Best of our wild blogs: 24 Jun 13

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [17 - 23 Jun 2013]
from Green Business Times

Celebrating Singapore's shores!
from wild shores of singapore

Ecological musings
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Nature in Bukit Brown
from Rojak Librarian

Toddycats at “Chained to Our Roots” – reroute the Cross Island Line to protect our oldest forests! from Toddycats!

Save MacRitchie's Forest: 8. Sanctuary for Spiders
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Lots of masked burrowing crabs at Changi
from wonderful creation and Psychedelic Nature and Peiyan.Photography and wild shores of singapore

Random Gallery - Malayan Eggfly
from Butterflies of Singapore

Flashback: wildlife news in 1960s Singapore
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Banded Bullfrog
from Monday Morgue

Solving 'wicked problems': ten principles for improved environmental management from news by Jeremy Hance

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Indonesian forest fires a "wake up" call

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 24 Jun 13;

JAKARTA: Plantation companies and environmental activists say the forest fires in Indonesia’s Riau province are a "wake up" call for the Indonesian government, and that more must be done to prevent this from happening every year.

They say the problems are deep rooted; fires have caused haze at unprecedented levels in certain parts of the region.

The Indonesian government has begun taking more concrete steps on the ground to put out the fires, including cloud seeding and water bombing operations.

However, some plantation companies say they began water bombing fires on their own as early as this month.

Now, stakeholders urge the government to go beyond reacting to the problems.

Aida Greenbury, managing director of Sustainability & Stakeholder Engagement at Asia Pulp & Paper, said: "We also need to understand this is a wake up call for everybody… We have to come up with a stronger strategy to deal with these problems… Forest fires can be seen as the tip of the iceberg."

Plantation companies have been monitoring the hotspots in their concessions. Some have seen forest fires happening in their own supplier's area. They say that it's an obligation to report these cases to the authorities.

The Indonesian government has also begun naming those responsible for the fires.

Environmental activists welcome the move, but say authorities have to show greater commitment and prosecute the culprits.

Yuyun Indradi, a political forest campaigner with Greenpeace Indonesia, said: "Naming and shaming is not enough… Since 1997 the biggest forest fires even in Indonesia, none of them got prosecuted, none of them went to jail, none of them got their permits revoked."

Greenpeace Indonesia further suggests that the forest fire issue can be better tackled when governments in the region, companies and NGOs collaborate together.

- CNA/jc

Malaysia: Palanivel to meet reps of Malaysian-owned firms in Indonesia suspected of contributing to haze
The Star 24 Jun 13;

PETALING JAYA: Environment and Natural Resources Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel will meet representatives of Malaysian-owned plantations in Indonesia suspected of contributing to the haze.

He will also be meeting his Indonesian counterpart in Jakarta on Wednesday.

He said he would first need to determine whether all eight plantation firms identified were indeed owned by Malaysian companies.

He was commenting on a report quoting Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya as saying the companies were being probed for open burning in Riau and Jambi.

Balthasar said fires were discovered at the plantations owned by the firms and that they would be taken to court if there was enough evidence.

The eight companies named were PT Langgam Inti Hiberida, PT Bumi Rakksa 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.

Palanivel said Malaysian-owned plantations in Indonesia should answer to authorities there if they were proven to have conducted slash-and-burn activities.

“Malaysia is unable to take action on Malaysian companies operating in Indonesia as they are governed by Indonesian laws.

“Indonesia must take action against these companies if the allegations are true,” Palanivel said.

Malaysian firms suspected to have sent haze home
Antara 23 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Tens of companies have allegedly practiced slash-and-burns to open plantations in Sumatra`s Riau, causing forest fires that send blankets of smoke not only to the province itself but also to neighboring countries, Singapore and Malaysia.

It was reported on Saturday (June 22) that a joint team from the ministry of environment and other relevant ministries had found at least 20 domestic and foreign companies which were suspected to have caused land and forest fires.

Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya in Riau on Saturday made statements twice when he earlier announced that there were 14 companies (one believed to belong to Malaysian firm), allegedly involved in the burning of land and bushes.

He stated later, based on field checks, there were 8 Malaysian companies which were strongly believed to have contributed to the forest fires which caused Riau province, Singapore and Malaysia to be shrouded with haze. The eight Malaysian firms are not included in the 14 reported earlier.

"There are eight Malaysian oil palm companies which are strongly suspected to be behind the forest fires. We are still collecting data in the field to ascertain the suspicion," Balthasar told a press conference on Saturday.

The minister named the eight Malaysian companies as PT Langgam Inti Hiberida, PT Bumi Rakksa 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.

"The eight companies excluded the 14 companies mentioned earlier to be involved in the land and bush fires," the minister said.

He said that the number of suspected companies could increase further in the field. We will continue to investigate other companies whether they came from Indonesia, Malaysia or Singapore.

The section head of Forest Fire Handling and Forest Protection of Riau`s Forest Service, Rahidi said on Sunday that hotspots detected by the US NOAA satellite were found in the areas belonging to tens of local and foreign companies in Riau.

The hotspots were detected in the areas of PT Siak Seraya, PT Kimia Tirta Utama, PT Inti Indo Sawit Subur, Village Unit Cooperatives (KUD) Dayus Mas, PT Padasa Enam Utama, PT Kartayatam Bhakti Mulia, PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo, PT Riau Sakti Trans, PT Raja Garuda Masa Sejati PT Sabira Negeri Utama, PT Guntung Hasrat Makmur, PT Panca Surya Agrindo, PT Bumi Reksa Nusa Sejati, PT Surya Bratasena Plantation, PT Adei Crumb Rubber, PT Rokan Adi Raya, Cooperatives 13 Anak Suku Bonai, PT Karyatama Bhakti Muli and PT Agroraya Gematrans.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said the government would not tolerate companies burning land and bushes that caused haze to shroud Raiu and its surrounding.

"Companies which are proved to have practiced slash-and-burn activities and caused land and forest fires will be acted upon firmly. There will be no compromise," the minister said when attending a function to see off a land and forest fire extinguisher team in Dumai, Riau, on Saturday.

He said that the government was now concentrating on putting out land and forest fires under the coordination of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB). The agency team is composed of members from relevant ministries.

He said that the government had assigned the National Police to handle the legal process and take sanctions against firms behind forest fires. "Firms burning land will be dealt with by the police and the government will not hesitate to punish even those who already have business permits," the forestry minister said.

The office of the environment minister is now collecting proof in the field. If the team already has enough proof, it will hand it to the police or to the prosecutor to be taken to the court.

"The fire sources are found within the areas of the companies. If the proof is enough we will take it to the court. Therefore, we will continue to coordinate with the Riau Regional Police and Prosecutor Office," Environment Minister Balthasar said.

Deputy III for Damaged Environment Control and Climate Change of the Ministry of Environment Arief Yuwono said that forest fire perpetrators would be charged based on Law No.32/2009 on Protection and Management of the Environment.

"The law has a clause with regard to forest fires which carries a crime sanction," Arief said.

Deputy V of the Ministry of Environment Sudariyono said that based on Law 32/2009, everyone had the obligation to preserve the environment, including land owners.

He said that the law did not say `deliberately or not deliberately`. It suggested that forest fires should not take place. "Owners have the obligation to protect it from fires. They have to be responsible for a fire that takes place, deliberately burned or not," he said.

Article 98, point (I) of Law 32/2009 stipulated that a land fire perpetrator is punishable by a minimal three years or maximal 10 years in jail or a minimum fine of Rp3 billion or maximum fine of Rp10 billion.

If the fire causes the fall of a victim the perpetrator is punishable by a minimum four years or maximum 12 years in jail with a fine of Rp4 billion to Rp12 billion. If it claims a live the punishment will be between 5 and 15 years in jail and a fine of between Rp5 to Rp15 billion.

Yet, Deputy III Arief of the environment ministry said his side was collecting proof, including whether the fires took place due to deliberate burning.

He said that the forest fires could be analyzed whether it had happened due to deliberate burning. "With soil analysis, we can see proof such as the fire has taken place after the perpetrators used kerosene in burning the bushes," said Arief.

Arief said that his side would see two things with regard to the forest fires in Riau, namely whether they were caused by negligence of deliberate acts. "It will be analyzed by our investigators. So, it would be proved whether the forest got fire or deliberately burned," he said.

In the meantime Rahidi of the Riau Environment Service said most of the hotspots detected by the NOAA satellite in the areas of the plantation companies in Riau had been put out. "Most of them have been put out," Rahidi said on Sunday.

Yet, the number of hotspots can just increase any time. After all, winds are still blowing from southwest to North West that could blow haze to Singapore and Malaysia, according to Riau`s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) on Saturday.

