Best of our wild blogs: 23 Jun 13

Singapore got wildlife, meh?
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Rocky Changi with nudis and more
from wild shores of singapore and Psychedelic Nature and Peiyan.Photography and Wonderful creation

#11 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
from My Nature Experiences

On top, Inside, and Within
from Pulau Hantu and Enigmatic Crustaceans (and other spineless wonders) and The Wild Western Submerged Reefs

Life History of the Banded Demon
from Butterflies of Singapore

Could Climate Change Worsen Southeast Asia’s Forest Fires?
from Southeast Asia Real Time

Read more!

Palm oil companies behind Singapore smog: Greenpeace

AFP 22 Jun 13;

AFP - Fires on Indonesia's Sumatra, which have cloaked Singapore in record-breaking smog, are raging on palm oil plantations owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies, environmental activist group Greenpeace International said.

"NASA hotspot data in Sumatra over the past 10 days (11-21 June) has revealed hundreds of fire hotspots in palm oil concessions that are owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies," the group said in a statement received by AFP.

Singapore's smog index hit the critical 400 level on Friday, making it potentially life-threatening to the ill and elderly, a government monitoring site said. On Saturday morning, the reading was at 323, still in the "hazardous" zone.

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

"Fires across Sumatra are wreaking havoc for millions of people in the region and destroying the climate. Palm oil producers must immediately deploy fire crews to extinguish these fires. But really cleaning up their act starts with adopting a zero deforestation policy," said Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace Indonesia's forest campaign.

The Indonesian environment minister Balthasar Kambuaya said Friday that a team has investigated eight companies suspected to be behind the fires and promised to reveal the companies' names after the probe.

A senior presidential aide Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said Friday that the fires happened in concession areas belonging to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL).

"It is very clear that the fires are in APP concessions and APRIL. We need to settle this matter," he told reporters while showing the distribution of fires from 1 to 18 June in concession areas in Riau.

APP, the world's third-largest paper producer said in a statement late Friday that "ground verification" detected "only 7 points that are actually forest fire, affecting around 200 hectares of land".

"They are under and being controlled by approximately a thousand fire fighting crews and their team. Our team's preliminary investigation found that 5 of the fires were set by the community to clear land for crops and 2 cases are still under investigation", APP added.

APRIL could not be reached for comment.

Indonesia stepped up its fire-fighting efforts Friday by deploying aircraft to artificially create rain and to water bomb the blaze.

The haze crisis has caused a dramatic escalation in tensions between tiny Singapore and its vast neighbour, with the city-state repeatedly demanding that Jakarta steps up its efforts to put out the fires.

Two NGOs take the lead to expose suspect firms
Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Jakarta - Even as government agencies pleaded that they needed on-the-ground checks before naming suspects behind the haze-producing burning, two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) took on the task of mapping satellite images of hot spots onto land concession maps to identify the companies whose lands were burning.

Over the past two days, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Greenpeace have gone public with these names.

Several companies, however, have said the concession maps are partially inaccurate.

The NGOs agree.

Dr Nigel Sizer, director of WRI's Global Forest Initiative, told The Sunday Times that these discrepancies only show the need for all parties to be more transparent on the issue.

"If companies are saying the data is wrong, they should step up and put their maps on the table, and we'd be able to compare the discrepancy," he said.

"If you want to criticise the data, more accurate and updated data has to be available."

Observers say part of the problem is that discrepancies abound in such items as concession maps and permits, so information at the district level may differ from that in Jakarta.

Fixing this, Dr Sizer said, is a key aspect of preventing fires of this kind in future.

Then there are cases in which even companies that are involved may not be aware of.

For instance, hot spots have been detected on land listed as PT Surya Dumai Agrindo's, which is linked to First Resources.

First Resources has clarified this permit expired "many years ago and was never developed by the group".

However, more up-to-date information WRI has seen shows the company still listed as a palm oil concession in government data.

As Greenpeace South-east Asia's forest campaigner Yuyun Indradi noted: "The lack of government transparency makes it very hard for independent monitoring: concession maps are incomplete, data is lacking and we clearly have weak enforcement of laws."

Zakir Hussain

Plantations say settlers to blame for starting fires
They admit existence of hot spots on their concessions, and claim fires are being put out
Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Major pulp and palm oil companies admit there have been fires in their concession areas in Indonesia, but denied suggestions by officials and watchdogs that they were responsible for them.

They said they followed strict no-burning policies and demanded their contractors do the same.

But fires in neighbouring areas or parts settled by local communities were the issue, they said, adding that they had worked to put these out.

The companies' comments come as Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya, visiting Pekanbaru, identified eight of them, and said they were Malaysian-owned.

"If there is enough evidence, we will take them to court," he added.

At least 14 companies are being investigated, he said, and others may be named in the coming days.

Sime Darby Plantations, whose companies PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati and PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation (PT TMP) are among the eight named, had said it "is unable to exert control over activities beyond its operating areas and where it is occupied by others".

For instance, area residents lived on some 2,474ha of its 13,836ha TMP concession.

Sime Darby spokesman Leela Barrock added that TMP had been telling settlers on its lands not to carry out open burning, but it was ignored.

Last Friday, the World Resources Institute released data indicating that half the fires had begun on timber and oil palm plantations. The largest number of hot spots were in areas belonging to Royal Golden Eagle, of which Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (April) is part, and Sinar Mas Forestry, which supplies to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), it said.

Yesterday, Greenpeace released its analysis, saying there were "hundreds of fire hot spots in palm oil concessions that are owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies".

In a statement, April said these claims were "inaccurate and not consistent with the facts".

Yesterday afternoon, it said there were three fires in its concessions, covering some 20ha, but they had been contained and firefighters were extinguishing them.

"April confirmed that all fires it had detected originally started outside of its concession areas and had spread into its concessions," it said.

APP said ground checks found that only seven of 74 hot spots reported on June 20 in its suppliers' area in Riau were forest fires, affecting 200ha of land. An early investigation found that "five of the fires were set by the community to clear land for crops and two cases are still under investigation".

"We do not practise, and highly condemn, slash and burn activity for its detrimental impact on the environment," managing director Aida Greenbury told The Sunday Times.

Hot spots had also been identified on concessions listed as belonging to Singapore-listed Wilmar and First Resources.

First Resources said permits for some areas had expired many years ago and the land was never developed by the group.

A Wilmar spokesman said it had not been developing any new land in Sumatra.

"Hence the fires could not have been caused by us," he added.

"We have, however, discovered a few small holders with land near our plantations who have been burning to clear their land. We have reported them to the local authorities."

Greenpeace has called on big palm oil companies like Sime Darby and Wilmar to check whether their suppliers are involved in the burning.

Mr Bustar Maitar, who heads its forest campaign in Indonesia, said: "Fine words only go so far, but can these companies guarantee that they are not laundering dirty palm oil onto international markets?"

Additional reporting by Lester Kong in Malaysia

Indonesia Names Names as Singapore Air Deteriorates Again
John O'Callaghan and Randy Fabi Jakarta Globe 22 Jun 13;

Singapore’s pollution index climbed back to “hazardous” levels and air quality deteriorated in the Malaysian capital on Saturday as Indonesia came under heavy pressure to bring fires from slash-and-burn land clearing under control.

Indonesia has deployed military planes to fight the blazes on Sumatra island from illegal burning that typically takes place in the June to September dry season to clear space for palm oil plantations. The fires are unusually widespread this year and the smog is the heaviest in Singapore’s history.

Companies behind the fires would find no refuge in Singapore, Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said on Saturday, even as he acknowledged limits in international law to deal with firms that operate outside the city-state.

“We will do everything we can,” he told a news conference.

Indonesia blamed eight companies for the fires on Friday, including Jakarta-based PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) and Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL).

The Indonesian government, which said it would take action against anyone responsible for the disaster, is expected to name the rest of the companies on Saturday.

Singapore has warned the “haze” – which has fuelled fears about health problems and raised diplomatic tension in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia – could last for weeks, or even longer.

On the sixth day of the thick smoke, Singapore’s pollution index returned to the “hazardous” zone with readings above 300. It hit a record of 401 on Friday afternoon, a level considered potentially life-threatening for the ill and the elderly.

The smell of burned wood filled the air and visibility was poor, with buildings shrouded in a grey gauze. Streets in the clean and green city-state, which usually enjoys clear skies, were far less crowded than on a typical Saturday when people go out to shop, meet in outdoor cafes and have fun at the park.

The Ministry of Education advised public schools to cancel all activities planned for the holiday month of June.

StarHub Ltd, a cable television and Internet provider, said it was providing a free preview of more than 170 channels over the weekend “as we stay home to escape the unbearable haze”.

The cost of the smog for Singapore, a major financial centre and tourist destination, could end up being hundreds of millions of dollars, brokerage CLSA said in a report.

In Malaysia, the haze spread north. Air quality in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, and in several surrounding areas worsened into the “unhealthy” zone. The air quality was now “unhealthy” in 17 areas of Malaysia and “very unhealthy” in one area.

Hadi Daryanto, the general secretary of Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry, said a team led by Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan was now in Riau province on Sumatra “to find out the exact locations of the hotspots”.

“But we have to be very careful in any legal action,” he said. “We have to really find out what happened, why the fires happened and so on. This could be due to negligence, too.”

Indonesia has earmarked around 200 billion rupiah ($20 million) to handle the disaster. Seven military aircraft were deployed for water bombings and cloud seeding.

“The majority of hotspots in Riau are inside APRIL and Sinar Mas concessions,” senior presidential aide Kuntoro Mangkusubroto told Reuters on Friday.

