Best of our wild blogs: 10 Jul 13

New: Saturday 13 July : Heritage Tour in the Afternoon
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Parliamentary Question by Ms. Janice Koh (Bukit Brown)
from Rojak Librarian

Fate of Pulau Ubin discussed in Parliament
from wild shores of singapore

Reasons to Love MacRitchie
from Cicada Tree Eco-Place

Butterflies Galore! : Elbowed Pierrot
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Government has no plans to develop Pulau Ubin

Amanda Lee Today Online 10 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE — Several Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday urged the Government to preserve iconic kampung buildings on Pulau Ubin, with one suggesting that the island could be gazetted as a place of cultural significance for the Republic.

Pasir Ris-Punggol Group Representation Constituency (GRC) MP Penny Low, who mooted the idea, said some resources could be set aside so that buildings, such as the old kampung houses on the island, would not be “too run-down” in the future. “After this generation of home owners, I don’t think there will be a next generation staying there,” she said.

Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng sought the authorities’ assurance that Pulau Ubin could be kept in its rustic state “for as long as possible”, as she noted the changes in Singapore’s city scape with rapid urbanisation.

“Are there plans to recognise Pulau Ubin for its special place that it holds in Singapore?” she asked.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary (National Development) Maliki Osman assured the House that these suggestions would be studied by the various agencies, while keeping Ubin in its current rustic state.

The island was in the spotlight recently, after the authorities apologised for the poorly-worded notice that led many to believe that the residents were facing eviction. This led to MPs seeking clarification about development plans for the island and how they would affect the residents.

Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam asked if the Government would consider developing part of Ubin into a retirement village, with medical facilities and land set aside for farming so the elderly can retire on the island.

In response, Dr Maliki said there are issues associated with the idea. “We also want our retirees to actually age in place rather than go into an island. We want them to be part of the larger community because I think that’s where the social support ought to be made available also for our retirees,” he said. “For now, we are quite clear. We want to leave Ubin the way it is, for as long as we can.” Amanda Lee

Pulau Ubin to remain a rustic getaway: Maliki
Processes set up to avoid repeat of notice that upset residents in April
Poon Chian Hui Straits Times 10 Jul 13;

PULAU Ubin, a popular weekend getaway for Singaporeans and home to families who have lived there for decades, will be kept in its current state for as long as possible.

There are currently no development plans for the island, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Mohamad Maliki Osman reassured the House.

"Our intention is to keep Pulau Ubin in its rustic state for as long as possible, and as an outdoor playground for Singaporeans," he said in his reply to Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam.

They had tabled questions after a scare in April, when 22 households on the north-eastern island received what they thought was an eviction notice.

Dr Maliki, an MP for East Coast GRC, which Pulau Ubin falls under, admitted that communication to households on the island could have been better.

The notice, which was issued in March, caused much worry because its subject topic read "Clearance Scheme: Clearance of Structures Previously Acquired for Development of Adventure Park on Pulau Ubin".

The families thought their homes were slated for "clearance".

But, Dr Maliki said, it was to inform residents of a census survey to determine how much resettlement benefits they are entitled to and the amount of rent they need to pay.

This is because the land that their houses occupy had been acquired by the Government in 1987 and 1993.

To continue living where they are, residents will in the near future have to pay for a Temporary Occupation Licence, which is the equivalent of rent.

Most households will pay less than $20 a month in the first year. This will go up to less than $120 a month in the sixth year.

Several MPs voiced concern over the misunderstanding. Nominated MP Faizah Jamal asked that in future such information be given to the residents in a language or dialect that they understand.

"Some of them have never been to school. This letter was in English and naturally they were concerned," she said.

Agreeing, Ms Ng asked how such a misleading notice could have been sent out in the first place. "Is there a process and system in place to vet important notices that go out to residents, especially those which are potentially sensitive and distressing?"

Replying, Dr Maliki said processes have been rectified to prevent similar incidents.

While the MPs welcomed the assurance that Pulau Ubin's rustic character would be maintained, they also put forward ideas to better preserve the cultural heritage of the 1,020ha island.

Ms Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said it might be "worthy" to gazette the place as a cultural heritage site. She suggested the Government help residents upkeep their old kampung houses.

Ms Faizah cited a resident who had put in effort to maintain her kampung house, which is open to visitors keen to learn more about village life there.

Madam Kamariah Abdullah, 54, had previously told The Straits Times she was worried she could not afford the rent. Dr Maliki replied he was open to further discussion on how to help her.

He, however, would prefer not to turn the island into a tourist attraction. "I don't like to see it as a tourist destination but as a destination for Singaporeans to experience what rustic life is about."

No plans for retirement village in Pulau Ubin: Maliki Osman
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 9 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: The government is not considering developing a retirement village at Pulau Ubin.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Maliki Osman said this in Parliament on Tuesday, in response to a suggestion made by Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam.

There is currently no development plan for Pulau Ubin and the goverment's intention is to keep the island in its rustic state for as long as possible.

On the suggestion of a retirement village, Dr Maliki said there will be issues to consider when putting the elderly on an island.

For example, services and infrastructure need to be put in place.

Dr Maliki said: "There are other alternatives for our retirees to age in place. We also want our retirees to age in place, rather than go to an island. We want them to be part of a larger community because that's where the social support ought to be made available also for our retirees."

