Best of our wild blogs: 26 Jun 13

Uniquely Singapore: Glenophisis singapura
from Hopping Around

Birthday Bash at shores of East Coast
from wonderful creation and Peiyan.Photography and wild shores of singapore

A Loitering Vagrant captured in Singapore
from Butterflies of Singapore

Read more!

Documenting the heritage of Bidadari Cemetery

Ng Jing Yng Today Online 26 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — The National Heritage Board (NHB) will be documenting the historical elements of the former Bidadari Cemetery and its surroundings, which have been slated to be turned into a housing estate.

According to a tender called by the NHB on June 5, it is seeking an agency to “conduct research and to prepare a detailed report on the heritage of the former Bidadari Cemetery and the wider Bidadari estate”. Among other things, the project due by August will include an account of the developments and events that have taken place as well as the origins and history of the place — one of Singapore’s oldest burial grounds. The NHB has also asked vendors to conduct interviews with relevant individuals.

In February, the Government announced Bidadari as one of three new housing estates, alongside Tampines North and Tengah. The authorities later assured that the development of Bidadari, which is set to offer 11,000 units over the next three years and is located at the junction of Upper Serangoon Road and Upper Aljunied Road, will incorporate its green landscape and historical elements.

The former cemetery includes the Bidadari Garden, which is home to tombstones of 21 notable Singapore pioneers. They include medical doctor and social reformer Lim Boon Keng and former Speaker of Parliament George Oehlers. Dr Lim and Song Ong Siang, a lawyer who was also buried at Bidadari, founded the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School in 1899.

The former Bidadari Cemetery, which is almost as big as four-and-a-half National Stadiums, is currently used by joggers. The graves were exhumed in 2001.

Responding to media queries, the NHB said: “This project is in preparation for the development of Bidadari estate.” Adding that the NHB and the Housing and Development Board (HDB) will be working closely on the project, the NHB spokesperson said: “Bidadari’s history and heritage elements will be considered in the planning of the (Bidadari estate).”

Heritage and history experts TODAY spoke to applauded the NHB’s efforts to consider historical elements during the Bidadari development process, noting that the move signified an increased awareness in preserving Singapore’s heritage.

Last year, the Government’s decision to build a road through the Bukit Brown Cemetery drew flak from both conservation and nature groups. Some parties felt that there was a lack of consultation before plans were finalised, while others were up in arms over the loss of nature and heritage spaces in the country.

History academic Goh Geok Yian from Nanyang Technological University felt that the Bukit Brown episode could have been “instrumental” in alerting the NHB to the importance of documenting gravestones and other structures in Bidadari.

She suggested giving members of the public a chance to participate in the research process, including giving views on how they want historical places to be remembered.

“Places, like the Bidadari estate and cemetery, form parts of a history of Singapore which is multifaceted and longer,” said Dr Goh. “The obliteration of many of these places only serves to make our country’s history poorer and less interesting.”

Singapore Heritage Society Vice-President Chua Ai Lin said that it is important to provide urban planners with the research findings during the early stages of development, “so that the research can inform the planning in a meaningful way”.

“It is important not to look at Singapore as if it is a blank slate, but to incorporate a sense of continuity from the past in our future plans,” she added.

Read more!

RSPO Vows Probe Into Members Tied to Fires

Farouk Arnaz Jakarta Globe 26 Jun 13;

Police in Sumatra’s Riau province now have nine people in custody for setting forest fires that have blanketed the region and neighboring countries in haze, an official said on Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Ronny F. Sompie, a spokesman for the National Police, said in Jakarta that all nine people were farmers and they had been charged with deliberately setting fires to clear their land.

Two of them were arrested on Monday, while the rest were arrested on Tuesday.

The fire hot spots, many of them raging in peat forests, have generated huge amounts of thick haze that have driven air pollution indicators to record levels in Riau and across the Malacca Strait in Singapore and Malaysia.

The annual occurrence has been so severe this time around that it has sparked a diplomatic spat, with Indonesian officials blaming local companies owned by Singaporean and Malaysian palm oil and forestry companies for the hot spots.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono sought to ease tensions on Monday when he issued an apology to Singapore and Malaysia for the impact of the haze and criticized the Riau administration for not taking steps to prevent the forest fires from getting out of control.

Environmental groups have leveled much of the blame on plantations and smallholdings linked to palm oil companies, and on Tuesday the association governing the sustainable production of the commodity acknowledged that some of its members might be implicated.

Darrel Webber, the secretary general of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, said in a statement that the organization was “critically looking into this to first of all identify the member organizations that have been indicated as implicated.”

“Secondly to instruct them to immediately deploy measures that will terminate any open burning that may have been caused by them; and thirdly, RSPO will take remedial actions against these companies if the forest fires are due to negligent conduct,” he said.

He added of the companies reported to be responsible for the fires, five were RSPO members: Jatim Jaya Perkasa, Tabung Haji Plantations, Sinar Mas, Kuala Lumpur Kepong and Sime Darby.

“The RSPO will be directing these member companies to submit digital maps of their plantations in Sumatra and Kalimantan within the next 48 hours, which will be used to assess and analyze against the published mapping of the forest fires,” Webber said.

“The analysis will assist in confirming the locations of the forest fires in comparison with the location of plantations owned by these member companies, which will then form the basis for the next step in the investigation,” he added.

He said that if the RSPO determined the companies were responsible for the fires, it would not hesitate to take action. However, he also said “other regulatory enforcements must immediately and urgently step in” to address the problem.

The RSPO, he went on, “firmly condemns any negligent activities related to this” and “is highly concerned about the impact on communities and children living in these countries and strongly advocates urgent measures to be taken to cease this heightening pollution.”

The RSPO members linked to the fires have reiterated they abide by the association’s guidelines on environmental stewardship and sustainability.

Tan Sri Dato’ Mohd Bakke Salleh, the president and group chief executive of Malaysia’s Sime Darby, said the company “fully supports the initiative by the RSPO.”

“I would like to reiterate Sime Darby’s commitment and full compliance of the zero burning policy, which is strictly embedded in all our oil palm plantation operations,” he said.

A Sime Darby spokesperson said on Monday that the company’s zero burning policy had been in place since 1985.

Sin Chuan Eng, head of sustainability at Kuala Lumpur Kepong, said the company would arrange to submit the digital maps of its plantations to the RSPO and would cooperate fully in the investigation.

Gapki Says Don’t Blame Its Members for Fires
Tito Summa Siahaan Jakarta Globe 26 Jun 13;

A log lies in a field burnt off by forest fires in Plintingan, Riau Province, Indonesia, on Tuesday, June 25, 2013. Indonesia is sending more than 3,000 soldiers, marines and air force officers to fight forest fires in Sumatra that have been blamed for heavy haze over neighboring Malaysia and Singapore. (Bloomberg Photo/Dimas Ardian)

A log lies in a field burnt off by forest fires in Plintingan, Riau Province, Indonesia, on Tuesday, June 25, 2013. Indonesia is sending more than 3,000 soldiers, marines and air force officers to fight forest fires in Sumatra that have been blamed for heavy haze over neighboring Malaysia and Singapore. (Bloomberg Photo/Dimas Ardian)

The Indonesian Palm Oil Association believes that its members are not to be blamed for the string of forest fires in Sumatra’s Riau province that attracted international attention.

Joko Supriyono, the secretary general of the group known as Gapki, believes that the government’s information on the various hot spots in the province is inaccurate.

