Best of our wild blogs: 15 Mar 14

Love MacRitchie Walk at Prunus-Petai Trail – Forest in bloom!
from Toddycats!

Indonesia's proposed peat law too weak to protect peatlands, stop haze, says Greenpeace from

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Hazy conditions expected to continue over the weekend

Channel NewsAsia 14 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Hazy conditions continued to affect Singapore on Friday, and air quality is likely to be in the high end of the moderate band over the weekend.

This is despite the possibility of brief showers in the late afternoons.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) has been in the moderate range on Friday.

As of 7pm, the three-hour PSI hit 82, while the 24-hour PSI stood at 51-66. The 24-hour PM2.5 was 36-55 micrograms per cubic metre.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said the haze could be attributed to the smoke from the hotspots in southern Johor, blown in by the prevailing northeasterly winds.

There were 59 hotspots detected in Peninsular Malaysia on Thursday and 35 hotspots in Sumatra.

NEA said smoke plumes and haze were visible from some of these hotspots.

Parts of Peninsular Malaysia have been experiencing air quality in the "unhealthy" to "hazardous" range on Friday.

As at 4pm, the air quality in Port Klang in Selangor was in the "hazardous" range.

NEA said the weather in Singapore is expected to be warm with hazy conditions, and brief and localised showers are expected in the late afternoon over the northern and western parts of Singapore.

On his Facebook page, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said the air quality is expected to fluctuate and may even reach unhealthy levels if winds blow more haze from the hotspots in Johor.

Persons with chronic lung or heart conditions are advised to avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion.

- CNA/de

Air quality levels may hit unhealthy range this weekend
Siau Ming En Today Online 15 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — Air quality levels here may briefly hit the unhealthy range this weekend if wind conditions bring more haze from hot spots in Johor, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said yesterday.

In its haze advisory issued yesterday, the NEA said the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) is expected to fluctuate at the high end of the moderate band. The 24-hour PM2.5 levels — which measure the concentration of particles smaller than 2.5 microns — could reach unhealthy levels at times, the agency added.

Writing on his Facebook page, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan noted that haze conditions have worsened.

“As a precaution, persons with chronic lung or heart conditions are advised to avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. If the haze deteriorates, the general population may need to reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion,” he said.

The NEA said warm weather with hazy conditions is expected, although brief and localised showers could arrive in the late afternoon over the northern and western parts of the island.

PSI readings have been in the moderate range since Tuesday evening. As of 6pm yesterday, the 24-hour PSI level was between 52 and 67, while the 24-hour PM2.5 was between 37 and 54. The three-hour PSI climbed to 82 at 7pm yesterday before falling to 67 at 9pm. Air quality is in the moderate band when the PSI is between 51 and 100.

The NEA said the haze was a result of hot spots in southern Johor. On Thursday, 35 and 59 hot spots were detected in Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia respectively.

“Smoke plumes and haze were visible from some of these hot spots,” said the NEA.

Separately, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources yesterday announced the list of six international law experts who would sit as members on the International Advisory Panel on Transboundary Pollution. The panel was set up to advise the Government on trends and developments in international law and steps Singapore can take in relation to transboundary pollution.

The panel members include Dr Abdul G Koroma, a former judge at the International Court of Justice, and Professor Edith Brown Weiss, a legal scholar who has taught and published widely on issues of international law, especially international environmental law.

The panel will be co-chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister Professor S Jayakumar and Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh.

Rain may fall over weekend due to inter-monsoonal conditions
Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 15 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Singapore could experience inter-monsoonal conditions from Saturday, which could mean turning a corner in what has been a record dry spell for the country.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has forecast showers over the island from Saturday till Monday in its 3-day outlook, with temperatures ranging between 24 and 32 degrees Celsius.

One expert Channel NewsAsia spoke with said the transition from the Northeast Monsoon to the Inter-monsoonal conditions could bring more variable winds, and more thunderstorms and rainfall which could last till mid-May.

"Given that the rain is generated by the inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ) moving northwards over the Southeast Asia region, it's likely that rainfall should occur over most parts of Southeast Asia and it would help in preventing the wildfires from expanding in size,” said Assistant Professor Winston Chow from the National University of Singapore’s geography department.

“The wildfires that we know are the primary cause of the haze that is brought into Singapore. So if there's more rain, hopefully it would stop the cause of the haze from spreading."

- CNA/ec

Bushfire at Elias Road in Pasir Ris
Channel NewsAsia 14 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: A bushfire broke out in the eastern part of Singapore on Friday afternoon.

A caller Angela alerted Channel NewsAsia to the bushfire at Elias Road in Pasir Ris.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it received a call about the fire at 3:45pm.

It arrived five minutes later, and extinguished the fire in half an hour, using two water jets.

SCDF said the fire was the size of about two basketball courts.

