Best of our wild blogs: 20 Jun 13

The Cross-Island Line: why does it have to go through a Nature Reserve? from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Singapore's every day haze: reason for haze level peak at night? from wild shores of singapore

23 June Sunday 2 Tours: English & Mandarin
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Nemo, Fantail Rays and Giant Clam at Terumbu Bemban, CMBS
from Peiyan.Photography

Why do birds preen themselves?
from My Nature Experiences

Read more!

Haze in Singapore reaches hazardous level

Channel NewsAsia 19 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The haze levels in Singapore hit a record high on Wednesday as raging forest fires from neighbouring Indonesia triggered a major health alarm and sent residents scrambling for face masks.

The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) soared past the "hazardous" level of above 300 to hit an all-time high of 321 at 10pm.

The previous high of 226 was recorded in September 1997 at the height of a Southeast Asian calamity resulting from the haze from Indonesia, where slash-and-burn farming generates vast amounts of smoke during the dry season that begins in June.

Minister of Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said a stop-work order may be issued if the haze conditions worsen.

The minister was speaking to reporters at a news briefing on Wednesday night, after the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) went into the hazardous range at 10pm.

The index fell back to the "very unhealthy" level at 282 at 11pm, and down to 218 at midnight.

The PSI has been rising throughout the day, from a "moderate" reading of 77 at 6am, to an "unhealthy" 103 at 11am, hitting a "very unhealthy" level of 290 at 9pm before reaching a peak of 321 at 10pm.

Experts have also warned that it is also relevant to consider another indicator known as the PM 2.5 Concentration reading in addition to the closely-watched PSI.

Kavickumar Muruganathan, resident environmental engineer at the Singapore Environment Council said: "PM 2.5 is basically a better measurement of smaller particles…

"Basically particles are finer, so these particles tend to penetrate into our respiratory tract deeper, and they can also embed in our lungs. So it's also equally essential to know this PM 2.5 value."

Wednesday's 24-hour PM 2.5 reading was 97 to 117. Any reading above 40 means the air quality is unhealthy.

The Singapore Army has ceased all outfield training until further notice.

A post on the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) Facebook page said this was to ensure the well-being and safety of the soldiers.

The SAF has also issued its soldiers on duty with the N95 masks since Wednesday afternoon.

And the ground commanders have also been reminded to keep a close watch on the soldiers.

SAF said that it was closely monitoring the situation and would take additional precautionary measures when necessary.

As for the potential impact of the haze on businesses, CEO of SIAS Research Roger Tan said companies' productivity would be affected.

"For example, construction companies, who require workers to be out there working, they would definitely be affected. If companies are trying to protect their staff, they would probably have to stop work for a while, or probably... let them rest," he said.

Mr Tan also spoke about the worst case scenario on businesses.

He said: "It's the consumer side, where if people do stay at home, if tourists say 'let's stay at home', if it (the haze) doesn't go off in the next few days, it is going to hurt... (For) restaurants with open areas, the alfresco guys... are going to feel the pinch."

The last major haze outbreak in Southeast Asia was in 2006.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said in Jakarta that his country had taken measures against the haze problem and "we have not had for some time now a recurrence of this type of situation."

"If there are any companies, national or foreign, which have been involved in any slash-and-burning activities then they must be held to account. Such a wish is not only the wish of our neighbours, but is above all our wish."

The Indonesian forestry ministry said Wednesday that it plans to use cloud seeding to try and unleash rain on Sumatra.

Haze set to persist for next few days: Balakrishnan
Leong Wai Kit and Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Minister of Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said the haze is set to persist over the next few days, and whether a stop-work order will be issued will depend on the severity of the haze conditions.

Dr Balakrishnan was responding to questions from reporters on whether such an order was imminent, after the PSI hit hazardous levels on Wednesday night.

He said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has guidelines in place which all employers adhere to, and the MOM will give an update on Thursday.

Dr Balakrishnan said NEA's CEO Andrew Tan will be leading a Singapore team to Jakarta to attend an emergency haze meeting convened by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Indonesia.

He said Singapore expects to reach further agreement on concrete steps to tackle the haze, which it hopes the Indonesians will take.

A news briefing was called late on Wednesday after the PSI hit a record high of 321 at 10pm.

The PSI had been climbing all day on Wednesday, staying within the unhealthy range.

It has since dipped to 218 at midnight, and 195 at 1am on Thursday.

Dr Balakrishnan noted that this is the worst haze that Singapore has faced.

He said Singaporeans must not be too fixated with the PSI data.

Still, sports facilities and schools may be closed if needed.

He added that it's the mid-year school holidays now, so there's no urgent need to make that call now.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said dry weather conditions and prevailing winds blowing the haze into Singapore are expected to persist for the next few days.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singaporeans may need to make adjustments to their daily routines.

He said those with respiratory and cardiac problems and children should not exert themselves.

He noted that the only real solution is to deal with the source of the problem, which is the indiscriminate burning of land in Indonesia.

Singapore has urged Indonesia to take action to tackle the haze problem, and has also offered to help.

Dr Balakrishnan said Indonesia must stop new fires.

"We are publishing the high-resolution satellite pictures, including the coordinates of all hotspots, and NEA is going to update this on a daily basis. We are still urging the Indonesian authorities to publish the concession maps so that we can link the hotspots specifically to the individual companies," he said.

- CNA/xq/de

Limitations on what can be done about haze: Shanmugam
Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 19 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, K Shanmugam, has stressed that the reality of international law and international relations must be recognised in response to criticisms made by some members of the public who questioned why the government cannot do more about the haze situation.

Mr Shanmugam said: "If it was within our control we will never allow this to happen. My point to Singaporeans is we will continue to do our best, please understand the limitations of international relationships and foreign policy and the fact that every country is sovereign and we have limited control over what happens in Indonesia.

"The deep unhappiness of Singaporeans over what is happening is entirely understandable, and my own belief is that most Singaporeans also understand that Singapore is doing what it can and these are not being caused within Singapore."

In 2002, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations signed an agreement, committing to tackle the haze. But 11 years on, Indonesia has yet to ratify this agreement.

Mr Shanmugam said: "The Indonesian parliament is sovereign in its own right, it makes up its own mind, and it has decided so far not to ratify the agreement. That shows the limitations in terms of what Singapore can do. But we will continue to express our views, we'll continue to do whatever is possible and within our means, and sensible to do."

This means continuing to put pressure on Indonesia at international forums.

But with the haze returning every year, has ASEAN failed?

Mr Shanmugam said: "I think the word failed is too strong. You've got to understand the role of international organisations like ASEAN. They cannot override national sovereignty.

"For example if in terms of domestic policy of Singapore, it is very difficult for ASEAN to impose its will on how we should handle a domestic situation. Likewise when events take place in Indonesia, Malaysia or Cambodia, in international law, it is not easy for ASEAN to say you have to do this.

"But we can try and use moral suasion. We can try and agree on common principles and really, we are dependent on each country in carrying out those actions."

Earlier in a Facebook post, Mr Shanmugam said every country is sovereign and Singapore cannot intervene in the actions in other countries.

He explained that in every field, Singapore's size and geography mean that we are often price takers, not price makers in the areas of economics, geo politics, or the environment.

Despite that, he said Singapore has done well and much better than bigger countries with more resources. This is because the government has managed to deal with most situations by anticipating them.

However, the haze situation is quite outside the government's control as the burning of forests is happening in Indonesia.

Mr Shanmugam said Singapore has raised the matter with Indonesian ministers.

Over the years, the government has offered technical assistance, expressed its deep distress at what is happening, and has also raised the issue internationally. Despite these efforts, the haze problem recurs.

Mr Shanmugam thanked members of the public who have noted the reality of the situation and the limitations within which the government operates.

He urged those who think the government can do more about the haze situation to tell them what can be done, rather than using this occasion to attack the government and the People's Action Party (PAP).

- CNA/fa/ac

Indonesia govt has strict laws against burning but has enforcement issues: Balakrishnan
S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 19 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the Indonesian government has strict laws against indiscriminate burning, but the issue was enforcement at a local level.

He also believes that non-government organisations and consumer pressure can play an effective part in this, because "the companies know if they are going to be caught out, they will begin to behave themselves".

In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, Dr Balakrishnan said the haze has been a recurrent problem for almost two decades and Singaporeans are "very frustrated, angry and distressed about the situation".

He said it is not a matter of traditional slash-and-burn agriculture, but "an industrial-scale deforestation and irresponsible commercial exploitation of the land". Thus, what is needed is "political will, effective enforcement and better collaboration between countries".

Asked about allegations by an Indonesian official that Singapore companies are to be blamed for the forest fires, Dr Balakrishnan said he has told his colleagues in Indonesia to name the specific companies if they have the evidence, and the ministry will take action against them.

Dr Balakrishnan noted that in the end, the haze was more of a commercial problem rather than an environmental problem as the cheapest way for the companies to clear land was to literally set the forests alight.