- CNA/xq

Ubin to be kept in rustic state
Adrian Lim My Paper 10 Jul 13;

The Government has no plans to develop Pulau Ubin and intends to keep the island in its rustic state for as long as possible, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Mohamad Maliki Osman yesterday.

Dr Maliki, who is a Member of Parliament (MP) for East Coast GRC, which covers Pulau Ubin, added : "I don't like to see (Pulau Ubin) as a tourist destination, a destination for Singaporeans to...experience what rustic life is about."

Replying to questions posed, he clarified that letters sent by the authorities in March to the 22 households on the island were not eviction notices.

Instead, the letters were to notify them of a census survey to determine their eligibility for resettlement benefits from land-acquisition exercises in 1987 and 1993.

The letters had caused some anxiety among 100 Ubin residents who believed they faced resettlement, earlier reports said. These letters were also circulated online.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and Ministry of National Development later clarified in a statement that the notice letters made reference to the "past planning intent", which was originally described in 1993 as the development of an adventure park.

Dr Maliki said yesterday that both the SLA and the Housing Board have acknowledged that the letter could have been more carefully worded, and the language updated to reflect the eventual development on Ubin.

He said: "They had already apologised for the anxiety caused."

Ubin residents can also continue to remain on state land by paying a Temporary Occupation Licence fee, which will be phased in over five years. Most households will need to pay only less than $20 a month in the first year, and less than $120 a month in the sixth year. For those who have difficulties paying the rent, Dr Maliki said SLA will facilitate an assessment for them to receive financial assistance.

Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam asked if a part of Pulau Ubin could be developed into a "retiree village" with medical facilities and space for farming and growing flowers.

In reply, Dr Maliki said the suggestion was "quite a different proposition", adding that there would be issues such as costs, and putting in infrastructure and services to support an elderly community there.

He said: "It's a proposition worth considering later on, if it does (have) merit.

"We want our retirees to age in place, rather than go to an island... (so they can) be part of the larger community where the social support ought to be made available."

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Bid to save 18 grand old ladies in Queenstown

Residents submit list of Queenstown sites which they hope will be considered for preservation
Melody Zaccheus Straits Times 10 Jul 13;

A LIST of 18 sites in Queenstown - Singapore's oldest satellite town - has been submitted to the authorities in a conservation paper backed by around 1,000 signatures from its residents.

Civic group My Community and the estate's Citizens' Consultative Committee have launched a bid to preserve the buildings, which include several Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) and Housing Board blocks built in the 1950s and 1960s - said to show the evolution of public housing.

Other sites include the Masjid Mujahidin - the first mosque constructed by the HDB - and the former Queenstown Polyclinic.

They hope the buildings will be considered for protection by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for Singapore's Master Plan 2013 - a statutory plan on land use for the next 10 to 15 years.

"There are many historic places in Queenstown that are not important only to the estate but important to Singapore," said Mr Kwek Li Yong, 24, president of My Community.

Mr Kwek said the paper had been four years in the making and is hoping that it will lead to public consultations before any important buildings are torn down.

Queenstown estate, named after Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, was developed in an SIT project in 1952 to tackle overcrowding in Chinatown, and had more than 19,300 dwellings by 1968.

But since the 1990s, landmarks such as the Queenstown Remand Prison and Margaret Drive hawker centre have been demolished.

Property consultants SLP International's head of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak said as pressure on land use intensifies, it is only a matter of time before the estate is redeveloped - considering its proximity to the city.

The URA and other government agencies are reviewing the paper, a URA spokesman said.

Buildings are selected for conservation based on historical and architectural significance and their contribution to the overall environment.

Signatures on the document include that of Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Chia Shi-Lu. He said while the estate may not have "spectacular" sites such as the graves in Bukit Brown or Peranakan houses in Joo Chiat, it tells the story of Singapore's housing history.

The National Heritage Board said it is "heartened" by the efforts of Queenstown residents.

They were also commended by the Singapore Heritage Society, which is conducting its own list of potential conservation sites.

"There should be more voices promoting dialogue with policymakers to help decide what it is that people think are important in Singapore," said its honorary secretary Yeo Kang Shua, 38.

Resident Koh Wee Ming, 47, who is unemployed, named the library and sports complex as sites which are "part of the community" and worthy of conservation.

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Consumers, flex your muscles for Earth’s sake

Guan Chong Today Online 10 Jul 13;

The seriousness of the haze this year has heightened consumer awareness about the importance of sustainable business. Questions of culpability surround plantation owners, who supply major corporations with raw materials such as pulp and palm oil, often used in manufacturing paper, food, beverages and so on.

As consumers, we certainly have the capacity — and obligation — to demand that companies be responsible for ensuring that their entire supply chain is operated in a sustainable manner. To some extent, this has been demonstrated in recent campaigns by environmental groups against major palm oil players.

On Facebook and Twitter, hundreds of thousands of consumers supported a Greenpeace campaign in 2010 against Nestle, which was alleged to have used palm oil products that came from the destruction of rainforests, including in Indonesia. As a result, Nestle committed itself to a global no-deforestation target by 2020, as did other major brands such as Unilever.