- CNA/de

Daily water usage exceeds level during haze last year
Siau Ming En Today Online 14 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — Singapore has seen the current levels of water consumption before, but they were not sustained over a prolonged period, unlike the situation now, said Mr Chew Men Leong, Chief Executive of national water agency PUB, yesterday.

The haze currently affecting Singapore, which began earlier this year, is also a concern and PUB will have to keep tabs on water consumption patterns, he told reporters on the sidelines of a media briefing for coming events to commemorate World Water Day on Saturday.

The daily water usage in recent weeks has surpassed that seen at the height of Singapore’s worst haze episode last year.

The daily water demand in recent weeks hovers between 415 and 420 million gallons per day (mgd), higher than the average daily water consumption of 402mgd and 406mgd last June and July, respectively.

The highest water consumption level recorded during the haze episode was 422mgd on July 24. Singapore’s average daily water demand is about 400mgd, PUB said.

“We are concerned,” said Mr Chew, when asked if he expects water consumption to increase with the haze. “There could be a continuation of the dry spell. Of course, if there’s an increase in terms of the haze, we also have to see how water consumption patterns will change.”

The National Environment Agency had earlier this month said the current dry spell would last until the middle of the month.

Mr Chew added: “Occasionally, when we see dry and hot periods, we see consumption going up to about this kind of level … we have hit it before, (but) not for such a sustained period.”

Last week, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament he was seriously considering a suggestion to conduct water rationing exercises as a means of public education, even though they are not an operational necessity.

Agreeing, Mr Chew yesterday said water rationing exercises as a public education and communications tool is useful and the agency is looking into them.

He pointed out that such exercises were last conducted in the 1990s as part of efforts to prepare the public for contingencies.

For World Water Day, the agency is expecting to reach out to at least 200,000 people across more than 250 locations — the biggest outreach effort in five years, said the water agency. Other partners have also organised activities in the lead-up to the event.

A water conservation contest was held at the Haig Road Market and Food Centre on Wednesday, with stallholders submitting their utility bills to see who saved the most water.

The participants recorded total savings of about 17,000 litres of water, including 6,500 litres saved over two months by the contest winner.

Residents have also been trying to conserve water during this dry weather. A 65-year-old retiree, who only wanted to be known as Mr Goh, said he tries to water his plants once a week and uses recycled water to do so. Previously, he would water them twice a week.

The theme for this year’s World Water Day in Singapore is conservation and five key sites — Marina Barrage, Jurong Lake, Geylang River, Punggol Waterway and Yishun Pond — will be hosting various activities to spread the message.

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Members of International Advisory Panel on transboundary pollution

Channel NewsAsia 14 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Six international law experts will sit as members on the International Advisory Panel on transboundary pollution.

In a statement on Friday, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said the panel will be co-chaired by Professors S Jayakumar and Tommy Koh.

It said the members have vast experience as international lawyers.

One is a former judge with the International Court of Justice, four are from academia, while one is an international law practitioner.

The panel is expected to meet in Singapore "over the next few months".

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan announced the setting up of the panel in Parliament on Tuesday.

Dr Balakrishnan said the panel would study and advise the government on trends and developments in international law, as well as what solutions the Singapore government can adopt in relation to transboundary pollution.

Panel members:

1. Dr Abdul G Koroma, former Judge of International Court of Justice (ICJ);
2. Judge Jin Hyun Paik, Judge of International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) and Professor, Graduate School of International Studies, Seoul National University;
3. Professor Edith Brown Weiss, Francis Cabell Professor of International Law, Georgetown University Law Centre, USA;
4. Professor Catherine Redgwell, Chichele Professor of Public International Law and Fellow, All Souls College, University of Oxford, UK;
5. Professor Nicholas Robinson, University Professor for the Environment, Pace University, USA; and
6. Mr Rodman Bundy, Director of Dispute Resolution, Eversheds LLP

- CNA/de

Haze advisory panel named
Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Mar 14;

The eight-member panel that will advise the Government on transboundary pollution issues was announced by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources yesterday.

Members come from five countries and include university professors, international law practitioners and a former International Court of Justice (ICJ) judge.

The panel will be chaired by Professor S. Jayakumar and Professor Tommy Koh, both of the National University of Singapore. The former was previously deputy prime minister, and the latter is also Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The other six members are:

-Dr Abdul G. Koroma, a former Sierra Leonean judge at the ICJ.

-Judge Jin Hyun Paik of Seoul National University and judge at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

-Professor Edith Brown Weiss of Georgetown University in the United States.

-Professor Catherine Redgwell of Oxford University in Britain.

-Professor Nicholas Robinson of Pace University in the US.

-Mr Rodman Bundy, director of dispute resolution at international law firm Eversheds.