He added that the related problem was a lot of the land was peat land and once a fire gets started, it will continue to smoulder for weeks or even months. Hence, the need for commercial pressure to be applied against the errant companies.

Dr Balakrishnan believes by naming them and taking appropriate action against them, there will be some effective pressure on them.

- CNA/ac

NEA says it detected 173 hotspots in Sumatra on Wednesday
Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) said 173 hotspots were detected in Sumatra, Indonesia, on Wednesday and 187 detected on Tuesday.

The agency said it expects the wind and weather to remain constant, and so the haze will persist.

It also expects the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) to increase overnight and reach the "very unhealthy" levels of 200 to 300.

The three-hour PSI reading had hit an unprecedented high of 321 at 10pm on Wednesday evening, but the 24-hour reading is in the range of 130 to 150.

Based on the 24-hour PSI readings, the Ministry of Health (MOH) is advising that Singaporeans limit prolonged or heavy outdoor activities.

In particular, children, the elderly and those with heart or lung diseases, should avoid outdoor activities and seek medical treatment early if they feel unwell.

MOH has activated the hospitals to prepare for the anticipated increase in the number of cases of asthma, bronchitis and conjunctivitis.

Given the current haze situation, Singapore is adopting a whole-of-government coordinated approach.

All 23 government agencies that form the inter-Agency Haze Task Force (HTF) have been activated and are co-coordinating their action plans to mitigate the effects of haze on the public.

The guidelines and advisories issued by these agencies remain relevant.

For example, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has disseminated guidelines on limiting outdoor physical activities in schools.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development requires childcare centres and kindergartens to cancel all outdoor activities for the children and for the operators to monitor the health situation of the children closely.

If a child falls sick, the parents should be informed and medical attention sought immediately.

The Ministry of Defence also has in place a set of guidelines to limit outdoor activities and training based on the PSI readings to ensure SAF troops train safely by modifying the nature and intensity of outdoor activities.

The Ministry of Home Affairs is also adopting appropriate precautionary measures for the well-being of its officers and National Servicemen deployed for active duties, while ensuring overall safety and security functions are not compromised.

The Haze Task Force will continue to monitor the situation closely and further advisories will be issued should the haze conditions deteriorate.

Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam and Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan had earlier conveyed the seriousness of the situation to their Indonesian counterparts and called for immediate action.

NEA's CEO Andrew Tan will be leading a delegation to Jakarta on Thursday for an emergency haze meeting convened by the Indonesian Foreign Ministry.

- CNA/de

Singapore expresses concern over Sumatra forest fires
Antara 19 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Singapore government has conveyed its concern over fires in Sumatra that has caused haze in that country, Indonesia`s foreign minister Marty Natalegawa said.

"Singapore`s foreign minister (K. Shanmugam) has communicated with us and each of us has conveyed information about the impact of the cross-border problem and measures would be taken," he said here on Wednesday.

In line with that, he said, the office of the coordinating minister of people`s welfare and other institutions concerned including the environment ministry have started conducting coordination and taking efforts to tackle the problem.

The Singaporean authorities have also conducted cooperation with the Indonesian government with regard to it, he said.

In view of that Marty called for prevention of any impression as if Indonesia has taken no concrete action or ignored it with impunity to cause a problem in Southeast Asia.

The two governments will to hold a senior official meeting to discuss the issue soon, he added.

(Reporting by Indra Arief Pribadi/Uu.H-YH)

Editor: Priyambodo RH


Shanmugam responds to criticism from netizens
Alfred Chua Today Online 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — There are limits to what the Government can do to combat the haze, which is “quite outside (our) control”, said Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam yesterday morning as the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit a new high.

In a Facebook post addressing netizens’ gripes that the Government was not doing enough to tackle the problem, Mr Shanmugam noted that “(we) are often price takers, not price makers — whether it is economics, geopolitics or the environment. But despite that we have done well, much better than bigger countries with more resources, because we have managed to deal with most situations by anticipating them”.

He singled out comments by Facebook user William Sin, who employed expletives as he railed against the Government for the lack of a solution, in response to a post by Mr Shanmugam on Tuesday.

“If Mr Sin or anyone else thinks we can do more about the haze … perhaps they can tell us — but I suppose, for some, the temptation to direct expletives and use this occasion to attack the Government and the PAP (People’s Action Party) is too great,” said Mr Shanmugam.

His post yesterday, which drew more than 1,200 likes and close to 500 comments, saw netizens firmly divided into two camps: Detractors and supporters. Mr Sin weighed in on the post, saying that Mr Shanmugam could have done better being “a million dollar minister”, and called the Government inefficient.

Mr Shanmugam did not directly respond to Mr Sin’s comments. In a separate comment, he pointed out that the Association of South-east Asian Nations signed a treaty on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002, but “Indonesia has not yet ratified it”. He said this was “surprising, given that the haze affects Indonesian public as well”.

Mr Shanmugam also dispelled rumours that “Temasek companies were involved” in the forest fires, saying “that has been checked and is completely untrue”.

Govt has convened taskforce to draw up contingency plans: Vivian Balakrishnan
Today Online 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — The Government will implement contingency plans such as closing schools and sports complex, if necessary, and the Ministry of Manpower may issue stop-work orders depending on the seriousness of the haze situation, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishan tonight (June 19).

The Government has convened a taskforce of 23 agencies to deal with the situation and draw up contingency plans.

The Government will also be publishing high-resolution pictures of all hotspots at Sumatra, which the National Environment Agency (NEA) will link to specific companies, said Dr Balakrishban. This, he said, would “allow us to take commercial action against companies”.

Dr Balakrishnan was speaking to the media at a press conference called after Singapore’s air quality reached “hazardous” levels. At 10pm, the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading spiked to 321.

A delegation will also be attending an emergency haze meeting at Jakarta soon. Noting that “concrete action” is what’s needed, the real solution is to stop fires in Sumatra, said Dr Balakrishnan. Singapore does not have enough clouds to successfully execute cloud-seeding, he added.

The minister said the haze is expected to worsen overnight due to a high number of hotspots in Sumatra, and that things would get worse before they get better. Only rain and sudden wind changes will improve the situation, but the chances of it happening are slim, he said.

He expects tomorrow’s (June 20) 24-hour PSI to go beyond 200.

This is the worst haze Singaporeans have seen and adjustments in our daily lives must be made, added Dr Balakrishnan.

Responding to a question on the PSI reading, Dr Balakrishnan said: "We must not get fixated on numbers and focus on improving the situation first." The NEA will be completely transparent in the management of this crisis, he said.

He advised children, elderly and those with lung disease to avoid outdoor activities and to seek medical treatment early. The longer Singaporeans go through high levels of haze, the more people will need medical attention, he said, but assured that hospitals are well prepared to handle the situation.

“This is a crisis but I’m confident we can survive this,” said Dr Balakrishnan. “We are going to overcome this problem by working very hard with the Indonesians and get them to do the right thing.”

Haze spikes to 321, reaches 'hazardous' levels
Today Online 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — The air quality reached "hazardous" levels as the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading spiked to 321 at 10pm — from 290 an hour earlier. It is now at an all-time high, exceeding the 1997 reading of 226.

When the PSI is above 301, air quality is deemed “hazardous”. At 11pm,. the 3-hour PSI reading fell to 282, back to "very unhealthy" levels.

A ministerial statement is expected "shortly", according to Member of Parliament Alex Yam. Posting on his Facebook page, Mr Yam said: "Dear all, I have just confirmed with Minister for the Environment and Water Resources that the 290 PSI reading is not a typo. Please stand by for a Ministerial Statement to be issued shortly."

Mr Yam urged the public "to take all necessary precautions. Do not undertake strenuous activities".

According to the National Environment Agency, when the PSI is in the “hazardous" range, children, elderly and persons with existing diseases should stay indoors and avoid outdoor activity. The general population should avoid unnecessary outdoor activity.

In a Facebook post, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) said that as at 9pm today, it has "ceased all outfield training until further notice to ensure the well-being and safety of our soldiers".

"Since this afternoon, we have issued our Soldiers on duty with the N95 masks. Our ground Commanders have also been reminded to keep a close watch on our Soldiers. We are closely monitoring the situation and will take additional precautionary measures as necessary," the SAF wrote.

At 3pm today, the PSI hit 172 before dropping to 158 an hour later and to 146 at 5pm. At 7pm, the PSI had risen back to 161 and has climbed higher since then. PSI readings of 50 and below denote “good” air quality, “moderate” for 51-100, “unhealthy” for 101-200. The three-hour PSI readings are calculated based on PM10 concentrations only.

Indonesia has announced that it plans to use cloud-seeding to create rain and extinguish the fires on Sumatra island, but the operation will take place earliest on Friday as preparations need to be made.

