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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