An APRIL statement said it and third-party suppliers had a “strict no-burn policy” for all concessions in Indonesia.

An analysis of satellite maps and government data by Reuters and the think-tank World Resources Institute also revealed spot fires on land licensed to Singapore-listed First Resources Ltd and Indonesia’s Provident Agro. The analysis did not reveal the cause of the fires or who was at fault.

A spokeswoman for Golden Agri Resources, SMART’s Singapore-listed parent, said it knew of no hotspots on its concessions.

Despite the “zero burning” policies, the environmental group Greenpeace said many producers and traders drive deforestation and destruction of peatland by buying palm oil from third-party suppliers or on the open market.

“Fine words only go so far but can these companies guarantee that they are not laundering dirty palm oil on to international markets?” Greenpeace said in a statement.

“The lack of government transparency makes it very hard for independent monitoring: concession maps are incomplete, data is lacking and we clearly have weak enforcement of laws.”

Sime Darby: No fires in our operating areas in Indonesia
The Star 23 Jun 13;

PETALING JAYA: Sime Darby Plan­tation has clarified that there are no fires in any of its operating areas in Indonesia.

In a statement, the company said it strictly abided by its zero burning policy in its operations.

Among the hot spots reported in Riau, where the peat and forest fires are raging, is an area within a Sime Darby Plantation company, PT Tung­gal Mitra Plantation’s (PT TMP) concession area.

The company said the total concession area of PT TMP was 13,836ha, with 2,474ha occupied by local communities.

“PT TMP is unable to exert control over activities beyond its operating areas and where it is occupied by others.

“Nevertheless, PT TMP will continue to monitor the situation, cooperate with local authorities and assist with its fire prevention teams to ensure that any hazards are managed appropriately,” it said.

Meanwhile, Asia News Network (ANN) reported that the big companies which Indonesian officials and watchdogs said might be responsible for the fires behind the haze had rejected these claims, saying they did not square with facts on the ground.

The rebuttals came as Indonesia’s Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said in Pekanbaru, Riau, yesterday that 14 companies were being investigated – up from eight on Friday.

He said they would be named, adding that some were from Malaysia.

Golden Agri-Resources, SMART, say no fires in their concessions
Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources and its Indonesian subsidiary PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) on Saturday said that there were no hotspots or fires in the concessions they hold.

They also said they welcomed inspection by authorised parties of all their operating areas, and that they will cooperate in any such inspection.

In a statement released on Saturday, the two companies also reiterated that they were absolutely against burning.

Golden Agri-Resources and SMART said they were deploying all their resources and working closely with the Indonesian government and other relevant parties to put out fires.

These relevant parties include civil society organisations, local communities and other growers.

The two firms said they were committed to a multi-stakeholder approach to find solutions for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Their contractors who clear land must also comply with their zero burning policy, said the firms.

Golden Agri-Resources and SMART also said that they will release the coordinates and locations of their estates in Sumatra in due course.

They are currently preparing the details.

- CNA/jc

Three companies rebut haze claims
S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Three companies -- Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL), Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), and Sime Darby -- have issued rebuttals after being named by Indonesia's Senior Presidential Aide Kuntoro Mangkusubroto as being among several responsible for fire hotspots in Riau Province.

In a statement released to the media, Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) said Indonesia's accusation requires verification.

"They do not correspond with intensive monitoring on-the-ground conducted by APRIL in its own concessions over the past several weeks nor with information on Friday from Indonesia's official national body for Meteorology, Climate and Geophysiccs, which identified 13 hotspots in Riau, none of which are on APRIL's concessions," APRIL said in a statement.

The company said the Director General of the Ministry of Forestry, Bambang Hendroyono, had confirmed Friday the fires causing the haze were mostly occurring on community land, not forestry concessions.

APRIL said it had maintained a "strict no-burn policy in its concessions" since it began operations in 1994.

It added the small number of fires within its concessions over the past three weeks were spread from those that began outside its concessions and were extinguished by its fire fighting teams.

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) also said it does not practise, and "highly condemns" the slash and burn activity for its detrimental impact on the environment.

The company said it is deeply concerned about the forest fires and resulting haze in Riau, Sumatra, and is urging others to support it in implementing "zero burning and zero deforestation practices".

APP said its fire fighting crews and community members have been working to control the fires in its suppliers' concessions.

"The task is very complex because of the combination between strong wind, high temperature and the fact that the fire has reached peat land," APP said in its statement.

APP added that it welcomes opportunities to work with NGOs, companies, communities and governments to address the haze problem.

Malaysian plantation giant Sime Darby, which runs PT Tunggal Mitra, has also denied reports of any fires on its property.

Sime Darby Plantation said there were no fires in any of its operating areas in Indonesia, and that it strictly adheres to a zero burning policy in its operations.

Tunggal Mitra Plantation covers almost 14-thousand hectares, the majority of which is used for planting and development.

Sime Darby said there are some parts occupied by local communities, and that it is unable to exert control over those areas.

- CNA/ac/jc

Haze update: Companies reject claims they were behind fires
Zakir Hussain, Indonesia Bureau Chief in Jakarta Straits Times 22 Jun 13;

THE big companies who officials and watchdogs say may be responsible for fires behind the haze have rejected these claims, saying they do not square with facts on the ground.

The rebuttals come as Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said in Pekanbaru, Riau on Saturday morning that 14 companies are now being investigated - up from eight on Friday.

He had said they would be named on Saturday, adding that some of the eight are from Malaysia.

One of his deputies, Mr Arief Yuwono, added that the presumption of innocence until proven guilty still applied, Antara News Agency reported.

Such claims, a spokesman for Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) told The Straits Times on Saturday, "require verification".

"They do not correspond with intensive monitoring on-the-ground conducted by APRIL in its own concessions over the past several weeks nor with information on Friday from Indonesia's official national body for Meteorology, Climate and Geophysics (BKMG)," she said in a statement.

A spokesman for Golden Agri-Resources, which is part of the Sinar Mas conglomerate but run separately, said there were currently no hotspots on its concessions.

"Only mechanical means such as excavators and bulldozers are used in our land preparation," it said.

Officials and non-governmental watchdogs had on Friday said the majority of the hot spots in Riau province from June 12-20 were inside concessions belonging to companies affiliated to Royal Golden Eagle, of which APRIL is part, and Sinar Mas Forestry, which supplies to Asia Pulp and Paper.

There were also fires on concessions listed as belonging to Malaysia's Sime Darby and Klau River, as well as Singapore-listed Wilmar and First Resources.

On Saturday, Greenpeace International released its analysis of Nasa hotspot data over June 11-21, saying this revealed "hundreds of fire hotspots in palm oil concessions that are owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies".

But several of these companies named said that they followed strict no-burning policies, demanded their contractors do the same, and in fact worked to put out fires in neighbouring areas.

And while the permits for lands may be listed as belonging to them, they were not conducting activities on these concessions.

First Resources said permits for some areas identified had expired many years ago and the land was never developed by the group.

Sime Darby Plantations said it had no control over activities beyond its operating areas, where the land may be occupied by others.

It noted that reports of hot spots in Riau included an area within its company PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation's (PT TMP) concession area, but of the 13,836ha concession, some 2,474 ha are occupied by local communities.

"PT TMP is unable to exert control over activities beyond its operating areas and where it is occupied by others," it said. But it will help manage hazards, it added.

APRIL had also cited comments by forestry officials over the past two days, who said hot spots were mostly occurring on community land, not forestry concessions.

It admitted there had been "a small number of fires" within its concessions over the past three weeks, but said they were all spread from fires that began outside these concessions and quickly extinguished by its fire fighting teams.

Greenpeace, however, called on big palm oil companies like Sime Darby and Wilmar to check whether their suppliers are involved in the burning.

Many big palm oil producers and traders are driving deforestation and peatland destruction by purchasing palm oil from third-party suppliers or on the open market, it said.

Mr Bustar Maitar, who heads its forest campaign here, said: "Fine words only go so far, but can these companies guarantee that they are not laundering dirty palm oil onto international markets?"

The NGO however admitted that lacking and inaccurate data posed a challenge, citing incomplete concession maps.

Read more!

PM Lee urges Singaporeans to be prepared for prolonged period of haze

S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 23 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged the nation to be psychologically prepared for a prolonged period of haze due to the dry season and monsoon winds.

He said this is because of the dry season and monsoon winds.

Speaking at a townhall meeting at Ang Mo Kio GRC and the Sengkang West Division, Mr Lee said PSI readings will fluctuate day to day and hour to hour.

However, Singaporeans must take this in their stride, adapt and continue with their lives.

The Prime Minister emphasised that Singaporeans also must avoid speculation and clarify rumours.

He added that they can do so by checking the haze microsite.

Mr Lee also urged everyone to help their neighbours especially older Singaporeans and young kids.

He said the community clubs have air conditioned haze shelters and more are being created throughout Singapore.

On the supply of the N95 masks, Mr Lee noted that the government is urgently delivering them to GPs, clinics, pharmacies and retailers, and there is no need to hoard or panic-buy the masks.

- CNA/fa

Shanmugam issues warning to companies responsible for haze
Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said Singapore will offer no succour nor refuge to companies responsible for illegal fires in Indonesia that have caused the haze affecting Singapore.

He said that there were limits in international commercial law to what Singapore can do about companies operating outside the country, but the Attorney General has been asked to look into this.

The minister said Singapore will do "whatever it can", though the key to taking those responsible to task still lies with Indonesia.

He said: "Let us be clear about it. This is not slash-and-burn, this is not an act of nature by itself. These are actions by companies for commercial profit… I cannot send my police officers in there to investigate… We have to depend on Indonesia to give us the evidence and tell us what is happening."

