Best of our wild blogs: 5 Mar 14

Lady Yuen Peng McNeice Grad Fellowship for Biodiversity research in SE Asia from biodiversityconnections

Javan Mynas with yellow collars
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Singapore’s giant clams in the National Museum of Ireland!
from Neo Mei Lin

"Spiders of Brunei Darussalam" - a great book for Singaporeans too! from wild shores of singapore

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Clear game rules needed to stop hazy deals

Mallika Naguran Today Online 5 Mar 14;

Singapore is tackling the haze blame game by introducing a penalty card — fine or jail sentence for errant companies that have been found to be directly or indirectly responsible for causing haze in the country.

The proposed Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill is intended to mitigate the year-after-year haze issue that enshrouds Singapore, causing immense healthcare, environmental and business-related costs.

The Bill, while timely and well-intended, fulfils only one end of the goal-keeping. A game can be played fairly and without dispute only if there are clear governing rules in the first place. No such rules exist for agriculture-based firms profiteering from stripping forests bare or burning existing plantations to make way for new ones.

Forests are home to at least 70 per cent of all land-based plants and animals, providing essential ecological benefits for human health, agricultural productivity and climate buffers. Forests help maintain soil fertility, protect watersheds and reduce the risk of natural disasters, such as floods and landslides, by regulating water supply and reducing soil erosion.

Protecting such a valuable natural resource should thus be a requirement that is worked into business regulations of agriculture-related firms registered in Singapore. Such companies, be they producers, traders or lenders, should demonstrate compliance with an international standard for sustainability, with strict environmental protection.


Knowing what rules to apply can come only with the understanding of the kind of players involved and their relationship dynamics. A resource trade cycle analysis model developed by Foundation Aidenvironment in the Netherlands sheds light on this community and links between the borderless demand, supply, production and consumption of natural-resource-based products. This includes the palm-oil industry, the main sector blamed for causing the haze.

Policy leverage is important arising from sustainability-driving forces such as governmental laws, non-governmental organisation (NGO) activism, the EU Renewable Energy Directive (which governs palm-oil sustainability in biofuel trade) and intergovernmental organisations such as the International Finance Corporation.

This sphere of influence towards sustainable palm-oil production should be extended to key players involved in capital flows (such as bankers and investors) as they grease the product flow particularly between traders, plantation owners, palm-oil producers and goods manufacturers.

Financial institutions, accountable for providing liquidity in upstream and downstream ventures of agriculture-based trade, can use their leverage to prevent deforestation and forest degradation. Banks can do this with strict engagement and investment policies for the agricultural sector (including forestry) and related trading companies, covering environmental impact, labour rights and human rights. The WWF’s Palm Oil Financing Handbook is a good reference for fund, investment and credit-risk managers.

Sustainability frameworks that are in place include Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for forest management and tree-plantation operations, FSC Chain of Custody certification for entire wood product and processing chain, and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification. However, RSPO, being a voluntary and non-binding scheme, has revealed loopholes and limitations and, as such, must not be accepted as the ultimate green certification.

Clear regulations must exist on not siting investments in protected areas, High Carbon Stock Forests and areas with high conservation value. Along with that, respecting (land) rights of local communities and indigenous peoples is crucial. Whatever certification is chosen, an initial independent assessment of socio-environmental impact should be done to include the macro-impact of new plantations located in regions with existing ones. The Singapore Government could request for yearly compliance audit reports.

The sphere of influence causes ripple effects too. NGO activism recently pressured Kelloggs to impose stricter requirements on its suppliers to protect forests and peatlands, as well as respect community rights. Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm-oil trader and RSPO-certified member, was pressured by its buyer Kelloggs and has tightened its sustainability policies within its supply chain, for example, for oil palm planters and producers in Indonesia.


A Greenpeace study in the Netherlands in 1999 revealed that many plantation companies that were clients of Dutch commercial banks were involved in social and environmental issues in Indonesia. The study showed that financiers were able to influence their clients’ environmental policies, but lacked internal policies to do so. Under NGO pressure in 2002, all Dutch banks signed a simple statement of intent to declare that no financial services would be made available to errant plantation firms that were involved in illegal activities, deforestation, open burning or social conflicts.

A Friends of the Earth study in 2006, however, found that Dutch banks performed poorly in implementing such policies. Commercial banks then funded BankTrack, an independent NGO, to focus on banks’ compliance with Equator Principles — a risk management framework for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risks in projects.

The Singapore Government could likewise facilitate the setting up of a similar non-governmental watchdog here, with the support of the financial industry. Its role would be to support and monitor agri-businesses’ documentation of licences, land-concession maps, supply-chain partner lists, sustainability certifications and audits.

In tackling the haze issue, strengthening the law is one aspect of ensuring responsible behaviour by companies. A more critical element is to govern product and capital flows, so agriculture-related businesses will play according to the rules.


Mallika Naguran is a university researcher on sustainability and the founder of Gaia Discovery

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The driest month since 1869 for Singapore

Channel NewsAsia 4 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: The prolonged dry weather affecting Singapore since mid-January 2014 has set a new record for the driest month since 1869.

At the Changi climate station, the rainfall total recorded in February 2014 was 0.2mm, breaking the previous record low of 6.3 mm in February 2010.

During the month, there were only seven days of short showers that occurred between February 7 and 19, mainly in the western parts of Singapore.

The total rainfall across 64 rainfall stations ranged from 45 per cent to 100 per cent below the long-term average of 161.0mm for February -- about half of the stations, mostly in the southern and eastern areas, recorded monthly rainfall totals below 10.0mm.

Besides being the driest month ever, February was also the most windy month in the last 30 years.

An average daily wind speed of 13.3 km/h was recorded in February.

At the Changi climate station, the average daily wind speed of 13.3 km/h recorded in February exceeded the previous high of 12.5 km/h in January 1985.

The prolonged dry conditions have also set a new record for the lowest average daily relative humidity of 74.5 per cent. The previous record low for February and any month of the year was 76.9 per cent in February 1968, and 74.6 per cent in June 2013 respectively.

NEA said the last day of significant rainfall was on February 16, when between 0.2 and 29.0mm was recorded in various parts of the island.

Since then, there has been little or no rainfall, with Singapore entering another dry spell on February 17. This follows the 27-day long dry spell between January 13 and February 8, 2014.

The highest recorded rainfall total since February 17 was 19.2mm at Lim Chu Kang Road.

The brief showers in parts of western Singapore on Monday were not widespread enough to break the current dry spell.

The dry weather affecting Singapore and the surrounding region is expected to persist in the first half of March 2014. There may be localised showers in the afternoon on a few days, and rainfall is expected to be well below average.

Fair and warm conditions are forecast for Singapore. The prevailing northeasterly winds are also forecast to remain steady over this period.