Nestle’s partnership with its leading palm oil supplier, Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources, and non-government organisation The Forest Trust is beginning to look like an example of how sustainability collaboration can dramatically change operating practices and business models.

We, as consumers, can accelerate progress by urging other major brands to take a similar approach.


Environmentally-friendly consumer behaviour is growing and is becoming a global movement.

According to Nielsen’s 2011 Global Survey of more than 25,000 respondents in 51 countries, 77 per cent rated air pollution as the top concern — showing that such environmental issues are taking a higher priority in the minds of consumers.

In Singapore, according to a recent survey, 48 per cent of the 1,000 participants indicated that it was important for a trusted brand to have environmentally-friendly practices.

The consumer environmental movement began as early as the 1960s; consumers have since become more knowledgeable and competent in choosing environmentally-sound products and companies.

In the United States, consumer opinion polls show overwhelming support for environmental protection: 54 per cent read labels to check if products are environmentally safe, and 34 per cent said they boycotted a company that was environmentally careless.

As consumers’ green concerns grow, businesses have begun to modify their behaviour. In the early 1990s, there were numerous examples of such US firms.

McDonald’s, for instance, replaced its clam shell packaging with waxed paper because of worries over polystyrene production and ozone depletion. Xerox introduced a “high quality” recycled photocopier paper to satisfy business customers’ demands for less environmentally detrimental products.

In Europe, with the media hype surrounding the green consumer movement, organisations such as The Body Shop, which heavily promote environmental responsibility, have obtained great competitive advantage.


At the same time, there are many reasons for why consumers’ environmental concerns may not always directly translate into their choices of products.

A focus on issues such as job security, housing, transportation, medical expenses and economic well-being could diminish public attention to environmental concerns. In the face of more pressing personal concerns, one’s “caring capacity” for the environment shrinks.

According to the Nielsen survey, 83 per cent of global consumers say it is important that companies implement programmes to improve the environment — but only 22 per cent will pay more for an eco-friendly product. Many consumers indicated a preference for eco-friendly goods, but a large proportion would set aside this preference to buy whichever product is cheapest.

In Singapore, while there may be growing public concern about environmentally friendly business practices, many consumers are unsure about the steps to take at an individual level.

Only 12 listed companies in Singapore published sustainability reports in the 2011/2 reporting period. Promoting public awareness in sustainability reporting would be beneficial, particularly to encourage companies with superior sustainability reports and those that have good sustainability practices but are not yet reporting.

Government agencies can help promote sustainability awareness among consumers. For example, subsidies or tax reliefs for manufacturers of environmentally friendly products would help make these products more affordable for the average household.

The Singapore Government is not alone in its quest to raise public awareness and promote action on sustainable businesses; there are many proactive individuals and non-government organisations too.

Singapore used to be the world’s second-largest shark’s fin trading centre after Hong Kong.

In 2011, in a collaboration with conservation group WWF, Cold Storage became the first supermarket chain here to stop shark’s fin sales. Subsequently, with effort from activists and the public, NTUC FairPrice, Singapore’s largest supermarket chain, stopped selling shark’s fin products last year.

Public support for such action is strong in Singapore. Going forward, sustainable consumption behaviour will have to be not only about individual decisions about the products and services we purchase — it must also be about the collective effort to raise public awareness. Through social media we can influence fellow consumers.

While the economy seems to have an impact on both consumers’ decisions and the level of capital investment in eco-friendly products and technology development, firms are nevertheless moving towards greater sustainability.

This is promising. As Singaporean consumers, we can do our part, not just in relation to palm oil products but also on other issues of environmental concern around the world.


Guan Chong is a Marketing Lecturer with the School of Business at SIM University

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Charging for plastic bags a tough call

Jose Raymond, Executive Director, Singapore Environment Council
Today Online 10 Jul 13;

The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) shares Ms Rachel Wong’s concern, in “Tougher measures needed to curtail use of plastic bags” (July 8), about the long-term sustainability of plastic bag use.

We agree that it is important to eliminate the wasteful use and improper disposal of plastic bags here. A few retailers, such as IKEA and some eco-stores, have implemented such strategies and have seen a significant drop in the number of plastic bags given to consumers each year.

While charging for plastic bags, which is a practice in many countries and legislated by law, may reduce the overall use of plastic bags in Singapore, we also recognise the need for a solution that is environmentally sustainable, economically viable, culturally appropriate and socially inclusive.

A blanket nationwide strategy such as implementing a charge for plastic bags may impose an additional burden on the household budgets of low-income groups, or ignore the fact that most households legitimately require a certain number of plastic bags for the hygienic disposal of garbage.

Additionally, placing a levy on plastic bags may not take into account wider issues, such as a pervasive culture of consumerism, the convenience barrier to changing behavioural practices and the overall waste management infrastructure here.

We agree with Ms Wong that people need to be aware of the reasons to reduce the use of plastic bags.

To arrive at a solution that takes these daily realities into account, the SEC has embarked on a research project to gain a comprehensive and culturally-relevant overview of the behavioural, economic and environmental dimensions of plastic bag use in Singapore.

Involving surveys of over 2,500 participants, focus group discussions with retailers and members of the public and interviews with environmental and economic experts, this research will be incorporated into a White Paper that proposes possible long-term solutions to this issue.