“The government must validate the information by going straight to the location. Even a zinc roof was identified as a hot spot [by satellite imaging],” he said on Tuesday.

“This haze incident cornered the palm industry further. Without the incident we are already under attack,” Joko said, accusing some parties of exploiting the situation to further disrupt Indonesia’s palm oil industry.

Joko claimed that he checked Gapki’s members in Riau and found that most of the wildfires occurred beyond their concession areas.

“There are four of our members suspected of causing fires. Three of them said that the incident was outside their area and one said it was occurred inside a plot owned by a small-holder,” he added.

Gapki’s members, consisting mostly of large plantation firms, would never resort to a slash-and-burn technique for land clearance as they fear being criminalized for their activities, Joko said.

“Furthermore, there have been no expansions of palm oil plantation in the province,” he claimed.

Joko also highlighted that many of the Gapki members joined the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Still, Joko admitted that slash-and-burn was the cheapest method for land clearance and small-holders may be tempted to use it due to lack of knowledge and resources.

“Mechanical land clearance would be too expensive for them,” he added.

Joko also reminded that during the dry season fire can be ignited very easily and spread very quickly.

“A simple cigarette butt could trigger wildfires,” he said.

The government recently identified 10 companies with fires on their land on Friday, including Jakarta-based Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (Smart) and Asia Pacific Resources International (April).

Gapki has 600 large-scale plantation firms that cover 3 million hectares of the total 9 million hectares of palm oil plantations across the country.

Sime Darby, KLK units among firms blamed for fires
Alvin Foo Straits Times 26 Jun 13;

THREE firms accused of starting fires that led to the haze crisis are units of some of Malaysia's largest public companies, while another is linked to a fund that helps Malaysian Muslims save for pilgrimages.

Indonesia last week pinpointed eight firms as being responsible for setting fires to clear land.

Two of the slash-and-burn suspects are units of Sime Darby Plantation, which is part of Sime Darby, a conglomerate with a market value of RM56.7 billion (S$22.5 billion) and 100,000 staff in more than 20 countries.

Another company being investigated is a subsidiary of Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK), a giant company with plantation, resource-based manufacturing and property interests. It has a market value of RM22.5 billion.

A fourth, PT Multi Gambut Industri, is a subsidiary of Malaysia's Lembaga Tabung Haji, the pilgrimage fund board that runs a scheme helping Malaysian Muslims save for their pilgrimage to Mecca.

CIMB regional economist Song Seng Wun said: "Sime Darby and KLK are very large Malaysian companies with a long history. Sime Darby is seen as a government-linked company, while KLK is a family-controlled Chinese business."

Sime Darby Plantation is one of the world's largest palm oil producers, accounting for 2.44 million tonnes, or about 5 per cent of global crude palm oil output yearly.

It has plantations in Malaysia, Liberia and Indonesia's Kalimantan, Sumatra and Sulawesi. In Singapore, the Sime Darby brand is known through Sime Darby Motors, which distributes BMW cars.

The conglomerate, whose roots go back to the 19th century, also has interests in industrial equipment, energy and utilities, and health care.

Similarly, KLK started as a plantation company over a century ago. It has a land bank of over 250,000ha across Malaysia and Indonesia's Belitung Island, Sumatra, and central and east Kalimantan.

KLK's chief executive is Malaysian tycoon Lee Oi Hian, who has been named with his brother Lee Hau Hian as one of Malaysia's 40 richest by Forbes, with a combined net worth of US$1.1 billion (S$1.2 billion).

The group has now diversified into property development. It also owned retailer of bath and body products Crabtree & Evelyn, which was sold last year for US$155 million.

Both Sime Darby Plantation and KLK have denied involvement in the fires, adding that they have strict no-burning policies.

Sime Darby Plantation said its units operate in areas where there are local communities and smallholders occupying parts of the concession area linked to the haze, and they are unable to control activities in areas occupied by others.

KLK said on Monday that the purported concession area under PT Adei Plantation is mainly planted with mature palms, with no land-clearing for new plantings.

PT Multi Gambut Industri is now known as PT TH Indo Plantations. Its parent, the Lembaga Tabung Haji, said it is not involved in any open burning activities.

Aside from Sime Darby's PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati and PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation, and KLK's PT Adei Plantation, the others named are PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo, PT Udaya Loh Dinawi, PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa, and PT Mustika Agro Lestari.

On Monday, the Association of Plantation Investors of Malaysia in Indonesia said Malaysian firms are not involved in clearing Indonesian land using fire. Its executive secretary, Mr Nor Hazlan Abdul Mutalib, told Bernama: "Plantation owners have to set aside 20 per cent of land to nurture smallholders in oil palm planting. It is a common practice for the smallholders to clear the land by fire."

Additional reporting by Chia Yan Min

Wilmar, Golden Agri admit links

TWO of the world's biggest palm oil companies - Wilmar International and Golden Agri-Resources - have admitted that they do business with some of the eight named companies being investigated for starting haze-related fires in Indonesia.

Both Singapore-listed companies said they are in the midst of reviewing these dealings.

The eight firms are among the 14 being investigated so far by Indonesia for the fires.

Wilmar, the world's largest palm oil processor, said it conducts business "with some of these companies as they have assured (it) that they have a no-burn policy". It is checking with these firms to ascertain their involvement.

A Wilmar spokesman said: "However, should they be found to be involved in burning to clear land for cultivation, we will stop doing business with them."

A Golden Agri spokesman said: "We have some transactions with a few of the named companies, and the management is in the process of reviewing these."


Haze update: 5 firms ordered to submit maps in RSPO probe
Dionne Thompson, Assistant Foreign Editor Straits Times 25 Jun 13;

THE Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an international organisation that monitors and promotes sustainable farming of palm oil, is launching investigations into five of its members in the wake of the forest fires in Indonesia.

It is asking PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa, Sinar Mas, Tabung Haji Plantations, Kuala Lumpur Kepong and Sime Darby to submit digital maps of their plantations in Kalimantan and Sumatra within the next 48 hours for its investigation, it said in a statement released late on Monday.

RSPO will compare these maps against the published mapping of the forest fires by the American Nasa (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and Noaa (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) as part of its investigation.

"If the investigations confirm negligent conduct – the RSPO will not hesitate to take action," it said.

Several RSPO member companies say they support the move by RSPO to clear the air.

"Sime Darby Berhad fully supports the initiative by RSPO. I would like to reiterate Sime Darby's commitment and full compliance of the zero burning policy, which is strictly embedded in all our oil palm plantation operations," said Sime Darby president and group chief executive Mohd Bakke Salleh.

"We will be making arrangements to submit the digital maps of our plantations to RSPO and shall give the RSPO fullest cooperation during the process of the proposed investigations," said Kuala Lumpur Kepung head of sustainability Sin Chuan Eng.

RSPO members are not allowed to resort to open burning and have standard operating procedures to manage fire risks.

"The environmental pollution caused by forest fires in Indonesia that has enveloped several countries in South East Asia to such hazardous levels is deplorable," said RSPO secretary general Darrel Webber.

"The RSPO firmly condemns any negligent activities related to this. The RSPO is highly concerned about the impact on communities and children living in these countries and strongly advocates urgent measures to be taken to cease this heightening pollution."

Read more!

Oil palm a lucrative crop for Indonesia, Malaysia

Walter Sim Straits Times 26 Jun 13;

PALM oil is the liquid gold of South-east Asia, accounting for billions of dollars in the economies of Malaysia and Indonesia - as well as the livelihoods of millions of people there.

