Best of our wild blogs: 27 Jun 13

Back at colourful shores of East Coast
from wonderful creation

Special shrimp and parchment worm at Changi
from Peiyan.Photography and wild shores of singapore

Urban Wild Red junglefowls in Singapore
from Everyday Nature

Bukit Brown, Our roots, Our future (An exhibition)
from Rojak Librarian

Lorong Halus Wetland Reserve
from Nikita Hengbok

Indonesian NGOs demand inquiry into natural resource graft
from news by Rhett Butler

Smoke over Sumatra: Why Indonesia's fires are a global concern
from news by Rhett Butler

Wind, not big increase in forest fires, driving haze in Singapore
from news by Rhett Butler

Cause of haze? Up to 87% of recent deforestation in fire zone due to palm oil, timber from news by Rhett Butler

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Air quality not so good even without haze?

Straits Times Forum 27 Jun 13;

THE haze problem has drawn attention to the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings released by the National Environment Agency.

Previously, only PM10 readings were released (as part of the PSI), but people have become increasingly aware of PM2.5's impact on health as these smaller particles are more toxic.

The World Health Organisation sets down guidelines of a maximum PM2.5 level of 25 micrograms per cubic m over a 24-hour period, and 10 micrograms per cubic m averaged over a year.

Looking at the historical data starting from 2009, Singapore's average PM2.5 levels have been consistently above these levels, even without the haze.

Is the air quality in Singapore not as good as what we have believed it to be?

Has our growing population, with the resulting increase in vehicle numbers and reduced green spaces, been a factor? Perhaps we should look at the impact a growing population has on air quality.

Yeo Chee Kean

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Singapore prepares for more hazy days

Govt, businesses looking ahead even as air quality is good for now
Feng Zengkun Environment Correspondent & Amelia Teng
Straits Times 27 Jun 13;

FOR a brief spell yesterday, Singapore's skies were the cleanest they have been in two weeks.

Between 3pm and 6pm, Singaporeans breathed "good" air as the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) dipped below 51. It hit a low of 38 at 4pm, before climbing again.

Even so, despite the better quality air and the reprieve from the haze the past five days, the Government yesterday continued to roll out preparation plans as it cautioned that the respite could be short-lived.

"Our latest meteorological assessment is that the haze in this region is likely to persist for quite some time more, and Singapore remains at risk," Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

Visiting cleaners and a water treatment plant, he outlined how cleaning and waste collection services could be slowed if the haze returned with a vengeance, and urged Singaporeans not to let their guard down.

However, he also gave the assurance that the country's clean water supply was not in danger, as its treatment and distribution process is largely automated.

"Whatever happens, your water is going to continue to flow from your taps, and your water is going to be good and safe to drink," he said.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said in a statement yesterday that it is working with manufacturers and suppliers to replenish its stocks and to ensure there are enough masks here.

To date, it has released a total of 4.15 million N95 masks from its stockpile. This includes one million masks which have gone to the People's Association for distribution to low-income families, and the balance to retailers.

"The cost of the masks, including transport and storage, is recovered from the retailers," the ministry said in a reply to queries from The Straits Times.

It warned the public against counterfeit masks, and advised consumers to buy masks from major supermarkets and pharmacies.

People are also advised to approach the manufacturers or distributors if they doubt the authenticity of the masks.

Yesterday, the Education Ministry said it is also monitoring the haze situation closely, ahead of the start of the school term next week.

It will refer to the authorities' health advisories and will work with schools to "put in place appropriate measures to ensure the well-being of our students and staff", said a spokesman.

Those expecting the spell of better quality air to last may be disappointed: The National Environment Agency (NEA) predicts a slight haze today and tomorrow, though thundery showers are forecast over the two days.

This is because low-level winds blowing from the south or south-west may bring the pollution from raging fires in Indonesia back here.

NEA added that the 24-hour levels of smaller, toxic particles called PM2.5 are also expected to remain slightly higher than usual today.

It said that for this reason, pregnant women, the elderly and children should continue to minimise prolonged outdoor activity, while those with chronic lung and heart diseases should stay indoors if possible.

MOH reveals contingency plans for haze
Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 27 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Thursday announced his ministry's contingency plans if the haze gets worse.

The contingency plans will focus on three areas. They are how to ensure patient safety, how to meet demand if there is a surge in the number of patients seeking help, and how to minimise disruption to services should haze conditions worsen.

In terms of ensuring patient safety, Mr Gan, who was speaking to the media on the sidelines of a visit to the Toa Payoh Polyclinic on Thursday morning, said polyclinics have implemented a triage system to identify those more vulnerable, like those with respiratory problems.

To meet a possible surge in demand, Mr Gan said besides the government subsidy scheme for vulnerable groups seeking medical attention for haze related ailments, which would help divert some patients from polyclinics to GPs, manpower will also be redeployed.

In the hospital setting, Mr Gan said plans to convert spaces to accommodate more beds have already started.

However, Mr Gan added that for now, the demand at the hospital end is still manageable as most patients still visit polyclinics first.

Mr Gan also said that some 2,000 polyclinic patients have tapped into the government subsidy scheme for vulnerable groups seeking medical attention for haze related ailments.

Those in the vulnerable groups, which include the elderly and children, will only need to pay S$10 under the scheme if they visit the polyclinic.

Mr Gan said more than 550 general practitioner (GP) clinics have also signed up under the scheme, and he hopes more will come on board.

Those who visit a GP will receive a S$30 subsidy for their bill from the Health Ministry.

The number of those who have tapped into the scheme for visits to GPs is not available yet.

- CNA/fa

Quality of drinking water unaffected by haze: Vivian
Grace Chua And Feng Zengkun Environmental Correspondents
Straits Times 27 Jun 13;

DESPITE the particles swirling in the haze, the quality of Singapore's drinking water remains intact, unaffected by the rain of the past two days, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

The reason: The particles would have been filtered out when the water is being treated at the reservoir, he said.

The assurance was given by Dr Balakrishnan during his visit to a water treatment plant, when he also stressed that whatever happens, water will continue to flow from the taps, and it will "be good and safe to drink".

He said: "PUB has been monitoring water quality quite obsessively over the past couple of weeks and... there has been absolutely no impact on the quality of our water both in terms of raw water and treated water which we are putting out to the public."

Agreeing, Mr Chong Kee Sen, vice-president of the Institution of Engineers Singapore, reiterated that local tap water is safe to drink.

"In the treatment of water, particulates that are smaller than 2.5 microns are filtered out," he said.

Yesterday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) also said the rain that fell in the past two days was not toxic.

Neither was Tuesday's rainfall acid rain, it added.

Acid rain, said NEA deputy chief executive officer Joseph Hui in response to queries on Tuesday, results from sulphur dioxide that reacts with water to form sulphuric acid. Haze particles do not produce such a reaction.

But studies have shown that rain does not fully wash the microscopic PM2.5 particles from the air, unlike PM10 particles.

Smaller, lighter particles linger in the air and take longer to be removed, the NEA said. What is more, new pollution could arise as burning in Indonesia continues.

Beyond putting to rest people's fears, the NEA also announced measures it will take should the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index reading cross 300, which indicates hazardous air.

The cleaning of public areas, rubbish collection and recycling services may have to be scaled back to protect workers, it said.

Outdoor dengue inspections may also have to be reduced, but there will be no let-up on checks on homes because the epidemic shows no sign of slowing.

As for school attendance, Dr Balakrishnan said it was too early to tell if schools should reopen as scheduled on Monday.

His ministry is monitoring the situation and would work with the Education Ministry, he said.

Water quality won’t be affected by haze: Balakrishnan
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 27 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — If the haze reaches hazardous levels, some of the National Environment Agency (NEA)’s services, such as waste collection, public cleaning and even dengue inspections, may be affected by manpower shortfalls.

Nevertheless, the country’s water supply and the quality of drinking water will not be affected, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday assured as he laid out his ministry’s haze contingency plans.