The results and recommendations of the White Paper will be ready in September.

Discount from BYOB not enough
Chin Kee Thou Today Online 10 Jul 13;

The call for “Tougher measures needed to curtail use of plastic bags” (July 8) is not feasible. Many consumers live in high-rise flats with common rubbish chutes, and they recycle these plastic bags into rubbish bags for disposal of both wet and dry refuse.

As the bags have practical uses, consumers would still need them.

The amount from the discount for bringing one’s own bag (BYOB) does not justify the cost if one were to otherwise buy rubbish bags.

If, as suggested by the writer, supermarkets charge extra to curtail the use of plastic bags, we may then find unbagged refuse being dumped in rubbish chutes. Imagine the condition then of the chutes, especially from the hygiene aspect.

BYOB day should mean No Plastic Bag day
Chlorin Chew Pei Wah Today Online 9 Jul 13;

I cannot agree more with the writer of “Tougher measures needed to curtail use of plastic bags” (July 8).

During the recent Hello Kitty promotion, I observed that the toys came in plastic packing bags. I understand that it is operationally efficient to pre-pack the toys, but I wonder how many bags were recycled by consumers. I saw consumers throwing away the bags after getting the toys.

The number of plastic bags used for takeaway food also increased, and I saw people throwing away not only the bags but also the food, as they wanted only the toys.

Besides raising the issue of wastage, I wish to urge supermarkets here to enforce Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB) Day such that no plastic bags are given out on that day.

I have seen shoppers in Johor Baru cope with these BYOB days in supermarkets there by bringing their own bags, and even cartons, for their purchases. Even if it is done once a week, imagine the number of plastic bags that would be saved.

Every little step counts, and all enterprises, big or small, can do their part to reduce the carbon imprint.

Tougher measures needed to curtail use of plastic bags
Rachel Wong Today Online 8 Jul 13;

In Singapore, 2.6 billion plastic bags are being thrown away every year.

To address this problem, the National Environment Agency has worked with the Singapore Environment Council to start Bring Your Own Bag Day, where customers are encouraged to carry reusable bags instead of plastic bags.

But how effective has this been? The use of plastic bags might be down, but tens of thousands are still being given out. Supermarkets should step up and take tougher measures to save the environment. If Bring Your Own Bag Day can be a weekly affair, why not make it a daily affair?

The lukewarm response to efforts made to introduce the use of reusable bags can be largely attributed to the fact that plastic bags are still being given out freely.

Knowing that there are plastic bags provided when we do our shopping, why would we go through the hassle of bringing reusable bags?

I suggest that we charge for all plastic bags, which will push Singaporeans — especially the younger generation — to develop the discipline to bring their own reusable bags.

Also, people should be made more aware of the reason we need to cut down on the use of plastic bags.

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Malaysia: Orphaned elephant calf Joe doing well

Stephanie Lee The Star 10 Jul 13;

Baby Joe being given a bath by his caretaker Augustine at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park in Kota Kinabalu.

KOTA KINABALU: Baby elephant Joe, the sole survivor of a poisoning that killed a herd of 14 Borneo pygmy elephants, is out of the woods.

The calf has gained weight and is now socialising with other elephants at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park here.

“He is very healthy and has gained over 100kg in the past few months, from 90kg when we rescued him, to almost 200kg now,” said Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan.

He said Joe, who is also called Kejora by some here, had even made friends with another rescued animal, four-year-old elephant Pikang, which was brought to the zoo after it was found with half its trunk missing during a wildlife operation in Lahad Datu six months ago.

Dr Sen said the animal was believed to have been injured when its trunk was caught in an old trap.

The story of Joe caught international attention after he was photographed nuzzling his lifeless mother at the Gunung Rara forest reserve, about 140km from Tawau, on Jan 25.

Dr Sen said investigations into the elephant poisoning incident were still ongoing although the authorities now know what poison was used to kill the animals.

“However, we are still unable to identify who the culprits are.”

Dr Sen also said Joe could spend his whole life as a permanent resident of the zoo because he was now used to being around humans.

Nevertheless, Joe was a very happy elephant, he said.

Read more!

Malaysia: Turtle eggs on sale at Serikin market

Sim Bak Heng New Straits Times 10 Jul 13

ILLEGAL TRADE: Foreign traders make a quick buck on weekends

KUCHING: THE popular Serikin weekend market at the Sarawak-West Kalimantan border here now has a reputation for its illegal sale of turtle eggs.

Turtle egg traders from Sambas district across the border would drive two hours to Serikin during the weekends to make a quick profit before returning to their country.

Depending on the season, 13 small-sized eggs would be sold at RM10 and medium-sized ones would be sold at RM11.

These eggs are cheaper than in Terengganu, where 10 eggs go for RM25.

A check by the New Straits Times showed that traders would approach visitors in the market car park.

In the past, female traders would keep the eggs in their handbags to evade the authorities, but now, they carry plastic bags, with smaller bags containing samples inside.

The traders also kept eggs stashed nearby in hidden locations.

They would collect the eggs only when customers requested for more.

The traders would see ask visitors: "Telur?" or they would make the "O" sign with the index finger and thumb to indicate the product.

The most common species of turtle eggs traded are the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate).

