Best of our wild blogs: 25 Jun 13

Birthday Bash at shores of East Coast
from wonderful creation

For a great laughter - Marine animals in the haze
from Peiyan.Photography

Green Drinks: Let’s Talk
from Green Drinks Singapore

New articles on Nature in Singapore website
from Raffles Museum News

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

Festival of Biodiversity 2013
from Festival of Biodiversity 2012

Greenpeace releases dramatic pictures of haze and fires in Indonesia (photos) from news by Rhett Butler

Palm oil companies linked to haze see share prices drop
from news by Rhett Butler

Five Roundtable and Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) companies linked to haze
from news by Rhett Butler

Read more!

The cost of losing greenery?

Tan Ping Hau Today Online 25 Jun 13;

The seriousness of the haze situation leads one to ponder whether the natural greenery we have lost over the years could have cushioned the blow. Trees not only provide oxygen but cleanse the air of greenhouse gases. Transpiration, which introduces water vapour into the air, contributes to rainfall.

Singapore’s green lungs could be our best defence against pollution and the haze, without being dependent on wind directions and rain. But it appears that, over the years, we have lost a significant amount of natural forest to property development and roads and replaced them with parks like Gardens by the Bay and the Punggol Waterway park.

Are there studies being done about how much forest we have lost over the years and how much impact this has had on our ability to mitigate air pollution and the haze?

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How corruption is fuelling the haze

Observers say local officials are key to tackling deforestation in Indonesia. The central government and activist groups need to make sure local governments abide by national laws.
Sara Schonhardt Straits Times 25 Jun 13;

RECORD-HIGH air pollution hit Singapore and Malaysia last week as winds blew smoke northward from forest fires raging in Sumatra in Indonesia. Demands from the city-state that Indonesia take tougher action prompted retorts by officials who said Singapore was "behaving like a child". They sought to shift blame to companies based in Singapore and Malaysia.

But the barb-trading over the haze, an annual annoyance that often strains relations between Singapore and Indonesia, overlooks one of the major causes of the burning - corruption.

Observers in Jakarta say rent-seeking local leaders and corporations are taking advantage of lax law enforcement and murky regulations to continue clearing forests at an increasingly rapid rate.

Indeed, as it became clear that the bulk of the burning was taking place in Riau province, analysts were quick to point out that its governor - Mr Rusli Zainal - is the leading suspect in a case involving illegal logging permits.

"The haze disaster shows the impact of corruption in the forestry sector," said Mr Danang Widoyoko, the chairman of Indonesia Corruption Watch, an independent graft monitor.

It recently assessed permit processes in provinces where the heaviest logging occurred, citing five cases of corruption which led protected forest to be converted to plantations. Losses to the state totalled nearly US$195 million (S$249 million).

The forestry sector has long been a source of rampant corruption. When Suharto was president, he doled out concessions to friends and relatives in return for their political backing. As power has devolved over the past decade from the central government to the local level, analysts say, corruption has become both fragmented and more pervasive.

Conservationists say logging and palm oil companies that cut into virgin forests and peatlands are scaling back wider conservation efforts - with the backing of local leaders seeking kickbacks in return for operating permits.

The problem gets worse in election years, when officials need money to fund campaigns. With national elections due next year, this is one reason the burning may be worse this time around.

In many cases, money compels local leaders, who are also charged with supervising plantation operations, to look the other way when companies engage in illegal practices, such as burning land in protected forest areas, says Mr Danang.

"The problem is clearly a lack of monitoring from the forest authority," he adds. "A lot of corruption cases indicate that regents are easily bribed."

Officials in the central government admit that some mining and plantation companies are operating illegally. But they say there is only so much they can do.

"The regents give out the permits; it's outside the Ministry of Forestry's authority," Mr Hadi Daryanto, the ministry's secretary general, has told Eco-Business.

It is the central government's responsibility to prevent and respond to forest fires.

It is also the central government's job to issue national regulations that govern the country's forests - and this is where Indonesia has done well, say forest activists, pointing to several conservation-minded commitments made by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono since he took office.

In 2011, for example, Dr Yudhoyono backed a ban that would prevent companies from obtaining new permits to clear virgin forest and peatlands.

The ban is part of a US$1 billion deal with Norway, which has agreed to provide the money in tranches as long as Indonesia is living up to its commitment to curb deforestation. Last month, Dr Yudhoyono extended the ban to 2015, a move commended by the international community.

He did so in the face of lobbying by major logging, palm oil and mining companies, which say the ban hurts their ability to expand, dents profits and could stymie Indonesia's economic growth. The majority of the country's exports are commodities.

But resource analysts disagree.

"There's really no reason why the moratorium would curtail economic development in the palm oil sector," says research associate Kemen Austin at the World Resource Institute in Washington DC. She adds that there is enough degraded land available for oil palm expansion, and the moratorium should be the impetus companies need to utilise their concessions more efficiently.

Another aim of the moratorium on forest-clearing should be to strengthen the permit process, oversight and forest monitoring to ensure companies "don't revert to business as usual" once it expires, she says.

Still, Indonesia has struggled to balance economic growth with sustainability.

Many local leaders have not been convinced that keeping the forests intact will lead to development. It does not help that several schemes floated under the REDD+ programme, a United Nations initiative that aims to pay local governments for preserving their forests, have fallen flat.

Meanwhile, critics of the forest-clearing moratorium say it does not go far enough, since it applies only to new permits and not those already held by plantation companies.

Indonesia has one of the fastest rates of forest clearing in the world, much of it done to make way for palm oil, an ingredient used in everything from shampoos to sweets to cleaning agents.

The country is the leading producer of the commodity, and a top emitter of harmful climate changing carbons. Many of the forests that are being developed stand on swampy peat that releases large amounts of carbon emissions when upended. The peat also becomes highly combustible after it decomposes, part of the reason the fires this year are so severe.

Last week, environmental non- profit group Greenpeace said commercial plantations control half of the land where the biggest fires are burning, and much of it is on deep peat, which is off limits under the moratorium. Forest campaigner Bustar Maitar at Greenpeace in Indonesia says it becomes like "petrol in the forest", and can burn for weeks.

While the latest fires have put a spotlight on corruption in the forestry sector, they have also highlighted the private sector's role in curbing forest clearing.

Last Wednesday, Singapore's Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan asked the Indonesian government to name and shame the companies involved in the illegal burning.

Some of the biggest companies operating in Indonesia - Wilmar International, Sinar Mas Group and Asia Pacific Resources International - are based in Singapore or Malaysia. All have issued statements saying they abide by strict no-burn policies, although Wilmar has reportedly told Singapore media that it "cannot prevent local practices of slash-and-burn for agricultural and other purposes".

Some have made even bolder commitments.

In February, Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the world's largest paper companies, said it would immediately stop clearing natural forests within its concessions. Its sister palm oil company, Golden Agri-Resources, has also committed to forest conservation.

Still, companies and governments cannot work independently, argue green groups. Indonesia will need to step up monitoring and ensure that local governments abide by national laws.

Mr Agus Purnomo, a special adviser to President Yudhoyono and the head of the National Climate Change Council, said better law enforcement by local police and the judiciary as well as improvements in land titling and permit issuing processes are some solutions.

Also key is ensuring better oversight from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is capable of cancelling regulations that contravene national laws on forest protection. But what really needs to happen is that local leaders must be held accountable.

"The heads of the districts are not accountable to the public at large if there are forest fires and ongoing deforestation," Mr Purnomo told Eco-Business.

"If we can create a system whereby the fate of the forests is (tied to) the head of the district, then there is some incentive for him to do more than participate in deforestation activity."

This article first appeared on the sustainable business website

The writer, an eco-business writer based in Jakarta, Indonesia, has covered development issues in South-east Asia for the past six years.