The two countries together account for some 85per cent of global production, and this contributed about $42.3billion to their economies last year, going by the average price of US$750 (S$960) a tonne. This was estimated by Dr Dodo Thampapillai, an economist at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Some 4.5 million people in the two nations earn a living from the crop, said World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore (WWF).

The labels of many products show how ubiquitous palm oil is - it can be found in everything from ice-cream and chocolate to soap and shampoo.

"It is almost impossible to avoid palm oil," said Ms Khor Yu Leng, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies who specialises in agribusiness research. "It is everywhere."

Palm oil has come under scrutiny after an Indonesian Forestry Ministry official accused Malaysian and Singapore palm oil companies there of being responsible for the fires in Sumatra.

But substituting it with another oil crop may not be a solution.

Compared to other vegetable oil crops such as sunflower, soyabean and rapeseed, palm oil requires less than half the land to produce the same amount of oil, say experts.

This means production costs and the eventual price will be lower than alternatives, Ms Khor noted. Palm oil also has health benefits, as it does not need to be chemically processed and has no transfat, she said.

Substituting palm oil with other oils may thus create "similar,

if not even larger, environmental and social problems", WWF said.

"The issue here is not around the usage of palm oil, but around the way it is produced today," it stressed.

Unsustainable production could involve the indiscriminate clearing of rainforests, said Dr Thampapillai.

Ms Khor said sustainable practices should be encouraged, although they carry a "slight premium" as they need to comply with global protocols. The WWF said this premium could be as little as 1 per cent.

Forests and oil palm plantations with less-usable crop may be cleared using heavy machinery such as bulldozers. But errant companies and farmers tend to use the slash-and-burn method, which some believe improves soil fertility.

This involves chopping down trees, piling up dead wood and leaves, and razing the heap.

When this is done on highly flammable peat land, the fires can spread great distances underground and make fires difficult to extinguish, said the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a non-profit body promoting sustainable oil palm farming.

The WWF said: "To find a long-term solution, a multi-stakeholder method must be employed, beyond governmental rule and regulation."

Haze: 40 times cheaper to burn than use machines, says expert
Rashvinjeet S. Bedi The Star 26 Jun 13;

PETALING JAYA: The slash and burn method of land clearing is 40 times cheaper than using machines, thus making it difficult for Indonesia to stop open burning.

“The underlying factor is cost,” said Dr Helena Varkkey of the Department of International and Strategic Studies, Universiti Malaya.

Dr Varkkey, whose expertise is in environmental politics, said that based on research done by others, the cost per hectare in using the slash and burn method is approximately USD5 per hectare.

Using machines would cost about USD200.

She pointed out that small-scale farmers were not the primary source of fires and the culprits were the 60% to 80% of commercial plantations.

“The problem is that most commercial plantations also prefer to use fire, for similar cost-related reasons.

"These companies are able to avert the risk of being caught and punished for open burning,” said Dr Varkkey who was written papers on the haze and oil palm.

She explained that the companies would hire subcontractors to clear land and if they were caught for burning, they claimed to have instructed the subcontractors not to use the slash and burn way.

These companies, she added, often cultivate healthy relationships with local and central government officials.

Another situation that led to the fires causing transboundary haze that has affected Malaysia and Singapore in recent days is the increasing use of peat soil to grow oil palm trees.

Dr Varkkey said there are regulations that forbid the use of peat land for commercial purposes

“When drained for use, peat dries quickly and becomes highly flammable.

"Even if these companies do not deliberately burn for land clearing, drained peat is highly susceptible to accidental fires.

"These companies are already placing their concessions at risk of fires by opening up these areas,” she said.

She added that while pulp and paper or rubber plantations owners also used fire to clear land, the effects were not as severe as the burning of peat soil.

“When peat burns, it releases carbon-rich, sooty smoke that result in very bad haze, and the fires are very hard to put out.

"Fires on other types of land do not produce such choking smoke, and are usually easier to put out,” she said.

Dumai is epicentre of haze
The Star 26 Jun 13;

Dirty skies: The landscape covered in thick layers of smoke, showing the dirty air, poor visibility and almost non-existent sun. Dirty skies: The landscape covered in thick layers of smoke, showing the dirty air, poor visibility and almost non-existent sun.

DUMAI: Sitting at a stall by a centre coordinating efforts by a special unit to fight peat fire, one of my newly-made friends asked if Malaysia could send help to put an end to the smog from peat fires.

“We have minimal equipment, only a water pump and hose to put out the smoke,” said the man named Nafi.

“Hopefully, Malaysia could send an aircraft to help us,” he added.

Cameraman Lim Cheng Kiat and I were to cover the haze in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau, a province in Indonesia on the island of Sumatra. Dumai wasn’t in our plan.

But we decided to come here anyway as the people in Pekanbaru told us that Dumai was “the epicentre of the haze”.

Leaving our hotel in Pekanbaru at about 7am on Monday, it took us about six hours to arrive in Dumai using the Jalan Lintas Timur.

The 250km journey passed through Kandis, Bengkalis, Duri, Simpang Bangko, Bukit Timah, Minas, Ujung Tanjung and Rokan Hilir before reaching Dumai.

The haze was bad as we were leaving Pekanbaru, unlike a day before when the air quality had improved.

Our supir (driver) Tarmi said the skies looked dirty, the air smelled bad and “the sun look sick”, referring to the ochre-coloured sun.

There were signs along the route, reminding motorists it was accident-prone. There had already been several road casualties in the area.

Along the way, we saw evidences of the slash-and-burn methods used by the traditional farmers.

We made a detour at Jalan Bukit Timah, Mandau, after seeing smoke billowing from a distance.

Entering the jalan kampung (village tracks), we saw dark smog coming from the pineapple farms and other plantations belonging to villagers. Much of the undergrowth was being burned and turned to ashes.

We stopped by the roadside. Tarmi and I entered the plantation area and I lost my balance while stepping on the dried tree trunks.

My legs sank into the peat soil which was up to almost knee high and my RM125 sandals got caught in it.

We stopped at the special unit post to clean up and to chit-chat with the staff there. They were on their lunch break at a nearby stall.

Unit commander Ustil said the peat soil fire started in Simpang Bako a month ago, adding that it was not due to slash-and-burn but more so by the on-going dry season.

He said that 1,000ha of pineapple farms and thousands of hectares of estates had been razed, causing huge loses to smallholders.

Others who joined us at the stall – Dodi, Putra and Coki – wanted to know how bad the haze was in Malaysia and were surprised when told that schools were forced to close.

Nafi joked: “Ya Pak, Indonesia expor asap dengan TKI ke Malaysia, Malaysia pula expor narkoba sama teroris ke Indonesia.”

(Indonesia exports smoke and manpower to Malaysia, Malaysia in turn exports drugs and terrorists to Indonesia.)

Read more!

How Singapore can help clear the air on the haze

Singapore can help Indonesia untangle complex ownership structure of companies to figure out who's legally responsible if crimes have been committed.
Nigel Sizer For The Straits Times 26 Jun 13;

AS MALAYSIA declares emergency status for two Johor towns, with over 200 schools closing, and residents of Indonesia and Singapore continuing to suffer from the choking haze, it's time to move beyond the blame game of claims and counter claims. Instead, we need to look at the facts, learn quickly from the data, and ensure political leaders, companies and communities take appropriate action to prevent this crisis from recurring.

