Committee of Supply 2014 - Speech by Minister of State Maliki Osman "Food Security"

MND Press Release 10 Mar 14;

Let me now touch on the issues raised by Ms Faizah Jamal and A/P Muhammad Faishal on food security.

Today, Singaporeans enjoy a steady supply of safe food at affordable prices. Our supermarkets’ shelves are never empty, and we can always find a place, be it a hawker centre or restaurant, to have our meals. Yet, like water and energy, we should never take our food availability for granted. We must continue to ensure our food supply resilience, especially when we import more than 90% of our food.

Madam Chair, food source diversification will continue to be our core strategy to ensure Singapore’s food security. This strategy has worked well when some supply sources are disrupted. For instance, the recent export ban of several species of fish by Malaysia had minimal impact on our fish supply as our importers were able to increase fish imports from other countries to meet our consumers’ demand. During the world rice shortage in 2008, Vietnam banned the export of rice but we had adequate supplies from different sources, and our rice stockpile provided the additional assurance of buffer stock.

While we actively open up overseas food sources to guard against supply disruptions, we have also supplemented our food imports by producing three key food items, namely, eggs, fish and leafy vegetables locally.

Ms Faizah has said that AVA gave a reply to a Forum Page letter in the Straits Times last year that Singapore aimed to be self-sufficient in these 3 key food items. This is incorrect. We have never aimed to be fully self-sufficient in these food items. We cannot, as we do not have enough farmland. AVA’s reply dated 23 February 2013 that Ms Faizah referred to, in fact said that we only aimed to achieve some degree of self-sufficiency in the production of these 3 key food items.

The reality in Singapore is that we have limited land with many competing uses. Hence, land for our local farming sector will remain small. Our focus will be on the key food farms, and we will work with these farmers to boost farm productivity in a sustainable manner, and to intensify the use of whatever limited farmland we have.

Ms Faizah asked about how the recent mass fish death incident has affected our aim of achieving self-sufficiency in fish supply and how much time is needed to recover from the loss. The recent mass fish death incident which saw losses of up to 500 metric tonnes of fish was indeed unfortunate. However, the impact to our food supply was minimal as our farms produced only 6% of the fish consumed in Singapore. AVA is assisting the affected farmers to get back onto their feet and resume production in the following ways.

First, AVA will fund 70% of the cost of restocking of frys and fingerlings to help the affected farms re-start their operations.

Second, AVA will increase its Food Fund’s co-funding support from 50% to 70% for the purchase of equipment and systems that farms can put in place to mitigate against similar incidents in future. These include aerators, oxygenators, generators, water treatment systems and water quality monitoring systems.

Third, AVA will review and strengthen the current alert system to quickly detect and warn farms of adverse environmental conditions which could affect their farm production.

Fourth, AVA will work with the fish farms to develop a more sustainable sea based farming system, so that they are less susceptible to changes in environmental conditions.

The mass fish death incident is a timely reminder to our fish farmers to enhance their production systems through technological innovation to safeguard against externalities, build up their resilience and to improve productivity.

Madam Chair, allow me to display a photo on the LED screen. One beneficiary of the Food Fund is the Metropolitan Fishery Group (MFG), a local fish farm which received about $570,000 for investments in solar powered aerators and water monitoring systems to enhance its operations. The investment has indeed paid off as the farm was not adversely affected by the recent mass fish deaths.

Ms Faizah also asked about rooftop gardens and whether there will be support for residents who wished to plant their own vegetables on rooftops. Such rooftop gardens are very much a community initiative and indeed, we are seeing the community gardening movement flourishing amongst our HDB residents.

HDB will set aside space at all new multi-storey carparks (MSCPs) rooftops, and equip them with planter beds and irrigation systems to facilitate community farming. Both AVA and NParks also conduct training for these community farmers. However, our experience shows that such initiatives require strong local champions who are passionate about community farming. The production capabilities of such community farms are also limited.

Let me now give an update of the work of the Inter-Ministry Committee on Food Security (or IMC in short), as requested by A/P Muhammad Faishal. Formed in 2012 under the purview of the National Security Coordinating Committee, the IMC is tasked to review and formulate strategies to mitigate food security risks and vulnerabilities. It started out focusing on two broad strategies – industry development and food wastage reduction. The IMC has engaged key stakeholders along the food supply chain, such as importers, processors, retailers and logistics players for their inputs.

The IMC recognises that there is room for the food industry to share resources and functions such as procurement, logistics or even equipment in order to boost productivity and efficiency.

We will also facilitate and encourage our food importers to move upstream and consider investment in farming, collection, processing or packaging to gain better control over product quality and supply. Some companies have started to do this, recognising the benefits of securing food at source. IE Singapore is in the process of, for example, assisting Chew’s Group Limited to set up an integrated aquaculture centre in China through grants and operational support. In this way, not only does Chew’s Group control the entire value chain, it can also gain access to one of the world’s largest seafood markets.

IE Singapore and AVA will continue to identify interested companies and match them with available opportunities for upstream investments in the region, expanding the source and supply of food back to Singapore.