Rampant corruption fanned forest fires, say watchdogs
Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta
Straits Times 25 Jun 13;

IT WAS probably coincidental that days after Riau Governor Rusli Zainal was arrested for corruption on June 14, forest fires in his province saw pollutant levels over the region rise to record highs.

However, it is no coincidence that more rampant graft has contributed to the severe haze now blanketing Riau, Singapore and parts of Malaysia, observers and watchdogs pointed out.

Part of the charges against Rusli, in office since 2003, involve the dishing out of illegal logging permits in Pelalawan regency.

While it is unclear whether forest fires occurred in these areas, observers said Riau has an alarming record of local leaders dishing out permits to companies to clear its forests over the past decade.

"There is a link between rampant corruption and today's forest fires," Mr Emerson Yuntho of graft monitoring outfit Indonesia Corruption Watch told The Straits Times.

"And the giving of permits tends to spike ahead of elections," he added, citing the need to fund campaigns.

Riau will see a gubernatorial election in October, and national parliamentary elections are to take place in April next year.

Anti-graft activists said there was a surge in the number of suspect concessions for mining and plantations across the country being approved ahead of the 2009 elections, and warned of another repeat. Therein lies the potential for further disaster.

Dr Helena Varkkey of the University of Malaya, who has researched oil palm plantations and their link to fires and the haze, said the illegal allocation of permits - especially on highly flammable yet fertile peatland - has been a serious driver of fires.

It is illegal to put peatland to commercial use in Indonesia. But Dr Varkkey tells The Straits Times that "corruption and patronage linkages have enabled companies with good relationships with government officials to obtain licences and permits to use these peatlands for commercial purposes, despite the laws".

But obtaining land permits is just one stage where graft takes place.

Even when fires happen, observers said companies are able to get away if they have greased the palms of local officials to ensure their cases are not pursued seriously. And the cycle continues.

Dr Eduardo Araral of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy noted: "When enforcement is not credible and has no deterrent effect because of corruption, concession owners and their agents have the incentive to routinely flout regulations, and no amount of legislation or treaties would be effective under these circumstances."

Mr Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace International's Indonesia Forest Campaign, said companies often cite the need to indulge in graft to "fast track" their permit applications.

"But they are benefiting from the lack of governance," he told The Straits Times. "While it is the job of the government to clean up its act, companies have a responsibility to not be involved in incorrect processes as well."

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Singapore: Long-term fix to haze must involve 3Ps

Jose Raymond Today Online 25 Jun 13;

In a dialogue with Ang Mo Kio residents on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed out that the “right way of farming” is the long-term solution in dealing with the haze issue. Mr Lee is right in that this is the crux of the problem — farmers are resorting to burning as a short cut to clearing land for crop planting.

But it is also very likely that the landowners of such plots supply the major corporations which deal in pulp and palm oil — raw materials used in products consumed by all of us on an almost daily basis, be it paper, tissues, beverages, food, cosmetics or much, much more.

Many of us just do not realise it is our ever-growing demand that is driving companies to employ such irresponsible methods in their business operations.

Over the last decade or so, the governments of the region have met on an at least annual basis to discuss the transboundary haze problem. The ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution was established in 2002; only Indonesia has yet to ratify the agreement.

Therein lies the source of frustration for Singaporeans, who have had to put up with the annual haze for almost two decades with no known end in sight. While Singapore has been attempting to help or gently encourage the Indonesians to move towards more sustainable farming practices, perhaps other avenues should be explored to get the desired results.


As a respected member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Singapore Government should continue to engage the region’s governments to exert more pressure on Indonesia.

This problem, after all, is not just limited to Singapore. Malaysia, for one, has declared a state of emergency in Muar, and its capital Kuala Lumpur is enveloped in smog. Parts of Thailand, too, are beginning to experience the haze as a result of shifting wind conditions.

When the haze hit Singapore last week, one of the first demands which the public and the Government made was for Indonesia to name the companies responsible for the fires. The latter has since named eight landowners. Is this sufficient? No.

What we must find out is which major companies the landowners supply. If we can establish the chain of custody, we can trace where the resources land up and which products are manufactured using these palm oil or pulp resources. It is possible the trail might lead to companies which are anchored or operate in Singapore.

This is why the Singapore Environment Council strongly believes that the Government should put the current Environmental Protection and Management Act (EPMA) under the microscope and amend it where necessary.

The current EPMA appears to lack the bite to deal with companies headquartered in Singapore but with manufacturing and ground operations outside of it. Singapore companies, as well as foreign companies that operate or are based here, whose suppliers cause environmental degradation anywhere in the world should be taken to task through the EPMA.

Slash-and-burn techniques contribute to climate change, and we must ensure companies which operate here are held responsible for their actions and reminded of the irreparable damage their irresponsible behaviour can do to Singapore.

On its part, the National Environment Agency (NEA) should have a haze monitoring team, which keeps a constant eye on the number of hot spots in Indonesia and wind conditions, and send out alerts to the public if hazy conditions are expected — similar to tsunami warning systems in many parts of the world, or even the Lightning Warning System used here.

The website has been a great source of information for Singaporeans and this should be the platform which the NEA uses to disseminate information regularly from here on.


Companies whose manufacturing processes include palm oil should ensure that their sustainability reporting includes evidence of compliance with legislation that bans slash-and-burn clearing, and of safeguarding farmers’ livelihoods such as by developing alternatives. Corporations should declare whether they conduct audits or spot checks, so that consumers know if the products have been responsibly produced.

Companies should not be allowed to “hide” the fact that they use palm oil as an ingredient with the substitute term, “vegetable oil”. There should be industry standards on declaring this, as well as where the palm oil is sourced, so that it is transparent to consumers if these products are contributing to the haze in the region.

The Singapore Exchange (SGX) should also consider making sustainability reporting mandatory for all listed companies. Sustainability reporting is currently encouraged, but making it compulsory would send a strong signal to all business owners that corporate responsibility is not just an afterthought but should be in the DNA of every company.

Alternatively, if mandatory reporting is not feasible in the short-term, then the SGX should at least suspend companies found to have conducted their businesses irresponsibly.


Consumers have a right to information about the goods and services they purchase, and they should be equipped to know where the products are derived. Knowing the business practices of their favourite brands will help them in their buying decisions.

Regional non-government organisations (NGOs) should work together to conduct research campaigns on products which contain palm oil and create a directory of responsible palm oil/sustainable alternative consumer products for the public. This directory should include the names of companies or brands which people should avoid, as well as the responsible ones which are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

A Development or Education Fund could be set up and administered by an NGO in Singapore with an Institution of Public Character status. These funds could be put aside by corporations involved in paper and palm oil products, and companies which believe in corporate sustainability and responsibility. These funds could be used to educate not only people in Singapore about what they can do to force businesses to change irresponsible practices, but also help hapless villagers in Indonesia living in areas which are blanketed in smog about this time every year. NGOs could also tap the funds to engage companies in changing their practices over time.

Business and trade associations such as the Singapore Manufacturing Federation and the various chambers of commerce and industry can help influence their members’ behaviour and potentially be very effective channels to bring about change.

Striving for a sustainable solution to the haze requires the action and collaboration of the public, private and people sectors. Think of it as “civic environmentalism”, which strikes a balance between eco-radicalism, seeking technological solutions to our environmental problems and adopting a citizenry approach — in other words, a moderate, ground-up approach towards sustainability as a way of life.

The people of the region have suffered for far too long. We need to set targets to ensure that whatever actions are taken, there are ways to look back and assess the impact of our response as a region over time.


Jose Raymond is Executive Director of the Singapore Environment Council.