Last Friday, the World Resources Institute published detailed data indicating the location of fires that have led to the widespread haze. Our aim was to provide objective information that would help shed light on where the fires are located and who is responsible.

Our analysis was simple. Using the best information that is publically available, we took satellite data showing alerts where fires are occurring, on the website of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), and combined it with maps of palm oil, tree plantation, and logging licences. We then tallied up the number of fire alerts in each concession, as well as on other land, and published the results, including an interactive map, on our website.

While this analysis is still preliminary, we highlighted three key points:

First, most of the fire alerts across Indonesia last week were in just one province, Riau. Within Riau, 52 per cent of the fire alerts were seen within the boundaries of pulpwood and oil palm plantations. Fewer alerts were found in officially protected forest areas, such as national parks, or in areas licensed for selective logging of natural forest. About 48 per cent of the fire alerts were outside of company concessions on land controlled and managed by others, including local communities.

Second, based on the official Indonesian concession maps published by the Ministry of Forestry from 2010, two groups of companies, Sinar Mas and Raja Garuda Mas, control or are closely affiliated with the concessions with the largest number of Nasa fire alerts. We found a total of 32 company concessions where at least 10 fire alerts were observed during the period 12-20 June.

Third, and probably most important, more detailed analysis, with fully up-to-date company concession maps, is not possible because these maps are not publicly available.

We have heard from many sources that our information has helped provide insight into the location of the fires, but due to the lack of more transparent information, it is still incomplete.

Some concession boundaries may have shifted in recent years, some companies have changed hands, and updated information - which can quickly be converted into new maps - would enable officials and companies to better understand where and why the fires are burning, as well as being crucial for any efforts at prosecution.

We should not jump to conclusions about who is to blame.

Indonesian officials are promising a thorough investigation while Singapore's Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who is also Foreign Minister, has said the country would consider possible legal action against companies in Singapore that contributed to the haze.

Knowing who is responsible and legally accountable for these fires can be determined only after careful collection of evidence, and proper due process. Such a process will also need to be carefully monitored by independent observers and analysts to help ensure that justice is done.

Looking forward, how can future fires and haze be prevented?

The Indonesian government has already been making important efforts to improve forest management. The recent extension of the moratorium on new concessions, across an area of forest almost the size of Japan, was a bold move.

Efforts to enhance coordination and data sharing between government agencies have been strengthened by the One Map initiative in Indonesia, which seeks to establish an official map for forest boundaries and concessions. Much more still needs to be done.

Indonesia's top reform-minded decision makers can turn this crisis into an opportunity to overhaul the way different government agencies work together nationally and locally within provinces and districts.

Investment in a well-trained, professional cadre of police officers, local prosecutors, tax officials, and forestry, agricultural, planning and mapping specialists is urgently needed.

The booming oil palm and forestry sectors generate ample tax revenue to more than cover the costs of investment in this enhanced capacity.

Local communities should be empowered to manage and invest in protecting their forest lands.

In recent years, the Ministry of Forestry has worked to turn more land over to the communities themselves, encouraging smaller-scale, locally-owned forest management.

In several places, such as community-managed teak plantations in Central Java, the results have been positive. Recent research by the Centre for International Forestry Research, an international research organisation based in Bogor, shows that when communities' rights to manage forest land are recognised by governments, the rates of forest clearing usually go down.

Based on this experience, Indonesia would do well to accelerate efforts to grant local communities a larger portion of the national forest estate.

Finally, growth in the palm oil and pulp and paper industry is critical for Indonesia to create jobs, economic growth, and tax revenues. According to recent analysis by WRI and partners, there is more than enough already-cleared land in Indonesia to support plantation expansion for many years to come.

Efforts are now needed to reduce the red tape and bureaucracy that companies must work through to gain permission to plant on such degraded land.

How can Singapore help?

Some of the companies linked with the fires have strong links to Singapore.

The ownership and legal structures of these groups are complex. Singapore should do all that it can to assist the Indonesian government with efforts to understand who ultimately controls the companies and can be held legally accountable for any crimes that may have been committed.

Singapore can also explore a range of options for legal sanction and penalty within its own jurisdiction in relation to harm done to the people and economy of the country.

Such steps will all help to send a signal that those who commit forest crimes in Indonesia are more likely to be held accountable in the future, which in turn will help reduce the risk of another haze crisis in years to come.

Dr Nigel Sizer leads the forests team at World Resources Institute, an independent, global think tank with offices in Washington DC and around the world.

The Institute's analysis of the Sumatra fires in English is on the WRI website at

Read more!

Hail in Singapore not due to cloud seeding over Indonesia: NEA

Sara Grosse Channel NewsAsia 26 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency has clarified that the hail seen in Singapore on Tuesday was not due to cloud seeding over Indonesia.

Though winds can potentially bring clouds a distance downward, the agency said, it was unlikely the clouds could travel as far as the distance between Indonesia and Singapore.

The agency said hail forms in very intense thunderstorms clouds, particularly those with great vertical extent and large water droplets.

Thunderstorms occurred on Tuesday in the western parts of Singapore.

NEA said hail is quite rare in Singapore. The last reported hail storm was in 2009.

More afternoon thunderstorms are expected over the next few days.

However, because it is still unknown what the impact of the rain is on PM2.5 concentrations, the government's health advisory remains cautious.

The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources said studies have shown that rain is not so effective in washing away PM2.5 concentrations.

The authorities will be closely monitoring the situation to see if the rain has any positive impact on PM2.5 concentrations, and will change its health advisory accordingly.

The brief respite from the haze is expected to continue on Wednesday with the 24-hour PSI reading forecast to be in the moderate range of 51 to 100.

But as the PM2.5 concentrations are still in the unhealthy levels, the authorities said Singaporeans should remain cautious and minimise outdoor physical activity.

Separately, the Health Ministry said up to 515 GP clinics have come on board its special subsidy scheme for haze-related conditions.

- CNA/al

Hail hits Singapore
Woo Sian Boon And Amanda Lee Today Online 26 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE – The rain that had fallen over parts of Singapore this afternoon (June 25) is neither toxic nor acidic, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

It is also not due to cloud-seeding in Indonesia, said the NEA’s metereologist Patricia Ee in today’s daily haze briefing. She said that rain clouds could not have crossed over from Indonesia as it is too far away.

After a dry spell lasting several days, rain fell in Singapore this afternoon, with reports of hailstones falling in western areas like Chua Chu Kang, Bukit Batok and Jurong East.

According to the NEA, this is the first time in five years hail has been reportedly seen in Singapore. On March 27, 2008, hailstones rained over the central part of Singapore.

“Hailstones spotted in Bukit Batok too! It was smashing against my balcony glass doors!” Facebook user Vida R Nair said, while another Facebook user Jethro Ng Kah Sing said it was “raining ICE in Lim Chu Kang!”

Several social media users sent in pictures of the ice. Some wondered if the cloud seeding operation in Indonesia was the cause.

Hail, which comprises of irregular lumps of ice, forms in strong thunderstorm clouds, when supercooled water droplets freeze on contact with condensation nuclei.

While it is uncertain if haze causes hail, Ms Ee said that the intense thunder clouds this afternoon created the right conditions for hail to form. Any kind of particles, such as haze or dust, can cause condensation nuclei, which could then lead to ice formation.

In a Facebook post, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said: “Heavy but short thunderstorm, especially in the western parts of Singapore brought some hailstones.”

“No, we did not do cloud seeding,” he added.

