Best of our wild blogs: 28 Feb 14

Year of the Horse, Otters and Ducks at Marina Bay
from mndsingapore

Sharing an imagined Singapore 'Great Barrier Reef'
from wild shores of singapore

Butterflies Galore! : Common Red Flash
from Butterflies of Singapore and Spotted Judy

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Drought Threatens S.E. Asia Food Price Gains Amid Haze

Jasmine Ng Bloomberg News 28 Nov 14;

The drought parching Singapore and swaths of Malaysia and Indonesia threatens to raise food prices, slow economic growth and disrupt water supply in the region, home to the world’s oldest tropical rainforests.

Areas around Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, started water rationing this month. Neighboring Singapore, which had a record 27 consecutive days without rain from Jan. 13, is preparing for the dry spell to persist into the first half of March. In Indonesia’s Riau province, officials declared a state of emergency as forest fires blanketed the region in haze.

The drought’s fallout may escalate to slower economic growth from just “discomfort” if it continues next month, Malaysia’s international trade minister said yesterday. The price of palm oil, one of the most important crops in Southeast Asia, is surging as the weather hampers production.

“The impact will be on growth and inflation,” said Wai Ho Leong, the Singapore-based senior regional economist at Barclays Plc. While he doesn’t forecast a wave of plantation layoffs, higher prices may hurt consumers in the region. “The rise in vegetable and cooking oil prices will add to inflation concerns in Malaysia, which is already trying to contain a jump in inflation expectations.”

Malaysian inflation accelerated to a two-year high of 3.4 percent in January, more than the median estimate of economists for a reading of 3.3 percent, according to a Feb. 19 report. Fourth-quarter gross domestic product rose at the fastest pace in a year, data showed. Singapore’s consumer prices rose 1.4 percent from a year earlier while inflation in Indonesia was 8.22 percent.

Not Normal

Southeast Asia is under the influence of the Northeast Monsoon, which brings dry and stable air from the South China Sea and lessens the likelihood of rainfall, said Winston Chow, an assistant professor of geography at the National University of Singapore.

“February is the driest month for Singapore,” Chow said. “What is not normal is the length of the dry spell.”

The countries join Australia, Brazil and the U.S. among nations battling drought. California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency after 2013 became the driest on record. Farmers in California’s Central Valley, the world’s most productive agricultural region, will get none of the water they requested this year from a federally controlled system because of the drought, the U.S. government said this month.

With agriculture accounting for less than 8 percent of Malaysia’s economy, the government is sticking to its forecast for 5 percent growth this year, Mustapa Mohamed, the trade and industry minister, said in an interview. Should the drought last through March, “agriculture could be affected.”

Palm Oil

Palm oil, the world’s most-used edible oil, is heading for the biggest monthly advance since October. Southeast Asia’s dry weather is spurring speculation of lower output growth, according to Michael Coleman, a hedge fund manager.

Malaysia and Indonesia account for 86 percent of palm output, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Futures may advance to 3,000 ringgit ($915) a metric ton within four months, the highest price since 2012, said Coleman, who helps to manage the $143 million Merchant Commodity Fund from Singapore. The price settled yesterday at 2,779 ringgit.

Investors are also betting that an El Nino weather pattern will return in 2014, potentially cutting palm output, Coleman said. El Nino affects weather worldwide and can parch Indonesia and Malaysia.

Dry weather may limit Indonesia’s increase in palm production in the first half, Martua Sitorus, the executive deputy chairman at Wilmar International Ltd., said Feb. 21. The Singapore-based company is the largest palm oil processor.

‘Unfavorable Weather’

Crude palm oil output fell 12 percent to 396,493 metric tons last year due to “unfavorable weather,” London Sumatra Indonesia said today in a statement.

In Malaysia, the government is preparing funding to help Selangor state nationalize water assets in the region surrounding the capital. Water rationing began in parts of Selangor this week after the drought drained dams.

“The supply of raw water in Selangor state is in a critical condition,” Khalid Ibrahim, chief minister of Selangor state, said in a faxed statement on Feb. 24. “The water levels at a few dams have been shrinking to reach an alarming stage.”

Malaysia supplies water to Singapore, which consumes about 480 million U.S. gallons a day. The nation gets about 60 percent of its water from the southern Malaysian state of Johor and draws on local reservoirs and streams, its national water agency said.

Recycling Wastewater

Singapore plans to triple its wastewater recycling and increase desalination capacity almost tenfold to meet as much as 80 percent of water demand in 2060, according to the agency’s report. The push to develop the industry has drawn businesses including General Electric Co. (GE) and Siemens AG (SIE) to invest, and created local water companies such as Hyflux Ltd. (HYF)

In Indonesia’s Riau, the second-biggest province on Sumatra, an emergency was declared through March 12 because of smoke from fires, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman at Indonesia’s disaster management agency. Extinguishing the fires will require water bombing, according to local officials.

Satellite images showed 11 fire hot spots in Riau on Feb. 24, compared with as many as 243 on Feb. 11, according to Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry.

“It is very likely that the lack of rain so far does promote conditions in which these hot spots can form,” Chow of National University of Singapore said.

Dust Up

Disputes over haze flare up regularly between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The latest was June, when smog in Singapore reached a record because of Indonesian forest fires.

While the drought is blamed for forest fires in Riau province, other parts of the country are grappling with floods.

Some western parts of Sulawesi island, the nation’s main cocoa-growing region, got as much as 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain this month, according to MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland. That’s about two to three times normal, and excess moisture is increasing the risk of crop diseases.

Coffee shipments from Indonesia may drop 17 percent this year to the lowest since 2011 as rain cuts output. Sales may drop to 375,000 metric tons from 450,000 tons in 2013, according to the median of five exporter and roaster estimates compiled by Bloomberg. That’s the lowest in three years, Central Statistics Agency data show.

Weather is also affecting Indonesia’s oil output, energy regulators said last month. Rain and large waves disrupted production at the West Madura and Mudi fields in East Java, Elan Biantoro, a spokesman at SKK Migas, the oil and gas upstream regulator, said in an interview last month.

Weather-related price increases may be particularly bad for legislators running for office this year in Indonesia, Leong of Barclays said. “Any rise in food prices on the street will be an election issue,” he said.

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Singapore farms: 'We have to stop growing vegetables'

The New Paper AsiaOne 28 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE - The farm has emergency plans for floods, but not droughts.

So vegetables at the farm in Kranji Agri Vistahave died in the dry spell.

"Our pond is completely dry. In my 2½ years of owning this farm, I have not encountered anything like this," said its owner, Mr Derrick Ng, 33, an urban farmer.

"We have to stop growing vegetables because they need too much water," he added.

Previously, his farm had been beset by frequent flooding as it is in a low-lying area. Now, a flood sounds more like a blessing than a curse.


Mr Ng has turned to creative solutions to combat the dry spell. He has switched to growing corn, melons and gourds, which require relatively little water.

He also covers his fields with black plastic to slow the evaporation of water from the soil, and has deepened his pond in preparation for the day when it rains again.

Despite his efforts, Mr Ng said his profits had "definitely been affected" because revenue from growing vegetables was formerly the mainstay of his earnings.

For now, he can only hope that the 1.6m-deep pond, about the size of a basketball court, which is his key source of irrigation, will soon be refilled by rainfall.

This farm has to use portable water for its plants
The New Paper AsiaOne 28 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE - It is the worst dry spell he has seen since setting up his plant nursery 14 years ago, said the owner of Sunny Horticulture, at Neo Tiew Crescent.

The 51-year-old, who wanted only to be known as Mr Ng, said that the dry spell has affected many businesses in the area, including his.

Even the pond inside the nursery which is used to collect rainwater to water his plants has nearly dried up.

Mr Ng said that after two bouts of heavy rain, the pond would be filled up and the water could be used to water the plants for a month.

"We usually use rainwater to water the plants," said Mr Ng.


Now, he has no choice but to turn on his taps 24 hours a day to ensure that the plants in his nursery are adequately watered.

The potted plants need to be watered daily or they will die.

But Mr Ng feels it is a waste of money to water the plants with potable water.

"It's not economical and not very efficient. Doing this is a last resort," he said.

He added that while his potted plants are doing well so far, he fears that they will die and his business will go bust if the dry spell persists.

"Even the grass outside is dying, so my potted plants are sure to die," Mr Ng lamented.

There's nothing to croak about
The New Paper AsiaOne 28 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE - For the water-loving frogs at Jurong Frog Farm, the past few months have not been the most pleasant.

The dry weather means that the farm's water supply is fast dwindling.

As a result, the 1.2ha farm at Lim Chu Kang has started using water from the PUB for the first time in 20 years.

A 13m-deep well, which supplies the farm's water needs, is drying up. The well collects rainwater and it used to be filled to the brim.

Said farm manager Chelsea Wan: "I'm not sure how much more it (the water bill) will cost for now, but this dry spell will definitely raise our costs."

The farm supplies American bullfrogs, frog legs, hashima (frog fallopian tubes) and fish locally.


It has been trying to increase its production of frogs by raising them from tadpoles, but it has not been so successful this year.

"We started raising the tadpoles since the middle of last year and it was quite successful at first because it was raining a lot," said Miss Wan.

In the past months, however, the tadpoles have been growing at a slower rate.

"We reduced the feeding portions so that the water wouldn't be contaminated and we wouldn't have to change the water so often," she explained.

Some frogs are also kept in air-conditioned rooms.