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Gracious of President Yudhoyono to apologise for haze, says PM Lee

Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 25 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said it is gracious of Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to apologise to the people of Singapore and Malaysia for the current haze situation.

But he stressed that all parties need to put in place a permanent solution to prevent the problem from recurring annually.

In a statement, Mr Lee said Singapore accepts the apology wholeheartedly.

He added that he welcomes President Yudhoyono's promise to spare no efforts to tackle the serious problem which has caused suffering to the people of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Mr Lee noted that President Yudhoyono had said that Indonesian authorities would investigate the man-made causes of the fires and take the necessary legal action against those responsible.

He said he hoped that Indonesia will also take swift and sustained action to put out the forest fires and stop the illegal land clearing practices.

Mr Lee reiterated Singapore's offer to help Indonesia put out the fires.

"Singapore stands ready to work closely with Indonesia, Malaysia and others in the region to bring to an end the haze-related problems which have plagued our region. We need to put in place a permanent solution to prevent this problem from recurring annually," said Mr Lee.

Speaking at a childcare event on Tuesday, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing also praised President Yudhoyono for his apology.

"I think it's very gracious of him. More importantly, at this point in time, it's important for us to work closely together to make sure that we put out the fires and and to restore life to normalcy as much as possible," he said.

Ministries to share plans on dealing with impact of haze & minimising disruption
Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 24 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: All ministries will announce their action plans this week on how to deal with the impact of the haze and minimise disruption to daily activities.

Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen, who is leading the Haze Inter-ministerial committee, visited a construction site and Changi Airport on Monday with Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

If the haze continues for months, it could affect public transport, as buses and trains slow down to cope with poor visibility.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said: "Land transport (is) very much dependent on staff availability. So far that has not been a problem at all, but if staff availability is impacted as a result of the prolonged haze period, then indeed we may find that the service levels for the trains and even buses could be affected as well, so this is something we are watching very closely."

At an extreme, the haze could also result in construction projects being delayed.

Dr Ng said: “If this happens, when it happens, I need Singaporeans to be understanding, adjust our expectations, and help with the situation. The priority now is therefore to consolidate, work together and come up with haze action plans so that all of us know what to do, what to expect. The key will be to adjust - slow down but don't stop, and we must protect our health, but in addition, prevent mass disruptions as far as possible.”

Dr Ng said there is bound to be some slowdown and disruptions to day-to-day activities, but in the ministries releasing their action plans later this week, the idea is to minimise disruption.

While the government will lead and facilitate the action plans of the ministries, Dr Ng said what is also needed is the support of the tripartite partners such as unions, as well as Singaporeans.

The Manpower Ministry has issued guidelines to companies and employers and released advisories daily, based on the current haze situation.

But as to the concern of whether companies will adhere to these measures, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said there cannot be a one-size-fits-all prescription of these measures.

Mr Tan said: "It's not just about the economy, it's not just about making money as some people look at it. It's really about our way of life, to ensure as much normalcy as possible. The message is this: we need to stay calm, we need to adjust. We need to slow down, but we need to carry on. I've (got) a couple of messages for employers. Firstly, employers need to be vigilant, they need to be aware. Secondly, they need to mitigate risks, and thirdly, they need to be flexible."

Mr Tan said this includes knowing the conditions of employees and being flexible in terms of the nature of the jobs involved.

This could be by rotating workers or taking regular breaks.

On its part, the National Trades Union Congress said it is compiling a list of good practices by companies to look out for the welfare of employers.

- CNA/xq

Next step is to minimise daily impact of haze: Ng Eng Hen
Zara Zhuang Today Online 24 Jun 13;

Cars and buses may move more slowly, vehicle accidents may rise and cleaners may work more slowly with masks on, said Dr Ng. The key, he said, is to adjust and slow down, but not to stop.

Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew and Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin were also present, and outlined their ministries’ haze contingency plans. Other ministries will be announcing their contingency plans over the rest of the week.

Mr Lui said the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and Changi Airport Group have contingency plans, and public transport operators are advised to pay attention to staff with breathing difficulty.

Since June 19, as a precaution, the separation between aircraft take-offs and landings have been increased, airfield lights are also turned on in the daytime.

Under normal circumstances, Changi Airport can allow aircraft to land safely when the runway visual range is more than 550 metres. If it falls to between 300 and 550 metres, aircraft can still land safely with more stringent measures, such as enforcing obstacle protection.

Mr Tan added that the priority is to make sure all workers are looked after, and that life goes on as the dry season continues.

He urged employers to be vigilant and aware, to mitigate risks and be flexible. They must stay up to date with the health advisories, and adjust work processes accordingly, he said.

To help employers to access and process relevant information to manage the ill effects of the haze, the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) said in a statement today that it will “distill relevant and practical information provided by the Haze committee and other relevant agencies to keep employers informed and updated especially on the measures to take at the workplace”.

SNEF has also launched a hotline (Tel: 6327 9297) and a dedicated email ( for employers to seek advice on managing workplace issues
that arise.

Dr Ng added that he is very encouraged by Singaporean groups who reach out to the less privileged on their own, and that Singaporeans know what is important and pool together to make things work in times of difficulty.

Earlier today, Dr Ng and Mr Tan visited Singapore’s first waterfront public housing project, Waterway Terraces, to meet with workers on the ground and staff from the Housing and Development Board to find out more about their concerns and measures taken during the haze.

Tiong Seng Contractors, which is in charge of the project, conducts daily briefings with workers and issues N95 masks to all workers.

Mr Derick Pay, Director of Tiong Seng Contractors, said it is business as usual at the site when the PSI is under 300, but at above 200 all workers must wear masks. Work stopped for two hours when the 3-hour psi surpassed 400 on Friday (June 21).

Despite the work stoppages, Mr Pay said the construction project is on schedule as work is only halted at two or three hours at a time.

Dr Ng was also joined by Mr Lui for a visit to Changi Airport to meet air traffic controllers and the ground staff.

To counter the haze, Changi Airport Group has halted non-essential outdoor maintenance work, such as grass cutting and trolley maintenance. CAG has also swapped older workers with younger ones and moved the former indoors.

Indonesian leader says sorry for haze
Yudhoyono resolves to tackle fires that have strained relations with neighbours
Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta
Straits Times 25 Jun 13;

PRESIDENT Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has apologised for the haze blanketing Singapore and Malaysia, and stressed that Indonesia will bear responsibility for resolving a problem that has frayed relations with its two neighbours.

In a televised press conference at his office yesterday evening, Dr Yudhoyono said: "For what has happened, as President, I say sorry, and seek the understanding of our brothers in Singapore and Malaysia.

"Indonesia had no intention to cause this. And we will continue to bear responsibility to overcome what has happened."

His comments come a week after land-clearing fires in forests and plantations in Riau, exacerbated by strong winds, saw the haze over Singapore and peninsular Malaysia reach record highs.

But calls for Indonesia to act also drew strong comments from several Indonesian ministers in recent days. Yesterday, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Jero Wacik told an Asean meeting in Bali that Singapore and Malaysia should "know themselves" and be good neighbours.

Other officials had also said companies linked to Malaysia and Singapore could have been behind the illegal burning.

Dr Yudhoyono said: "There are statements from several officeholders that I feel need not be put across that way. Sometimes, the facts have not been checked, and that becomes an issue. This has become a concern from Singapore and also Malaysia."

He said he had instructed officials that there was no need for such statements, or to single out countries for blame.

"To say the negligent company is Indonesian, or owned by foreigners from Malaysia or Singapore, that is not needed. What is needed is to focus all efforts on overcoming the haze and burning," he said.

He pledged to step up efforts to deal with forest fires. Indonesia has launched several cloud-seeding and water-bombing missions in the past few days, though their effectiveness had been checked by the drier weather this year.