He said: “As far as PUB is concerned, there’s no such thing as a stop-work order. Whatever happens, your water is going to continue to flow from your tap … (and) is going to continue to be good, safe to drink.”

Speaking to reporters after a visit to PUB’s Chestnut Avenue Waterworks, Dr Balakrishnan explained that the water agency’s seven water treatment plants are “highly automated” and have stockpiles of fuel and chemicals to produce drinking water.

PUB Deputy Director of Water Supply Plants Ooi Keat Guan said the agency has been monitoring water quality over the past couple of weeks and quality standards are “normal”, as per before the haze crisis.

Allaying fears that micron-sized particles that are present in the haze might be found in drinking water, Mr Ooi explained that PUB uses a multi-barrier treatment process in its waterworks that is able to remove these particles.

First, coagulants are added to “lump” particles together in raw water. These larger and heavier particles are removed in a sedimentation tank.

Next, the water is passed through membranes that can filter particles of up to 0.02 microns in size.

Lastly, the filtered water is disinfected with chlorine to remove bacteria and viruses before being pumped into the distribution system.

As for dengue inspections, Dr Balakrishnan said there was no let-up in the operations of the NEA’s vector-control team despite the hazy conditions last week as Singapore “is still in the danger period” for dengue.

Sending his condolences to the family of the 86-year-old man who died from dengue on Monday, he said the situation “illustrates that we are having to deal with two crises simultaneously”.

Yesterday, the authorities reported a fourth dengue death in five weeks— that of a 68-year-old Indonesian man who was being treated for dengue here.

Separately, NEA Chief Executive Andrew Tan said plans remain underway for Mr Ronnie Tay, 49, to take over the agency on July 1.

He added that Mr Tay — who was previously Chief Executive of the Infocomm Development Agency — had been understudying him for the past two weeks.

Mr Tan, 46, who has headed the NEA since 2009, will be attending an Advanced Management Programme overseas prior to his next posting.

A clear gaze at haze through the years
Bruce Gale Straits Times 27 Jun 13;

IT ALL began on the evening of Oct 13, 1972. "Everything was perfect here until about 7pm. Then, suddenly, large clouds of white smoke formed all over our housing estate."

The caller to The Straits Times newsroom in Kim Seng Road was from Toa Payoh, but it soon became clear that the problem was island-wide. "Can you please tell us what is going on?"

Some callers complained of being "suffocated" in their flats. Others said the "fog" was affecting their eyes. The haze had appeared in earlier weeks, but it was not nearly as bad.

With no regularly updated air pollution measure in place then, it is impossible now to assess how serious the situation was. But with callers complaining that they could barely see adjacent blocks of flats, the haze was almost certainly very thick.

Singapore is fortunate in that it does not experience the earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and destructive typhoons that periodically strike other parts of the region.

But for the past four decades, it has had to contend with increasingly serious bouts of air pollution caused by forest fires in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Back in 1972, Singapore already had laws to control air pollution from vehicles and factories. The establishment of the Environment Ministry in 1970 also meant that there were officials specifically charged with enforcing them.

Official measurements of air quality samples of industrial smoke from local factories quickly determined that the source of the problem was external.

This led Singapore's Meteorological Service to assess the haze over the island as coming from fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra. Confirmation came later from satellite images and Singaporean air crews flying over the region.

The problem recurred intermittently throughout the 1970s. One report in May 1979 quoted Bedok residents as complaining that they could not even see neighbouring blocks of flats 400 metres away.

With no widely-agreed term used to describe the phenomenon, words like "fog", "smoke" and even "mist" were far more likely to be used to describe the haze than they are today.

But memories also appear to have been short, perhaps because the problem was not as deeply engraved on the national consciousness as now. In April 1983, in response to yet another haze-filled month, the Meteorological Service said the previous four weeks had been the haziest in Singapore for 30 years. It said that visibility had never before dropped below five km except when it rained.

The potentially negative effects on public health were also less widely recognised. In 1983, when local media reported cases of eye irritation and respiratory problems, government spokesmen responded that the air pollutant levels were within World Health Organisation standards.

But by October 1991, when the haze got so bad that the 73-storey then Westin Stamford Hotel was barely visible from the Fort Road flyover of the East Coast Parkway, Singaporeans had an objective measurement to refer to.

The newly introduced Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) peaked that year at 97.

Thinking ahead, the government announced in 1993 that Singapore's semi-automatic air quality monitoring network would be replaced by a computerised telemetric system. The system eventually made possible the regular air quality updates we receive today.

But while many regard 1997 as the year the haze really entered the national consciousness, the turning point for officialdom was probably September 1994, when the PSI hit 142. It prompted the government to acknowledge for the first time that air pollution levels were a threat to public health.

This was also the year an inter- ministerial task force was set up to examine what could be done if pollution levels rose further. Responding to requests from the public, the Environment Ministry also began releasing additional air pollution updates, at 9pm and 7am, in addition to its 4pm reading.

In 1995, Asean environment ministers met in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the haze. It was to be the first of many such regional meetings designed to tackle a problem that just would not go away.

In September 1997, thick smog caused by forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan blanketed the entire region. There were flight delays and cancellations at Changi Airport. The PSI hit a record 226 - in the "very unhealthy" range.

The government responded by providing three-hourly PSI updates on TV and radio. Emergency medical centres were set up in housing estates. Other air pollution sources were closely controlled, with penalties on smoky vehicles raised considerably.

After much discussion, in September 1998, Asean adopted a plan to deal with the annual forest fires causing the problem. Malaysia was to oversee preventive measures; Indonesia was given responsibility for fire-fighting resources and deployment; and Singapore had a regional monitoring role.

Back home, the government was continuously refining its approach. In 2002, the National Environment Agency was set up as a statutory board under the Ministry of Environment (now Ministry of Environment and Water Resources). In October of that year, with the PSI going no higher than 79, it almost appeared as if the problem might soon be resolved.

This seemed confirmed in 2003, when Asean members agreed to sign an environmental treaty in a bid to control the recurring haze issue. Sadly, however, Indonesia has not ratified it.

In subsequent years, observers began to learn just how intractable the problem was. In 2005, when fires in Indonesia again spread the haze throughout the region, Singapore was lucky. Favourable winds kept the worst of it away. The PSI stayed below 95.

In October 2006, the PSI reached 150, its highest in the new millennium. In a letter to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, (later released to the press), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed his disappointment that the problem had not been resolved.

Increasingly, the government was concerned about the economic cost and public health implications. In June 2009, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim expressed concern that hazy conditions could affect the Formula 1 race.

This year, the haze has returned with a vengeance. At noon on June 21, the three-hour PSI surged to a new high of 401, surpassing the previous record of 371 at 1pm the day before. Both readings were well within the hazardous range.

Air purifiers are sold out in local stores, and the government has begun distributing N95 masks to vulnerable and needy groups.

Diplomatic talks on the haze are again in motion. The Indonesians have identified companies responsible. Singaporeans hope that this time, the talks will translate into action to alleviate the haze for the rest of this year - and prevent it in future.

Read more!

Don't expect problem to go away in next few months: Experts

Feng Zengkun Environment Correspondent
Straits Times 27 Jun 13;

THE regional outcry over the haze may make companies in Indonesia wary of starting more fires, but Singaporeans cannot expect the problem to go away in the next few months, say experts.

The reason is twofold: The dry season there is expected to last until September, and the raging fires so far have been on peatland which can defy firefighting efforts.

"During the dry season, even a cigarette can start a fire on peatland," said Mr Bustar Maitar, head of environmental group Greenpeace's forest campaign in Indonesia.

"Peatland is organic material that is supposed to be always wet. To develop their plantations, companies have been draining the land to bring the water level down."

Peatland fires also tend to smoulder underground even after they have been put out, and can start burning again.

"Every time we think that we have put out the fire, it resurfaces," said Mr Jaafar Arit, head of a disaster management agency in Riau, which is ground zero for the fires causing the haze.

Firefighters had extinguished several fires there five times, only to see them rise from the ground again, he said.

