspondent
Straits Times 18 Jun 13;

DETAILED statistics on the island's population were yesterday incorporated into the Singapore Land Authority's (SLA) online map - providing a new research tool for citizens, businesses and academics.

The Population Query service will add 22 data sets to the current OneMap service, including the number of people of a certain age group living in an area and their residence type.

Instead of poring over spreadsheets from the Department of Statistics, users can now tell if a certain location has a high density of children aged up to four - say, for example, if they wanted to set up a childcare centre.

The service is available on the SLA's OneMap website

The new data sets - which also include ethnic group and economic status - come from the Department of Statistics.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced the service, saying: "Population Query will be very useful for citizens, businesses and academics.

"If you are thinking of buying a property, you may be interested in the demographics of the area, and at the same time you can see the schools, restaurants as well as property prices in the area - all at one glance."

Mr Tharman was delivering the opening address at the 4th bi-annual eGov Global Exchange 2013 conference held at Marina Bay Sands.

Other search queries include mode of transport, language spoken and religion.

Gelato shop owner Clarence Sim, 27, wished Population Query was available earlier. When setting up his shop in Bedok last year, he relied on anecdotal information of target customers from another shopkeeper nearby.

He said: "Now I can easily find such information displayed in an easy-to-digest way."

The upgrade is part of the SLA's continuous investment in OneMap, which has cost more than $2 million to develop to date.

The free service was launched three years ago to give netizens access to government location data - including land ownership, recently transacted property prices and schools within 1km of a building. To make government data more accessible, a central repository called was launched in June 2011.

This brought together more than 8,000 data sets - from traffic information to census data and unemployment rates - from over 60 government agencies.

The Government plans to release more information to the public in the future.

The Ministry of National Development will be mapping past rental transactions for all public and private properties on OneMap. This will allow users to view the past rental prices of a particular area and, at the same time, the location of the nearest train station before making rental decisions.

"By opening up more of our data, we can proactively crowd-source ideas and co-create applications with the wider community," said Mr Tharman.

In Singapore, more than 100 smartphone apps have been developed using government data.

They include and Carpark@SG using the Land Transport Authority's information on electronic road pricing and carpark availability.

By the end of the year, all data sets on and OneMap will be "machine-readable" - so that app developers can easily extract information to develop new services.

At present, only half of the 8,000 data sets on are machine-readable.

Background story

Check how your pay compares - online

WORKERS fretting over the size of their pay packets will be able to compare them with their peers' using a new government website.

The benchmarking service, which works across industries, is being launched "to help employers and job seekers make better decisions", said the Manpower Ministry.

At the moment, the public cannot make direct pay comparisons but can merely search for reports in PDF or document formats.

The new site, to be ready by next month, asks users to enter their monthly salary and job description.

They then select their industry, age group and the size of their organisation.

This allows them to find out whether their salary is in the top 25, 50 or 75 per cent for their particular group.

Organisations can also use the service to benchmark how they fare against national or industry norms. These could include wages, staff turnover and employment conditions such as flexible hours and annual leave.

Another new interactive feature allows users to look at statistics on national employment, unemployment and economic inactivity. It features comparisons across age groups and over time, with the information displayed in easy-to-digest charts and graphs.

The data for the analysis comes from surveys conducted by the ministry over the years on about 17,000 companies in Singapore.

It includes changes in wages, labour turnover and unemployment issues.


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Singapore haze: PSI hits highest level since 1997

S Ramesh and Sharon See Channel NewsAsia 17 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: A day filled with hazy skies and smoky air. That's what Singaporeans experienced for much of Monday, as strong burning smell wafted across the island.

The 3-hourly PSI breached 100, crossing into the unhealthy range, to 105 at 3pm. It hit a high of 155 at 10pm, surpassing October 2006's peak reading of 150, but below the all-time high of 226 set in September 1997.

Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) said it has alerted Indonesia's Ministry of Environment on the worsening haze situation here.

The Manpower Ministry has also issued an advisory for workers and employers.

Whether in the heartlands in Toa Payoh or in the city at Marina Bay Sands, it was hazy skies all round the island.

The smoke haze from the fires in Sumatra has affected Singapore since June 13.

Many had hoped it would clear with the rain on Sunday night, but that was not to be.

NEA said everyone, in particular children, the elderly and those with heart or lung diseases, should reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor activities.

A check by Channel NewsAsia with several clinics and doctors revealed no spike in the number of haze-related cases.

But one doctor had this advice for the public.

Dr Joyce Liang, a family doctor, said: "If it is not really crucial to be outdoors and exercising at this time, I would advise no strenuous exercise outdoors, especially for the elderly who may have heart problems, respiratory problems, and the very young children.

"Now's not a very good time to be playing in the pool or riding a bike as long as the PSI is above 100.

"Sometimes the mask may offer them a false sense of security but in actual fact, the paper mask, the simple ones, they are not really useful because they will not cut off the particulate matter.

"What is effective is the N95 mask, but the N95 mask - truth be told - is actually difficult to use for a long period of time. Some people say it suffocates them.

"So I would imagine that if the PSI crosses the 150 mark and if you have to be outdoors, you may have to consider using the N95 mask."

Meanwhile, government agencies have also issued health advisories.

The Ministry of Manpower said under the Workplace Safety and Health Act, employers have a duty to protect the safety and health of workers.

It urged employers to carry out proper risk assessment, including specifying when to stop work, to ensure risks identified are minimised or mitigated.

Meanwhile, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he is "deeply concerned" about the haze in Singapore.

He said in a statement that 113 hotspots were detected over Sumatra on Monday, leading to the "bad haze" in Singapore.