The co-chairs and Prof Robinson, Prof Redgwell and Mr Bundy were among panel members who attended a conference on transboundary pollution law organised by the National University of Singapore's Centre for International Law last month.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan announced the formation of the International Advisory Panel on Transboundary Pollution in Parliament on Tuesday.

It will meet in Singapore over the next few months to advise on international law trends and developments, as well as issues relating to transboundary pollution and practical steps which the Republic can adopt.

A new Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill has been proposed that would hold companies and other entities liable for fires on their land that cause haze in Singapore. The Bill is up for public consultation until March 19.

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New scheme to spur youth to volunteer

The New Paper AsiaOne 15 Mar 14;

Youth Corps Singapore (YCS) will have its first intake of about 200 in June.

The one-year programme will include a residential training programme that equips youths with knowledge and skills in leadership, project management and service learning.

There will also be an overseas community project in one of the regional countries and a community project in Singapore - in partnership with an NGO or community group - which would be sustainable and impactful, and meet the needs of the community.

YCS is the first national-level programme of its kind and also "a first in many steps towards more impactful youth development and engagement", Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong told Parliament on Wednesday.

The initiative is meant to spur young Singaporeans to take up community work and continue to do so beyond their school years. The target is to have 6,000 volunteers each year.

"This first run will enable us to improve the design of the programme and fine-tune the working protocols with different partners. So we've brought in Outward Bound Singapore as a key partner to implement the Youth Corps and we're also looking for other community partners to be involved."

Youth Corps to start first pilot intake in June
Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 12 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Youth Corps will have its pilot intake of about 200 in June this year, and the initiative will be launched in phases, said Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong in Parliament on Wednesday.

The one-year programme will see youths embarking on local and overseas volunteering stints.

Elements in the programme will include a structured residential training programme that equips youths with knowledge and skills in leadership, project management and service learning.

Mr Wong said that there will also be an overseas community project in a regional country, as well as a community project in Singapore, undertaken in partnership with an existing non-governmental organisation (NGO) or community group.

Minister of State for National Development and board member at the National Youth Council Desmond Lee, will chair an advisory committee comprising youth leaders to guide the development of the programme.

After the pilot run, more applications will be opened up later in the year.

Mr Wong said the selection process is rigorous, but the aim is to recruit youths from diverse backgrounds -- from Institutes of Technical Education, polytechnics and universities.

Separately, the ministry will also look at ways to better engage youths through more youth-oriented spaces such as *SCAPE.

Mr Wong said that will require more resources in the National Youth Council.

"We will plan to strengthen its capacity and enlarge its reach to even more young Singaporeans and youth organisations," he said.

Mr Wong added: "At the end of the day, it is for our youths today to shape the next 50 years and the Singapore they want. This generation of youths -- those in their teens to their thirties, they are the post-post Pioneer Generation.

“Our pioneers laid the foundations for Singapore's rapid development. The next generation benefited from their hard work, and continued to build modern Singapore. What will the third generation do?

“Now, we are all familiar with the Chinese proverb that family wealth does not last three generations. It's not just a Chinese saying, similar sayings can be found in many cultures.

“But there are also exceptions to this. And so it is for our country -- our nation's destiny is not preordained, it is what we choose to make of it."

- CNA/nd

‘Rigorous selection process’ for volunteer youth corps
The pilot intake of 200 youths will start training in June
Ashley Chia Today Online 12 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — The 200 youths chosen for the new volunteer youth corps would have been put through a “rigorous selection process”, aimed at ensuring “diversity” and to determine their “commitment” to serve the community,” said Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong in Parliament today (March 12).

He added that the pilot intake in June will be drawn from all tertiary institutions, including those studying in the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics and universities, among others.

“We are not looking at academic qualifications. We are looking for youths with strong leadership qualities, a commitment to serve the community, and a desire to learn,” said Mr Wong, as he responded to calls from Members of Parliament (MPs) for the Government to do more to expand opportunities for youths to contribute to society.

The one-year national-level programme, the first of its kind, was first mooted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally Speech last year, and applications opened last month.

It will comprise a “structured” resident training programme that will equip the youths with knowledge and skills in leadership, project management and service learning. Local and regional community programmes in partnership with existing non-government organisations would also be included. Further applications can be made later this year after the programme’s pilot run.

“This first run will enable us to improve the design of the programme, and fine-tune the working protocols with different partners,” Mr Wong said.

Several MPs also called on the ministry to strengthen its community dispute resolution framework, by making mediation mandatory for “deadlocked disputes” and setting up a tribunal to oversee such cases, for instance. A public consultation on the framework is underway.

MP Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade) asked if neutral parties could apply for mediation if the parties involved refused to take part in the process. In response, Mr Wong said the suggestion could be discussed in the ongoing public consultation, but he stressed that the parties involved should also take “personal ownership” in such disputes.