NEA said with the expected onset of the Inter-Monsoon in the second half of March 2014, the winds in the region will turn light and variable in direction. Increased rainfall can be expected in the later part of the month.

With the dry weather expected to continue, national water agency PUB has started a public campaign to urge everyone to conserve water.

PUB has sent circulars to 25,000 non-domestic customers -- including the town councils, Management Corporation Strata Title (MCSTs), commercial and industrial buildings, government buildings and schools -- to advise them to make adjustments and embark on water-saving measures.

Measures like cutting down the washing of cars and irrigation of plants, as well as switching off water features and fountains will help reduce water usage.

The public is also advised to save water by taking showers under five minutes, washing clothes on a full load and reusing water for non-potable uses.

NEA said the amount of water saved will help stretch Singapore's limited water resources longer.

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

- CNA/ac

Singapore endures driest month since 1869
Today Online 4 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE — The prolonged dry weather affecting Singapore since mid-January has set a new record for the driest month since 1869, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement today (March 4).

At the Changi climate station, the rainfall total recorded last month was 0.2mm, breaking the previous record of 6.3 mm in February 2010.

During the month, there were only seven days of short duration showers between Feb 7 and 19, mainly in the western parts of Singapore. The rainfall totals across 64 rainfall stations range from 45 per cent to 100 per cent below the long-term average of 161.0mm for February. About half the stations, mostly in the southern and eastern areas, recorded monthly rainfall totals below 10.0mm.

Apart from being the driest month ever, last month was also the windiest month in the last 30 years.

At the Changi climate station, the average daily wind speed of 13.3 km/hr recorded last month exceeds the previous high of 12.5 km/hr in January 1985. The prolonged dry conditions have also set a new record for the lowest average daily relative humidity of 74.5 per cent. The previous record low for February and any month of the year was 76.9 per cent (Feb 1968) and 74.6 per cent (June 2013) respectively.

The last day of significant rainfall was on Feb 16, when between 0.2 and 29.0 mm was recorded in various parts of the island. Since then, there has been little or no rainfall, with Singapore entering another period of dry spell on Feb 17. This follows the 27-day long dry spell between Jan 13 and Feb 8. The highest recorded rainfall total since Feb 17 was 19.2mm at Lim Chu Kang Road. The brief showers in parts of western Singapore yesterday were not widespread enough to break the current dry spell.

The dry weather affecting Singapore and the surrounding region is expected to persist in the first half of March 2014. There may be localised showers in the afternoon on a few days, and rainfall is expected to be well below average. Fair and warm conditions are forecast for Singapore. The prevailing northeasterly winds are also forecast to remain steady over this period. With the expected onset of the Inter-Monsoon in the second half of March 2014, the winds in the region will turn light and variable in direction. Increased rainfall can be expected in the later part of the month.

With the dry weather expected to continue, the national water agency (PUB) has started a public campaign to urge everyone to conserve water.

PUB has sent circulars to 25,000 non-domestic customers — including the town councils, Management Corporation Strata Title, commercial and industrial buildings, government buildings and schools — to advise them to make adjustments and embark on water-saving measures.

PSI inches into moderate range
Channel NewsAsia 4 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) on Tuesday inched above 50 into the 'moderate' range for the first time in more than two months.

As of 6pm, the 3-hour PSI reading was 55.

The 3-hour PSI reading first hit 51 past 11am before going down again before 2pm.

The 24-hour PSI, which reflects PSI readings over a 24-hour period, was between 42 and 50 at 6pm.

Singapore saw its PSI reading hit a record 401, which is in the 'hazardous' range, last June.

Separately, the Ministry of Health (MOH) assured the public that there are sufficient N95 masks, if the haze returns.

Parliamentary Secretary for Health Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim gave the assurance in Parliament on Tuesday.

He said N95 masks are currently available at major retail outlets.

"If you look at the inventory of the major retailers, we have about 280,000 N95 masks...Nevertheless, for the national stockpile, we have 16 million N95 masks," said Dr Faishal.

The MOH has also worked with the People's Association on plans to distribute the N95 masks to the needy through grassroots organisations.

Dr Faishal also said the criteria for the distribution of masks will be reviewed together with the relevant ministries.

He was responding to a question by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, Yee Jenn Jong, on the stock of N95 masks.

Dr Faishal also urged the public to follow the recommendations in health advisories issued by the Ministry of Health during a haze situation.

N95 masks are generally not needed for short exposure, such as commuting from home to school or work.

They are also not needed in an indoor environment.

- CNA/ir

Dry spells trouble
Callie Kwong The New Paper AsiaOne 5 Mar 14;

The prolonged dry spell is creating a dwindling supply situation for vegetable sellers here.

Their supplies are costing more and most sellers have absorbed the additional cost, but they are warning that they cannot do it much longer and will have to increase their prices.

Mr Law Song Nam, the vice-chairman of the Singapore Fruits and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Association, said he expects the prices of vegetables "like bok choy, kai lan and watercress to go up for us by 10 per cent" this week.

The dry spell has hit Kota Tinggi hard. This is where most of the vegetables imported from Johor are grown, said the 66-year-old.

The authorities in Malaysia have also begun rationing water in Selangor, Malaysia's most populous state, as the dry spell continues to deplete reservoirs.

The situation is affecting sellers on both sides of the Causeway.

"There are no red chillies, bitter gourds and long beans... there's just no stock," said Mr Ng Poh Xiong, 24, a vegetable stallholder in Johor Baru.

In Singapore, vegetable sellers at the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Market last week said they have also been affected.

Said a vegetable seller in his 60s who did not want to be named: "Supplies actually started decreasing one to two weeks ago, but it only became quite serious since Wednesday."

He said supply has gone down "by 20 to 30 per cent and prices have gone up".


He has not passed on the increase to customers, but said it will be hard to sustain the losses.

Another seller, who has 30 years of experience, said she imports all her vegetables from Malaysia and that prices have gone up by 10 cents to 40 cents, depending on the type of vegetable.

The seller, who did not want to be named, said the prices of those items running low in stock in Malaysia, such as red chilli, have gone up the most.

"The price of red chillies have gone up 40 cents because there is not enough water," she told The New Paper in Mandarin.

"I cannot raise the prices, customers won't buy if they (the vegetables) are too expensive. They would rather buy from supermarkets.

"I have been in the business for many (the wholesale centre) used to be bustling with people, now there are few customers."

Prices in supermarket chains like FairPrice and Sheng Siong have remained constant over the week, said their respective spokesmen.

But Sheng Siong's spokesman added that it saw a 12 per cent increase in the prices of bitter gourds and long beans from Malaysia.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said it is monitoring the situation in Malaysia closely.


Local farmers are also feeling the effects.

"Some of my vegetables are not growing well due to the dry weather... in a month they may be problematic, and I won't be able to sell them," said Mr Wong Kok Fah, 52, the owner of Kok Fah Technology Farm.