He also urged other provinces on Sumatra and Kalimantan that are prone to forest fires in recent years to take measures to prevent a repeat of the current disaster.

Enforcement action will continue, he said, adding: "Whether it is an Indonesian company or foreign company, the law will be applied firmly and fairly."

Indonesian police yesterday made their first detentions related to the forest fires causing the haze, arresting two farmers who were clearing their land by burning. But the police said the duo were not linked to the 14 companies that officials had said were being investigated for the fires, eight of which have been named.

In Malaysia, where the haze has reached Kuala Lumpur, all schools in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Selangor will reopen today after they were ordered closed yesterday.

In Singapore, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who heads an inter- ministerial committee to tackle the haze, promised that all ministries would share action plans this week in case the haze returns.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs handed a diplomatic note to Indonesia's ambassador in Singapore that raises questions and concerns about the alleged involvement of Singapore-linked companies in the Sumatra fires.

The air quality today is expected to remain "moderate". But a slight haze is expected in the next few days due to the wind conditions, the National Environment Agency said.

Ministries make plans to minimise disruption
Singaporeans may need to adjust daily routines, warns Ng Eng Hen
Amelia Tan Straits Times 25 Jun 13;

ALL Government ministries will announce action plans this week to help minimise any future disruption to Singaporeans caused by haze conditions.

The chairman of the haze inter-ministerial taskforce, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, told a press conference last night that Singaporeans' lives could be affected by problems ranging from public transport delays to longer queues at hawker centres, to workers slowing down as they work with masks on.

He said it was therefore important that people heeded the plans to be announced so that they can adjust their daily routines.

Dr Ng listed various scenarios that could occur if air conditions worsen.

Lower visibility would mean drivers have to slow down to avoid accidents. Changi Airport may have to slow down its operations or divert planes, while road and sea supplies from Malaysia could also be affected.

Garbage collection and construction of Housing Board flats may be delayed as outdoor workers are required to rest more.

Dr Ng said: "The key will be to adjust, slow down but don't stop, and we must protect our health, but in addition, prevent mass disruptions as far as possible."

He also called on unions and employers to support the Government in ensuring the haze action plans are rolled out smoothly.

Dr Ng said the taskforce decided to turn its attention to helping Singaporeans cope with the impact the haze has had on them, now that most retailers have been stocked up with N95 masks.

Many had run out of supplies before the Health Ministry pushed out another four million to people on lower incomes, vulnerable citizens and retailers.

Dr Ng was speaking to reporters after a visit to Changi Airport and an HDB development project in Punggol, where he met workers to find out how they were dealing with the haze.

He was accompanied by Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew.

Mr Tan called on employers to put the safety of their workers first, and assured firms that his ministry would help them get face masks if they had problems acquiring them.

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Oil Palm Cultivation Is Reforestration, Planters' Seminar Told

Bernama 14 Jun 13;

SIBU, June 24 (Bernama) -- Oil palm plantation is reforestration and not the deforestration of tropical rainforest in both Malaysia and Indonesia as perceived by Western environmental non-governmental organisations (WENGOs), says Sarawak Plantation Bhd chairman Datuk Amar Hamed Sepawi.

"These WENGOs are out to demonise the use of oil palm in the market.

"They create their own environmental criteria to influence their governments to restrict giving financial aid/financing to developing tropical countries keen to plant oil palm," he said in his paper at the 10th Institude of Society of Planters national seminar here.

Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud declared open the three-day seminar today attended by about 1,000 participants nationwide.

Hamed said oil palm only covers 4.5 per cent of Indonesia's land mass and 15 per cent in Malaysia, adding oil palm is a major contributor to socio-economic development especially in alleviating poverty in the tropics.

"These actions by WENGOs are becoming a worrying trend.

"They are becoming prosecutor and judge at the same time by banning, restricting and imposing trade barriers.

"Western nations are using their NGOs' arguments and negative campaigns as a basis for developing policies against importation of palm oil.

"The NGOs are also challenging WTO regulation for fairness in free trade," he said.

Hamed said the Malaysian and Indonesian governments should present their counterparts in the EU and USA comprehensive facts and scientific evidence to counter the WENGOs' negative publicity.

He said the industry in both countries has existed for over 100 years with some planters in their third or fourth cycle of planting.

"Over the years Good Management Practices (GMPs) and standard operating procedures have been developed and practised to ensure sustainability of the industry.

"There is no doubt in our minds the industry will continue to be sustainable in the forseeable future," he said.

He also said oil palm is a very important strategic crop and continues to contribute very significantly to the social and economic development in both countries.

He noted the palm oil organisations in the country like MPIC, MPOB and PORAM as well as the Indonesian Palm Oil Commission (IPOC) have worked very closely together by developing Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) to promote sustainable oil palm production.

With the world population projected to grow to nine billion in 2043 from seven billion in 2011 there will be a corresponding increase in demand for land for the production of oils and fats, with severe competition for arable land worldwide, he added.

To meet this demand, he said, soya bean would need 15 million hectares a year while oil palm would only need 1.5 million hectares.

Hamed said Malaysia has only planted 4.5 million hectares of oil palm, adding the vocal WENGOs are from countries where almost 90 per cent of the land has been deforested and 60 per cent actually used for agriculture.

"This development contributes to their GDP of US$50,000 per year as compared to our GPD at US$9,000 and Indonesia at US$3,000.

"It is obvious that the developed countries have achieved their present prosperity through the deforestration of their forests.

"Today they are pressing the developing countries not to cut their forests which essentially means they do not want them to achieve economic growth, prosperity and affluence," he said.


'Malaysian oil palm firms not at fault'
News Straits Times 25 Jun 13;

SMALLHOLDERS TO BLAME: Our planters in Indonesia adhere to RSPO, says association

JAKARTA: MALAYSIAN companies are not at fault for clearing land in Indonesia using fire, which has been causing the haze that is affecting Singapore and parts of Malaysia, says the Association of Plantation Investors of Malaysia in Indonesia (Apimi).

Apimi executive secretary Nor Hazlan Abdul Mutalib said open burning in oil palm plantations owned by Malaysian companies in Indonesia was carried out by local smallholders in the land allocated to them.

"Plantation owners have to set aside 20 per cent of their land to nurture smallholders in oil palm planting. It is common practice for the smallholders to clear the land using fire," he said yesterday.

Nor Hazlan was commenting on Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya's statement that eight Malaysian-owned companies were among 14 companies being investigated for the burning in Riau province, which had led to the haze.

Nor Hazlan said plantation companies did not have the power to curtail open burning carried out by smallholders and could only report the matter to the local authorities.

"However, when open burning occurs, plantation companies will render assistance to the local authorities to stop the fire from spreading."

Denying that the eight companies named by Balthasar were owned by Malaysians, Nor Hazlan said Malaysian plantation companies in Indonesia were members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which prohibits open burning in replanting exercises and puts emphasis on environmental and eco-friendly farming practices.

"If they are found to be involved in open burning, the RSPO certificate will be withdrawn.

"This certificate is very important to the companies because without it, they cannot sell palm oil to the European market."

Nor Hazlan said RSPO members were compelled to adhere to felling and cleaning practices using tractors in replanting activities, while cut palm fronds were reused as fertiliser.

No replanting activities were carried out by Malaysian companies this year, he added.

He said Apimi issued reminders to members at the beginning of each year and recommended steps that could be taken in case of accidental fire occurring in the plantations. Bernama

Eight Malaysian-owned firms under Indonesian haze probe
The Star 25 Jun 13;

THIS week all eyes will be on how Indonesia and Malaysia, the world's top two largest crude palm oil (CPO) producers, deftly tackle the issue on haze currently polluting the air over Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The crux of the thick smoke haze problem is the rampant open burning in Riau and Jambi, Sumatra carried out by planters to make way for new planting and replanting of oil palm.