Meanwhile, Malaysia has banned open burning in Selangor, Malacca and Johor — the states are currently suffering from the haze — until further notice.

In an interview with the BBC, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the haze has been a recurrent problem for almost two decades and Singaporeans are “very frustrated, angry and distressed about the situation”.

He said it is not a matter of traditional slash-and-burn agriculture, but “an industrial-scale deforestation and irresponsible commercial exploitation of the land”. Thus, what is needed is “political will, effective enforcement and better collaboration between countries”.

Earlier today, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, K Shanmugam responded in a Facebook post to criticism by some members of the public, who questioned why the Government cannot do more about the haze situation.

“Look at the map, see where we are. Every country is sovereign and we can’t intervene in the actions in other countries,” said Mr Shanmugam. “The burning is taking place in Indonesia. What do you think Singapore can do about that?”

Pointing out that Singapore has raised the matter with Indonesian ministers, and has, over several years, “offered technical assistance, expressed our deep distress at what is happening, and have also raised the issue internationally”, he said: “The problem recurs, nevertheless.”

Despite the fact that “we are often price takers, not price makers”, Singapore has “done well” compared to bigger countries with more resources “because we have managed to deal with most situations by anticipating them”, he noted. “But the haze situation is quite outside our control.”

Thanking “those who have noted the reality of the situation, and the limitations within which we operate”, Mr Shanmugam said that if anyone “thinks we can do more about the haze that is caused by burning in Indonesia, perhaps they can tell us”.

“But I suppose, for some, the temptation to direct expletives and use this occasion to attack the Govt and the PAP is too great,” he added.

Separately, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean also noted in a Facebook post: “The city is slowly disappearing as the haze thickens this morning.”

“I hope that cooperation with our neighbour will help to resolve this problem not just for now but the future,” he wrote.

Plans in place if haze worsens
Feng Zengkun and Bryna Singh Straits Times 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE endured its worst day of haze yesterday as air quality surged into hazardous territory for the first time, prompting government agencies to reach for contingency measures.

At 10pm last night, the Pollutant Standards Index stood at 321 - the highest in the country's history - as fires continued to rage in neighbouring Sumatra. The previous record was 226, in 1997.

Air becomes "very unhealthy" past the PSI's 200 mark and "hazardous" when it crosses 300.

In response to questions at an 11.30pm press conference last night, Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the Manpower Ministry may issue a general stop-work order - but only if the haze situation worsens severely. A decision will also have to be made on whether to close childcare centres and schools.

The Ministry of Manpower will provide an update to employers today about what to do, while the Ministry of Health has also alerted hospitals to cope with a potential increase in patients with respiratory problems.

Dr Balakrishnan said the National Environment Agency's (NEA's) chief executive, Mr Andrew Tan, will lead a delegation to Indonesia today to an emergency haze meeting convened by the Indonesian Foreign Ministry.

"We are now at the stage where nobody anywhere in the world should believe that they have a right to pollute, to take short cuts and to make money at the expense of people's health," Dr Balakrishnan said.

In Singapore, a 23-agency haze task force met on Tuesday to coordinate plans to reduce the haze's impact on people.

In a Facebook posting after 1.15am this morning, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he was dismayed to see the PSI cross the 300 mark last night.

The Cabinet had discussed the haze situation fully yesterday but given the worsening situation, he will meet the relevant ministers first thing today, he said.

Urging people to stay indoors where possible and avoid heavy outdoor activity if the PSI stays high, he said: "Look out for one another - we will get through this together."

Raging fires in Indonesia - some started by companies to clear the land of vegetation - have led to the haze here.

The NEA has published high-resolution satellite photos of hot spots or fires in the region and will update this daily. The hope is that it will help identify some of the firms responsible for starting the blazes.

While Indonesia will attempt cloud-seeding - a method used to artificially create rain - to combat fires there, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore would not follow suit to reduce the smog here.

"For cloud-seeding to work, we need the clouds. Our meteorological service says we don't have enough cloud cover for that at the moment, but we will keep that option open," he said.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has stopped all outfield training indefinitely and all soldiers on duty have been given protective N95 face masks. Ground commanders have been reminded "to keep a close watch" on soldiers, said a spokesman on the SAF Facebook page. Other organisations here, such as the Singapore Civil Defence Force, reduced physical and outdoor training when the index crossed 100.

An SMRT spokesman said bus captains have also been reminded to drive safely due to reduced visibility on the roads, and maintenance work on its tracks was suspended last night.

Air traffic controllers at Changi Airport have also taken steps to ensure safety on the runway due to the poorer visibility, said a Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore spokesman earlier yesterday. "The controllers have increased the separation between flight takeoffs and landings as an added precautionary measure," she said.

Thinner crowds outdoors as most take cover
Amelia Tan, Lim Yan Liang And Bryna Singh
Straits Times 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPOREANS headed indoors to seek respite from the hazardous haze last night, as evident in the visibly thinner crowds in popular shopping and dining areas like Orchard Road, Clarke Quay and Boat Quay.

Many people wore masks and used handkerchiefs and tissue to cover their mouths, while others were seen scurrying indoors.

Pub and restaurant staff at Clarke Quay and Boat Quay said customers have been staying away since Monday, but last night was the quietest of the week so far.

Mr Yap Eng Chew, who owns Harvest Seafood at Boat Quay, said business had halved yesterday. "Usually, I would be able to get passers-by to come for dinner at my restaurant but today, there are few people here," he said.

It was the same story a few doors away at Italian restaurant Pasta Fresca Da Salvatore. Only one table in the outdoor area was occupied.

Waiter Aung Khin Myint said: "Our customers said they want to sit indoors because their eyes and throats were irritated."

Mr Ryan Ravelo, manager of Senor Taco at Clarke Quay, added: "We are usually full almost every night. But today, only three out of our seven tables are full. Even our regulars are staying away."

Some shoppers and diners said they were going home early because they had difficulty breathing, or their eyes were watering.

Ms Sarah Emmanuel, 24, who works for an events and public relations company, said: "It is really bad. Even in the underground tunnels in Orchard Road, you can smell the smoke."

Software engineer Dilpreet Singh, 32, shelved dinner plans at Boat Quay and bought a meal to eat in his office.

"I am buying dinner for eight of my colleagues too because no one wants to come out. The air quality is so bad," he said.

IT engineer Kuo Ting Ting and her friend Ray Zhang usually dine at Boat Quay after going to the gym, but decided to go home instead.

Said Ms Kuo, 29: "We usually have dinner here along the Singapore River to unwind. But we are going home as soon as possible today. We don't want our health to be affected."

The heartlands appeared to be less affected. Shopping areas such as Junction 8 in Bishan were still packed with shoppers and diners.

Twins Jane and Jenny Goh, 18, were among those who sat outside The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf cafe at Junction 8. They had heard that the PSI had hit 290 at the time, but shrugged it off.

Jane, a student at the Millennia Institute, said: "It is quite hot out here, but there were no seats inside earlier, and now we are too lazy to move."

Marketing communications manager Wendy Ong, 27, was more cautious. She said she immediately closed all the windows in her house after learning about the PSI levels on the news on television.

Bishan Swimming Complex was almost empty. A lifeguard who gave her name only as Marian said there had been only 10 swimmers all day. Staff at the outdoor pool have been advising visitors of the PSI reading this week and telling them to go home.

Even the ongoing National Day Parade rehearsals could fall victim to the haze.

Parade and ceremony chairman, Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Simon Lee, told The Straits Times yesterday that the executive committee was discussing contingency plans in case the haze worsens.

"It could be a scenario that the schoolchildren are not involved, so we are left with the adults. Another scenario could be that we truncate the parade and make it shorter," he said.

Additional reporting by Jermyn Chow

What you should do when PSI levels rise

ACCORDING to a government health advisory, when the 24-hour PSI passes 100, the elderly, children and those with heart or lung diseases should reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor activity and seek medical help early if they feel unwell.

Yesterday's 24-hour average at 4pm was between 101 and 121, though this was before the situation worsened at night. This is taken from readings in the previous 24 hours. The three-hourly reading, which soared to 321 at 10pm, is an average of the previous three hours.

The advisory said outdoor physical activities, physical education lessons, sports and games should be cancelled for schoolchildren, and outdoor activities cancelled at childcare centres.

Employers should also minimise outdoor work involving strenuous activity.

S'pore, Indonesia officials to meet
Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta
Straits Times 20 Jun 13;

OFFICIALS from Indonesia and Singapore will meet in Jakarta today to discuss how to stem the haze together, said Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono.

Separately, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa took umbrage at suggestions that Indonesia had not taken the steps it should have to prevent the haze, or done enough to punish those responsible. "Calls of such a type are a bit redundant," he told reporters at his ministry yesterday.

Explaining, he said: "It suggests as if the Indonesian government and people do not ourselves wish to ensure those who are responsible are brought to justice or held to account."

