Best of our wild blogs: 5 Jul 13

Sunday 7th July – Special Tour by Raymond Goh
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Mass coral bleaching starting in Singapore in 2013?
from Bleach Watch Singapore

Reefy East Coast 26062013
from Psychedelic Nature

Dress code red
from The annotated budak

Down Memory Lane - Smaller Wood Nymph
from Butterflies of Singapore

Angry Bird, Stupid Bird
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Questions on haze, MDA's new rules will dominate Parliament sitting on July 8

Channel NewsAsia 5 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: The haze and the new regulations by the Media Development Authority (MDA) for online news websites will dominate Parliament when it sits on July 8.

A total of 30 questions related to haze will be fielded by Members of Parliament (MPs).

The questions seek clarification on various issues, including the roles of legislation and ASEAN in tackling the annual environmental problem in the region.

MPs also want to know the impact of the haze on health and will ask about contingency plans and public communications during the haze.

They will ask what steps can be taken to combat profiteering on essential goods during the haze.

MPs are also concerned about the impact of the haze on business operations and on the safety of workers who work outdoors.

They also have questions regarding MDA's new licensing regulations for online news websites.

Their concerns relate to the rationale and the impact of the new regulations.

MP Dr Lam Pin Min wants to know if there is an emergency response plan to handle the possible emergence of a Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in Singapore and its impact on the stockpile of N95 masks. He will ask the Ministry of Ministry whether it has precautionary measures for Singaporeans performing the haj in Mecca.

MP Foo Mee Har wants to know the impact on local interest rates and foreign exchange benchmarks resulting from the activities of the 133 traders who had attempted to influence Singapore's financial benchmarks.

Nominated MP Assoc Professor Eugene Tan would like to know if Singapore's criminal and banking laws are comprehensive enough to prosecute the 133 traders.

MP Dr Lim Wee Kiak wants to know the impact of the recent Malaysian General Election results on Singapore investments in the Iskandar region. Dr Lim also wants to know whether the high-speed rail links between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore will proceed as announced in February this year.

On local transportation, opposition MP Sylvia Lim will ask about the government's role in helping public transport operators to put in place effective incident management plan, in light of the North East Line disruption last month.

MP Desmond Lee Ti-Seng has asked for an update on the implementation of recommendations by the Working Group on Youth Gangs, following the recent gang-related attack outside Cathay Cineleisure Orchard.

MP Baey Yam Keng will ask about greater government support for local film producers, in light of Anthony Chen's film 'Ilo Ilo' that won the Camera d'Or award for best feature at the recent Cannes Film Festival.

MP Irene Ng and Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam are seeking clarification about development plans for Pulau Ubin and how the plans will affect residents living on the island.

Mrs Lina Chiam has also tabled an Adjournment Motion on MDA's Licensing Framework for News Websites in Singapore.

- CNA/de

Questions on haze, MDA’s new rules will dominate Parliament sitting on Monday
Today Online 6 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE — The haze and the new regulations introduced by the Media Development Authority (MDA) for online news websites will dominate the next sitting of Parliament on Monday, with 30 questions being filed by Members of Parliament (MPs) on the haze issue alone.

The questions seek clarification on various issues, including the roles of legislation and ASEAN in tackling the annual environmental problem in the region. MPs also want to know the impact of the haze on health and will ask about contingency plans and public communications when it occurs.

As for the MDA licensing regime, MPs have floated concerns regarding the rationale and impact of the regulations.

Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min has tabled a question on whether there is an emergency response plan to handle the possible emergence of a Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in Singapore and its impact on the stockpile of N95 masks.

Mr Lam will also ask the Ministry of Health on precautionary measures for Singaporeans performing the haj in Mecca.

MPs also have questions on the 133 traders who had attempted to influence Singapore’s financial benchmarks, with Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) asking about the impact on local interest rates and foreign exchange benchmarks resulting from the activities of the traders.