Earlier today, the NEA said moderate to heavy thundery showers with gusty wind were expected over southern, eastern and central areas of Singapore between 3.25pm and 4.25pm.

Meanwhile, a caller to the MediaCorp hotline, Mr Bai, said that about three trees had fallen along the PIE, near the Bukit Batok exit towards Changi, crashing into several cars during the rain.

The SCDF said it received calls near 3pm requesting for assistance. Rescue tools were used to release the trapped people in the cars and no injuries were reported. A fire engine, red rhino and ambulance were sent to the scene.

Hail rains down on western Singapore
Grace Chua Straits Times 26 Jun 13;

RESIDENTS in the west of Singapore scurried for cover yesterday as a rare hailstorm uprooted trees and disrupted traffic.

The phenomenon - which was last reported here in 2008 - may or may not be linked to haze, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) and weather experts.

But it is unlikely to have been triggered by cloud seeding in Indonesia to extinguish fires in Riau, they said, as the seeding took place hundreds of kilometres away, and hail is a local phenomenon.

"Hail is produced by sizeable cumulonimbus clouds located in very high altitude where temperature is very low," said atmosphere scientist Erwin Mulyana of Indonesia's Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology. "Above Riau, the cumulonimbus clouds are thin and small, and are not at a high altitude."

Both the NEA and external experts did not rule out the possibility that fine haze particles in the air had helped to produce hail.

Weather researcher Matthias Roth, a National University of Singapore associate professor of geography, said haze particles could have acted as tiny nuclei for water to condense and freeze around. "But I cannot say for sure - cloud microphysics is a very complicated scientific field," he said.

Yesterday's storm was the first since the haze episode began last week, and was accompanied by heavy rain and powerful winds.

The NEA said there may be more afternoon thunderstorms in the next few days. It warned that while the rain may have washed coarse haze particles from the sky, it will take longer to wash out finer particles - like those smaller than 2.5 microns in size.

The NEA and experts said the rain was not toxic to people, though it may have contained haze particles. Water agency PUB has stepped up its water quality monitoring since last week.

Today, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index is expected to be moderate (51 to 100) until 6pm. But the health advisory is for unhealthy conditions, based on yesterday's 24-hour PM2.5 readings.

Rain, hail and strong winds wreak havoc
Jalelah Abu Baker And Pearl Lee
Straits Times 27 Jun 13;

FREAK weather conditions, including hail, wreaked havoc in the western part of Singapore yesterday afternoon.

Several roads were blocked by uprooted trees, causing massive traffic jams during and after the heavy downpour. The exit to Jurong Town Hall road on the PIE, Bukit Batok Road, Toh Guan Road and Old Jurong Road were some roads that were affected.

Items such as bamboo poles and plastic chairs were sent flying by strong winds. And at least three cars were damaged by falling trees and branches.

Two of the cars - a Toyota Vios and a Toyota Camry - had been parked at a building's open-air carpark on Toh Guan East Road, just beside the Pan Island Expressway.

Ms Crystal Wong, the owner of the Vios, was shocked by the sight of a tree on top of her car as she walked towards it after work at about 5pm. Her car had to be towed away.

"I don't usually park here," said the 31-year-old project manager, who works in a neighbouring building, bemoaning her bad luck. "The lots at my office building were all occupied because I was slightly late today."

The Camry, which served as Lay Auto's company car, had its roof damaged by the uprooted tree. Staff had earlier moved five other cars from the carpark to the showroom when branches were swaying wildly in the rain.

The third car was damaged while parked at Bukit Batok West Avenue 2.

The weather also caused part of the ceiling in the Church of St Mary of the Angels on Bukit Batok East Ave 2 to come crashing down.

Retiree Ang Lam Toh, who was at a coffee shop in Bukit Batok West Avenue 4 at 3pm yesterday, said he saw ice pellets - as large as 50-cent coins - falling from the sky, accompanied by heavy rain and gusts of wind so strong that plastic chairs which had been stacked atop one another at the coffee shop fell over.

"The wind was strong and the rain was also very heavy, there were ice pieces everywhere - some even landed in the coffee shop," said the 53-year-old.

Although the Singapore Civil Defence Force said there were no reports of people who had been injured by trees, two visitors to the Singapore Zoo suffered pain in the ankle and abrasions when a falling tree branch hit them, a spokesman for Wildlife Reserves Singapore said.

Read more!

Singapore: PM accepts haze apology, urges swift, sustained action

He welcomes Yudhoyono's pledge to tackle fires, and offers help
Rachel Chang And Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta Straits Times 26 Jun 13;

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong welcomed Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's apology for the haze yesterday as Jakarta stepped up efforts to stop the burning in Riau.

In a statement responding to Dr Yudhoyono's apology on Monday for the worst haze in the region's history, Mr Lee said that Singapore "wholeheartedly" accepted the "gracious" gesture.

He also welcomed the Indonesian leader's pledge to spare no efforts in tackling the forest fires, and said he hoped for "swift and sustained action" against illegal land-clearing practices.

To that end, PM Lee reiterated Singapore's offer of assistance to the Indonesian authorities to put out the fires, and said the country stands ready to work with neighbours to end haze-related issues.

He called for a "permanent solution to prevent this problem from recurring annually".

Across the Causeway and in Jakarta, the apology also drew plaudits, with Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman saying he "saluted" Dr Yudhoyono.

"I think the most important thing is for us to work together with Indonesia. We cannot just expect Indonesia to solve the problem," he said.

The conciliatory gesture from Indonesia had come in a televised press conference on Monday, where Dr Yudhoyono also chastised officials for statements implying that Singapore and Malaysia had overreacted. He pledged to do more to put out the haze- causing fires.

Yesterday, he sought to back up that promise by sending off 1,400 more disaster officials, soldiers, police and civil servants to the affected areas, telling them to "overcome the burning and smoke" and to "do it well, complete". They join 2,300 already on the ground, while another 1,600 are slated to head there today.

Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) chief Syamsul Maarif told reporters the men would be deployed for aerial operations - cloud-seeding and water-bombing - as well as firefighting operations on the ground.

Meanwhile, Riau officials arrested eight farmers on Monday and yesterday after catching them red-handed in the land-burning act. Local police did not say if they were hired by large firms or had acted of their own accord.

In Singapore, the PSI stayed in the moderate range as the much awaited rain, and some unexpected hail, fell yesterday afternoon.

But with the prospect of the dry season lasting until October, the Government added two new schemes to its slew of haze-related initiatives.

Childcare centres and kindergartens will get financial subsidies to install portable air-conditioning units on their premises, said the Ministry of Social and Family Development. Separately, the Ministry of Health said that it is providing standing fans and portable air coolers to 15 nursing homes, community hospitals and day- care centres for the elderly.

As the changing winds sent the haze to its southern part, Thailand expressed support for Malaysia's suggestion to bring forward a regional ministerial meeting on transboundary haze pollution. Singapore also backs the move.

NEA reveals haze contingency plans for essential services
S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 26 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) has put in place haze contingency plans for essential services like dengue inspections, waste collection and public cleaning.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan revealed this during his visit to several blocks in the Bukit Panjang Division on Wednesday morning.

He was there to inspect waste collection and dengue wipeout operations.

For dengue inspections, NEA operations will continue with minimal disruptions.

All officers checking public areas will don N95 face masks in accordance with the health advisories issued.

Dengue inspections have remained in a stepped-up mode as the epidemic is still sustained with 842 cases last week and 268 this week.