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LTA to develop a road map for electric vehicles

Woo Sian Boon Today Online 14 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — Electric vehicles are set to be given a bigger push here, with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) seeking to develop a blueprint on how to bring about mass adoption of such vehicles in Singapore.

Among the things the regulator wants consultants to study are the gaps in technology, implementation issues of installing charging infrastructure, as well as an assessment of the energy savings and carbon emissions levels with the adoption of these green vehicles, according to tender documents published last Thursday.

Since 2011, the authorities have been studying the feasibility of electric vehicles on Singapore roads, with the data from the first phase of a test-bed currently under review. This will determine the plans for further trials, which the LTA said could involve car-sharing and commercial fleets.

The LTA’s latest move to develop the road map was hailed by industry observers and researchers, with Mr Liu Xueliang, General Manager of electric-car manufacturer BYD Asia-Pacific, saying that Singapore has the “best potential” to implement electric vehicles islandwide because of its advanced power grid system.

Dr Emilio Frazzoli, Lead Investigator at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, expects the rate of adoption here for electric vehicles to keep rising and at a “very high” level within three to five years.

Noting that the automobile industry is releasing more models of electric vehicles — Ferrari’s latest supercar, LaFerrari, for instance, includes an electric motor — he added: “While most are city cars, there are some electric vehicles with performance and handling characteristics that are comparable and, in some cases, superior to those of luxury sport cars.”

In terms of charging infrastructure, however, the Republic is “still some time away”, said Dr Park Byung Joon, who heads the Urban Transport Management Programme at the Singapore Institute of Management.

Pointing out that cities such as Shenzhen in China have successfully adopted public electric buses and taxi services in 2010, Dr Park questioned if the Government or public transport operators will have to foot the bill when it comes to constructing the necessary infrastructure and pay ing for the electric buses.

Electric car-sharing company Smove has concerns about the high cost of electric cars being an impediment for the average consumer. It is the only such company here and has a customer base of 450 since it started its electric car-sharing trial 15 months ago.

Its founder Tom Lokenvitz reiterated a call for the authorities to review the taxes imposed on such cars so they will not be “disadvantaged for a long time”.

Those in the industry had suggested that electric vehicle batteries — which are costly — be excluded in tax computation.

Responding to queries, the LTA told TODAY there are no pre-defined targets as to when electric vehicles will be adopted here. However, the tender documents stipulate that the consultant will have to provide data up to 2050, with “midpoints to include at least 2030”.

The spokesperson added: “Ultimately, whether a new technology succeeds or not will depend on the market. We will continue to monitor global trends and see how the market evolves.”

LTA plans roadmap for adoption of electric vehicles
Royston Sim The Straits Times AsiaOne 16 Mar 14;

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) plans to develop a technology roadmap to help chart a course towards the adoption of electric vehicles in the future.

It is seeking a consultant to produce what it called an "electro-mobility" research roadmap which will assess the benefits of having electric vehicles, identify technological gaps and challenges, as well as make policy recommendations.

This comes several months after a test to gauge the viability of electric vehicles was completed. Data from the test is currently being reviewed, and will be used to formulate plans for further trials.

Asked about how the roadmap will help with the adoption of electric cars in the long term, an LTA spokesman said it has not set any targets yet.

"Ultimately, whether a new technology succeeds or not will depend on the market," she said. "We will continue to monitor global trends and see how the market evolves."

According to the new study's terms of reference, the roadmap has several main objectives, including providing a blueprint to enable electric vehicle technologies, concepts and solutions up to 2050.

It should describe the challenges Singapore would face in building an electro-mobility ecosystem, relating to the power grid sector, charging infrastructure and consumer acceptance, for instance.

The roadmap is supposed to include an assessment of the economic and environmental benefits, and the costs involved in the large-scale adoption of electric vehicles.

And it should also have recommendations on how to spur the use of electric vehicles, including through government regulations, if there are significant benefits to Singapore.

This research roadmap is funded by the National Research Foundation, and should be completed by the second quarter of next year.

Dr Park Byung Joon, head of the urban transport management programme at SIM University, believes the move shows the LTA is more serious about building infrastructure for electric vehicles on a larger scale.

For such vehicles to be practical, it should be as easy to access electrical charging points as it is a petrol station, he said.

However, he pointed out that getting private car owners to go electric will depend largely on cost, and current electric vehicles are usually more costly than those with conventional petrol and diesel engines.

Dr Park feels it is more feasible to implement an electric vehicle network for public transport, such as buses. He cited how Shenzhen in China adopted public electric buses and taxis in 2010.

"I do not see any serious practical problem in running public electric bus services in Singapore," he said. "The question is how much investment we are willing to put in to have such services."