On the recent comments of Indonesian Minister Agung Laksono chiding Singapore for behaving "like a child", Mr Shanmugam reiterated Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's position that it is not productive to trade accusations.

Separately, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa was also quoted saying that the Indonesian government would not issue an apology to Singapore for the haze crisis.

"I'm not sure that we're asking for an apology. What we want is for the problem to be solved. That's really the point," said Mr Shanmugam.

In an unprecedented move, Singapore will send two ministers to the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Brunei at the end of June to discuss the haze issue.

Mr Shanmugam said Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu will accompany him to the meeting.

"We have decided this matter has to be discussed at the ASEAN Ministerial Meetings, because it's a regional problem," said Mr Shanmugam.

Indonesia has so far declined any help from Singapore to douse the fires.

A 2004 study by the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology estimated that carbon emissions from the Indonesian peat fires in 1997, the year the region experienced its last major haze crisis, was equivalent to up to 40 per cent of the average annual global carbon emission from fossil fuels.

"We've had a cocoon within Singapore economically and in every way... (but) much of what happens within Singapore can be deeply influenced by what happens in the region," said the minister.

- CNA/ac/jc

Haze: AGC asked to look into possible local actions against companies responsible
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE - Singapore has asked its Attorney-General to “look into” what actions can be done locally towards the errant companies which have contributed to the haze engulfing the city-state for the past week, said Minster for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam in a press briefing this morning.

He said: “We will do everything that we can. We will offer no succour or refuge if the actions have indeed been illegal in Indonesia and impacted on Singapore”.

First and foremost, however, Mr Shanmugam said that he hoped to see “strong firm effective action” taken against them in Indonesia as “that’s where the action are taking place”.

When asked to respond to remarks made by several Indonesian ministers yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said that “people can judge for themselves” while reiterating that Singapore’s main focus is on solving the haze crisis and that it would not be “productive to be trading accusations”.

Mr Shanmugam also repeated Singapore’s commitment to offer assistance to Indonesia while adding that the matter will be brought up during the ASEAN ministerial meeting held next week in Brunei.

Singapore cannot ‘do nothing and say nothing’ about haze: Shanmugam
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 23 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — Noting that the raging forest fires in Sumatra have a “global environmental impact” - on top of the choking haze that has shrouded the Republic for the past week - Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam urged Indonesia to take “decisive action” and repeated Singapore’s commitment to offer assistance “at all levels” to address the situation.

Speaking at a press conference today held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Shanmugam also responded to criticisms that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been ineffective in fixing the longstanding haze issue.

He added that he has directed the Attorney General to look into what actions Singapore can take against errant companies that were proven to have “contributed in some way” to the problem. By this weekend, the authorities will have a clear idea of what is within their powers.

On the provocative remarks made by some Indonesian ministers towards Singapore’s reaction to the haze, Mr Shanmugam reiterated that it is “not so productive to be trading accusations”. “We are used to being called a little red dot,” he said. Referring to comments made during the 2006 haze episode by Indonesia’s then-Forestry Minister M S Kaban, Mr Shanmugam added: “Previously... another Indonesian minister said that we should be thankful for the oxygen that the Indonesia’s forests give us so why are we complaining about the haze. Those sorts of attitudes, I think people can see are not best designed to deal with the problem.”

“Likewise, comments to say we are childish because we are complaining when the haze reaches hazardous levels... people can judge for themselves. Our primary focus really is, solve the problem.”

Still, he pointed out that these comments - which do not carry “the same tone of cooperation” which Singapore has enjoyed with Indonesia over the years - do not “characterise all of our dealings with Indonesia”.

In response to Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa’s latest remark that Indonesia will not apologise for the haze, Mr Shanmugam said that Singapore is not looking for an apology. “What we want is for the problem to be solved and that’s really the point,” he said.

Mr Shanmugam stressed that the haze was a transboundary problem and the Singapore Government’s “primary duty has to be safeguarding the health and security of Singaporeans. We cannot allow this situation to continue and do nothing and say nothing”.

Outlining all the steps that Singapore has taken over the past few days to engage the Indonesian government - including trips to Jakarta made by ministers and officials to attend meetings and speak with their counterparts - Mr Shanmugam noted that to date, the Republic’s offer of assistance such providing resources to put out the fires has not been taken up by Indonesia.

Nevertheless, Indonesia has agreed to bring forward a meeting of ASEAN environment ministers which was originally scheduled to be held in August.

Mr Shanmugam said that he will also be bringing up the haze issue at an ASEAN ministerial meeting held in Brunei next week. He will be accompanied by Second Minister for Foreign Affairs and Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu.

Mr Shanmugam said: “Depending on what steps are taken - because we have to see concrete results in terms of the impact on us - we’ll have to decide what other fora this has to be discussed.”


When asked to comment on criticisms on the lack of concrete actions over the years and the perception of ASEAN as a “paper tiger” which is toothless to take member states to task, Mr Shanmugam said that he understood such sentiments and conceded that “there are limits to what regional bodies can do”.

“Nevertheless, ASEAN and international organisations prove a useful and important platform for issues to be raised and countries have to then account for their actions and that by itself has had in the past, effect (and) impact in the conduct of countries,” he pointed out.

He noted that Indonesia remains the ASEAN member state which has not ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution that was inked in 2002.

“But for some reason which is difficult for us to understand, the Indonesian parliament has taken the view that this treaty is not in the interest of Indonesia. I say difficult to understand because it helps the Indonesian people as much as it helps anyone else because they are also suffering from the haze.”

On whether there was a need to bring up the haze problem to international bodies such as the United Nations, Mr Shanmugam said that the option was open and it has “not been ruled in or out”.

Turning his attention to the errant companies - the Indonesian government has identified eight firms, including Jakarta-based Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Asia Pacific Resources International which also have links to Singapore - Mr Shanmugam said the Singapore authorities will know “what we can or cannot do by this weekend”.

He added that first and foremost, he hoped to see “strong firm effective action” taken against errant companies in Indonesia as “that’s where the actions are taking place”.

“We would really like to see firm quick action, and any assistance we can render in that respect, we will do so, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

On the mitigation measures rolled out domestically, Mr Shanmugam assured Singaporeans that there will be enough N95 masks as they are being manufactured here. “Let’s not underestimate the problem, it has serious consequences, both economically and for the country as a whole. That’s why... we have been taking this seriously.

In response to criticisms made by some who questioned why the Singapore Government cannot do more about the 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.”

Singapore will 'take all steps' to protect citizens
Leonard Lim Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Singapore intends to do what it can within the framework of international law to protect its citizens against the haze, said Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

"Our primary duty has to be safeguarding the health, security of Singaporeans," he told Singapore and international media. "We cannot allow this situation to continue, and do nothing and say nothing."

Later, in a separate briefing with local reporters, he said: "We have to take all steps regardless of how it may be viewed by our neighbours... even if it means that our neighbours are upset."

In international law, countries have a duty to control actions within their boundaries when they cause an environmental impact on other countries, he said, citing the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development adopted at a 1992 United Nations conference.

While Singapore will be pursuing this point at Asean meetings in Brunei this week, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, signalled it may also be prepared to turn to other international fora to press its case if it came to that.

But first it will see what steps are taken through the Asean meeting and whether there are concrete results for Singapore. Asked to elaborate on which other meetings the haze issue could be raised at, he replied: "We will calibrate and decide where else this needs to be raised."

In 2006, Singapore raised the haze issue at a United Nations forum, but this was said to have drawn the ire of some Indonesians.

S'pore exploring action against culprits
But primary ability to take steps against firms causing haze lies with Indonesia: Shanmugam
Leonard Lim Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

While the primary ability to act lies with the Indonesians, the Singapore Attorney-General is investigating what can be done against firms involved in causing the haze, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

"We will offer no succour or refuge if the actions of the companies have been deemed illegal in Indonesia and impacted on Singapore," he said during a briefing to reporters.

The stern warning came a day after the Indonesian government named some firms in Riau province involved in the blazes, and which have Singapore links.

The minister pointed out that "serious" issues of jurisdiction and international law need to be considered, so he has asked the Attorney- General to look into what can be done to such companies if there is proof that they contributed to the haze.

Mr Shanmugam, who also holds the Law portfolio, said he expects to know what Singapore "can or cannot do by this weekend".

But the primary ability to act lies with the Indonesians as the firms are located there, he stressed.

"We would like to see strong, firm, effective action taken against them in Indonesia, because that's where they are, that's where the actions are taking place, that's where their offices are, the senior people.

"We'd really like to see firm, quick action and any assistance we can render in that respect, we will do so."

Singapore also needs to depend on Indonesia to provide evidence on who is involved, the minister said.

"Indonesian investigation authorities need to be on the ground, I cannot send my police officers in there to investigate," he said.

"That will be a breach of Indonesian sovereignty and Indonesia will not agree to that."

On its part, Singapore has offered assistance on several levels to combat the fires, he revealed.

These range from aircraft to technical assistance and offers of manpower.

Mr Shanmugam said: "It has yet to be taken up. And (in) 2005, we offered assistance of our aircraft and that was accepted, but this time that offer has not yet been accepted."

In 1997, Singapore also helped in Indonesia's firefighting efforts by providing computers, global positioning systems and a Singapore Armed Forces C-130 aircraft and crew.

Acknowledging that the haze has been a longstanding issue, Mr Shanmugam told reporters that it did not just have an environmental impact on Indonesia or the region, but also a global one.

"In 1997... studies suggest that the carbon dioxide emission from peat fires has contributed to a substantial part of global carbon dioxide emissions in that year. Therefore we have urged Indonesia to take decisive action.