In the event the haze worsens again and is prolonged, NEA may consider scaling back the hours of outdoor work.

However, indoor checks in homes and application of insecticides will continue.

On waste collection, NEA will reduce refuse collection frequency from daily collection to alternate days.

This is because manpower is expected to suffer a shortfall during severe haze conditions.

As for ensuring public cleanliness, NEA will reduce the cleaning frequency according to the haze condition.

Urgent work such as the cleaning of animal carcasses and spillages will be given priority.

- CNA/xq

Water quality not affected by haze: Vivian Balakrishnan
S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 26 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: There has been no impact on the quality of Singapore's water as a result of the haze.

This assurance is from Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

He said the PUB has been monitoring the water quality over the past couple of weeks, both in terms of the raw water as well as the treated water that has been distributed to the public.

Speaking to the media after visiting the Chestnut Avenue Waterworks Plant on Wednesday, Dr Balakrishnan added that the plant is self-sufficient in terms of manpower, technology and electricity supply.

As far as PUB is concerned, there was no such thing as a stop-work order.

The minister explained: "Whatever happens, your water will continue to flow from your tap, the water is going to be good and safe to drink and that's the key message of continuity and safety of our water supply."

When asked on the actions being taken by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono following his apology to Singapore and Malaysia, Dr Balakrishnan said what Singapore is most concerned with is action on the ground.

Dr Balakrishnan added: "I hope that his signal to his ministers and to the agency is 'let's get on with the job to do it' and the offers of assistance from Singapore remain on the table. We would be very happy to help them and this would be good opportunity for ASEAN solidarity to be seen in action.”

Looking at the satellite pictures on Tuesday, the minister said the total volume of haze generated from the hotspots in Sumatra was still very significant.

He said: "Our latest meteorology assessment is that the haze in this region is likely to persist for quite some time more and as long as it persists, Singapore remains at risk because once you get even a slight shift in wind direction, the haze will be back and what you read now happening in Malaysia could very easily have been us, could even be us in the days and weeks if the winds change. So this is not a time for us to let our guard down.

“We have been given a respite of a few days at least. Let's use it to catch our breath, check our plans, get everything in place, secure and give confidence to our people and once there is confidence, then life can continue whether it is the reopening of schools, the continuation of essential services and making sure that people know that life will go on."

- CNA/xq

Govt clears the air on haze rumours
Kenneth Low Today Online 26 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — It is not true that the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings on the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) website do not take PM2.5 readings into account, said a new webpage set up by the Government.

According to a section on the Government microsite for haze called “Cut thru the haze” — — which seeks to dispel rumours and errors about the haze, “PM10 would also capture what is captured in the PM2.5 readings”, since it includes all “particulate matter smaller than 10 microns”. The PM2.5 is a “concentration reading which is expressed in micrograms per m3 and not a composite reading like the PSI”.

This is “why though PSI levels on some days may be “Moderate”, the health advisories are more cautious as they expect 24-hour PM2.5 levels to be higher, posing some risk to the susceptible groups”, according to the clarification on the page, which was provided by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

Another rumour that the webpage attempted to address was the one that suggested that one of the PSI readings posted by the NEA on June 19 was altered from 393 to 321. The authorities confirmed that “there was no PSI value posted that was higher than the three-hour PSI reading of 321” and that “records also show that there had been no editing or deletion of that PSI reading on the website”.

As for Singaporeans who have been wondering whether Tan Tock Seng Hospital was overcharging for their N95 masks, the webpage featured a Facebook post by the hospital stating that it has not raised prices.

“It has always been at S$60 for a box of 20 pieces even before the onset of haze,” the hospital said.

It also assured that it will “bring the price down to S$50 for a box of 20 pieces of N95 … to make it more affordable for the public”.

Those who need more information about the haze can also refer to a new website by the NEA —

Read more!

Indonesia: 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

Joint team with 1,400 personnel sent to Sumatra to put out fires
Antara 25 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - A joint team consisting of 1,400 personnel from the Indonesian military, police and the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) left for Sumatra by seven Hercules airplanes to help extinguish plantation and peatland fires.

"The joint team is assigned to put out fires in several areas, such as Bengkalis, Dumai, Pelalawan, Rokan Hilir, Siak, Rokan Hulu and Pekanbaru," BNPB Chief Syamsul Maarif said here on Tuesday when seeing off the team.

He said more than 200 standard-size hot spots were detected across Sumatra.

The central government has planned to send a total of 2,252 personnel to put out the fires in Sumatra. They comprise 600 officers from the Army, 600 from the Marine, 630 from the Special Forces Corps, 320 from the Police's Mobile Brigade, and 102 from the BNPB and the forestry ministry.

Seven Indonesian Air Force's Hercules planes, one C-295 and CN-235 are deployed to help the fire control operation.


Editor: Ade Marboen

Indonesia needs no help yet to fight fires
Antara 25 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia needs no help yet from Singapore or Malaysia to fight forest fires in Riau province, the Head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), Syamsul Maarif, said here on Tuesday.

"Until now efforts are still being made using our own resources," he said Halim Perdanakusuma air force base.

Moreover no offer has also been made by either Singapore or Malaysia that have so far been affected by smoke from the fires.

Syamsul said fire fighting efforts would last for a month or longer.

"We will carry out the operation for a month and it may be extended.

Alertness has also been done in seven other regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Syamsul said until Tuesday a total of 265 hotspots or fires had been detected in Riau.

He said BNPB would only use data from the Meteorology, Geophysics and Climatology Agency (BMKG) as a reference due to a lot of information about the fires.

"So, we will only use one source of data, which is accountable and accurate (from BMJG) as a reference," he said.(*)

Editor: Heru

Nine already arrested over forest fires
Antara 25 Jun 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Nine people have been arrested in connection with forest and peat land fires in several places in Riau.

"One suspect was arrested in the case of forest fires in Bengkalis, named Subari (64). He had burned his two-hectare land but the fire later spread to 30 hectares. The affected villagers later reported him," head of the law enforcement task force, Senior Commissioner Sofyan said to Antara here on Tuesday.

The second case, he said, happened in Rokan Hilir involving five people, one of them, Hotman Burba (58), was believed to be the owner of around 60 hectares of land that had burned.

He said Hotman was believed to have cleared his peat land by burning it using gasoline and have also ordered four people namely Katiman, Suhadi, Riza and Bobi to help carry it out.

He said the flames later developed uncontrollably causing 400 hectares others burned.

"The fire has caused severe smoke to make minimally 276 villagers to evacuate," he said.

He said "the five people are still being questioned at the Rokan Hilir Police Resort.

Other fires meanwhile happened in Pelalawan district involving two suspects, Sunmardi and Sukhai, he said.

They had cleared land by burning it using used tires but the flame later spread to burn 53 hectares others.

Sofyan said the fire in Siak district meanwhile involved one suspect, Taufik (20).

He also cleared land by burning and the flame later spread due to strong winds and burned 20 hectares of land belonging to PT Arara Abadi.

"The suspect in Siak was arrested on Monday afternoon. So, totally there are four cases with nine suspects that have uncovered," he said. (*)

Editor: Heru

Haze-related illnesses on the rise in Sumatra as hotspots double
Ken Teh Channel NewsAsia 26 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Fires in Sumatra are growing, with the number of hotspots rising to 265 -- a significant jump from the 118 recorded on Saturday. PSI readings in some areas like Dumai have hit a startling 900, and hospitals are trying to cope with a spike in the number of haze-related illnesses.