"Geographically, Singapore and Malaysia are located in the western direction of Riau Province. So, if the winds are blowing from southwest to northwest, the movement of haze has the potential to shroud the two neighboring countries," Riau`s BMKG analysts Tri Puryanti said on Saturday. (*)

(T.SYS/A/A014/S012) 23-06-2013 14:00:13

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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How we can cool Singapore down - naturally

Straits Times Forum 24 Jun 13;

WHILE Singaporeans suffer the worst haze in years, it might be opportune to draw attention to another environmental problem we face - rising temperatures.

Though the haze may be blamed for higher temperatures in the last few days, other factors have contributed to the warming trend.

One factor is the proportion of built-up space in housing estates.

The urban heat island effect (the observation that cities are warmer than surrounding areas) is well documented, and man-made building materials absorb and radiate more heat than natural surfaces. Yet over the years, more and more green areas and open spaces have been paved or tiled over, while mature trees have often been replaced by young ones.

These paved spaces are much better than natural surfaces at storing heat during the day and radiating it in the evenings.

New suburban shopping malls worsen the problem by venting multiple storeys' worth of air-conditioning heat out into the surroundings.

Besides the discomfort they cause us, rising temperatures also speed up the life cycle of insects, facilitating the spread of diseases like dengue.

We risk negating all our efforts in building a liveable city if we do not take positive steps to cool it down.

Green spaces in housing estates have to be protected and the amount of built-up space per resident kept down.

Agencies such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the National Environment Agency should monitor these trends.

Rayner Teo Yunwei

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'Putting a dollar value on haze' can help Singapore

Cost can be used to press Indonesia, says economics prof Euston Quah
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

ADD up the cost of the haze in terms of medical bills, tourism losses, businesses hit and face-masks bought.

Armed with this bill, Singapore could then go to a third-party country and ask it to exert pressure on Indonesia to reduce the smog-causing forest fires there.

That is the advice of Professor Euston Quah, who pioneered cost-benefit analysis courses at two universities here, and who put the bill of the 1997 haze here at almost US$300 million (S$383 million).

"There is nothing much Singapore can do about cross-border pollution because of sovereignty issues," he said. "But if Singapore has leverage over a third country which has leverage over Indonesia, the (intervention) model will work."

Even if help does not materialise, calculating the haze's cost would help Singapore better decide how much aid to offer Indonesia, and how best to assist sectors here hurt by the haze, he said.

Head of the Department of Economics at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Prof Quah has been putting a dollar sign to the intangible for several decades, to help businesses and organisations make more informed decisions.

He was involved in the Environment Ministry's air pollution studies here, for example, to guide its investments to improve air quality. He has also published ground-breaking studies on smoking costs here, the cost of dengue-related sickness to the economy, as well as the first study on transboundary haze pollution in 2002.

His first major focus, however, was on housewives. "Production that takes place outside - the normal economy - gets counted in the Gross National Product but there is production at home, such as cooking, cleaning and childcare, done by housewives."

Prof Quah went on: "People get the wrong impression that economics is the study of only money, banking, finance. It covers so many areas." For example, all environmental issues are economic issues, he explained.

"Take a piece of forest land. You can leave it as is, convert it to a park or landfill or use it for commercial development. You have to know all of the trade-offs and opportunity costs of each option to make a better decision," he said.

Prof Quah cited a case in Australia in the 1980s. A farmer was trying to sell his land and was offered a price by a commercial developer. "But the Nature Society there found that it was a habitat for a prized creature called the wombat." Instead of the usual collection of signatures, the society asked concerned citizens to put their money where their mouth is.

"It got people and companies all over Australia to pledge money to a trust fund to keep the land as it is. And they managed to collect pledges far exceeding the commercial developer's value," he said.

Such a method may have helped to save local landmarks such as the Bukit Brown Cemetary, reckons Prof Quah.

"The logical choice is that the Environment Ministry sets up an agency or unit to solicit values of people and firms' willingness to pay. I don't see why we can't do it here, since we have an affluent, educated society," he said.

The father of two also applies the rational method at home, for example when he and his wife decided to have children. "Children are a very time-intensive good and they are not cheap goods as well," he said with a laugh.

"I always tell my students, if you sharpen your mind on cost-benefit analysis, you can apply it to everyday life. For example, should I do this course, who should I date and marry, or even if I should get a divorce, buy a car, travel or stay at home."

Even though he has built up cost-benefit analysis courses at both NTU and the National University of Singapore from scratch, Prof Quah does not see himself leaving academia. He has chaired NTU's School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and held other appointments at both universities.

His free time is devoted to his various positions such as president of the Economic Society of Singapore and Singapore Economic Review editor, and advising various government ministries.

And wine. "I love my wines," he said, chuckling. But even there, he cannot resist: "I do study the health benefits, and one of my favourite hobbies is to distribute medical health articles to non-believers. I live and breathe cost-benefit analysis."

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Starting a plantation in Indonesia is easy with money

Zazali Musa in Sumatra The Star 24 Jun 13;

PEKANBARU: It was the third day of our stay here yesterday and finally we were able to do away with our masks and take in some fresh air.

The air quality was a stark contrast from when we first arrived at the Sultan Syarif Kasim II airport on Friday, at about 8.40pm local time, after taking flights from Singapore to Jakarta and then here.

Our eyes were tearing due to the smoky air almost immediately as we got off the plane and walked to a bus at the tarmac.

When I awoke at about 7am the next day, there was not much to view from our hotel room on the seventh floor.

The entire town and surrounding areas were heavily blanketed in the haze.

We headed to the outskirts of Pekanbaru yesterday to find out if it was any different.

We were prepared for the worst as we left the hotel at Jalan Jendral Sudirman at about 10am in a SUV driven by our hired supir (driver) Pak Tarmi.

To use a Hokkien word familiar to our southern neighbours, we were so kiasi (afraid to die) that we wore two masks each instead.

Yes, Singapore's famous traits of kiasu (afraid of losing) and kiasi (afraid to die) have rubbed off on us too.

An hour after passing villages and plantations along the way, we noticed the sky was getting clearer and brighter.

But there were signs of blackened areas in some of the plantations, which Pak Tarmi said could have been places that were burnt a week ago.

“Lihat tu, lahannya bekas dibakar, praktisnya normal di sini, pak (See, the burnt areas there. It is a normal farming practice here),” he said, pointing to the spots.

We then decided to enter the village road at Simpang Durian in the Kampar district.

As Pak Tarmi said, there was smoke emitting from a heap of dried oil palm fronds and palm kernels.

As we drove further into the village, we saw a newly cleared plantation.

There were piles upon piles of drying forest tree trunks which had been felled to make way for the plantation.

Looking for more answers, Pak Tarmi and I decided to stop at the small hut made from bamboo just a few metres away from the newly cleared oil palm plantation.

Pak Rizal, 60, and his son Firdaus, 25, greeted us.

Both were shirtless and in the midst of enjoying their coffee and kretek (clove cigarettes).

I introduced myself as a Malaysian businessman looking for land for cultivation.

“Aduh, Bapak udah terlambat, ini lahan baru aja dibuka kurang lebih satu minggu lepas (Alas, you are late, sir. This plantation was just opened a week ago),” said Pak Rizal.

“Gi mana ya Pak, proses buka lahan di sini?” I asked, putting on my best face as a prospective buyer of plantation land.

Firdaus said the process was fairly easy as long as one had money, adding no permit had been given to the newly cleared plantation yet.

“Semua bisa diatur (Everything can be arranged),'' he said and asked us to give him our contact numbers.

Pak Tarmi gave his mobile number and the father and son promised they would call if there was any land nearby for sale.

As we made our way back to the hotel after a six-hour trip covering 200km to and fro, we had to put on our masks again but only one each this time.

We were back in the thick of the haze.

'Indonesia must ratify haze treaty'
New Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: Environmentalists have renewed their call for Indonesia to sign the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (CETDEM) executive director Anthony Tan said nine Asean nations had signed the agreement in 2002, with the exception of Indonesia, which, ironically, houses the Asean secretariat.

"Asean's secretariat is in Jakarta, and 70 per cent of the yearly haze contributor is Indonesia.

"And yet they are still not participating in order to resolve the problem that has affected the whole region," he told the New Straits Times.

The agreement was the first regional arrangement in the world that obligates participating countries to tackle transboundary haze pollution resulting from land and forest fires.

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

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

The agreement came after the major environmental crisis that hit Southeast Asia in the late 1990s, mainly caused by land clearing via open burning in Indonesia.

Tan said the yearly haze was caused by a "mad rush" to clear land for plantation expansion or town development.

"Unfortunately, burning is still the cheapest form of land clearing in Southeast Asia.

"That is why strict enforcement is important."

Tan said the owners of the land involved in massive open burning in Indonesia must be penalised, regardless of their nationalities.

'Right way of farming' is long-term solution
Instilling such practices in Indonesia will tackle haze problem: PM Lee
Rachel Chang Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

THE long-term solution to the haze problem is to instil the "right way of farming" in Indonesia, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Speaking to Ang Mo Kio residents at a dialogue, he said this would mean that farmers would not resort to burning as a "short cut" to clear land for crop planting.