While Malaysia had openly criticised Indonesia for its land-clearing method via the rampant “slash and burn” for oil palm cultivation, Indonesia then retaliated by claiming that the culprits for the open-burning were mostly subsidiaries of Malaysia-based plantation companies.

Generally, over 50% of oil palm plantations in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi belongs to Malaysian planters either via long-term concession or joint ventures.

To stop the finger-pointing, Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, the newly appointed Environment and Natural Resources Minister will be in Jakarta tomorrow to meet representatives of Malaysian-owned plantations there and, also hold discussion with Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya.

Balthasar announced late last week that 14 companies had been identified and were being probed for open burning.

Of the total, eight are Malaysia-owned namely PT Langgam Inti Hiberida, PT Bumi Rakksa Sejati, PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation (PTTMP), PT Udaya Loh Dinawi, PT Adei Plantation, PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa, PT Multi Gambut Industri and PT Mustika Agro Lestari.

It is believed that PTTMP is a unit of Minamas Plantation which is a subsidiary of Sime Darby Bhd while PT Adei Plantation is a unit of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK).

Hence, when the issue of open burning is linked to Malaysia's top plantation giants like Sime and KLK, one may wonder on the practice of “zero-burning” policy which are widely advocated among major local plantation companies.

In fact, zero-burning oil palm replanting technique was first introduced commercially by Sime Darby as far back as 1985.

Since then, zero burning has been made compulsory for all oil palm replanting activities in Malaysia through legislation whereby the traditional way of establishing new oil palm plantations or replanting via burning of old oil palm biomass are strictly prohibited.

The Government has also imposed a ban on open burning in 1998 and offenders will have to pay a maximum fine of up to RM500,000.

However, while Malaysian planters may strictly abide by the open burning ban here given the hefty penalty, some observers say there exist some “irresponsible” local planters who tend to overlook the zero-burning policy especially when their estates are located deep in the jungles of Kalimantan or Sumatra with minimal supervision from the relevant authorities.

On the other hand, both Sime Darby and KLK had reiterated on their strict practice of zero-burning policy.

Sime Darby while acknowledging the fact that its PTTMP concession area is one of the many hotspots identified but it is unable to exert control over the activities of local communities beyond its operating areas.

In Indonesia, it is quite common among farmers between June and September to undertake open burning for oil palm replanting at their small estate holdings, which are often adjacent to estates owned by big plantation companies.

Deputy news editor Hanim Adnan who misses the clear blue sky, hopes the Government will soon carry out cloud-seeding to clear the haze.

Read more!

Singapore asks Indonesia for evidence on companies responsible for haze

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 24 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore has conveyed a diplomatic note to Indonesia to formally seek clarifications on statements by Indonesian ministers and officials on the issue of Singapore-linked companies said to be involved in illegal land-clearing practices in Indonesia.

Singapore is also officially asking Indonesia to assist by handing over relevant evidence.

Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Chee Wee Kiong met with Indonesian Ambassador Andri Hadi in Singapore on Monday.

In a media statement, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said Mr Chee has asked Indonesia to clarify the contradictory statements from Indonesian ministers and officials on whether Singapore-linked companies were involved in illegal activities.

If there was credible evidence that Singapore-owned companies or companies operating in Singapore were involved, the ministry said Singapore intends to take steps against them.

Mr Chee stressed the primary responsibility for legal and enforcement actions lies with Indonesia.

He also described recent comments from Indonesian Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Jero Wacik as "unhelpful".

Mr Jero had said Singapore was not a good neighbour, even though Singapore had benefited from the gas supply and tourist arrivals from Indonesia.

Mr Andri Hadi said he would convey Mr Chee's points to the government of Indonesia.

He added that it was important for both sides to keep the lines of communication open, and that dialogue and cooperation was the way forward.

- CNA/xq

MFA seeks to clarify mixed signals from Jakarta
It wants answers to conflicting views on whether Singapore firms caused haze
Leonard Lim Straits Times 25 Jun 13;

THE Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) yesterday conveyed a diplomatic note to Indonesia's ambassador here on the haze issue, raising questions and concerns about the alleged involvement of Singapore-linked companies in the Sumatra fires.

The note to Mr Andri Hadi sought clarification on statements by Indonesian ministers and officials on Singapore-linked companies said to have a part in illegal land-clearing practices, and asked Indonesia to share evidence of involvement by any Singapore firms. Itwas signed by MFA Permanent Secretary Chee Wee Kiong, and follows similar comments made by Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam at the weekend.

In a press statement, MFA noted that Mr Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the head of Indonesia's presidential working unit for development supervision and control, had reportedly said many hot spots were on land owned by Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited.

Both companies have offices in Singapore. However, Indonesia's Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan was quoted as saying that there was "no strong evidence" against these companies.

Mr Kuntoro's remarks, MFA added, also contradicted comments by Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya to his Singapore counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan at a meeting last Friday. He had informed Dr Balakrishnan that "no Singapore companies were involved in illegal land clearing practices".

MFA also said that if there was credible evidence that Singapore-owned companies or companies operating here were involved, the Government intended to take further steps against them. However, Mr Chee told the ambassador that the primary responsibility for legal and enforcement action lay with Indonesia, where the firms were allegedly conducting these illegal activities.

He also said it was important to focus on dealing with the haze rather than engaging in "megaphone diplomacy" that was "neither helpful nor constructive".

He took exception to comments from Indonesia's Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Jero Wacik who said that Singapore was not a good neighbour, and that Singapore had benefited from gas supply and tourist arrivals from Indonesia.

Mr Hadi said he would convey Mr Chee's points to his government. He added that it was important for both sides to keep the lines of communication open, and that dialogue and cooperation was the way forward.

Separately, Mr Shanmugam, responding to a media question on whether he knew if Sinar Mas or Golden Agri-Resources contributed to burning activities based on his past experience with them, said he could not speak for them as he left the boards of both firms over a decade ago.

Golden Agri and APP are the palm oil and paper and pulp arms of Sinar Mas, and all three are allegedly involved in slash-and- burn farming in Riau, though they have denied the charges.

Mr Shanmugam said: "I left the board more than 11 years ago. I can't speak for them. We will await the evidence and will act based on evidence, as advised by the Attorney-General's Chambers. My involvement with Sinar Mas started with a request from SGX and is a matter of public record."

A lawyer known for his expertise in securities laws, Mr Shanmugam's links with the firms started in 1996 when he was asked by the then Stock Exchange of Singapore to become a director of an insolvent firm, Amcol.

He handled its affairs together with a judicial manager, and arranged for the firm to be bought via a reverse takeover. The white knight was Sinar Mas, and Amcol was renamed Asia Food & Properties (AFP).

He continued as an independent director of AFP at the request of Sinar Mas, and was also appointed an independent director of Golden Agri - an AFP subsidiary - in 1999. He stepped down from both boards in 2001, and has never held any shares in the firms.

CASE criticises companies responsible for haze
Channel NewsAsia 24 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) has strongly criticised companies responsible for illegal land clearing activities in Indonesia.

In a media statement, CASE’s president, Lim Biow Chuan, said it is supporting the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF)'s call for decisive actions to be taken against these companies.

CASE said it is extremely concerned about the way consumers are suffering from the haze every year.

It said additional expenses from the purchase of face masks and air purifiers are also increasing the financial burden on poorer households.

"We do not think that we should take this lightly and allow these companies to continuously pollute our air every year," Mr Lim said.

In a statement, the SMF said it strongly disapproves of the irresponsible burning in Sumatra that has caused the severe haze in Singapore and the region.

It added that the ramification is not only on the manufacturing sector, but also on other industries in Singapore and regionally.