Even Indonesia's attempts to artificially create rain and douse the fires depend on favourable weather, said Dr Benjamin Grandey of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.

"Any attempt at cloud-seeding requires the presence of a cloud," he said.

He added that the science behind cloud-seeding to create rain is inconclusive.

"I am sceptical that anyone can really say how exactly cloud-seeding will impact any given cloud's development," said Dr Grandey.

Still, the historically bad haze this year, which saw the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index hit a record level of 401 at noon last Friday, could lead to change in the long run, said academics.

Said Ms Khor Yu Leng, a visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas) who does research on palm oil agri-business: "The mood seems different nowadays. Plantations have quickly reiterated zero-burn policies and corporate owners started to be named within two days of the record (PSI) readings.

"The word 'negligence' has been mentioned by Mr Hadi Daryanto, general secretary of Indonesia's Forestry Ministry.

"This should scare the corporate sector."

She also said more advanced technology can now finger errant companies quickly.

"Technology such as satellite imagery has matured and its usage expanded," she said.

"Proof can be a lot more easily established as satellite images of fires can be overlaid on concession maps."

Daily or more frequent images can even show where fires start and how they spread.

"Bad news can no longer be so easily contained and inconvenient truths obscured," she said.

Iseas senior fellow Lee Poh Onn, who specialises in environmental management issues, believes that the record pollution may exert pressure on Indonesia to ratify the Asean agreement on transboundary haze pollution.

"Indonesia will also need to restructure its current forest management practices so that there will be a centralised body given more power and resources to manage oil palm plantations and the issue of open burning," he said.

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Indonesian Official: Haze to Clear in a Week as Heavy Rains Fall on Indonesia

Jakarta Globe/AFP 26 Jun 13;

The fires raging in Riau began to subside on Wednesday after heavy rains fell on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, aiding fire fighters and promising an end to the worst levels of haze recorded in more than a decade, an official said.

The number of fires detected in Riau fell from 264 to 54 on Wednesday as disaster response agencies continued to seed the clouds above Sumatra in an effort to create artificial rain, said Heru Widodo, a researcher with the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT). The fires, which started on palm oil and pulp plantations, have burned in Riau for more than a week, blanketing neighboring Singapore and Malaysia in unhealthy levels of smog and igniting a diplomatic dustup over who was to blame.

Disaster response crews and the Indonesian Military (TNI) have been flying cloud-seeding missions over Sumatra every day since Saturday while thousands of fire fighters battled the blaze on the ground, Heru said. After several unsuccessful days of drizzle, heavy rains began to fall on the affected areas of Pekanbaru, Bengkalis and Rokan on Tuesday.

“We also expect heavy rain today and even heavier rains tomorrow,” Heru said. “If rain continus to fall every day we can expect the situation to return to normal in a week.”

The news came as a report said the crisis had claimed its first victim with the death of an asthmatic woman in southern Malaysia, which has been badly affected.

The smog from slash-and-burn agricultural fires on Sumatra island pushed haze levels to a record high in Singapore last week, shrouding residential buildings and downtown skyscrapers.

Favorable winds have since cleared the air over the city-state but southern Malaysia remains choked by smoke.

Indonesian officials said on Wednesday that the end was in sight.

“The rain has definitely helped our efforts,” national disaster agency official Agus Wibowo told AFP from Riau. “With the improving weather on our side, we are taking the opportunity to quickly fight the blazes on land.”

The fires have been hard to put out as they are burning under the surface of carbon-rich peat, meaning hoses need to be pushed into the ground to douse the flames.

Conditions had improved dramatically in the badly-hit city of Dumai, in Riau, on Wednesday after a storm broke at dawn, according to an AFP reporter.

“We were so hoping for rainwater because our water supply for bathing and washing clothes had run out,” said Lisa Rahmawati, a 25-year-old secretary.

In Malaysia, pollution has spiked to hazardous levels in some places in recent days, with the south seeing its worst air quality in 16 years last weekend.

The smog had eased Wednesday but continued to hang over some areas including the capital Kuala Lumpur.

The Sun newspaper said Li Cai Ling, a resident of the southern town of Muar — which saw intense air pollution at the weekend — died on Sunday with a medical report blaming the polluted air.

The situation has also forced newly-promoted English Premier League side Cardiff City to cancel a Malaysia visit that was set to begin this week.

The club said in a statement posted on its website on Tuesday that it has abandoned the scheduled week-long trip to Malaysia — home of its billionaire owner Vincent Tan — “due to the current poor air quality in the region.”

Haze is an annual problem during drier summer months, when westerly monsoon winds blow smoke from forest fires and slash-and-burn land-clearing on the huge island of Sumatra, which lies across the Malacca Strait.

But this summer’s recurrence has been the worst in years.

Malaysia’s environment minister travelled to Indonesia on Wednesday morning to meet his counterpart in the hopes of resolving the problem, which earlier sparked a testy exchange between Indonesia and Singapore.

In 1997-1998, a severe bout of haze cost Southeast Asia an estimated $9 billion from disruptions to air travel and other business activities.


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Malaysia: Haze situation improving with change in wind patterns and rain helping to clear smog

The Star 27 Jun 13;

A clear view of the coastline along the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu expressway in Penang after the rain. A clear view of the coastline along the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu expressway in Penang after the rain.

PETALING JAYA: A change in wind patterns has helped clear the haze that has choked most of the nation for the past few days.

This followed a drizzle in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday evening which helped reduce the thickness of the smog.

There was a significant improvement in the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings yesterday, with 42 areas around the country registering “Moderate” as of 5pm.

Only three areas are categorised as “Unhealthy” – Malacca City (101), Bukit Rambai (107) and Nilai (153).

API readings between 0-50 are considered “Good”; 51-100 as “Mode­-rate”, 101-200 as “Unhealthy” and 201-300 as “Very Unhealthy”. Any reading above 300 is “Hazardous”.

Port Klang, which recorded a high of 495 on the API at 8am on Tuesday, recorded a much healthier reading of 115 at noon yesterday.

Petaling Jaya, meanwhile, registered an API reading of 82 (Moderate) at 5pm yesterday, as opposed to 181 (Unhealthy) a day earlier.

The Department of Environment (DOE) said the south westerly winds, which were currently at a speed of less than 10kph and blowing from various directions, had dispelled the haze to a wider area.

It said the rain had also helped to reduce haze particles, which resulted in improved air quality.

“The current weather condition is expected to continue until Friday and during the period, the air quality is expected to stabilise and improve if the haze at hotspots in central Sumatra continue to lessen,” it said in a statement.
A much-needed downpour in Klang to clear the smoggy skies. A much-needed downpour in Klang to clear the smoggy skies.

DOE added that the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) had also reported that the number of hotspots in Sumatra had dropped drastically to 174 on Tuesday compared with 437 on Monday.

DOE also said the number of complaints related to open burning from June 14 until yesterday were at 293.

DOE advised the public not to conduct open burning and urged them to put out small fires and report such cases to the Fire and Rescue De­­partment at 999 or the DOE’s toll-free number at 1-800-88-2727.

In George Town, despite the cloudy skies, the haze had cleared up and visibility improved, offering clear views of the 65-storey Komtar building from the mainland.

After a spell of rain on Tuesday night, the API as of 11am yesterday stood at a moderate level with visibility recorded at 8km.

The northern states of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu also recorded an improvement in their API readings, falling under the moderate and good air status.

In Kota Kinabalu, the visibility and air pollutant levels dropped to 65 from 71 for Kota Kinabalu at 2pm yesterday following a brief shower.

Read more!

Consumers can influence firms to engage in sustainable farming practices: Experts

Woo Sian Boon Today Online 27 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — With greater awareness and more information available, consumers can play a bigger role in influencing palm oil companies to engage in sustainable clearing practices, said experts, although some of them noted that consumers are “too far” down the supply chain and it may be “a long time” before their efforts bear fruit.