"This is not slash and burn, this is not an act of nature by itself, these are actions by companies for commercial profit."

He also referred to Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa's remark last Friday that they would not apologise to Singapore for the haze.

Mr Shanmugam said: "I'm not sure that we're asking for an apology. What we want is for the problem to be solved, that is really the point."

Q&A: Limitations to what can be done about haze
Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam took questions from the media on the haze yesterday. The following are edited excerpts.

Q: The latest comments from Indonesian ministers are that they won't apologise. Do you think they are taking this situation seriously? What else can be done to convey the seriousness to them?

"What we think of their comments, I think Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said what he thinks, so has Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

"I think it's really not so productive to be trading accusations. We are used to being called a little red dot and previously when the haze problem occurred, other ministers have said we should be thankful for the oxygen that the Indonesia forests give us, so why are we complaining about the haze?

"Those sort of attitudes, I think people can see are not best designed to deal with the problem.

"Likewise, comments saying we are childish because we are complaining when haze reaches hazardous levels, I think people can judge for themselves. Our primary focus really is, solve the problem.

"Are they taking this seriously? I think my counterpart, Foreign Minister Marty (Natalegawa), has said Indonesia will not apologise. I'm not sure that we're asking for an apology.

"What we want is for the problem to be solved, that is really the point.

"What else can we do?

"Internationally... I've taken some pains to explain the limits of international law, international relations.

"Basically it's difficult to intervene in the internal affairs of another country to set right something.

"That principle is sacrosanct subject to a few exceptions. In the absence of (a) treaty of obligations, I mentioned that Indonesia has yet to ratify the treaty, the other things that we can do, I have outlined - the Asean ministerial meeting, the other fora.

"These are not without implications or consequences, everyone understands that. If we raise them, talk about them, then there are consequences from raising these."

Q: From how Asean countries discuss this issue, how can it be changed to come up with a better result or solution?

"Asean has looked at it, there's a treaty (Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution) that's in place.

"All countries have signed it, all have ratified it, except Indonesia.

"Of course, if it ratifies the treaty, then this becomes binding obligations.

"But for some reason which is difficult for us to understand, the Indonesian Parliament has taken the view that this treaty is not in the interest of Indonesia.

"I say difficult to understand because it helps the Indonesian people as much as it helps everyone else because they are also suffering from the haze."

Q: There's some disenchantment among Singaporeans that Asean is a paper tiger, nothing has come out on it regarding the haze.

"I can understand the feelings that people have. These are not feelings that are unique to Singaporeans.

"Very often, people in individual countries get upset with international organisations, be it the United Nations or, in this case, Asean.

"But in international law and international relations, as I have explained previously, there are limits to what regional bodies can do vis a vis the territorial sovereignty and the right of countries to take steps within their own countries.

"Nevertheless, Asean and international organisations prove useful and important platforms for issues to be raised and countries have to then account for their actions.

"And that by itself has had, in the past, impact on conduct of countries."

More air-conditioned 'haze shelters' to be created for public
S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday said more air-conditioned 'haze shelters' will be created for the public at Residents’ Committees and Community Clubs.

MP for West Coast GRC Foo Mee Har said her constituency would extend the Community Club’s opening hours in case residents need access to air-conditioned rooms.

The club will be open from 9am to midnight, said the MP in a Facebook post. Residents’ Committee Centres will also extend their opening hours to 9am-10pm.

Ms Foo said constituency officers will continue to monitor the situation and adjust opening hours accordingly.

Deputy Prime Minister and MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Teo Chee Hean said the Elias Community Club has also set aside a room for residents who feel discomfort and need a place for a few hours to shelter from the haze. The room will be open from 9am-10pm.

In a Facebook post, the prime minister said he was heartened by the kindness of Singaporeans when faced with the haze.

He said some were distributing herbal tea and masks to needy residents while others were opening up their air-conditioned homes to strangers.

The prime minister urged Singaporeans to unite and help one another through this difficult period.

Mr Lee said the government was also making sure Singaporeans who need N95 masks would be able to get them.

He however pointed out that most Singaporeans do not need the masks unless they have medical conditions like asthma, or have to do strenuous outdoor work.

He said the government will distribute 1 million N95 masks free to low-income households, and push out more masks to retailers, and urged people not to panic buy or hoard masks as there are enough to go round.

In the same Facebook post, Mr Lee said he had sent Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan as his Special Envoy to deliver his letter to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The prime minister said he had shared Singaporeans' grave concern over the haze, urged Indonesia to take action, and offered help, including aircraft for cloud seeding.

Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya had promised Dr Balakrishnan that Indonesia would consider Singapore's offer and explore how to follow up on the suggestions.

Meanwhile, constituencies have also begun receiving their stocks of N95 masks from the Ministry of Health.

Minister for National Development and MP for Sembawang GRC Khaw Boon Wan said they are being made available to residents who need them.

He said this was being done progressively over the weekend and that priority is being given to those who need them for medical reasons.

- CNA/jc

PSI computation based on US regulations: NEA
Kimberly Spykerman Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: It may seem that PSI readings do not tally with what you see outside, but the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Saturday that a standard set of methods and equipment that is based on the United States' Environmental Protection Agency regulations is used to measure PSI.

The National Environment Agency monitors five key pollutants -- sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, ozone, and particulate matter -- and the 24-hour PSI reflects the pollutant with the highest concentration averaged over a 24-hour period.

During the haze, the PM10, or particles 10 microns and smaller, is the predominant pollutant.

Authorities have also urged Singaporeans to refer to the 24-hour PSI reading rather than the three-hour figure.

Indrani Rajaram, project director of Pollution Control Development at NEA, said: "The three-hour PSI is something that was introduced in 1997 during the 1997 smoke haze period. This index is an indicator only because it will correspond to what you see outside your window but it's not the index used to assess the impact of air pollutants on the health."

The three-hour PSI reading is unique to Singapore and is not used in any other country.

Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu also reiterated on Saturday the importance of the 24-hour PSI reading.

She said: "To us, that is the best measurement for both the concentration of the particulate and the duration of the exposure. Scientifically that has been the benchmark method across various jurisdictions, used by many countries."

Separately, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the haze was different from a virus and that “a lot depends on your state of health and the lack of exposure”.

He added: “So far we have set the right tone by allowing the various agencies to make their own assessment but we want to keep Singaporeans informed of the right thing because there is too much misinformation circulating about the haze."

Some have questioned the accuracy of the PSI readings, but NEA said the readings are calculated based on guidelines from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

PSI readings are derived from 11 ambient air monitoring stations mostly located in schools.

Each of the five pollutants has its own analyser which stores data and transmits it via a wireless modem at regular intervals to a data management system at the Environment Building. The system uses a special software to compute the PSI based on data feeds from the various stations.

However when it comes to deciding whether to head out, authorities said the public should look to health advisories which are pegged to 24-hour PSI readings.

Joseph Hui, Deputy Chief Executive of NEA, said: "Short-term exposure according to the advisory for today for individual is OK... In the case of an asthmatic for example, even the walk to the MRT may be too much for them. So preferably try not to go out, but if they have to, put on the mask."

- CNA/ac/jc

NEA spells out how PSI is compiled

Agency also explains the rationale for measuring haze the way it does
Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

On a hot day, looking at a thermometer would tell you precisely what the temperature is where you are.

Many seem to think the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), Singapore's main indicator of air quality, works the same way. They expect it to correlate to the haze they see or smell around them at that moment.

This has given rise to some disquiet about the PSI readings in recent days, as the haze conditions worsened. Some members of the public expressed concerns when the posted PSI values - averaged over the past three or 24 hours - turned out different from what they observed.

Yesterday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) spelt out just how it compiles the PSI and why it does it that way.

It explained that it uses a specific way of collecting air samples over time and measuring the amount of micro-particles in them to determine their quality.

It also requires a wider base of samples, taken from various parts of the island to get a better picture of how polluted the air is across the country.

The NEA said that its methods and equipment to measure pollutants are based on the United States Environmental Protection Agency standards.

The PSI is derived from measurements at 11 ambient air monitoring stations located at places such as Temasek Polytechnic and Nanyang Technological University.

Five key pollutants are measured separately. But the PSI is not a composite index. Instead, it reflects the pollutant of the highest concentration.

But just how does the NEA measure levels of tiny particles in the air like PM2.5 and PM10 and translate them into a PSI reading?

An air sample is drawn into a chamber where particulate matter sticks to a filter;

Then, a beta ray (a form of radiation) is passed through the filter;

The particles on the filter would weaken the ray's intensity, and how dim it gets tells you how much particulate matter there is;

These readings are then averaged over three or 24 hours before they are fed into a standard set of indices, based on the health impacts of the pollutant at different observed levels. This translates the reading into a PSI.

NEA said yesterday that health advisories will continue to be based on the 24-hour PSI and PM2.5 values as those are what there is most scientific evidence for.

It explained that the 24-hour PSI is also the best indicator for the health impact of prolonged exposure to the haze than shorter-term measures, which can fluctuate quite a bit over the course of the day. This was evident yesterday, for example, when Singapore enjoyed blue skies in the afternoon when the haze seemed to clear temporarily.

Summing up small particles
Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Singapore is blanketed by its worst haze in 16 years. But what goes into air quality measures?

What is the PSI?

The Pollutant Standards Index, or PSI, is Singapore's main indicator of air quality.

It measures five key air pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and PM10, which is particulate matter 10 microns or smaller in size - about one-seventh the diameter of a strand of human hair.

The reading reflects the pollutant with the highest concentration.