Water is of utmost importance for frogs because they breathe through their skin, which is moist.

"We have also stopped mating frogs and will wait until the dry spell is over," said Miss Wan.

Landscape firms and farms feel the blues
Kash Cheong The Straits Times 3 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - As a rare spell of dry weather here persists, grass has turned brown and farmers and landscapers are feeling the blues.

Farmers are turning to tap water as their reservoirs run out quickly, but this also means higher utility costs.

"There is no rain water to replenish our reservoirs, they are almost dry," said Mr Alan Toh, 50, director of Yili Vegetation & Trading in Kranji. "We need to mix tap water with existing reservoir water to water our plants."

His vegetables - including caixin and xiao bai cai - need to be watered more often to ensure they survive. But this has raised his utilities costs by about 40 per cent in the last month.

"We have to cut back production," said Mr Toh, whose farm can produce up to nine tonnes of vegetables a month. "If this continues, how will farmers survive?"

Nearby plot Farm 85 is in the same bind. "None of us wants to use tap water - it's expensive. But in this case, we have no choice," said owner Tan Koon Hua, 45.

The water situation is so dire that farmers from the Kranji Countryside Association (KCA) met PUB representatives yesterday to ask for help.

The national water agency offered them non-potable water, or untreated water, at 25 cents per cubic m, excluding transportation. While this is much cheaper than potable water, farmers said this did not help.

"We thank PUB for their generosity, but when you add in trucking costs for the water, the solution is just not feasible," said Mrs Ivy Singh-Lim, chairman of the KCA, which represents nearly 40 farms in the Lim Chu Kang area.

She hopes PUB can waive fees such as the water conservation tax instead for the time being.

Landscaping businesses too are feeling the heat.

At Island Landscape & Nursery, workers have been scrambling to water the plants in condominiums and private gardens where it has projects. It sees operating costs rising by about 20 per cent but will "do its best to cope", said senior manager of production Bipin Krishna.

The dry weather may mean withering bottom lines for some, but a few bright spots remain.

"My mango tree, frangipani and bougainvillea are flowering like crazy. They like dry heat," said Mrs Singh-Lim.

The weather has also led to "unusually heavy" flowering among yellow flame trees in Singapore, said Nature Society president Shawn Lum.

Chairman of the Landscape Industry Association (Singapore) John Tan hopes landscape firms will share water resources.

"The Met service says the dry weather would persist into the first half of March. We are praying for a miracle," he said.

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Prevailing northeasterly winds will keep haze away from Singapore: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 27 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) has said the prevailing northeasterly winds will keep the haze from Sumatra away from Singapore for the next two to three days.

But it said Singapore may experience "occasional slight haze".

This is due to the accumulation of particulate matter under stable atmospheric conditions, particularly in the morning.

NEA said a total of 62 hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Thursday.

And smoke plumes and haze were visible in Riau province.

Channel NewsAsia received some complaints of a strong 'smoke smell' lingering in the air.

On Monday, NEA said the current dry weather conditions have led to a number of vegetation fires in Singapore over the past weeks.

These fires could possibly have contributed to the burning smell detected in some areas.

NEA said fair and warm conditions are expected for the next few days.

The NEA will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as necessary.

For updates, visit NEA website, the haze microsite, or NEA Facebook and NEA Twitter Page.

- CNA/de

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Malaysia: Uphill battle for Penang firemen

Phuah Ken Lin New Straits Times 28 Feb 14;

BUSH FIRES: Dry weather and limited water hindering efforts

GEORGE TOWN: FIREFIGHTERS have been battling their way up Penang Hill and Bukit Gambir to put out bush fires under tough conditions.

The dry weather and limited water supply has hindered fire fighting operations, resulting in embers to be present at secluded spots while reigniting certain areas.

There are four hot spots on Penang Hill and two in Bukit Gambir.

As press time, four of the six hotspots -- three on Penang Hill and one on Bukit Gambir had been extinguished.

State Fire and Rescue Department director Azmi Tamat said the bush fires could not be doused easily due to water shortage.

"The situation is becoming more difficult because the burning spots are located at slopes and are at least one kilometre away from the nearest jeep trek.

"Firemen had to carry the 'jet shooter' water bags in the form of backpacks to douse the flames," he said, adding that a single bag could only carry eight litres of water.

Checks at the Botanical Gardens here yesterday showed that its main gate was closed until further notice.

The department's spokesman said the closure of the gate was to ensure that joggers would not interfere with the fire fighting efforts by using numerous treks found at various spots to hike up to Penang Hill.

Other access points to the hill at the adjacent Youth Park and Moongate, were also sealed off, taking many visitors to the Botanical Gardens by surprise.

Meanwhile, the aerial water bombing exercise, which was supposed to take place yesterday, has been rescheduled to 10am today.

Azmi said the delay was because the aircraft, roped in from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, had to be used in Terengganu for a similar exercise.

He said that the aircraft, with a water storage capacity of 6,000 litres, would have to make about 35 trips to douse the blaze at the four spots on Penang Hill.

"The aircraft is expected to release water scooped from the sea off Tanjung Tokong and Gurney Drive."

The airplane was seen releasing water to bush fire spots at about 6pm, yesterday.

Azmi said it was the first time the department resorted to water bombing to put out bush fires in Penang. He added that a total of 55 firefighters had been deployed to prevent fire from spreading in the six spots.

40ha of forest in Grik on fire
The Star 28 Feb 14;

IPOH: Some 40ha of forest in four locations in Grik, about 200km from here, are on fire.

The Fire and Rescue Department will send in aircraft to carry out a water bombing exercise tomorrow.

Perak Fire and Rescue Department director Yahaya Madis, who described the fires as the most serious in Grik so far, said the fires at the forest reserve and nearby Gunung Tujuh were detected on Tuesday.

He added that another fire was also detected at Air Ganda on Wednesday.

“A lot of work has to be done to douse the fires although they are under control now. We will next concentrate on Air Ganda.

“It is the biggest fire we have encountered in Grik so far,” he said, adding that about 100 personnel from the Civil Defence, Forestry, Wildlife and National Parks, District Office and the Fire departments would be deployed to Air Ganda to put out the fire there.

Yesterday evening, firemen were seen combing Pulau Banding to put out residual burning while efforts were ongoing at Gunung Tujuh to put out one last hotspot there, he added.

Yahaya said firemen were also deployed to an area of the East-West Highway from Grik to Jeli, Kelantan, which was on fire early this week.

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Anti-haze laws ‘could spur on-the-ground enforcement in Indonesia’

Neo Chai Chin Today Online 28 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE — The Republic’s proposed laws to deal with producers that contribute to transboundary haze could help reduce tensions with Indonesia and spur on-the-ground enforcement in Riau and other areas prone to forest and plantation fires, said environmental law experts yesterday.

The proposed laws, which include fining companies up to S$300,000 for activities outside Singapore that result in unhealthy levels of haze over the island, would neutralise the argument by Indonesia that some culprits are linked to Singapore and Malaysia, they said. The Indonesian authorities may step up enforcement to avoid a situation where a company operating in Riau, for instance, is prosecuted in Singapore, but “free like a bird” in Indonesia, said Dr Laode M Syarif of Hasanuddin University’s law faculty in Makassar, Indonesia.

Singapore’s proposed laws show an affected neighbouring state’s determination to pursue unilateral and extra-territorial measures to deter companies from burning, said National University of Singapore (NUS) Law Professor Alan Tan Khee-Jin. It may appear the “antithesis” of cooperation on a bilateral or regional level, but both types of efforts must go hand in hand, he told reporters on the sidelines of a conference on transboundary pollution organised by the NUS Centre for International Law.

Indeed, cooperation from the Indonesian authorities is necessary for Singapore’s proposed laws to be effective, said Dr Syarif, who is also Senior Adviser on justice and environmental governance at the Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia.

He was not optimistic that Indonesia, with parliamentary and presidential elections in April and July, respectively, would ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution under the current administration.

Despite the agreement’s limitations and current lack of support from member states — the US$500,000 (S$633,000) pledged to the transboundary haze pollution control fund is “a joke compared to the issue of forest fires”, said Dr Syarif — experts agreed that ratification by Indonesia would lead to progress in areas including monitoring. It would pave the way for an ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control to be set up in Indonesia, for instance.

Despite challenges in curbing burning and protecting its own people from the haze, Dr Syarif said Indonesia has made progress in other areas. The Indonesian Supreme Court is certifying some judges to create a “green bench” to hear cases relating to the environment. The One Map initiative to create a centralised database for geospatial information is completed for nine provinces, including Riau and Jambi, and could be finished by next year.

When it comes to principles governing transboundary pollution, Professor Catherine Redgwell of Oxford University noted that marine and nuclear pollution standards and liability are among the most developed, while air pollution and protection of the atmosphere are not as well-regulated by treaty. International law requires that states prevent significant transboundary harm by exercising reasonable due diligence — how the latter is assessed is flexible and context-specific, she said.

Prof Tan said it is unlikely the region’s transboundary haze problem could be resolved through international litigation because parties have to consent to the case being brought to the International Court of Justice or any other tribunal.​​

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Indonesian president orders enforcement of laws to prevent land fires

Antara 27 Feb 14;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered enforcement of laws to prevent and tackle smog caused by forest or land fires especially against corporations to give a deterrent effect, a minister said.

Coordinating Minister for Peoples Welfare Agung Laksono said here Thursday that the law enforcement must be carried out quickly and effectively from investigation to trial in court.