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Malaysia: Haze forces 203 schools to close

BALQIS LIM AND BALQIS NASIR New Straits Times 15 Mar 14;

BELOW 500 LEVEL: Govt has no plans to declare state of emergency

KUALA LUMPUR: ALL 203 schools in the Klang and Kuala Langat districts in Selangor were ordered to close yesterday due to unhealthy air quality.

Selangor Education Department director Datuk Mahmud Karim said the closure, which affected 211,700 pupils, would be lifted once the air quality improved

He said the district education offices (PPD) and the schools had been asked to inform parents or guardians on the latest development so that all affected pupils could return to school later.

"We have informed the PPD regarding the school closure before making the announcement to parents and guardians.

"The order remains indefinitely. We are monitoring the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings regularly before making any decision on reopening the schools," he said.

There are 132 schools in the Klang district which affected 161,700 pupils, while 71 schools in the Kuala Langat district involved 50,000 pupils.

Mahmud advised parents of children with health problems like asthma to inform the principal or headmaster should they feel there was a risk in their children attending classes.

He added they should also don face masks as precautionary measures when outdoors.

Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan said school authorities must remain alert and cautious with the current situation as the main priority was the pupils' health.

"Schools in areas, where the haze had worsened, should continuously monitor the API readings by referring to the Department of Environment's (DoE) website so they can be informed on the current condition.

"The pupils are also advised to wear face masks and drink plenty of water during the haze," he said.

On March 4, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said if the API reading exceeded 150, all outdoor activities would have to be scrapped while the schools would be closed if the API breached 200.

Visibility in the Klang Valley yesterday fluctuated due to thick haze. As at 5pm, the haze had reduced visibility in Petaling Jaya to 500m while Subang and Sepang were at 2km respectively.

The haze has also led to several flight disruptions with AirAsia cancelling all its flights to and from Pekanbaru in Indonesia for two days, starting yesterday due to low visibility.

Meanwhile in Kajang, the government has no plans to declare a state of emergency in view of the worsening haze situation in the Klang Valley and other parts of the country.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said an emergency would only be declared by the National Security Council should the API reading breach the 500 level.

"There is no need to declare a state of emergency as the API reading in the critical areas is still below 500."

Port Klang API levels at a hazardous 308
isabelle lai AND kathleen ann kili The Star 14 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: Air quality in Port Klang remained at hazardous levels as haze worsened over parts of Peninsular Malaysia with yet another day of dry skies.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) showed Port Klang’s hourly air quality readings remaining hazardous the entire day, with a reading of 308 at 7pm.

Banting also suffered hazardous air quality from midnight to 11am before dipping slightly to “very unhealthy” levels from noon and recording 209 at 7pm.

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.

As at 7pm, 12 places recorded unhealthy readings: Muar (116), Bandaraya Melaka (109), Bukit Rambai (113), Nilai (133), Port Dickson (141), Seremban (119), Tanjung Malim (111), Kuala Selangor (114), Petaling Jaya (168), Shah Alam (157), Batu Muda, Kuala Lumpur (142) and Cheras (122).

The Meteorological Department also recorded poor visibility in haze-shrouded areas, including reduced visibility of up to just 300m at its worst point in Petaling Jaya, followed by up to 600m in Subang and 1km in KLIA.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said the Department of Environment’s ban against open burning had now been extended to Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya effective Thursday.

“No open burning can be done in these areas except for certain activities such as cremation, religious purposes and barbecues. Those caught carrying out open burning can be fined up to RM500,000, jailed not more than five years or both,” he told reporters on Friday, adding that a maximum compound of RM2,000 could also be imposed for each offence.

Palanivel said as at March 12, DOE had detected 1,441 open burning cases, mostly involving farms (491), forest fires (296) and small open fires (270).

He also denied that the mounting number of cases were due to poor enforcement, adding that the ministry was having difficulty controlling the situation due to the dry weather, and that “sometimes, people just resorted to open burning”.

“We are distributing 13,000 face masks to students in schools in Selangor, Malacca, Negri Sembilan and Putrajaya which are in areas experiencing severe haze,” he said.

In JOHOR, state Health and Environment committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat advised people to refrain from outdoor activities and wear respiratory masks if they were susceptible to bad air.
“Although the haze situation in Muar is still under control, the public should start taking precautionary measures to avoid falling ill,” he said.

Watering plants, washing cars may land you in trouble
patrick lee The Star 15 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: Car washing and plant watering may be banned soon if the water levels in the dams show no sign of improving over the next three weeks.

An official of the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry (KeTTHA) told The Star that once a “water emergency” comes into effect, it would give its minister wide ranging powers to curb water wastage, both private and public.

“A water emergency would mean the law might be enforced to ban the use of hoses to water gardens and using potable water for cleaning cars,” the official said.

During a water emergency, Section 56 of the Water Services Industry Act 2006 empowers Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili to prohibit or restrict both the general and specific uses of water, or limit it to certain hours of the day.