The IMC also recognises that food wastage reduction can help enhance our food security by managing the demand for food. We must inculcate the right attitude and habit in not wasting food amongst all Singaporeans – young and old.

Today, households, food manufacturing and catering industries, food and beverage retail premises, hotels and shopping malls are the main food waste generators. In 2012, about 703,200 tonnes of food waste was generated in Singapore. This is equivalent to, on average of an individual wasting about 650 bowls of rice per year. Imagine how much food we can save to help the less fortunate and buffer us during times of emergencies!

All our stakeholders agree that more can be done to increase awareness of the need to reduce food wastage. The National Environment Agency (NEA) and AVA are now looking into developing a comprehensive public education outreach programme targeted at schools, community and retailers to reduce food wastage, especially in moderating the way we consume food.

Many of our stakeholders have already implemented their own initiatives to reduce food waste and are willing to do more. As part of IMC’s recommendations, several agencies such as NEA, AVA, and SPRING Singapore are developing guidelines for food manufacturers and retailers to help them identify areas along their supply chain to minimise food waste. We will consult the industry on these guidelines when ready. To implement these guidelines, companies can leverage on the existing NEA’s 3R Fund to reduce food wastage and promote more recycling.

Madam Chair, we have done well in sensitising Singaporeans to conserve water and energy. We should do likewise for food consumption.

All of us must play our part in ensuring Singapore’s food security. Besides inculcating good habits not to waste food, we must also be prepared to switch to equally good alternatives, for example, frozen meat in place of chilled meat, or powdered and liquid eggs as substitutes for shell eggs, when supplies are disrupted. By working together, we can increase our resilience and safeguard our food supply for our present and future generations. Thank you.

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Best of our wild blogs: 10 Mar 14

Trash Talking: Marine Trash and Us
from The Leafmonkey Workshop

Prunas Trail On A Windy Day
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Milk-spotted Pufferfish
from Monday Morgue

Read more!

Slightly hazy conditions to persist for next few days: NEA

Today Online 10 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — The haze continued to linger over the weekend despite some improvement in air quality on Saturday morning, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings remaining in the “moderate” range since 9pm last Friday. However, the situation was expected to improve overnight, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in an update yesterday.

The agency said the haze may be attributed to hot spots to the north of Singapore blown in by the prevailing north-easterly winds. A total of 110 hot spots were detected in Peninsula Malaysia and 210 in Sumatra yesterday. This is an increase from the 14 in Peninsula Malaysia and 129 in Sumatra reported on Saturday.

Last Friday, the three-hour PSI reached as high as 71 at one point. As of 9pm last night, the 24-hour PSI readings ranged from 36 to 50. The three-hour PSI reading was 56 and the PM2.5 concentration level was in the range of 22 to 33 micrograms per cubic metre.

The NEA said that for the next few days, the weather is expected to be fair and warm. “Slightly hazy conditions can also be expected in the late afternoon and night if hot spots in the surrounding region persist. The agency will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as necessary,” the agency said in a statement.

The NEA noted that the health impact of haze is dependent on one’s health status, the PSI level, and the length and intensity of outdoor activity.

“Reducing outdoor activities and physical exertion can help limit the ill effects from haze exposure. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly, pregnant women and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention. At the current PSI and PM2.5 levels, most people can continue with normal activities,” the NEA said.

More than 200 organisations succeed in reducing water usage
Channel NewsAsia 9 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: More than 200 companies and organisations that took part in PUB's "10% Challenge" have successfully managed to reduce their water usage by 10 per cent in the last four years, the national water agency said.

February was Singapore's driest month in 145 years since records were kept and statistics show that the Republic uses about 400 million gallons of water per day.

Last year, 45 per cent of water usage was attributed to households, with commercial operators and government buildings taking up the rest.

By 2060, commercial usage is expected to form 70 per cent of Singapore's water consumption.

PUB said 342 organisations have developed and submitted their Water Efficiency Management Plan as of last December, and 204 of them have managed to shrink their water usage by 10 per cent.

One of the companies that has successfully cut down its water usage is City Developments Limited.

It uses waste water and rainwater to test water-proofing in newly-built toilets and to wash the tyres of heavy vehicles to prevent them from soiling public roads.

At construction sites, it uses an underground water storage tank to collect rain water, which is then used for other purposes, for example, to water plants when the project is completed.

Recycling water helps the company save S$280.

Chew Chin Boon, a project manager with City Developments Limited, said: "When the project is completed, the rainwater tank will remain. It will be used to collect rainwater and the condensate from all the units' aircons. The water will be used to water all the plants in the estate."

- CNA/xq

Haze returns to Singapore as air quality dips to 'moderate'
Audrey Tan and Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Mar 14;

AIR quality in Singaporeon Friday reached its worst level since the start of the year, with the haze affecting visibility in some areas and leaving a smell of smoke.

By 6pm, the Pollutant Standards Index's (PSI) three-hour reading had crept from "good" into the "moderate" range, hitting a high of 71 at 8pm and falling to 69 an hour later.

"It's difficult to concentrate," said National University of Singapore business student Jason Ng, 24. "The hall library is filled with people, not only because of the mid-term examinations but also the haze."