This is important "to give a deterrent effect especially on corporations not individuals," he told journalists at the Presidential Office following a cabinet meeting, led by the president.

Agung said legal process must be taken against corporations that burn land illegally to clear it for business purposes as well as their owners domestic and foreign alike.

"Law enforcement is important. A total of 41 cases have been dealt with by the police leading to imprisonment from six months to eight years," he said.

Besides encouraging law enforcement the President has also ordered standard procedures for tackling and preventing forest or land fires so that they would not happen every year.

(Reporting by Panca Hari Prabowo/T.P008/Uu.H-YH)

(T.SYS/B/H-YH/B/R013) 27-02-2014 19:48:43

Editor: Priyambodo RH


Riau Under ‘State of Emergency’ as Forest Fires Spread
Jakarta Globe 27 Feb 14;

In this photograph taken Feb. 16, 2014, a resident sprays water on a peatland fire in Pekanbaru, Riau province, on Indonesia's Sumatra island. (AFP Photo)

In this photograph taken Feb. 16, 2014, a resident sprays water on a peatland fire in Pekanbaru, Riau province, on Indonesia’s Sumatra island. (AFP Photo)

Jakarta. A state of emergency has been declared for Indonesia’s troubled Riau province after the forest fires that have raged for nearly a month continued to spread on Thursday, blanketing the region in dangerous levels of choking haze and threatening to reignite tensions over the nation’s inability to prevent what has long been an annual concern.

“I’ve been busy working on how to deal with the fire from morning until late at night,” Riau Governor Annas Maamun told the state-run Antara News Agency on Wednesday. “[I've declared] a state of emergency now. We’re not messing around.”

Indonesia has struggled to stamp-out the practice of slash-and-burn land clearing in Sumatra and Kalimantan in spite of international condemnation over the impact of spreading haze. The fires began to burn earlier this month as the dry season intensified in Riau province, prompting local farmers to set offending forest cover alight in an illegal, but locally acceptable method to prepare land for palm oil cultivation.

Local police have arrested nearly 40 people for setting the fires throughout the province in a show of force. But the impact of a few dozen arrests in a region where, at one time, fires burned on nearly 6,000 hectares of land remains to be seen. The fires showed signs of subsiding earlier this week as the number of hotspots dropped to 145 on Monday. But by Wednesday the blazes had spread again, with 747 hotspots recorded throughout Sumatra, Said Aklul, the head of Riau Disaster and Mitigation Agency, told the Indonesian news portal

“Most of them have been detected in Riau,” Said told

‘Twelve days’ to clearer skies?

The Riau governor allocated Rp 10 billion ($860,000) in relief funds and appointed Pekanbaru military commander Brig. Gen. Agus Irianto as head of an emergency task force — boasting at the time that the province’s fires would be completely extinguished in 12 days time. The state of emergency was expected to last two weeks, during which time local administrations would be expected to kick in as much as Rp 4.6 billion a piece to help fund the province’s efforts to stamp out the blaze.

Annas said his administration would keep an eye on the use of the funds, warning local officials of the repercussions of pocketing the money.

“The budget from the regional government should not be used for other purposes,” Annas told the Antara News Agency. “It should be used to put out the fire. It should not be corrupted.”

The state of emergency, and the funds associated with the status, is the largest government effort to combat forest fires since they began in early February. Last year’s haze may have sparked a diplomatic row with Singapore, but the central government, until now, has been reluctant to devote serious resource to fighting this year’s blaze.

The central government, after nearly a week of silence, agreed to send much-needed equipment and personnel to help the struggling province. Local disaster crews began to petition the Indonesian government for resources to combat the blaze last week, submitting an official letter on Wednesday after the situation worsened.

Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Agung Laksono announced plans on Wednesday to send military helicopters and personnel to help douse the flames. The central government was initially reticent to dedicate resources for aerial water drops, arguing that most of the fires were burning on peatland — making them resistant to typical firefighting methods. But as meteorologists predict another dry month in Riau, the risk of widespread fires and the return of last year’s cross-border haze pushed government officials to reconsider their stance.

“We will rent the equipment because according to the March weather forecast there will be a little rain [in Riau], but it will be dry again in April,” Agung said. “This makes it dangerous between April and August. We have to remain on alert.”

The National Disaster and Mitigation Agency (BNPB) planned to reach out to the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police for help.

“The letter to the Indonesian Military commander and the National Police chief would be sent soon,” BNPB secretary Fatchul Hadi told the Antara News Agency. “[We will] ask them to assign at least two battalions in Riau.”

The Indonesian Air Force already committed three aircraft for cloud seeding and aerial water drops, Roesmin Nurjadin Air Base chief Maj. Filpadri said on Thursday. A sizable crew of soldiers was also ready to assist firefighters in affected areas, he added.

“We are ready to assist the government’s efforts with the BNPB after Riau announced an emergency status regarding the fire and haze,” Filpadri told the local news portal

Tigers in the haze

The residents of Bukit Batu first had to flee their homes as flames spread to more than 2,000 hectares in the badly affected subdistrict. Now the villages, many crowded into evacuation shelters, have a new fear: Sumatran tigers on the prowl.

“This makes us even more scared,” Harun, a local security officer, told the Antara News Agency. “Not only is the smoke thick, but tigers have emerged from the forest.”

Reports of Sumatran tigers roaming the streets of Bengkalis district sent firefighters packing on Thursday after the flames spread to a tiger habitat at the edge of Bengkalis district. The forested area near the border of Bengkalis and Dumai City has long been home to a small population of Sumatran tigers. But when the fires spread the tigers fled the area, stumbling into nearby villages in search of shelter.

“This morning I received a phone call from one of my members saying that all the members on the ground were reportedly running away after spotting a tiger stalking the area with its cub,” M. Jalal, the local fire chief and BNPB chair, said on Thursday.

Two tigers were reported in Temiang Village, in Bukit Batu subdistrict, on Thursday. It was the third tiger sighting in the same village this week, Jalal said. In Barak Aceh, where 125 people have sought refuge in a shelter, the sight of tiger paw prints in the mud inspired panic among those displaced by the haze.

“Once night falls the people at the evacuation shelters are too scared to go outside on their own to pee,” Jalal said.

Disaster officials estimate that 3,629 hectares of Bengkalis had caught fire by Thursday, with the largest concentration of hotspots in Tanjung Leban, Bukit Batu. Firefighters have been working to douse the flames, but the crews plan to pull back until the tiger threat can be placed under control, Jalal said.

“We are aware that the tigers must have been scared by the thick layers of smoke,” he said. “That is why it is better for us to avoid them and report the incident to the Riau Natural Resources Conservation Center so they can secure the tigers.”

Still measuring the impact

The toll of this year’s haze continued to climb on Thursday as haze spread to nearby Padang, West Sumatra. More than 43,000 people have fallen ill in Riau by Wednesday while the air quality declined to “hazardous” levels in some cities, according to reports by the Antara News Agency.

“The air [pollutant] index today is at 500 PSI,” Dumai Health Agency head Marjoko told the Antara News Agency. “That means it is very dangerous for one’s health.”

One week ago the number of sick in Riau totaled some 22,000. By Wednesday that number had doubled to 43,386 people, prompting calls of concern from local health officials.

“Today the number is more than 40,000, this is really worrying,” Riau Heath Agency head Zainal Arifin told

Upper-respiratory infections were the most commonly reported symptoms, but reports of eye irritation, asthma attacks and pneumonia persisted. The Riau Health Agency advised residents to remain indoors until the worse of the haze passed.

The province-wide shutdown is taking an economic toll on the region. The Riau Chamber of Trade and Industry reported Rp 10 trillion in losses over the past two months after poor visibility affected transportation and the threat of illness brought productivity to a halt.

“The Rp 10 trillion loss was because of declining business productivity and disrupted transportation of goods and humans due to the haze,” chamber of commerce chief Viator Butar Butar told the Antara News Agency.

Flights at Pekanbaru’s Sutan Syarif Kasim II International Airport had to be delayed as visibility dropped to 1,000 meters. Flights out of Bandung, Jakarta and Medan were delayed Thursday morning.

“This morning at least three airplanes were delayed because of the haze,” the airport duty manager Hasnan told the local newsportal

With the region’s drought continuing, the haze is expected to worsen in the coming days. Visibility in Padang already dropped to 700 meters in some places, prompting concern that, without a focused effort from the government, this year’s haze may continue to spread beyond Riau.

Strict law enforcement ordered against forest fire perpetrators
Antara 28 Feb 14;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - As haze shrouded Sumatras cities over the past two months, President Yudhoyono has ordered strict law enforcement to deal with forest fires mostly set deliberately and unlawfully to clear land for plantation and farming.

To give deterrent effect especially on corporations, law enforcement must be carried out quickly and effectively from investigations to trial in court, the president was quoted by Coordinating Minister for Peoples Welfare Agung Laksono in Jakarta on Feb. 27, 2014.

Legal sanction must be imposed against both domestic and foreign corporations, which were proven to have burnt forests illegally to clear land for business purposes, he stated.

Chief of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Syamsul Maarif stated that around 99 percent of forest and plantation fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan were deliberately set.

"There should be sanctions to stop recurrences. Slash-and-burn farming methods indeed exist in Sumatra and Kalimantan, but the most important thing is that it should be controlled," Syamsul Maarif noted in a statement on Feb. 28.

According to Maarif, the Indonesian police have named 23 suspects in Riau and 16 in Central Kalimantan for allegedly setting the fires deliberately.