Surcharges could also be applied on those who use above what is considered a reasonable quota.

The law also states that those owning or using water supplies can be ordered to stop operating, with those failing to comply liable to be fined up to RM300,000 or jailed not more than three years, or both.

As an example, the official said, car wash operators might be ordered to cease operations during this time.

“We have to alter consumption behaviour at large. People are not really listening (to our warnings) because the tariff is so low,” said the official, who added that the situation was “worrying”.

Previously, The Star reported Dr Maximus as saying that a water emergency would have to be declared in as early as three weeks if rains did not fall.

Much of the peninsula has been hit hard by the heat wave, with little rain over water catchment areas serving densely populated areas such as Klang Valley.

Luas, the Selangor Water Management Authority, said on its website that the Sun-gai Selangor Dam – the state’s largest – dropped to 40.08% of its capacity on Friday morning.

On Thursday, Luas director Md Khairi Selamat said the dam’s critical level was 30%, which could be reached in 30 days if there is no rain.

Malaysian Water Association president Syed Mohamad Alhabshi said essential services such as airports and hospitals would most likely still enjoy regular supply in an emergency.

“I don’t know how long the emergency will last, but we’ll have to hold on until the next monsoon season after September,” he said.

Association of Water and Energy Research president S. Piarapakaran said a lot of economic activity would be disrupted during an emergency, and added that sufficient notice needed to be given, or else, chaos could erupt.

The last time a water emergency was imposed was in Malacca in 1991 when the Durian Tunggal dam dried up.

Cloud seeding op to resume today, says dept
isabelle lai The Star 15 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: The National Security Council has recalled a Hercules plane from the MH370 search and rescue operations for cloud seeding duty which is expected to resume today.

This comes in the wake of mounting public alarm over depleting water levels in dams as well as the current dry weather and open burning cases that are contributing to the choking haze over parts of the country.

The Meteorological Department’s atmospheric science and cloud seeding division director Azhar Ishak said the operation would kick off at around 2.30pm today, adding that it was targeted at clouds over water catchment areas and places with severe haze.

The operation, he said, would be carried out with the cooperation of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, with the C-130 flown by Squadron 20 from its Subang base.

“We have identified favourable cloud conditions. We hope to induce rainfall over water catchment areas in Selangor as well as areas such as Port Klang, Putrajaya and Sepang which are experiencing severe haze,” he told The Star here yesterday.

He had earlier said that the cloud seeding exercise had to be postponed as the RMAF’s C-130s were being deployed to help in the search and rescue of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane.

Should conditions remain good today, Azhar said the cloud seeding operation might also be carried out in Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor.

He said from Tuesday or Wednesday onwards, the department would conduct cloud seeding using a private aircraft that it had contracted.

The aircraft, a six-seater Cessna, had been modified for the operation and was currently undergoing repairs, said Azhar.

“We will continue cloud seeding until heavy rainfall starts in the inter-monsoon period,” he said. “This is expected to begin from the end of March to May.”

Azhar said cloud seeding would be carried out in as many states as the department could reach, especially over areas affected by severe haze.

His officers, he added, would constantly refer to the department’s satellite images to locate suitable rain clouds for the operation. “We will be doing wet seeding with the C-130 and dry seeding with the Cessna,” he said.

Wet seeding involves spraying a salt solution at the base of identified clouds while dry seeding is done using hygroscopic flares, fixed onto an aircraft’s wings, that will disperse salt particles into the clouds when lit.

Cloud seeding is expected to be able to induce rainfall within 15 minutes to half an hour after the exercise.

Owners at risk of losing their land if they carry out open burning
The Star 15 Mar 14;

SHAH ALAM: Selangor has threatened to confiscate land belonging to people who constantly carry out open burning on their property.

“We also want these people to be prosecuted in court,” said the executive councillor in charge of environment, Elizabeth Wong, at a press conference here yesterday.

Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, who was also present, confirmed that plans were underway for the exercise to be initiated.

Khalid and Wong earlier attended the launching of the Malaysia Women Marathon 2014 here, where Wong also revealed that the state was working on plans to compulsorily acquire some land to store water, presumably for its proposed Hybrid Off-River Augmentation System meant to boost the security of water supply.

On open burning, Wong said the state had identified some 2,000 individual owners of small plots of land in the vicinity of Johan Setia, which sees a fair share of open burning every year, and had already drawn-up a name list that also included land belonging to large companies.

Wong also said the Selangor Environment Department had also opened 12 investigation papers on big scale burning with a view of prosecuting the culprits.

“Some of the areas have been repeatedly told not to burn, but they continue. So, the owners will be identified for prosecution, and might even have their land confiscated.”

However, Wong said fires in Selangor were currently under control, though some of the fires were located in highly inaccessible areas.