Singapore has been attempting to nudge the Indonesians towards sustainable practices, such as through a joint project in Jambi which promotes such agricultural practices to farmers and plantation owners.

The pact is up for renewal and PM Lee said that Singapore wants to extend it, and hopes that the Indonesians agree.

But he also noted that the authorities there face challenging obstacles in tackling the root cause of the haze, including the sheer size of the land area which is burning, and corruption.

He pointed out that the area over which forest fires are burning is much bigger than the whole of Singapore. Singapore's small size means the authorities are able to enforce laws easily and quickly.

This is not the case in Indonesia, he said, using the Chinese proverb "shang you dui ce, xia you zheng ce" (Whatever laws are handed down, the people on the ground will find ways around them).

One resident at the dialogue asked PM Lee about the detention last month of Riau governor Rusli Zainal by the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission. He is a suspect in a graft case involving the illegal exploitation of forests by logging companies.

Riau is ground zero of the forest fires producing the haze.

PM Lee said that he had heard the same thing about Mr Rusli, adding: "So these are the real problems in Indonesia."

He struck a sanguine note when another resident lamented that Singapore is "crippled" when it comes to fighting the haze as there is nothing it can do to stop the burning.

"This is our lot in life," replied Mr Lee in Mandarin.

"These are our neighbours. We can't change them. The responsibility for solving this problem is with Indonesia."

Separately, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who heads the haze inter-ministerial task force formed last week, told reporters that Singapore "stands ready to give assistance to Indonesia if asked".

He said that he has asked the Singapore Armed Forces to be on standby: "There is an open offer if they need assets that we have to help them in this firefighting. We are ready to go."

But Singapore respects and recognises Indonesia's sovereignty, and "we can only go if they ask us", he said.

Mr Lee and other ministers, in their efforts to distribute masks to residents around the island yesterday, also highlighted the efforts of the Singapore Armed Forces and People's Association in getting the masks around the island.

Meanwhile, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said Singapore is likely to stick to hosting the 2015 SEA Games in June, rather than move it to a different part of the year for fear that it could be hit by the haze. There is no "perfect window", he said, adding that efforts should be focused on preventing the haze from recurring and preparing the Republic.

At Ang Mo Kio GRC where he is an MP, PM Lee also announced that three blocks in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 had been selected for the Home Improvement Programme which will fix problems in ageing flats such as ceiling leaks.

Additional reporting by Jalelah Abu Baker, Lim Yi Han and May Chen

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Indonesia: Number of Sumatra's fire hot spots increases to 227

Antara 24 Jun 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The number of hot spots from forest and plantation fires across Sumatra increased from 118 to 227 on Sunday.

Of the total, 159 hot spots were detected in Riau Province, a significant increase from 95 hot spots on Sutarday, Warih Lestari, of the local meteorological, climatology, and geophysics agency (BMKG), said here on Monday.

Based on the monitoring by NOAA satellite on Sunday, the 227 hot spots were found in the provinces of Riau (159), West Sumatra (21), South Sumatra (15), North Sumatra (12), Jambi (11), Bengkulu (six), and Aceh (three).

In Riau, the hot spots were detected among other things in Rokan Hulu District (41), Pelalawan (35), Siak (22), Bengkalis (11), Kuantan Singingi (11), Kampar (nine), Rokan Hulu (eight), Indragiri Hulu (eight), Dumai (seven), and Indragiri Hilir (five).

High temperature on Sunday triggered more hot spots in Sumatra, he said.

Riau has lately experienced extreme hot weather with above normal temperature, according to Lestari.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan recently said the government would not tolerate companies burning land and bushes that caused haze to shroud Riau and its surrounding.

"Companies which are proved to have practiced slash-and-burn activities and caused land and forest fires will be acted upon firmly. There will be no compromise," the minister said when attending a function to see off a land and forest fire extinguisher team in Dumai, Riau, on Saturday.

He said that the government was now concentrating on putting out land and forest fires under the coordination of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB). The agency team is composed of members from relevant ministries.


Editor: Ade Marboen

Visibility at Hang Nadim Airport up to 2,000 meters
Antara 23 Jun 13;

Batam, Riau Islands (ANTARA News) - Visibility at Hang Nadim Airport on the industrialized island of Batam went up to 2,000 meters on Sunday afternoon after falling to 700 meters on Friday and Saturday, spokesman of the airport Suwarso said.

"Haze from fires in Sumatra mainland has began to decline, with visibility continuing to increase to 2,000 meters on Sunday afternoon," he said.

No flight schedules at the airport were delayed on Sunday, he said.

"Up till this afternoon everything is alright. No departures and arrivals at the airport have been delayed because of haze," he said.

With the visibility reaching 2,000 meters, the airport is safe for airplanes including wide-bodied aircraft to land, he said.

A number of flights from and to the airport were cancelled from Wednesday to Saturday as visibility was down to 500 meters, he said.

On Saturday, the National Disaster Mitigation Board (BNPB) helped by relevant agencies began to put out fires in a number of places in Riau province.

BNPB chief Syamsul Maarif and Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya inspected the effort to extinguish woodland and forest fires in Bengkalis and Rokan Hilir, Riau, on Saturday.

Maarif said Cassa and Hercules planes owned by the Indonesian Air Force are conducting cloud seeding operations and three helicopters will be deployed to conduct water bombing efforts.

(Reporting by Larno/S012)

Editor: Priyambodo RH

Rain-inducing efforts bring some relief to Riau
Joyce Lim And Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Indonesia Correspondent In Pekanbaru (riau)
Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

DUMAI, the parched city at the heart of the haze, finally got some relief yesterday, as rain fell after cloud-seeding was carried out the day before. The rain lasted for about 30 minutes in the early morning.

"The rain came at 5am at Bukit Kapur in Pelingtung," said Mr Heru Widodo, who heads the weather modification team at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology.

Bukit Kapur is a plantation on the outskirts of Dumai, the coastal city closest to many of the fires causing the haze that has shrouded neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia.

But Indonesians living and working in the heart of Dumai city told The Strait Times yesterday that they were unaware of the rain, as there had not been much change to the weather there.

"It's still very hot and hazy here. The air is still not good. I fell sick today," Miss Yunina Ningsih, 33, a hotel receptionist, told The Straits Times.

She said she was not aware that a state of emergency had been declared in Riau province since last Friday.

"I have only read in the papers that Indonesia caused Singapore to be in an emergency state. Not Riau," she said.

Residents seem to be going on with their lives as usual.

A local farmer, Mr Mulia Manurung, 50, told The Straits Times that he continues to spend long hours working in his field, slashing and burning to clear the land for the next planting.

He said he too was unaware of Riau's state of emergency as he does not read the newspapers or watch television.

Miss Yersi Dania, 13, a waitress who works in a seafood restaurant, said business had increased with the haze. More foreigners and Indonesians living outside Riau province had visited and patronised her restaurant in the past two weeks.

Yesterday, as water-bombing and cloud-seeding were carried out for the second day, officials said people should not be too optimistic, as thin clouds had been forecast for the next 10 days - not the best conditions for cloud-seeding.

First Lieutenant Fajar Gusthana, 29, told The Straits Times before taking off in an air force Hercules C130 plane from the Pekanbaru Air Force base yesterday that the clouds had been too thin and not ideal for cloud-seeding when it was first carried out on Saturday.

His team brought four tonnes of salt onto the plane, but only two tonnes were used as there were few clouds. What makes it harder is that there are no clouds directly above the hot spots.

"This is always the case. Currently, the wind is blowing from west to east and north-east. We will seed the clouds on the western and south-western side of Riau."

"Hopefully, those clouds will be blown to the east and north-east, above the hot spots," Mr Heru said during a media conference at the Pekanbaru Air Force base yesterday.

Colonel Andyawan M.P., the base commander, said the operation over the weekend was aimed at inducing rain in the Bengkalis and Pelalawan regencies, where the hot spots are concentrated.

"If there is rain, like this morning in Dumai, it will reduce haze, and with sunlight, more clouds will be formed. And we can continue with the cloud-seeding," said Col Andyawan.

Two helicopters were used for water-bombing over the weekend.

Col Andyawan said the operation could not be carried out for more than five hours a day, but he is confident of extinguishing forest fires on several hundred square metres of land.

Cloud-seeding and water-bombing operations are likely to continue, as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered the National Disaster Management Agency to take over fire extinguishing efforts in Riau.

Local firefighters had earlier struggled to put out the fires in the plantations.

Second day of cloud-seeding
Straits Times 24 Jun 14;

A MILITARY transport plane conducted cloud-seeding in Riau yesterday for the second day running, after a state of emergency was declared in the province.