Dr Balakrishnan said his ministry has been in touch with the Indonesian authorities to register Singapore's concern and to renew its offer of assistance.

He also said he would speak to his Indonesian counterpart personally to convey the seriousness of the situation.

- CNA/al

Haze hits levels not seen since 1997 record
Alfred Chua and Low Jen Thye Kenneth Today Online 18 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — After the haze had seemingly moderated over the weekend, it came back with a vengeance yesterday, shrouding the city throughout the day, affecting visibility and causing respiratory problems for some, as the air quality plunged to unhealthy levels for the first time in almost three years.

At 3pm, the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading reached 105, which falls within the “unhealthy” range. The situation deteriorated rapidly and at 10pm, the three-hour PSI was 155 — the highest since September 1997 when it reached 226. The last time the haze hit such levels was in 2006, when the PSI peaked at 150. At press time, the reading was 145.

The poor air quality prompted the Ministry of Manpower to remind employers to minimise outdoor work involving strenuous activities and put in place a system that regularly updates their workers on the measures being taken to ensure their safety and well-being, and allow employees to report any adverse effects on their health.

Under existing guidelines, uniformed services such as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) are also to reduce physical and outdoor training.

Ministry of Defence Director of Public Affairs Kenneth Liow said: “The health and safety of our servicemen are of paramount importance to the SAF. We monitor air quality closely, and have in place a set of PSI-Activity Guidelines under the SAF Medical Directives and Training Safety Regulations to calibrate our outdoor activities and training according to the PSI reading.”

An SCDF spokesperson said that in addition to the guidelines, “officers will exercise discretion to suspend training when deemed necessary in view of the haze situation at their location”.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) attributed the haze to drier weather conditions, which led to “an escalation in hotspot activities” in parts of Sumatra in Indonesia, adding that the situation was expected to persist over the next few days.

On Saturday and Sunday, 101 and 138 hotspots were detected respectively. Yesterday, another 113 hotspots were detected.

Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said in a press statement that the Government was “deeply concerned” about the latest number of hotspots in Sumatra which have “led to such a bad haze” here. “We are in touch with the Indonesian authorities to register our concern, and renew our offer of assistance. I will also speak to the Indonesian Minister for the Environment personally to convey the seriousness of the situation,” he said.

NEA also said that it has alerted Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment “on the haze situation experienced in Singapore, and urged the Indonesian authorities to look into urgent measures to mitigate the transboundary haze occurrence”. It added that it will “continue to monitor the situation closely and provide further updates when necessary”.

Given the hazy conditions, the NEA has advised children, the elderly and those with heart or lung diseases, to “reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor activities. Everyone else should limit prolonged or heavy outdoor activities”.

Daily routines affected, GPs seeing more patients

Barclays economist Wai Ho Leong noted that the economic cost for Singapore can be “significant” if the haze persists, particularly in the services sector. “It could cast a pall on the Great Singapore Sale and divert would-be visitors to other parts of the world,” he told Bloomberg. Nevertheless, the effect of the haze was already felt by many on the island.

Deliveryman Lim Keng Hua, 50, said that visibility inside the Chin Swee Tunnel - where he was driving through yesterday afternoon - was “poor”. “I could not even see the lane markers,” he added.

The haze was the talk of town yesterday as the topic trended on social media with many netizens lamenting its adverse effects and sharing pictures of the hazy skies on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

While the haze disrupted some people’s daily routines - as they chose to stay indoors - there were others who carried on their activities. For instance, when TODAY visited MacRitchie reservoir yesterday afternoon, some students were spotted undergoing their Co-Curricular Activity trainings during the school holidays - despite the Ministry of Education’s existing guidelines that outdoor physical education, sports and games are to be cancelled once the PSI reading hits the unhealthy range. Nevertheless, the teachers overseeing the trainings said that the students would not be asked to do any strenuous activity. One of them noted that they would exercise their own judgement on whether the training should be cancelled.

Still, canoeist Lum Tze Tian, a 23-year-old Nanyang Technological Undergraduate, abandoned his plans to train because of the haze. “I also advised my juniors to stop training because the situation is quite bad,” he said.

Some general practitioners whom TODAY spoke to also reported seeing more patients with haze-related ailments.

Noting the difficulty of identifying patients who are suffering ailments caused solely by the haze, Dr Choong Sheau Peng said that he has recently been seeing “about six to eight more cases per day” of patients who have asthma and skin problems.

Another GP, Dr Victor Teo, noted that conditions such as eczema, asthma and eye irritations- including like conjunctivitis- have been made worse by the haze. The proportion of patients with such issues has increased over the past one week.”

NEA urges Indonesia to prevent transboundary haze
Channel NewsAsia 17 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) on Monday said it has alerted the Indonesian Ministry of Environment of the haze situation in Singapore.

It has also urged the Indonesian authorities to look into urgent measures to mitigate the transboundary haze occurrence.

In a statement, NEA said it would continue to monitor the situation closely and provide further updates when necessary.

The statement came as the 3-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading went beyond the 100 mark, putting the air quality in the unhealthy range.

The index read 110 at 5pm on Thursday.

NEA also advised children, the elderly and those with heart or lung diseases to reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor activities in view of the haze. Others should also limit prolonged or heavy outdoor activities.

The agency said the hazy conditions are expected to persist for the next few days, adding that weather conditions in the region have led to an escalation in hotspot activities mainly over central Sumatra.

Some 100 hotspots were detected over Sumatra on 15 June, with the number increasing to 138 a day later.

The smoke haze from the fires in Sumatra was brought over by prevailing winds blowing from the southwest or west, and has affected Singapore since 13 June.