Meanwhile, Khalid said that Selangor valued women and that was why 40% of its exco members were of the fairer sex.

This is the second year that the women’s marathon was being held, with twice the number of participants compared to last year.

The Malaysia Women Marathon is one of the five all-women marathon events in the world.

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Indonesia: Riau's air quality hazardous to people`s health

Antara 14 Mar 14;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Ten air pollutant standard index devices installed in several districts and cities in the Riau Province showed that the air quality was categorized as hazardous to the peoples health.

The data of the Riau Haze Disaster Mitigation Agency indicated that the pollutant standard index (PSI) in Rumbai, Pekanbaru, was 310 PSI, and in Minas, Siak district, it was 388 PSI, according to the devices that belonged to PT Chevron Pacific Indonesia (CPI).

The PSI in Dumai reached 500. It was also at 500 in Duri Camp and Duri Field. The PSI in Kandis, Perawang, Bangko and Panam inPekanbaru was also reported to be 500.

An air quality index above 300 PSI is categorized as hazardous to peoples health.

Haze coming from the plantation and forest fires, which were mostly lit deliberately to illegally clear land for farming and plantation, had led to the deterioration of the air quality in the Riau Province.

Environmental Affairs Minister Balthasar Kambuaya recently recommended the revocation of concession rights of companies that set the fires.

"We do not have the authority to revoke their licenses, only the Environmental Affairs Ministry can make that recommendation," the minister said in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, on Wednesday.

Last year, the ministry filed lawsuits against eight companies alleged to have burned forest land.

Recently, the ministry had sent a team to investigate forest and plantation fires in Riau, Aceh, North Sumatra and Jambi.

Meanwhile, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had asked all relevant ministers and the officials in the Riau province to put off the forest fires in every possible way.

"Again, I instructed the relevant ministers and the officials in Riau province on Thursday night to immediately perform emergency response operation," the president wrote on his Twitter account @SBYudhoyono on Friday.

He added that the officials in Riau should take the lead in preventing and managing the smoke caused by the forest and plantation fires in the province.

"If in two days the relevant ministers and the Riau provincial government officials fail to mitigate the problem, I will take it over," the head of state noted.

He said the police had named 37 suspects and will bring them to court, but if the fires continued to burn, the suffocating haze would be inevitable.

"The central government, the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), the National Defense Forces (TNI) and the National Police (Polri) had tried to overcome the smoke but the result was not satisfactory," he said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

Water bombing operation prepared in Dumai
The Jakarta Post 14 Mar 14;

A water bombing operation has been prepared in Dumai, Riau, to help extinguish worsening land and forest fires that have caused haze in surrounding areas.

“We moved the equipment for the water bombing operation to Dumai near the nature conservation area," Riau Haze Mitigation Task Force head Brig. Gen. Prihadi Agus Irianto said on Thursday as quoted by Antara news agency.

Forestry Ministry data shows that fires, lit by unscrupulous land clearers, have burned 3,000 hectares of forest in the conservation area.

Prihadi said the fires were difficult to extinguish and had created dense and choking haze that had spread to nearby areas, thereby paralyzing aviation activities at Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport in Pekanbaru.

The water bombing operation will involve eight helicopters, including Sikorsky and Comanche choppers, which are capable of carrying 5 tons of water per flight.

Meanwhile, the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) has used 6 tons of salt to seed clouds over seven areas and another 25 tons of salt have been prepared for the same purpose.

Areas targeted for cloud seeding were located in Siak, Pelalawan, Kuantan Singingi, Rokan Hilir, Kampar and Rokan Hulu regencies as well as Dumai city.(yln)

Haze in Bukittinggi disrupts daily activities
The Jakarta Post 14 Mar 14;

Thick haze from forest fires that is blanketing Riau worsened Friday, reaching Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, causing visibility of only 300 meters.

“The haze is getting worse day by day,” Defri, a resident of Bukit Cangang in Bukittinggi, said on Friday as quoted by Antara news agency.

He complained about the deteriorating condition, saying: “Yesterday the visibility was about 1 kilometer, but is now only 300 meters. The poor air quality has caused residents issues such as eye irritation and respiratory problems.”

Previously, Bukittinggi Health Agency chief Syofia Dasmauli said the number of acute respiratory infection (ISPA) cases had increased as a result of the haze by around 10 to 20 percent.

“The number of sufferers of ISPA is based on reports from seven community health centers in 24 sub-districts in Bukittinggi,” Syofia said. (atw)

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Malaysia: Don’t look down on mud

Samantha Joseph New Straits Times 15 Mar 14;

Mangroves are an important part of our ecosystem — and so are corporations. Samantha Joseph sees how one works to save the other

A TINY brown crab scuttles out of the oozing, viscous mud a step down from the tarred path that leads from a small jetty in Kampung Sungai Sembilang to part of semiconductor giant Intel’s mangrove rehabilitation project in Penang.