The Consumers Association of Singapore, for one, is studying how it can play a greater advocacy role on this issue, said its President Lim Biow Chuan. “If we can signal strongly to the companies that buy palm oil (to manufacture their) products that we are extremely unhappy and they are risking the wrath of consumers, then they can signal to the palm oil companies,” he said. Products which contain palm oil include chocolates, cookies, soap and shampoo.

With the haze having engulfed Singapore last week and still blanketing parts of Malaysia as a result of illegal forest fires in Central Sumatra, environmentalists and business associations have called for the enforcement of legislation against slash-and-burn tactics and support for whistle-blowing to exert pressure on palm oil companies to clean up their act.

The Singapore Manufacturing Federation, for instance, issued a statement earlier this week urging their members not to have business transactions with errant organisations and their subsidiaries.

Singapore Environment Council Executive Director Jose Raymond felt consumers have “full capabilities to exert pressure on companies and enact changes in market trends and consumption patterns”.

Given more information, they can avoid products from companies involved in causing the haze, he said.

He pointed out that many products certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil as being made from sustainable palm oil are available in major convenience stores.

According to Ms Guan Chong, a marketing lecturer at SIM University’s School of Business, a recent survey found that 48 per cent of 1,000 respondents indicated it was “important” for a trusted brand to be environmentally-friendly in its business practices.

“This shows that Singaporean consumers are also playing an active role in advancing sustainability through their lifestyle choices and buying decisions,” she said.

Mr Lim stopped short of calling for a boycott of errant companies, noting that it might affect the livelihoods of some who “may not be quite involved”.

However, Professor Ang Peng Hwa from Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information believes that a consumer boycott can effect change. He started the Haze Elimination Action Team in 2007 in his own capacity to raise funds for an educational effort against slash-and-burn tactics in Indonesia’s Jambi province.

It has been revived “to mobilise anyone in the region interested to join; to mount an education campaign for farmers; to boycott companies identified as offenders; to raise funds for the above effort”.

Said Prof Ang: “I am hoping that we can target the brands and products of the offending companies. It is alien to us in Singapore because we have not done it, we see ourselves as moderates and we prefer to leave things to the Government to solve.”

However, Senior Marketing Lecturer Siok Kuan Tambyah from the National University of Singapore Business School cautioned that consumers are at the bottom of a “long chain”, which may cause their power to be “diffused”.

“Vigilance and the monitoring of business practices take time and effort, and sometimes consumers are not prepared to invest their personal resources,” she said. “In this instance, it will help if third-party agencies are willing to step in to be the watchdogs.”

Read more!

The haze and the law

Tommy Koh & Michael Ewing-Chow for The Straits Times 27 Jun 13;

THE fires in Sumatra have choked Malaysia and Singapore, causing the air to be hazardous to the health of their citizens.

The increase in the number of hot spots and the ineffectiveness of efforts by Indonesia to reduce them has frustrated these Asean neighbours. The fundamental principle of sovereignty in international law means that they, without Indonesia's consent, cannot try to put out the fires in Sumatra.

However, the law does not leave them without recourse. If the perpetrators of the fires can be identified, they could be subject to legal action. In domestic law, if the owner of a house were to start a fire, whether on purpose or negligently, the owner would be liable for any damage caused to his neighbours.

A similar doctrine has been developed in international law. The 1941 Trail Smelter dispute involved a smelter in Canada whose smoke spread over the border causing air pollution in the US. An international tribunal found Canada responsible for environmental damage caused by the transboundary pollution. This is a fundamental principle of international environmental law - that activities in a state's territory should not cause transboundary harm.

The main culprits in the present case are the plantation owners who have chosen to clear land on the cheap by burning. They are the ones starting the fires without regard for the damage caused to their own citizens and their neighbours.

While a civil lawsuit against them may be an option, a more immediate alternative is a citizens' boycott of products made by plantations that clear land by burning. As this would not be a governmental measure, it will not affect trade obligations. The owners of the plantations would then have to prove to the public that they do not engage in such practices. This has in the past been effective in hitting corporations where it hurts - their bottom line.

Governments could also take action against the plantation owners. They could ban the import of their products by using the "necessary to protect… health" exception found in trade agreements. It will have to be proven that the products were linked to the fires and that this was the "least trade restrictive" solution.

Governments could also enact criminal laws against such acts of pollution. Most laws are territorial. However, international law has also recognised the effects doctrine allowing for extraterritorial jurisdiction if the actions affect the state asserting such a jurisdiction. If such laws are passed, governments could prosecute the plantation owners for activities carried out outside their territory.

A contributing factor to the haze was the slow response of officials. Several Indonesian ministers appeared to be in denial and made unhelpful remarks. Eventually, Indonesia's President stepped in, ordering immediate water- bombing of the fires, and apologising to his Asean neighbours. His actions are commendable and we thank him for his statesmanship.

The 2002 Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution has been signed and ratified by nine member countries. The agreement came into force in 2003. Indonesia has signed but not ratified it.

Under international law, a state is obliged to refrain from acts which would defeat the purpose of a treaty it has signed. The purpose of the haze agreement is "to prevent and monitor transboundary haze pollution... through concerted national efforts and intensified regional and international cooperation".

Indonesia played a leadership role in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. Principle No. 2 of the Rio Declaration of Principles states that "states have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law... the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other states".

We hope that Indonesia will use the current crisis as an opportunity to ratify the haze agreement. We also hope that Indonesia will investigate and prosecute those responsible for the fires, irrespective of their nationality. We should remember that the Indonesians are the first victims of the fire-setters. This is therefore our common problem and we should solve it together in the spirit of Asean solidarity.

Professor Tommy Koh is chairman of The Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore. Associate Professor Michael Ewing-Chow is head of the centre's trade law and investment programme.

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Indonesian President: Any company causing fires to be punished

Antara 26 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has pledged punishment for any company found negligent to cause forest and land fires in Riau province.

"With regard to smog issue I have heard statements from Singapore and few from Malaysia calling for punishment for companies (responsible) with assumptions they are Indonesian companies but our fellow citizens at home have also suspected of involvement of companies from the neighboring countries as well. I said the law will be enforced on anyone or any company from any country that has caused the disaster," he said at a press conference here on Wednesday.

President Yudhoyono said right now the government is prioritizing on fighting the fires because they have disrupted people`s activities in Riau and its environs including Singapore and Malaysia.

He said the deployment of a fire fighting task force consisting of more than 2,000 personnel and efforts to fight the fires through cloud seeding and water bombing showed that the government was maximal in dealing with the fires.

President Yudhoyono criticized the Riau provincial government for being too slow in anticipating and handling the fires causing the government to finally hand over the task to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

He said however that the most important thing to do now was extinguishing the fires immediately adding finger pointing must be stopped.

President Yudhoyono also appealed to parties in Malaysia and Singapore not to be overly with regard to forest and land fires and smog problem.

"Through the lesson, from what has happened in the past week I hope bilateral relations with the two countries could be maintained well as close countries are expected moreover we are common ASEAN members that strong characters and culture of respecting each other. Let us maintain the good relations by preserving the spirit of friendship," he said.

With regard to his recent offer of an apology to the neighboring countries President Yudhoyono said he could understand that some had agreed and others had disagreed with it.

He said the apology was offered in the context of smog problems and not others.

"What is clear and the fact is that smoke that flew to Singapore came from Indonesia or Riau. The air pollution level has reached above 300 meaning it is already under a health menacing category and it has also disrupted the daily activities of the people. The same condition had also affected our brothers in Riau. As it has come from Indonesia we are responsible and offering an apology under the context, I think, is not too much," he said.

President Yudhoyono said "there are pros and cons with regard to why the Indonesian president has to apologize because this is not a deliberate action. Some however have praised it as showing Indonesia`s big-heartedness. We hope our neighbors would also do the same thing in case they hurt Indonesian people."

President Yudhoyono said the deployment of huge forces to fight the fires was not free of pressures but it had been done to show Indonesia`s responsibility as a good neighbor.