The public can access PSI updates through various channels, including NEA's website, NEA Twitter, and NEA myENV App on iPhone and Android, as well as

- CNA/jc

Worst haze in 16 years, with PSI hitting 155
Condition expected to last most of the week as fires rage in Sumatra
Straits Times 18 Jun 13;

Grace Chua And Hoe Pei Shan In Singapore And Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta

THE haze that shrouded Singapore yesterday was the worst in 16 years, and is expected to last for most of this week.

The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which measures air quality, climbed steadily throughout yesterday, reaching a high of 155 by 10pm, crossing into the unhealthy range.

The haze, which first hit the island last Friday and is likely to persist for the next few days, has worried Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who was "deeply concerned" that the 113 hot spots detected over Sumatra yesterday had caused air quality to plummet.

The last time Singapore saw such bad smog was in 1997, when the PSI topped 226.

Dr Balakrishnan said he would personally speak to his Indonesian counterpart to convey the seriousness of the situation, as well as renew Singapore's offer of assistance.

In a Facebook post last night, he said that "commercial interests in Indonesia have been allowed to override environmental concerns" for too long.

"We need the Indonesians to enforce their own laws," he wrote.

With the hazy conditions likely to continue, the National Environment Agency has advised people with heart and lung disease, children and older adults to reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion.

The Ministry of Manpower yesterday also told employers to issue protective devices such as N95 masks, which filter out 95 per cent of very fine particles, to employees with heart or respiratory illnesses who are working outdoors when the PSI surpasses the healthy threshold of 100.

The Singapore Armed Forces, too, has "reduced physical and outdoor training accordingly".

Yesterday, the acrid-smelling haze was visible across the island, shrouding landmarks like Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer.

The number of Sumatran hot spots detected by satellites rose from 101 on Saturday to 138 on Sunday, before dropping to 100 yesterday.

Indonesian officials say the smog is from huge tracts of peat lands around the coastal city of Dumai - located on the coast of the Strait of Malacca that faces Singapore - that have caught fire due to the early hot season.

Farmers are also burning plantations to clear land for the next planting season.

The dry season is expected to last until monsoon rains start in Sumatra around October, said Mr Okta Irawan, a weather forecaster based in Jambi, South Sumatra.

Meanwhile, "we are doing all we can to contain the fires", Mr Ilyas As'ad, a deputy environment minister, told The Straits Times by telephone.

Indonesia has deployed dozens of firefighters in the area to douse the flames.

Officials say they have managed to put out several fires near Dumai, 250km north-west of Singapore.

But there are many more fires in Bengkalis and Rokan Hilir, two regencies in Riau that border Dumai.

Water-dropping aircraft would be deployed only if local governors made a request, which they have yet to do, said the Forestry Ministry.

The lack of rain also means the pollution is not washed out of the air.

Then, winds from the west and south-west blow the smoke over to Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia.

Meanwhile, organisers of outdoor events this week are watching the skies closely.

Mr Ben Swee, race organiser of Running Guild, which is holding the Banana Relay fun run at Punggol this Sunday, said the race could be cancelled if the PSI that morning exceeds 100.

Smoky air drives many indoors
Businesses and tourist attractions hit, though some brave the haze
Hoe Pei Shan And Lester Wong Straits Times 18 Jun 13;

AVOIDING outdoor attractions and public transport, forgoing exercise regimes and staying at home for days - Singaporeans and tourists alike have been taking precautions as the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) climbed to unhealthy levels yesterday.

Only six joggers were spotted in the span of an hour at the Botanic Gardens in the evening, down from the dozens who usually frequent the trails.

Said bank officer Angelina Tiong, 40, who was among the few braving the worsening air: "There are a lot less people running today, but I am still running as it is the only form of exercise that I do."

Businesses were hit too. A spokesman for CTC Travel said it received several requests from tourists to postpone their trips to the Singapore Flyer until visibility improves.

A Singapore Flyer spokesman confirmed that it was quieter yesterday, and added that visitors could have their tickets changed or refunded upon request.

The general manager of Singapore River Cruise - which runs boat trips from Clarke Quay to Marina Bay - Mr See Toh Yew Leong, also reported fewer customers since the haze first hit last Friday.

And while many people who were out yesterday were seen wearing face masks, others chose to remain indoors.

Mrs Belinda Khoo, 25, for instance, has not stepped outdoors for the past three days. Even though her online furniture business requires her to travel, she decided to work from home. "I hope it goes away soon because this air is very unhealthy, especially for children," said the mother of a two-year-old daughter.

Business manager Dias Cao, 30, meanwhile, has developed a sore throat and a cough. The avid climber has also had to give up outdoor climbing for the week.

"There is a smoky veil hanging over everything, and I can barely see beyond 200m from my window," he said.

The Singapore Armed Forces also reduced physical and outdoor training, based on its PSI-activity guidelines for readings exceeding 100. But it was business as usual at attractions such as Resorts World Sentosa, which still hosted a good number of people.

With the haze likely to persist over the next few days, the Ministry of Manpower yesterday urged employers to minimise strenuous outdoor work. It may order work to be stopped if the haze endangers workers and measures have not been taken to mitigate those risks, it added.

Any person who fails to comply with the stop-work order can be fined up to $500,000 or jailed up to 12 months, or both.

Why situation is so bad this year
Straits Times 18 Jun 13;

WHY is the haze so bad? Climate scientist Matthias Roth, an associate professor of geography at the National University of Singapore, explained that the dry season in Sumatra has come relatively early.

Early dry spell: The dryness makes it easier to clear land by burning forests, and there is no rain to rid the air of pollution.
More hot spots: The number of hot spots - defined as a fire covering a hectare of land or more - has been on the rise.
Monsoon winds: Winds from the west and south-west during the south-west monsoon season push the smoke towards Singapore.
Weather conditions: Singapore's current weather - light winds and an absence of rain - means the haze persists without being removed from the atmosphere. June is typically the third driest month of the year, after July and February. At night, the PSI often creeps up, said Associate Professor Roth, as pollutants can be trapped near the surface of the earth when the sun is not present to heat the air and cause it to mix.