Any reading above 100 is considered unhealthy, and anything higher than 300 is hazardous.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has been publishing hourly updates of its three-hour average PSI reading on its website. For example, the three-hour average at 3pm is taken from readings from noon to 3pm.

This means that the PSI at, say 3pm, is not strictly speaking a reflection of the haze you might see around you at that time, but an average of the situation over the previous three hours at various recording stations around the island.

Each hour, the NEA also publishes the 24-hour average PSI for the past 24 hours. The 24-hour PSI is from readings over the past 24 hours, averaged out. This reflects the sustained exposure levels that a person might face, and is said to be a better indicator of the health impact of the haze.

What is PM2.5?

PM stands for particulate matter, while PM2.5 refers to very fine particles that are less than 2.5 microns in size - a thirtieth of the diameter of a human hair.

The NEA also publishes hourly PM2.5 readings, averaged over 24 hours, which measure micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre.

Readings above 40 trigger health advisories. At 9pm yesterday, the 24-hour PM2.5 reading was 199-242 µg/m3, varying by geographical area.

Where does particulate matter come from?

Fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, can come from many sources all around us, such as burning plants, automobiles and natural sources like volcanic eruptions. It can even be formed in the atmosphere by chemical reactions. In this latest case, much of it comes from burning plant matter in Sumatra.

What are the health effects of PM2.5?

Because these very fine particles can get farther into the lungs and pass more easily into the bloodstream, long- and short-term exposure to PM2.5 can cause cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes. PM2.5 exposure is linked to increased hospital admissions and emergency department visits for respiratory effects. These include asthma attacks as well as increased respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Concerns about the health effects of PM2.5 levels have led governments to push for the use of higher quality diesel fuels in vehicles since these produce exhaust fumes with less of these tiny particles. Efforts to raise fuel quality have been ongoing for many years, quite separately from concerns over the haze that comes and goes.

Why is the PM2.5 reading better than the PSI in some regions and worse in others?

Climate researcher Matthias Roth, an associate professor of geography at the National University of Singapore, said the distribution of PM10 and PM2.5 depends on the burning source. Different areas in Singapore may have been affected by haze from different spots in Indonesia, which may vary in their vegetation or soil composition.

Why does the PSI peak in the evening and drop overnight?

The wind tends to drop in the evening, meaning smoke accumulates then, said the NEA. But calmer breezes do not bring as much haze from Sumatra, so the PSI falls some hours later.

Professor Roth said this could partly be because the sun's heat helps the air to rise and mix. Without this, pollutants could be trapped near the surface.

Dr Grandey from Censam suggested a few other possibilities. Some pollutants are produced or destroyed by sunlight. So the amount of sunlight may affect the pollution to some extent. Or the daily pattern could just be spurious. But more research and analysis would have to be done to test these theories, he said.

What filters out PM2.5?

Ministry of Manpower guidelines say employees who work outdoors for sustained periods and have health conditions that make them susceptible should be issued with N95 masks or other protective devices when the PSI goes above 100.

And high-efficiency particulate air filters (Hepa filters) can remove particles that are as small as 0.3 micron in size.

Grace Chua

WP statement on haze situation
Today Online 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party has issued a statement on the haze situation in Singapore. The statement is as follows:

The Workers' Party is concerned with the haze situation that is affecting everyone in Singapore.

We note that the Government has convened a task force to monitor and to act on the situation. We stand ready to support the initiatives of the Government in responding to the haze.

We welcome the Government’s efforts in giving priority to protect the health and safety of Singaporeans, especially the vulnerable groups. The Workers’ Party calls on the Indonesian Government to do its utmost to extinguish the fires with urgency.

We also urge the Indonesian Government to invest more resources to curb the slash-and-burn practices in the plantation sector. Indonesia has been a good friend and neighbour to Singapore and is respected as an influential nation in ASEAN. We hope that Indonesia will do its best to bring the haze issue to a close.

In this difficult situation, we have seen many Singaporeans from all walks of life helping one another.

We ask that Singaporeans continue to look out for each other and check on neighbours, colleagues and friends. Singaporeans are a resilient people; we will live through the smoke to see a clear sky.

Lee Li Lian
Deputy Webmaster, The Worker’s Party
Member of Parliament for Punggol East SMC

Support for Govt's efforts to get Jakarta to douse fires
Toh Yong Chuan Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

The authorities' efforts to persuade Indonesia to do more to douse the fires causing the haze received support from different quarters yesterday, ranging from an opposition party to ordinary Singaporeans at Speakers' Corner.

Punggol East MP Lee Li Lian, who is also the Workers' Party's (WP's) deputy webmaster, said in a statement that the party stood ready to "support the initiatives of the Government in responding to the haze".

"The WP calls on the Indonesian government to do its utmost to extinguish the fires with urgency. We also urge the Indonesian government to invest more resources to curb the slash-and-burn practices in the plantation sector."

She ended on an optimistic note, calling Singaporeans a resilient people who will "live through the smoke to see a clear sky".

Meanwhile, the first public protest at Hong Lim Park against the haze was poorly attended despite being touted on several prominent websites, including The Online Citizen.

It was organised by writer Patrick Low, 68. He tried to coax passers-by to pen their frustration on banners with the words, "Singaporeans unite against the deadly haze".

The Sunday Times counted four signatures in one hour, and Mr Low claimed that 12 people had signed over the course of the day. He said he would be passing the banners to the Indonesian Embassy.

And at a separate event at Hong Lim Park in the evening, 26-year-old trainee lawyer Wilson Foo hit out at the Indonesian government for not tackling forest and plantation fires over repeated years.

Don't get mad, get organised
Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

The haze this week has dominated conversations, hogged attention and generally caused us all in Singapore much grief.

The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index has crept to historic highs, reaching 401 at one point on Friday.

We've all smarted from it and choked on it.

And I'm not just talking about the smog caused by fires burning in the Riau province forests in Indonesia.

I'm talking about Singaporeans smarting from and choking on the callous indifference of Indonesian ministers and officials to Singaporeans on this issue and their shameless attempts to shift the blame.

On Monday, Forestry Ministry official Hadi Daryanto was quoted as saying that the slash-and-burn method of clearing land for cultivation was used not only by local farmers "but also employees of oil palm investors, including Singaporean and Malaysian companies".

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

This is a valid point.

But as Singapore made clear, it can do so only if Indonesia named the companies responsible, so the government here can take action. Consumers too are up in arms: Name the companies and we know what to do, said numerous Facebook posts.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said he thought Singapore's requests for Indonesia to identify the culprits were "redundant" as "we are fully aware of the impact and consequences and the need for action".

The Indonesians have named some companies this weekend. That's welcome, even if it comes about a decade late, considering that the haze is an annual affair and enforcement action should have been taken promptly after each episode. But still, late is better than never.

What's needed next is for green groups and consumer groups to look into the details and organise campaigns to mobilise consumers to put pressure on the commercial players to stop open-burning methods all down their supply chain.

But the remark that takes the cake came from Mr Agung Laksono, the minister coordinating the haze response in Indonesia. He told reporters in Jakarta: "Singapore should not be behaving like a child and making all this noise.

"This is not what the Indonesian nation wants, it is because of nature."

At this point, the PSI shot up to stratospheric levels. That's the Pour Salt (into wounds) Index.

Forest burning is not an act of nature. It is a wilful act of greedy company executives and irresponsible farm owners, condoned by officials who close an eye to such practices.

I considered writing an open letter to Mr Agung, inviting him and his pals to come to Singapore to enjoy the Sumatra forest-laced air.

They could stay in naturally ventilated Sentosa chalets, or al fresco accommodation on the beach under the stars. Drive around in open-top trucks. But maybe it's better to ask them to hotfoot it down to Riau instead.

At this stage, I told myself, don't get mad. Get even. In particular, get organised.

Unlike some folk online who think the Singapore Government has waffled/ not done enough/ massaged PSI numbers, I think Singapore ministers are doing their best with a bad situation in such a cross-border issue. When Indonesian ministers complain that Singapore is making too much noise, you know the diplomatic and government channels are feeling our officials' sustained verbal pressure.

Leaders are constrained by diplomatic conventions. Private citizens are free to say what we think. But we should direct our ire at the right channels.

Get organised. Lawfully, of course, and civilly. The people of Singapore have not made it clear enough to the Indonesian authorities that we are fed up of smarting from and choking on the haze year in and year out, and just as fed up with their inaction and insensitivity.

The haze is an annual affair. Indonesia hasn't ratified the 2002 Asean transboundary haze pollution treaty signed by other members. Singapore has offered technical and financial assistance to Indonesia to fight the fires.

Each year, the heat and rhetoric level goes up with the PSI. And then the rains come, or the winds blow elsewhere, and the issue fades - until the next year.

More coordinated and sustained action is needed this time. A big protest at Hong Lim Park would be ideal, but is hard to pull off given the hazardous air outdoors - although that hadn't stopped intrepid campaigners from getting one going yesterday.

But a social media campaign is useful.

Start a SMASH movement: Singaporeans Mobilise Action to Stop the Haze.

Use social media to organise to help ourselves. Some have already done this to good effect: getting Singaporeans to donate masks to distribute to low-income families, and persuading companies to stop outdoor work to protect workers from the hazardous air. These are all laudable.

Some energy can also be spent harnessing Singaporeans to speak out on the haze to persuade the Indonesian authorities to take this more seriously. With companies being identified, it's also time for consumer protests and boycotts.

Sign a petition like this one:

Join the Haze Elimination Action Team (H.E.A.T) group on Facebook, led by university professor Ang Peng Hwa. The page says H.E.A.T "is a group of volunteers who want to breathe fresh air outdoors".