"No country may command Indonesia as a sovereign country or me. What has been done is fully my decision," he said.

"Under the current situation swift and serious actions must indeed be taken to quickly solve the problem. That is what we must do. With smog of that thickness activities of our fellow citizens in Riau have been disrupted," he said. (*)

Editor: Heru

Walhi reports 117 firms
Antara 26 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Environmental Forum (Walhi) has reported 117 companies suspected to be responsible for land and forest fires in Riau Province that had created air pollution exceeding the healthy level.

Manager of Walhi for Legal Advocacy and Policy Muhnur Stayaprabu said here on Wednesday that the Civil Society Coalition had suspected that the fires took place because there was corporation interest behind it.

The Civil Society Coalition is composed of Walhi`s various provincial offices, Palm Oil Watch, Elsam, Legal Aid Institute and ICEL.

He said that the forest fires which took place in a number of provinces in Sumatra, particularly in Riau, had disturbed people`s activities and health. The fires that took place every year should be handled by the local and central government.

In Walhi`s records, forest fires this year involved 117 companies which have to be responsible for the fires in Riau.(*)

Editor: Heru

Sime Darby: Satellite data confirms no fires at our areas
The Star 27 Jun 13;

PETALING JAYA: Satellite data has confirmed that there are no fires raging at Sime Darby Plantation areas in Indonesia, the company said.

“Sime Darby Plantation has provided satellite data of hotspots, matched against its own concession area map to the relevant authorities.

“The data confirms that there are no fires on the operating areas in Indonesia,” Sime Darby Bhd said in a statement yesterday.

Sime Darby Plantation, it said, had reviewed hotspot data from a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) satellite for the period between May 25 and June 25 and overlaid the company’s own global positioning system map of the concession areas under PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation (TMP) and PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati (PT BNS) in Riau.

“The matching of the hotspot data and the maps of the concession areas showed that all hotspots were outside of PT TMP’s concession.

“There were three hotspots within PT BNS’ concession area. However, they are located outside of the company’s operating area.

“As explained previously, local communities occupy and plant both cash crops such as corn, sugar cane and pineapple, as well as perennial crops such as coconut and areca nuts on these lands,” it added.

The company also said the Nasa satellite had outdated information on its land concession areas, which it said had been reduced after the final land licensing process was conclu­ded.

“The Nasa satellite showed PT BNS’ concession area as 180,392ha when it is in fact only 25,662ha. Of this, 18,688ha are the actual planted area and 1,530ha the company’s residential and development areas. The remaining land is now mostly occupied by local communities.

“There were also discrepancies with regard to PT TMP’s concession area. Data from the satellite states the size of the company’s concession area as 38,473ha when the actual area is only 13,836ha, out of which 2,474ha are occupied by local communities.”

According to the statement, Sime Darby Plantation would publish and submit the findings to the Roundta­ble on Sustainable Palm Oil as well as cooperate with local authorities to manage hotspots and fires in the interest of its workers, the public and the environment.

The company also reiterated its commitment to a zero burning policy throughout all its operations worldwide, adding that this has been a practice since 1985.

Oil palm producer Sime Darby reiterates zero-burning policy in Indonesia
Channel NewsAsia 26 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Malaysian-owned Sime Darby, one of the world's largest palm oil producers, has provided satellite data to show that there are no fires in its operating areas in Indonesia's Sumatra.

The group also reiterates its zero-burning policy, according to reports.

The Bursa-listed firm was among the eight companies named by the Indonesian authorities as having set fires to clear land in Sumatra.

Singapore-listed companies Wilmar International and Golden Agri-Resources have also admitted that they do business with some of the eight firms being named.

But it said these dealings are now under review.

A spokesperson for Golden Agri-Resources said its own investigations have found seven forest fires in Indonesia's affected Riau province, and five of those were set for land-clearance purposes.

Earlier this week, a Wilmar spokesman told the media that the company would stop doing business with any party found to have started the fires.

- CNA/de

All stakeholders must play their part
Straits Times Forum 27 Jun 13;

LAST week, Singapore experienced its worst haze when the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index soared to a record 401.

Supplies of face masks ran out, and people here suffered from various haze-induced ailments. Some offices and businesses even suspended operations, to keep their employees and customers safe.

The haze has become an annual occurrence. Every year, from June to September, the south-west monsoon winds bring acrid smoke from the burning forests of Sumatra to Singapore and Malaysia.

The severity of the haze this year shows that the slash-and-burn method of clearing land for the palm oil and paper industries is a problem that affects us all. It also forces us to acknowledge that if we do not find a long-term solution, things may worsen.

The haze issue is complex, and a multi-stakeholder approach that goes beyond government regulation must be employed.

The Singapore and Indonesian governments have made a strong stand, emphasising that irresponsible companies must be identified and punished.

This is a great step forward but, more importantly, we must prevent such irresponsible business practices from continuing.

We suggest that governments work with agencies on the ground to guide their actions.

Environmental groups have long been at the forefront of gathering intelligence on forest issues in Indonesia.

For example, WWF-Indonesia and its associated non-governmental organisations use satellite-and mapping-based technologies to identify and locate hot spots, providing information for government action.

Also, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has taken a long-term strategy to resolve the problem - the Indonesian team works on the underlying issues of deforestation and helps the government identify and protect forests of high biodiversity value.

The organisation also has a dedicated palm oil team that promotes sustainable production and supports the Roundtable on Sustainable

Palm Oil, upholding the belief that palm oil companies must take responsibility for the full supply chain and ensure that not only their plantations, but also the fruit or processed oil from their third-party providers, are not fuelling the haze.

But ultimately, even if all the regulations are in place, if consumers continue to support products from irresponsible companies, the haze will continue.

While Singapore is enjoying a respite from the haze, let us not forget that it will come back with a vengeance if governments, environmental groups and people do not come together to take action.

Elaine Tan (Ms)
Chief Executive Officer
World Wide Fund for Nature-Singapore

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Yudhoyono defends apology on haze

Indonesia's bargaining position on other issues not affected, he stresses
Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta
Straits Times 27 Jun 13;

PRESIDENT Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has rebutted critics at home who said his apology on Monday night to Singapore and Malaysia over the haze was excessive.

"The fact is the haze was from Indonesia, so we take responsibility, and saying sorry in that context, to me, is not excessive," he told reporters yesterday.

"At the same time, I said that what was happening was not intentional, and Indonesia had no intention to trouble its neighbours."

His unexpected apology had attracted, in the past 48 hours, criticism from various quarters. The Muslim-leaning Republika daily said yesterday he had "hurt the people", and the often critical Media Indonesia daily said he had "dragged down national pride".

A good number of politicians and the public had also been critical of the move, with some saying he had caved in to external pressure and the apology had shown Indonesia up as weak.

Yesterday, Dr Yudhoyono said he had been following conversations on social media and was concerned that SMSes and press questions to ministers had misinterpreted his remarks.

A minister had also received "weird" media questions wondering whether the stepped-up response to the haze - more than 3,000 staff were sent to Riau in the past two days - was the result of pressure from Singapore or another country, he noted.

"No one instructed me as president of a sovereign country," he told reporters at Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusuma Airbase.

"What I have done in the past two to three days - massive handling, deploying more officers - is fully my decision," he said.

"The thick haze has also inconvenienced our brothers in Riau."

Dr Yudhoyono stressed that the haze would have no impact on Indonesia's bargaining position on other issues, whether territorial disputes with Malaysia or the return of ill-gotten assets of corrupt Indonesians in Singapore.

"A sovereign country need not be afraid of any other country, not of Malaysia, not of Singapore," he said. "On sovereignty and other matters, there can be no compromise."

He said Indonesia would firmly defend Ambalat, an oil-rich block in the Sulawesi Sea that Malaysia also claims, and ensure that Indonesian workers in Malaysia are protected and given their rights.

On Singapore, he noted that "in general, our relations are very good and mutually beneficial, but Indonesia will continue to ensure the extradition treaty with Singapore can be enforced".