But is it likely to get worse later in the year?

"As always, this is hard to predict," Prof Roth said. "If dry conditions persist or return later in the year, and burning activity continues at the current or even higher rate, worse conditions are possible."

Indonesia has pledged to control fires in other parts of Sumatra, which include several in North Sumatra province that have raged for a few days.

Extinguishing the fires has also caused some smoke, said Mr Raffles Panjaitan, director of security and investigation at the Forestry Ministry.

But in the long term, said Ms Syamsidar, a World Wide Fund for Nature activist based in Riau, the most important thing is prevention. "This would work if law enforcement is strong enough to deter people," she said.

Over the years, oil palm and timber plantation companies have expanded aggressively in Indonesia, while enforcement against the illegal burning of land has been lax.

Indonesia is the world's largest palm oil exporter and one of the world's largest paper producers.

These fires, which have become a regular affair for several months every year, have triggered protests from Indonesia's neighbours since haze started to envelop the region 16 years ago.

Asean members signed an agreement on transboundary haze pollution in June 2002, but Indonesia has yet to ratify the agreement.


Haze update: Vivian Balakrishnan urges Indonesia to name companies responsible for forest fires
Grace Chua Straits Times 18 Jun 13;

THE worst episode of haze here in 16 years has prompted Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan to urge commercial pressure against firms causing the haze.

Dr Balakrishnan posted on Facebook on Tuesday (June 18) that he had spoken to his Indonesian counterpart, Balthasar Kambuaya, to express "deep distress" with the situation: "I suggested Minister Kambuaya name the companies responsible for the fires - (as I am sure consumers will know what to do)."

Choking pollution from forest fires, some started deliberately to clear land for planting, has been an annual affair for years. The worst air quality ever recorded here was during a bout of haze in 1997.

Dr Balakrishnan also urged Indonesia to publish maps of agricultural concessions. "The combination of satellite photos, which are updated daily, and these concession maps would enable us to pinpoint the errant companies," he said.

"I also offered the assistance of the Singapore government - and he said he would revert after his team assesses the situation on the ground."

But on Monday, Indonesian forest ministry official Hadi Daryanto attempted to shift some of the blame onto Malaysia and Singapore, saying their palm oil companies that had invested in Indonesia were also responsible.

Singapore-listed firms like First Resources and Golden Agri Resources have plantations in Sumatra, but both say they have strict policies against burning to clear land.

The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), a measure of air quality, came down to 95 at 2pm on Tuesday, a slight improvement from the peak of 155 on Monday night.

Read more!

Malaysia haze: PM urges caution as haze worsens

Hana Naz Harun and Nurul Nurul Izzah Khalil New Straits Times 18 Jun 13;

'BE ALERT': Call to limit all outdoor activities and drink more water

KUALA LUMPUR: PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has advised the public to take precautions and limit outdoor activities following the worsening haze situation and dry weather.

"Haze is expected to worsen across Malaysia. Malacca was at alert point yesterday.

"Please limit outdoor activities and drink more water," Najib said on his Twitter account yesterday.

Najib, on his Facebook page, also said health should remain the No. 1 priority for everyone.

The westerly winds and the increase of hot spots in Sumatra, Indonesia, has driven the haze towards the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

As at 7am yesterday, the Department of Environment's website listed five areas -- Malacca city and Bukit Rambai in Malacca, Balok Baru and Indera Mahkota in Pahang, and Kemaman in Terengganu -- that had a high density of pollutants.

Malacca city recorded the "unhealthy" Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of 129, while Bukit Rambai had a reading of 111. Conditions improved after 5pm, when the API readings decreased to 62 and 61 respectively.

It also improved in Indera Mahkota in Pahang, when the API reading dropped from 107 to 99.

However, API levels were still at "unhealthy" levels at 5pm when the haze moved towards the east coast and enveloped Balok Baru (110) and Kemaman (118).

In the Klang Valley, several areas, including Putrajaya, Port Klang, Petaling Jaya and Kuala Selangor, recorded moderate readings in the morning and showed an improvement in the evening.

The API reading is "good" when the reading is between 0 and 50, "moderate" (51 to 100), "unhealthy" (101 to 200), "very unhealthy" (201 to 300), and "hazardous" (above 300).

A satellite image by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre showed 138 hot spots in Sumatra, compared with 101 on Saturday and 48 on Friday.

The image also showed a patch of moderate haze along the Straits of Malacca.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry said to resolve the haze problem, five countries -- Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand -- would attend the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee meeting on Aug 20 to 21.

The meeting aims to boost regional cooperation and discuss mechanisms to manage transboundary haze pollution.

It will also refine proposed mechanisms in the early detection of peat and forest fires through high-tech satellite and "fire danger rating systems".

The ministry said those found guilty of open burning would be liable to a fine of up to RM500,000 or imprisonment of up to five years, or both. A maximum compound of RM2,000 may also be imposed for each offence.

Indonesian embassy's social and cultural affairs minister-counsellor, Akhmad Daya Handasah Irfan, said meetings had been held between Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia to resolve the haze problem.

He added that the three countries had discussed future plans to curb the problem.

Crying need to solve haze problem
Fauziah Ismail New Straits Times 18 Jun 13;

CALL FOR ACTION: All Asean members must act fast to tackle this annual phenomenon

IF one didn't know any better, it looked very much like a cold, wintry morning in the United Kingdom over the weekend in many parts of Malaysia. Only, it wasn't cold, but hot and humid.