The SMF has also urged the Indonesian government to investigate and reveal the identity of the perpetrators "so that we can do our part to hold them responsible".

SMF’s president, George Huang, said: "At SMF, we will actively encourage and urge our members not to have business transactions with the culprit organisations and their subsidiaries and to encourage them to only purchase from organisations with proven effective ‘no burn’ policies.

“We will also be holding discussions with our partners in Singapore and the region to address the perennial issue."

- CNA/ms

A call to boycott firms responsible for haze
Amanda Lee Today Online 25 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) will be urging its members against doing business with “culprit organisations” which are contributing to the haze situation, and called on the Indonesian government to investigate and reveal the identities of perpetrators of the haze. The federation — one of two local business associations to speak out about the haze yesterday — said it will encourage its members to purchase from organisations with “proven effective ‘no burn’ policies”.

“We strongly disapprove of the irresponsible burning in Sumatra that has caused the severe haze in Singapore and the region. The ramifications are not only on the manufacturing sector, but also on other industries in Singapore and regionally,” SMF President George Huang said.

The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) on its part called on companies to implement appropriate risk mitigation measures and put workers’ safety and welfare as the priority. It also urged companies to follow Ministry of Manpower guidelines on protecting employees against the effects of haze at the workplace.

It has also proposed a collaboration with its Indonesian counterpart to develop innovative solutions to the annual haze problem. SBF Chairman Tony Chew said the Indonesian association leader, Mr Suryo Sulisto, is supportive of the idea. The SBF has also sought the assistance of the association in a joint initiative to promote and institutionalise healthy and sustainable environmental practices in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. AMANDA LEE

Singapore business body urges counterpart to act
Aaron Low Assistant Money Editor Straits Times 25 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE's leading business association has urged its Indonesian counterpart to promote more sustainable ways of farming among its members and to stop slash-and-burn land-clearing.

The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) also noted that negotiating an end to the perennial haze issue would be a potent sign that Asean as a group can progress on far-reaching trade treaties.

SBF chairman Tony Chew outlined federation concerns in a letter to Mr Suryo Sulisto, chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin).

He said the haze could have catastrophic consequences on health and economy.

"The degradation of our atmosphere and environment is hitting the population and companies in our region. It is also putting the Asean community at risk. If we cannot work together on the haze, how can we progress towards the Asean Economic Community by 2015?"

The SBF, which represents over 18,000 companies, also asked Kadin to embark on a new joint initiative to raise corporate social responsibility among public agencies, plantation firms, farmers and their cooperatives to promote healthy, sustainable practices.

Mr Chew followed the letter up with a phone call and said Mr Sulisto was open to the ideas: "He looks forward to a meeting between Kadin and SBF to discuss the matter in more detail."

Meanwhile, one of the companies blamed for starting fires by activist groups has offered assistance in the form of helicopters, fire engines and firefighters to put out fires outside of its areas.

Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (April), which denies it is behind the fires, said Indonesia's National Agency for Disaster Management had accepted its offer of help.

April said it was providing water trucks, excavators, firefighting equipment and human resources within a 5km to 10km radius of the group's concessions.

Read more!

Indonesia: Riau haze forces hundreds of people to evacuate

Antara 25 Jun 13;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - Haze from forest fire in Riau province has forced around 276 households in Rokan Hilir district to evacuate, Riau police spokesman Senior Commissioner Sofyan said here on Tuesday.

He said they were forced to evacuate during the past few days because the haze has affected them and the fire has almost reached their residential areas.

"The 276 householders are being evacuated since last several days," Sofyan said.

The fire was triggered by a land owner along with four other persons who burned 60 hectares of the peat land in Rokan Hilir District that caused emergency condition as thick smog covers the area.

Police informed the land owner, named Hotman Burpa, has ordered four persons; Katiman, Suhadi, Riza and Bobi, to burn the 60 hectares land.

"We have detained the five arsonists and are currently being interrogated in Rokan Hilir Resort Police," said Sofyan.

Police said the fire started when the land owner burned the 60 hectares of land and spread to other land.

The fire spread quickly after wind blew heavily and burned more than 400 hectares of land.

Resident near the location forced to take evacuation effort as the fire come near to the residences and also generate thick smog.

According to National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) the peat land fire has occurred in Rokan Hilir District since last week.

"The fire has caused several people to evacuate and the total persons who conduct evacuation effort keep increasing," Sofyan said.

The incident has also interfered flight schedule in Sultan Kasim Airport of Pekanbaru, Riau Province as the thick smog decreasing visibility range.

Previously on Monday the visibility range in the airport at 06.00 am local time reached 2,000 meters and decreasing to 1,200 meters at 06.30 am.

The airport officer announced visibility range was not safe for the flight as smog covers the area and decreasing the visibility to 700 to 800 meters at 07.00 to 08.00 am local time.


Editor: Jafar M Sidik

Take firm action against forest fire perpetrators
Antara 25 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi) has asked the government to take the firmest possible action against forest and land fires perpetrators.

"Police and related ministries should be firm against the environmental crime perpetrators," said the forum`s National Manager of Policy and Legal Defense Executive Muhnur Satyahaprabu in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Munhur made the statement in responding the forest fire in Riau province since the beginning of June which has caused smog that travels to Singapore and part of Malaysia.

According to Munhur the forest arsonists must be brought to justice not only the individual but also the landowner corporations.

Based on Walhi`s data obtained from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) satellite show that in 2006 there were as many as 146 264 hotspots, 37,909 hotspots in 2007, 30,616 hotspots in 2008, 29.463 hotspots in 2009, 9.898 hotspots in 2010, and 11,379 hotspots in 2011.

Whereas up to August 2012 Walhi recorded that there are as many as 5,627 spots scattered in several provinces in Indonesia.

Hotspots distribution area are almost the similar every year which located in the province of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, Central Borneo and several other provinces in Sumatra and Sulawesi.

Walhi also noted that forest fires in Indonesia cannot be separated from the pattern of land use and forest policy in Indonesia, since the Production Forest Concessions (HPH) regime started and shifted to plantation, industrial forest permits (HTI) and mining sector, Indonesia`s tropical rain forests are degraded into degraded land and secondary forest.

The regularly occurred forest fires in the last one decade was not only because of the changes in ecological chain, but is also influenced by the intentional large-scale plantation businesses in land clearing.

The rising hotspot number also occurred due to the negligence of Pulp and Paper industry in running their production and environmental management.


Editor: Jafar M Sidik

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Malaysia calls for regional haze meeting to be held earlier

Teo Cheng Wee Regional Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur
Straits Times 25 Jun 13;

WITH air pollution in parts of the region hitting alarming levels, Malaysia has proposed bringing forward to next week a five-nation ministerial meeting on the haze.

Singapore said it backed the call for an earlier meeting - formally known as the 15th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

Malaysian Natural Resources and Environment Minister G. Palanivel said yesterday he was waiting for a formal response from Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei.

If they agree to an earlier meeting, it could be convened in Kuala Lumpur as early as Tuesday instead of Aug 20-21, he said.

In an e-mail response to The Straits Times, a spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said: "Singapore supports Malaysia's proposal to bring forward the MSC meeting.

"Our top-most concern is how member countries can address the current crisis effectively and expediently, and to decide on approaches and put in place measures to prevent a recurrence."

The haze - a phenomenon that affects the region annually - has caused record levels of pollution in Singapore and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia since it returned this month.

Mr Palanivel has been under public pressure to act on the haze affecting Malaysia. More than 40 per cent of the country now suffers from unhealthy air.

The minister, who is meeting Indonesian counterpart Balthasar Kambuaya in Jakarta tomorrow, also rejected calls for the Malaysian authorities to punish Malaysian companies allegedly responsible for causing the haze.