The sale and consumption of all turtle eggs is banned in Sabah and Sarawak.

In Terengganu, only the sale and consumption of leatherback turtle eggs is prohibited.

The National Plan of Action for Conservation and Management of Sea Turtles, which was established in 2008, calls for the total ban on the sale and consumption of turtle eggs.

A trader, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was competitive these days.

He said some traders were offering more eggs for the same price to attract buyers.

"As I source my eggs from a supplier, I cannot offer too many eggs. Doing so will hit my profits.

"After all, selling the eggs is risky for us."

Checks also showed that there were six people plying the trade in the car park.

However, there could be more traders selling at stalls that line both sides of the road at the market.

Some traders display the eggs to compete with those in the car park, while others discreetly solicit passers-by.

Potential customers would be led to discreet locations behind the stalls, where paper boxes of eggs, which were available in the hundreds, would be shown to them.

Malaysia Nature Society (MNS) council member Vincent Chow said the national plan of action was well implemented nationwide, with the exception of Sabah.

Under the plan, it is clearly indicated that the harvest of turtle eggs for consumption or commercial use should be banned in all states.

"MNS is of the view that every state should review its policy on sea turtle conservation, which may not be relevant any more.

"A good conservation policy discourages people from eating turtle eggs and not otherwise."

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Indonesia: Riau ends haze emergency response

Antara 9 Jul 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Riau Province has ended forest fire and haze emergency response and is currently entering a transitional period for recovery.

"Since July 6, the emergency status has been revoked, and now is the transitional period for recovery," Agus Wibowo, a spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB)`s Haze Emergency Response Task Force, said here on Tuesday.

The Indonesian government had declared an emergency response status for Riau as of June 21 due to forest, peatland and plantation fires that had produced haze blanketing parts of Sumatra Island, Singapore and Malaysia.

The task force is currently trying to extinguish fires in Siak, Bengkalis and Dumai Districts, Riau Province. The NOAA 18 Satellite detected only three fire hotspots early this week.

"The task force`s focus is on Chevron area in Duri now. All helicopters and members of the Marine have been directed there," he said.

Around 2,000 members of the rapid reaction unit will return to Jakarta on June 21, 2013.

Vice Governor of Riau Mambang Mit has expressed his appreciation to those being involved in the fight against the fires, particularly personnel of the BNPB, the Agency for the Development and Application of Technology (BPPT), the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) and the National Police (Polri).

Meanwhile, the Police of Riau have arrested 23 suspects in connection with forest and peat land fires in the province.

Spokesperson of the Riau Police Command, Adjunct Senior Commissioner Hermansyah, said recently that two more suspects had been arrested following reports from local people making the number of the suspects to reach 23 who are all now under police detention.

The last two suspects namely Ham, arrested in Tanjung Leba Village, Bukit Batu Subdistrict of Bengkalis and BA, arrested in Sang Kemang Village, Koto Gasib Subdistrict of Siak District.

The 23 suspects have allegedly caused forest and land fires in 15 areas located in some districts in the Riau Province.(*)

Editor: Heru

Govt has spent Rp 57.7b on fighting fires in Riau
The Jakarta Post 9 Jul 13;

The government has spent Rp 57.7 billion (US$5.8 million) on the operation to extinguish land and forest fires in Riau since the haze emergency response-status came into effect in June.

“The funds that have been spent amount to Rp 57.7 billion,” said the National Disaster Mitigation Agency’s (BNPB) spokesperson for the haze emergency-response working group, Agus Wibowo, on Tuesday as quoted by Antara news agency.

The emergency-response status was announced on June 21 after Indonesia’s two immediate neighbors, Malaysia and Singapore, were badly affected by smoke and haze from raging land and forest fires in Riau.

“Around 2,000 personnel, mostly military and police members, have been deployed to tackle the haze disaster,” said Agus, adding that the personnel would be withdrawn on July 21.

He said funds remained available for forest fire extinguishing operations as the allocated reserve funds amounted to Rp 70 billion.

Agus said the budget was mostly spent on cloud seeding which cost Rp 20 billion. The deployment of police and military personnel cost up to Rp 10 billion.

Haze clouds are no longer affecting the two neighboring countries. Riau is now in a transition period of recovery as it has passed through the haze disaster response period.

However, the extinguishing process is still ongoing in several areas in northern Riau, such as Bengkalis, Dumai and Siak regencies. According to the results of the latest observation activities via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites, hot spots are now detected in only three spots. (ebf)

Less haze in Singapore as the cause becomes clearer and more complex
e! Science News 8 Jul 13;

Small and large-scale farmers in Riau province, Sumatra, have been blamed for the recent choking smoke smothering Singapore and parts of Malaysia. But scientists in Indonesia have added a third category of 'mid-level entrepreneurs'. These entrepreneurs buy unregulated access to land for oil palm and clear it by burning, seemingly unrestrained by government. Scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre, who have been studying land conversion in Sumatra, say they have identified this third group of local land investors who operate outside the government system, making them potentially more difficult to regulate.

These people acquire land under informal rules at village level, effectively sidestepping the Government land-use system. They bring in their own labour to clear the land for oil palm, regardless of the land's formal government status and in the absence of any permits to do so.