Nominated MP Eugene Tan has asked if Singapore’s criminal and banking laws are comprehensive enough to prosecute the 133 traders.

Haze set to dominate Parliament sitting

Total of 30 questions filed on issue; new MDA rules will be discussed too
Leonard Lim Straits Times 6 Jul 13;

THE recent haze that brought air quality to record hazardous levels in Singapore will dominate Monday's Parliament session, when MPs convene in the House after the June recess.

A total of 30 questions have been filed on the issue. They range from contingency plans to how the Government intends to manage websites spreading false information, as well as the short- and long-term health effects of the haze.

Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan has asked if any criminal sanctions could be imposed on local or foreign firms which have contributed to the haze, following accusations hurled at Singapore and Malaysian companies by some Indonesian officials.

Singapore is waiting for Indonesia to clarify the comments and provide evidence of the culprits' involvement.

Nominated MP (NMP) Eugene Tan wants to know if the Government will consider introducing laws with extra-territorial jurisdiction over Singapore or Singapore-based companies and their subsidiaries, whose overseas activities affect the environment.

Other questions include one by NMP Laurence Lien on how the Government intends to improve its contingency plans and public communication should the haze turn serious again.

He said yesterday: "There can probably be improvements (from a fortnight ago). I'm sure the Government will address this in Parliament, and I hope there will be lessons learnt."

At least three ministers are expected to address the House on the haze. They are Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who chairs an inter-ministerial committee on the haze; Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan; and Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam.

The Media Development Authority's (MDA) recent licensing regime for news websites, which has displeased and worried bloggers and major Internet companies, will be another major topic.

Eight questions have been filed and MPs from all three parties in the House are set to speak, setting the stage for a lively session.

The rules, introduced last month, mandate that licensed news sites must remove prohibited content within 24 hours of a government order.

They must also put up a $50,000 performance bond.

Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) has asked how the regulation will be applied to owners and administrators of stand-alone Facebook pages that persistently report on Singapore news and are read by at least 50,000 readers for two months.

Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam of the Singapore People's Party has filed an adjournment motion, which lets her speak on the topic for 20 minutes at the end of the sitting.

Two Bills will be introduced: one is on the status of children conceived with the help of assisted reproduction technology, and the other amends the law on the suppression of terrorism financing.

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Role of Singapore's social media in recent haze problem

Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 4 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: The power of social media was evident when Singapore grappled with the recent haze problem.

It has proven to be both a resource and bane for the authorities as they disseminated information and battled rumours at the same time.

As thick smog blanketed Singapore, rumours were also circulated about how the authorities may have manipulated data.

The allegation was swiftly rebutted by the authorities, who then created the “Emergency 101” website to dispel such rumours.

New media expert Andrew Bleeker said a crisis like the haze is one example where social media is critical for rapid response.

He said: "It's just such a way for a leader to immediately respond either in the defensive way, or an aggressive way, to get a message out in real time, because that's where the conversation is going on."

Giving an update on its efforts to engage people via social media, a spokesperson from the Communications and Information Ministry said: "The government is aware that the public wants to contribute its views as well as play a part in shaping government policies.

"Government agencies have been engaging the public and netizens on various issues including government policies through various online platforms. As of December 2012, our ministries and agencies had established 229 Facebook pages, 92 YouTube channels, 86 Twitter accounts, 20 blogs and 59 mobile apps. There has been active two-way engagement with the public on many of these online channels."

Trust is often an issue when it comes to online engagement.

Mr Bleeker said governments need to be able to leverage their online followers and networks to help spread their message.

He said: "Who people really listen to are their friends. And that's one of the real universal truths of social media. If you think about your followers, in almost all cases, your followers are already with you. So your real goal for social media isn't to educate them, but how is it you can make it easy for them to share.

"So everything should be about sharing, and that's when you see engagement succeed or not -- when you see people really sharing. Simply liking something doesn't get you very much. It's the sharing that's really valuable."