At his farm, large amounts of soil are dug up from the ground to create rainwater catchments. Rainwater collected is used to water vegetables.

Mr Wong, who has more than 30 years of experience in the sector, said he has seen his share of dry spells, but this is the worst by far.

This is the first time his rainwater catchment levels have gone below the halfway mark, which he said is "very dangerous" as he relies solely on rainwater.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), just 75.4mm of rain in January and 0.2mm last month (to Feb 25) was recorded at NEA's Changi climate station, compared to the long-term averages of 242.4mm and 161mm, respectively.

Mr Wong said the remaining rainwater will last him another two weeks to one month.

"I hope the rain comes soon," he said.

Firms reel as Feb declared driest month on record
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 5 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — With February being the driest month in Singapore since 1869, some businesses have moved to cut their water use by deferring non-essential cleaning operations, while the PUB has temporarily closed off the water play areas at Marina Barrage, Alexandra Canal and Lower Seletar Reservoir to conserve water.

Others, such as vegetable farmers, have fewer mitigation options at their disposal — their prospects of delivering a harvest next month are withering as their water supplies dwindle, and they expect to be hit hard in the pocket from higher water bills and low crop yield.

Yesterday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said there were only seven days of short showers last month, which occurred between Feb 7 and 19, mainly in the country’s western areas, providing a brief respite from the record 27-day dry spell between Jan 13 and Feb 8.

A dry spell occurs when less than 1mm of rainfall is registered daily over an extended period of at least 15 consecutive days.

Half of Singapore’s 64 rainfall stations recorded under 10mm of rainfall, compared to the long-term average of 161mm for February. At the Changi climate station, only 0.2mm of rain was recorded last month, breaking the previous record of 6.3mm registered in February 2010.

Singapore is in the grip of another dry spell that began on Feb 17, which was not relieved by the brief showers on Monday. The PUB has sent circulars to 25,000 non-domestic customers urging them to carry out water-saving measures. Developer City Developments (CDL) is among those that have taken extra steps to manage water usage, such as by deferring scheduled external facade cleaning and turning off or shortening the operating period of some water features at its buildings.

Vegetable farmers TODAY spoke to said there was little they could do beyond turning on the tap to water their crops — a costlier move — as their irrigation ponds dry up.

Managing Director of Yili Vegetation and Trading Alan Toh, 50, said he expects his monthly water bill to double next month from the usual S$500. He estimates that the water supply from his pond will last for another three days and is putting off planting more seedlings until the situation improves. “Right now, I’m topping up my pond with tap water and recycling water by using what we use to wash our vegetables to water my crops. We are also cutting down on the amount of water we use when watering the crops,” he said.

Mr Tan Koon Hua, 45, owner of Farm 85 Trading, said the dry spell has already led to his yield dropping by “20 to 30 per cent” at his 12ha farm in Lim Chu Kang. “There’s nothing we can do except hope and pray that it will rain,” he said.

Pointing out that the farmers had faced a similar situation during a dry spell in 2008, Kranji Countryside Association President Ivy Singh-Lim said the authorities should look into long-term solutions to help them cope.

She said: “Five years ago, a similar situation happened and the authorities came in to say that they will be digging more ponds to help the farmers with their irrigation problems. But then it rained and nobody followed up after. They should be looking at long-term solutions — don’t wait for another drought to happen.”

Mrs Singh-Lim said the association members had met the PUB last Friday to discuss solutions and it had offered to sell the farmers non-potable water at S$0.25 per cubic metre. The farmers, however, will have to fork out money for trucks to transport the water.

Said Mrs Singh-Lim: “The water is very cheap ... but the trucking will cost more than S$300 (to carry about 13 cubic metres). Potable water costs, if you add all the taxes and tariffs, if worst comes to worst, costs S$2 per cubic metre. So we might as well use tap water.”

As an interim measure, she suggested the authorities partially waive the affected farmers’ water bills to help tide them over this period, such as by charging them the price of raw water instead of potable water. “The farmers will have to bite the bullet and pay, but I hope that PUB can seriously consider giving them a discount.”

The NEA reiterated that the dry weather affecting the region is expected to persist into the first half of this month, with increased rainfall only expected in the later part of March.

Health Ministry has 16 million N95 masks in national stockpile
Zhe Ying Today Online 5 Mar 14;

The Ministry of Health has 16 million N95 masks stowed away and this national stockpile will be released to retailers and grassroots organisations to meet public demand if the haze situation escalates.

This is in addition to 280,000 masks already in the inventories of major retailers here, said Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Transport Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, who shared this in Parliament yesterday in response to a question from Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Yee Jenn Jong.

Singapore’s air quality crept into the “moderate” range for the first time since August, as the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings climbed to 51 at 11am yesterday.

The 24-hour PSI reading was 44 to 51 as at 9pm, while the three-hour reading was 53. In a statement yesterday, the National Environment Agency said the slightly elevated readings were probably due to local wind convergence over land areas, contributing to the accumulation of particulate matter. Forty-eight hot spots were detected in Sumatra yesterday.

“For the next few days, the prevailing north-easterly winds will keep any transboundary haze from Sumatra away from Singapore. However, we may experience occasional slight haze due to the accumulation of particulate matter under stable atmospheric conditions,” an NEA spokesperson said.

Last year, when the Republic experienced its worst-ever haze episode, N95 masks were sold out at some retail outlets, sparking off panic and frustration. Singapore had a stockpile of nine million masks last June, of which 4.15 million were distributed in the same month.

Yesterday, Associate Professor Faishal assured that sufficient masks are available, noting that 1.7 million masks were “forward-positioned” to retailers and the community centres and clubs in January due to heightened volcanic activity in Indonesia.

Asked by Mr Yee about N95 masks for children, Assoc Prof Faishal said there is currently no such model in the market, adding that N95 masks are generally not needed for periods of short exposure such as commuting.

“Nevertheless we are very mindful about our workers, especially those doing essential services. We have worked with organisations to look at how we can facilitate the distribution and usage of N95 masks when the haze situation comes to a very unhealthy situation,” he said.

Few drops if rain not a reason to splash away
Feng Zengkun and Audrey Tan The Straits Times 6 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - Despite the brief but welcome return of rain to Singapore on Monday, heavy water users such as town councils and petrol station car wash operators vowed to press on with conservation measures.

Shell even took the precaution of watering the dry grass patches around its petrol stations to prevent potential fire hazards.

At least five of Singapore's 16 town councils have reduced their neighbourhood cleaning or implemented water-saving plans after the dry spell from Jan 13 to Feb 8 - one of the longest on record.

Shell and Exxon Mobil have also told their service attendants, such as car wash operators, to conserve water. A manual car wash attendant at an SPC petrol station in Braddell said part of its washing process used to involve splashing buckets of water on the cars.

He and his colleagues now use a hose that sprays less water.