Policies and policing need to be adjusted to deal with the newly identified group if the annual fires and subsequent haze are to be reduced. Holding plantation companies accountable for the fires within their boundaries would help reduce the problem but not extinguish it.

About half of the fire 'hot spots' in Riau province are on land with legal permits for large-scale operations (industrial timber, oil palm and logging). The rest occur as part of illegal activities, in areas which have been slated for conservation or non-production.

These hot spots are mostly concentrated in three districts within Riau province. Some neighbouring districts with similar conditions have so far avoided the problem this year, which suggests that lessons might be learnt about governance.

The fire-haze episode straddling the Strait of Malacca in June 2013 has reignited a decades-long debate about responsibility. In the current debate, finger pointing still alternates between the small- and large-scale agricultural operators. The latter include companies with headquarters in Singapore and Malaysia, where the undesirable haze accompanies the financial returns on their investments.

Before 1998, the blame for starting the fires was put exclusively on smallholders' 'shifting cultivation' techniques, with large-scale plantations and development projects protected from any criticism by the government.

But the 1997/8 fires in Sumatra and the change of regime in Indonesia threw new light onto the debate and it became evident that burning was the cheapest option widely used by all farmers, whether on a small or large scale or on peat or mineral soils.

Further information:

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Air pollution linked to higher risk of lung cancer and heart failure

Two studies show effects on health of long- and short-term exposure to pollutants from traffic and industry
Sarah Boseley The Guardian 10 Jul 13;

Air pollution, chiefly from traffic exhaust fumes in cities, is having a serious and sometimes fatal effect on health, according to two studies that link it to lung cancer and heart failure.

Air pollution increases the risk of lung cancer even at levels lower than those recommended by the European Union, which are also standard in the UK, says a paper in the Lancet Oncology journal. Although smoking is a far bigger cause of lung cancer, a significant number of people will get the disease because of where they live.

The study, codenamed Escape, combined data from 17 cohort studies in nine European countries covering a total of almost 313,000 people. The size of the research gives it greater authority than previous work.

It looked at the effect of long-term exposure to nitrogen oxides and particulate matter – PM2.5, which has a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, and PM10, with a diameter less than 10 micrometres. Among the participants, 2,095 developed lung cancer during an average 13 years of follow-up.

The researchers, led by Ole Raaschou-Nielsen from the Danish Cancer Society Research Centre, found that for every increase of five micrograms per cubic metre of PM2.5 pollution, the risk of lung cancer rose by 18%, and for every increase of 10 micrograms per cubic metre in PM10 pollution the risk increased by 22%. They found no link between lung cancer and nitrogen oxides.

Air pollution comes from traffic – mostly diesel fumes – household heating and industry. In cities where people live close together, "there is no reason to believe this [risk] is restricted to people of higher or lower socio-economic status," said Raaschou-Nielsen. They found a link with lung cancer even at low levels of air pollution, so the message was, he said, "the less the better and the more the worse".

The second study, published by the Lancet, shows that short-term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of being admitted to hospital with and dying of heart failure.

There are 750,000 people living with the effects of heart failure in the UK, and 20 million worldwide. The study, led by Nicholas Mills from Edinburgh University and funded by the British Heart Foundation, shows that air pollution can have potentially fatal effects on them.

"Heart failure is a common, costly and fatal condition … and is one of the most frequent reasons for hospital admission," Mills said. "While the role of air pollution is well recognised as a risk factor for heart attacks, it has been less clear whether exposure increases the risk of adverse events in patients with other cardiovascular conditions like heart failure.

"Since the entire population is exposed to air pollution, even modest reductions in air pollution could have major cardiovascular health benefits and substantial healthcare cost savings."

The project combined data from 35 studies across the world on carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10). There was a strong link between hospitalisation or death from heart failure and all the pollutants except for ozone. The effect was strongest on the day of admission, suggesting high air pollution levels could trigger a heart failure crisis.

Governments have acted to curb air pollution, but Mills said the study showed the problems were still real. "Most of the studies have been from the last 10 years, well after most of the major legislation to reduce air pollution. This relationship is still present, even at levels in some countries which are very low," he said.

There is concern about pollution in the developing world, where data was not comprehensive enough to carry out studies, Mills said. Air pollution in some cities in China and India may be 10 or 20 times higher than in the UK. Nobody yet knows whether the health impact will be of the same increased magnitude.

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China's reliance on coal reduces life expectancy by 5.5 years, says study

High levels of air pollution will cause 500 million people to lose an aggregate 2.5 billion years from their lives
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing The Guardian 9 Jul 13;

Air Pollution Attacks Beijing Again : A tourist looks at the Forbidden City as PM25 covers
Heavy smog shrouds Beijing with pollution at hazardous levels. Photograph: Feng Li/Getty Images

Air pollution causes people in northern China to live an average of 5.5 years shorter than their southern counterparts, according to a study released on Monday which claims to show in unprecedented detail the link between air pollution and life expectancy.

High levels of air pollution in northern China – much of it caused by an over-reliance on burning coal for heat – will cause 500 million people to lose an aggregate 2.5 billion years from their lives, the authors predict in the study, published in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The geographic disparity can be traced back to China's Huai River policy which, since it was implemented between 1950 and 1980, has granted free wintertime heating to people living north of the Huai river, a widely-acknowledged dividing line between northern and southern China. Much of that heating comes from the combustion of coal, significantly impacting the region's air quality.