Both countries signed the extradition treaty, with a defence cooperation agreement, in 2007, but Indonesia's Parliament has refused to ratify them.

Dr Yudhoyono hoped bilateral ties with both its neighbours would also be safeguarded in a mutually respectful Asean spirit.

He said he scanned the international media early every morning, and felt Singapore media reporting on the issue had been "excessive" and "put Indonesia's image in a bad light globally".

This year's haze, he noted, was exceptionally bad due to extreme weather, and Indonesia was doing all it could to manage the disaster and provide relief for its people and its neighbours.

His comments come as parts of Malaysia got a respite from the haze as rain fell for a second day. Cloud-seeding and water-bombing operations also continued over parts of Riau.

Malaysian Environment Minister G. Palanivel arrived in Jakarta yesterday afternoon and will meet his counterpart today.

Background story


I read myself that since 1997, Indonesia is viewed as continuing to pollute the air in Singapore. I think that is excessive. I am sure Singapore and Indonesia have both benefited from bilateral cooperation, especially in the economic and business fields. It is certainly hurtful if there are hints that Indonesia creates problems for its neighbours. I find it regrettable that such news comes at a time when we are seriously tackling the disaster.

- Dr Yudhoyono, citing what he called "excessive" Singapore media reports on the haze

I have instructed the community, primarily governors and bupatis (regents) in Sumatra and Kalimantan to be on alert, look out and take early steps to prevent and mitigate cases of burning and haze. Remember, the driest season is usually in July and August, and we are only in June. I ask the public and the press to monitor the governments in areas prone to plantation fires so that they take responsible and necessary action now.

- Dr Yudhoyono, calling for local communities to help in efforts to battle the fires

President Yudhoyono hopes neighbors not to send wrong signals
Antara 26 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said neighboring countries should not give wrong signals over land and forest fires that had created haze.

"I told our brothers in Singapore and Malaysia that 2013 was a different year. We have tried to prevent (fires) since 2006 and there was a year when we almost had no fires. But the condition this year is exceptional because there is extreme hot weather where peat land is flammable though there is also human factor," the President said at Halim Perdanakusuma Airbase here on Wednesday.

The Head of State was referring to reports and opinions in Singapore and Malaysia which said that since 1997 Indonesia had been sending pollution to Singapore.

"I follow international media (reports) in the morning, afternoon and night. In my opinion many reports which I always observed in Singapore were exaggerated so that they smeared the image of Indonesia in world`s eyes," President Yudhoyono said.

"I read and followed reports which gave the impression that since 1997 Indonesia had been polluting the Singapore air. I think this is exaggerating. I am convinced that Singapore and Indonesia mutually benefit from their business and economic cooperation. Of course it hurts us if it leaves the impression that Indonesia only poses problems to its neighbors, and I once again regret such intensive reports ," Yudhoyono said.

He said that the Indonesian government exerted its full efforts to put out the land and forest fires which created smokes.

"I believe that we have heart and good cooperation and with that reason our relations with whatever sides will be good. I believe this theory and since I became president in the past nine years. This is for the first time I make a statement like this," he said.

The President has been following the dynamism of relations between Indonesia and Malaysia as well as Singapore and the peak of the dynamism takes place with regard the (haze) incident in the past one week.

"It peaks this week for our goodness. The smoke and (forest) fires should not be mistaken as we will be responsible to overcome it. Bilateral relations are something that must proceed forever. Let us build friendship and partnership as wise as possible," the President said.

On the occasion, the President also stressed that the government`s efforts to soon put out the fires that caused haze were not because of pressures or of being afraid of any countries but of its responsibility as a sovereign country and as a good neighbor.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Singapore govt to make first grant call for land and liveability fund by end-2013

Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 27 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: The government will be making its first grant call for the Land and Liveability National Challenge (L2 NIC) by the end of the year.

This was announced by Senior Minister of State for National Development Lee Yi-Shyan on Thursday at this year's Urban Sustainability Research and Development Congress.

He said the first competitive call for research and development (R&D) proposals will be made at the end of the year and will allow researchers to begin tapping on the fund.

A total of S$135 million has been approved for the first six years of the programme.

The initiative was announced last year and is a long-term, multi-agency effort.

It is meant to fund R&D projects that enhance liveability, environmental quality, land creation and land savings.

The projects will need to have high potential for practical implementation.

Some of the initial research and development focus areas include creating new underground spaces and achieving high standards of liveability even in high-density towns.

Separately, four projects have been selected to receive research grants under the Ministry of National Development's Sustainable Urban Living programme. The projects will receive S$8 million.

They are among the first to be selected since the programme's inaugural grant call was launched in August last year.

These projects cover areas of underground construction and land reclamation technology.

The programme aims to provide nearer-term seed funding for R&D on urban solutions in land and liveability.

- CNA/fa

Future living ideas: Going underground
Subterranean goods mover, science city mooted for $135m R&D kitty
Kash Cheong Straits Times 28 Jun 13;

INSTEAD of containers being driven out on trucks, a new underground transportation system may be doing the job when the new "Tuas megaport" opens.

A seamless underground goods mover system could connect the port to nearby warehousing facilities when it is expected to be operational in around 10 years.

This is one "land and liveability" idea being looked at by the Government, among several it may consider for a share of $135 million in research and development funding over the next five years.

Another is 2West, a mixed-used township being looked into by JTC Corporation, which integrates residential, industrial and research uses in areas such as CleanTech Park, Nanyang Technological University and Tengah- which could be linked by underground networks.

"We face the continuous challenges of creating more usable space and optimising the use of land to support future growth," said Ministry of National Development (MND) deputy secretary Tay Kim Poh.

"By seeking innovation to overcome common challenges, Singapore can pioneer the development of practical, scalable and replicable urban solutions that can benefit our long-term future as well as other cities."

He was speaking at Singapore's Urban Sustainability Research and Development Congress at Biopolis yesterday.

The underground goods mover system - still in an exploratory phase - would reduce traffic congestion on roads and free up land space for other uses, Mr Tay said.

It could work by using automated systems or self-driven cars.

Other ideas include the development of sensors to remotely monitor the health of the elderly and an enhanced use of data to provide better municipal services and traffic management. Researchers might also be working in an underground science city in Kent Ridge.

Firms and institutions will competefor funding under the National Innovation Challenge on Land and Liveability (L2NIC), announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last year.

The first official grant call for projects will be made by the end of this year, Senior Minister of State for National Development and Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan said yesterday.

Government agencies have talked to researchers and industry players, sought out potential concepts and established areas where more research and development is needed.

The L2NIC team has identified four key research areas: Creating underground spaces, optimising land use, creating liveable community-centred cities and use of technology for intelligent decision making.

MND has also awarded $8 million in research funds under the Sustainable Urban Living fund to four projects.

These include one that uses excavated soil to create greener underground carpark walls. "It is more cost-effective. We can use excavated soil to build, we can grow plants on carpark walls so they don't look like only concrete," said Mr Alan Tan, senior principal architect from the Housing Board.

Additionally, the MND has earmarked $25 million for new R&D into green technologies, Mr Lee said.

He also gave out the Minister for National Development R&D Awards yesterday, which recognised innovative projects. HDB's Punggol Waterway clinched the top prize for providing green living spaces along a waterway.

Two other projects - one which turns waste concrete into construction material and another which increases energy efficiency in water reclamation - won merit awards.

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Botanic Gardens' heritage tree falls

Straits Times 27 Jun 13;

STAFF of Singapore Botanic Gardens arrived at work yesterday to the disheartening sight of one of its stately heritage trees uprooted and toppled on its lawn.

The 91-year-old rubber tree, or Hevea brasiliensis, had fallen early yesterday morning owing to root failure from rot at its base, the National Parks Board (NParks) said.

But there are enough live roots left to try getting it to sprout new branches from the remains of the trunk, it added. The tree collapse was not caused by the strong winds and thunderstorm on Tuesday, NParks said.

No one was hurt when it fell.