The National Environment Agency said north-easterly winds could have blown smoke from hot spots north of Singapore.

Four hot spots were detected in peninsular Malaysia and 35 in Sumatra, Indonesia on Friday.

Since the dry spell began in late December, farmers have been clearing land through burning.

On Friday, civil society activists and leaders of non-governmental organisations met to share their perspectives and recommendations on the proposed Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill.

The new Bill, which is up for public consultation until March 19, would hold companies and other entities liable for fires on their land outside Singapore that cause haze here. It also provides for both criminal and civil liability.

Singapore experienced its worst bout of haze last June when the 24-hour PSI hit a record 246.

At the meeting organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) at its Dhoby Ghaut premises, the 11 participants from think-tanks, universities, and NGOs such as BirdLife International discussed the practical challenges of the proposed law. For one thing, serving notice to those overseas may be challenging. If firms moved abroad in response, Singapore would have even less sway over them.

They also discussed if the proposed fines were high enough. One participant said fines could be pegged to how much land is burned so companies will not simply burn large tracts at one go.

SIIA chairman Simon Tay said feedback from the two-hour session would be compiled and submitted to the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources

. "Singapore's reputation is about enforcing the laws that it talks about and this proposed Bill shows Singapore is willing to do its part to help solve the haze. But the question now is, how this Bill is going to be enforced justly?"

Water use up by 5 per cent
The New Paper AsiaOne 10 Mar 14;

Daily water usage has gone up by 5 per cent above average during the current dry spell.

Singapore will have to "re-evaluate the adequacy of our current plans" if the trend continues, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said.

He was responding in Parliament on Friday to MP David Ong (Jurong GRC), who asked at what point the country may have to consider water rationing, last seen in the 1960s.

Dr Balakrishnan reiterated that he does not see a need for water rationing in "the foreseeable future", as long as Singaporeans do their part to conserve water and cut usage.

Even so, he is "taking seriously" a suggestion from members of the public to conduct water- rationing exercises. These would remind people of the value of water, he said, and allow them to rehearse what may need to be done.

The two desalination and four Newater plants here have been running at near-full capacity during the dry spell, providing 55 per cent of the country's water needs.

Dr Balakrishnan stressed that despite the investments in desalination and Newater, imported water from Malaysia "remains an essential part" of Singapore's water supply.

He noted that the $300 million-plus thatSingapore spent to build the Linggiu dam across the Johor River had enabled both countries to draw more water, even during this dry spell.

"All these additional investments have been a premium that we have paid for greater security and diversity of our water supply," he said.

Singapore aims to achieve water self-sufficiency by 2061, the year the second water agreement with Malaysia expires, he added, reiterating Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam's remarks in Parliament on Thursday that both countries have to honour the agreement.

Meanwhile, Singapore has opened its first plant to recycle industrial used water.

This water was previously treated to internationally-accepted standards and discharged into the sea. The new plant purifies it to a higher standard so it can be re-used by industries.

National water agency PUB said the plant can produce up to one million gallons of non-drinkable water per day, and the output will be used by companies on Jurong Island.

63 per cent say drought has not led to less water use
Grace Chua, Laura Ng, Vanessa Chng The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - Most people here have not changed their water use in response to the current dry spell.

Of 701 people who responded to a Straits Times poll on Thursday and Friday, 438 (62.5 per cent) said the dry spell had not made a difference to their water use. Many said they were already being frugal about water use.

Another 19.7 per cent said they were using less water by taking shorter showers, not washing their cars, and by doing dishes in a filled basin or sink.

The remainder said they were using more - drinking more, taking more showers and watering plants.

Singapore has had a prolonged, record-setting spell of dry weather since mid-January, and a 5per cent increase in water usage.

To maintain water levels in reservoirs, PUB has stepped up desalination to full capacity of 100 million gallons a day (mgd) and Newater production to over 100 mgd.

Meanwhile, attractions and commercial buildings have taken extra steps to save water. The Science Centre Singapore has closed its Waterworks play area and water features, while developer and mall owner CapitaLand has shut off external water features at most of its buildings. Hong Leong Group, which owns Millennium and Copthorne hotels and commercial buildings, has done likewise and has deferred cleaning the facades of some buildings.

The Chin family was among those taking water conservation more seriously.

Small business owner Catherine Chin, 42, waters plants with water collected from washing vegetables and rice, and mops the floor with water used for laundry.

Her husband, Mr Chin Yeow Wah, 49, said: "It's a good practice that we should continue - with or without the dry spell."

But what would it take for people to make a conscious effort to conserve water? Mr Eric Kok, 42, said: "If the Government gave us rebates or NTUC vouchers, if we could lower our water bills from month to month, I would ensure that my family saves water."

Public policy lecturer Leong Ching, who studies water policy and teaches at the National University of Singapore, said she could see why usage doesn't change: "I think it is because they don't see the direct link between, say, taking a shorter shower, and the levels in a reservoir."

Though desalination and Newater create self-sufficiency, she added, both of these require energy. "So we may be self-sufficient but water is not free."

She noted that Singapore's per capita domestic water consumption, at 151 litres a day last year, was more than that of Denmark and Finland, which use 131 and 115 litres a day respectively.