Haze-related illnesses have doubled in Dumai in the past week -- patients are coming in with asthma and pneumonia, and hospitals are straining to cope with the surge in cases.

Sarno Resopawiro, a patient, said: "I have a lot of trouble breathing when I walk around. And when I try to swallow, my throat really hurts."

Dumai hospital has seen over 300 patients with breathing problems in the past week - that is usually the number they see in an entire month.

H Syaiful, the director of Kota Dumai Hospital, said: "The haze in the past few days has been increasing with an average PSI of 700. If this keeps going on for the next one to two weeks, it will become very hazardous and the number of patients will increase."

Health authorities said the situation is reaching a critical point.

Experts do not know how long the fires and haze will last, and they are issuing an urgent appeal for masks and medical supplies.

Marjoko Santoso, chief of the Dumai Health Authority (DINAS), said: "The situation in Dumai is the worst in 10 years, this is the first time it has reached 900 PSI. It has never happened before and it has reached hazardous levels in the past few days. In the past week, the number of haze patients has doubled."

Dumai city continues to be covered in a thick blanket of choking haze. Visibility has reached an all time low and even the residents, who are used to the annual haze, have started wearing masks.

Even after cloud seeding and water bombing efforts, the situation in Dumai is getting worse, there is also a shortage of masks in the city and people here are hoping and praying that their ordeal will end soon.

- CNA/ac

Severity of haze 'due to 5-year cycle' of dry weather
Joyce Lim And Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Indonesia Correspondent In Pekanbaru (Riau)
Straits Times 26 Jun 13;

TRAVELLING from one hot spot to another this past week, we kept hearing the same message from Indonesian officials and experts alike: This is the worst haze ever.

It certainly feels that way. The mercury has been rising steadily as more hot spots have been reported.

On Monday, the temperature in Pekanbaru, Riau's provincial capital, hit a record 37 deg C, the highest in 42 years.

There are currently more than 435 hot spots in Sumatra, 265 of which are in Riau.

So why is the haze this year worse than in previous years?

It has to do with the "five-year cycle", according to Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan.

"Every five years, the weather becomes extremely dry. The wind is also much stronger and moves in a circular motion. So, when there is burning, fire spreads very quickly," he explained.

"Due to the dry season, it takes time for firefighters to locate the water sources. By the time water is irrigated to the hot spots, the fire would have spread," he added. "The fire spreads much faster than the firefighters can put it out."

Mr Jaafar Arit, head of Bengkalis' disaster management agency, has a similar assessment, noting that strong and swirling winds have helped to spread the fires.

"The winds are so strong that the burning leaves could be blown up to 500m away, land on another plot of land and spread the fire," he said.

The Straits Times team has visited four hot spots in Dumai city and in the regencies of Bengkalis and Rokan Hilir. A quarter of the hot spots reported in Riau were detected in Rokan Hilir district.

Even though rain has been reported in Dumai and Bengkalis district since cloud-seeding operations began last Saturday, Pekanbaru-based meteorologist Ardhitama does not think the minor downpours, which lasted for just 30 minutes, would have much effect on the burning peatlands.

"Only natural rain that lasts two to three hours across the entire Riau province can clear the haze," he said.

"But there are no cumulus clouds at this time of the year. Hence, cloud-seeding and water- bombing operations would not be fruitful."

Mr Ardhitama thinks the only "solution" is to wait it out until the dry season ends in August.

But not everyone is prepared to be so patient.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment, one of the country's leading environmental groups, issued a letter yesterday threatening legal action against President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for neglect over the haze.

It also threatened to take similar action against three ministries, three governors and the national police chief.

"These (haze-causing fires) have not just happened now, but repeatedly over the past 15 years. Yet, the response has been slow," Mr Muhnur Satyahaprabu, the group's manager for advocacy policy and legal defence, told The Straits Times.

But hours after Dr Yudhoyono publicly apologised for the haze blanketing Singapore and Malaysia, Jakarta showed fresh signs of urgency in tackling the problem.

At Halim airbase in Jakarta yesterday, the Indonesian leader sent off another 1,400 disaster response officials, soldiers, policemen and civil servants to the affected areas in Riau.

Another 1,600 will head there today, said National Disaster Management Agency chief Syamsul Maarif. This will bring the total number of personnel on the ground to more than 5,300.

Dr Syamsul was also seeking assistance from the Foreign Ministry to deploy additional aircraft for water-bombing operations. These aircraft could be rented from Russia, Canada, Australia or South Korea.

"We are looking, and will rent them as fast as we can," he said.

Additional reporting by Zakir Hussain in Jakarta

Read more!

Malaysia: Authorities fight peat fires in Klang

Authorities back to fight Johan Setia peat fires again
The Star 26 Jun 13;

KLANG: The authorities are back again at Johan Setia to put out peat fires after carrying out a similar operation last week.

Officers from the Klang Municipal Council and the Fire and Rescue Department were at another hotspot this time to combat thick smog from a peat land, which was caused after crops were burnt by errant farmers.

Despite operations to put out the fires being done from time to time, the soil re-ignites the fires within a day, spreading haze to surrounding neighbourhoods in Bukit Tinggi, Bandar Puteri and Kota Kemuning.

Johan Setia is a residential area that is surrounded by agricultural land and is located along Jalan Banting.

Fire and Rescue Department head of operations Masdar Suminggu said there were four sectors in the area, which were classified as hotspots.

“The last time we held a joint operation was at sector two. Now we are at sector one,” he said, adding that fires at other sectors had been put out.

“Water sources are our main concern because it is very hard to find a drain or pipe deep inside this peat land.

“However, we have managed to contain all four sectors for now and daily inspections will be held to ensure the situation did not get any worse,” he said, adding that 19 men from his side were involved in the operation.

Selangor executive councillor in charge of environment Elizabeth Wong, who was also present during yesterday’s operation, said land owners found condoning open burning would be taken to court.

“There are more than 1,600ha of peat land in Johan Setia, of which 1,200ha are agricultural land,” she said.

Asked why the land caught fire frequently, she said it was due to errant farmers burning the land to plant new crops with several of them already being identified.

“We are looking for the land owners and not the workers because the owners are the ones responsible for their own place,” she said, adding that most land owners fled when the authorities moved in to put out the fires.

Wong said those responsible would be prosecuted under the Environment Quality Act 2012, which carries a RM500,000 fine or a five-year jail term.

Read more!

Smoke spreads to south Thailand

Tan Hui Yee Thailand Correspondent In Bangkok Straits Times 26 Jun 13;

THE smoke from Indonesia's burning forests blanketed Thailand's southernmost provinces yesterday, reducing visibility to 300m in some areas.

Air pollution in Narathiwat province bordering Malaysia exceeded acceptable levels.

At 8am yesterday, the amount of PM10 particles, which are up to 10 microns in diameter, was found to be 129 micrograms per cubic metre, exceeding the safe level of 120 micrograms per cubic metre.

The reading for Yala province, just next to Narathiwat, also crept up to 94, from 55 on Monday morning.

Farther north, the visibility in Hat Yai, Songkhla province, was reduced to 500m, according to Thai broadcaster MCOT.

Motorists had to use their headlights, and fishermen stayed ashore.

The haze in south Thailand comes months after the air cleared in the northern provinces, where slash-and-burn farming causes unsafe air quality levels from February to April annually.

In mid-March, the PM10 reading in a section of Thailand's northernmost Chiang Rai province crossed the 400 mark.