You don't really have to go outside of your house or the building you're in to know the haze has made its annual pilgrimage to Malaysia. On Saturday and Sunday, the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings in certain areas reached unhealthy levels.

The meteorological authorities in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore expect the situation to worsen with the hot and dry spell in Riau, Sumatra, set to peak over the next two weeks.

The Department of Environment said with the dry weather in several northern and east coast states in the peninsula, the haze is expected to continue over the next few days.

The Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC), which is parked under Meteorological Service Singapore's weather information portal, showed 185 hot spots in the 10 Asean countries on Sunday, with Sumatra topping the list with 138.

ASMC's map showed 19 hot spots in Myanmar, 14 in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, 10 in Peninsular Malaysia, two in Sulawesi, and one each in Java and Borneo. No hot spots were detected in the Philippines.

"Scattered hot spots with localised smoke and haze were observed mainly over central Sumatra. Slight to moderate smoke haze carried by the prevailing winds blowing from the southwest or west affected the southern parts of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore," it said.

And during this time every year, we will have the authorities activating action plans to curb open burning and peat fires as well as stepping up enforcement on exhaust fumes from motor vehicles and factories.

The Fire and Rescue Department will also be on alert as the entire country is at risk of fires during the hot and dry weather.

The Health Department will issue a health advisory, asking people to drink more water while high-risk patients with respiratory problems need to seek early treatment if symptoms develop. Dust masks, eye drops, inhalers (for asthmatics) and moisturisers will be the necessities for many.

Surely, we do not want a repeat of the 1997 air quality disaster, which cost the region an estimated US$9 billion (RM28.2 billion) due mainly to healthcare and disruption of air travel and business activities.

Yes, there were positive outcomes from the disaster. We saw an intensification of regional measures. Asean established a Haze Technical Task Force. The countries implemented the regional and national haze action plans.

"Operation Haze" became the biggest cross-border fire-fighting mission in history, involving Malaysian firefighters going across to Indonesia.

All Asean leaders signed the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002.

The agreement is the first regional arrangement in the world that binds a group of contiguous states to tackle trans-boundary haze pollution resulting from land and forest fires. It has also been considered a global role model for the tackling of trans-boundary issues.

The agreement, among others, requires the parties to the agreement to cooperate in developing and implementing measures to prevent, monitor and mitigate trans-boundary haze pollution by controlling sources of land and/or forest fires, development of monitoring, assessment and early warning systems, exchange of information and technology, and the provision of mutual assistance.

Parties to the agreement can also take legal, administrative and/or other measures to implement their obligations.

The agreement entered into force on Nov 25, 2003. To date, nine member countries, namely Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, have ratified the agreement.

The Asean Secretariat website showed, however, that Indonesia has yet to do so. Without the republic, especially since the hotspots are found mainly there, little can be done.

At an environmental ministers' meeting in Pekanbaru, Indonesia, in 2006, then Asean secretary-general Ong Keng Yong said that the agreement would be an effective way to put out the forest fires.

"One most important and practical element is that if there is a forest fire spotted anywhere in the Asean region, the rest of the Asean countries can activate fire-fighting services and move in.

"We don't have to write in to get diplomatic clearance for aircraft. We don't have to ask for permission from the local fire services to send our firemen into the region or in the affected area," he said.

Indeed, an agreement such as the Asean Agreement on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution must be followed by assertive, definite, practical action by all parties. Failing which, such an agreement will just be in vain.

Malacca hit; haze crosses to east coast
Teo Cheng Wee Regional Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur
Straits Times 18 Jun 13;

WHEN Ms Evelyn Heng went to church with her family on Sunday, she found ash on her car windscreen.

"It was that bad," said Ms Heng, 40, of Malacca. "We promptly went to the pharmacy to get face masks for everyone."

She suffers from weather-related migraines and has stopped her usual morning walks in the park. Her two children have been told to stay indoors.

Malacca has been one of the places worst affected by the recent haze, with the air pollution index (API) hitting a high of 161 on Sunday. Tourists in the Unesco World Heritage town were seen wearing face masks, while local government officials said they would consider cancelling outdoor events if the condition worsened.

The API eased to 62 in Malacca yesterday evening, but three areas in Terengganu, Pahang and Kuala Lumpur still registered unhealthy API levels above 100.

There could be more bad news, as officials warn that the haze may worsen here in the coming months. South-west monsoon winds from hot spots in central Sumatra have brought the haze to west Malaysia, which yesterday crossed to the east coast, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) said in a statement yesterday.

A Malaysian Meteorological Department official told The Straits Times that the current south-west monsoon season ends only in September. This period sees few days of rain, which might otherwise help to clear the haze.

Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday urged Malaysians in a Facebook posting to take care of their health as "the haze situation in Malaysia is going to worsen in the coming days".

That is just what Kuala Lumpur hospital worker Tracy Lee, 33, will be doing, after the haze triggered her asthma recently. "I will be staying indoors and drinking honey," she said.

Read more!

Indonesia: Haze from forest fire affects respiratory health

Zabur Karuru Antara 17 Jun 13;

Dumai, Riau (ANTARA News) - Haze from forest fire in Sumatra has increased the number of respiratory problem cases in Dumai, Riau Province, over the past few weeks, a local office said.

In the early June 2013, the number of respiratory problems was 351 cases and increased to 393 cases now, Marjoko Santoso, the head of the Dumai health office, said here on Monday.

The increase reached around four to five percent every week and 0.8 to one percent per day, he said.

He urged Dumai residents particularly children, pregnant women, senior citizens and asthma patients, to stay indoor when the city is being covered by haze.