This strategy of propagating news via word of mouth through the social media would also apply to engaging prominent bloggers with a huge following. Mr Bleeker said since US President Obama took office, it has been a practice of the White House to invite the blogging community to its briefings.

Mr Bleeker said: "For the US, it's probably just a couple of years ahead of where the blogging industry is here. What has really happened is that the media has become one integrated media, not so much that there's a different standard for accrediting bloggers. It's just that it just becomes journalism at this point, once the bloggers become mainstream.

"And frankly, most of the bloggers that are left, because it's such a tough economy, now end up working for one of the major publications. I don't think bloggers want to be treated differently, I think they want to be treated like real journalists.”

When contacted by Channel NewsAsia, the Communications and Information Ministry said media accreditation is currently provided only to journalists working with news organisations who cover government events regularly.

They include journalists who work for online newspapers belonging to a parent company that publishes in print, said the spokesperson.

Baey Yam Keng, deputy chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications and Information, said: "In online space, a lot of people take on different personalities, and they can become very critical about everything.

"So one instinct is to back off. I think the fear of interaction is about being cornered into a debate, into a situation where there's no way out. So I think that's the greatest concern of the government."

Mr Baey, who is active on social media, said there are merits in engaging this group.

But he added that the government may need to consider the blogger's reach and track record, which includes writings that are fair and factual.

He said: "Perhaps Singapore will come to that stage in time to come. Ultimately, we must look at what our objective is. If the government is looking at channels which can reach a lot of people, then even bloggers who potentially have a lot of followers will also be a channel that we should be interested in.

"But of course, it is the level of confidence or trust that this blogger or this person is able to respect the rules of engagement. But I think this is something we need to develop over time -- to build that kind of trust.”

- CNA/xq

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Giant ferns on trees pose danger

Straits Times Forum 28 Jun 13;

I LIVE in Transit Road, off Upper Thomson Road. The sight of huge old trees with many big bird's nest ferns growing on them worries me, as they may fall on people walking by.

Recently, I spotted a fallen bird's nest fern as big as a microwave oven by the side of the pavement along Upper Thomson Road.

I urge the relevant authorities to remove all oversized bird's nest ferns that are growing on the trees planted by the National Parks Board.

Also, pruning the large branches of these trees will prevent such ferns from growing on them.

As the branches get old and weak, the danger is even greater as the additional weight of the huge ferns may cause them to break, and perhaps hit passers-by or vehicles.

Chan Kah Fai

Tree management programme cuts risk
Straits Times Forum 5 Jul 13;

WE THANK Mr Chan Kah Fai for his feedback ("Giant ferns on trees pose danger"; Forum Online, last Friday).

Bird's nest ferns are part of the rich diversity of urban plants in our unique cityscape. Most of these ferns do not pose any danger to the public.

As part of our tree management programme, we will remove the bird's nest ferns if they are assessed to pose a risk to public safety.

Oh Cheow Sheng
Director, Streetscape
National Parks Board

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Sustainable palm oil: how successful is RSPO certification?

The industry's certification body champions the multi-stakeholder approach, but it needs to move faster. Oliver Balch interviews the organisation's secretary general
Oliver Balch in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Guardian Professional 4 Jul 13;

In Kuala Lumpur, the haze is back. It's dry season, which puts this whole region of south-east Asia on alert for forest fires. This year, the outbreaks are more serious than usual. Blazing fires across central Sumatra in Indonesia have been coating neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia with a choking ash cloud for the last few weeks.

Darrel Webber is remarkably upbeat given the circumstances. As secretary general of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, he presides over the world's flagship certification body for the palm oil industry. Many blame the fires – five of which are reportedly burning on roundtable-certified plantations – on slash-and-burn approaches to forest clearance.

That gives Webber some explaining to do. The energetic former environmentalist is quick to defend his member companies. Citing research from the World Resource Institute, he claims that about half (47%) of the fires are raging outside timber and palm oil plantations.