The group started in 2007 raising funds for an educational effort in Jambi, which has not seen major fires. It's being revived "to mobilise anyone in the region interested to join; to mount an education campaign for farmers; to boycott companies identified as offenders; to raise funds for the above effort".

We can all get creative. Netizens can haze out blogs and websites with protest photos. Send e-mails to protest the haze to the Indonesian embassy. E-mail relevant government departments in Jakarta. Share information on the commercial activities of the companies on whose land and concessions the burning is taking place.

Staying indoors this weekend because of the haze? Be a keyboard warrior. We can do our part to SMASH the haze.

Read more!

Singapore: Blue skies for now, haze set to return

Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans were greeted with blue skies on Saturday afternoon after days of unhealthy and hazardous PSI levels.

The day's three-hour reading reached a high of 326 at 10am before dropping to 73 at 5pm and 6pm, the lowest recorded for the day.

Singapore leaders have however urged citizens to be prepared for a prolonged period of haze, with Minister of Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan saying that the blue skies are likely to be temporary.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said the improvement on Saturday was due to a temporary area free of dense haze upwind of Singapore and transient changes in local wind conditions.

Hazy conditions can still be expected on Sunday as dry conditions and winds blowing from the southwest or west persist.

The 24-hour PSI reading for Sunday is expected to be in the “very unhealthy” range of 201-300.

NEA has also advised vulnerable groups like the elderly, children and people with chronic lung and heart diseases to avoid all outdoor activity on Sunday. They should wear an N95 mask if prolonged outdoor activity is unavoidable.

Healthy people should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion.

The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources said there are sufficient N95 masks nationally, and that people should only buy them when required and not stockpile.

NEA added that there were 118 hotspots detected in Sumatra on Saturday. This is an increase from the 19 hotspots detected on Friday.

However it added that the low number of hotspots detected on Friday may be due to heavy cloud cover, and that it does not necessarily co-relate with the PSI levels seen in Singapore.

- CNA/jc

Short lived respite from haze
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 23 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE - All over the island today, people basked in the clear skies in the afternoon - which appeared suddenly after the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading hit 326 at 10am - and embraced the sunshine, some returning to their favourite outdoor activities after being cooped up to avoid the haze.

But the respite - which was attributed to a temporary change of wind conditions in Singapore - was to be short lived. At the daily briefing today, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the good visibility - the quality of the air remained poor as the PM2.5 concentration was still much higher than the normal levels - would only last “a few hours”.At 4pm,the 24-hour PM2.5 concentration, or very fine particulate matter, was between 207 and 246 micrograms per cubic metre - much higher than the normal levels of between 20 and 40 micrograms per cubic metre - the authorities warned that the public should still be wearing N95 masks if prolonged or outdoor activity is unavoidable.

Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources Deputy Secretary Tan Gee Keow said: “This is yet another example of the three-hour PSI versus the 24-hour PSI readings. Within three hours, you may see blue skies but over time, these conditions will change.”

Referring to the Government’s advisories, Ms Tan said: “We’ve always given it based on 24-hour PSI, because that’s what the science and research is based on - the 24-hour exposure.”

The Singapore Metrological Service’s Patrica Ee explained that the change in wind conditions caused a “less-dense” portion of the haze plume to be blown over the Republic.

However, as dry weather conditions and winds blowing from the southwest or western direction continue to persist, hazy conditions are likely to return tomorrow.

Despite the respite, the NEA said that the 24hr PSI remained in the unhealthy range (201 to 300) today and it is expected to stay the same range tomorrow.

There were 118 hotspots detected today. There were only 19 detected yesterday but the low number was because of the thick cloud cover which affected the detection.

During the briefing, the Ministry of Health’s Group Director of Public Health Derrick Heng also allayed public concern that PM2.5 particulates would be lodged in the lungs and may lead to cancer.

He said: “It is true that some of the smaller particles may be absorbed in the lungs, and that’s where they may cause some irritation and inflammation… but I won’t go so far as to say that they will... be in (the lungs) forever.”

Ms Tan also reiterated that there are sufficient N95 masks “to go around nationally” and that there is no need for healthy persons to “go into a panic” and stockpile masks.

She said: “The reason why we are putting up the advisories and these air quality measurements is to make plain and transparent what’s going on. People should only buy masks when required as per some of the situations stated in the health advisories. If you are a healthy person, there is no need to stockpile.”

For tomorrow, the authorities advise healthy persons to avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion, while N95 masks are only required to be worn if strenuous activities outdoors cannot be avoided.

The elderly, pregnant women, and children as well as persons with chronic lung disease, heart disease or stroke should avoid outdoor activities and wear N95 masks if these are unavoidable.

Singapore gets a breather
Grace Chua Environment Correspondent Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Singapore enjoyed its first glimpse of blue skies in a week as the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) fell to 73 yesterday.

People were out and about lapping up the brief respite in the afternoon from the haze but the bad news is: It's only temporary.

Winds had pushed the thick plume of haze over Singapore northwards and eastwards, so that the island state lay under a small gap in the enveloping smoke.

As the skies cleared around 4pm, people emerged to play sports or visit outdoor attractions.

Tourist Ashok Saxena, 49, from New Delhi, was at the end of his holiday here and had been frustrated by the haze till yesterday, when he finally managed to visit Gardens By The Bay. "We're trying to make the most of the remaining time here and it's good that the skies are clearing up," he said.

But as fires in Sumatra continue to burn, the weather remains dry, and the wind blows haze over from the west and south-west, the air quality here is likely to remain bleak in the days ahead.

The 24-hour PSI, a measure of air quality, is expected to be in the "Very Unhealthy" range of 201 to 300, at least until 6pm today. That means children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with heart or lung disease should avoid all outdoor activity. The elderly and ill should wear N95 masks if they cannot avoid outdoor activity.

Those who are healthy should avoid prolonged and strenuous outdoor activity.

Additional reporting by Walter Sim

Haze draws scientists to Orchard Road
Lim Yan Liang Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Shoppers along Orchard Road yesterday afternoon may have encountered an odd sight: two "ghost-busters" equipped with handheld and backpack scanners.

Actually research scientists, Mexican Erik Velasco and Swiss Gideon Aschwanden, from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, have collected pollutant data along Orchard Road every weekday for nearly two months for an ongoing project. They went out to log information on a Saturday for the first time yesterday as they felt the haze would offer too useful a data set to pass up.

"The haze has provided us with some very interesting information," said Dr Velasco, 39, with what looked like a futuristic iron in each hand.

One machine measures the number of dust particles in the air, while the other breaks them down by size: from PM10, the particles measured by PSI readings all the way down to tiny PM1 particles that are especially dangerous.

For example, Dr Velasco said their readings found that at the peak of the haze on Friday evening, there were some 15 times as many pollutants in the air compared to just a fortnight ago.

Cars and industry, which have always been major contributors of pollutants, are now contributing less than 10 per cent to pollution.

"At least for now, wildfires are the main contributor of pollution," he said.

They said Singaporeans who believe shopping centres would provide some respite would be wrong - particle levels in malls are seldom much lower than outdoors because of human traffic, restaurants, and air filters that are cleaned only occasionally.

Both researchers stressed their data was preliminary and variables had to be factored in, but they have collected data in Orchard Road over 20 times.

Asked for a health tip before parting ways - the scientists were testing different forms of public transport - they stressed the importance of wearing N95 masks correctly.

"Remember, air takes the path of least resistance," smiled Dr Aschwanden, 29, whose 8kg backpack had sensors tracking everything from GPS and temperature to hydrocarbons, humidity and pressure.

A cloud over economic growth prospects
Fiona Chan Senior Economics Correspondent
Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Singapore's worst-ever haze is casting a pall over not only its skyline, but also the prospects for its economic growth this year.

Economic watchers are starting to total up the possible damage to the Republic's economy after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last week raised the possibility that the haze might last for several weeks or more.

"The main thing to watch will be the duration of the haze. If it continues through to end-August, when the dry season is likely to end, then the cumulative impact will be quite large," said UOB economist Francis Tan.

He estimates that if the haze lasts for most of the third quarter, that could shave off 0.3 to 0.5 percentage point from his current forecast of 3 per cent economic growth this year.

This forecast is on the high side of the Government's official tip of 1 to 3 per cent growth.

A 0.3 percentage point cut in Mr Tan's projection works out to about $1.1 billion in real gross domestic product, he said.

Using another measure, Barclays economist Joey Chew suggests any estimate of the haze's cost should start at $300 million a month, which works out to about 1 per cent of monthly GDP.

This would be the loss if tourism revenue declines 10 per cent and retailers and dining joints lose another 10 per cent in domestic sales, Ms Chew said.

"The costs escalate if the situation starts affecting construction and other parts of manufacturing," she added.

"Our initial assessment is the haze could have quite a limited impact on the economy, but the situation is fluid now and it's hard to tell."

The sectors likely to be worst hit are tourism and services, as people stay indoors just as Singapore gears up for the annual summer holidays and the Great Singapore Sale.

"We are already seeing high levels of complaints from visitors and people starting to leave early," said PwC partner See Hong Pek.

"If the haze continues, this will be felt further through cancellations and, in a worst-case scenario, flight cancellations or re-routing."

For every potential tourist who avoids Singapore, the economy will lose $1,500 - the estimated average tourist expenditure here, said CIMB economist Song Seng Wun. Tourism makes up 5 to 6 per cent of a year's economic output.

If the smog lasts, the impact will also spread to other "outdoor" industries such as construction and ship building, Mr See said.

Construction accounts for about 7 per cent of GDP, while transport engineering - which covers aerospace, marine and offshore engineering and land transport - makes up another 3 per cent.