"There are several factors behind their decision to set fires in plantation and forest areas, such as economic, social and cultural factors," he explained.

Dry rainy season in Sumatra and Kalimantan has triggered forest and plantation fires that produced haze. The NOAA 18 satellite on Feb. 27 detected 17 hotspots in Aceh, 12 in East Kalimantan, 10 in West Kalimantan, four in North Sumatra and fort in North Kalimantan.

This year, the worst hit province is Riau, which has suffered losses worth Rp10 trillion due to the haze.

In the province, hundreds of people fled to safer areas due to thick haze; several Sumatran tigers left their habitat as their habitat was on fire; 43,386 people suffered from respiratory problems, and many flights were cancelled as the visibility dropped drastically.

Taking into consideration the huge impact it has caused, the Riau provincial administration has declared a state of emergency effective from Feb. 25, 2014. It has categorized the forest, plantation, and peatland fires as an extraordinary event.

Earlier, of the provinces 12 districts/cities, seven districts including Bengkalis, Rokan Hilir, Indragiri Hulu, Indragiri Hilir, Siak, Pelalawan, and Meranti and Dumai city had elevated the fire alert level to a state of emergency.

Following the declaration of emergency, Commander of the Military Regional Command Brigadier General Prihadi Agus Irianto has set a target of 14 days, within which a special operation to extinguish the forest fires in Riau will be completed.

"We have set a target for the haze emergency response that within 14 days the fires will be extinguished," Irianto informed Antara, at the Haze Emergency Response Command Post, Roesmin Nurjadin Airbase in Pekanbaru, on February 27.

The Riau provincial police on Feb. 28 announced that 40 individuals have been named as suspects in the forest and plantations fires across several districts and cities.

"All of them have been detained after being identified as suspects for allegedly setting fires deliberately since the past several weeks," Senior Commissioner Estuning of the Riau polices commander of the plantation fire task force, informed the press.

The suspects were all individuals, she added. "The cases allegedly involving companies are still under investigation," she pointed out.

The Riau police that have set up a legal enforcement task force are currently investigating 31 fire cases in Riau, she explained.

All suspects are being handled by each of their respective regions such as Bengkalis, Meranti, Rokan Hilir, Siak, Pekanbaru and Dumai City.

She pointed out that the number of suspects might increase considering there have been many fire cases occurring in the province.

Riau Police Chief Inspector General Condro Kirono in Pekanbaru on Feb. 13 stated that the forest fire suspects were charged under Law No. 18 of 2004 on plantations, with a punishment calling for a maximum 10 years imprisonment, and a maximum fine of Rp10 billion.

Those arrested were also charged under Law No. 26 of 2007 on Spatial Planning.

In 2013, the Riau Police had apprehended 33 people suspected in the burning of forests that produced haze shrouding not only across Sumatras cities, but also parts of Singapore and Malaysia.

This year, the BNPB has allocated Rp300 billion to combat forest, peatland and plantation fires by land and air.

"The budget will be used according to the needs," BNPB chief Syamsul Maarif stated.

In addition to strict law enforcement, the key to overcome land and forest fires is information campaign and massive and total fire extinguishing efforts, Maarif pointed out.

Massive handling through the three operations must be done and, based on past experiences, it has been effective "as proven by the fact that the smog that spread to Malaysian and Singapore last year, was overcome within 1-2 weeks," he added.

The BNPB has held coordination meetings with ministries, legal enforcers, institutions, regional disaster mitigation services and regional governments.

To support the processes, a total of 1,524 military and police personnel have been prepared to conduct operations on land, water bombing and weather modification, he added.

"Indeed the operations are expensive, worth up to Rp100.38 billion. Efforts certainly will be more efficient and effectively through law enforcement and information campaign as preventive measures," he explained.

Two battalions of the Armys personnel and 1,755 personnel of the forestry ministrys fire brigade have been deployed to extinguish the fires.

Two BE-200 Amphibian aircraft, two Kamov helicopters, two Sikorsky helicopters, and four Bolco helicopter will be deployed to drop water bombs. Two Hercules C-130 and six Casa 212 aircraft will be used to modify the weather in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

During a ministerial-level coordinating meeting in the office of the coordinating minister for peoples welfare on Feb. 27, the chief of the meteorological, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG) announced that 70 percent of Indonesias region will begin to have drought in April, May, and June 2014.

This years dry season is expected to be drier than that of last year as Indonesia is going to experience El Nino phenomena.

Usually, forest and plantation fires are rampant in Sumatra in July-October, and in Kalimantan in August-October. So, the threats of forest fires are still far from over.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia: Four tigers wander around as their habitat catches fire

Antara 27 Feb 14;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Four Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) were wandering in the area where fire brigade personnel were extinguishing a fire engulfing a forest, which is a tiger habitat, in the Bukit Batu subdistrict, Bengkalis, Riau Province.

A female tiger and her cub were spotted in the Bukit Lengkung village, Bukit Batu, while two adult tigers were seen in the Temiang village, also in Bukit Batu, M. Jalal, the head of the Bengkalis disaster mitigation office (BPBD) noted here on Thursday.

"We know that the tigers must be scared due to the thick haze covering their habitat. We just avoided them and reported about the tigers to the Riau natural resource conservation office," he stated.

The forest area, which is located at the border of the Bengkalis district and Dumai city, is the habitat of Sumatran tigers. Around 3,629 hectares of forested area are currently on fire.

The felines traces were also found near a refugee camp in Barak Aceh, where 125 inhabitants of Tanjung Leban are seeking refuge due to the thick haze.

In the Medang Kampai subdistrict, 109 people were evacuated to safer places.

Since February 25, the Riau Governor has declared a state of emergency due to the haze as forest, plantation and peatland fires have spread to wider areas.

Of the provinces 12 districts/cities, seven of them have been worst-affected by the fires and haze, which include Bengkalis, Rokan Hilir, Indragiri Hulu, Indragiri Hilir, Siak, Pelalawan, Meranti, and Dumai city.

Fires have destroyed more than 1.5 thousand hectares of plantation area in the Siak district.

According to information posted on the WWF website, the Sumatran tiger, numbering fewer than 400 in the wild, is found exclusively on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the last stronghold of the tigers in Indonesia.

Accelerating deforestation and rampant poaching across the Sumatran tigers range can have wide-ranging repercussions and unless the authorities enforce the law, this subspecies will soon follow the fate of its extinct Javan and Balinese relatives.


Editor: Jafar M Sidik

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Indonesia: Airlines report losses caused by Riau haze

Fadli, The Jakarta Post 26 Feb 14;

Several airlines have said flight rerouting and cancellations caused by haze clouds in Riau has led them to suffer losses.

Lion Air’s Sumatra operational head, Mahrido, said the low-cost carrier had to spend more on extra fuel and airport services for passengers as its flights were rerouted or delayed due to thick haze in the province.

“We have suffered significant financial losses due to the haze in Riau. The losses were primarily caused by more spending on fuel due to flight rerouting and extra services for passengers when they were waiting in airports,” said Mahrido.

He said that since yesterday, Lion Air had rerouted and even cancelled flights departing for Pekanbaru, Riau, due to heavy haze.

On Tuesday, flights from Kuala Namu International Airport to Sibolga and from Kuala Namu to Gunung Sitoli in Nias were also cancelled due to the haze.

Meanwhile, a Lion flight from Jakarta to Pekanbaru was temporarily rerouted to Batam.

“Flights in Sumatra have been disrupted due to haze in Riau. But based on existing rules, our airline will not give any compensation as the weather has caused the cancellation,” said Muhrido.

The head of the air safety task force at Hang Nadim Airport, Indah Irwansyah, said three flights from Jakarta to Pekanbaru – Garuda Indonesia, Citilink and Lion Air - had to be rerouted to Batam.

“We cannot ensure how long the rerouting will last, but as soon as conditions improve, flights can depart to Pekanbaru,” said Irwansyah.

The rerouting decision was taken as the visibility level at Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport in Pekanbaru deteriorated to below 1,000 meters, below the minimum standard for safe flying. (idb/ebf)

Dense haze disrupts flights at Padangpariaman airport
The Jakarta Post 27 Feb 14;

Haze blanketing West Sumatra due to forest fires in Riau and other provinces disrupted flights at Minangkabau International Airport in Padangpariaman on Thursday.

Two incoming airplanes had to return to their points of departure as visibility reached only 700 meters at the airport, Joko Sudarmanto, head of the airport's operations division, said as reported by Antara news agency.

Joko explained that an AirAsia plane was forced to return to Kuala Lumpur and a Citilink plane to Batam.

"There was no rain around the hotspots, thereby causing dense haze, especially in the morning," said Padangpariaman Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) analyst Yuni Fitria,

"However, the haze could immediately disperse if rainfall doused the hotspots," she said.

She also urged motorists to be extra careful when driving and to drive with the headlights on when there was limited visibility.

Separately, a Padang resident, Rudik, said, "I had to turn on my motorcycle headlights because the haze was denser than usual." (yln)

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Green group fights sand dump permit near Australia's Barrier Reef

Reuters 27 Feb 14;

(Reuters) - Environmentalists launched an appeal on Thursday to overturn a permit granted for an Australian coal port to dump millions of cubic meters of sand near the Great Barrier Reef, arguing it fails to protect the World Heritage site.

An independent agency charged with protecting the reef granted a permit in January for 3 million cubic meters of soil dredged up at the port of Abbot Point to be dumped about 25 km (15 miles) from the reef.