The roundtable has given the palm oil companies embroiled in the controversy 48 hours to respond with detailed maps of the affected areas. "If the fires are outside (the companies' plantations), then great; if they are inside, then we have to understand why it is happening."

If those firms turn out to be negligent, then they could face expulsion from the high-profile certification group, he warns.

Slow pace of change

This is tough talk. Set up nearly 10 years ago, the rondtable has become the poster boy for the multi-stakeholder approach to sustainability. Around the table sit environmental NGOs, social organisations and banks, as well as the various businesses involved in the palm oil trade: growers, processors, traders and retailers. It now counts just shy of 1,300 members, far outstripping similar roundtables on commodities such as soya, sugar, cotton, seafood and beef.

The downside of the multi-stakeholder model is the pace of change. Having to pass everything via consensus generally means setting the bar low to keep everyone on board. Webber says this inclusive response meets companies where they are at and pushes them towards "continuous improvement". Companies that gain certification for part of their operations, for example, must achieve compliance across the board within three years.

That said, only two companies have been thrown out of the roundtable to date for non-compliance. Even Webber can accept that things are moving slowly. Deforestation and other environmental damage caused by palm oil continues – although he'd argue that it's not primarily being driven byroundtable members. As well as the heartlands of Malaysia and Indonesia, new areas of tropical Africa and Latin America are opening up to the cash crop.

Uptake by consumers of certified palm oil is more sluggish than Webber would like, too. "Sustainable palm oil is still not a commodity; it's a niche. We only have 15% of the [total palm oil] market", he admits.

To make matters worse, nearly half (48.3%) of the 8.59m tonnes of certified palm oil produced over the last 12 months has failed to find a buyer. Instead, it was sold as conventional palm oil without a price premium. That hardly inspires producers to certify.

Laggard buyers

Amid this lacklustre picture, a few bright spots stand out. Countries such as The Netherlands, Belgium and the UK have all pledged to import 100% certified palm oil by 2015. Consumption rates in these countries run at around 30%-40%. The European Union is set to introduce compulsory labelling for all products that contain palm oil in late 2014, as well. Webber hopes this will raise consumer awareness of the issues related to palm oil production and increase pressure on the industry to certify.

While he accepts there is "headroom" for growth in Europe, his chief concern is winning uptake in huge consumer markets, such as the US, India and China. Certified palm oil has yet to make a dent on non-European consumers – something Webber hopes that would turn around were Europe to act as a "guiding light for other regions".

He blames global buyers for being lukewarm towards certification. Unlike consumers, the world's big purchasers of palm oil – food manufacturers, personal care brands, pharmaceuticals and so on – have full visibility of the supply chain.

"Companies have that power of analysis. They also have the scale to bring it [certified palm oil] to the market. I think it's those companies that need to work much harder", he states.

Difficulties in accessing available supply shouldn't detract them, he insists.

When roundtable growers cannot sell their produce on the premium market, they can issue virtual credits instead. Consumer goods companies and brands can then buy these so-called Green Palm certificates as a means of offsetting their purchase of non-sustainable palm oil. It's not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction, he says.

"There is nothing to stop companies offsetting their [unsustainable] purchases today with certificates. You can get certificates tomorrow if you want … Once the level [of certified supply] is high, then it'll be easy for you to get the physical supply. You can just pick up the phone," Webber explains.

Consumer pressure

As the market for sustainable palm oil struggles to find its feet, environmentalists and consumer groups are growing understandably frustrated. Webber is not deaf to the calls in some quarters to abandon the use of palm oil altogether, especially in foodstuffs and biofuel. That would be the "worst thing" consumers could do, he argues. Why?

Because palms require much less land to produce the same volume of oil as the best agricultural alternatives. Soya is about 10 times less productive per unit of cultivation, for instance, while rapeseed is around five times less.