Ang Mo Kio Town Council (TC) chairman Lam Pin Min said its water-saving measures - which include telling contractors to use rain and drainage water for plants and shrubs - will remain for now.

"It's great news that it rained," he told The Straits Times on Monday after the brief drizzle in western Singapore. "Hopefully this is not transient and there will be more rain in the coming weeks.

"But meanwhile we will still advise the contractors to exercise due care when using water."

Holland-Bukit Panjang TC will wash its multi-storey carparks "as and when required" instead of monthly, while Moulmein-Kallang TC will mop common areas "where feasible" instead of washing them, among other measures.

Tampines TC has stopped washing its common corridors and staircases. Its chairman, Mr Baey Yam Keng, urged residents to help keep the areas clean. "Due to the prolonged dry weather, Tampines Town Council is doing its part to conserve water," he said in a Facebook post on Monday.

Pasir Ris-Punggol TC chairman Zainal Sapari called for the suspension of monthly block washing, although it will still wash blocks selectively when needed.

He told The Straits Times this reduced cleaning will continue, adding: "Some slight rain doesn't mean the dry spell is over."

The National Environment Agency previously estimated that the dry spell would "persist into the first half of March". It stuck to this forecast on Monday after the showers, but added that while "mainly fair and warm" weather is expected for the next few days, rain may fall in western Singapore in the late afternoon on Tuesday.

National water agency PUB said it will continue to encourage businesses and people to conserve water. It has sent advice to nearly 400 home owners with high water usage, offering tips such as taking showers within five minutes, putting thimbles on taps and washing vegetables in a filled sink rather than under a running tap.

In the past two weeks, it has also started giving out 25,000 advisories to heavy water users such as shopping malls, hotels, wafer fabrication plants and landscaping firms.

The advisories urge them to reduce water use with measures such as switching off water features like fountains, and re-using water for non-drinking purposes.

When seven hotels including Marina Bay Sands and The Westin Singapore were asked whether they would roll out additional water- saving measures in the light of the dry weather, they pointed only to existing ones, such as installing low-flow tap and shower fittings, that had been implemented before the dry spell.

Two of the hotels, Hotel Fort Canning and Parkroyal On Pickering, said however that they have started reminding guests of the dry weather when explaining their water-saving policies. These include changing bed sheets and linen only on alternate days unless instructed otherwise.

Surprise showers all too brief

Unexpected light showers fell across western Singapore late Monday afternoon, in the first significant rainfall since early last month.

Drizzle fell briefly from 4.45pm to 5.30pm, bringing relief in Jurong, Tuas and Choa Chu Kang.

The Meteorological Service Singapore said the 0.2mm to 15.2mm of rain that fell was caused by local winds in the area converging.

But "dry weather conditions are expected to persist in the first half of March", it reiterated.

Residents found their joy as short-lived as the rain.

"I was so happy," said Jurong West resident Madam Rasidah Mohd Nor, 54. "But after only 20 minutes it stopped. Now it's hot again and the roads have already dried up."

February sets record as driest month since 1869
David Ee The Straits Times AsiaOne 7 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - Bone-dry February has entered the record books as the country's driest month in nearly 150 years, and the windiest in three decades, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA).

A paltry 0.2mm of rain was recorded last month at Changi climate station.

This is the least that has fallen since 1869, and is well below the previous record of 6.3mm recorded in February 2010 and the mean February rainfall of 161mm.

Rain fell on just seven days, with about half of the NEA's 64 rainfall stations recording under 10mm of rain. Average wind speeds, meanwhile, gusted at 13.3kmh, versus the February average of 8.8kmh.

The second month of the year typically has cool, windy and drier weather, owing to the dry phase of the north-east monsoon.

Indeed, last month was also one of the least humid, the NEA said yesterday. The mean daily relative humidity of 74.5 per cent was the lowest ever, shaving the previous record of 74.6 per cent measured last June.

Humidity in Singapore usually averages between 82 and 87 per cent. But mean daily maximum temperatures edged up nearly a degree to 31.9 deg C.

National University of Singapore weather researcher Winston Chow said the extent of dryness last month was "worrying", but without more research cannot be seen as a sign of things to come.

At Changi Sailing Club, the winds were a boon for sailors but caused havoc at the Coachman Inn Restaurant. Manager Steven Lim said: "We had tablecloths blowing away, glasses breaking."

Yet diners made the most of the breeze so business went up by 30 per cent, he said.

The dry spell lasted 27 days from Jan 13 to Feb 8, making it one of the longest on record.

The NEA said the country is in a second dry spell now, defined as a period of more than 14 days with less than 1mm of rain, taking into account readings at all of its rainfall stations.

The brief showers on Monday "were not widespread enough" to break the dry spell, it said, without explaining fully.

National water agency PUB has sent 25,000 circulars asking organisations to save water.

The lack of rain has affected fruit harvests in Malaysia, and some sellers in Singapore have raised the prices of watermelons and papayas by as much as 25 per cent.

More of the same fair, warm and windy conditions are expected till mid-March, with rain predicted towards the month's end.

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Govt not profiteering from higher granite stockpile price, says Khaw

Today Online 5 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — The Government is not profiteering from its recent move to raise the granite stockpile price from S$30 to S$50 a tonne, as it did not set up the national stockpile as a business.

Rather, the move is to incentivise importers to buy from other sources and to ensure that construction projects here can continue without a hitch, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a blog post yesterday.

Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah had, during yesterday’s debate on the Budget Statement, pointed to profiteering by coffee shops as they raised beer prices well above the increased excise duty — “a fair point”, wrote Mr Khaw.

“However, she wandered off by asking if the Government was also profiteering when it raised the granite stockpile price from $30 to $50 per tonne. Of course, not!” he wrote.

“The Government did not set up the granite stockpile as a business. The issue of profit is not a relevant consideration because the motive in setting up such a stockpile is to help the industry cope with sudden shortages in granite.”

The Government had released granite from the national stockpile last month to help ease a temporary shortage that has led to delays in some construction projects here.

In January, the Indonesian government imposed a global ban on a wide range of mineral exports.

At about the same time, the country stopped shipping granite aggregate here — a sudden, but “hopefully temporary”, disruption in supply, Mr Khaw said.

As it is not clear if the disruption was temporary or permanent, Mr Khaw said the Government had urged the industry to ramp up supply from sources further afield.

“As these sources would be more costly, we served notice to the industry in early February by indicating that the stockpile price would be raised after one month,” he added.

“In this way, we ensured continuous operation for the industry for one month with pricing stability at S$30 per tonne, while they start to make arrangements to ramp up supply from other sources.”

Mr Khaw said the consideration in setting the stockpile price was not about profit margins, but about ensuring the industry is incentivised to actively source for alternative supply sources.

“If the stockpile price is set too low, there will be no reason for importers to go for other (more costly) sources.