The approval by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) sparked outrage among green groups opposed to coal expansions and fighting to protect the reef, as well as marine tourism operators, who help generate $5 billion a year.

The North Queensland Conservation Council filed a challenge to the permit at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Brisbane on Thursday.

The port is being expanded for $16 billion worth of coal projects planned in the untapped Galilee Basin by two Indian firms, Adani Enterprises and GVK, and Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart, projects actively opposed by Greenpeace.

The reef authority's decision to grant the permit came a day before the Australian government sent a report about the reef to UNESCO that said: "There has been a serious decline in hard coral cover in the southern two-thirds of the Region."

The marine park authority defended the decision saying the dump location was just seabed, with no coral or seagrass in the area, and limited North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp, operator of Abbot Point, to dumping only 1 million metric tons of soil a year.

"With GBRMPA and federal and state governments determining only last year that the condition of the inshore Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area south of Cooktown is 'poor and declining', this decision to allow the dumping of dredge spoil is shocking and bewildering," North Queensland Conservation Council coordinator Wendy Tubman said in a statement.

UNESCO awarded the reef its heritage listing and raised concern in 2011 about port expansions further south at Gladstone for three multibillion dollar gas projects. It is due to decide in June whether to put the reef on the "in danger" list or possibly drop it from the listing.

North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp says the sand dumping will be far from any coral or seagrass beds along the reef, which covers an area larger than the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Switzerland combined.

It says dredging is not the main cause of harm to the reef, pointing to a 2012 report by the Australian Institute of Marine Science that found that 48 percent of the damage was caused by tropical cyclones, 42 percent by the crown of thorns starfish, and 10 percent from bleaching.

Water pollution from farm run-off has been blamed for spawning population explosions of crown of thorns starfish.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Paul Tait and Richard Pullin)

Report from Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority warned against waste dumping plan
Lucy Cormack Sydney Morning Herald 3 Mar 14;

Dredging waste: Scientific advice opposing the dumping of waste in the Great Barrier Reef was ignored. Photo: Bloomberg News

The federal government ignored scientific advice when the dumping of millions of tonnes of dredging waste from a mining project into the Great Barrier Reef was approved.

Documents released under freedom of information laws show the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority warned that approval should not be granted for dumping sediment waste into the reef to make way for a coal project.

''The proposal to dredge and dispose of up to 1.6 million cubic metres of sediment per year … has the potential to cause long-term irreversible harm to areas of the Great Barrier Reef,'' the authority's own report reads.

Under the proposal, the seabed would be dredged to create berths for six coal ships for the Abbot Point coal port expansion. The dredged waste would then be dumped in the Great Barrier Reef.

The report's author warned particularly of the effects on seagrass meadows and coral reefs.

And yet the chairman of the authority, Russell Reichelt, approved the dumpings late last year.

''The approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds,'' he said in January.

Queensland campaigner for Greenpeace Louise Mathieson said though it may be true the immediate disposal area has no seagrass, muddy plumes can spread for up to 80 kilometres. ''I think the chairman was downplaying the impact of dredging and dumping,'' she said. ''What he said does not reflect the expert advice that was coming from staff about the real impacts the project could have, especially the risks to water quality.''

In its dredging permit assessment, the authority states that seagrass in the vicinity of the dredging activity is likely to be affected by the dumping, primarily by reduced light and increased water sediment.

''Coral reefs around Holbourne Island, Nares Rock, Camp Reef, Horseshoe Bay and Cape Upstart also have the potential to be affected by turbid plumes and sedimentation,'' the assessment said.

The original application from North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation sought approval to dredge and dump 3 million cubic metres of spoil in the reef waters as part of coal terminal expansion plans at Abbot Point, north of Bowen.

Former federal environment minister Mark Butler extended the deadline for a decision on the application twice last year before the federal election.

Ms Mathieson said whilst these documents go some way in suggesting why a decision was delayed several times under Labor, they do not explain the approval granted by Greg Hunt, the present minister. But Mr Hunt says the groundwork for backing the dumping plan was made by previous state and federal Labor governments.

''This was Labor's project, announced by Anna Bligh as a massive expansion and then upgraded to a super-terminal with 38 million cubic metres of dredging,'' he said. ''The final approval was one-twelfth of this at 3 million cubic metres … I was advised the proposal put forward for offshore disposal was the best option available.''

In a statement released by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, chairman Russell Reichelt said the documents released are "preliminary working drafts which were never submitted to the delegate, the senior manager responsible for the GBRMPA's decision".

He said the draft permit assessment took place prior to the application of rigorous conditions, "the strictest ever imposed on an application of this type," which included a requirement for North Queensland Bulk Ports to offset the amount of fine sediments released into the environment by 150 per cent.

Should prevailing conditions such as waves, wind and currents contribute to the displacement of sediment towards sensitive habitats, disposal is not to proceed.

In addition, the Authority included a requirement that a five-year water quality monitoring program is to be implemented in addition to real-time monitoring, a condition which Mr Reichelt says is the "longest ever required for such a program".

"Without these robust conditions GBRMPA is likely to have said 'no' to the application," he said.

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Heat extremes increase despite global warming hiatus: scientists

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 27 Feb 14;

Heat extremes increase despite global warming hiatus: scientists Photo: Enrique Marcarian
A man takes a bath in a street of Buenos Aires January 22, 2014.
Photo: Enrique Marcarian

Hot weather extremes have increased around the world in the past 15 years despite a slowdown in the overall pace of global warming, a study showed on Wednesday.

Heat extremes are among the damaging impacts of climate change as they can raise death rates, especially among the elderly, damage food crops and strain everything from water to energy supplies.

"Observational data show a continued increase of hot extremes over land during the so-called global warming hiatus," scientists in Switzerland, Australia and Canada wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change.

A Russian heatwave in 2010 killed more than 55,000 people and a 2003 European heatwave killed 66,000. Pakistan recorded a temperature of 53.5 degrees Celsius (128 Fahrenheit) in 2010, the highest in Asia since 1942.

The average pace of warming at the planet's surface has slowed from the 20th century in what scientists link to factors such as absorption of more heat by the oceans, more sun-dimming pollution or volcanic eruptions.

This hiatus has heartened those who doubt that governments need to make big, urgent investments to shift from fossil fuels towards renewable energies. Almost 200 nations have agreed to work out a deal by the end of 2015 to combat climate change.

Wednesday's report found that the area of the world's land surface with 10, 30 and 50 extreme heat days a year had risen since 1997 from a 1979-2010 average, sometimes more than doubling, with big swings from year to year. Strongest gains were in the Arctic and mid-latitudes.

It was unclear why heat extremes had continued rising despite the hiatus. One possibility was that the oceans had soaked up heat from the atmosphere and slowed overall global warming, even as the land had been exposed to extremes.

"There is no reason to expect the (trend towards more hot extremes) to stop," lead author Sonia Seneviratne, of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zurich, told Reuters.

The report follows other signs of more extreme weather as greenhouse gas emissions rise to new peaks.

A World Meteorological Organization (WMO) review last year showed that 56 countries reported a hot temperature record from 2001-10, while just 14 reported a new cold record.

England had a record 38.5 C (101.3F) in 2003, while northern Ireland had a record low -11.3 C (11.7 F) in 2010.

In Geneva, Michel Jarraud, head of the WMO, told a meeting on Tuesday that 13 of the 14 warmest years on record had been since 2000. "We are not seeing what I would call a pause in global temperature increases," he said.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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Best of our wild blogs: 27 Feb 14

First Love MacRitchie Walk of 2014: Macaques, drongos and bird waves from Toddycats!

Toddycats HOWL 9: the museum, our logo, crabs, flowering otters and a song from Toddycats!

The first and last cleanup at Pulau Semakau in 2014!
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Yellow Glassy Tiger Spotted at GB
from Butterflies of Singapore

Lesser Sand-plover foraging
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Malaysia: Kota Kinabalu mangrove forest set to become Ramsar site

The Star 27 Feb 14;

KOTA KINABALU: A remaining patch of mangrove forest located close to the city’s downtown area is set to become Sabah’s second Ramsar site.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Yahya Hussin said the Ramsar designation for the 24ha Kota Kinabalu Wetlands Centre (KKWC) would help draw international recognition of the mangrove forest’s ecological importance.

“This is certainly good news for Sabah,” he said after launching the International Weltands Day Celebration at the KKWC on Wednes-day.

Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance, designated under the Ramsar Convention.

Sabah’s first Ramsar site is the 79,000ha bio-diversity rich Lower Kinabatangan-Segama wetlands in the east coast.

Yahya said the designation of KKWC as the state’s second Ramsar site would help the conservation or careful use of remaining wetlands.

He said some padi cultivated areas in Japan and China were classified as Ramsar sites as the ecological traits of these areas were preserved and were sustainably developed.

“We can learn from this, particularly in our padi cultivation areas,” said Yahya, the state Agriculture and Food Industries Minister.

“Wise use of wetlands will be beneficial for local communities.”

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Malaysia: 28 water treatment plants in Pahang drying up

The Star 27 Feb 14;

KUANTAN: Twenty-eight of the 80 water treatment plants throughout Pahang recorded low levels due to the drought on Thursday.

The Public Relations Officer of Pengurusan Air Pahang Berhad (PAIP) Datuk Jafar Abdullah said the affected plants were located in eight districts, which obtained their water sources from Sungai Pahang and the Sungai Pahang tributaries.