The 14m tree was planted near the Gardens' Tanglin entrance in 1923. It was the last of its second generation of rubber trees, which were planted from seeds in 1884.

"Fortunately though, third-generation saplings were planted nearby in 2009 as part of SBG's 150th anniversary celebrations, continuing the legacy of our rubber story," said the Gardens on its Facebook page. Rubber trees were planted on the grounds in 1877 as an economically important crop.

But the fallen tree is not the oldest in the 154-year-old Botanic Gardens. That honour likely belongs to a Tembusu or a towering Jelawi, both of which may be as old as the Gardens.

Meanwhile, NParks said Tuesday's storm uprooted seven trees and snapped 90 branches in the west of Singapore. They have been cleared.

While trees along major roads and areas of high activity are checked at least once a year, the risk of a tree falling cannot be reduced to zero as even healthy trees can be affected by gusty winds and heavy rain, it added.


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Indonesia: Cristiano Ronaldo named mangrove ambassador

Antara 26 Jun 13;

Bali (ANTARA News) - Indonesia named world footballer Cristiano Ronaldo as mangrove ambassador here on Wednesday, marked by presentation of an ambassador certificate at a Save Mangrove Save Earth event at Ngurah Rai People`s Forest Park in Telagawaja by the country`s minister of forestry, Zulkifli Hasan.

The event was witnessed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and First Lady Mrs Any Yudhoyono, all cabinet ministers, the governor of Bali and provincial administration officials.

According to tales, Ronaldo has been motivated to become the mangrove ambassador because of a report in the social media about Martinus who had been saved in the tsunami disaster in Aceh in 2004 only after he was hooked in a mangrove tree wearing a T-shirt with the name C Ronaldo on it.

In his short speech President Yudhoyono on the occasion invited all communities to look after forests including mangrove forests to save the earth and make it to remain green.

He expressed appreciation to the spirit of the Balinese people to plant, look after and make the province green.

At the end of the ceremony Cristian Ronaldo plant a mangrove tree along with President Yudhoyono, First Lady Any Yudhoyono and Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

Ronaldo "in love" with mangrove trees: Indonesian minister
Antara 26 Jun 13;

Tanjung Benoa, Bali (ANTARA News) - Indonesian Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo is "in love" with mangrove trees.

Ronaldo was inspired by the story of a seven-year-old boy named Martunis who survived the deadly tsunami in Aceh because he had been stuck in mangrove trees, the minister said during the launch of "save mangrove" campaign led by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and attended by Ronaldo, here, Wednesday.

Martunis was wearing a red-and-green Portuguese team jersey with Ronalo`s name on it when he was found in a beach after he had floated at sea for 19 days.

"And since then, Ronaldo has been quite close to Martunis and mangroves," the minister said.

Ronaldo visited Martunis in Aceh in 2008 and give him scholarships for education.

"Ronaldo also once gave Martunis a mobile phone, which was later gone," the minister.

Minister Hasan on the occasion presented a certificate naming Ronaldo as an envoy for the preservation of mangroves.

"Thank you President Yudhoyono. I am pleased to come to Indonesia. Hopefully our event in Bali could spread our mangrove preservation message," Ronaldo said.(*)

Editor: Heru

Ronaldo 'falling in love' with mangroves, a minister says
The Jakarta Post 26 Jun 13;

We meet again: Real Madrid’s soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo (right) poses with Martunis in Bali, on Wednesday. Martunis is a boy who was dragged away by the tsunami waves in 2004 but managed to survive after getting caught on mangroves. (JP/Anggara Mahendra) We meet again: Real Madrid’s soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo (right) poses with Martunis in Bali, on Wednesday. Martunis is a boy who was dragged away by the tsunami waves in 2004 but managed to survive after getting caught on mangroves. (JP/Anggara Mahendra)

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo had “fallen in love” with mangroves.

At a campaign event on Wednesday to save mangrove forests, Zulkifli explained why the world famous soccer player loved the mangroves.

“It’s related to the Aceh tsunami and Martunis, a boy who was dragged away by the tsunami waves but who managed to survive after getting caught on mangroves,” said Zulkifli as quoted by Antara news agency.

The images of Martunis, an elementary school student who was buffeted for 19 days in waters surrounding a mangrove forest went viral on social media sites.

Martunis was wearing a soccer shirt emblazoned with the name of his hero, Ronaldo, who plays for Spanish soccer club Real Madrid.

“It was because of that incident that Ronaldo now feels so close with Martunis and the mangroves,” said Zulkifli.

Ronaldo previously went out of his way to meet Martunis in Aceh and offered him a scholarship. “He was also given a handphone by Ronaldo, but he has since lost it,” the minister said.

Martunis, who is now a teenager and loves playing soccer, was invited to attend the mangrove-planting event entitled Save the Mangroves, Save the Earth, which was attended by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Ronaldo.

“Here you are, Martunis. Come on in, shake hands with Bapak President and Ronaldo,” Zulkifli said when welcoming Martunis to the event.

After introducing Martunis to the President and his soccer hero, Zulkifli went on to present a Mangrove Bali Ambassador certificate to Ronaldo.

In his short remarks after the ceremony, Ronaldo said that when national entrepreneur Tomy Winata had asked him to become the Mangrove Bali Ambassador, he was immediately interested.

“Thank you Mr. President. I am very happy to be in Indonesia. I hope my role in Bali can strengthen the message to save mangroves," Ronaldo said. (ebf)

Read more!

Indonesia: Workshop Focuses on Deforestation-Free Palm Oil, Pulp and Paper

Jakarta Globe 27 Jun 13;

Some of the world’s top palm oil, pulp and paper companies, together with major buyers, kicked off a two-day meeting with governments and NGOs in Jakarta on Thursday to discuss the sustainable production of such commodities.

The workshop is being held by the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, a public-private partnership committed to eliminating deforestation from key commodity supply chains such as palm oil, paper, soy and beef, a TFA statement said.

Companies attending the meeting include Asia Pulp & Paper, APRIL, Golden Agri-Resources, as well as Unilever, Nestle, Kraft, Mondelez, J&J, Lion, Aeon and Kimberly-Clark.

Together with the governments represented, and with the United States and Indonesia playing hosts, representatives will discuss the sustainable production of palm oil, pulp and paper.

The goals of the workshop include: building a common understanding and awareness of current initiatives to eliminate tropical deforestation from the palm oil and pulp and paper sectors, highlighting existing policies and identifying economic and technical obstacles and seeking solutions that industry, governments and civil society can work on together.

The challenge is to respond to rapidly growing demand for commodities and promote sustainable economic growth that benefits people while preventing further deforestation and degradation of the world’s remaining tropical forests, the TFA statement said.

The Jakarta gathering, titled “Promoting Sustainability and Productivity in the Palm Oil and Pulp & Paper Sectors,” has come at a less than ideal time. Indonesia continues to battle forest fires in Sumatra that have triggered severe haze in neighboring countries, underscoring the threat of clear cutting forests and slash and burn practices..

The production of palm oil, paper, soy and beef accounts for the majority of global deforestation, which represents roughly 15 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The TFA was born out of discussions between the US Government and the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) and seeks to deliver solutions on deforestation that spur economic growth and food security. These goals are aligned with the development and climate change priorities of the Indonesian and US governments.

The CGF is a network of more than 400 companies whose combined revenues exceed $3 trillion a year — around 4 percent of global GDP.

In 2010, the CGF made a commitment to eliminate deforestation by 2020.

The Tropical Forest Alliance members include the Consumer Goods Forum and the Governments of the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Every year about 13 million hectares of forest is cleared or lost globally to natural causes, with the majority of clearing occurring in tropical forest countries.

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Malaysia: Clouded leopard remains found

Skull, bones are those of a leopard
New Straits Times 26 Jun 13;

NO FOUL PLAY: It may have fallen into pond and drowned

MARAN: The Pahang Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) has concluded that the skull and bones found near a pond in Kampung Sentosa here last week belonged to an adult clouded leopard.