“And if they do not do so, we will rapidly deplete our stockpile and there will be no buffer to help the industry should a similar disruption of another supply source occur,” he added.

Mr Khaw said the release of the stockpile is a contingency measure to help the industry cope, while it contracts and imports from alternative sources of supply.

“The stockpile cannot be a convenient permanent alternative source of supply for the industry,” the minister said.

“The new stockpile price is not (meant for) profiteering, but to incentivise importers to procure and buy from distant sources, to ensure our construction industry can continue seamlessly despite the Indonesian disruption.”

Granite prices raised to incentivise industry to look for alternative sources: Khaw
Channel NewsAsia 4 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: The government raised the granite stockpile price from S$30 to S$50 per tonne in March because it wanted to incentivise the construction industry to actively look for alternative supply sources.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan made this point in a blog post, after Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah asked in Parliament on Tuesday if the government was profiteering by raising granite stockpile price.

Mr Khaw said the government set up the granite stockpile to help the industry cope with sudden shortages in granite.

The release of the stockpile is a contingency measure to help the industry cope while they contract and import from alternative sources of supply.

He said the stockpile cannot be a convenient permanent alternative source of supply for the industry.

Singapore imports granite mainly from its immediate neighbouring countries, as well as from other regional sources.

Recently, there was a sudden disruption in granite supply from Indonesia. The government then decided to release the stockpile at S$30 per tonne to help industry tide over the disruption.

Mr Khaw said it was not clear if the disruption was temporary or permanent, so the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) urged the industry to ramp up supply from other sources.

As these sources would be more costly, the BCA notified the industry in early February that the stockpile price would be raised in March.

Mr Khaw said this way, there will be continuous operation for the industry for one month with pricing stability at S$30 per tonne, while they start making arrangements to ramp up supply from other sources.

He said in setting the stockpile price, the consideration is not about profit margins but about ensuring the industry is incentivised to actively buy granite from distant sources.

He explained that if the stockpile price is set too low, there will be no reason for importers to go for other more costly sources. And if they do not source for an alternative supply of granite, Singapore will rapidly deplete its stockpile and there will be no buffer to help the industry should a similar disruption of another supply source occur.

Mr Khaw said the industry should fully understand this as the government has made it clear from the outset when the granite stockpile was released to help them in the transition to ramp up supply from distant sources.

- CNA/ac

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Gutter oil reports spark food safety concerns

Hu Jielan Channel NewsAsia 4 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Some members of public have raised their concerns over food safety after reports that individuals have been extracting used cooking oil from sewers, and which may have been used by hawkers subsequently.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said it conducted checks at food shops and food stalls to ascertain that the ingredients used, including cooking oil, are from approved or licensed sources, and actions will be taken against operators who flout the rules.

It added that there have been no previous instances of food shops or food stalls using cooking oil from illegal sources in the past five years.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has said samples of oil and food products from manufacturers are regularly taken for laboratory testing to ensure compliance.

It added that enforcement action will be taken against food manufacturers who do not comply with the requirements and contaminated products will be destroyed.

The safety concerns were sparked when netizens posted several photos that allegedly show staff from a company named "Oil Village", extracting what is known as gutter oil, from grease traps near hawker centres in Bukit Panjang.

But the company is not on a list released by NEA in February of firms that are licensed to open grease traps or deal with waste oil.

NEA said it is investigating the incident.

- CNA/de

Men collecting 'gutter oil' flee police
MyPaper 5 May 14;

SINGAPORE - Two men extracting used oil in Toa Payoh on Monday morning bolted when police approached, Lianhe Zaobao reported.

The boss of the company the men work for claimed that they held a licence from the National Environment Agency (NEA). But the name of the company, Oil Village Singapore, was not found on the agency's list of licensed waste collectors on its website, the Chinese daily said.

There have been several reports of such instances of oil collection, including one of a man and a woman extracting waste oil in Jurong West. The NEA is investigating these reports.

At about 7.50am on Monday, the police received reports that two men were collecting used oil from the sewers near the market and food centre at Block 74 in Toa Payoh Lorong 4.

When police officers arrived at the scene, the men ran away.

Ms Feng, who operates the drinks stall at the food centre, said that the men ran right past her stall. "I was taking coffee to a customer when I saw a man fly past, then another man following close behind. They looked like they were running for their lives. Three or four policemen were after them."

She also said that men have been collecting waste oil every week or so, but she did not know if they were the same men.

"They come usually at 6am with long tubes and a metal drum. They finish siphoning the oil in 10 to 15 minutes, and leave before day breaks," she said.

Other hawkers at the food centre said this has been going on for about a year, and the extraction leaves a stench, but they always thought the men were legitimate waste collectors.

It was only when reports of "gutter oil" surfaced that they became worried. "Gutter oil" refers to used cooking oil reclaimed from drains which is re-used after being filtered.

Zaobao understands that the men escaped the police's pursuit, but their boss, Mr Huang, was questioned on Monday afternoon.

Mr Huang told Zaobao that his company has been around for 10 years and is licensed by the NEA. He claimed that its oil collection is legal, and the waste oil is sold to Malaysian companies to process into diesel fuel.

Asked why his workers bolted, he said they were worried they would be "beaten up" when they saw "a group of people" approaching.

The NEA said that there are about 60 companies licensed to collect waste oil in Singapore, and they are required to use a vacuum truck to collect the oil. The environment agency said that there have not been any reported cases of hawkers using "gutter oil" for cooking in the last five years.

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Malaysia: Haze Shrouds Malaysian Capital Amid Forest Fires and Drought

Chong Pooi Koon and Manirajan Ramasamy Bloomberg News 4 Mar 14;

Smoke from forest and peat-soil fires drove air quality to unhealthy levels in and around Malaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur today, adding to the burden of water rationing after a month-long drought.

The government’s air pollutant index climbed to as high as 137 in Port Klang this morning, with seven parts of Kuala Lumpur and the states of Selangor and Negri Sembilan recording levels above 100, which is classified as unhealthy. Cloud-seeding has begun to induce rainfall over dams and water-catchment areas, the Star reported today, citing Malaysia’s Meteorological Department.

“We are trying to identify fire-prone areas, especially peat-soil land and steps are being taken,” G. Palanivel, Malaysia’s natural resources and environment minister, said in a text message to Bloomberg News today.

Disputes over haze flare up regularly between Indonesia and its neighbors. The latest was in June, when smog in Singapore reached a record because of Indonesian forest fires. The pollution now blanketing Kuala Lumpur isn’t being caused by this, Malaysia’s Department of Environment said.