The Dumai health office has distributed 25,000 face masks to people on streets.

Some 138 hot spots from forest fire were detected across Sumatra Island, an increase from 83 hot spots on the previous day.

In Batam, the hot spots from plantation and forest fires produced haze that reduced the visibility to 1,000-1,500 meters, Head of the Hang Nadim meteorological, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG) Philip Mustamu said here on Monday.


Editor: Jafar M Sidik

Haze from forest, peatland fires disrupts flights
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 18 Jun 13;

Haze from forest and peatland fires in Riau province has once more covered areas such as Bengkalis, Dumai and Pekanbaru, disrupting flight schedules.

In Dumai municipality, flight schedules have been disputed at Pinang Kampai Airport.

“Four flight schedules of Pelita Air and Sky Aviation were delayed due to thick haze hampering visibility, which was at between 500 and 800 meters, posing a risk for flights,” said the airport’s technical unit head Catur Hargowo on Monday.

He added the flight delays occurred on June 14 and June 16. On Friday, a Pelita Air plane, chartered by PT Chevron Pacific Indonesia (CPI) and destined for Jakarta was delayed for two hours and a Sky Aviation plane destined for Pekanbaru, which was scheduled to fly at 10 a.m., was also postponed.

Dumai Health Office has distributed thousands of masks for free in response to residents’ complaints of the thick haze mixed with dust.

“We have provided 50,000 masks that will be distributed in stages. Today, we distributed 25,000 masks to residents, especially road users,” said Dumai Health Office head Marjoko Santoso, adding the masks had also been distributed to all the community health centers in Dumai.

Separately, Dumai City Forest Ranger Unit head Tengku Ismet said the haze - which covered Dumai during the weekend - originated from forest and peatland fires, or bush fires in neighboring regencies, such as Bengkalis and Rokan Hilir. “Based on field observations, Dumai is free of forest fires,” said Ismet.

Bengkalis Disaster Mitigation Agency head Dja’far Arif confirmed Bengkalis had produced the haze.

“Nearly 600 hectares of oil palm plantation and rubber plantation areas and bushes in Sepahat, Tanjung Leban and Bukit Kerikil villages in Bukit district are currently burning. Fire teams, aided by firefighters from a number of plantation companies, including local residents are making efforts to extinguish the fires,” said Dja’far.

According to him, the firefighters were facing difficulties in controlling the fire due to very strong winds and water scarcity.

The latest observation by the Pekanbaru Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) showed 115 hot spots in Riau, significant increase compared to the previous day in which only 78 hot spots were detected.

Visibility drops to 100m, flights disrupted in Riau
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta
Straits Times 18 Jun 13;

VISIBILITY dropped to as low as 100m in some areas in a Sumatra district close to Singapore, as uncontrolled fires from burning oil palm plantations - mostly on peatlands - continued without respite for a second week.

Residents in Dumai in Riau province said yesterday they were resigned to the annual burnings in their province, with some pleading for officials to act promptly.

"The thick haze has been around for a week now, and there is no sign of fading," said Mr Syahrul, a resident of the Jaya Mukti area in Dumai.

"The government has not done anything to protect the people's health."

The Dumai government started to distribute masks to residents only yesterday, as it called on the public to reduce outdoor activity.

The low visibility has led to delays of several flights from the Pinang Kampai airport in Dumai on the coast of the Strait of Malacca.

In nearby Batam, Hang Nadim airport remained opened yesterday, but officials said it would be shut if visibility were to drop further. Visibility had dropped to as low as 1.5km.

"We will temporarily close the airport if the visibility drops to below 1km," said Mr Irwansyah, head of flight safety at the airport.

"So far, it is still safe. We will keep monitoring the situation."

The airport serves mostly domestic flights.

Batam's head of meteorological office, Mr Phillip Mustamu, told reporters: "We have asked the airport tower to warn pilots to be extra careful when landing. We have issued the same alert for sea transport."

A haze-related road accident was reported in Batam yesterday, involving a truck which flipped over in the Tiban area. The accident occurred due to poor visibility.

Over at Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, however, visibility at the Sultan Syarif Qasim II airport remained good yesterday.

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Asean ministers to discuss haze problem

The Star 18 Jun 13;

PETALING JAYA: Ministers from several Asean countries will meet here to discuss ways to tackle the return of the haze to the region and the likelihood of it worsening due to the hot and dry weather.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said he would chair a meeting on Aug 20 with his counterparts from Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and Thailand.

“We will also study several proposals on early fire detection mechanisms through satellite technology and a fire danger rating system,” he said yesterday.

He said the National Haze Action Plan would come into action where key departments and agencies would move to handle the fires depending on the different alert levels based on the Air Pollutant Index (API).

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Dr Ewon Ebin said the ministry was mulling over cloud seeding if dry weather persisted.

Satellite images from the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre revealed that hot spots in Sumatra had increased from 46 on Friday to 136 on Sunday, while 113 were recorded as of 8.30am yesterday.

The air quality in Malaysia, however, has improved slightly, with four places recording unhealthy levels yesterday compared with six on Sunday.

The API readings showed unhealthy levels for Balok Baru (110) in Pahang and Kemaman (121) in Terengganu with other parts of the country reading good to mode- rate levels.

Under the air quality index, readings of between 0 and 50 are classified as Good, 51 to 100 (Moderate) 101 to 200 (Unhealthy), 201 to 300 (Very Unhealthy) and 300 and above (Hazardous).

In Kuala Terengganu, the levels in Paka were 92 and Kuala Terengganu at 70.

In Nusajaya, Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said the state government would keep the people posted on the matter if the situation worsens.

In Penang, state Environment Department director Datuk Hassan Mat said the API levels on the is-land was 53 yesterday, while visibility in Bayan Lepas, Prai and Butterworth stood at between 9km and 10km.