The operation, which lasted 1 hour 40 minutes, involved the plane flying to about 10,000 feet before salt powder was scattered into the clouds, said Mr Heru Widodo, the head of the Weather Modification team at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology.

Salt is a common substance used to induce rain.

"As the current clouds are thin, we are unable to fly right into it," Mr Heru told The Straits Times. "We will risk breaking up the clouds if we do that."

Two helicopters are also being used for water- bombing at the hot spots, said Lieutenant-Colonel Sukirman Sulaiman.

The helicopters collect water using a pail from nearby rivers, transport the water to the hot spots and pour it out over the scorched lands. Very often fires are still trapped under the peatlands and are likely to resurface.


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Malaysia: Two districts under ‘haze emergency’

The Star 24 Jun 13;

PETALING JAYA: The Muar and Ledang districts in Johor are now under a “haze emergency” after the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings surged over 700 in these areas.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the emergency status would remain until further notice.

“However, it must be clarified that this does not involve a curfew and there will not be any change to the existing system of the ruling state and federal governments.

“All related ministries and agencies at the federal, state and district levels must plan and take action to ensure the safety and health of the public,” the Prime Minister said yesterday.

He urged the people to abide by the emergency guidelines issued by the National Security Council (NSC).

Under the guidelines, aimed at ensuring public safety and health, federal, state and district level natural disaster, management committees must advise the closure of schools and childcare centres, government and private sector offices and other work premises, including factories, plantations, construction sites, quarries and earthwork sites.

However, services related to water, electricity, public health, safety, radio and telecommunication, transport and finances are exempt.

But even as the haze takes its toll on the country, there are still thoughtless Malaysians who compound the problem by continuing with open burning.

API readings between 51 and 100 are considered “moderate”, 101 to 200 as “unhealthy” and 201 to 300 “very unhealthy”.

Any reading above 300 is “hazardous” while readings above 500 come under “emergency”.

Malaysia's worst reported case of haze was in 1997 when the API reading in Kuching spiked to 839, or 539 higher that the “hazardous” level of 300, prompting the Government to issue a 10-day haze emergency.

In the peninsula, an emergency had been declared in Kuala Selangor and Port Klang in 2005 when the API readings at these places showed more than 500.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry said a regional map issued by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre showed thick smog moving from Riau in Sumatra towards the central and south-west regions of the peninsula.

Satellite image reports from the ASMC also showed that the number of hot spots detected in Sumatra had almost doubled from 64 on Friday to 118 on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Malaysia Airports Bhd operations senior general manager Datuk Azmi Murad said two Malaysia Airlines flights from Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan were cancelled due to the haze, adding that the rest of operations was normal and the situation was being monitored.

He said the flight at 6.30pm was cancelled because visibility in Kuantan was only 400m, while the other flight, scheduled for 10.10pm was moved to this morning.

Haze: Impact on economy minimal, say experts
The Star 24 Jun 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: The economy could suffer due to the haze currently polluting some parts of the country, says an economist.

The problem, however, would not be serious enough to affect the country's gross domestic product (GDP), said RAM Hold- ings Group chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng.

He said tourism, leisure and restaurant businesses stood to lose the most at this point.

“Malaysians only need to worry if the haze grows to hazardous levels over the next few weeks or months,” he said.

Dr Yeah said the losses in the current haze situation could be in the millions of ringgit but “not hundreds of millions”.

He also pointed out that reduced sunshine could have negative effects on plantations, while critical haze levels could delay construction projects.

“The concern now is that if no immediate action is taken, the situation will get worse,” he added.

Ambank Group chief economist Anthony Dass said that although work productivity and consumer spending would take a hit due to the haze, the economic impact was “minimal and negligible”.

He added that the haze situation could be considered tolerable now as many people could still be seen going about their daily activities.

“However, if the haze worsens and the Government takes drastic precautionary measures like asking people not to go outdoors, we may see a more serious impact to our daily life,” he added.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) deputy president John Tan said a prolonged haze would impact in-bound tourism.

“If the haze worsens, foreign tourists will return to spread word about the situation here and this will affect our tourism industry,” he added.

On the other hand, he believes more Malaysians would travel overseas to escape the haze.

Not enough cloud to induce rain
The Star 24 Jun 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: There isn't enough cloud to induce rain, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim.

Shahidan said although authorities were prepared to carry out cloud seeding, there was practically “no cloud to seed” as moisture in the atmosphere was being drawn to the Tropical Storm Bebinca that is hitting south China.

“The tropical storm is expected to make landfall today. When this happens, the situation is expected to change and we will see if the process can be carried out then,” he said.

The minister said when possible, cloud-seeding would be carried out in Muar and Ledang where a state of emergency has been declared as the Air Pollutant Index hit 750.

Meteorological Department director-general Che Gayah Ismail said the hazy condition was expected to see a slight improvement once the tropical storm makes landfall as it would weaken the south-westerly wind and “slow down the import of haze”.

Shahidan said the haze emergency in Muar and Ledang was administrative in nature and done so that resources from all ministries and agencies involved in managing haze would draw up and implement necessary measures to protect the public's safety and health.

Sarawak faced the worst in 1997
New Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

SHOCKING LEVEL: Sixteen years ago, the state had the highest API reading of 860

KUALA LUMPUR: THE API readings in Muar and Ledang in Johor yesterday reached shocking levels of 750 in terms of API readings.

The incident prompted the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to declare an emergency in the two districts.

Surprisingly, the 750 API reading is not the highest air pollutant index ever recorded in Malaysia as yesterday was not the first time Malaysia has declared a haze-related emergency situation.

In 1997, Sarawak recorded a startling 860 API that caused a two-week state of emergency for the Borneo state.

The transboundary air pollutant disaster was known as the 1997 South East Asian Haze and was caused by fires in Kalimantan (Indonesian) territory in the southern part of Borneo island.

The area where the fire took place was estimated to be the size of four million football pitches and was visible even from space.

The state of emergency, a move taken by then National Disaster Management Relief Committee chairman Datuk Mohamed Rahmat, had closed schools, businesses and non-essential government offices.

Mohamed Rahmat had issued a statement that the government was considering mass-evacuation for Sarawakians who were affected by the haze.

Sarawakians were told to stay indoors, preferably in air-conditioned rooms.

The air quality reached such a hazardous level that in just six days, 10,000 people sought treatment at government clinics for haze-related illnesses in Sarawak.

Sarawak's capital Kuching also reported a stream of patients suffering from respiratory problems.

The state of emergency imposed in Sarawak also prompted the city's airport to shut for a week and left 1,500 passengers stranded.

Officials in the state had also lowered their estimates for tourist arrivals because of the haze problem.

The incident in 1997 also witnessed the United States, Britain, Germany and Denmark issuing travel advisories warning their citizens against travelling to countries affected by the haze.

Despite this, shops and restaurants remained open as usual.

The total cost of the damage caused by the haze to Malaysia was estimated at RM802 million for the period between August and October 1997.

The damage caused by the haze affected the gross domestic product by an estimated 0.30 per cent.

Then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the then head of Malaysian fire and rescue department came up with a plan to send Malaysian firefighters to Indonesia to help put out the fire in Operation Haze -- the biggest cross border fire-fighting mission in history.

The operation lasted for 25 days. About 10 million hectares of forest cover was destroyed.

A week from the emergency declaration in Sarawak, rain finally fell in Kuching, marking the end of the hazardous smoke.

Residents were told to seek shelter because the rain contained dangerous level of pollutants.

Malaysia declares emergency as Indonesia smoke pollution thickens
Siva Sithraputhran PlanetArk 24 Jun 13;

Malaysia declares emergency as Indonesia smoke pollution thickens Photo: Beawiharta
Villagers sit on their motorcycles as they get ready to leave their homes as a fire burns a palm oil plantation in the Bangko Pusako district in Rokan Hilir, in Indonesia's Riau province June 22, 2013.
Photo: Beawiharta

Malaysia declared a state of emergency in two parts of the southern state of Johor on Sunday, as smoke from land-clearing fires in Indonesia pushed air pollution above the level considered hazardous.

The illegal burning of forests and other land on Indonesia's Sumatra island, to the west of peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, to clear space for palm oil plantations is a chronic problem during the June-September dry season.

The "haze" caused by fires in Riau province on Sumatra has also shrouded neighboring Singapore but air quality in the city state improved over the weekend after reaching hazardous levels.

"Prime Minister Najib Razak has agreed to declare emergency status in Muar and Ledang with immediate effect," Malaysian Natural Resources and Environment Minister G. Palanivel said in a Facebook post.

Palanivel said the air pollution index in the two districts had exceeded 750. A reading above 300 indicates that air pollution is hazardous.

Domestic media quoted the minister as saying cloud seeding would be carried out in the affected areas.

All 211 schools in the area are to be closed until further notice, residents have been advised to stay indoors and face masks have been distributed, Khaled Nordin, chief minister of the state, said, also via posts on Facebook.