“The medium-level of haze that the country is experiencing now is due to internal sources resulting from land and forest fires in a few states,” the government said in a statement on its website. “The chances of Peninsular Malaysia experiencing cross-border haze at this time are low because of the wind patterns.”
Riau Emergency

Officials in Indonesia’s Riau province declared a state of emergency last month due to forest fires causing local haze. About half of those burning are on land managed by oil palm, timber and logging companies, according to a report today by the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Parliament in neighboring Singapore, which has suffered drought since Jan. 13, discussed today whether the country had sufficient face masks if conditions escalate. Air quality deteriorated to “moderate” from “good” in the city-state today, the National Environment Agency said.

An El Nino weather pattern may occur in the coming months, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said on Feb. 25. This could parch growing areas in commodities-producing countries including Malaysia and Indonesia.

Drought may curb palm oil output, tighten inventory and push up prices, PT Mandiri Sekuritas analysts including Rizky Hidayat wrote in a report today. Palm oil futures rose have risen 5 percent this year on Bursa Malaysia Derivatives, touching an 17-month high yesterday on weather concerns.
El Nino

While the development of El Nino would affect production, Malaysia could meet its target for record palm oil output of 19.5 million tons this year, said Douglas Uggah Embas, Malaysia’s plantation industries and commodities minister.

“Water is a very important component of the palm oil plant,” said Embas in a Feb. 28 interview. “Any long stretch with a reduction of water definitely will have some impact. There will be a challenge.”

To help prevent future water shortages, Malaysia’s central government is preparing funding to help opposition-run Selangor state nationalize water assets in the region surrounding the capital and commission an additional treatment plant.

The drought’s fallout may lead to slower economic growth if it continues through March, Mustapa Mohamed, Malaysia’s international trade minister, said last week.

Peat fires and open burning causing haze
New Straits Times 5 Mar 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Peat fires and open burning are the main causes of the haze blanketing the west coast of the peninsula for the past few days.

Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department (operations and management) officer Yusri Basri said the department had been doing its best to put out the fires.

In Selangor alone, he said, 40 fires had been reported since Monday, with 234.4ha of land still on fire.

Firemen are still fighting peat fires in four areas, Bestarijaya, Elite Highway in Cyberjaya, Sungai Besar and Sungai Tengi.

Yusri said the number of peat fires and open burning had been on the rise in the past few days.

"The fires in most areas would probably stop if we get continuous rain, whether natural or through cloud seeding."

In Ipoh, state Environment Committee chairman Dr Muhamad Amin Zakaria said open burning, dust from earth works and vehicle movements had resulted in the haze and Air Pollutant Index (API) reading in Seri Manjung to hit unhealthy levels on Monday.

However, the reading improved slightly yesterday morning.

Amin said the bad air quality in Taiping, which recorded an API reading of 100 on Monday, was caused by the dry spell, open burning and a faulty smoke control system at a factory.

The factory is about 700m from the Department of Environment (DoE) monitoring station.

In Alor Star, the state DoE advised against open burning, saying that those caught face a maximum compound of RM500,000 or jail term of up to five years.

Its director, Mohamad Sayuti Sepeai, said the department had issued seven compounds totalling RM20,300 for burning domestic waste in the open. Each offender was slapped with compounds of between RM100 and RM12,000.

"We will not compromise as such activity has contributed to the air pollution and worsening haze situation in the state," he said.

On Monday, the API reading in Sungai Petani hit 99, a point short of reaching the unhealthy level.

However, the air quality in the state improved slightly yesterday as the API readings went down and remained at moderate levels.

In Pekan, the authorities fear the prolonged dry spell could trigger more bush and peat fires in Pahang, which has the biggest peat swamps in the peninsula.

Compounding the matter is that most peat swamps had dried up, exposing them to natural fire which could spread to other areas and last for weeks.

Hundreds of Fire and Rescue Department personnel have been working around-the-clock to douse fires in the state, which had destroyed large tracts of forests, particularly at dried-up peat swamps.

Villagers in the vicinity have been forced to remain indoors as strong winds drove the smoke over their homes and reducing visibility in certain areas.

In Seremban, Negri Sembilan DoE has activated the Open Burning Preventive Action Plan to deal with the worsening haze.

State DoE director Charanpal Singh said the department was monitoring all landfills in the state to ensure no open burning was carried out.

He said the department didn't want a recurrence of last year's blaze in the 2.8ha Pajam solid waste disposal dump in Nilai.

Charanpal added that DoE officers were patrolling eight dumpsites in the state around the clock, with extra attention given to the Pajam and Lukut landfills in Port Dickson.

"We are also monitoring industrial areas as factories there could contribute to the air pollution and worsen the haze."

Health Ministry issues haze advisory
New Straits Times 4 Mar 14;

THE Health Ministry has advised the public to stay indoors to avoid the heat and haze as well as to wear face masks as precautionary measures when outdoors.

Its director-general, Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, said the public should avoid open spaces under the heat and haze and to drink plenty of water to avoid health-related complications.

"Schools should also avoid conducting any outdoor activities during this period.

"Students should not be out for long hours under the heat and haze," he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

He added that the public should keep themselves updated on the Air Pollutant Index (API) of their respective areas regularly.

"Those who are likely to be affected by the haze, such as those who suffer from illness, should take full precautionary measures, including wearing face masks."

The ministry had earlier urged the public to take precautionary measures to reduce the risk of haze by wearing surgical masks.

This reminder was issued over the weekend as the haze began blanketing parts of the country.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam had said that although the API was not categorised as unhealthy in some areas, forest fires in other areas of the country could worsen the air quality.

"The public should take care of their health, avoid staying too long in the sun as well as drink plenty of boiled water when doing outdoor activities," said Subramaniam.

Rains next week may bring relief
New Straits Times 4 Mar 14;

THE prolonged dry spell, which caused water levels at rivers and dams nationwide to drop, and also contributed to the haze situation nationwide, may end next week at the earliest.

Malaysian Meteorological Department central forecast division director, Muhammad Helmi Abdullah said the inter-monsoon season, which is expected to begin next week and last until April will bring frequent rainfalls.

The season usually brings light and variable winds which could develop clouds, and subsequently lead to thunderstorms.

"The inter-monsoon season is expected to bring widespread rain, that will be more frequent in the afternoons and evenings in the peninsula as well as Sabah and Sarawak.

"The amount of rainfall is forecast to range between 100 millimetres and 300 millimetres this month, while next month it may range between 200 millimetres and 400 millimetres, which is a significant increase compared with the rainfall last month, " Helmi said.

However, a National Water Services Commission official said water rationing would only end if heavy rainfalls occur in water catchment areas, especially in critical spots such as rivers in the Klang Valley.

Cloud seeding produces heavy rain
New Straits Times 4 Mar 14;

SEVERAL areas in the Klang Valley received much-needed rainfall yesterday, thanks to the success of a cloud seeding operation by the Meteorological Department (MMD) and Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF).

The operation produced rain around the city centre, Hulu Langat and Gombak, beating the long dry spell and improving visibility in some haze-affected areas.