His comments came as Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Indonesia had strict laws against burning, but enforcement was an issue.

The haze also began to attract wider attention in the Indonesian media, as it blanketed much of Riau province and spread to its capital Pekanbaru yesterday.

In Batam for a ministry event, Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya told reporters that he suspected the burning in Riau was carried out by irresponsible companies from Singapore or Malaysia. "We will check who owns these companies, then we will coordinate," he said.

A deputy from the ministry will be in Bengkalis, Riau, today to investigate the causes and companies behind the burning, he added.

Dr Marty said incidents like the haze were not unique to Indonesia, citing forest fires in the United States and Australia.

"The first instinct must be one of wanting to express sympathy and wanting to express solidarity rather than wanting to apportion blame," he said. "That must be the overriding sentiment, most of all within Asean, about how can we support one another and encourage one another."

Singapore, Indonesia to hold talks on smog crisis
Martin Abbugao (AFP) Google News 20 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — Singapore and Indonesia were scheduled to hold emergency talks on Thursday after thick smog from forest fires on Sumatra island reached unprecedented levels in the city-state.

Singapore said it was sending the chief executive of the National Environment Agency (NEA), Andrew Tan, to attend an emergency meeting to be hosted by Indonesia's foreign ministry in Jakarta on the haze crisis.

"We need urgent and definitive action by Indonesia to tackle the problem at source," said Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's minister for the environment and water resources.

"Singaporeans have lost patience, and are understandably angry, distressed and concerned."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he will meet "relevant ministers" on Thursday and hold a press conference on the situation.

"Please stay indoors where possible and avoid heavy outdoor activities. Look out for one another - we will get through this together," he said on his Facebook page.

Singapore's air pollutant index was still in the "unhealthy" band at mid-morning Thursday with a reading of 153 after spiking past the government-designated "hazardous" level of 300 the night before.

Smog was still visible as Singaporeans went to work Thursday, and more commuters were seen wearing disposable medical masks than in previous days.

The acrid odour of burnt wood could be smelled even inside the air-conditioned trains of Singapore's metro system.

Drug stores in the central business district were sold out of disposable masks and refused to take advance orders, telling customers to return the next day in case new stocks arrived.

The previous Singapore air pollutant index high of 226 was recorded in September 1997 at the height of a Southeast Asian calamity also resulting from vast amounts of haze from Indonesia, where slash-and-burn farming generates large amounts of smoke during the dry season that begins in June.

Singapore has urged children, the elderly, and those with heart or lung disease to avoid outdoor activities and seek medical treatment early if they feel unwell.

Local and international schools were already on summer holiday when the haze reached unhealthy levels at the start of the week.

Parts of Malaysia close to Singapore have also been severely affected by the smog.

The Indonesian forestry ministry said Wednesday that it plans to use cloud seeding to try and unleash rain on Sumatra.

Smallholders and plantations in Sumatra -- some of them with Singaporean investors -- have been accused of using fire to clear land for cultivation, but big palm oil companies deny involvement in such activities.

Read more!

Firms deny using fire to clear land

Jonathan Kwok And Feng Zengkun Straits Times 20 Jun 13;

PALM oil companies listed here have denied that they are using slash-and-burn practices on their plantations in Indonesia.

The land-clearing technique is seen as a key cause of the haze crisis now engulfing Singapore and Malaysia, but the companies say they opt for a mechanical approach that includes using excavators and bulldozers.

Some companies added that they monitor contractors and sub-contractors to ensure they comply with the no-burn policy as well.

Singapore-listed First Resources, which has over 158,000ha of oil palm plantations, said yesterday that it adopts a zero-burning policy for new plantings and uses mechanical methods to clear land.

Its plantations are mostly in Riau, as well as East and West Kalimantan. "We are supported by contractors who are contractually bound to comply with the group's zero-burning policy," said a spokesman.

Indofood Agri Resources, with more than 230,000ha of oil palm plantations, mostly in Sumatra, and over 20,000ha of rubber trees, said sustainable agriculture is at the core of all its operations.

"I can confirm that IndoAgri has a zero-burning policy," chief executive Mark Wakeford said yesterday.

Wilmar International and Golden Agri-Resources, the two largest palm oil companies listed here by market value, also emphasised their zero-burning policies in statements to The Straits Times on Tuesday. Wilmar's plantations are in Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

Golden Agri, with a planted area of about 464,000ha across Indonesia, added yesterday that it monitors its processes stringently to ensure its contractors comply.

United States commodities giant Cargill, which is privately held, said it has a no-burn policy, and added that there are no hot spots or fires at its oil palm plantations in South Sumatra and West Kalimantan, which together cover close to 55,000ha.

It added that it uses heavy equipment like excavators to clear the land, with Cargill employees overseeing the entire process.

Environmental groups noted that while companies may have no-burn policies, they also buy palm oil from third-party suppliers. "What they need to do is check whether the third-party suppliers are involved in the burning or not," said Mr Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace's forest campaign in Indonesia.

Dr John Payne, executive director of the Borneo Rhino Alliance, said palm oil companies and those in other sectors need to know how their raw material suppliers are behaving.

Foul mood in the air as plantation firms feel the heat
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Indonesia Correspondent In Dumai (riau Province)
Straits Times 20 Jun 13;

MY TWO Straits Times colleagues and I were taking some photos when we were briefly stopped by a plantation owner who was worried that we would put his company in a bad light.

Even after we explained why we were there, he ejected us from his plantation - the first time I had come across such nasty behaviour in the several years that I had been covering haze-related stories in Indonesia.

"Who let them in?" the plantation owner in Pelintung, about a 20-minute drive from Dumai, asked his men.

"Tell him I am firing him," the owner of Ayu oil palm plantation company snapped after one of his men mentioned a name.

His foul mood could have been due partly to the fact that the Indonesian government has been cracking down on those who use slash-and-burn methods to clear their land. This can cause fires to spread uncontrollably.

Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya has said that those who resort to illegal open- air burning should be jailed.

Indonesia is under mounting pressure from Malaysia and Singapore, which have been badly affected by the haze and whose governments have raised the issue with Jakarta.

Residents here complain about smoke-related ailments like shortness of breath and chest pains.

Mr Harun, 54, a plantation gatekeeper who goes by only one name, said this year's haze is the worst since he started working here five years ago.

"Fire came from the west a few days ago and from the north-west before that. It felt like doomsday as the smoke shrouded us," he told The Straits Times.

Ayu and at least five other plantation companies in Dumai, and more than a dozen others in nearby districts, have been struggling to put out the fires, which their owners insisted were not started on their land. A mix of small plots belonging to local farmers and larger plantations owned by companies are found in these areas. Oil palm is the main crop.

In 2011, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a regulation requiring local governments and private companies with firefighting equipment to help put out any fire, according to Mr Raffles Panjaitan, a Forestry Ministry official.

"Previously, whenever there was a fire, people would turn to the Forestry Ministry for help. Now, everyone must get involved, and we are getting tougher. It is everybody's task... because only 20 per cent are forest fires, while the remainder are in plantations," Mr Raffles told The Straits Times.

Read more!

Indonesia :Forestry Ministry Looks to Cloud-Seeding to Douse Forest Fires Raging in Sumatra

Agence France-Presse Jakarta Globe 19 Jun 13;

Indonesia plans to use weather-changing technology to try to unleash torrents of rain and extinguish raging fires on Sumatra that have cloaked neighboring Singapore and Malaysia in thick haze, an official said on Wednesday.

Singapore, which is home to 5.3 million inhabitants, has been pressing Jakarta to take action to put out the blazes, which have pushed air pollutant levels on the island to a 16-year high.

Indonesian Forestry Ministry official Raffles Panjaitan said the government planned to use a technology called “cloud-seeding” to try and put out the fires, which are mainly centered on peatlands in Riau province.

Helicopters would be sent into the skies above Sumatra to inject chemicals into clouds, which prompt the formation of heavy ice crystals, and so speed up the production of rain.

But the helicopters, from the disaster management agency, would not be dispatched until Friday at the earliest as preparations first need to be made, Raffles said.

About 100 firefighters tackling the blazes were finding them difficult to extinguish as they were smouldering underground in carbon-rich peatland, mostly in oil palm plantations, he said.

“It is extremely difficult to extinguish the fires that are burning under the surface of the peatland,” Raffles said.

He said the success of the cloud-seeding operation would depend on weather conditions.

“Hopefully there will be lots of clouds so that we can produce a lot of rain,” he added.

The worst-hit area was Bengkalis district, where 650 hectares of land was ablaze, he said, adding that 555 fires had been detected in Riau, up from 356 the previous month.

In Singapore, the Pollutant Standards Index soared to 172 at 3 p.m., well past the officially designated “unhealthy” threshold of 100, according to the National Environment Agency.

It was Singapore’s worst haze reading since September 1997 when the number peaked at 226.