"Using data covering an unusually long timespan – from 1981 through 2000 – the researchers found that air pollution … was about 55% higher north of the river than south of it," the MIT Energy Initiative said in a statement.

"Linking the Chinese pollution data to mortality statistics from 1991 to 2000, the researchers found a sharp difference in mortality rates on either side of the border formed by the Huai River. They also found the variation to be attributable to cardiorespiratory illness, and not to other causes of death."

The researchers, based in Israel, Beijing, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gauged the region's air quality according to the established metric of "total suspended particulates (TSP)," representing the concentration of certain airborne particles per cubic meter of air.

The study concluded that long-term exposure to air containing 100 micrograms of TSP per cubic meter "is associated with a reduction in life expectancy at birth of about 3.0 years."

Air pollution has been the subject of widespread public outrage in China since January, when Beijing's air quality index (AQI) – a similar metric to TSP – regularly exceeded 500, the scale's maximum reading, for weeks on end. On 12 January, Beijing's AQI hit a record 755, 30 times higher than levels deemed safe by the World Health Organisation.

Past studies have established a link between air pollution and reduced life expectancy. One recent large-scale study concluded that air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010.

Yet according to Michael Greenstone, an economics professor at MIT and one of the study's authors, this study is the first to precisely quantify their relationship. "Demonstrating that people die a bit earlier [because of pollution] is interesting and helps establish that pollution is bad," he said. "But the most important question, the next question that needed to be answered, is what's the loss of life expectancy? How much should society be willing to pay to avoid high levels of pollution? This study was structured so we could answer that question."

China's central authorities are keenly aware that environmental degradation has become one of the country's leading causes of social unrest. Last month, China's cabinet revealed 10 new measures intended to combat air pollution, and state media reported that Chinese courts can now impose the death penalty on serious polluters.

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Kenya seizes more smuggled ivory destined for Malaysia

Joseph Akwiri Yahoo News 10 Jul 13;

MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan officials have impounded another large consignment of smuggled elephant ivory barely a week after intercepting a similar haul, highlighting the rise of poaching in Africa.

The ivory, weighing 3.3 metric tons and valued at 65 million shillings ($748,400), was impounded this week. It had been wrapped in gunny sacks and declared as groundnuts being shipped to Malaysia from Kenya's capital, Nairobi, officials said on Tuesday.

"From the ivory we see displayed, we can clearly conclude that this haul amounts to over 200 elephants that were killed," said Fatuma Yusuf, a senior Kenya Revenue Authority official whose team discovered the ivory at the port.

Two other containers suspected of containing ivory are due for inspection, officials at the port city of Mombasa, east Africa's main trade gateway, said.

The seized consignment comprised 382 whole pieces and 62 cut pieces of ivory. Together with the ivory inside the container were unprocessed groundnuts.

On Wednesday, officials seized 775 pieces of ivory weighing 1.3 metric tons, also at the port, hidden under fish and destined for Malaysia from Uganda.

View gallery
Kenya Ports Authority workers and Kenya Wildlife Services …
Kenya Ports Authority workers and Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) officials arrange elephant tusks rec …

Poaching has risen in recent years across sub-Saharan Africa where well armed criminal gangs have killed elephants for tusks and rhinos for their horns that are often shipped to Asia for use in ornaments and medicines.

Arthur Tuda, the assistant director of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in Coast region, said that from his assessment, the ivory appeared to have been extracted from the savannah elephants which he said were characterized by big tusks.

"These elephants occur from central, east and all the way to South Africa. The tusks are definitely from very mature elephants, perhaps 50 or more years old. One of the tusks is seven feet long and weighing 46 kgs (101 lb), clearly from a very mature elephant," Tuda told journalists.

The seizure comes barely two months after customs officials in United Arab Emirates seized 259 pieces of ivory shipped from Mombasa, a port that has long been seen as a transit point for drugs and other contraband goods.

While in Tanzania on his recent tour of Africa, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a $10 million plan to help curb illegal trafficking in rhino horn, elephant tusks and body parts from other endangered wildlife across Africa.

A senior director of KWS said Kenya had been given a six- month ultimatum to curb poaching and smuggling of game trophies, by the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild life, CITES. Failure would result in Kenya being blacklisted.

Kenya's cabinet this year approved stiffer fines and lengthy jail sentences for anyone convicted of poaching or trafficking in wildlife trophies, saying poaching was harming tourism, a major foreign exchange earner.

(Writing by James Macharia)

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Floods top 2013 world disaster bill so far: Munich Re

(AFP) Google News 10 Jul 13;

BERLIN — Floods that caused billions of dollars (euros) in losses were the world's most expensive natural disasters so far this year, with central Europe being hit hardest, reinsurers Munich Re said on Tuesday.

Altogether, natural catastrophes -- also including earthquakes, tornados and heat waves -- caused $45 billion (35 billion euros) in losses in the first half of 2013, well below the 10-year average of $85 billion.

Insured losses worldwide totalled about $13 billion, said Munich Re.

Inland flooding that affected parts of Europe, Asia, Canada and Australia caused about 47 percent of overall global losses and 45 percent of insured losses, said the leading reinsurance company based in Munich, Germany.