Indonesia last week fingered eight companies with Malaysian investors as being responsible for the current haze.

They include two linked to plantation giant and government-linked company Sime Darby, which rejects the claims.

Mr Palanivel said: "If they (Indonesia) want to prosecute the Malaysian companies, they should prosecute them in Indonesia. We can't go and prosecute companies that operate there."

He added that he would look at the evidence Indonesia provides, as well as meet representatives of the eight companies during his visit to Jakarta.

"They are saying that so many Malaysian companies are involved. I am sure Indonesian planters are also involved," he said.

Read more!

Singapore: More seeing doctors for haze-related illnesses

Kash Cheong Straits Times 25 jun 13;

DOCTORS in polyclinics are seeing more patients for haze-related ailments.

Polyclinics in Singapore attended to 3,853 such cases last week, an increase of 16.5 per cent from the 3,307 cases the week before.

SingHealth Polyclinics also told The Straits Times it saw 890 visits for asthma last week, up from 620 the previous week.

The number of conjuctivitis cases surged from 200 to 280 at SingHealth in the same period, while visits for other ailments like upper respiratory tract infection and bronchitis have also increased.

Said administrative assistant Rohana Mohamed Yusof, 35, who visited a polyclinic last week: "My cough usually goes away in two or three days with medicine, but it persisted due to the haze."

Dr Lyn James, director of the Health Ministry's epidemiology and disease control division, said polyclinics have been able to manage the spike in cases.

For now, emergency departments in public hospitals are seeing only a marginal increase in haze-related cases - from 555 cases two weeks ago to 559 last week.

The ministry said there are now over 400 private clinics that have signed up for the government scheme which offers subsidised treatment for haze-related illnesses. Under this scheme, those aged 18 and below, or 65 and above, or who are on public assistance, can see a general practitioner for haze-related conditions for just $10.

On the issue of face masks, the ministry has warned that smaller versions of the N95 on the market may not be effective for children.

Dr James said these were likely designed for smaller adults and were not certified for kids. "These (smaller) masks were not designed specifically for children... so they may not provide the effectiveness they are supposed to."

The Health Ministry has said that children should instead stay indoors as much as possible during hazy conditions.

Meanwhile, employers are continuing to hand out face masks to their workers just in case the haze worsens again.

Singapore Press Holdings yesterday supplied its staff, including news vendors and more than 2,500 delivery workers, with N95 masks. More masks will be ordered.

Said news vendor Veerapandian, 40: "I am glad to receive the mask. I was not able to buy one as it was sold out in many outlets."

Additional reporting by Feng Zengkun, Pearl Lee and Afdhal Rahman

More people seeing the doctor due to haze
Amanda Lee Today Online 24 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — The daily attendances for haze-related conditions at the emergency department and polyclinics have increased over the past week, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) at a technical briefing this evening (June 24).

Last week (June 17 to 23), there were 559 daily attendances at the emergency departments — an increase of 0.9 per cent — from 555 cases between June 10 to 16.

At the polyclinics, there were 3,853 daily attendances last week, an increase of 16.5 per cent, from 3,307 cases between June 10 to 16.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) tomorrow is expected to be in the moderate band of 51 to 100.

According to the health advisory, people with chronic lung disease, heart disease or stroke should avoid all outdoor activity. If outdoor activity is unavoidable, they are advised to wear an N95 mask.

Upsurge in asthma cases as KL gets hit
Lester Kong Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur
Straits Times 25 Jun 13;

PUBLIC relations consultant Claire Khoo feels frustrated as the haze worsens her six-month-old son's bronchiolitis, which causes asthmatic symptoms.

"I feel like we are so far down the value chain for the authorities to want to do anything about our plight," said the 33-year-old mother. A doctor had told her to use an inhaler to relieve her son's symptoms, she said.

There has been an upsurge in asthma cases in the past week, as thick haze envelops the nation's capital, forcing schools to cancel classes yesterday. Besides Kuala Lumpur, schools in Malacca, Selangor, Putrajaya and parts of Johor and Pahang also closed.

Except for Klang, all schools in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Selangor will reopen today.

A change in wind direction is blowing the thick smoke north towards Kuala Lumpur and Selangor from Johor and Singapore.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) readings in Port Klang and Banting, both in Selangor, crossed into "hazardous" and "very unhealthy" territory respectively at 5pm yesterday.

The overall haze situation across Malaysia also worsened, with 42 per cent of the country recording "unhealthy" levels at 5pm, up from 36 per cent yesterday morning.

The haze situation in Muar improved considerably yesterday, however, with the API reading falling to 148 from a record 746 on Sunday morning. But the Johor town and nearby Ledang town remain under an emergency status declared on Sunday.

Port Dickson had the highest API reading of 335 yesterday, but this dropped to 193 at 5pm.

API readings of between 200 and 300 are deemed "very unhealthy", while those above 300 are considered "hazardous".

Malaysia Airlines has warned of flight interruptions in the next few days, as it monitors air quality over airports in Pahang, Kelantan, Terengganu, Kuala Lumpur and Sabah.

With haze levels remaining in the unhealthy range, a mad scramble for face masks has also led to shortages, as manufacturers have been unable to cope with demand.

Mr Lim Hai Leong told The Straits Times that his company in Penang can only deliver a maximum of 100,000 masks a week.

Strong demand has also pushed up prices, he said.

A box of 50 masks now costs about RM8 (S$3.18) instead of the usual RM5.

Read more!

Haze: Birds wake later, dogs stay indoors

Rashvinjeet Singh Bedi The Star 25 Jun 13;

The birds are waking up much later to forage. The birds are waking up much later to forage.

PETALING JAYA: The birds are waking up much later to forage for food the past few days. The cats and dogs are also not too keen on going out.

It seems that humans are not the only ones affected by the haze.

Over the last week, consultant avian, exotic, wildlife and zoo veterinarian Dr S. Vellayan observed that the birds, especially the free-flying painted stock, are getting up about an hour later than usual to look for food.

“This could indicate interference in their vision due to the haze,” said Dr Vellayan who lives next to Zoo Negara in Ampang.

Dr Vellayan, who has worked in the national zoo for 28 years, added that birds had a good filtration system for their nostrils.

Kucing Terbiar Anjing Jalanan (KTAJ) volunteer Rina Zahid noticed that fewer birds were eating food that she puts out for them.

Bukit Beruntong, Selangor, where she lives has been badly hit by the haze in the last three days.

“I hear less birds chirping in the morning,” she lamented.

She, however, added that her cats did not seem to be affected as they stay indoors but she has seen a marked difference in her dog, which seemed to be more lethargic.

She added that lots of strays were missing from the neighbourhood, although she was unsure of the exact reason.

Veterinarian Dr M.Vijayndra believed there is a slight increase in respiratory problems and eye irritations in pets over the past few days.

“I believe there are cases due to the haze but most would be due to pre-existing conditions,” he said.

He suggested that pet owners continue to walk their pets, although the time could be shortened, especially those prone to problems.

Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better (MDDB) founder Wani Muthiah noticed that her dogs are refusing to go out of the house now.

“Usually, they love to be out in the porch but now they are just staying in the bedroom,” said Wani who lives in Port Klang where the Air Pollutant Index reading breached the hazardous level on Monday.

Zoo Negara deputy director Dr Muhammad Danial Felix, meanwhile, said the zoo's animals were not much affected now although there could be problems if the haze persisted.

“Pollutants can affect animals in the long run,” he said.

He said the zoo took precautionary measures such as giving more Vitamin C and water to the animals. He added that animals would be less active in bad weather conditions.

Read more!

New homes for seized illegal wildlife

Lim Yi Han Straits Times 25 Jun 13;

SOME may be repatriated, others will be released into the wild. And there are those which could get a new home in the zoo.