He said seven of the plants were in the district of Lipis, Jerantut (5), Temerloh (4), Maran (4), Pekan (3), Bentong (3) and one each in Rompin and Bera.

"If the drought prolonged further, it will lead to the plants that record low water levels to be closed down," he said.

Jafar said the low level reading was also because of sand blocking the flow of river water at the water intake point. This causes the water to overflow elsewhere.

As a result, he said, cleaning works were being carried out at the water intake plant besides constructing a sand wall on the river to enable smooth flow of river water into the plant.

"However, the volume of water at the 28 treatment plants could still cater to the needs of the consumers in the area," he said.

Pahang supplies water to almost two million consumers at the rate of more than 34 million cubic metres per month.

Syabas: Brace for low water pressure
The Star 27 Feb 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Some 300,000 households or 1.2 million consumers in seven areas in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya will have low water pressure or no water, according to Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Syabas).

This follows a reduction in the volume of treated water released by five treatment plants on the orders of the Selangor State Economic Planning Unit, said Syabas assistant general manager (corporate communications and public affairs) Priscilla Alfred.

She said the affected areas were Gombak, Kuala Lumpur, Petaling, Klang/Shah Alam, Kuala Selangor, Kuala Langat and Hulu Selangor.

“The existing reserve in water supply is too small and, in normal circumstances, is unable to meet the demand of the consumers because the five treatment plants supply 60% of the treated water needs of these areas,” she said in a statement yesterday, as reported by Bernama.

She added that the Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS), which is responsible for raw water resources in the state, issued a written order on Feb 24 to Syarikat Pengeluar Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (SPLASH), which manages three of the plants, to reduce the intake of raw water from Sungai Selangor by 200 million litres daily.

Alfred said if the Syabas water supply distribution plan was approved by SPAN, it would be announced to consumers tomorrow for implementation from Sunday.

The Meteorological Depart­ment said cloud-seeding operations, which were supposed to begin yesterday, had been postponed to early next week because of a lack of suitable clouds.

“The operations will commence once cumulus clouds which are suitable for seeding appear, with forecasts indicating early next week,” the department’s senior meteoro­logist Azhar Ishak said yesterday.

Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said the hot weather might even help to attract visitors from countries currently experiencing colder weather such as in Europe and the United States.

Deputy Defence Minister Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri said the Armed Forces would do its best to help all consumers affected by water rationing.

He added that the military would consider all requests to expand its current assistance beyond Balakong – one of the worst-hit areas. It is currently helping out by assigning water tankers and personnel.

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Malaysia: Nursed tapir released into forest

Norbaiti Phaharoradzi New Straits Times 27 Feb 14;

FULLY RECOVERED: Protected species treated by Perhilitan team

MERSING: A WOUNDED tapir which was caught after straying into Kampung Gajah Mati, Mersing, last week, was released back into the wild yesterday.

The 250kg female tapir was treated by Johor Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) staff and released back to its natural habitat at the Endau-Rompin National Park after it had fully recovered.

Villagers who spotted the animal wandering around the village, had alerted the department.
Perhilitan personnel, who trapped the tapir, found it to be in a weak state with bite marks on its body.

State Perhilitan director Hasnan Yusop said the tapir was treated for its wounds by personnel from Perhilitan's Bio-diversity Conservation Department and veterinary officers from the department's headquarters.

He said the animal, which was believed to be about 15 years old, might have been bitten by a male tapir during mating.

"The tapir was tagged and its vital datas like size, weight and morphology were recorded.
"We installed a satellite collar on the animal so we can monitor its movement."

He described the successful capture and release of the animal as a big achievement for Perhilitan.

The tapir, or tapirus indicus is fully protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

Those caught hunting or keeping them without a legal permit, face a RM100,000 fine or three year's jail term.

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Indonesia: Ujung Kulon National Park Says It Gained Seven Javan Rhinos

Jakarta Globe 27 Feb 14;

Ujung Kulon. The Javan rhino population in the Ujung Kulon National Park has increased by seven rhinos last year, according to the park’s conservation chairman Mohammad Haryono.

“Based on monitoring [activities] conducted throughout 2013, we know that the number of Javan rhinos living in the TNUK [Ujung Kulon National Park] area is 58, which is comprised of eight young rhinos and 50 teenage and adults,” Haryono said in Pandeglang, Banten, on Wednesday.

He said of the eight young rhinos, three were female, while of the 50 older animals, 20 were female.

Haryono said the park has installed surveillance cameras along areas that are frequented by the endangered animals.

“We have installed 120 video cameras in trees located in areas that are often visited by the rhinos, such as fields and wallows,” Haryono said.

He said the surveillance cameras were especially designed to function at night and that they are able detect movement.

Continuous monitoring was conducted from March to December last year.

A team is tasked with collecting the cameras’ memory cards and replacing their batteries every month.

“During the 10-month surveillance, we collected 16,000 clips but only 1,660 of them contained footage of the Javan rhinos and only 1,388 of the clips were able to properly identify the animals. The remaining showed only their feet or tails, which made it impossible for us to make a proper identification,” the park’s conservation chairman said.

Haryono explained that his team had adopted eight key parameters on the Javan rhino’s morphology to identify each individual animal, such as the size or shape of the horns, skin wrinkles around the eyes, the folds around the neck and the position and shape of the ears, defects or injuries and the color of the skin.

“The morphology of each individual rhino is unique, especially with regard to the wrinkles around their eyes; they are similar to a human hand print and, therefore, will never be the identical,” he said.

Haryono said that based on extensive research and observation, the park was able to accurately confirm the increase in the Javan rhino population with seven animals in the Ujung Kulon National Park.

The Javan rhino is the most endangered of the five species, with those currently living in Ujung Kulon the only 58 remaining in the world.

Indonesia prioritizes saving of Javan, Sumatran rhinos
Antara 27 Feb 14;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The population of one-horned Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and two-horned Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is believed to have increased quite encouragingly over the past few years.

Last years video camera monitoring in the Ujung Kulon national park (TNUK) identified 58 individual Javan rhinos, an increase of seven from 51 in 2012, while a Sumatran rhino calf was recently born in the Way Kambas national park through a semi-captive breeding.

The Javan and Sumatran rhinos are two out of only five species of rhinos that have survived globally.

The remaining three species are the Indian rhino, which can be found in Nepal, India and Bhutan; the White rhino, commonly found in Botswana, the Ivory Coast, Congo, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe; and the Black rhino in Cameron, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.

The Javan rhino had once occurred from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and probably southern China through peninsular Malaya to the Indonesian island of Java. But, beginning in the middle of the 19th century, the species was extirpated from most of its historical range.

Since 2010, two rhino subspecies, the Western Black Rhinoceros

(Diceros bicornis longipes) in Cameroon and the Indochinese Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticu) in Vietnam have also gone extinct.

The Javan rhino now is only found in isolated area in the Ujung Kulon National Park (Pandeglang, Banten Province), at the western-most tip of Java Island.

"Based on the monitoring we did during 2013, we found out that the Javan rhino population is 58, consisting of eight calves and 50 young and adult rhinos," the head of the TNUK office, Muhamad Haryono, said on Feb. 27, 2014.

Of the eight calves, three are female and five male. Of the 50 young and adults, 20 are female and 30 male, he explained.

The monitoring was carried from March to December 2013 by installing 120 video cameras along the strait of the park area, he said.

"During the 10 months of the camera monitoring, we got 16 thousands clips, but only 1,660 clips captured the images of rhinos. Of the number, 1,388 clips had the images of rhinos that could be identified, and 272 others could not be identified," he added.

Last years monitoring showed an increase of seven rhinos, as the monitoring in 2012 managed to identify only 51 individual rhinos, he stated.

The TNUK plans to set up a Rhino Health Unit (RHU) to maintain the health of the Javan rhinos, especially their calves. During 2012-2013, two rhinos were found dead in the park area.

The government of Indonesia is targeting a three percent annual growth rate of the Javan rhino population.

According to WWF, the Javan rhino is probably the rarest among large mammals on the planet, with no more than 50 left in the wild and none in captivity. The Javan rhino is a smaller and lighter relative of the greater one-horned rhino. It stands at 1.4 to 1.7 meter height at the shoulder.

The Sumatran rhino is also critically endangered because of its rapid rate of decline. Being called as the "hairy rhino" because of its hairy body and tufted ears, the Sumatran rhino is the smallest and last form of the two-horned rhino in Asia that has lived on the planet for 20 million years.

It is believed that approximately 100 Sumatran rhinos survive in very small and highly fragmented populations across Indonesia and Sabah, Malaysia.

Because of poaching, the numbers have decreased by more than 50 percent over the last 20 years, according to the International Rhino Foundation.

The forestry ministrys biological diversity conservation director, Bambang W Novianto, however, announced good news that the population of the Sumatran rhino has increased lately thanks to semi-captive breeding in the Way Kambas national park, Lampung, Sumatran Island.

"Recently, a Sumatran rhino calf was born in Way Kambas through a semi-captive breeding," he stated when visiting the TNUK in Pandeglang, on Feb. 27, 2014.

Given the success of the semi-captive breeding of Sumatran rhinos, the Malaysian government has asked for Sumatran rhinos whose numbers are as low as just five in Malaysia, he sad.

"We are not able to meet the request because we cannot be careless in giving up the endangered animal to others," he explained.

In fact, the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia last year agreed to collaborate on saving the Sumatran rhino during the Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit held by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) in Singapore in 2013.