Schools have been ordered shut in the neighboring state of Malacca, where pollution has also reached hazardous levels. Schools were also ordered to close in one district in Pahang state.

All domestic airports managed by Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) are operating as usual despite the haze, the national news agency quoted the airport operator as saying.

The current visibility level of 1 km was still safe, but runways would have to close if visibility fell under 300 m, it quoted Malaysian airports official Azmi Murad as saying.

Indonesian officials have deflected blame by suggesting companies based in Malaysia and Singapore may be partly responsible. Malaysia-listed Sime Darby and Singapore's Wilmar Group both deny the charge.

(Reporting by Siva Sithraputhran; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Emergency declared in 2 Johor districts
Malaysia closes schools in several states, haze reaches south Thailand
Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta And Teo Cheng Wee Regional Correspondent In Muar (johor)
Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

MALAYSIA declared emergency status in two Johor districts yesterday and is closing schools in several states today, as fires continued to spread in Sumatra and the haze reached parts of southern Thailand.

The Malaysian government placed the districts of Ledang and Muar under emergency status, where the pollution index spiked to 746 at 7am yesterday, near the country's historic highs and more than double standard hazardous levels.

The pollution in Malaysia and in Singapore this year from the seasonal forest fires in Indonesia is the worst on record.

Yesterday, days after several of his ministers deflected criticisms, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged action.

"Indonesia will thoroughly resolve the forest fires in Riau and will take firm action against the foreign-owned companies involved," he said on his Twitter account and Cabinet website.

Both Kuala Lumpur and Singapore have been urging Indonesia to tackle the source of the issue - deliberate burning to clear land linked to major pulp and palm oil companies.

The President's comments came as Indonesian authorities said they have carried out checks on two of eight Malaysian-owned companies under investigation for burning - PT Lagam Inti Hibrida in Pelalawan and PT Bumi Reksa Sejati in Indragiri Hilir - but did not say what they found.

In Muar, all schools will be closed, and workplaces have been advised to close. Essential services will remain open. Schools have also been declared closed in Malacca, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

"People are still allowed to go about with their normal routines but for their own good, they should try and stay inside as much as possible and wear masks," said Muar district officer Abdul Rahman Muhamed Dewan.

As the wind continues to blow the bulk of the haze to Malaysia, clearer skies are expected over the next few days in Singapore.

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said he would seek clarification on the "contradictory signals" from the Indonesian government on whether Singapore- linked companies are being investigated for burning.

In Dumai, the city in Riau at the heart of the haze, rain fell for about 30 minutes yesterday morning. But officials said clouds are too thin to yield much rain.

The number of fires on Sumatra jumped from 64 on Friday to 227 at 5pm yesterday.

The Bangkok Post reported that the haze had also reached southern Thailand.

Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Minister G. Palanivel will be in Jakarta on Wednesday to meet his counterpart.

Malaysia and Singapore's readings of the haze cover the same five pollutants but differ on methods. Thus, the Malaysian API and the Singapore PSI are the same up to the level of 50. Beyond that, the maximum reading of 500 on PSI comes up to 577 on API.

By 4pm yesterday, the API 746 level of haze had cleared up considerably in Muar, but had taken a toll on businesses.

"Sunday is supposed to be the busiest day, but it is all quiet here," said wanton noodle seller Fong Kin Hwee, 48.

In Muar, it was 'like ash hitting you in the face'
Air relatively clear last evening, but residents tell of how bad it had been
Teo Cheng Wee Regional Correspondent, in Muar (Johor)
Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

HAVING been in Kuala Lumpur since the haze hit the region last week, I was spared the worst of the haze.

As I headed out on my 2 1/2-hour car journey to Muar yesterday, armed with two bottles of water and one surgical mask, I did not feel ready to handle a town with an air pollutant index (API) of 300, much less 746.

Seriously, 746? That shocking figure set off a flurry of text messages from my Malaysian friends in the morning. Their country has not seen these levels of haze since 1997. Finally, the haze - which has been choking the region this past week - has truly hit home.

As I travelled south on the highway, the signs were not good. Visibility - I could only see about 500m ahead - was significantly reduced in Selangor and Negeri Sembilan. As I neared Malacca, I could smell the acrid air inside the car, which set off a throbbing headache.

But then, a surprise. Relatively clear air greeted me when I reached Muar, a coastal town in northern Johor known for its juicy otak. It was just after 4pm and while the sky was still overcast, the smell of haze was faint.

"You should have been here yesterday. Our mouths were constantly dry and you can almost feel like the ash is hitting you in the face," said electrical repair shop owner Ng Chuen Kay, 53.

Part-time cleaner Koh Geok Choo, 50, said the haze burnt her eyes and made her heart beat faster when she rode her motorcycle around town. "This is definitely the worst haze Muar has ever had," she said.

Since the API readings here show a 24-hour average, Muar's reading at 5pm yesterday was still 507, though the air had cleared somewhat when I got there.

Supermarket assistant Afiqah Azhar, 19, said this was the clearest she has seen Muar in the last four days. The day before, we could not even see that blue building, she told me, pointing to a shophouse about 200m away.

"I hope this haze stays away," said Ms Afiqah. "Our business has dropped by at least 60 per cent because everyone stays home."

Earlier in the day, the government declared emergency status for Muar and the nearby town of Ledang.

Schools and government offices will be closed today.

As I headed back towards the capital, I had an idea of where the haze had gone. In the evening, the government announced that it was shutting schools in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur due to the worsening haze. Malaysia's capital city, which had escaped the haze for the past week, was getting its turn. Well, at least I have my mask ready now.

Read more!

Singapore to get respite from the haze for a few days

Change in wind direction sends the worst of the pollution to Malaysia
Feng Zengkun Environment Correspondent Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE can expect to see clearer skies and healthier air for the next few days than it did last week, while Malaysia bears the brunt of the haze, as the wind is projected to blow the bulk of it there.

Weather services director Patricia Ee at Meteorological Service Singapore said air quality improved here yesterday because low-level winds over the Republic changed direction from southwesterly to southerly, and these conditions are expected to persist for the next few days.

Thus, air quality here is expected to remain "moderate" today, with the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) projected to be in the 51-100 range.

Even so, because the levels of small, toxic particles called PM2.5 are still quite high, the Government is sticking to a stricter health advisory.

Thus, pregnant women, the elderly and children are still advised to curtail outdoor activities that last several hours, while those with chronic lung and heart diseases should avoid all outdoor activities if possible.

Ms Ee said "very unhealthy" air was initially forecast for yesterday, but the projection had to be revised when the change in wind direction led to cleaner air.

She said Singapore is so small that even minor shifts in wind direction will result in the haze being blown over to Malaysia.

Ministers and experts here warned that Singapore was not out of the woods yet.

Speaking to reporters earlier yesterday, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin noted that Indonesia was only at the start of its dry season.

"The season extends all the way to September, and that's a few more months."

Nanyang Technological University's Professor Euston Quah, who has published groundbreaking studies on air pollution and transboundary haze, said: "Whenever you have an intense dry season, there is a fear that nature itself could spark a fire."

Dr Benjamin Grandey from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology was sceptical about Indonesia's attempt to artificially create rain.

"Deep convective clouds and clouds in general are very complicated. I do not believe cloud-seeding can be used with any degree of skill to influence the weather in the way people want."

Prolonged haze 'may hit Singapore's competitiveness'
Aaron Low Assistant Money Editor Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

THE haze would "almost certainly" have an impact on Singapore's economy, especially on the tourism industry here, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

One small but clear example of this already happening is a nuclear energy forum that was to be held on Tuesday, but has since been cancelled because of the haze, he said.

This after three prominent American speakers, all in their 80s, decided that it was better to cancel the trip.

The three were former Senator Sam Nunn, former Defence Secretary William Perry, and former Secretary of State George Shultz.

"There would be an impact to the image of Singapore. Because they think of Singapore now, during this period, many people will associate it with the haze. One small illustration is this cancellation," said Mr Shanmugam, at the sidelines of a community event yesterday.

He added that the tourism industry is likely to be hit and that would have other secondary effects on the rest of the economy.

Other business leaders and analysts agreed, noting that a prolonged period of haze could put Singapore's reputation as a leading international centre for business and talent at risk.

The Singapore Business Federation's chief operating officer, Mr Victor Tay, said that one of Singapore's key competitive strengths has always been the clean environment but this has come under threat with the haze.

" Companies move their regional headquarters here because their senior managers like the place. This prolonged haze exposure is certainly putting the country's reputation at risk," said Mr Tay.

The air quality deteriorated significantly last week, with the PSI level hitting 401, the highest ever in Singapore. But it improved over the weekend, after reports showed that Indonesia was water-bombing the hot spots.

The hit to Singapore's reputation could be worse if the haze worsens every year without a permanent solution to fix the problem, said Mr See Hong Pek, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"If the haze is likely to continue worsening year after year without affirmative action, Singapore's reputation will be badly damaged," he added.