Meanwhile, Thailand expressed support for Malaysia's suggestion to bring forward a regional ministerial meeting on transboundary haze pollution.

Bangkok has no issue "as long as all parties are agreeable", Foreign Ministry spokesman Manasvi Srisodapol said yesterday.

Read more!

Indonesia: President calls for preservation of mangroves

Antara 26 Jun 13;

Tanjung Benoa, Bali (ANTARA News) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has called for the preservation of 3.7 million hectares of mangrove forest which is crucial to prevent abrasion.

Indonesia must safeguard its around 130 million hectares of forest area and 3.7 million hectares of mangrove forest, the head of state said when launching a mangrove save campaign here on Wednesday,

Yudhoyono and First Lady Ani Yudhoyono on the occasion planted mangrove trees at Telaga Waja area, Benoa, Bali.

"We should give an example and become a role model. I encourage all to plant mangrove trees," he said in the event initiated by the Bali Mangrove Forum.

The special guest of the event was Real Madrid soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. The famous football player has been named a Bali mangrove envoy by the Bali Mangrove Forum set up by Indonesian tycoon Tomy Winata.

Also present on the occasion were Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan and Environmental Affairs Minister Baltazhar Kambuaya. (*)

Editor: Heru

President Yudhoyono attends Bali mangrove planting event
Antara 26 Jun 13;

Tanjung Benoa, Bali, June 26 (Antara) - President Susilo Yudhoyono attended mangrove tree planting event at Telaga Waja Benoa area in Bali on Wednesday.

Themed Save Mangrove, Save Earth 2013, the mangrove planting event was part of an effort to protect mangrove forest along the coast of Bali Island.

The event was initiated by Bali Mangrove Care Forum where all environmental activists, especially the mangrove activists, can align their vision as well as planning and manifesting the mangrove protection, conservation, and utilization.

Also present besides the president were Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan, Environment Minister Berth Kambuaya, a number of ambassadors, institutional leaders, public figures, environmental activists, and soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo in March 2013 was appointed to be the Care Forum Ambassador of Balinese Mangrove, which means he is the Indonesian Mangrove Ambassador as well.

Indonesia notably has approximately 3.7 million hectares of mangrove forest which is ranked the largest in Asia and even in the world.

According to a number of researches, the mangrove forest is able to capture carbon footprint up to five times more than the land forest.

Even though the Indonesian mangrove forest is only approximately two percent of the entire country's forest, it certainly can store up to 10 percent of the carbon footprint.

Therefore, the existence of the mangrove forest extremely supports the 26 percent reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions and 41 percent emission reduction with the international collaboration in 2020.


Editor: Ade Marboen

Read more!

A Mathematical Guide to the World s Most Livable Cities

Sophie Guterl Scientific American Yahoo News 26 Jun 13;

Most people might think of a city such as Paris or Tokyo as a unique entity, with a character that is distinct from other metropolises. But large cities, towns and even smaller villages also share common purpose: they strive to provide a good place to live. Urban planners are trying to find a way to bring mathematical rigor to analyzing how well a city accomplishes this universal goal.

Professor and theoretical physicist Luis Bettencourt teamed up with his colleagues at the Santa Fe Institute and recently published a theory that suggests cities, towns and villages are more similar than different. He observed statistical trends across urban areas worldwide—how size, geographic location, wealth and other measures vary—and identified universal components that are integral to a city’s success. Bettencourt has tried to synthesize these components into a mathematical formula, intended to quantify how successful a city or town really is. Scientific American asked Bettencourt about what makes cities successful and how a more formalized, mathematical approach to urbanization can be used to diagnose and improve struggling cities.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

What was your approach in identifying universal patterns from one city to the next?

It took a long time. Our team here at Santa Fe Institute is generally interested in complex systems. I’ve always been interested in cities. I grew up in Lisbon and lived in London, and I just love trying to understand how the hell we create all these amazing things that we see in our society. Where does it go wrong, and how can we make it better? Essentially, we’ve been looking at every scrap of data that we can find in the last 10 years, not only in the West but also in Japan. Then we moved to China and Brazil.

What do your findings contribute to our current understanding of cities?

A lot of ways we’ve viewed cities in the past have been through analogies to other complex systems, such as organisms. What this paper tries to do is create a shift in perspective from what cities look like and describe and formalize a city’s function. Trying to shift this perspective creates a new view of cities and allows us to say what cities are. Our conclusion is that cities are a kind of social reactor; they exist to solve the problem of putting lots of socializing people together and coordinate them in space and time in an open-ended, sustainable way.

What makes a city successful?

You want a balance between interactivity and the cost of creating those interactions, and that’s what this formula is about. That balance is what defines a city that is working well and can be achieved for cities of any size. Although people sort of knew that, this paper allows us to formalize that and put all these things in the same equation for the first time.

Does more social interaction necessarily mean a city will be more successful? Or can social interaction sometimes be a bad thing?

Some interactions make you want to be in a city, like the exchange of innovative ideas. But others can deter people from cities. Social interactions have to give you an overall advantage in order for cities to exist. You have to take the advantageous social interactions, like measures of innovation and creativity, and subtract the negative interactions, like violence or crime. You also have to subtract the cost of these advantageous interactions, like transportation. When you subtract that cost, that gives the conditions for the city to exist in this balance between creating value through interactions and paying the price for that value.

What cities are doing it right at the moment, and which cities are less successful?

Most cities actually do pretty well, but some cities create more interactivity than others. For example, according to the formula, New York City and Chicago are both doing a little better than L.A., which is slightly more spread out and has a higher cost for interaction.

You also have cities that are very dense, like Mumbai, but very difficult to travel across due to poor infrastructure or traffic congestion. This makes it very hard to have interactions across the cities. Then you have dissolved cities. These cities become so diluted that it would cost a lot of energy to move around and promote interactions. Neither of these forms is good.

Can you give an example of how this formalized understanding of a city’s function can improve cities that lack advantageous social interaction?

Detroit is a city that fell apart as a contained social network and in some sense reconstituted itself in the suburbs. A lot of its decay happened because the city separated socially and spatially in the ’60s. The city of Detroit was a wonderfully rich and vibrant cultural center, but people started moving to the suburbs when cars became available. That left the city with less revenue, which led to a reduction of services, which led to more people leaving and therefore a vicious cycle of people leaving the center and services being removed. In some sense, they have too much space [in the suburbs]. It’s expensive for people to move around in Detroit and realize activity that leads to urban vitality.

Concentrating populations in certain parts of the city could promote social interactions and services at lower costs. Detroit represents a thinning of the social structure, a thinning of its density and space that somehow needs to be reconstituted in a different way socially and in a way that we can provide services very efficiently to commence social interactions.

You mention that your formula does not account for socioeconomic disparity within a city. Is this important to a city’s efficiency?

We’re now starting to look at neighborhoods within cities and see how they vary. City neighborhoods are extremely heterogeneous: there are rich and poor neighborhoods, neighborhoods that are more about shopping, others that are residential, others are more industrial. People organize themselves inside a city in ways that have to do with these and other things, like violence and segregation. A city that works well overcomes these obstacles to establish connectivity. The fact that you can have economic and civic relations with people that are very different from you is what makes a city work well.

Cities are heterogeneous by nature; they are about combining different natures and functions to create something more elaborate and interesting. To capture that mathematically and formally is still a challenge, but the data is getting there. Achieving an understanding and synthesis of it is still something that we’re working on and that we hope to do in the future, but it’s still a work in progress

Read more!