"This could be our last opportunity to save this species and, by working together as a collaborative unit, internationally and regionally, with an agreed vision and goals, a glimmer of hope has been clearly demonstrated," Widodo Ramano, the executive director of the Indonesian Rhino Foundation, said in the meeting.

Meanwhile, Datuk Dr. Laurentius Ambu, the director of the Sabah Wildlife Department was quoted by the press as saying, "We would like to reiterate Sabahs commitment and our willingness to further discuss with Indonesia opportunities to exchange reproductive cells of the species, move individual rhinos between our countries and to employ advanced reproductive technology as a parallel initiative in the Sumatran rhino captive breeding program."

The rhino conservation is a priority program in various countries including in Indonesia. Rhinos have been categorized as critically endangered and are listed in CITES (Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix I.

Indonesian Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan last year stated that Indonesia has prioritized the conservation of rhinos. The ministry has allocated Rp6 trillion (over US$6 billion) for the conservation program of endangered wildlife.

The ministry has also been implementing an Action Plan of Javanese Rhino Conservation until 2017, hoping that it will help increase the Javan rhino population to 70 by 2015.

"The government has named 13 animal species, including Javan rhinos and Sumatran rhinos, that are protected. Saving the rhinos is a priority," Bambang W Novianto stated.

The private sector has been encouraged to participate in the rhino conservation program by establishing a partnership with the Indonesian Rhino Foundation (YABI).

The Indonesian government has designated July 5 as Rhino Day to promote the conservation of the endangered animal. (*)

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia: Riau Province Declares State of Emergency as 1,200 Hectares of Biosphere Gutted by Fires

BeritaSatu World Jakarta Globe 27 Feb 14;

The Riau government has declared a state of emergency for the Sumatran province after forest fires burned through 1,200 hectares of peatlands in the Giam Siak Kecil park, which was made a protected zone by Unesco in 2009, BeritaSatu World reports.

Riau Firefighters Say Resources Too Thin to Fight Forest Fires
BeritaSatu World Jakarta Globe 26 Feb 14;

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Geoengineering Ineffective Against Climate Change, Could Make Worse

Charles Q. Choi, Live Science Yahoo News 25 Feb 14;

Current schemes to minimize the havoc caused by global warming by purposefully manipulating Earth's climate are likely to either be relatively useless or actually make things worse, researchers say in a new study.

The dramatic increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution is expected to cause rising global sea levels, more-extreme weather and other disruptions to regional and local climates. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat, so as levels of the gas rise, the planet overall warms.

In addition to efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, some have suggested artificially manipulating the world's climate in a last-ditch effort to prevent catastrophic climate change. These strategies, considered radical in some circles, are known as geoengineering or climate engineering.

Many scientists have investigated and questioned how effective individual geoengineering methods could be. However, there have been few attempts to compare and contrast the various methods, which range from fertilizing the ocean so that marine organisms suck up excess carbon dioxide to shooting aerosols into the atmosphere to reflect some of the sun's incoming rays back into space. [8 Ways Global Warming is Already Changing the World]

Now, researchers using a 3D computer model of the Earth have tested the potential benefits and drawbacks of five different geoengineering technologies.

Will it work?

The scientists found that even when several technologies were combined, geoengineering would be unable to prevent average surface temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above current temperatures by the year 2100. This is, the current limit that international negotiations are focused on. They were unable to do so even when each technology was deployed continuously and at scales as large as currently deemed possible.

"The potential of most climate engineering methods, even when optimistic deployment scenarios were assumed, were much lower than I had expected," said study author Andreas Oschlies, an earth system modeler at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany.

One strategy, known as afforestation, would irrigate deserts, such as those in Australia and North Africa, to promote the growth of vegetation that can absorb carbon dioxide. However, this vegetation would also absorb sunlight the deserts currently reflect back into space, thus actually contributing to global warming. That finding supports the results of previous studies.

Another tactic, known as artificial ocean upwelling, would use long pipes to pump deep, cold, nutrient-rich water upward in order to cool ocean-surface waters and promote the growth of photosynthetic organisms that can absorb carbon dioxide. However, the scientists noted that if this strategy were ever stopped, the oceans would rebalance their heat levels, potentially causing disastrously rapid climate change.

One approach, known as ocean alkalinization, would dump lime into the water to chemically increase oceanic absorption of carbon dioxide. Another technique, known as ocean iron fertilization, would dump iron into the oceans to boost the growth of photosynthetic organisms that can absorb carbon dioxide. However, like other geoengineering strategies, the models suggest that both are of little use in reducing global temperatures.

The last method, known as solar radiation management, would reduce the amount of sunlight Earth receives, most likely by pumping reflective sulfate-based aerosols into the atmosphere. The subsequent dimming of sunlight on Earth would cool the planet, but the researchers note that carbon dioxide would continue to accumulate in the atmosphere. This suggests that if this strategy were ever halted, the globe would rapidly warm after the aerosols dispersed.

Possible side effects

All in all, these strategies are relatively ineffective; individually, they reduce global warming by less than 8 percent each, assuming carbon dioxide emission levels continue to remain as high as they are now. In all simulations, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will still reach more than twice current levels by the end of the century, the researchers found.

Moreover, each geoengineering technique can have potentially severe side effects. For example, solar radiation management would alter patterns of precipitation such as rainfall and reduce total precipitation across the globe.

Altogether, the climate engineering technologies analyzed here are ineffective in reducing carbon dioxide concentrations and in most cases temperature. And this lack of effect "is really striking," said climate scientist Kelly McCusker at the University of Victoria in Canada, who did not take part in this research. McCusker and her colleagues also recently found that a sudden stop in solar radiation management strategies would exacerbate global warming.

"This study nails home the continued importance of reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases," McCusker told Live Science.

The researchers noted they used a moderately complex earth system model, and that more complex models involving a more intricate look at how winds might respond to geoengineering "may give different answers, particularly for precipitation changes," Oschlies said.

Oschlies and his colleagues David Keller and Ellias Feng detailed their findings online Feb. 25 in the journal Nature Communications.

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Secret World of Ocean Garbage Patch Microbes Revealed

Tia Ghose, LiveScience Yahoo News 25 Feb 14;

There's a secret world of microbes hidden on the plastic littering the oceans, and scientists are untangling how these mysterious microbial communities, dubbed the "plastisphere," are impacting the ocean ecosystem.

The ocean is teeming with trash, which collects in places in the ocean where currents can trap the debris, such as the great Pacific garbage patch, which is about the size of Texas. Researchers have found that seabirds often ingest this debris, but little was known about how sea debris affected the entire ocean ecosystem.

Last year, scientists discovered that about 1,000 microbes thrived on the plastic debris drifting in the oceans. Many of the bacteria belong to the genus Vibrio (the same genus as the cholera bacteria), which is known to cause diseases in humans and animals. Other microbial members of the plastisphere seemed to hasten the breakdown of the plastic. The microbes also look markedly different from ordinary marine microbes, the scientists said.

But the researchers didn't understand exactly how those microbes got on the plastic, or whether they were affecting the ocean ecology.

In follow-up research, scientists have found evidence that these microbes can form colonies on plastic in just a few minutes. In addition, some types of harmful bacteria tend to prefer living on plastic more than others do. [In Photos: Trash Litters Deep Seafloor]

As a follow-up, the researchers are trying to see whether fish ingesting the plastic could help these bizarre microbes thrive, by providing additional nutrients for the bacteria in their guts.

Unlocking the mysterious world of these microbes could help scientists understand the role of plastic in the ocean as a whole.

"One of the benefits of understanding the plastisphere right now and how it interacts with biota in general, is that we are better able to inform materials scientists on how to make better materials and, if they do get out to sea, have the lowest impact possible,” Tracy Mincer, an associate scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass., said in a statement, referring to how the plastisphere interacts with other life in the oceans.

The findings were presented yesterday (Feb. 24) at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

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Best of our wild blogs: 26 Feb 14

Barn Swallow Foraging Aquatic Prey
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Long-tailed macaques walking into the sun at Southern Ridges
from Otterman speaks

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Uphill battle for fish farmers

Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 15 Feb 14;

Even while Singapore tries to boost the supply of locally farmed fish, the latest mass death incident to hit farmers has highlighted the challenges they face.

It was around Chinese New Year last month when fish farmers off Pasir Ris began to notice something amiss: Their fish were surfacing and gasping.

This showed oxygen was lacking in the water.

In a desperate bid to save their stocks, the fishermen harvested what they could, aerated the water and moved high-value fish into mussel nets that would filter plankton and waste from the water. But it was not enough.

Over the following week, thousands of fish died at 34 fish farms off Pasir Ris and five more farms off Lim Chu Kang. The lethal combination of dry weather and neap tides, when high tides are at their lowest, was pinpointed as the cause of the lack of oxygen in the water.

This was the third such mass deaths in five years. In 2009, farms in the East Johor Strait were hit by a plankton bloom. Plankton compete with fish for oxygen. And last year, dry and low-oxygen conditions off Lim Chu Kang killed fish there.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) began a push in 2011 to make local supplies account for 15 per cent of total fish consumed here. The figure is currently 7 per cent. Farms here must also produce 17 tonnes of fish for every half hectare of farm space to keep their licences. This year, the fish deaths will be taken into account by the AVA, which issues the licences, and farmers will be given help to restock farms and buy equipment.