A team from the district Perhilitan office here, which examined the remains, had ruled out poaching, saying the animal, which was under threat of extinction, might have slipped and fallen into the pond while attempting to cross it.

It was learnt that a villager had stumbled on the decomposed carcass, which was emitting a foul smell, floating in the pond on June 21, before pulling it to the side of the pond.

However, the animal, also known as harimau dahan, a species protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, was in poor condition as the outer layers of the dried skin had begun to peel off, leaving the bones exposed.

The villager informed the department, which sent its personnel to the spot.

They identified the clouded leopard based on the shape of its skull, which was different from other members of the cat family.

State Perhilitan director Khairiah Mohd Sharif said the department did not suspect any foul play in the death of the clouded leopard and that the case was not linked to illegal hunters.

"Our personnel only managed to recover the skull and bones, and identified the stripes based on the bits of the skin, which was recovered from the body.

"Based on its condition, the animal could have been dead for more than two weeks before the villager found it.

"It is surprising to find the animal dead near a human settlement as there has been no report of attacks by the clouded leopard or previous sightings of the animal here," she said yesterday.

Khairiah said the skull and bones were kept at the Maran Perhilitan office and would be brought to the state headquarters here for research.

A source said the leopard, which usually targets birds, deers and monkeys, might have fallen into the pond while chasing a prey or drowned in the pond while attempting to cross it.

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Locust plague threatens to trigger severe food crisis in Madagascar

Locusts have already infested over half of the island nation’s cultivated land and pastures
FAO 26 Jun 13;

26 June 2013, Rome – Madagascar is in the grips of a largely uncontrolled locust plague and risks a serious food crisis. A large-scale emergency control campaign urgently requires a minimum of $22 million in funding to start in time for the next crop planting season in September. So far, FAO emergency appeals for Madagascar remain severely underfunded.

By September, FAO expects that two-thirds of the country will be infested by locusts.

Some 13 million people’s food security and livelihoods are at stake, or nearly 60 percent of the island’s total population. Nine million of those people are directly dependent on agriculture for food and income.

Sounding the alarm – more loudly

FAO has issued various warnings since August 2012 calling for financial support.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva emphasized that prevention and early action are key. “If we don’t act now, the plague could last years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. This could very well be a last window of opportunity to avert an extended crisis,” he said.

Timely control of the locust upsurge in Madagascar at an early stage would have cost $ 14.5 million in 2011-1012, but FAO only received half the funding necessary. Another campaign had to be launched, but that received barely a quarter of the required funds in 2011/2012.

When the Sahel region experienced a locust upsurge in 2003-2005, the costs of control operations exceeded $ 570 million, in addition to the economic damages in terms of lost crops and food aid.

Preventive control measures normally cost $3.3 million per year for the 10 affected Sahelian countries. So intervening only when the situation reaches a crisis point cost roughly the same as 170 years of prevention.

In order to have all the supplies and personnel in place to mount a wide-scale anti-locust campaign starting in September, funding should be allocated by July. FAO’s locust control programme needs to be fully funded in order to monitor the locust situation throughout the whole contaminated area and to carry out well-targeted aerial control operations. Otherwise, undetected or uncontrolled locust populations will continue to breed and produce more swarms. The plague would therefore last several years, controlling it will be lengthier and more expensive and it will severely affect food security, nutrition and livelihoods.

The complete three-year programme, which is needed to return the locust plague to a recession, requires more than $41.5 million over the next three years.

According to a recent FAO assessment mission on the impact of the current locust plague in Madagascar, in parts of the country rice and maize losses due to the locusts vary from 40 to 70 percent of the crop, with 100 percent losses on certain plots.

A joint Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission, supported by FAO, IFAD and WFP and in close cooperation with the Malagasy Government, is currently on the ground to measure the locust plague’s damages to food security and livelihoods. More detailed data analysis will be available in July, but the resources to start preparation for the field actions have to be available now.

Major impact on food security

According to FAO estimates, there could be losses in rice production of up to 630 000 tonnes, or about 25 percent of total demand for rice in Madagascar. This would severely affect food and nutrition security and livelihoods of the most vulnerable.

Rice is the main staple in the country, where 80 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar per day. One and a half million hectares will need to be treated by aerial spraying during the 2013/2014 campaign.

The three-year FAO programme includes:

improving the monitoring and analysis of the locust situation;
large-scale aerial and ground spraying and related training;
monitoring and mitigating the effect of control operations on health and the environment;
measuring the impact of anti-locust campaigns and the damages to crops and pasture.

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Without Action, Warming to Decimate Species Diversity

Stacy Small-Lorenz, Environmental Defense Fund, Yahoo News 27 Jun 13;

On Tuesday, President Obama announced a Climate Action Plan to address the enormous and growing costs of climate change. He talked about the impacts of climate change on society — devastating natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, raging wildfires, diminished snowpacks, depleted water supplies and drought wilting farmers' crops. As a conservation biologist, I get the urgency of climate action for society, but also for the many life forms with which we share the planet.

It is clear that the stakes of climate change are rising for biodiversity. A recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change predicted a shocking decline of global biodiversity within this century if nations fail to take quick, effective actions to halt greenhouse gas emissions. Roughly one third of common and widespread animal species and over half of plant species will disappear from a large percentage of their current ranges if society does not take action on climate change, the research team predicted.

Plants, reptiles and amphibians are likely to suffer the most because climate change will outpace these organisms' abilities to shift to new locations as conditions change. Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia, Australia, North Africa, Central Asia and Southeastern Europe will become especially inhospitable for plants and animals if emissions continue to rise unchecked.

Without action to mitigate global warming, the ranges of many common, widespread plant and animal species will shrink by at least half, according to the team who modeled the effects of six climate change mitigation scenarios on a huge number of species (48,786 to be exact).

The study may actually have understated the problem because it didn' t take into account other impacts that will interact with climate change, like diseases and pests, land-use changes, pollution, physical barriers to species movement, and increasingly frequent extreme weather events. The authors also pointed out that the actual rate of greenhouse gas emissions is outpacing the projected emissions levels in the models they used.

There is hope, though, to be gleaned in their finding that with "prompt, stringent mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions," species could avoid roughly 60 percent of the losses to their current ranges. However, that would require that nations rapidly reign in global emissions so that they peak before 2030.

We have an Administration that has shown itself ready to lead on this issue. However, if society delays action, the chances of curbing species losses are significantly reduced. I share President Obama' s impatience with climate change skeptics attempting to slow down our response to this urgent matter. As he said in his speech at Georgetown University on Tuesday, "There is no time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society."

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Cambodian tailorbird: A new species seen in Phnom Penh

BBC News 26 Jun 13;

A species of bird that is completely new to science has been discovered - hiding in plain sight in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk), as it has been named, was first spotted in 2009 during routine checks for avian flu.

More specimens have since been found in regions around the city and discerned from similar tailorbird species.

The discovery is outlined in the Oriental Bird Club journal, Forktail.

Tailorbirds are in the warbler family, and get their name from the meticulous preparation of their nests, weaving leaves together.

A detailed set of tests - from the birds' plumage to their songs and their genes - has now shown that O. chaktomuk is in fact a separate, new species.

It is exceptionally uncommon for undiscovered bird species to be found in urban contexts, but Oriental Bird Club council member Richard Thomas said that earlier in the year, he "went and saw this remarkable new tailorbird myself - in the middle of a road construction site".

The authors of the paper suggest that O. chaktomuk inhabits a small area, made up largely of dense scrubland in the floodplain of the Mekong river - at the edge of which Phnom Penh lies.

Birdwatchers do not tend to target this kind of ecosystem because most of the species it supports are abundant and widespread elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

"The modern discovery of an un-described bird species within the limits of a large populous city - not to mention 30 minutes from my home - is extraordinary," said study co-author Simon Mahood of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

"The discovery indicates that new species of birds may still be found in familiar and unexpected locations."

Because of the small and shrinking nature of the birds' habitat, the team has recommended that the bird be listed as "Near Threatened" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

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