The haze problem is a recurring one that happens in the dry season as a result of forest fires in the sprawling Indonesian archipelago, some of them deliberately started to clear land for cultivation.

Agence France-Presse

Riau trying to block peatland fires
Antara 19 Jun 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau Province (ANTARA News) - Four teams of the Riau forest fire and rescue brigade called "Manggala Agni" have been trying to block peatland fires and to prevent them from spreading to wider area.

"We could only try to block the fires and prevent them from spreading to wider area. It is very difficult to extinguish the fires because there are so many obstacles in the fire locations," Isbanu, the head of the fire control unit of the Riau Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA), said here on Wednesday.

Around 550 hectares of three-meter-deep peatland in Sepahat (Bengkalis District) and Pelintung (Dumai City) have been on fire since last weekend.

The Riau authorities have deployed two fire brigade teams in Sepahat and Pelintung to control the peatland fires.

The other two teams have been instructed to anticipate possible fires in conservation areas.

The teams being assigned in Sepahat and Pelintung have been assisted by personnel from local NGO, "Masyarakat Peduli Api (MPA), local fire brigade offices and companies.

However, there is still not enough people to deal with the peatland fires, which are more difficult to be extinguished because they are hidden and spreading under the soil.

"We are just trying to control the fires. If the fires could spread up to 50 hectares per day, we could hold it to around 30 hectares a day," he said.

The dry season has worsened the fires and hampered the efforts to control the blazes.

"The peatland fires could only be put out by rains. However, the weather now is very dry and the wind blows quite strongly," he said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

148 hotspots detected in Riau
Antara 19 Jun 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), said on Wednesday, 148 hotspots have detected in Riau Province. These are the largest numbers on Sumatera island.

"Last observation from NOAA-18 satellite, have monitored 187 hotspots in Sumatera. While in Riau have monitored 148 hotspots," said Forecaster on Duty at BMKG Riau Station, Ardhitama, in Pekanbaru, Wednesday.

He elaborate the hotspots were detected in 10 districts and muncipals in Riau. Rokan Hilir districts have 32 spots, Rokan Hulu (23), Siak (21), Pelalawan (20), Indragiri Hilir (18), Bengkalis (17), Indragiri Hulu (8), Kampar (7), Kuantan Singingi (1) and Dumai City (1).

The numbers of hotspots in Riau have increase from previous day which reached 106 spots (up to 38 spots). This indicates land and forest fires still occur and most likely to expand.

Ardhitama said weather condition in Riau will be sunny and the possibility not going to rain. While, the temperature is predicted will reach a maximum 35.5 Celcius.

Wind is blowing from the Southwest to the Northwest at the speed of 8 to 30 miles per hour, he added.

That weak wind-blow cause smoke still occur in air. As in Pekanbaru, the smoke was thick enough in some areas until 10:00 am.

"Smoke is still horrible from morning till afternoon, the sight still dark though in the bright day," said a resident of Pekanbaru, Ganda Wibowo (23).

He said smoke was palpable in the air and cause eyes irritation and suffocating respiratory.


Editor: Ella Syafputri

Thick haze sparks respiratory infections in Riau
Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 19 Jun 13;

Thick haze blanketing Bengkalis regency and Dumai City in Riau over the last few days has increased the number of respiratory infections.

In Bengkalis, the number of people suffering from respiratory infections reached 531 as of June 17, jumping from only 387 a month earlier.

"The sharp increase in the number of respiratory infection cases has been caused by the thick haze blanketing the area," Bengkalis health office head Mohammad Sukri said on Wednesday.

"All community health centers have been instructed to raise alertness against the impact of the haze, to prevent it from getting uncontrollable," Sukri said, urging local residents to reduce outdoor activities.

Meanwhile, data at the Dumai health office showed that the number of patients with respiratory cases treated at local community health centers and hospitals reached 393 as of June 19, up from 351 in early June. (fan)

'Breathless as soon as I got out of car'
Joyce Lim In Dumai (Riau Province) Straits Times 20 Jun 13;

FLYING into Pekanbaru - the capital of Riau province - yesterday morning, I thought I was well prepared for ground zero of the haze blanketing the region.

I had enough N95 masks to last four days. My Indonesian colleague even brought an oxygen tank along for me. But as it turned out, I was wrong.

With the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) level exceeding 400 for much of the day, the air was thick with smoke. Oncoming vehicles all had their fog lights switched on.

We arrived at a plantation in Pelintung, near Dumai, before dusk. Though I was wearing a mask, I felt breathless almost as soon as I got out of the car.

It was a challenging task to walk through kilometres of scorched land in the heat and smoke. Some parts of the plantation were still burning, and we could hear crackling sounds.

The plantation on our left was charred - clearly a result of the slash-and-burn method favoured by farmers to clear their land.

A worker who was hired to put out the fire told The Straits Times that it took more than 100 people and two days to put out the fire in one small part of the plantation. There were many areas where fires continued to rage, he added.

Asked how the fire was started, the worker said it was an act of God, before adding that he was more than happy to be able to earn some money putting it out.

But he also complained about shortness of breath and chest pain from inhaling the choking air.

When my two Straits Times colleagues and I returned to our hotel in town, we found the air there was not much better.

If I thought Singaporeans would be breathing a bit better, I was wrong again. I found out the PSI back home had hit a "hazardous" 321 last night.

Amid smoke, life goes on in Riau
Some farmers still carry out burning, residents continue with daily routine
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja and Joyce Lim In Dumai (Riau Province) Straits Times 20 Jun 13;

AIR pollution may have hit shocking levels here, but that has not stopped some plantations from continuing to burn crops and vegetation to make fertilisers or to clear the land.

When a Straits Times team travelled to the area yesterday, several farmers were seen lighting fresh fires on a vacant plot of land near Kandis, 82km north of Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province.

Mr Maliala Sembiring, who was burning oil palm fruit bunches to make fertilisers when approached by ST, said the low yield of oil palm fruits was one reason he turned to this traditional way of making fertilisers.

This involved burning the crop and using the ashes on various parts of the oil palm plantation.

"It is cheap, and we avoid risks of using counterfeit fertiliser," said Mr Maliala. "The yield is low around this time. Buying fertiliser is not wise. We have high yields in October through January."

When asked if what he was doing could cause a forest fire, he said: "No. It won't burn the plantation. This area is sealed, as you can see."

Further north in the village of Pelintung, the ST team saw a charred plantation where the heat and smell of smoke were still very strong.

The owner denied setting fire to the plantation and kicked out the ST team. He also threatened to fire the staff member who let in the journalists.

It was nearly 8pm when the team arrived in Dumai. The coastal city is said to be "ground zero" of the worsening air pollution blanketing the region, given its proximity to the many hot spots causing the haze.

But despite the choking cloud of dust and smoke that hung over the city, most residents appeared to be getting on with their daily lives.

The PSI in Dumai hit a shocking 460 at its worst yesterday, up from 340 on Tuesday.

The streets, however, were not deserted. In fact, the popular hotels in town were fully booked for the next few days - a sign of how residents here have come to accept the haze as an annual ritual.

Hotel staff said they have not received any cancellations for upcoming weddings and corporate and official events despite the worsening air pollution.

But not everything has been impervious to the deteriorating conditions.

"The plants are withering, people are wearing masks and there are fewer tourists," said trishaw rider Bendri Candra, 34, whose daily earnings have fallen by more than half, from 70,000 rupiah (S$9) to barely 30,000 rupiah.

Another Dumai resident soldiering on is Mr Olya Akmal, 32, who runs a convenience store in town.

"I get breathless even indoors. But I can't wear a mask to serve my customers," he told The Straits Times.

While Mr Olya chose not to wear a mask, others did not do so because they could not afford one.

Low-income residents in Dumai told the ST team that they were willing to endure the ailments brought on by the worsening air pollution and wait for the government to distribute masks for free.

Meanwhile, with firefighters struggling to extinguish the fires smouldering underground in carbon-rich peatland, Indonesian forestry officials said they might begin "cloud seeding" to induce much-needed rain.

Mr Raffles Panjaitan, a director at Indonesia's Forestry Ministry, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying that helicopters from the country's disaster management agency could be activated to do this.

But they could not be sent into the skies above Dumai and elsewhere in Riau province until tomorrow at the earliest.

RI dodges haze blame game
Bagus BT Saragih and Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 20 Jun 13;

Firest fire: Fire engulfs trees and bushes in Pekanbaru, Riau, on Tuesday. (Antara/FB Anggoro)Firest fire: Fire engulfs trees and bushes in Pekanbaru, Riau, on Tuesday. (Antara/FB Anggoro)

Amid criticism from its neighbors, Malaysia and Singapore, over the cross-border haze and deteriorating air quality affecting the two countries, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa talked tough on the issue, saying that ASEAN members should collaborate to address the situation rather than lay blame.