However, the latest figures show that in 2012, just 46 out of 120 fish farms met the 17-tonne target, and 42 did not. The rest were new or had changed hands recently. Farmers also say they will continue to face seasonal algae blooms, lack of facilities and high costs.

Natural conditions around Singapore are not exactly conducive to fish farming.

The Causeway restricts water circulation in the Johor Strait, and neap tides reduce current flow. While currents are stronger off Pulau Tekong and around the Southern Islands - the two other areas where farms are allowed - the deeper, faster waters there require a deeper double anchor, making it more expensive, said fish farmer Noven Chew, 37. National University of Singapore emeritus professor Lam Toong Jin, an aquaculture expert, said intensive feeding, organic runoff from land and high temperatures also contribute to algal blooms and low-oxygen conditions.

The choice of fish adds to the challenges. Species such as the grouper are sensitive to low-oxygen conditions, but high labour and feed costs mean farmers like Ms Chew choose to raise these high-value fish to better compete with fish from overseas.

Farmers who raise hardier fish like red snapper, milkfish and grey mullet had better luck in the latest mass deaths. Other pollution sources could arise in the longer term. In an essay on the rise of the Iskandar Malaysia economic zone, researchers from Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies noted the potential for increased pollution and oil spills and the impact of land reclamation.

A spokesman said AVA will work with farms that have yet to reach the minimum production target, and that they have two years to do so. AVA has also disbursed the second $10 million tranche of its Food Fund to 40 farmers to help with equipment costs.

Most of these farmers run small half-hectare farms. In the long run, help may come from technology. Two farms here have worked out ways to farm marine fish on land. SIF Agrotechnology Asia's land-based hatchery treats recirculated saltwater, and OnHand Agrarian has harvested pearl grouper, tiger grouper, lobsters, mussels and sea urchins from a pilot farm, cultivating a complete ecosystem in the same tank.

Such tank-based farming may mean higher infrastructure costs, but lets farmers control water quality, said RSIS senior fellow in food security Paul Teng.

For food security's sake, some form of government help will probably be needed to maintain farm production in small, high-cost Singapore, Professor Teng added.

"It's just like military security. You don't expect returns, you need to secure your borders."

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Singapore opens first LNG terminal, plans for 2nd terminal in the East

Linette Lim Channel NewsAsia 25 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: Singapore is planning to build a second liquefied natural gas terminal, while expanding the capacity of the first terminal.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced this at the official opening of Singapore's first LNG terminal on Jurong Island on Tuesday evening.

On the second LNG terminal plan, he said the government is studying a few potential sites in the east.

Built at a cost of S$1.7 billion, the first LNG terminal started operations last May and is on track for further expansion.

The LNG terminal is located in the southwestern part of Jurong Island.

The government said it plans to add a fourth storage tank which will increase the terminal's throughput capacity from six to nine million tonnes by annum by 2017.

In 2013, more than 90 per cent of the electricity in Singapore was generated using natural gas. Before the LNG terminal was built, virtually all of Singapore's natural gas supply was imported via pipelines from Malaysia and Indonesia.

But with the LNG terminal in operation, Singapore can import natural gas in liquefied form via large ocean tankers from countries as far away as Trinidad and Tobago.

LNG now makes up 20 per cent of Singapore's natural gas demand.

Mr Lee said: "Because there are more supplier vying for our business, we can obtain more competitive prices. And with more gas available, and new generation capacity entering the market, electricity generation becomes more competitive, which will benefit consumers."

He said a competitive request for proposal will be launched for the next tranche of LNG imports by June.

Mr Lee added that although oil prices have quadrupled since 1995, electricity prices in Singapore have gone up by just 40 per cent over the same period.

He said: "Without market liberalisation, the tendency would have been to pass on the extra cost, and consumers and firms would be paying today much higher electricity bills.

"This is a good example of how private operators, working in competitive markets, can outperform state-owned nationalised industries."

Mr Lee said Singapore will also explore other new energy options, like solar energy. He said when solar technology becomes more competitive, Singapore will be ready to deploy it on a larger scale.

- CNA/de

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Dry spell leads to more vegetation fires, mosquitoes, health problems

Lim Wee Leng Channel NewsAsia 25 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: The number of vegetation fires early this year was four times more than the same period last year.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said there were nearly 100 such fires between January and February this year, compared with 25 in the same period in 2013.

Although there is an increase from last year, the figures are still lower compared with the peak periods in 2005 and 2009, said SCDF.

In 2005, there were 532 fires between January and February and in 2009 there were 341 fires for the same period.

The SCDF added that most vegetation fires were minor in nature.

No injuries have been reported.

The more notable vegetation fires included one at Commonwealth Drive and another at Clementi.

The fire at Commonwealth Drive on 20 January covered an area measuring about 20m by 20m and took firefighters over one hour to put out.

The fire at Clementi Avenue 6 on 30 January covered an area measuring about 60m by 30m.

Firefighters brought the fire under control within half an hour and took another four hours to complete damping down the fire.

But the fires are just one of the effects of the dry spell.

Mosquitoes of a certain breed have become more common because of the dry spell.

Pest control experts say such mosquitoes are active at night and usually thrive between February and May.

Experts say that with the dry weather, mosquito-breeding spots are less likely to be flushed away, by rain.

Meanwhile, one doctor said he is seeing more patients who have respiratory conditions and eczema because of the dry spell.

- CNA/ir

More vegetation fires this year, but most were minor
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 26 Feb 14;

The 99 vegetation fires between January and Feb 19 were four times the number in the first two months of last year, said the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) yesterday.

Despite the spike, it said the number was still a fraction of those that occurred during the same months in 2005 (532 fires) and 2009 (341 fires), though it warned there may be more of such fires should the dry spell continue.

Most of this year’s fires were also minor, causing no injuries, said the SCDF.

In a haze advisory issued on Monday, the National Environment Agency said the increased outbreak of vegetation fires in recent weeks due to the dry weather could have caused the burning smell that residents in some areas have noticed.

The SCDF said patrols have been stepped up at hot spots to detect fire risks and mitigate fires. Fire-prevention advisory notes have also been issued to relevant agencies, such as the Singapore Land Authority and the National Parks Board. The SCDF is also working with other government agencies on the Wildfire Task Force Committee, which it chairs, to monitor the dry spell.

The SCDF reminded the public not to indiscriminately throw away lit cigarette butts onto dry land. Unwanted items such as furniture should not be discarded in grassy areas as they can become fuel for a fire. WOO SIAN BOON

Nurseries, farms badly hit by higher expenses during dry spell
Woo Sian Boon and Kenneth Tan Today Online 26 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE — Nurseries have seen their water bills balloon after they had to water their plants more frequently. Ponds that vegetable farms in Lim Chu Kang and Bukit Batok use to irrigate their crops are drying up. School fields have also been damaged.

Across the island, individuals, organisations and businesses have been affected by the record dry spell. With the dry weather expected to continue until the middle of next month, water consumption levels have already gone up in the past week.

In response to TODAY’s queries, national water agency PUB said it has observed a slight increase of about 15 million gallons per day in water usage on average last week, an amount equivalent to about 27 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Before showers in some parts of the island on the weekend of Feb 8 and 9, less than 1mm of rain had fallen on any day between Jan 13 and Feb 8. The 27-day dry spell is a new record, beating the previous mark of 18 days set in 2008.

At five nurseries and floriculture businesses along Thomson Road, the plants are being watered twice a day — up from the usual once daily. This has led to water bills doubling or even tripling in some cases.

Candy Floriculture Director Sharon Goh said: “Customers whom we do plant maintenance work for have also been complaining that their water bills have increased as they need to water their plants more. We can’t do anything about it, unless it rains.”

Some of the nurseries, including Green Gween Landscape Design & Construction, will be erecting additional solar netting to provide more shade for the plants. Green Gween owner John Gwee said: “If it doesn’t rain for another one, two months, it’ll be pretty bad for the industry.”

Hawaii Landscape Executive Director Lilian Koh said since last month, her monthly water bills have increased from the usual S$300 to about S$600. Noting that Singapore experienced wet weather during the same period last year, she said: “This dry spell is quite unusual.”

Vegetable farms are also feeling the impact. Eden Garden Farm owner Chan Yow Tiong, 62, said the pond at his farm has shrunk by half. “If it doesn’t rain for the next three weeks, we are in trouble,” he said.

Some farmers have seen a drop in their harvest. GHH Vegetables is producing only 3kg of vegetables per day, compared with the usual yield of 30 to 40kg, said its Business Development Manager Abby Ong, 26. As an interim measure, Ms Ong said the farm is buying vegetables from other farms to meet orders.

Yili Vegetation and Trading Managing Director Alan Toh said his farm’s harvest has gone down by 20 per cent. He added that he expects his water bill to increase as he has started using potable water to water his vegetables.

Trees across the island are largely still holding up quite well, the National Parks Board said. It noted that during this dry spell, there have been days that were unusually cool and less moisture was lost from the trees. Nevertheless, it has taken some measures, such as watering newly-planted young saplings and significant trees, such as Heritage Trees, with non-potable water.

The dry spell has also affected activities at some schools. TODAY understands that SJI Junior, for instance, has been conducting its Physical Education lessons in the school’s indoor hall. Its field has been damaged by the dry weather.

Meanwhile, a Ministry of Education spokesperson said the ministry has reminded schools to exercise extra care when conducting outdoor physical activities. For example, schools will provide frequent water breaks, before, during and after the physical activities, the spokesperson said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SIAU MING EN

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