The rainfall in Hulu Langat and Gombak could have also contributed to the increased water level in the Langat and Klang Gates Dams.

Deputy Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Dr Abu Bakar Mohamad Diah said the cloud seeding operation focused on areas that had a suitable formation of cumulus clouds in the Klang Valley and not just near catchment areas.

"We hope residents in the affected areas will be pleased with the results, as the rainfall amount is forecast to be about 15 per cent more than the usual amount we get in March," he said, adding that Malaysia had conducted 128 cloud seeding operations since 1973 and held a 100 per cent success rate.

A Charlie C130 Hercules plane took off from the RMAF base in Subang at 2.30pm yesterday to carry out the operation, which took three hours.

It dispersed a sodium chloride solution into suitable cumulus clouds.

Results were seen as quickly as 30 minutes after the operation.

"We only proceed with cloud seeding if there is a more than 80 per cent success rate.

"This is why we are careful, and detailed research needs to be done before we carry out the operation," he said, adding that the rain would also improve visibility in the Klang Valley, which has been affected by the haze.

He said the ministry, MMD and RMAF would continue with the cloud seeding operation as long as the dry spell continued.

MMD director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said the current light and variable wind was favourable for the formation of towering cumulus clouds, which was the most suitable cloud for cloud seeding.

She said the cloud seeding was also done in non-catchment areas, as it would help decrease air pollution in the Klang Valley.

"We used to do cloud seeding only in catchment areas. But now, we need to kill two birds with one stone, as the haze has worsened over the past few days."

She said initially, cloud seeding operations were supposed to take place in other critical areas, such as Johor and Negri Sembilan, but the formation of cumulus clouds could not be seen on the radar.

The plane was flown by flight commander Major Tha Thian Khim, with officials from MMD and several RMAF crew members.

MMD Atmospheric Science and Cloud Seeding Division director Azhar Ishak said the second phase of cloud seeding would be carried out at 1pm today.

Minimal increase in water levels in 2 dams

SECOND ROUND: Yesterday's cloud seeding successful only in Seremban

KUALA LUMPUR: THE Semenyih and Klang Gates dams showed improved water levels with increases of 0.16m and 0.01m.

Drainage and Irrigation Department's Water Resources and Hydrology division director Datuk Hanapi Mohamad Noor said while the cloud seeding conducted by the Meteorological Department had proven successful, the increase in water levels in the dams was still minimal.

"We hope cloud seeding in the future will take place in catchment areas so that we can mitigate the decreasing water levels at dams quickly."

The water level at Klang Gates Dam was recorded at 89.88m, about 4m under the normal level, on Monday.

The dry spell has caused water levels at 20 dams and 21 rivers nationwide to dip between 0.3 and 1m since Feb 15.

The second round of cloud seeding, which focused on the southern part of the peninsula, was conducted yesterday.

Meteorological Department (MMD) Atmospheric Science and Cloud Seeding Division director Azhar Ishak said the operation focused on increasing water levels in water catchment areas.

He said 10 MMD and Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) personnel departed from the RMAF base in Subang at 3pm in a C-130 Hercules plane bearing four containers of liquid sodium chloride (salt) solution.

The operation which took an hour, began at 3.40pm in Malacca, covering Alor Gajah and Durian Tunggal.

It then concentrated on four areas in Negri Sembilan (Tampin, Rembau, Seremban and Semenyih) followed by the Klang Gates Dam in Hulu Kelang.

"Two-and-a-half tanks of salt solution were used in Malacca and Negri Sembilan, while the remaining 11/2 tanks in Hulu Kelang," he said.

However, Azhar said the cloud seeding was successful only in Seremban, where rain was reported from 4.30pm to 5.40pm.

More cloud-seeding flights are expected in Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor in the coming days. Additional reporting by Tharanya Arumugam and Mastura Yusoff

Sky may clear today
THARANYA ARUMUGAM New Straits Times 5 Mar 14;

BRIEF RESPITE: Met Dept expects haze to return in May when wind blows towards peninsula

KUALA LUMPUR: THE haze is expected to clear up from today, thanks to favourable forecasted winds.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department (MMD) is predicting a build-up of northeasterly winds from the South China Sea, which will blow the haze away from the peninsula towards Indonesia.

MMD director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said strong winds of up to 20 knots had been forecasted and this would help disperse haze particles enveloping the west coast of the peninsula and the central region.

Prior to this, the prolonged dry spell, coupled with almost zero wind and peat fires had contributed to a build-up of haze.

However, proactive measures, especially ongoing cloud-seeding, which resulted in rain in several areas, led to improved Air Pollutant Index (API) readings and better visibility.

Among the areas that saw rain yesterday were the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya; Kajang, Klang, Port Klang, Shah Alam, Subang Jaya, Petaling Jaya, Batang Berjuntai, Puchong, Sungai Buloh, Sabak Bernam, and Kuala Selangor in Selangor; and, Tanjung Malim in Perak.

At 5pm yesterday, only four areas recorded unhealthy API readings, compared with seven on Monday. The four are Nilai and Banting (both 114), Petaling Jaya (101), and Batu Muda (104).

All the areas recorded an improved API reading at 5pm, compared with their 1pm readings of 110, 129, 121 and 115, respectively.

Port Klang, which recorded the highest Monday API reading of 131, saw the index drop to 95 (moderate) yesterday.

The air quality in other areas that approached unhealthy levels were Shah Alam (96), Port Klang (95), Seremban (94) and Muar (90).

A reading of 0 to 50 is categorised as good, 51 to 100 is moderate, 101 to 200 is unhealthy, 201 to 300 is very unhealthy and 300 and above is hazardous.

Meanwhile, MMD commercial and corporate services division director Dr Mohd Hisham Mohd Anip said the expected heavy rain during the inter-monsoon season from mid-March to early May would put an end to the hot and dry spell.

The rain was also expected to help end peat fires that had been reported since the dry spell started earlier this year.

Hisham said MMD forecast rain intensity to increase from the middle of this month with the heaviest rain expected next month.

But the bad news is that the haze could return when the wind shift direction in May.

"This is when the southwesterly winds start blowing from Sumatra towards the peninisula, bringing with it the annual smoke and haze.

"If there is open burning there (Sumatra) again this year, then Malaysians can expect the haze to return from May onwards.

"This second wave of haze is inevitable. We are constantly monitoring the wind direction and would issue alerts if the haze occurs again," he said.

Asked if the forecasted showers from the middle of this month would end the water crisis in dams, Hisham said it would depend on the amount of rainfall.

"The decrease in water levels in the dams has been huge.

"Therefore, it all depends on how much rain we get when the monsoon starts," he said, adding that no one had expected a prolonged dry spell in the country.

The dry spell had resulted in the authorities imposing water rationing, with water supply being two days on, two days off in certain areas in Selangor and the Klang Valley.

The rationing is expected to last until the end of this month.