“The approach must be one of collaboration and partnership, not one of apportioning blame here and there. Let’s focus on putting the fires out,” Marty told a press conference.

Numerous hot spots created by slash-and-burn activities by several agricultural firms operating in Sumatra, particularly in Riau province, have reportedly resulted in thick haze over Singapore and some parts of Malaysia.

Singapore has urged Indonesia to provide data on the companies and concession maps to enable it to act against the plantation firms that employ slash-and-burn methods, adding that air pollution on the island had hit unhealthy levels with some of the worst readings since the 1997 regional haze crisis.

“Calls of such a type are actually a bit redundant, in the sense that we in Indonesia, the government and our people, want those responsible to be held accountable,” said Marty, commenting on the request.

“There is actually no need for such a demand. We are fully aware of the impact and consequences and the need for action,” Marty added.

The minister confirmed he had received phone calls from his counterparts in Malaysia and Singapore, but he refused to offer details, saying only that they had “exchanged information about the situation”.

Marty cited similar haze problems in other countries.

“Recently, we have seen a number of forest fires in the US and Australia. When those broke out, I think the first instinct was to express sympathy and solidarity, rather than wanting to blame somebody,” he continued, adding that there would be technical meetings between Indonesian and Singaporean officials on the issue in the coming few days.

Marty admitted that the government had not ratified the ASEAN trans-boundary haze pollution treaty, which was signed some 12 years ago. He said it was still undergoing a legislative process at the House of Representatives.

“We have to go through a certain process to ensure there is full consensus on the treaty. Even without ratification, as a matter of fact, we have complied with the requirements of the agreement,” Marty said.

Forestry Ministry secretary-general Hadi Daryanto said the ministry was ready to partner with Singapore in tracing the firms behind the fires in Riau. “We are keen to join with neighboring countries to identify the perpetrators; and the sanctions imposed will be imprisonment, fines and permit revocations,” Hadi said.

He added, however, that the country needed cooperation from Singapore and Malaysia to track down and prevent future blazes, considering that a number of companies operating in the area hailed from the two countries.

The haze itself is believed to emanate from Bengkalis and Dumai in Riau following peat land fires in the region. A blanket of thick haze has covered Bengkalis and Dumai over the past week and the number of respiratory infections has increased.

In Bengkalis, the number of people suffering from respiratory infections reached 531 as of June 17, jumping from only 387 a month earlier.

Data at the Dumai health office showed that the number of patients with respiratory problems treated at local community health centers (puskesmas) and hospitals totaled 393 as of June 19, up from 351 in early June.

Residents have been told to reduce outdoor activities, while those who have to go outdoors are advised to wear masks over their noses and mouths, and helmets and jackets to protect the eyes and skin from irritation. Meanwhile, the Bengkalis administration has called on the central government to immediately dispatch assistance to help tackle the disaster.

Bengkalis Deputy Regent Suayatno said the fires, which have destroyed vast hectares of rubber and oil palm plantations and bush, had been raging since March 1.

He said the Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) and local fire fighters had dispatched all their personnel to extinguish the fires, but the flames continued to spread due to strong winds and very dry weather.

Anggi M. Lubis contributed to the story

Read more!

Malaysia: three states declared ‘no open burning’ zones

The Star 20 Jun 13;

PETALING JAYA: The Department of Environment (DOE) has declared the whole of Selangor, Malacca and Johor as strictly “no open burning” zones with immediate effect.

DOE director-general Datuk Halimah Hassan said the exceptions were for cremation, grill/barbeque, flaring and religious purposes.

She said the ban was issued under Section 29(A) of the Environmental Quality Act and would be lifted when the deteriorating air quality in the regions had returned to normal.

“Those found guilty can be fined up to RM500,000, jailed for up to five years or both,” she said in a statement.

“They can also incur a maximum compound of RM2,000 for each violation.”

Halimah urged owners of open land to stop “irresponsible parties” from encroaching into their premises to conduct open burning.

Seven towns in Peninsular Malaysia recorded unhealthy Air Pollutant Index readings as at 5pm yesterday.

They are Banting, Selangor (114), Bukit Rambai, Negri Sembilan (118), Malacca City, Malacca (161), Muar, Johor (172), Larkin Lama, Johor (152), Pasir Gudang, Johor (168) and Kota Tinggi, Johor (166).

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

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that the haze here was the worst since 2005 while neighbouring Singapore was experiencing its worst air pollution level in 16 years.

The paper wrote that the haze, blown in from fires in Sumatra, was prompting regional officials to press Indonesia for urgent action.

The DOE encouraged people to lodge reports on instances of open burning to the Fire and Rescue Department.

They can call 03-88880336 or the DOE at 03-88891972.

East coast hit by the haze, too
The Star 20 Jun 13;

KEMAMAN: The pristine view surrounding the beach town of Kijal was spoilt, for once, by hazy skies.

The famed blue skies were blocked by the thick haze blown over by winds from Sumatra in Indonesia.

Fortunately, it was not for long.

Kijal is in the district of Kemaman, which recorded an API reading of 121 on Sunday, one of the worst in the country.

“The API in Kemaman has improved with an 80 reading, no longer within the “unhealthy” zone.

“Based on the trend, we believe it will be better over the next few days,” a Department of Environment spokesman said.

A local angler took his rod out yesterday to fish at a jetty in Kijal as the skyline showed a dominant blue colour.

“During the weekend, I could not spot boats far out and even some of the resort buildings near here were shrouded by the haze,” said the angler, who is from nearby Kerteh.

Other locals also found it strange for Terengganu to be hit by the haze.

“I am just glad the skies are clear again,” said a villager.

6 days to put out peat fire
New Straits Times 20 Jun 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: The peat fire that broke out in the North-South Expressway Central Link (Elite Highway) on Friday has been put out by the Selangor South Zone Fire and Rescue Department.

Its deputy commander (operations), Mohd Haikal Md Kasri, said the fire, which had spread to almost 36ha of the forest reserve, took six days to be put out.

He said the Department of Environment (DoE) was investigating the cause of fire.

Preliminary investigations showed that the haze could not have been the main factor.

"This is because other states that recorded a higher Air Pollutant Index, like Malacca and Johor, did not experience similar situations.

"However, we are waiting for the final report from the DoE," said Haikal.

He added that the Forestry Department would initiate plans to plant trees to replenish the burnt forest.

"The department will move in soon to start re-planting."

Saujana Putra in Dengkil, a residential area 6km away from the fire, was not affected by the incident.

Dept set to fight peat fires
Nicholas Cheng The Star 20 Jun 13;

PUTRAJAYA: Water relay pumping systems and jet shooters, bumby bucket or water bombing from helicopters are among the measures listed in a new standard operating procedure (SOP) drawn up to fight forest, bush and peat soil fires.

The SOP details the working strategies for different departments in handling fires at the district, state and national levels.

“We will use helicopters and water bombing to put out forest fires that are too deep to reach,” said Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general Datuk Soiman Jahid.

“We have already done course training with our officers,” he said at his office yesterday.

“Our vehicles and equipment have been readied and we also held meetings with different agencies to make sure everyone knows what they need to do. We’re all prepared.”

Soiman added that the department would also launch a 24-hour operations room dedicated to fighting fires when the need arises.

Soiman said the department had extinguished six peat soil fires in Selangor recently.

According to its statistics, there were 611 forest fires in the first two weeks of June, almost double the number in May.

The department has identified 14 high-risk areas susceptible to fires during the four-month westerly monsoon season beginning in early June.

They include the Selangor Agricultural Development Cor­poration land and Raja Musa forest reserve in Bestari Jaya, Johan Setia in Andalas, Pulau Kempas in Banting, Parit Haji Dorani and Sungai Panjang in Sungai Besar and Kuala Langat forest reserve in Dengkil.

The others are Jalan Miri to Kuala Baram in Sarawak, Kampung Luagan, Kampung Lumat and Kampung Nukahan in Beaufort and Binsuluk forest reserve in Kuala Penyu, Sabah, Kampung Krupal in Rompin, Pahang, and Gunung Besout in Slim River, Perak.

‘Don’t go out to Straits of Malacca at night’
The Star 20 Jun 13;

MUAR: Marine police here have warned all barter-trading vessels plying the Straits of Malacca to refrain from navigating the waterway at night due to the haze.

Its chief Asst Supt Nordin Osman said the stretch of the straits between Pontian and Malacca was covered in “very thick haze”.

He said the condition could worsen in the next few days due to the westerly monsoon season.

“This would push the haze from Sumatra to the peninsula,” he warned.

The sea and coastal areas here were covered in thick haze until about 11am yesterday.

“The visibility was very low this (yesterday) morning and motorists had to switch on their headlights when travelling along several roads here,” he said.

ASP Nordin, who joined a team in a patrol boat to check the haze at the Muar estuary, said the morning air was also filled with the smell of burning wood.