Then there is the indirect impact on economic activity as people modify their usual behaviour as a result of the haze, said DBS economist Irvin Seah.

"If schools and childcare centres have to be closed, workers with children will have to go on leave, on top of those taking medical leave," he said.

Health-care costs will increase and productivity will suffer as a result of people taking leave, working less efficiently or leaving work earlier, added Mr Paul Kent, director of economics and regulation, at KPMG in Singapore.

One way to gauge the impact of the ongoing haze on the economy is to compare it to previous smog situations.

The 2006 haze was estimated to have cost US$50 million (S$64.3 million) while the cost of the 1997 haze was put at US$300 million, brokerage CLSA said in a report. It added that those estimates seemed low when taking into account both the direct and indirect costs of the haze.

In any case, most economists agree that the haze will prove more expensive to Singapore's economy this time.

"The cost will most likely be worse than in previous episodes given the relative severity of the air pollution this time," said Mr Seah.

"In addition, sectors directly affected by the haze, such as tourism, now contribute a larger share of GDP."

The timing of the haze also hits just as Singapore's economy is feeling the drag of the United States' impending exit from its stimulus policy and China's growth slowdown.

Coming on top of domestic restructuring pains, this means that even a small drag could prove significant for the economy's already tepid growth outlook this year.

CIMB's Mr Song noted that in the last serious haze episode, in 1997, the economy was faring much better before the Asian financial crisis.

"The haze barely made a dent on full-year growth, which was about 10 per cent," he said. "But we have less room this time. Much will depend on the severity of this latest episode."

Still, in the bigger scheme of things, economists do not expect the whole economy to be derailed by the haze.

"The full-year projection of 1 to 3 per cent growth can still be achieved because we are likely to see a strong rebound in activities in the fourth quarter, led by the return of tourists and the construction sector," said Mr Song.

"Recall the Bangkok floods 2011: there was a big hit to the economy in the fourth quarter but then a big rebound in the first quarter of 2012."

The burning question
Crisp satellite images help point to severity and location of haze-causing fires
Chang Ailien Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Q: How long has the Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (Crisp) been monitoring the haze-causing fires?

We've been monitoring the forest fires and haze via a suite of satellites for 16 years now. Apart from 1997 - when the severe El Nino conditions saw widespread fires in Indonesia and Borneo blazing out of control - the number of hot spots and the size of the fires have remained pretty constant from year to year. The same holds true this year; it's not an El Nino year.

(El Nino, a weather phenomenon which results in the warming of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, is associated with higher than normal temperatures and diminished rainfall.)

Q: How accurate are these satellite images?

We are able to see anything 50cm or larger. On a daily basis, we use the low-resolution, wide-coverage satellites to scan the whole region for hot spots. If these are detected, our system automatically notifies us. We then search for suitable high-resolution satellite passes to capture detailed imagery over the hot spots. These high-resolution images, like a telescope, cover a much smaller area: 15km to 60km, compared with 2,300km. We need to steer the satellite to focus on the areas on fire. Crisp scientists then carry out a detailed analysis of the type, severity and location of fires and haze using the high-resolution imagery.

Q: Why is the haze so severe this time?

On the ground, the fires now are nowhere near the size and severity of those in 1997 but, this time, we have been unlucky because the winds brought the haze over to Singapore. Then, wild fires and human burning hit Sumatra, Kalimantan, East Malaysia and Brunei. At this time, only the Riau province has large clusters of fires.

Generally, during the south- west monsoon, the winds push the pollutants from the Riau fires further up north, bypassing Singapore altogether and sparing us. The Riau fires almost never affect us. But this year, there was a sudden tropical storm off Taiwan and a smaller storm in the South China Sea, which altered the course of the wind and directed it straight to Singapore. At the same time, the storms are drawing the clouds and moisture away from this region, and creating the perfect hot dry conditions for burning. Without moisture in the air, rain-seeding will not work.

Q: Who is to blame?

As we can see from our images, the fires are in the forest fringes and from plantations. We can see rectangular grids, some with rows of crops on fire. There are even man-made canals in the forest, possibly used for controlling the fire. We have the exact coordinates of all the fires, which we also send to the National Environment Agency. This information can be matched with concession maps showing who owns the land.

Q: What can we expect next?

The storms are weakening and weather experts expect them to dissipate early in the week. When this happens, we should get some respite, as the wind will hopefully change direction and we could get some rain. Traditionally, we've always been more concerned about the hot spots in South Sumatra that come to life around July and August, as the winds then could bring some haze towards Singapore. Right now, we are experiencing only the start of the burning season, so there could be more haze to come. Hopefully, we will get favourable wind conditions that will channel the haze away from Singapore.

Q: What's the damage on the ground in Indonesia?

What some call damage, others call development. Crisp did a study of regional deforestation recently. Using mainly satellite images, we generated a regional land cover map, one for the year 2000 and one for 2010. Our studies showed that Indonesia had lost 10 per cent of its total forests - an area more than 120 times the size of Singapore - to commercial use over the decade. This includes close to 20 per cent of its peat swamps. A lot of the forests are cleared with fires, which results in carbon being released into the air. This is particularly so for peat swamps, which are huge carbon stores.

The effects on global warming are likely to be huge but scientists are still working hard to quantify them. Indonesia is also home to one of the world's largest forests. The destruction of forests and peat swamps is a tremendous loss to biodiversity.


Mr Kwoh Leong Keong, 55, is the director of the Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (Crisp) at the National University of Singapore.

Crisp has operated a remote sensing satellite ground station since 1995 to acquire images of the earth's surface, getting data from more than 10 satellites.

The satellites orbit 600km to 800km above the earth, circling the globe about 16 times daily at tremendous speeds of about 25,000kmh.

Pictures are sent via microwaves to the centre's ground station. Crisp can produce full-resolution images a mere 10 minutes after a satellite has passed a location. The centre conducts research in the processing, analysis and applications of satellite remote sensing data.

It has used this information in ocean and coastal studies and in environmental monitoring, including the daily monitoring of the regional forest fires.

Mr Kwoh is credited with playing a key role in establishing and upgrading the Crisp remote sensing ground station. A trained surveyor, he has an engineering science master's degree in remote sensing.

He is married with two sons, university students aged 23 and 21.

Background story


Dr See Kay Choong, a consultant at the National University Hospital's (NUH) division of respiratory and critical care medicine, gives some tips on how to cope with the haze.

Q: Should I wear a mask?

Yes, you need one which can filter out microscopic particles effectively. The N95 has been scientifically proven to do so.

The N95 mask can be used again but you need to ensure that it is not soiled, wet or damaged, or distorted. Once the shape is deformed, it no longer protects the user. Keep the N95 in a clean bag if you want to reuse it.

A regular surgical mask won't help, even if you wear two of them.

Most surgical masks do not effectively filter small particles from the air and do not prevent leakage around the edge of the mask when the user inhales.

If you cannot get hold of the N95 mask or an equivalent type like the R95, try to stay indoors and keep the air-conditioner on.

Q: What about working out?

Exercising outdoors when the PSI level is above 100 will negate any beneficial effects of the workout.

The best thing you can do is to stay indoors and have minimal contact with the external environment.

If the haze persists for a week or more, consider getting an air purifier.

Q: How can the haze affect me?

For the normal man in the street, short-term exposure of a few minutes with minimal activity is unlikely to have any lasting harmful effects.

But staying in the haze for longer periods could irritate and inflame your airways, lungs and eyes.

Studies have also shown that the haze can cause inflammation of other parts of the body and worsen existing lung and heart ailments.

Q: What symptoms can I expect?

You may get a runny nose, and those prone to asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease could see their condition worsening.

Your eyes could feel gritty and uncomfortable. You can alleviate the discomfort by rinsing them with water or eye-wash lotions.

Drink water to relieve throat irritation.

In the hospitals, we are prepared to see more patients with upper respiratory tract infections, rhinitis and asthma.

Keep in mind that some of the symptoms may not appear immediately, but could take a few days to show up.

Q: When should I get worried?

Seek medical help immediately if you have severe breathlessness or chest discomfort, particularly if you have a pre-existing illness.

Chang Ailien

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Indonesia starts cloud seeding operations

Joyce Lim Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Indonesia Correspondent In Dumai (Riau Province)
Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Indonesia yesterday began cloud seeding operations and water bombing of raging fires on plantations in Riau, after declaring a state of emergency in the area.

Three helicopters, a Cassa aircraft and an air force Hercules took off from Pekanbaru Airport in Riau at 5pm to begin those operations, said Mr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia's disaster management agency.

"The operations will continue today, until enough rain is successfully induced," he said.

As of 9pm, no rain had been reported in the Dumai and Bengkalis regencies - two of the three areas reporting hot spots.

But the water bombing had apparently helped improve conditions in Singapore.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) to take over fire- extinguishing efforts in Riau, the agency's emergency response director Tri Budiarto told The Jakarta Post.

BNPB also said it had deployed two helicopters last Friday to spray water and one aircraft for cloud seeding.

The measures came as Singapore and Malaysia moved to address concerns over haze.

Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan travelled to Jakarta last Friday as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's special envoy to discuss the crisis. Malaysia has said it would send its environment minister to Jakarta on Wednesday.

Earlier yesterday, several Indonesian ministers and officials visited hot spots in Bengkalis, Rokan Hilir and Dumai city.

"Fire in Rokan Hilir regency and Dumai city continued unabated yesterday, with the wind above these areas blowing east, towards Singapore," said Mr Sutopo.

"The winds above Pelalawan and Indragiri districts blew towards the south."