More could be done to affirm the efforts of people who are frugal about water use, such as putting a smiley face on their bill, she added. "To me, this drought is a perfect opportunity to focus people's minds on this issue," Dr Leong said.

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Volunteers help curb littering

Samantha Boh MyPaper AsiaOne 10 Mar 14;

Last year, 9,346 tickets were issued for littering offences, down from 11,131 in 2011, and a slight increase from 8,195 in 2012. In 2010, 23,898 tickets were issued. In 2009, the number was 41,392.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has stepped up enforcement hours by 50 per cent since May last year. NEA's community volunteer scheme has also helped bring littering down.

Under this programme, which started in January last year, 127 volunteers from non-governmental organisations, such as the Cat Welfare Society, Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and Singapore Kindness Movement, have the power to ask offenders to pick up and bin their rubbish. If they refuse, the volunteers can take down their particulars and give these to the NEA.

As of January this year, the volunteers successfully engaged 321 litterbugs, persuading them to bin their trash. Only one was taken to task for being uncooperative and, being a repeat offender, he was given a court fine of $500 and three hours of Corrective Work Order, said the NEA.

The Government is also mulling over a plan to enlist and train members of the public and give them the same warrant cards as NEA enforcement officers. This means they would have the power to impose fines on offenders on the spot.

SEC's executive director, Mr Jose Raymond, said that, while he supports the programme, it currently "lacks bite without the ability to impose fines".

"If they are just there to put social pressure and to encourage, over time the litterbugs will realise that they can't do much," he said.

He would like to see volunteers in the scheme who police their own neighbourhoods. A block ambassador, for instance, could be appointed for a block of flats.

"If the community gets involved more, they can ensure they have clean surroundings where they live," he said.

First-time littering offenders face a $300 composition fine. Recalcitrant litterbugs can face court fines of up to $2,000 for their first conviction, $4,000 for their second, and $10,000 for third and subsequent convictions.

Bright spots in anti-litter battle
Samantha Boh MyPaper AsiaOne 10 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - Not long ago, the task of keeping Sentosa clean was down to 70 contract cleaners hired by the management.

Now, an army of about 50 staff members of businesses on the island also chip in for free to pick rubbish once every two months.

As a result, the island has graduated from being labelled as a litter "hot spot" by the Public Hygiene Council (PHC) to a "bright spot", or model example of cleanliness.

Sentosa island is just one of 160 litter hot spots that the PHC has converted into bright spots, in 11/2 years since September 2012, when it embarked on this project.

Other recent conversions include smaller localised bright spots like Dunman High School and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, as well as Nee Soon South.

A litter hot spot is a problem area with incidences of littering, or one where littering is likely. It is converted into a bright spot normally after it is adopted by a civic group - like residents that band together or even a Community Development Council that takes charge of efforts to reduce littering in the area. These could include regular litter-picking sessions or the spreading of anti-litter messages.

The PHC aims to convert at least another 100 community places into bright spots by the end of this year.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said that the aim is to get the community involved and to foster a sense of ownership.

"This programme aims to establish norms for good personal and public hygiene, so that everyone will embrace and advocate them as a way of life," said NEA, which added that the PHC is working with Yishun Pond, Katong, Sembawang-Nee Soon town, Punggol Waterway and Sentosa to share and replicate litter-free practices.

This move is one in the right direction, said experts interviewed.

Such initiatives, they pointed out, are not meant to take the place of hired cleaners but, rather, are an attempt to solve the problem at its source.

Mr Tay Lai Hock, chief of the Ground-Up Initiative, a non-profit organisation that connects people back to nature, told MyPaper: "It is a good idea because if people clean up their own space, they will inculcate a sense of ownership."

However, he warned that there is a risk that few will stay committed, resulting in just a small pool of regular volunteers in the long run. "To keep it going, the organisers could ensure that one member of each household participates, for instance," said Mr Tay.

Mr Mohamad Aidi Mohd Lahab, a staff volunteer on Sentosa, said he participated to understand what cleaners go through each day. He said he now has a new-found respect for them, after having to bend down and stand up to pick litter along the beach.

The beach-patrol officer, who is in his 50s, said it is imperative for Sentosa staff to take the lead. "Sentosa has always been a home to me and the sense of ownership to keep the island clean is strong," he said.

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Malaysia: Phase three of water rationing commences

vincent tan The Star 10 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: For some Klang Valley residents undergoing the start of Phase three of water rationing on Monday, preparation and usage reduction are supposed to be the order of the day.

Yet, there were some taking advantage of the fact that they were living in Zone 1 areas (which only commences rationing on Wednesday) to use water for non-essential activities such as car-washing and watering plants.

Rukun Tetangga SS2B’s chairman Willie Tan Kim Tun said he could still see residents in his area doing the above, despite the fact that people were now supposed to be reducing their usage.

“It is not even waste reduction now, but usage cutdown now,” said Tan, adding that several SS2 residents, alongside himself, had already begun stocking up water even before SS2 was announced as one of the areas in the Phase 3 rationing.

Some households in the Zone 2 areas which began rationing on Monday, are living off the reserves in their water tanks, but still stocked up anyway.