"Saying no to palm oil means somewhere else you are going to have to produce one tonne more of another vegetable oil … So if you're saving one hectare of rainforest today from palm oil, you're removing four hectares of the Cerrado from Brazil tomorrow", he states.

Put that way, there doesn't seem to be much choice. Opt out of palm oil, and we'll either lose some of our favourite products or see yet more land given over to vegetable oil production. Stick with it, and we have to watch as sustainable certification schemes limp along.

Governments can certainly help to speed things up. In Indonesia, for example, lawmakers recently obliged all palm oil producers to meet a watered down version of the roundtable certification criteria. The fires there suggest such an approach has its limitations. Webber is the first to admit the fickleness of lawmakers.

"The only thing that is stopping further deforestation is legislation," he notes, in reference to measures such as moratoriums on felling and restrictions on new plantations. "And legislation can change."

The big push that the roundtable needs must ultimately come from consumers. A clear message from the tills will force buyers to act and thus oblige traders and producers to respond. But what will make consumers sit up and start shouting?

Strange as it may sound, an immediate answer might just be lurking in the smog outside Webber's office window in downtown Kuala Lumpur. "If you dig deeper, you'll find that RSPO plantations do come out much better," he maintains, referring to the supposed eradication of slash-and-burn techniques and better fire-risk management.

The results of RSPO's internal investigation will be out "within a fortnight". If Webber's claims prove right, it could well bolster his case for consumers to start demanding more certified palm oil. If he's wrong, well, we may need to find an alternative to the roundtable or to palm oil production, or both – and fast.

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Pulp and paper giant dodges deforestation probe

WWF 4 Jul 13;

Jakarta: Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and WWF have claimed that the pulp and paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) is dodging an independent enquiry into its deforestation practices in Indonesia by withdrawing from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

On June 22nd 2013, the FSC announced that APRIL had asked its certification bodies to withdraw all of its FSC Chain of Custody (COC) certificates.

The three environmental organisations had earlier lodged a complaint with the FSC that APRIL was in violation of FSC’s Policy for Association through its continued large-scale conversion of natural forests in Indonesia to plantations, including the destruction of high conservation value (HCV) forests. The company also has persistent social conflicts in its operations.

In a statement responding to FSC’s announcement, APRIL stated that its decision ‘not to hold or seek FSC CoC/CW certification for the foreseeable future is based on concerns about the FSC’s Policy for Association’.

The FSC Policy for Association is in place to ensure that the FSC only associates with companies committed to fundamental principles of responsible forest management. It requires that a company holding FSC CoC certificates not be involved in the conversion of HCV forest and must not have converted an area of forest covering more than 10,000 ha within the past five years.

APRIL also holds COC certificates under the other major forest certification scheme, the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) However, the NGOs could not file a complaint to PEFC as it doesn’t have a Policy of Association.

“By quitting the FSC, APRIL is avoiding independent scrutiny of its operations as presented in the NGO’s formal complaint to the FSC. It is effectively admitting its deforestation practices are incompatible with the FSC” says Aditya Bayunanda from WWF Indonesia.

“Between 2007 and 2012, APRIL and its suppliers in Riau have converted close to 200,000 ha of Sumatra’s rainforests to plantations. Much of that was vital forest habitat for critically endangered Sumatran elephants and tigers.”

“Companies like APRIL that are dependent on rainforest destruction are provoking social conflict through a failure to respect customary rights over land. Such operations are clearly unsustainable,” said Lafcadio Cortesi from RAN. “By walking away from the FSC, APRIL is sending a clear signal to the market that it has no intention of stopping its destructive operations. Contrary claims by APRIL are no more than greenwash.”

“APRIL is now the largest driver of deforestation for pulp in Indonesia. In 2012 alone, its suppliers planned to clear around 60,000 ha of rainforest,” said Zulfahmi from Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “Greenpeace is calling on any company buying from APRIL to cancel these contracts until APRIL finally cleans up its act and stops trashing rainforests.”