Surveys conducted by research outfits such as the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) looks at the country's environment when assessing its overall competitiveness.

The EIU projected earlier this month - before the onset of haze - that Singapore is expected to retain its position as the most competitive city in Asia in 2025, due to the Republic's top ranking in the environment and natural hazards category.

But Kelly Services country general manager Mark Hall said that Singapore will still retain its ability to attract talent.

"In Beijing, the air quality year-round is bad. But people still move there to live and work. Singapore, in comparison, is still a highly liveable city."

Read more!

PM Lee urges Singaporeans to prepare for prolonged 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.

His comments came despite the slightly clearer skies on Sunday, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hovering in the moderate range for most of the afternoon.

"Today with the masks and the blue skies, we (can) relax a bit. Tomorrow it may come back again… because the burning is continuing. There is no rain, it's dry weather, the winds are blowing from Sumatra to Singapore.

"We must psychologically be prepared to see this come, go, get a bit worse, get a bit better but I think this is a problem which is going to last a few weeks, maybe a couple of months until the start of the rainy season which may be September/October."

The prime minister also added that Singapore is very serious about the haze problem and that Indonesia understands this.

"It is affecting us and we want the problem to be solved. Indonesia is a big country and the government doesn't reach all parts of the country.

"In the short term, we have to get the Indonesians to try and put out the fires and to stop people from starting more fires... In the long term, they have to have the right way of farming and cultivating so that you don't have farmers burning like this all the time."

When asked if there were differences between the current haze problem and the SARS episode ten years ago, the prime minister said: "There are some interesting differences. The first thing is SARS can kill you, if you get sick it’s a very serious matter. The haze, if you are ill, can make your illness worse for most people. The haze is an inconvenience but life can carry on.

"Secondly, SARS is infectious… the haze is not infectious. Also with haze we are not talking about something so poisonous that you must avoid contact."

Speaking at a townhall meeting, 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.

Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said: "I understand the clamour for people saying we should stop work. We do that when particular incidents happen, when we need to freeze. But we need to also look at things in context. This particular situation is serious but it is not SARS, it's not even dengue where fatalities can happen. This is something for those with vulnerabilities and is being aggravated by the haze conditions.

"If you are a crane operator and you are hoisting up heavy loads and visibility is bad, I would say you would stop until visibility improves, when you sense it is safe to do it. That applies when there is haze or no haze."

The prime minister also emphasised that Singaporeans must avoid speculation and clarify rumours.

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

Mr Lee also urged Singaporeans to help their neighbours, especially older Singaporeans and young children.

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

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

- CNA/fa/jc

Govt prepared should haze soar beyond hazardous levels: Ng Eng Hen
Kimberly Spykerman Channel NewsAsia 23 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The government is prepared should haze readings soar far beyond the level considered hazardous, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Sunday.

Dr Ng is also Chairman of the Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee.

The minister’s comments came as Malaysia declared a state of emergency in parts of Johor, where the Air Pollution Index surged past 750 early Sunday morning.

He said: "If a situation arises like in Muar where the PSI equivalent is over 700, nearly 800, we may have to close certain sectors. We will obviously consider what we need to do. And if we need to continue essential services, we have the ability to mobilise assets and personnel to make sure at least essential services continue. So I would say to Singaporeans not to worry."

Dr Ng also added that the supply for N95 masks has stabilised.

More than four million masks were pushed out to residents and retailers over the weekend; one million were distributed to residents through the SAF and People's Association, while more than three million were distributed to retailers.

The minister also urged Singaporeans not to panic buy or hoard masks.

"There's no shortage... prices have actually stabilised and come down… All in all, I would say over the weekend that I'm quite satisfied with the progress,” said the minister.

Dr Ng said that although the haze situation has improved, there is still a need to be prepared and that the government is tightening its plans and examining the various sectors to ensure Singaporeans can get on with their lives.

He said: "We were fortunate this weekend, the winds changed and went up north… But you know the winds can change back and come down south and I think we have to prepare for that. We don't know how long the haze will be with us. We certainly hope it won't, but let's prepare for it so I think it's wise for us to literally make hay while the sun shines."

- CNA/jc

Don’t profit from haze: Balakrishnan
Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 23 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan has urged retailers not to take advantage of the haze situation to profit from it.

Prices of N95 masks have shot up in the past few days as Singaporeans scramble to get hold of them.

However Dr Balakrishnan has asked retailers not to take advantage of the circumstances.

He said: "Remember that how we behave in a crisis - this is what people will remember. This is the character of the company, the character of the retailer, and people will remember. And when times revert back to normal I'm sure our actions will reflect that.

"This is the time for us to do the right thing, to be cohesive, to be collectively responsible for each other. Not a time to profit, not a time to spread rumours, not a time to take advantage of people's fears. I would make that plea very sincerely and as strongly as possible."

Separately, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore leaders have been in contact with their Indonesian counterparts, who have been providing daily reports. He said he was glad to see that the tempo of action on the ground has been stepped up.

However he added that while he is glad to see this, action needs to be sustained over a considerable period of time. Dr Balakrishnan urged his Indonesian counterparts to keep up the work.

He also said that it was a "promising start" that eight companies have been identified by the Indonesian government.

"What I would like to see is for them to go on to the next stage which is to complete their investigations and then hopefully to even prosecute these companies because we need to send a very strong signal that this kind of irresponsible environmental degradation is not acceptable. So I hope they will go on and take the next step."

Dr Balakrishnan noted that while his Indonesian counterpart had told him no Singaporean companies were among the eight, it does not make a difference to him.

"I just want those companies named, if there's sufficient evidence I want them prosecuted. And on our side, if there's any action that we can take within the framework of our current laws, we would do so."

He also reiterated that Singapore is reviewing its laws and discussing with the Attorney-General's Chambers whether any changes need to be made to current legislation so that action can be taken against companies that cause trans-boundary haze.

- CNA/jc

Singapore getting "conflicting signals" from Indonesia
S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 23 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Law and Foreign Affairs Minister, K Shanmugam said Singapore is getting contradictory signals from Indonesia about the issue of local companies involved in causing the haze fires in Sumatra.

The minister noted that Indonesian officials had said there were no companies with Singapore linkages involved.

However publicly, they have said something else, and hence there is a need to clarify.

Mr Shanmugam said Singapore needs a clear clarification and statement from Indonesia together with evidence because the companies which have been named have all denied involvement.

Mr Shanmugam added: "They say they are prepared to take people down to their plantations so who do we believe? And before we can take any action, there has to be evidence and Indonesia is best placed to give us the evidence and we have to ask them for it. We will ask them for it and give it to us as quickly as possible."

Mr Shanmugam also spoke about the impact of the haze on the economy.

He revealed that a major conference on the nuclear threat initiative on June 25, which was to be attended by three very prominent Americans, has been cancelled. The three speakers, all in their eighties, decided to cancel their trip.

Mr Shanmugam said Singapore's tourist industry and the people in the tourist industry will be feeling the impact.

It will also affect other aspects of the economy too very quickly.

- CNA/fa/jc

How Govt will act if haze rises to Muar levels
Ashley Chia Today Online 24 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — The Government is looking at ways to ensure minimal disruption to essential services should the haze crisis escalate further.

Referring to the situation in Muar, Johor — where Malaysia’s air pollutant index reached 746 at 7am yesterday and forced the government to declare emergency status in the town — Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who chairs the Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee, said the Government was “examining sector by sector how to make sure that Singaporeans can get on with their lives”. He said he will elaborate on this when he meets the media today.

He added: “If a situation arises like in Muar ... we may have to close certain sectors, we may have to obviously consider what we need to do and if we need to continue essential services. We have the ability to mobilise assets and personnel to make sure that at least the essential services continue.”

Dr Ng was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a visit to the Care Corner Seniors Activity Centre (CCSAC) at Block 62B in Toa Payoh, where he distributed masks to some 90 elderly residents.

He said: “We were fortunate this weekend, the winds changed ... but you know any time the winds can change back and come down south, and I think we have to prepare for that. We don’t know how long the haze will be with us. We certainly hope it won’t but let’s prepare for it.”

On the distribution of N95 masks, Dr Ng said that four million — about half of the Ministry of Health’s nine million stockpile — have been supplied to retailers and low-income households. Of these, one million are currently being distributed to 220,000 low-income households — an exercise that will be completed over the next few days.

The remaining three million masks have been supplied to retailers. Dr Ng noted that, as a result, retail prices have “stabilised and, in fact, come down”. “There is no shortage of masks now available. There is no need to panic-buy and no need to hog,” he said.

Govt will act if bosses disregard workers' health
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

EMPLOYERS who flout the Government's health advisories for the haze could be penalised, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin warned yesterday.