Careful consideration will be given to what happens to the more than 30 wild animals, which include three rare ball pythons, two Indian star tortoises and a slow loris, recently seized from a flat here.

Currently, the creatures are being kept in quarantine by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).

Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, WRS chief life sciences officer, said: "It is important to consider whether an animal is able to survive in the wild particularly if it has lived in captivity for many years.

"Animals should also never be set free in non-native habitats because they can become invasive species and cause serious disruption to local ecosystems."

Earlier this month, the WRS, which runs four attractions including the Singapore Zoo and River Safari, received the animals, which also included black-tailed prairie dogs and ornate horned frogs, after a raid by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

This was the biggest seizure of illegal wildlife from a home in 11 years, said AVA. Last year it seized about 70 wild animals being kept illegally, a spike from 10 in 2011. The number of animals was 60 in 2010.

These creatures tend to be injured and in distress due to human contact.

Dr Cheng added: "Wild animals have special dietary needs which require specialised training, and many kept illegally are unable to access the proper food and care they require."

The WRS said that since 2006, it has received an average of 300 to 400 animals yearly through animal rescues, confiscations by AVA and police, as well as public donations.

Meanwhile, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) has rescued more than 100 animals from the illegal wildlife trade since September 2009.

The first animal it saved was a vervet monkey, a native of Africa, in 2004. It was illegally imported into Singapore and chained up in a factory. Acres later repatriated the animal to Zambia.

Acres executive director Louis Ng has called for stricter enforcement for those who import or keep wildlife illegally. He said: "What we are doing now is picking up the pieces. We need to take preventive measures and target these sellers and stop them from even bringing these animals in."

It is an offence to import or export any animal without a permit from AVA, and to possess, sell or advertise any illegal wildlife. The penalty for the offence is a jail term of up to two years, a fine of up to $50,000 per animal, or both.

Read more!

Experts formulate pangolin conservation plan

TRAFFIC 24 Jun 13;

Pangolins, or scaly anteaters are found in Africa and Asia, and are in high demand both for their meat and for their scales, used in traditional medicine.

All eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws, and two are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

No international trade in the four pangolin species found in Asia is permitted through their zero quota allocation under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Collectively, pangolins are one of the most trafficked mammals in Asia and increasingly, in Africa. Globally, thousands are illegally traded each year, primarily to China and Viet Nam.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission (IUCN-SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group has teamed up with Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) to organize this first ever global conference on pangolin conservation.

Representatives from TRAFFIC will address delegates to the meeting about the pangolin trade.

Professor Jonathan Baillie, Conservation Programmes Director at the Zoological Society of London and Co-Chair of the IUCN-SSC Pangolin Specialist Group said:

“This is a landmark event in pangolin conservation, we will have 50 researchers from around the world gathered to set a road-map for conserving pangolins over the next decade. Especially important here is formulating ways to reduce demand for pangolins in Asia.”

Themed “Scaling up pangolin conservation” the four-day event runs until 27th June and is co-organised, hosted and sponsored by Wildlife Reserves Singapore and the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund (WRSCF).

A free public seminar on pangolin conservation will be held on 28th June from 12.30pm – 4pm at the Forest Lodge in Singapore Zoo. Speakers will include Dr Chris Shepherd, Acting Regional Director for TRAFFIC in South-East Asia, Professor Jonathan Baillie, Dan Challender, Co-Chair of the IUCN-SSC Pangolin Specialist Group and Razak Jaffar, Assistant Curator, Night Safari, Wildlife Reserves Singapore. For more information please contact Yap Xinli at

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Vietnam: Rising sea levels put Mekong Delta at risk

VietNamNet Bridge 25 Jun 13;

The Mekong Delta, the country's biggest agricultural hub, might experience a sea level rise of 30cm sooner rather than expected - as early as 2040.

This is revealed in a World Bank report titled Turn down the heat: Climate extremes, regional impacts and the case for resilience, which was released globally last week.

The report said the rapid rise would mean a loss of about 12 per cent of crop production due to inundation and salinity intrusion. It was projected that rice production could drop by about 2.6 million tonnes per year.

The report said the Mekong Delta and two other Asian river deltas in Asia were particularly at risk because they were less than two metres above sea level.

It said that rising sea levels, more intense tropical cyclones and land subsidence caused by human activities, would disrupt the main economic activities of the delta - agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries and tourism.

The Washington-based development bank estimated the cost of adapting shrimp and catfish aquaculture in the Mekong Delta would range from US$130-190 million per year.

HCM City was also declared to be among coastal cities in Southeast Asia hardest hit by rising seas and increased storm surges. The report claimed that up to 60 per cent of the built-up area could expect rises of up to one metre.

Ajali Acharya, the World Bank Viet Nam's environment cluster leader, said the report provided scientific evidences on which Viet Nam and development partners could help the country move along the low-carbon, climate-resilient, sustainable-development path.

Tran Thuc, director of Viet Nam's Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment, agreed with the World Bank's recommendation that Southeast Asian countries intensify actions to address the impacts of climate change.

He said Viet Nam had made remarkable efforts, with short-term priority going to climate adaptation.

He said much needed to be done in disaster mitigation, flood management and building climate resilience, especially among those poor.

"The core of climate change adaptation is becoming more and more about poverty reduction," he said.

The World Bank is working with Viet Nam on a series of policy actions to mitigate climate change impacts and is discussing programmes in HCM City and in the Mekong Delta to address some of these threats.

Source: VNS

Global warming puts Vietnam livelihoods under threat, World Bank warns 24 Jun 13;

Vietnamese farmers harvest rice. A recent World Bank report says livelihoods in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, are being threatened by climate change. Photo by Ngoc Thang

Livelihoods in Vietnam, which is part of “vulnerable” Southeast Asia, are facing threats from sea-level rise, ocean warming, and more severe storms and floods caused by an increasing possibility of the temperature rising by four degrees Celsius, the World Bank warns in a report.

The report titled “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts and the Case for Resilience” and released last week said Southeast Asia, parts of which were archipelagoes and whose large populations live in low-lying deltaic and coastal regions, was “particularly vulnerable” to the impacts of rising sea levels.

A rise of 30 centimeters, which could occur as early as 2040, could cause a loss of around 12 percent in agricultural production in the Mekong Delta region due to flooding and seawater intrusion.

The region contributes around half of Vietnam’s total agricultural output, especially rice.

Climate change's consequences like tropical storms, salinity intrusion, and coastal floods, would also threaten aquaculture, a rapidly growing industry that is important to the economy and food security in Southeast Asia, it said.

Rising temperatures could exceed the tolerance limits of farmed aquatic species.

In Vietnam, the aquaculture sector contributes around 5 percent of GDP.

Fisheries, especially coral reef fisheries, were likely to be impacted by the rise, warming, and acidification of oceans, causing considerable reductions in maximum catch potential in the region, including 16 percent in Vietnamese waters.

The sea-level rise and tropical storms could increase the intrusion of seawater, thereby contaminating freshwater sources and causing increased health problems such as miscarriages, skin and respiratory diseases, and diarrhea.

Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Manila, and Bangkok, are expected to see sea levels rise by 50 centimeters by about 2060 and 100 centimeters by 2090.

The report, by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, looks at the risks that the three “most vulnerable” regions of Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa are likely to encounter if the temperature increases by two degrees in 20-30 years or even four degrees by the end of this century.

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

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

Axel van Trotsenburg, the World Bank's vice president for East Asia and Pacific, said: “Many Southeast Asian countries are already taking concerted actions to address the impacts of climate change, but this report tells us that we need to do much more [to reduce the ever-increasing vulnerability of populations to climate risk].”

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