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Indonesia: Dumai students still on vacation due to haze

The Jakarta Post 4 Mar 14;

The Dumai Education Agency in Riau province has allowed students to stay on vacation as bad weather caused by haze is still affecting Dumai city.

The agency’s elementary and secondary education directorate head, Misdiono, said the government had asked schools to keep students on vacation until Tuesday.

“We’re allowing schools to keep students away as Dumai is still blanketed with clouds of haze,” Misdiono said as quoted by Antara news agency.

It was expected that students could return to school on Wednesday, but the administration would first monitor the situation, he added.

Misdiono said the policy was valid for all schools starting from early childhood education programs (PAUD) to senior high schools and other educational institutions at the same level.

“We’ve prioritized this policy for PAUD students and students in the early classes [grades 1-3] of elementary school,” he added.

Misdiono said the administration’s policy was aimed at anticipating negative health impacts of the haze from land and forest fires.

He acknowledged the bad weather affecting Dumai could affect student health and cause respiratory infections.

“Hopefully, the clouds of haze will soon disappear and students can attend learning activities at schools normally, because they have to attend national and school examinations in the near future,” said Misdiono. (yln/ebf)

Riau Forest Fire Haze Disrupts Flights in Medan
Arnold Sianturi Jakarta Globe 4 Mar 14;

A construction crew works as the sun sets amid hazy conditions from fires in Riau, Indonesian, on March 1, 2014. (AFP Photo/Sutanta Aditya)

A construction crew works as the sun sets amid hazy conditions from fires in Riau, Indonesian, on March 1, 2014. (AFP Photo/Sutanta Aditya)

Medan. The haze blanketing parts of Sumatra disrupted at least 28 flights at Medan’s new Kuala Namu International Airport over the weekend and is posing a danger to public health, officials said.

“Some flights even had to land in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,” Kuala Namu duty manager Djamal Amri said on Monday. “That happened until 9 p.m. on Sunday.”

Djamal said flights had to be delayed because visibility was less than 700 meters, which made conditions too dangerous for flying.

“Flights from Aceh to Kuala Namu had to land in Kuala Lumpur. Meanwhile, flights from Kuala Namu bound for Pekanbaru [in Riau province] also had to be delayed because Riau is the worst-hit area covered by haze,” Djamal said, adding that the haze that blanketed the areas around the airport was worst in the morning.

Hendra Suwarta, head of Medan’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) data and information division, said that the haze came from Riau and from Mandailing Natal and North Tapanuli districts in North Sumatra.

“The number of hot spots [in North Sumatra] was 57 out of a total of 1,052 spots in Sumatra. The condition has been made worse with the haze from Riau. The haze is also affecting public activities, including flights to and from Kuala Namu,” he said.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) on Sunday began using aerial firefighting methods in an effort to quell blazes that continued to burn for nearly a month in 12 districts and municipalities in Riau.

“The latest data shows that fires have spread across 7,972 hectares of land,” Riau haze emergency relief task force head Brig. Gen. Prihadi Agus Irianto said on Sunday.

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Climate forecast for Australia: hot days, higher fire risk, more severe droughts

State of the climate report predicts that, by 2030, Australia’s temperature will have risen by between 0.6C and 1.5C
Paul Farrell 3 Mar 14;

Lithgow bushfires Rural Fire Service volunteers unsuccessfully try to save a house from a bushfire north of Lithgow in October 2013. Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP

Australia’s temperature will continue to warm leading to decreases in rainfall in southern Australia, increasing numbers of hot days and higher fire risks and more severe drought conditions, according to the 2014 State of the Climate report.

The report is a joint undertaking by the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology, and found that Australia’s temperature is predicted to rise by 0.6C to 1.5C by 2030; in comparison, between 1910 and 1990 the temperature rose by 0.6C.

Both the length of the fire season and the risk of extreme fire weather has also increased since the 1970s. The level of rainfall has seen a gradual decline, with a 17% drop in winter rainfall in south-west Australia since 1970, which the report predicts will lead to more frequent and severe droughts.

“While natural variability likely plays a role, a range of studies suggest ozone depletion and global warming are contributing to circulation and pressure changes, most clearly impacting on the south-west. Uncertainties remain, and this is an area of ongoing research. ” the report says.

The report says a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions would “increase the chance of constraining future global warming”.

“The duration, frequency and intensity of heatwaves have increased across many parts of Australia, based on daily temperature records since 1950, when coverage is sufficient for heatwave analysis. Days where extreme heat is widespread across the continent have become more common in the past twenty years,” the report says.

The chief executive officer of the Climate Institute, John Connor, said the report showed the government needed to accept the risks of failing to act on climate change.

“The government’s self-identified ‘primary advisers’ on climate, BoM and CSIRO today clearly linked carbon emissions, climate change, fire and drought in stark contrast to their own reluctance to do so,” he said.

“This report from the government’s primary climate advisers should put an end to the reluctance of our political and business leaders to accept the risks and costs to Australia of inadequate climate action.”

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Endangered Sea Cucumbers For Sale In Sydney: The High Cost Of An Expensive Seafood Dinner

Chris Pash Business Insider Australia 5 Mar 14;
High-value sea cucumbers on sale in a luxury Asian seafood shop in Haymarket, Sydney. All of the species in this photograph are now listed as Vulnerable or Endangered. Photo: SW Purcell

Sea cucumbers which can fetch up to $500 a kilogram dried are so in demand by restaurants across Asia that some species face extinction.

New research published by The Royal Society today says over-exploitation has reduced wild populations of the most expensive species by more than 60%.

Lead author Dr Steven Purcell from Southern Cross University says certain sea cucumbers in Australia are at serious risk due to commercial fishing for export.

“Corals are not the only thing under grave threat on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef,” he says.

“Sea cucumbers have been severely over-exploited in fisheries in the Pacific, southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.”

He says sea cucumbers for sale in Sydney were probably all caught legally and under license in the Great Barrier Reef, Northern Territory, Torres Strait or the Coral Sea.

Poachers, attracted by the high prices for wild stock sea cucumbers, operate in Australian waters. Authorities have intercepted cargoes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sea cucumbers, also known as bech de mer, are used in Chinese food and are said to have aphrodisiac qualities.

Dr Purcell says 16 sea cucumber species are threatened with extinction on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List.

He says: "A study published last year showed evidence that high-value sea cucumber species have been serially depleted by commercial fishing on the Great Barrier Reef, attributed in part to unresponsive management and little baseline data on their population sizes."

Nine of the sixteen species now classified on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable or Endangered are found on the Great Barrier Reef.

“Most of those are currently, or have recently been, exploited,” he says.

“While I cannot say that the populations on the Great Barrier Reef are at immediate risk of extinction, the species are certainly at grave risk on a broader geographic scale.”

He says there should be greater investment into independent research to understand population numbers and effects of fishing on Australian reefs .

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