The deadliest disaster out of 460 recorded "natural hazard events" worldwide was a series of flash floods in northern India and Nepal that killed more than 1,000 people in June after early and exceptionally heavy monsoon rains.

By far the most expensive natural disaster was the river flooding that hit southern and eastern Germany and neighbouring countries in May and June, causing more than $16 billion in damage, most of it in Germany.

"The frequency of flood events in Germany and central Europe has increased by a factor of two since 1980," said Munich Re board member Torsten Jeworrek.

In some places, 400 litres of rain per square metre fell within a few days. With the ground already saturated from the rainiest spring in half a century, this led to rapid swelling of the Danube and Elbe river systems.

Peter Hoeppe, head of Munich Re's Geo Risks Research unit, said in a statement that "it is evident that days with weather conditions that lead to such flooding are becoming more frequent".

As weather systems tend to remain stationary for longer, he said there was a higher chance for heavy and long-lasting rains, and for summer heatwaves and droughts.

"Debate in climate research is currently focusing on what the causes of such changes in weather patterns could be and what role climate change might play in this," he said. "But it is naturally not possible to explain single events on this basis."

The second most expensive disaster was a series of severe tornadoes that hit the United States in May, especially a maximum-strength tornado that devastated the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore.

The tornado, which killed 26 people, left more than 270 injured and in Moore alone completely destroyed more than 1,000 buildings, caused an overall economic loss of more than three billion dollars, about half of it insured.

"The central states of the USA have the highest tornado risk in the world," said Hoeppe. "Altogether, however, the US tornado season has been below average so far: by the end of June, 625 tornadoes had occurred, compared with the longer-term average of 1,075."

Europe floods to cost insurers up to $4.5 billion: Swiss Re
Caroline Copley PlanetArk 9 Jul 13;

Europe floods to cost insurers up to $4.5 billion: Swiss Re Photo: Wolfgang Rattay
File picture shows a rescue team on a dinghy evacuating a man from the flooded district of the Bavarian town of Passau, about 200 km (124 miles) north-east of Munich June 4, 2013.
Photo: Wolfgang Rattay

Floods in central Europe last month may cost insurance companies $3.5-4.5 billion, only half of one previous estimate but more than was paid out for the last major washout in 2002, the world's second biggest reinsurer said on Monday.

The forecast from Swiss Re compares to an earlier warning from a damage modeling agency that losses could top $8 billion. That, and its estimate of a $300 million hit for its own results, saw shares in Swiss Re and some other sector firms rise.

The flooding in early June forced Czech soldiers to erect metal barriers and pile up sandbags to protect Prague's historic centre after days of heavy rains swelled rivers and forced evacuations from low-laying areas.

Emergency workers, soldiers and volunteers worked desperately to shore up flood defenses in towns along the Danube and Elbe rivers as the high water moved downstream in the following days, with Germany among the worst-hit.

German insurance trade body GDV last week estimated the country's insurers could face damage claims of nearly 2 billion euros ($2.57 billion), slightly ahead of the 1.8 billion cost seen in the Elbe floods a decade ago.

Floods which drowned Prague's historic Old Town and other cities in water in 2002 cost insurers around $3.4 billion.

The world's biggest reinsurer, Munich Re, is due to publish its estimate of insurance industry and economic losses on Tuesday, in an overview of natural catastrophes in the first half of the year.

It will release a figure for its own share of the losses from the floods, which also hit towns in Austria, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, with second quarter earnings data on August 6.

Swiss Re said steps such as the mobile flood barriers used in Prague had helped spare many regions from substantial losses.

"Thanks to timely prevention measures, large areas have been saved from flooding," said Swiss Re's Group Chief Underwriting Officer Matthias Weber.


Reinsurers like Hannover, Munich Re and Swiss Re help insurance company customers cover the cost of major damage claims like hurricanes or earthquakes in exchange for part of the premium.

Earlier forecasts had resulted in far higher loss estimates, though industry observers caution that there are differences in what is included in the estimate, for example indirect costs such as relocation lodging or business interruption.

Catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide had said insurance claims for flood damage in Germany alone may be as much as $8 billion.

Credit rating agency Fitch had put losses at up to 3 billion euros ($3.85 billion) in Germany, while Insurance broker Willis estimated claims of 4 billion euros in Europe.

Europe's biggest insurer, Allianz, has penciled in claims of 500 million euros from the floods across Europe, before passing on some costs to reinsurers.

Vontobel analyst Stefan Schuermann said the claims burden would pose little threat to Swiss Re's earnings and ability to pay a high dividend.

"This first major natural catastrophe loss event will impact second quarter results but year-to-date natural catastrophe claims remain well below budget having experienced virtually nothing in the first quarter," Schuermann said.

Shares in Swiss Re were trading up 1.2 percent at 71.10 Swiss francs by 5:50 a.m. EDT, while the STOXX Europe 600 insurance index rose 1.9 percent.

Munich Re shares rose 2.4 percent.

Swiss Re reported a 21 percent rise in profit in the first quarter, driven by a rise in premium and fee income, low catastrophe losses and the expiry of a quota share agreement with Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Gould in Frankfurt; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Patrick Graham)

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