Taman Kinrara 1 resident Catherine Lim said her household, and a few other neighbours, had done their “spring cleaning” and other major cleanups before

“Everybody had a good bathe, even the dogs, and we washed all the major items like bedsheets and fabrics before the start of rationing,” said Lim.

Even then, she said, the household had prepped three 100l water containers for each bathroom, with smaller buckets for toilet use.

Some outdoor shop proprietors have reported high sales of water filters and even water purification chemicals from customers who stated the water rationing exercise as a cause.
“Several buyers came in asking for water purification tools, partly because they are new, and also because this rationing exercise made them think about the next time there is a water shortage,” said V. Veeraksana, an outdoor shop manager in SS15.

Six areas record unhealthy API readings
The Star 10 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: Six areas have recorded unhealthy air pollutant index (API) levels on Monday.

As of 3pm, Nilai recorded a reading of 112, Seremban recorded a reading of 104, Banting recorded 116, Port Klang recorded 135, Putrajaya recorded 107, and Shah Alam recorded a reading of 101.

Shah Alam recorded a borderline unhealthy ozone level, which may lead to some chest discomfort, cough, and shortness of breath.

Seremban and Putrajaya are also two areas that recorded readings at the border of moderate and unhealthy levels.

An API reading of between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 (moderate), 101 to 200 (unhealthy), 201 to 300 (very unhealthy), and 301 and above (hazardous).

The API is calculated based on five major air pollutants, namely Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Ground Level Ozone (O3), Carbon Monoxide (CO) and particulate matter with a diameter below 10 micrometers (PM10).

Most of these pollutants come from various sources such as industries, motor vehicles, open burning and power generation.

The concentrations of these five pollutants are measured in 52 automatic air quality stations throughout Malaysia, mainly located in industrial and urban areas.

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Indonesia: Pekanbaru`s air very unhealthy due to haze

Antara 9 Mar 14;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Haze triggered by forest and plantation fires has caused the air quality in Pekanbaru, Riau Province, polluted and very unhealthy.

"The haze problem now is worse than that in 1997 which occurred for only one week. Currently, Pekanbaru has been covered by haze for over one month," he Suliwanto, a local resident, said here on Sunday.

The Pollution Standard Index (PSI) over Pekanbaru on Sunday reached more than 200, indicating the air was very unhealthy, according to data of the Riau Haze Emergency Response Task Force.

In Bengkalis and Siak districts, the PSI level hit the record of more than 500 Psi, which was categorized as very hazardous.

Over 40 thousand people have been infected with respiratory infection in Riau, particularly in Siak, Bengkalis, Dumai and Pekanbaru.

Fires have razed a total of 14 hectares of forest and plantation areas in Riau.

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.

The meteorological, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG) reported that on Sunday (March 9) at 5 am, there were 368 hotspots of forest and plantation fires across Sumatra Island.

Of the 368 hotspots, 327 hotspots were detected in Riau Province, consisting of 112 in Bengkalis, 56 in Meranti Islands, 27 in Indragiri Hilir, six in Indragiri Hulu, 19 in Dumai City, 15 in Rokan Hilir, 67 in Siak, and 25 in Pelalawan.

Around 71 percent or 183 hotspots in Riau were believed to be set deliberately to clear land for plantation.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

Haze reduces visibility in Pekanbaru to 50 to 70 meters
Antara 9 Mar 14;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Haze from forest and plantation fires reduced the visibility in Pekanbaru to around 50 and 70 meters on Sunday.

"The weather today is very bad because of the thick haze. The government has set up a haze emergency task force and conducted cloud seeding to make rains, but, in fact, the haze in Riau is getting ticker," Hendri, a motorist, said.

A number of shops on Tuanku Tambusai road were closed due to the thick haze that could affect peoples health.

Pekanbaru has been blanketed by haze over the last one month.

Head of the Riau Haze Emergency Response Task Force Brigadier General Prihadi Agus Irianto said that fires had scorched a total of 13,009 hectares of forest and plantation areas in Riau over the past six weeks.

The task force has managed to extinguish fires on 10,618 hectares of forest, plantations, and peatland areas, but most the the areas still produced smog.

Of the 11,138 hectares of forest area that were razed by fires across the Riau province, about 3,000 hectares were located inside the GSK-BB biosphere reserve, Brigadier General Prihadi Agus Irianto, the head of the Riau Haze Disaster Response Task Force, said in Pekanbaru in Riau on Tuesday (March 4).

The Riau forest offices head, Zulkifli Yusuf, recently said the biosphere reserve is now badly damaged due to human encroachment and fires.

When visiting the biosphere reserve on Wednesday (March 5), Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan stated that 2,000 newcomers had encroached and set fires in the GSK-BB biosphere reserve.

"Currently, about 2,000 people hailing from the North Sumatra province have encroached in the biosphere reserve in the Riau province. They have cleared the forest area for oil palm plantation," Minister Zulkifli said at the Roesmin Nurjadin air force base in Pekanbaru.

The encroachment occurred in the biosphere reserves Core zone. "We strongly suspect that they were deliberately sent to Riau to encroach in the biosphere reserve," he said.