He said one barter-trading vessel from Rupat in Sumatra, which was headed for Batu Pahat yesterday, had to stop at the estuary here as the crew could not see their way.

He added that the bad weather was expected to continue if there was no heavy rain in the next few days.

“I urge all vessels to navigate the Straits of Malacca carefully.”

Read more!

Will Changi run out of runway?

With limited room for expansion, Changi needs to come up with a new strategy
Karamjit Kaur Aviation Correspondent Straits Times 20 Jun 13;

FOR more than three decades, Changi Airport has welcomed all airlines and aircraft, from the Airbus 380 superjumbo to the turbo prop.

The aim was simple: encourage more traffic.

When Asian budget carriers started to proliferate a decade ago, for example, the airport responded by opening a purpose-built Budget Terminal with few frills, to suit their needs

In future, however, the challenge will be very different. Expansion is still possible for now. But eventually, the airport will not be able to accommodate all the airlines that want to use it, and strategic choices will have to be made.

In 2017, when Changi Airport opens Terminal 4, it will run out of space for further expansion. But demand for Changi's services is likely to continue growing. In recognition of this, a 1,000ha piece of land - about three-quarters the size of the current airport premises - has been set aside for the construction of a fifth terminal (T5) together with its related infrastructure and facilities.

More difficult to construct than previous terminals, T5 is also likely to be Changi's last mega facility. T5 is slated for completion in the middle of the next decade.

The difficulty arises from the fact that the proposed plot is separated from the existing airport by the Changi Coast Road.

Linking a terminal located there with Changi's existing facilities will not be easy.

Should the Changi Coast Road be removed or diverted? If removed, what will be the impact on traffic on alternative routes like Nicoll Drive and Telok Paku Road? Can the road be moved underground so aircraft can move above? Will this compromise security?

Given the distance between the existing and future facilities - more than 2km - moving people and cargo quickly and efficiently will also be an issue.

Limit to expansion

ACCORDING to Assistant Professor Terence Fan of the Singapore Management University's Lee Kong Chian School of Business, "the challenge is more complicated than designing Changi from scratch more than 30 years ago because of the existing terminals, runways and buildings around the airport".

In March last year, the Transport Ministry announced the establishment of a 10-member multi-agency committee led by Minister of State Josephine Teo, to chart the airport's future growth.

The team is assessing, among other issues, the detailed time-plan for T5. It is also considering when Changi will need a third runway. Such a runway already exists on land earmarked for the airport's future development. Currently used by the military, the intention is for the runway to be lengthened and used for both commercial and military flights.

Beyond that, however, there is little possibility of further expansion. Unlike countries such as China and India, as well as those in the Middle East, it is unlikely Singapore will have much more airport land beyond the 1,000ha plot. Its already congested airspace will also not allow more expansion.

Rapid growth has already produced operational constraints.

To deal with congestion during peak hours, airlines like Firefly and Berjaya Air that operate turbo prop planes have recently been told they will not get any new prime-time take-off slots.

For safety reasons, smaller planes need more separation time and distance from bigger aircraft during take-off and landing. Such flights therefore reduce runway capacity. Other airlines like AirAsia and Tiger Airways have also experienced problems getting the flight times they want.

When Runway 3 opens, new capacity will be added. But in time, the higher ceiling will be hit too. Ditto for T5.

Choosing who to woo

CHANGI therefore will not be able to accommodate all the airlines that want to use it. Who to woo and who to reject are issues that will become increasingly important in the coming years.

With a small domestic market, Changi's strength must remain its hub status - the ability to connect global travellers via the Singapore hub.

Airlines are demanding no less, as they forge more partnerships with like-minded carriers to expand their reach and boost profits. Singapore Airlines' growing ties with Virgin Australia and the recent Emirates-Qantas tie-up are cases in point.

Even budget carriers that typically offer point-to-point services are doing the same. Tiger Airways for example, has a tie-up with Scoot which allows customers with connecting flights to make easy transfers with baggage and check-in taken care of.

To cater to the trend, London's Heathrow is building a new terminal which will be ready in June next year, for Star Alliance carriers, of which SIA is one. The new facility will not just enhance service levels with shorter connecting times between member carriers. According to Mr Mark Schwab, chief executive officer of Star Alliance, it will also encourage more transfers via Heathrow.

Changi will have to think along these lines if it wants to prosper despite long-term capacity constraints.

How to group carriers, and who to put in which terminals are decisions that must be made sooner rather than later.

Risk of being slow

ALREADY, some say too much time has been lost.

Runway and air space congestion has already led to flight delays. And while the situation has improved in recent months, it remains an issue. This does not do Changi's reputation any good.

According to Mr Brendan Sobie, a Singapore-based analyst at the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, "the longer it takes to come up with a plan for Changi Airport's future development, the higher the risk of falling behind the growth curve".

Space for passengers is yet another issue for Changi, which handled a record 51.2 million passengers last year. Total current capacity is 66 million passengers a year. By the time T4 is ready, this will increase to 82 million passengers.

In 1975, Singapore took a bold step when it decided to shut Paya Lebar and build Changi Airport. It did this against the advice of external consultants and despite the $1.5 billion estimated price tag - big money at the time.

Expansion at Paya Lebar was limited by its proximity to the city centre. Planes flying over populated areas would also add to the noise and air pollution, said then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Moving to Changi meant that aircraft would approach the island over the water, thus allowing room for future expansion.

It was the right decision.

Planners now must show similar foresight and boldness if the airport is to keep its flag flying high.

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Birds 'show value of conservation investments'

BBC 20 Jun 13;

The plights of the world's threatened birds show the value of investing in conservation, according to campaigners.

One in eight of the world's birds is currently considered threatened.

A report by the Birdlife Partnership links continuing declines to deteriorating biodiversity, but it also highlights successfully protected species and habitats.

Conservationists suggest this shows how the estimated $80bn (£50bn) price tag of conserving nature is worthwhile.

Last year, scientists suggested it would cost about $5bn to reduce the extinction threat for all threatened wildlife, and up to $76bn to maintain a global network of protected areas.

"The total sums may sound large, but they are small in terms of government budgets, and they should be seen as investments, not bills," said Dr Stuart Butchart, Birdlife's head of science.

"Saving nature makes economic sense because of the payback in terms of services and benefits that people receive in return, from mitigating climate change to pollinating crops."

Through the Birdlife Partnership, 116 conservation groups from around the world pooled their research to create the State of the World's Birds report.

Birdlife first published an edition in 2004, when it called for urgent action to protect a third of the world's most threatened birds.

A further update in 2008 identified that common species are declining as a result of habitat loss.

The latest edition, launched in Ottawa, Canada, offers a complete overview of threats facing avian populations and the work being done to save them.

Data concerning the status of threatened birds over the past 25 years has shown steady and continuing declines toward extinction, with Pacific species and ocean-going seabirds declining the fastest.

Results from the publication also show that the biggest pressure on threatened birds comes from agriculture, followed by logging, invasive species and climate change.

Conservationists say our familiarity with birds, from both modern and historical studies, offers a route to understand the trends and patterns in our environment more broadly.

"Birds provide an accurate and easy-to-read environmental barometer that allows us to see clearly the pressures our current way of life are putting on the world's biodiversity," said Dr Leon Bennun, Birdlife's director of science, information and policy.

Although the report warns of a "planet in peril", there are also positive messages in the collected case studies from partner organisations that show the extent and effectiveness of conservation efforts.

For example, the UK-based RSPB and Birdlife International are working together to restore 100,000 hectares of Indonesian rainforest.

Birdlife partners are also establishing projects globally to protect endangered birds such as the African penguin, spoon-billed sandpiper and Azores bullfinch.

The report outlines six particular "success stories" - namely the Seychelles magpie robin, black robin, Mauritius parakeet, Rarotonga monarch, Asian crested ibis and Lear's macaw - where concerted efforts have brought species back from the brink of extinction.

"Effective nature conservation is affordable and it works. It's time to make it happen," said Dr Bennun.

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World Bank warns global warming woes closing in

Veronica Smith (AFP) Google News 19 Jun 13;

WASHINGTON — The World Bank on Wednesday warned that severe hardships from global warming could be felt within a generation, with a new study detailing devastating impacts in Africa and Asia.

The report presents "an alarming scenario for the days and years ahead -- what we could face in our lifetime," said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

"The scientists tell us that if the world warms by two degrees Centigrade (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) -- warming which may be reached in 20 to 30 years -- that will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat waves, and more intense cyclones," he said in a statement.

An update of the Bank's November "Turn Down the Heat" climate report, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate said there was evidence in the past seven months that previous projections for greenhouse gas emissions had been too low.

Now, it said, there was a growing chance that warming will reach or exceed four degrees Celsius in this century "in the absence of near-term actions and further commitments to reduce emissions."