Singapore, Malaysia choke as illegal Indonesia forest fires rage
Reuters 17 Jun 13;

(Reuters) - Air pollution in Singapore and Malaysia rose to unhealthy levels on Monday thanks to illegal forest clearing in Indonesia, prompting Singapore to advise people against staying outdoors for long and to urge Indonesia to do something to stop it.

In usually clear Singapore, the pollutant standards index hit the highest level in nearly seven years, with the taste of smoke hitting the back of the throat even in air-conditioned offices and the subway.

"Given the current hazy conditions, it is advised that children, the elderly and those with heart or lung diseases reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor activities," Singapore's National Environment Agency said in a statement.

"Everyone else should limit prolonged or heavy outdoor activities."

The agency said the haze was caused by forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and that it was expected to last for a few days.

It said it had "urged the Indonesian authorities to look into urgent measures to mitigate the transboundary haze occurrence".

In Malaysia, the air quality reached unhealthy levels in several northeastern states as well as the southern state of Malacca, a UNESCO heritage site popular with tourists, the country's Department of Environment said.

The illegal clearing of forests by burning is a recurrent problem in Indonesia, particularly during the annual dry season that typically stretches from June to September.

In 1997 and 1998, the smog disrupted air and sea traffic, causing an estimated $9 billion in terms of economic, social and environmental losses, according to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-member regional grouping that includes Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

ASEAN members signed an agreement on transboundary haze pollution in June 2002 but Indonesia has yet to ratify the agreement. (Reporting by Kevin Lim; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Dengue cases 'could top new high of 15,000'

CDC head raises warning on annual figure, with 10,258 already diagnosed
Salma Khalik Senior Health Correspondent
Straits Times 18 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE'S dengue toll has climbed above the five-figure mark, with 10,258 patients diagnosed since the start of the year.

And Communicable Disease Centre head Leo Yee Sin warned that the annual number of cases could top 15,000, setting a new record high.

The rise in infections does appear to have plateaued, with 813 last week - two fewer than in the preceding seven days.

But it might be too early to celebrate, as there were 146 cases on Sunday and up to 3pm yesterday - the highest figure seen this year for the start of the week.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan pointed out that "813 is still a large number of patients to have at this stage of the dengue season".

That is because Singapore has just entered the hot season when mosquitoes breed faster and are more able to spread the disease. Historically, the high season for dengue is around July.

He also told The Straits Times last night: "We need to press on with our intensive efforts to overcome this epidemic.

"I am grateful for the volunteers and staff of the National Environment Agency who have been working so hard."

The minister has already warned that Singapore will probably hit 1,000 cases a week fairly soon.

He spoke last Tuesday of his fear that the epidemic, which was centred on the east for the past few months, could shift to the north and west with explosive results.

This is because these areas are densely populated, but fewer people there have immunity against dengue.

There are already signs of such a shift, with large dengue clusters in Yishun, Choa Chu Kang and Jurong West.

People with symptoms of the mosquito-borne disease - such as a sudden onset of fever, head, muscle and joint aches - nausea and vomiting, should seek medical help, even though there is no specific treatment.

If not treated, they can develop dengue shock syndrome which has killed two men so far this year.

Singapore's worst dengue epidemic took place in 2005, when 25 people died and 14,209 cases were recorded.

Doctors stress that people who catch it should drink plenty of water, as the disease can cause fluid from their blood to leak out.

This could lead to a build-up of red blood cells and result in low blood pressure, potentially damaging their organs.

Read more!

AVA seizes more than 30 wild animals from HDB flat

Today Online 17 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — More than 30 wild animals have been seized from a HDB flat.

The seizure, which includes highly endangered and threatened species like the slow loris, marmoset, Indian star tortoise and ball python, is the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority’s (AVA) largest inland seizure of wildlife since 2002.

Acting on a tip off, the AVA raided the flat and seized the animals on June 3. A man is currently assisting the AVA in the investigations.

Other animals seized include three black-tailed prairie dogs, two sailfin dragons and five ornate horned frogs.

The seized animals, which are not allowed to be kept as pets in Singapore, have been sent to the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) for proper care and custody, said the AVA in a statement.

A permit is required for any import and export/re-export of animals in Singapore.

As Singapore is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), it is an offence to possess or trade in any illegally imported or acquired CITES species.

If found guilty, the offender may be fined up to S$50,000 per specimen (not to exceed an aggregate of $500,000) and/or jailed up to 2 years.

In 2002, a man was fined S$25,000 and jailed for 3 months for having in possession 47 illegal wild animals as pets. The seized animals, which included prairie dogs, snakes, tortoises and turtles, a crocodile and lizards, were sent to WRS.

The AVA reminds the public not to import or keep wild animals as pets, as demand for such animals would fuel illegal wildlife trade.

“Wild animals are not suitable pets as some may transmit zoonotic diseases to humans and can be a public safety risk if mishandled or if they escape into our dense urban environment. Wild animals that are non-native to Singapore may also be a threat to our biodiversity if released into the environment,” said the authority.

Members of the public who have information on illegal wildlife activities can contact the AVA at 6325 7625.

AVA seizes more than 30 wild animals from HDB dweller
Channel NewsAsia 17 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has seized over 30 wild animals from a person living in an HDB flat.

In a statement, AVA said the animals included highly endangered and threatened species like the slow loris, marmoset, Indian star tortoise and ball python.

AVA said these animals cannot be kept as pets in Singapore.

The agency seized the animals on 3 June 2013, following a tip-off.

It has sent the animals to Wildlife Reserves Singapore for proper care and custody.