The task force, which has a total of 325 members, including 170 army officers, is trying to extinguish at least 12 hotspots detected in the biosphere reserve by dropping water bombs from four helicopters, including those belonging to Sinar Mas.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

Early Start to the Burning Season Catches Sumatra Off Guard
Muhammad Al Azhari Jakarta Globe 10 Mar 14;

Staff from Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper putting out a peatland blaze in Pelalawan, Riau, on Wednesday. (JG Photo/Safir Makki)

Pekanbaru, Riau. Weak law enforcement and delays in disbursing disaster mitigation funds are hampering efforts to prosecute culprits and extinguish forest fires burning in Sumatra, half of which are in concessions held by palm oil and paper companies.

“It felt like it was just yesterday we dealt with it. Now the haze has come back again for this year,” said Zulkifli Zaini, Indonesia’s forestry minister.

He said last year’s forest fires, which were almost all the result of deliberate action to clear forest areas for planting, eased in July-August, with the arrival of the rainy season.

However, climate change seemed to have brought the burning season forward this year, the minister said, with fires and haze in Riau reappearing in February, while other parts of the nation were still hunkered down under intense rains that in some cases caused flood disasters.

Riau province, part of Sumatra island, is home to major palm oil and pulp and paper producers, many of which belong to or supply companies, which are household names both in Indonesia and overseas.

Despite forest laws prohibiting clearing by fire, and also despite companies operating there pledging zero burning policies, the fires return every year, because it is such a cheap and fast method to pave the way for new paper-pulp and palm oil planting. Local farmers, who have been using such methods for generations, are suspected of lighting some fires to clear small family farm areas, but also of accepting payment to light fires on company plantations, providing the companies with a screen of plausible deniability of lawbreaking.

Thanks to near-real time data provided by agencies such as NASA, which has satellites taking photos every one or two days, it is possible to see where the fires are lit, and consider who stands to benefit from them.

“According to data from Global Forest Watch — a new online system that tracks tree cover change, fires, and other information in near-real time — roughly half of these fires are burning on land managed by oil palm, timber, and logging companies — despite the fact that using fire to clear land is illegal in Indonesia,” said research analysts Ariana Alisjahbana, James Anderson, Susan Minnemeyer, Fred Stolle and Nigel Sizer at the World Resources Institute.

WRI is a global environmental research organization with presence in more than 50 countries. Some of its offices are in the United States, China, India and Brazil.

Just more than half of the substantial fire alerts in Sumatra from Feb. 20 to March 3, at the height of the current haze crisis, came from pulpwood (paper) plantations (38 percent) and palm oil plantations (13 percent).

Naming names

The five WRI analysts, in an article titled “Indonesian Fires Bring More Haze to Southeast Asia” published on March 3, go on to provide the names of the companies, which Forestry Ministry data says are responsible for the concessions with the greatest number of significant fire alerts during that period.

For paper pulpwood concessions, five of the companies are affiliated with, or are suppliers to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), an arm of the Sinar Mas Group, which produces dozens of paper products including LIVI and Paseo brand tissue paper. According to the WRI data, APP-connected companies with fires in their concession areas are: Sakato Pratama Makmur (161 fire alerts), Arara Abadi (102 alerts), Satria Perkasa Agung (62 alerts), Suntara Gajapati (57 alerts), and Mitra Hutani Jaya (10 alerts).

Aida Greenbury, managing director for Sustainability & Stakeholder Engagement at APP, did not reply an enquiry by short text message sent by Jakarta Globe on Sunday.

Another corporation that appears in connection with the WRI fires list, well known for its PAPEROne brand of consumer office paper, is Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (April), part of Sukanto Tanoto’s Royal Golden Eagle business empire. There were 21 substantial fires recorded on concessions held by Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper, which is a company owned by April, along with fires on concessions held by two April suppliers, Sumatera Riang Lestari (81 recorded fire alerts), and Rimba Rokan Lestari (14 alerts).

Among the palm oil concessions with the greatest number of forest fires, the WRI data lists companies with connections to Panca Eka Group (35 fire alerts), Sambu Group (30 fire alerts) and First Resources Group (4 fire alerts).

It should be noted that it cannot be concluded from the data provided in the WRI report that the listed companies are responsible for lighting the fires detected on their concessions, and that Forest Ministry concession location maps sometimes include inaccuracies.

State of emergency

Riau Governor Annas Maamum has declared a state of emergency in response to the fires and the resulting haze and respiratory risks.

Annas, in front of officials attending a coordination meeting on Wednesday, said he had encountered trouble making the declaration, which was a necessary step in enabling Rp 10 billion ($870,000) in disaster mitigation funds to be disbursed.

He said he needed approval from at least seven district heads in order to declare the state of emergency.

“This regulation gave me a headache. Can you imagine that there are district heads who didn’t want to declare a state of emergency because their areas were not on fire? ‘Why bother?,’ they may think. I want this regulation to be reviewed so that one district declaring a state of emergency is enough [to allow disbursement of emergency funds],” said Annas, a long-time Golkar politician and former head of Rokan Hilir district in Riau.