The United Nations has proposed the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, setting for the first time measurable targets to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

International negotiations are aimed at reaching an agreement on that limit by 2015, with the pact due to take effect by 2020.

In the report, commissioned by the World Bank, scientists from around the world focused on the risks of climate change to development in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South Asia, home to some of the world's poorest people.

They looked at the likely impacts from varying degrees of global warming in a range of areas, including agriculture, water resources, coastal erosion and vulnerability to flooding.

The report noted that the current level of warming -- 0.8 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels of the 18th century -- already had increased drought in Sub-Saharan Africa and coastal erosion in Southeast Asia.

The impact of two-degree warming, expected by the 2040s, would have grave and sweeping consequences, it said.

Unusual and unprecedented heat extremes would hammer the three regions, cutting crop production and causing widespread food shortages.

Many regions would see 20 percent declines in water availability and, for South Asia, disturbances in the monsoon could put water and food resources "at severe risk."

Rachel Kyte, World Bank vice president for sustainable development, said the development lender has been working with some of the world's burgeoning cities to mitigate the risks of global warming, for example helping Manila and Ho Chi Minh City on flood mitigation.

She said the Bank was looking at a major initiative preparing cities to absorb investment for infrastructure projects that will help them deal with the impact of global warming, such as flood protection, and the report, by detailing risks, should encourage much-needed private investment.

"When the investment community understands risks, then they always flip that into an opportunity in terms of investment vehicles," she said in a conference call.

Kyte said there was "a fundamental shift" in thinking at the World Bank that has put climate change at the heart of its development strategy.

The World Bank doubled its investment in climate adjustment to $4.6 billion in fiscal year 2012 ending June 30 from $2.3 billion the prior year, she said.

The report stressed that the risks were rising and a solution urgent, but there was a chance to avoid the worst of the crisis.

"It is not too late to hold warming near two degrees Celsius, and build resilience to temperatures and other climate impacts that are expected to still pose significant risks to agriculture, water resources, coastal infrastructure, and human health," the report said.

"The window for holding warming below two degrees Celsius and avoiding a four degrees Celsius world is closing rapidly, and the time to act is now."

Oxfam welcomed the report but said the World Bank "must ensure its own lending meets the needs of the people who are most vulnerable to climate change."

Greenpeace pushed for the World Bank to stop funding fossil-fuels projects, which add to global warming.

"Bold action is needed from all governments, and the World Bank must lead the way by shifting all its energy financing from fossil fuels to renewables and energy efficiency," it said.

Billions for Asia to avoid flooding
World Bank will help cities on climate crisis front line
Straits Times 20 Jun 13;

WASHINGTON - The World Bank is committing billions of dollars to flood prevention, water management and other projects to help major Asian cities avoid the expected impact of climate change, and says it will view its efforts to help developing countries fight poverty through a "climate lens".

Places such as Bangkok, Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City are now considered "hot spots" that will bear the brunt of the impact as sea levels rise, tropical storms become more violent, and rainfall becomes both more sporadic and, in the rainy season, more intense.

Bank officials said this week that those effects are not considered a distant risk anymore, but rather are a near certainty "in our planning period" of the next 20 years or so.

In a study released yesterday, the bank, for example, projected that major portions of Bangkok would be flooded by 2030.

A flood control system built for Ho Chi Minh City only a decade ago is now considered inadequate and needs a US$2billion (S$2.5billion) overhaul, said Ms Rachel Kyte, the bank's vice-president for the environment and sustainable development.

The system "was built for a scenario that no longer exists", she said. "The investment they made is obsolete" for the sea level rise projected in coming years - 0.15m by 2030 under current projections, and double that a decade later.

In the report, the international lending institution warned that the impact of climate change would trap millions of people in poverty.

Thus, the Washington-based bank said it is stepping up support for efforts to curb climate change and to help the world adapt to it.

"Urgent action is needed not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to help countries prepare for a world of dramatic climate change and weather extremes," World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in a statement.

Already by the 2030s, apart from the threat of rising sea waters in Asia, 40 per cent of the land used to grow maize in sub-Saharan Africa will be unable to sustain that crop because of droughts and heat, the report said.

"At the World Bank Group, we are concerned that unless the world takes bold action now, a disastrously warming planet threatens to put prosperity out of reach of millions and roll back decades of development," Mr Kim said.

"In response, we are stepping up our mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk management work, and will increasingly look at all our business through a 'climate lens'."

In a conference call, Ms Kyte said the World Bank had doubled its lending aimed at adaptation efforts to US$4.6 billion last year.

She said that money was separate from the adaptation funds transferred from rich to poor states in United Nations climate talks. The developed countries have pledged to ramp that financing up to US$100 billion annually by 2020.

Critics say that will not be enough, pointing to New York's recently announced US$20 billion plan - for that city alone - to stave off rising seas with flood gates, levees and other defences.

The World Bank also loaned US$7.1 billion to countries last year in projects that could help mitigate climate change.

Aid groups and climate activists welcomed the report, which was launched in London and prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, both based in Germany.

"The World Bank must go beyond ringing the alarm bell," said Mr Sasanka Thilakasiri of British charity Oxfam. "It must ensure its own lending meets the needs of the people who are most vulnerable to climate change."


World's poorest will feel brunt of climate change, warns World Bank
Droughts, floods, sea-level rises and fiercer storms likely to undermine progress in developing world and hit food supply
Fiona Harvey 19 Jun 13;

Millions of people around the world are likely to be pushed back into poverty because climate change is undermining economic development in poor countries, the World Bank has warned.

Droughts, floods, heatwaves, sea-level rises and fiercer storms are likely to accompany increasing global warming and will cause severe hardship in areas that are already poor or were emerging from poverty, the bank said in a report.

Food shortages will be among the first consequences within just two decades, along with damage to cities from fiercer storms and migration as people try to escape the effects.

In sub-Saharan Africa, increasing droughts and excessive heat are likely to mean that within about 20 years the staple crop maize will no longer thrive in about 40% of current farmland. In other parts of the region rising temperatures will kill or degrade swaths of the savanna used to graze livestock, according to the report, Turn down the heat: climate extremes, regional impacts and the case for resilience.

In south-east Asia, events such as the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010, which affected 20 million people, could become commonplace, while changes to the monsoon could bring severe hardship to Indian farmers.

Warming of at least 2C (36F) – regarded by scientists as the limit of safety beyond which changes to the climate are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible – is all but inevitable on current levels, and the efforts of governments are limited to trying to prevent temperature rises passing over this threshold. But many parts of the world are already experiencing severe challenges as a result of climate change, according to the World Bank, and this will intensify as temperatures rise.

Jim Yong Kim, the bank's president, warned that climate change should not be seen as a future problem that could be put off: "The scientists tell us that if the world warms by 2C – warming which may be reached in 20 to 30 years – that will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heatwaves, and more intense cyclones.

"In the near-term, climate change – which is already unfolding – could batter the slums even more and greatly harm the lives and hopes of individuals and families who have had little hand in raising the Earth's temperature."

The development bank is stepping up its funding for countries to adapt to the effects of climate change, and is calling for rich countries to make greater efforts at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Rachel Kyte, vice president of the World Bank, said it had doubled its aid for adaptation from $2.3bn (£1.47bn) in 2011 to $4.6bn last year, and called for a further doubling. She said the bank was working to tie its disaster aid and climate change adaptation funding closer together.

Aid from the bank to help poor countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions and pursue environmentally sustainable economic development stands at about $7bn a year, and is backed by about $20bn from regional development banks and other partners.

The report's authors used the latest climate science to examine the likely effects of global warming of 2C to 4C on agriculture, water resources, coastal ecosystems and fisheries, and cities, across sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-east Asia.

Kyte said the effects would be to magnify the problems that developing regions experience. More people would be pushed into slums, with an increased risk of disease. "We are looking at major new initiatives [in] cities; cities need billions of investment in infrastructure, but many developing cities are not really creditworthy," she said.

She pointed to Jakarta, where rising sea levels and decades of pumping freshwater from underground sources beneath and around the city were increasing its vulnerability to flooding. Choices would need to be made soon in many cities on how to stem the likely effects, but Kyte warned that the plans must be future-proof, citing Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, which has been forced to rethink its flood preparations despite spending $2bn on them.

Green campaigners emphasised the need to try to avoid 2C of warming, which scientists stay is possible if countries bolster their ambitions to cut greenhouse gas ambitions in the near future.

Stephanie Tunmore, climate campaigner at Greenpeace International, said: "Fossil fuels are being extracted in burned in the name of development and prosperity, but what they are delivering is the opposite.

"Some major impacts from climate change are already unavoidable and rich countries must urgently support the poor and vulnerable to adapt. But massive increases in the future costs of adaptation and damage can only be avoided by investing in a clean energy future now."

The World Bank has come under fire in the past for funding coal-fired power plants in some developing countries. However, it said the move was the result of old policies and was being phased out.

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