As investigators tried to determine the causes of the worst haze crises ever to hit Singapore, Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya identified eight companies out of at least 14 that he said are being investigated in connection with the fires.

The ones named are PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo, PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati, PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation, PT Udaya Loh Dinawi, PT Adei Plantation, PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa, PT Multi Gambut Industri and PT Mustika Agro Lestari.

Separately, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan has cautioned that accusations against any companies should not be made without proof.

Mr Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan, director of Forest Fire Control, who visited a hot spot on the border of Dumai and Rokan Hilir regency with Mr Zulkifli yesterday, agreed.

He said that it was farmers who started the fires, which "spread to the bigger plantations owned by bigger companies. These companies should not be blamed for starting the fires".

Mr Zulkifli also said it was time for Indonesians to change their culture of burning land.

"Whether it's companies or local farmers, please stop the burning to clear land for planting, as we are all witnessing the tremendous consequences right now," he said.

But just as The Sunday Times team was about to leave the hot spot, a farmer started yet another fire.

When asked why he did so, Mr Mulia Manurung, 50, said: "My burning will not affect the quality of air as my plot of land is considered small, unlike the burning done by the bigger companies.

"Besides, it's dirt land, not peatland, and I have water canals surrounding the land."

Haze update: Indonesian government declares state of emergency in Riau
Straits Times 22 Jun 13;

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Indonesian government has declared a state of emergency in Riau, following worsening haze from forest fires in three regencies and municipalities in the province.

The haze is from forest fires in the regencies of Bengkalis and Rokan Hilir and Dumai City.

"The President has instructed the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) to take over fire extinguishing efforts in Riau, starting on Friday," the BNPB emergency response director Tri Budiarto said on Friday.

The agency said it had deployed two helicopters on Friday to spray water from the air and one aircraft for cloud seeding efforts in the burning areas, starting on Saturday.

Riau Deputy Governor Mambang Mit added that cloud seeding efforts would be the last solution because the conventional techniques had met difficulties extinguishing the fires.

"The weather conditions, which are very dry and windy, and the locations of fires, which are inaccessible to vehicles, have slowed efforts to put out the fires. The only solution is cloud seeding," he said.

He said that the Riau administration was currently investigating the involvement of some firms in the forest fires.

He did not deny the fact that in the previous years a number of plantation companies made use of the dry weather to clear their areas for planting.

"The authorities will take strong measures against them if there is enough evidence," he said, adding that the legal process would be handled by the police.

According the data from the Forestry Ministry, the total areas gutted by the fires have reached 3,709 hectares in 10 out 12 regencies and municipalities in Riau, where Rokan Hilir and Bengkalis have been the most heavily affected.

Number of Sumatra`s fire hot spots drops significantly
Antara 22 Jun 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The NOAA satellite detected 21 hot spots from forest, plantation and peatland fires across Sumatra, including 13 in Riau Province, on Friday.

"The number is much less than on the previous days," Tri Puryanti, an analyst of Pekanbaru meteorological, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG), said here on Saturday.

Of the 21 hot spots, five were found in Jambi, 13 in Riau, one in North Sumatra, and two in Bangka Belitung.

On Thursday, the satellite detected 25 hot spots in Sumatra, including 22 in Riau Province, a drastic drop from 142 hot spots on Wednesday.

The 142 hot spots in Riau were found earlier in 11 districts and cities, namely 35 in Rokan Hilir District, 25 in Pelalawan, 23 in Indragiri Hilir, 14 in Siak, 12 in Bengkalis, 10 in Indragiri Hulu, nine in Rokan Hulu, six in Kampar, four in Dumai, three in Kuantan Singingi, and one in Pekanbaru.

In addition to fire control efforts on the ground, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) made a weather modification over Riau and sent water bombs to extinguish the fires by using the Indonesian military`s helicopters.

KR-FZR (f001 )

Editor: Aditia Maruli

Forestry Minister in Riau to inspect forest fire control
Antara 22 Jun 13;

Dumai, Riau (ANTARA News) - Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan led a coordinating meeting on forest and plantation fire control here on Saturday.

A number of personnel from forest fire brigade "Manggala Agni", military, police and forest rangers were present in the event.

Minister Zulkifli Hasan was accompanied by the chairman of the National Disaster Mitigation Office (BNPB), Deputy Governor of Riau Mambang Mit, Dumai Mayor Khairul Anwar, and Bengkali District Head Jon Erizal.

Meanwhile, Environmental Affairs Minister Balthasar Kambuaya alleged that a number of foreign firms are involved in the current forest and woodland fires in Riau province.

"It seems that (the fires) also involved foreign firms," he said in the State Palace compounds in Jakarta on Friday.

He said investigation is still underway to prove the alleged involvement of eight companies in the forest and woodland fires.

The NOAA-15 satellite early this week detected 234 hot spots across Sumatra, particularly in Riau, Jambi and North Sumatra Provinces on June 29.

Around 850 hectares of peatland areas were gutted by fires, but at least 460 hectares were put out by Indonesian fire brigade teams. According to recent reports, one person was killed and another was injured due to the disaster.

In Rokan Hilir District, Riau Province, 164 people fled Kepenghuluan Bangko Bakti village which has been blanketed by thick haze. Villagers of neighboring Kepenghuluan Teluk Bano are also preparing themselves for evacuation to emergency tents away from their village.

Several flights were postponed or cancelled and Sultan Syarif Kasim (SSK) II Airport in Pekanbaru, Riau Island, was shut down temporarily due to the haze.

The smoky haze from Sumatra has also affected Indonesia`s neighboring countries. Singapore has urged people to remain indoors amid unprecedented levels of air pollution, while Malaysia has closed 200 schools and banned open burning in some areas.
(f001/ )

Editor: Aditia Maruli

Foreign firms allegedly involved in Riau forest fires
Antara 22 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya has alleged that a number of foreign firms are involved in the current forest and woodland fires in Riau province.

"It seems that (the fires) also involved foreign firms," he said in the State Palace compounds in Jakarta on Friday.

He said investigation is still underway to prove the alleged involvement of eight companies in the forest and woodland fires.

But he stopped short of revealing the companies.

"Let us wait and see," he said.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the government has made an optimum effort to prevent forest fire-induced haze from spreading to neighboring Singapore.

Marty said the Indonesian government has coordinated with the Singapore government to resolve the problem.

To resolve the problem the governments of the two countries have formed a technical forum involving relevant ministries to overcome the haze, he said.

Marty said on Wednesday that the Singapore government had conveyed its concern over fires in Sumatra that had caused haze in the neighboring country.

On Thursday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered all ministries and relevant institutions to put out the forest and woodland fires in one month.

"The President has given us directives that hotspots and haze in Sumatra should be overcome immediately," Chief Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa told a press conference after a cabinet ministers` plenary meeting on Thursday.

Reporting by M. Arif Iskandar and GNC Aryani


Editor: Aditia Maruli

Riau folk seemingly unfazed by doubly thick haze
Reports by ZAZALI MUSA and LIM CHENG KIAT from RIAU, Indonesia
The Star 23 Jun 13;

Poor visibility: Pekanbaru in Indonesia covered in smog as early as 7am. The haze there is twice as bad as in Malaysia but the locals seem unfazed by it. Poor visibility: Pekanbaru in Indonesia covered in smog as early as 7am. The haze there is twice as bad as in Malaysia but the locals seem unfazed by it.

PEKANBARU (Riau, Indonesia): The moment photographer Lim Cheng Kiat and I stepped out of our plane at the Sultan Syarif Kassim II Airport here, we were assailed by acrid smoke that burned our eyes and choked our lungs.

Although it was already night, the air was very warm. By the time we got into the bus taking us to our hotel, our eyes were already watery and, despite our face masks, the haze was causing a burning sensation in our noses.

However, other passengers in the bus, who did not even use face masks, seemed unperturbed by the thick and smoky air.

We had just arrived in Pekanbaru from Jakarta at abut 7.10pm Friday to cover the open burning in areas around Riau that is contributing to much of the haze problem in Malaysia in the last week.

Throughout the 7km journey to our hotel along Jalan Jenderal Sudirman in this capital city of Riau, we prayed that we would arrive safely as the visibility was very poor.

Our driver Pak Baharuddin told us that he could hardly see the vehicles in front of him, which were about 10m metres away.

Baharuddin, who has been a driver for 10 years, said locals had expected the haze to come around this time of the year.

“Ya pak, kita di sini udah biasa sama kabutnya, enggak ada apa-apa yang harus khuatir (Yes sir, we are used to this smog, there is nothing to worry about),” he said.

Arriving at the four-star hotel, we were surprised to see that none of the guests and staff were wearing face masks although the air-conditioned lobby was enveloped in thick smoke. We looked out of place with our face masks on.

From our hotel window, we saw many people strolling around the hotel grounds while a small group gathered around a fountain in the courtyard, seemingly enjoying the smoky night air.

Baharuddin had told us that the haze started about a week ago and the culprits were big farming companies and smallholders.

According to him, it was normal for farmers to slash and burn and the authorities seemed powerless to stop this as it has been common practice here for as long as he could remember.

Asked why the locals did not put on face masks while outdoors, Baharuddin said they did not see the need to do so as they “could still breathe”.

At between RM2 and RM3 each, the masks were quite expensive for most of the locals, he said.

Baharuddin was surprised when told that many schools in Johor had been closed because the schools in Pekanbaru, where the situation was doubly worse, were all open.

Earlier, arriving in Jakarta from Changi Airport, we were struck by the clear and bright sky, which was in sharp contrast to the situation in Sumatra and back home where the pollutant index had tipped the 300 mark and in Singapore where it had surpassed 400.

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