Riko Kurniawan, leader of the Riau chapter of The Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi), slammed the government’s troubled bureaucracy that delayed decisive action.

“This always happens years after year. They make noise only about the Rp 10 billion in funds? I can’t believe it. The legal framework to mete out firm punishment for forest crime is there. It is just a matter of enforcement. Why it is so difficult? Perpetrators of forest fires can be jailed for up to 10 years, according to the law,” Riko said.

Grim picture

According to a presentation by Riau Haze Emergency Response Task Force commander Brig. Gen. Prihadi Agus Irianto, more than 11,138 hectares have been affected by forest fires in Riau so far this year to March 4.

Fires were lit in 10 out of 12 districts, with the largest area burnt out in Bengkalis district (4,553 hectares), followed by Meranti district (3,498 hectares).

Meanwhile, according to Zainal Arifin, Riau health agency chief, as of March 5, there were 32,841 people reported to be suffering respiratory illness (ISPA) caused by the blanket of haze in Riau.

The haze was also responsible for 597 cases of pneumonia, 1,204 cases of asthma, 1,064 cases of serious eye irritation and 1,648 cases of skin-related problems.

Zulkifli, Agus Irianto and Zainal Arifin were in Pekanbaru on Wednesday, joining other high-level government officials attending a coordination meeting organized by the Riau Haze Disaster Mitigation Task Force at Roesmin Nurjadin military airbase in Pekanbaru, Riau.

Also attending Wednesday’s meeting were Riau Police chief Brig. Gen. Condro Kirono, Commander of the Roesmin Nurjadin air base Col. Andyawan, all 12 district heads and officials from the National Disaster Response Agency (BNPB), Forestry Ministry Fire Brigade (Manggala Agni) and the Nature Conservation Agency (BKSDA).

At the meeting, officials discussed efforts to tackle fires via water bombing, weather modification as well as discussing law enforcement and other procedures in handling forest fires in Riau.

Mea culpa

“In May last year, the president, our head of state, had to apologize to neighboring countries. That’s very embarrassing. Don’t let that happen again,” said Zulkifli, who is one of a handful of cabinet members who managed to keep his position during President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s second term (2009-14).

Yudhoyono last year took the initiative to apologize to Singapore and Malaysia after acknowledging the negative impacts of the blanket of thick haze and smog that spread to Indonesia’s closest neighbors.

Despite the massive scope and number of forest fires this year covering over 11,000 hectares, so far this year the police has identified only 28 suspects, two of whom have avoided being taken into custody.

So far this year, the police have yet to declare any companies as suspects for commissioning illegal forest fires.

“Law enforcement is not the only solution to solve the fires,” Riau Police chief Brig. Gen. Condro Kirono said.

“Riau is huge. Preemptive actions, infrastructure preparation, coordinated efforts between government agencies, and participation from the private sector are important to solve the problem,” he said.

For his part, Zulkifli said he has urged the task force to establish a regular helicopter patrol, two or three times daily, to catch people lighting forest fires red handed.

“When they see smoke, go down, and pick up the perpetrator,” Zulkifli said.

However, this idea was quickly dismissed by the Riau Police chief, who said that in most cases once fires are large enough to be spotted, the perpetrators are no longer on the scene, leaving only secondary evidence to investigate.

An end in sight?

The irony for neighboring Singapore, which often bears the brunt of the annual haze, is that many of the companies suspected of benefitting from the fires are listed on the Singapore exchange.

That is why WRI’s report cites as cause of optimism a move by Singapore to propose a new law that would allow it to levy fines on companies — foreign or domestic — that cause transboundary haze events that impact the country.

“In the current draft bill, companies could face fines of up to $238,000 for contributing to haze that crosses national borders. This is a rather small fine for the large companies that operate in Indonesia, but the potential impact on their reputations sends a strong signal that businesses need to do a better job of fire prevention,” Ariana and colleagues said in the report.

Efforts by environment groups and journalists, both Indonesian and foreign, also have the potential to exert pressure to make fire-lighting a less attractive proposition for concession holders.

“These unseasonable fires are concerning, but there are also some positive, recent advances that could help prevent them from flaring up in the future. For one, stronger policy and market practices are disincentivizing and even penalizing burning and forest-clearing in Indonesia,” the WRI report notes.

Perhaps as a result of consumer campaigns among other strategies, palm oil and paper companies operating in Sumatra have begun making changes to the way they do business.

Many have pledged to buy from “fire-free” palm oil and pulp plantations, because they know that otherwise contracts with overseas buyers may be jeopardized.

April’s Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper says it has developed a Fire Danger Rating System (FDRS) or early detection strategy to prevent forest fires not only within their concession areas, but also outside.

Head of Sustainability and Fire at RAPP, Inra Gunawan said the FDRS system is a combination between satellite technology, monitoring through the internet and local action, both by staff and communities, to react quickly when they identify forest fires.

Inra says RAPP has deployed 875 staff and provided helicopters to do water bombings, 25 car patrols, 10 fire buster cars, 27 boats and 230 water pumps to extinguish fires in the region, measures which the company says have cost $6 million.

Jakarta Globe was invited by April to observe the fires in Riau.