"If employers do not follow the advisory and are wantonly disregarding the safety and health of their workers, action will be taken. Our inspectors will go out to inspect and we will follow up on feedback provided," he said.

Speaking to reporters at Chai Chee where grassroots organisations were distributing face masks to residents, Mr Tan said some irresponsible actions include expecting crane operators to hoist heavy loads when visibility is bad.

"If the conditions are such that outdoor workers are expected to work with masks, we expect that to be adhered to. If there are circumstances where they are not, that's something we need to follow up on with the companies," he added.

Mr Tan also spelt out avenues of help for employees who feel their health is being threatened: "We encourage workers to take it up with the unions, their supervisors, with management.

"If they can't find a solution or they are worried or afraid, call us and that's something we'll look into and address as best we can."

Mr Tan added that the Manpower Ministry is working with the Ministry of Health to make sure companies have enough face masks for their employees.

"Those who need them can call in and we will make the arrangements and push it out to them," he said.

Asked whether the Manpower Ministry would consider stopping work for specific groups such as outdoor construction workers when the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index crosses a threshold, Mr Tan reiterated that the Government is basing its health advice on the 24-hour forecast.

"I know that when we see the PSI spike and the haze is particularly thick we tend to get panicky, and that's perfectly understandable... but it's the cumulative effect (of) exposure over the course of a day that has the real impact," he said.

That being said, firms also need to be flexible. "Employers do remain responsible to exercise their discretion and adjust their work practices based on the prevailing circumstances," he said.

Workers can call the Manpower Ministry's call centre on 6438-5122, and if there are significant safety concerns on outdoor work during the haze situation, they can call the ministry's safety hotline on 6317-1111 or e-mail

Minister to seek clarification on Singapore firms
Jalelah Abu Baker & Feng Zengkun Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

FOREIGN Minister K. Shanmugam said he will ask for a clarification on the “contradictory signals” from the Indonesian government regarding the list of Singapore-linked companies which apparently use fire to clear land.

He also intends to ask the authorities there to provide evidence to Singapore as soon as possible.

This comes after an Indonesian presidential aide said last Friday that two firms with links to Singapore - Jakarta-based Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (Smart) and Asia Pacific Resources International (April) - were named as having plantations within the area where hot spots are.

But Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has also said that when he met his counterpart Balthasar Kambuaya on the same day, he was told by the Indonesian Environment Minister that none of the eight companies identified by the Indonesian authorities was Singaporean.

"We need clear clarification and a clear statement from Indonesia together with evidence, because the companies which have been named all denied any involvement," said Mr Shanmugam yesterday, before giving out masks to residents of studio flats in Yishun.

"They said they are prepared to take people down to their plantations. So who do we believe? And before we can take any action there's got to be evidence, and Indonesia is best placed to give us the evidence."

Earlier, Mr Shanmugam, who also holds the law portfolio, had pointed out that "serious" issues of jurisdiction and international law need to be considered, and 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.

Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan confirmed this when he told reporters: "We are discussing with the Attorney-General's Chambers whether we may need to make some changes to our own legislation so we can take action against companies who cause trans-boundary haze."

Meanwhile, an article on Indonesia news site quoted the country's Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan as saying that there has so far not been any strong evidence that two paper companies - April, which is headquartered here, and Asia Pulp and Paper, which is supplied by Smart - were responsible for burning forests in Riau.

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Malaysia: Wild elephants causing villagers sleepless nights

New Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

JERANTUT: Villager Ishak Mukim Mat Ali could only watch in disbelief as a herd of elephants raided and destroyed his banana plantation in front of his house in Kampung Som here recently.

The 76-year-old was earlier awakened at 1am by the sound of something stirring in his smallholding, followed by sounds of falling trees.

When Ishak grabbed a piece of wood and opened the front door to inspect the source of the noise, he was shocked to find the pachyderms rampaging through the fruit trees and vegetable plantation which were 30m from his house.

"I could only watch helplessly as the mammals destroyed the crops.

"I think there were 12 elephants and there was also calves among them.

"After eating the crops, the group left 20 minutes later.

"Luckily, they headed back into the jungle and did not enter my house compound."

He said the elephants had become bolder and had damaged the fences around the smallholding.

He said the presence of the herd proved to be a serious problem for the residents as, previously, the animals attacked the farms, but now, they were roaming around the area.

"This is scary.

"How can the villagers sleep knowing that the elephants are eating the bananas and other crops in the smallholding just outside their homes?

"Previously, the herd of rogue elephants had destroyed several hectares of crops comprising banana, rubber trees and oil palms in the village."

Kampung Som Village Security and Development Committee chairman Abdul Rasid Abdullah Satar said the elephant attacks in the village, which has 400 residents, started in April 2009 and they would roam the neighbourhood between midnight and early hours of the morning.

He said the elephants did not only destroy the crops but also entered the Muslim burial ground in the village and damaged the tombstones.

"The elephants have knocked over and crushed dozens of tombstones, resulting in them cracking into pieces. There are also huge piles of elephant dung in the cemetery.

"The villagers are experiencing sleepless nights and I hope this nightmare will end soon."

Jerantut member of parliament Ahmad Nazlan Idris, who visited the village recently, said he had alerted the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) and it was finding a solution to end the villagers' woes.

"I am also negotiating with agencies to channel aid for the villagers, whose crops were destroyed by the elephants."

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Malaysia: Hardly any groupers or lobsters around off Labuan

Muguntan Vanar The Star 24 Jun 13;

Underwater assessment: A diver recording data during the coral reef survey off labuan. Underwater assessment: A diver recording data during the coral reef survey off labuan.

KOTA KINABALU: The coral reefs in Labuan are healthy but there are concerns over the depletion of commercially valuable species like groupers and lobsters.

This is based on a survey off Labuan conducted for the first time by Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) which found that at least 50% were live corals at the sites that were surveyed earlier this month.

RCM programme manager Alvin Chelliah said that the live coral coverage was very good as they noticed a high diversity of coral species and marine organisms.

However, he said they were concerned about a lack of commercially valuable species.

“The Reef Check survey is based on identifying indicator species on the reefs. For example, we look for common reef fish like groupers, which are highly sought after for consumption.

“Throughout our survey, we only recorded one grouper over the size of 30cm or one adult grouper,” Chelliah said, adding that they only managed to record the presence of one lobster during the survey conducted jointly with the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia.

It was conducted as a satellite event under the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry's Coral Triangle Day commemoration.

Chelliah said they believed that fishing activities in the survey sites might be the cause as the coral reefs were in a healthy state.

RCM general manager Julian Hyde also expressed concern that fishing was being carried out within the one nautical mile of the Labuan Marine Park which was gazetted in 1994.

He said the RCM would continue to monitor the situation by surveying Labuan's reefs annually.

“It is only by comparing the data from year to year that the success rate of management efforts can be measured.

“Hopefully, we will record more numbers of commercially valuable species in next year's survey,” he said, adding that they would work with Marine Park officials to ensure fishing was strictly prohibited.

Labuan is part of the Coral Triangle Initiative under the multi-lateral partnership between the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste to safeguard the region's marine and coastal biological resources.

The Coral Triangle Initiative seeks to address poverty reduction through economic development, food security, sustainable livelihoods for coastal communities, as well as biodiversity conservation through the protection of species, habitats and ecosystems.

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Philippines: Future of whale shark tours under scrutiny

Cebu Daily News 24 Jun 13;

Should the whale shark tours in Oslob town be scrapped permanently to avoid harming the marine creatures?

Any recommendation to do so would have to factor in the impact it would create on the livelihood of Oslob fisherfolk and residents, incoming Rep. Wilfredo Caminero of Cebu’s 2nd district said.

If it continues, the Italy-based non-profit organization Phsyalus said Oslob town should at least strictly enforce the “no touching” policy on tourists if they cannot stop them from feeding the whale sharks.

Caminero said thousands of Oslob locals who directly benefit from the whale shark tours will be affected specifically the fisherfolk who bring the tourists close to the whale sharks.

He said resorts and shops that service the foreign and local tourists will also suffer from the cancellation of the whale shark tours.

“A lot of factors should be considered before reaching a decision on that matter. Are there any environmental laws violated?,” Caminero said.

While saying he is against the cancellation of the whale shark tours, Caminero said he will abide by the decision of the Regional Development Council (RDC).

Phsyalus said their five-month study on the effects of the human activities on the whale sharks in Oslob town showed that the creatures sustained wounds caused by contact with propellers on the boats used by the tourists who feed them.

The whale sharks abound in Tan-awan Oslob, where they are fed with krill locally known as uyap by registered boatmen in the town.

In their count, about 246 tourists visit Tan-awan on weekdays and 643 tourists on weekends.

While a local ordinance prohibits tourists from touching or getting close to the whale shark, Physalus recorded 1832 ‘active touches’ of the whale sharks equating to 29 touches per hour.