WWF, Greenpeace and RAN are calling on APRIL to immediately stop all natural forest clearance in all of its own and suppliers’ concession and commit to a comprehensive zero deforestation policy as first steps. The NGOs also call on the FSC to ensure that any company associated with deforestation, such as companies related to the Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) group of which APRIL is part, are not allowed to hold FSC certificates.

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Jakarta moves to ratify Asean haze pact

Law Ministry clears documents for okay from affected ministries
Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta Straits Times 5 Jul 13;

INDONESIA'S government has begun preparations to ratify a regional agreement on combating the haze, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said.

Dr Balthasar told reporters at a climate change conference yesterday that the documents for ratification had been cleared by the Law Ministry.

The next step is for the State Secretariat to get agreement from affected ministries, before taking it to Parliament. "We hope it will be completed this year," said Dr Balthasar. "It is important for us to ratify it, as a nation that's affected (by haze) and concerned with the well-being of others. And if there are things we need to do together, we should."

He said that claims by MPs that the pact would infringe Indonesian sovereignty were not true, saying Indonesia would be in full control of activities and assistance efforts on its soil.

Similar claims stymied previous attempts to approve the 2002 Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, but Indonesia - the only country yet to do so - made a commitment at the recent Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Brunei to ratify the pact as soon as possible.

"The points in the (agreement) respect that sovereignty. That is very clear," Dr Balthasar added.

Environmental law professor Laode Syarif told The Straits Times there is greater political will to see the pact ratified this time, given how bad the latest haze was.

"But the DPR (House of Representatives) also does not want to be seen as bowing under pressure from Malaysia and Singapore," he added. "They may also want neighbouring countries to show some give and take."

Calls by Singapore and Malaysia for Indonesia to ratify the agreement sparked a backlash from several ministers and claims that pulp and palm oil companies from both countries were also responsible for the open burning in Riau that caused the haze.

Tensions were eased when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono apologised to both countries for the haze.

Over the weekend, foreign ministers from all three countries agreed that their officials would work together to look at what was happening on the ground and recommend steps to prevent the haze from happening again.

Asean members also pledged to ensure effective monitoring, rapid response and firefighting systems.

Yesterday, Democratic Party MP Sutan Sukarnotomo, who was elected from Riau, told The Straits Times: "It will be good if we ratify it. Our citizens are the worst affected.

"But I also want to make sure the licences of companies responsible, some of whom are from Malaysia and Singapore, are revoked."

Dr Laode, from Makassar's Hasanuddin University, noted that, unlike Indonesia, neither Malaysia nor Singapore had ratified a 1985 Asean agreement on the conservation of nature and natural resources, although all six Asean members at the time had signed it.

Still, Mr Arief Yuwono, a deputy at the Environment Ministry, said Indonesia had an obligation to ratify the 2002 agreement as a responsible member of Asean.

"We want to ratify it as fast as possible," he said. "We wish we can do it today, but there is a process, and we have to follow it."

Slash-and-burn a way of life on Indonesia's Sumatra
Channel NewsAsia 4 Jul 13;

PELALAWAN, Indonesia: The ground was still hot and smoke hung in the air when Saparina set out to plant her spinach in the ashen remains of rainforest on Indonesia's Sumatra island, where raging fires triggered Southeast Asia's worst smog crisis in years.

The farmer waded through ankle-deep ash as she laid out her crops in fire-blackened earth among charred tree stumps on land cleared by the illegal method of slash-and-burn.

"I give thanks to God, now I can easily plant vegetables and oil palms," said the 36-year-old, who only gave one name, her feet still dirty after planting the crops in her half-hectare (1.2-acre) plot of land in Riau province.

While the blazes last month cloaked Singapore and Malaysia in toxic haze and provoked howls of outrage from environmental groups, many on Sumatra, from plantation workers to villagers like Saparina, are die-hard supporters of using fires to clear land.