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Malaysia: RM70bil for Pengerang

idris jala The Star 10 Mar 14;

HOW many of us set out to achieve the impossible? This involves goals that seem too difficult to conquer but could bring us great benefit if we manage to pull through and get to the finishing line.

Back in June 2010, we held a lab to determine the way forward for the oil, gas and energy sector under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP). One of the ideas mooted then was for us to build a regional oil and gas hub in south Johor by developing the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC).

Subsequently, more than 13,000 people who attended the ETP Open Days following the conclusion of the lab in 2010 told us they felt this would be good for the country.

But that was all it was in 2010 – an idea. If we were going to do this, we would have to start from scratch.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Pengerang. It was both humbling and really amazing to see how an idea that seemed so remote four years ago can take shape when you have all the right ingredients. Here, the private sector, the Government and the people are working hand in hand to build a project which will eventually be a game changer in the way we use our petroleum products to capture the most value from it.

But first, a little bit about PIPC itself. This project is one of the more important components of our programme to transform Malaysia into the ranks of a developed country by 2020 – achieving a per capita income of US$15,000 from US$6,700 in 2009. That effectively means an annual increase in gross national income per capita of at least 6% a year from 2009.

To facilitate this growth in income, we have identified 12 growth areas to spearhead rapid economic development. Oil, gas and energy is one of these areas. We want to continue with domestic oil and gas production, grow in downstream ventures and make Malaysia the No. 1 hub for oil field services while exploring alternative energy sources.

Pengerang is a key and vital part of this thrust. It will help to create an oil storage and trading hub and increase petrochemical output.

This will be done first by building a deep-water jetty and storage facilities to accommodate the inflow of raw materials to processing plants and the subsequent outflow of the products to destinations within and outside the country.

What is already happening is that the deep-water jetty and oil and petrochemical storage tanks are already being developed. Meanwhile, Petronas’ Refinery and Petrochemicals Integrated Development is showing good progress on the ground.

Pengerang currently has RM69bil worth of projects in the pipeline. This accounts for 33% of investment costs of all our entry point projects and nearly 70% of those in the oil, gas and energy sector. These will serve as catalysts for economic growth and development in selected areas. Ultimate investment over time could be as high as RM170bil, including the committed RM69bil.

Using just committed investment figures, we estimate that the PIPC will contribute RM18.3bil to 2020 gross national income and create 8,600 jobs. The eventual income could be higher depending on how well catalytic efforts work.

Now for some progress updates. For the Pengerang deep-water petroleum terminal, Phase 1 of the project work started in early 2011, with 500 acres of sea area to be reclaimed. Current engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning works is at 92% as at Feb 25. This includes dredging and reclamation, marine facilities (for example jetty construction) and tank terminal construction.

Phase 1, which is on 150 acres of reclaimed land, will have a storage capacity of 1.3 million cu m of petroleum products. First oil commissioning will be in the first half of this year.

Rapid project site clearance and preparation effort is broken down to two phases covering different areas within the 6,300 acres. Overall progress for Phase 1 site clearance and preparation as at Feb 20 is 68%, just over two thirds complete. The final investment decision is expected to be made by the end of this month.

Admittedly, there have been delays but a few months is not a lot in the overall scheme of things for a project this complex which requires substantial attention to infrastructure needs that have to be set up from scratch, as well as requirements of residents already in the affected areas.

There are 30 separate infrastructure and public amenities projects currently being implemented. They include the upgrading of the existing dual-lane single carriageway to dual lane and the construction of a new dual-lane carriageway.

At the same time, a temporary road will be constructed to facilitate project development. The new roads are expected to be completed by mid-2016.

For water supply, a new dam with 88 km of pipelines will be constructed to provide raw water for the PIPC. The target completion for this is by the first quarter of 2016. This dam will supply the project itself as well as provide additional raw water resources for general use in Johor.

We are mindful that community sensitivities must be dealt with utmost care and attention. There are six villages involved in relocation to new resettlement areas under Phase 1 of the PIPC.

The relocation will be in phases and villages involved are Kg Sungai Kapal, Kampung Langkah Baik, Kampung Teluk Empang, Kg Jawa, Kg Batu Mas and Kg Sebong. Relocation is expected to start this month. A total of 948 houses have been built in a new 387-acre resettlement area known as Taman Bayu Damai.

Also about 3,000 graves, including Muslim and Chinese cemeteries, will be relocated in phases with more than 1,400 having already been relocated so far.

Pengerang is a project that requires the cooperation and collaboration of federal and state authorities, government corporations and the private sector.

There is a specific body to monitor the PIPC development, the Johor Petroleum Development Corp. The board of directors for this body is jointly chaired by the Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin and myself.

The Government is fully committed to the development of PIPC, which will not only result in an integrated petroleum production complex with all attendant infrastructure in place but will provide facilities and incentives for the physical and financial trading of oil for greater value added to the economy.

This will help push us towards the best possible use of our resources by creating maximum linkages through the entire value-added process from upstream production to downstream processing, as well as trading activities.

Datuk Seri Idris Jala is CEO of Pemandu, the Performance Management and Delivery Unit, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. Fair and reasonable comments are most welcome at

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