“The feeders have also been observed to occasionally stroke the sharks and push them away in an attempt to discourage the shark and communicate to the animal the non-intention to feed,” the study reads.

About 89 percent were initiated by the feeders that touch the mouth of the whale sharks. “The stress related to disturbance can be high enough to displace the shark from the area,” Phsyalus said.

It said frequent human contact can have a detrimental effect on the whale shark population by eliminating important feeding areas or migration corridors.

As of July 31, Physalus identified 62 individual whale sharks measuring from three meters to seven meters. Most of them are juvenile sharks.

“We strongly believe that proper information and education are the foundation of environmental conservation, and this is the reason why this report is open to the public,” said Alessandro Ponzo, president of the Italian-based Physalus.

“Physalus understands the importance of tourism as a source of livelihood for the local community, but to make it a real long-term alternative and to improve the welfare of the community it has to be done in a sustainable way,” he said. /Marian Z. Codilla and Peter L. Romanillos

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Conservation hell Vietnam pulls plug on park’s UNESCO recognition 24 Jun 13;

Indicative of deeper malaise of poor management of protected areas, critics warn

In what was apparently a face-saving move, Vietnam opted to withdraw its nomination of a major national park for UNESCO heritage status two days ahead of an annual session that opened June 16 in Cambodia.

But even if Vietnam had gone ahead with nominating the Cat Tien National Park, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization would have probably rejected it following a recommendation to the effect by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The IUCN, which had conducted a thorough evaluation of the park, urged UNESCO in a report this month “not to inscribe the nomination of Cat Tien National Park” for failing to meet World Heritage criteria.

But dismayed conservationists say this is not just a question of Cat Tien, which has already been recognized as a UNESCO biosphere reserve, losing another title.

More important is that the failure should serve as a wake-up call for Vietnam to actually manage its natural heritage rather than simply get recognition for it, they say.

“For the past few years, Vietnam has been all about 'winning' recognition,” Pamela McElwee, an assistant professor of human ecology at Rutgers University in the US who has researched extensively on Vietnam's protected areas, said.

“But then after having received this international attention, authorities don't follow up to ensure the cultural or environmental values they won recognition for… are conserved,” she told Vietweek.

Conservationists cite the example of the world-renowned Ha Long Bay, where winning international attention has not halted serious environmental problems like coal mining and unregulated dumping of waste into the bay.

In 2011 Ha Long Bay, twice recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, made it to the list of New Natural Wonders of the World in a campaign marred by allegations that organizers asked candidates to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

Critics also said the voting methods were shrouded in secrecy.

After Ha Long scooped the new honor experts had expressed concern about its preservation. But the site has continued to suffer from increasing pollution due to industrial and urban development, coal mining, and tourism.

Another example is the rampant deforestation of the World Heritage site Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, home to the world’s longest cave with a stream and mysterious deep lakes, in the north-central province of Quang Binh.

Just this month a Quang Binh court handed down jail terms to 12 people in a high-profile case of illegal logging of rare trees in the park.

The park director was censured and a deputy director was dismissed for failing to handle the case properly and quickly after it was detected despite an outcry.

A study released last May by UK-based conservation group Flora and Fauna International said law enforcement is absent at the park, with illegal logging and transportation of timber being rampant and done openly.

Conservationists say such cases are emblematic of the poor management of Vietnam’s World Heritage sites and other protected areas in terms of conserving biodiversity.

Not achieving World Heritage recognition for Cat Tien National Park would certainly affect tourism to the site since many people use the UNESCO list as a way to seek out and promote unique places, experts say.

But on the bright side, McElwee said: “This will encourage authorities to look at how they might better address the multiple threats to Vietnam's protected areas and prioritize action above accolades.”

Cosseted conservation

Located 100 kilometers northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, Cat Tien is home to around 1,700 precious plants and more than 700 species of animals and birds, several of which are endangered.

Eleven ethnic minority groups live around the park.

After the discovery of a population of Javan rhinos in 1992, the park was declared a rhinoceros reserve and received worldwide attention.

Of 30 national parks and scores of other protected areas spanning forests and wetlands across Vietnam, “Cat Tien has received the highest attention and the largest investment for conservation from the government and the international community,” Vu Ngoc Long, a human ecologist who heads the HCMC-based Southern Institute of Ecology, told Vietweek.

But the killing of Vietnam’s last rhino in the park in 2010 dealt a major blow to the biodiversity conservation there.

From 1998 to 2004 the WWF alone invested US$6.3 million in the park, with up to $600,000 earmarked for rhino conservation work.

From the mid-1990s, a number of organizations were involved in efforts to conserve the remaining Javan rhino population in Cat Tien, but conservationists have blamed land conversion and a growing local population for threatening the animal’s habitat, which has been cut in half since 1988 to about 30,000 hectares today.

Vietnam’s legal system incorporates a large number of globally accepted principles on environmentally sustainable management, and it is one of the few countries with a biodiversity law, a World Bank report said in 2010.

But in practice, such provisions are minor considerations in land use and infrastructure-planning decisions, it added.

Conservationists say the death of the last rhino in Cat Tien should be a bitter lesson that funding alone by no means assures the survival of wildlife.

The failure to win the UNESCO recognition “reflects a serious concern in the international community that Vietnam is just not taking the effective conservation of its protected areas seriously,” Jeremy Carew-Reid, director of the Hanoi-based conservation group International Center for Environmental Management, said.

The IUCN said in its report to UNESCO that since the discontinuation of a major conservation project - funded by the WWF - in 2004 and the decline in other project activities, management support in Cat Tien “has been reduced dramatically and overall management capacity may also have declined.”

The report quoted the park staff as saying that “local tourists pose the biggest risk to the biodiversity.”

It also identified rampant poaching as a current threat to the park.

Speaking to Vietweek two years ago, Tran Van Thanh, then Cat Tien director, lamented that his 130 rangers faced an uphill task in patrolling the 74,000-hectare (182,000-acre) park.

Each of them, who were paid around VND3 million a month, had to be on duty for 22 days in a row and stay in the forest on their own.

Since then no major headway has been made in terms of personnel or their wages.

Experts point out that even if rangers manage a protected area well they get little pay or recognition, so it comes as no surprise that people become corrupt easily and the entire system suffers.

“A requirement for being nominated for international recognition ought to be excellence in management - unfortunately it is not, as we see in the case of Cat Tien,” McElwee said.

Fading faith

The IUCN also expressed concern about plans to build two hydropower stations on the Dong Nai River in the eponymous province some 35 km north and upstream of the park.

The dams have faced fierce opposition from conservationists who warn if built they would totally alter the marine environment in the park and inundate forests.

The planned construction of these two dams “had a major bearing on the recommendation of the IUCN against recognizing Cat Tien,” Long, the Vietnamese expert, said.

The opponents of the dams also say the impacts are beyond estimation since it is not only about the park but also the lives of millions of people living in downstream areas in Binh Duong Province and HCMC.

Conservationists say in energy-hungry Vietnam, which relies on hydropower for about 40 percent of its electricity needs, many dam builders claim their actions as being taken in the “national interest.”

But the fact is they are driven purely by the desire to make profit at any cost, they say.

The pace and scale of hydropower and road development are proceeding with scant regard for Vietnam’s remaining biodiversity and protected areas, experts say.

Even the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are contributing to this rapid degradation with support to hydropower and road projects which are having serious negative impacts on protected areas, they add.

“Protected area managers in Vietnam are not given the status and authority required to safeguard their territory from poorly planned and executed infrastructure within and upstream of important biodiversity,” Carew-Reid, the Hanoi-based expert, said.

An increasing number of lawmakers, government agencies, environmental groups, and local administrations have joined the opposing camp, saying the two Cat Tien dams must be scrapped.

But they are not too sure if their concerns will be heeded.

“The dam developer has been lobbying so aggressively,” Trinh Le Nguyen, executive director of People and Nature Reconciliation, one of Vietnam's few locally based conservation groups, said.

The National Assembly, Vietnam’s legislature, has the final say on the fate of the dam, but it has not fixed a time slot to even debate it any time soon.

Nguyen Van Dien, the current Cat Tien director, declined to say whether he is against or for the building of the dams.

“All I can say is that everything has to be carried out in accordance with the law,” he told Vietweek.

But he and other Vietnamese experts concur that conservation efforts in the country are all too often undermined by people with vested interests.

They say that when developers want the land, power and money do the talking and environmental conservation has no chance of winning.

With Vietnamese authorities saying they will submit the application for Cat Tien’s recognition this September, conservationists say the country risks rejection again if it fails to stop the building of the two dams.

The fallout from the construction will also be irreversible, they warn.

“If Vietnam allows the dams to go ahead, the country will knowingly go against its international commitments to biodiversity conservation,” Long said.

“In so doing, Cat Tien will lose the [UNESCO] recognition forever.

“But the most important thing is no one will ever believe that Vietnam is serious about preserving natural heritage.”

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