It was the agency's largest inland seizure of wildlife since 2002.

AVA said a man is assisting it in its investigations into the case.

- CNA/xq

Over 30 wild animals seized from flat
Tip-off led to biggest seizure of illegal wildlife from home in 11 years: AVA
Amelia Tan Straits Times 18 Jun 13;

THREE rare ball pythons, two Indian star tortoises and a slow loris were among more than 30 wild or endangered animals rescued from a flat here in the biggest seizure of illegal wildlife from a home in 11 years.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said its officers acted on a tip-off to raid the flat and that a man who lives there is assisting with investigations.

The animals, all of which were alive, were sent to Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

They included black-tailed prairie dogs, sailfin dragons and ornate horned frogs.

The AVA declined to say where the animals were seized in the June 3 raid.

It said there were 19 cases of individuals being caught in possession of illegal wildlife last year, the highest number since 2008. However, in the past five years, only two cases ended with offenders going to court, where they were fined.

Ms Corinne Fong, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was "surprised" by the size of the seizure and urged international authorities to "step up checks to stop this trade".

She added: "Some animals will probably end up in countries such as China where exotic wildlife is highly valued as pets or to be eaten."

Animal rights groups interviewed said Singapore is used by exotic wildlife traders as a "transit point" for their goods because of its open trade policy.

The creatures may come from countries in the region such as Thailand and Vietnam, and are sent here while customers overseas are being sourced for.

Animal rights groups say the reason for the recent rise in cases may be that the authorities are receiving more tip-offs.

Such groups have been urged by the AVA to share information on suspected cases.

The current case is the biggest haul since 2002 when a man was fined $25,000 and jailed for three months for owning 47 illegal wild animals as pets.

A permit is required for the import and export of animals in Singapore. The Republic is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

It is an offence to possess or to trade in any illegally imported or acquired Cites species.

If found guilty, offenders can be fined up to $50,000 per specimen or up to $500,000 in total, and/or jailed up to two years.

Read more!

Indonesia: Police Find 16 Tiger Traps in Sumatra Believed to Be Supplied by Outsiders

Jakarta Globe 18 Jun 13;

Police from the Sumatra Tiger Patrol in the Kerinci Seblat National Park have found 16 tiger traps spread by hunters across the national park area so far this month, the biggest hauls since the launch of the patrol program.

“The initial phase of field patrol includes a special trap-elimination program which is done annually. This June, it has found and disabled at least 16 tiger traps,” Risdianto, field manager of the field patrol team, known as PHS TNKS, said in Jambi on Monday, as quoted by

Sumatra’s forests are home to at least 600 tigers, according a study by conservation groups published in 2012.

Risdianto said the 16 tiger traps were found in two separate areas by two different units. Thirteen traps were found in the Kerinci territory, while another three were found by the patrol unit in Bengkulu.

“In the Kerinci area, the officers found traps spread in 13 different points within the TNKS [Kerinci Seblat National Park], around the Muara Imat Village in the Batang Merangin subdistrict,” he said.

Nine of the 13 traps were found within the premises of the national park, while four were located within farming areas that belonged to local farmers.

The finding of these traps is said to be the biggest since the special patrol police program kicked off, raising suspicion of the possible involvement of outside parties who had provided the funds for hunters to make the traps.

According to Risdianto, before the program started, patrol officers had never found more than 10 traps.

“We suspect that this finding is linked to the involvement of outside parties, such as buyers, and that these individuals had provided the capital for hunters to install the traps, which are relatively expensive,” Risdianto said, adding that one unit of lasso would cost hunters at least Rp 300,000 ($30).

The hunters would have to come up with about Rp 5 million to afford all 16 traps found in the Kerinci area, an amount large enough to indicate that the traps could not have been laid by farmers without extra support from a third party.

“Therefore we have to continue investigating the person behind these traps. We have suspected at least two names, as reported by an intelligence officer we had sent to the field,” Rusdianto said.

The Sumatran tiger is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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Malaysia: Plans for coastal highway from Kota Baru to Pengerang

Zazali Musa The Star 18 Jun 13;

JOHOR BARU: Plans are in the pipeline to construct a new coastal highway along the east coast from Kota Baru, Kelantan to Pengerang, Johor.

Malaysian Highway Authority (LLM) director-general Datuk Ismail Md Salleh said the Government would look at the project’s viability before embarking on it.

He said that with most parts of the west-coast areas in the peninsula being well-linked, served and connected with road and highway networking systems, there was a need to improve connectivity and accessibility in the east coast.

“Although it is still in a preliminary stage, we will look into the project, as it would create economic spillover effects and open new growth centres in the east-coast areas,” Ismail told a press conference yesterday on the Association of Highway Concessionaires Malaysia (PSKLM) International Expressway Conference & Exhibition (PIECE 2013) to be held here in September. Also present were state public works, rural and regional development chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad and PSKLM chairman Datuk Noorizah Abd Hamid, who is also PLUS Malaysia Bhd managing director.

PIECE first held in 2010 in Kuala Lumpur, attended by 500 participants from expressway stakeholders comprising concessionaires, engineers, contractors, consultants, financiers, policy makers and regulators attended.

Ismail said with Pengerang becoming a new regional oil and gas (O&G) hub in the region, the new coastal highwaywas “deemed necessary”.

He said plans to transform the Desaru area, also in the Kota Tinggi district, into a leading leisure and hospitality spot in the region would require better connectivity and accessibility.

“The present traffic volume and future estimated figure are the main factors that will determine whether it is viable to open a new highway in the country,” added Ismail.

Meanwhile, Hasni said Johor had set up a committee to study the safety aspects and conditions of roads, especially those leading to the O&G hubs in Pengerang and Tanjung Bin.

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