It is the quickest and cheapest method of clearance for cultivation -- far less expensive than using mechanical excavators or bulldozers -- and the ash from fires is also a natural fertiliser.

As the haze clears, authorities are turning their attention from firefighting to trying to catch the culprits. For many, the focus remains firmly on big palm oil and pulp and paper firms.

Global demand in particular for palm oil -- used in everyday goods from soap, to lipstick to biscuits -- is booming, and rapid expansion of plantations is behind much of Sumatra's deforestation.

Nevertheless, the common acceptance of slash-and-burn clearances among smallholders suggests that blame is widely spread, even if big companies often buy the palm oil fruit produced on the smaller, private farms.

Small farmers clearing their own land, people paid to quietly flick a match onto a concession owned by a big company, and major companies themselves are all starting fires, activists say.

This year's fires pushed haze to record levels in Singapore, forcing residents to don facemasks and stay indoors. They also raised diplomatic temperatures, with both Singapore and Malaysia calling on Indonesia to do more to stop the problem.

But many on Sumatra see little alternative.

"Burning is obligatory," said Herman, the owner of a small palm oil plantation who declined to give his full name.

"Who would want to cut huge trees with their own hands to clear land? The trees are enormous."

Once the fires start they often burn deep underground in deposits of carbon-rich peat, and are notoriously difficult to put out.

Firefighters have had to resort to sticking hoses deep into the ground to douse blazes that have spread across thousands of hectares.

"It takes only a flick of a cigarette butt to create a big fire, especially in the dry season," Herman said.

"The fire travels like water flowing beneath our feet -- you have no idea where it might resurface and burn the land above."

The continued enthusiasm for slash-and-burn comes despite chronic health problems -- nearly 20,000 people in Riau suffered breathing difficulties in June due to the haze, according to a local health official.

Saparina, who insisted she does not start fires herself, conceded her children were "coughing at home" while she was out planting.

With the annual haze from forest fires on Sumatra the worst this year since 1997-98, Jakarta is under pressure to take action.

Police have so far named 24 small farmers suspected of starting the fires. Authorities have not said that any of them are from a major plantation company but they are looking into possible links.

Government officials have said some fires took place within the boundaries of concessions owned by big companies and are investigating eight firms.

Many companies have insisted they have strict "zero burning" policies and that any fires in their concessions must have crept in from outside.

But proving who really set the fires is a daunting task for police in a huge province where 50 percent of the land is peat and using fires to clear land is part of life.

Some now argue that the law banning land clearance by fire is unrealistic and should be replaced with government-regulated controlled burning.

"I believe law enforcement alone does not work," said Willem Rampangilei, the deputy minister for people's welfare in the national government. "We tried to stop the tradition but it's impossible."

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace insist the government must enforce existing laws banning slash-and-burn more effectively.

"The continuing practice of clearing land with fire is just the tip of the iceberg of Indonesia's flawed natural resources management," said Yuyun Indradi, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace Indonesia.

- AFP/xq

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Malaysia: Pahang 'has moved 19 elephants'

M. Hamzah Jamaludin New Straits Times 5 Jul 13;

ALLAYING FEARS: Relocation to protect villagers and crops

KUANTAN: NINETEEN elephants have been captured and relocated after they wandered near settlements and destroyed villagers' crops in Pahang since 2008.

State Rural Development, Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Committee chairman Datuk Shafik Fauzan Sharif said the state Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) had always monitored the areas where there was a conflict between wildlife and humans.

He said Perhilitan staff would try to force the animals back into the jungle before they made a decision to translocate them to a wildlife reserve.

"The authorities have taken various steps to allay the people's fears, especially villagers who are afraid to go to their plantations or orchards," he said to a question from Datuk Mohamed Sohaimi Md Shah (BN-Sungai Lembing).

Shafik said the most recent incident occurred in May when a wild bull elephant was caught at Kampung Seberang Kawah in Sungai Lembing.

On whether compensation was paid to villagers, he said the state government did not have an aid scheme for such cases

State Felda Affairs Committee chairman Datuk Abu Bakar Harun said the state government might consider the proposal to establish new townships in Felda schemes.

In his reply to Datuk Wan Kadri Wan Mahussin (BN-Bukit Ibam), Abu Bakar said the state government would cooperate with Felda to implement the proposal.

Abu Bakar said the government had introduced initiatives to improve the livelihood of people living in rural areas.

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Indonesia: Tigers Spread Fear in North Sumatra Village

SP/Arnold Sianturi Jakarta Globe 4 Jul 13;

Mandailing Natal. Tigers roaming near a village in North Sumatra’s Mandailing Natal have killed two people and maimed another person in recent months, spreading fear among the local population, an environmental activist said.

“There have already been three victims in the past few months,” Rasyid Assaf Dongaran, the executive director of the Sumatra Rainforest Institute, said late on Wednesday evening.

All three victims were from Ranto Panjang village in the Muara Batang Gadis subdistrict of Mandailing Natal.

Karman Lubis, 31, was found dead in a rubber plantation in Rantau Panjang on March 11,

Torkis Lubis, 21, was found on the fringe of the forest on June 22,

Dayah, 31, the most recent victim of a tiger attack, had managed to escape, Rasyid said.

“He was on the banks of the Naijon river in Ranto Panjang village — the river is where villagers collect water and do washing,” he said. “It was there that the tiger attacked Dayah, but this latest victim managed to flee,” Rasyid said.

Tiger sightings are becoming more common as deforestation diminishes tigers’ food sources, forcing the predators to encroach on villages to look for food.

“We are currently trying to collect more information from people who have seen the tigers. We want the tigers to be captured as soon as possible, but we also do not know how many there are,” he said.

Ridwan Sanusi, 45, a Rantau Panjang villagers said that local residents believed there were at least two on the loose.

“These tigers are roaming outside of the forest because the forest is now damaged and the animals have to look for food in human settlement areas,” Ridwan said. “People here often see these animals.”

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Asia told to focus on green growth

Nobel Prize winner urges Asian leaders to lead in sustainable development
Kash Cheong Straits Times 5 Jul 13;

ASIA should be less concerned with growing its economies and more focused on sustainable development, urged Taiwanese Nobel Prize winner Lee Yuan-tseh yesterday.

"People in Asia always say they want to catch up with the United States, but if the world consumes like Americans, we would need 5.4 Earths to sustain us," said the professor in his speech at the Singapore International Science Challenge (SISC).

While Asia has several encouraging projects like the Tianjin Eco-city and wind farms in China, a massive population is also migrating from rural areas to cities. "I'm afraid at this rate, green energy may not be able to overcome more consumption by more people," he said.

According to the United Nations, half of the world's people now live in cities. By 2050, that will increase to 70 per cent.

While many Asian governments, including Singapore's, are currently concerned about fertility rates, Prof Lee believes attention should also be paid to the planet's overpopulation.

"The UN recently predicted that the global population will reach nine billion by 2050, but do we have enough resources to support this?" he asked.

The 76-year-old chemist, who became Taiwan's first Nobel laureate in 1986, is also the president of the International Council for Science.

Together with other science institutes, the council is involved in the Future Earth Project, a decade-long research initiative that explores methods to cope with global environmental change.

Fossil fuels have generated much of the West's growth in the last century, but Asia needs to "blaze its own trail" in sustainable growth, said Prof Lee.

"The West views nature as separate from humans, to be studied, controlled and used. The East views nature and humans as one, whose relationship is defined by harmony," he said, calling on the younger generation to explore these roots.

Speaking to about 80 young scientists from various countries, he added: "Environmental problems have no respect for borders. Future scientists need to come together - global problems demand global solutions."

The five-day SISC, organised by National Junior College and which started on Monday, brings together 110 students and educators from 27 institutions around the world.

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