As our small group of journalists tour Intel Malaysia’s environmentally conscious corporate social responsibility efforts, slog through the grey mud alongside Intel personnel-volunteers to plant mangrove saplings in our borrowed rubber boots, more tiny crabs run amok, scuttling from underfoot into perfectly round holes in the ground.

Oh God, I think. I am murdering small creatures whilst also rebuilding their habitat. A boot check later reveals no collateral damage crustaceans, but plenty of mud.

“We’re actually quite lucky it’s the dry season. It would have been a lot muddier,” says the perpetually cheerful Intel community relations programme manager Azrena Mahmud, adjusting her multicoloured tudung. “This entire area used to be completely flat. You could see right to the sea.”

Now the view is blocked by the narrow fingers of mangrove tree trunks, numbering in the thousands, but the young trees reach heights of only 30 or 60cm above my head. The planting programme in the Kampung Sungai Sembilang, Penang area began in 2008, becoming the fourth mangrove planting project for Intel that has seen the planting of over 19,000 trees in nine areas.

In 2003, ecological biologist Professor Gong Wooi Khoon noted that Penang’s mangrove forests would disappear by 2020 if nothing is done to stop the current devastation. Penang, she said, had already lost 60 per cent of its mangroves, and Malaysia is losing her mangrove area at a rate of 1 per cent a year to agriculture, construction projects and industrial estates.

It is not so surprising then that Intel has invested money and manpower in a project to sustain the mangroves of Penang. The mangroves are not an uncommon choice for corporate social responsibility efforts among multinationals — Ricoh and Sime Darby also have their own mangrove replanting initiatives.

In the Go Eco with Ricoh campaign, replanting in Pulau Kukup National Park, Johor, Kuala Gula, Perak and the Kuala Selangor Nature Park (KSNP) has been carried out. Ricoh’s efforts were done in cooperation with BirdLife International Asia Division, and according to Ricoh, KSNP is a designated Important Bird Area and is home to 150 species of birds, some monkeys, and most importantly, smooth-coated otters.

The rich, salty environment created by mangroves form an irreplaceable ecosystem that supports unique creatures ranging from long legged waterbirds, hiding snakes and climbing monkeys to slippery fish and mangrove crabs.

The mangroves also play the role of protector, not just to the wildlife and plants, but also to the people and the land — their flourishing along the coastlines acts as a guard against tsunamis and great waves, cutting through them with their uncountable skinny limbs and saving lives in the process. Ever since the devastation left behind by the 2004 tsunami, there has been a greater focus on the replanting of mangrove forests, especially by private parties.

Intel’s conservation efforts under it’s 1 Employee 1 Tree campaign have proven to be fruitful, especially for the fishermen of Kampung Sungai Sembilang. The Penang Inshore Fishermen Welfare Association (PIFWA), a registered organisation run wholly by volunteers to protect the interests of the fishermen, is heavily involved in the maintenance of the Kampung Sungai Sembilang mangrove.

PIFWA president Ilias Shafie, a big man in a blue polo shirt, says that the mangrove has more or less exploded in terms of growth, beginning with 9,000 trees planted by volunteers, and now housing an estimated 25,000 trees after three months. Ilias credits the mangrove roots for capturing wayward seeds and welcoming them to the bosom of the mangrove. The most common saplings planted are the rather unattractively named bakau minyak and bakau kurap.

“The seeds from around this area is brought here by the current, and catches on the roots of the existing trees,” he explains. Before this, the seeds would have just floated through unimpeded, going their merry way into oblivion. But the newly-grown mangrove area provides a nutritious stopping ground. The new seeds add to the existing growth as well as diversity, resulting in a mangrove forest that is home to more species than was first introduced.

The existence of the mangrove in Kampung Sungai Sembilang has also benefitted the fishermen directly, as Ilias states that their catches have actually gotten better compared to before the mangrove was planted.

The efforts by PIFWA and Intel have not gone unnoticed. The Pacific Asia Resource Centre Interpeople’s Cooperation (PARCIC), a Japanese organisation that aids communities who may be losing their livelihood and way of life, have been lending a hand to the fishermen since 2008. Their aid comes in the form of fundraising and awareness within the corporate world, helping communities in need on a small scale.

Inoue Reiko, the PARCIC representative director who visited us at the mangrove, points out that coastal destruction has plagued many fishing communities, thanks mainly to industrialisation. PIFWA’s efforts together with Intel caught PARCIC’s eye in 2008, when the organisation carried out research for their next interpeople’s project.

“The number of coastal fishermen are decreasing in all Asian countries,” says Reiko. “The good thing about PIFWA is that they are proactive about conserving their livelihood. Many fishermen stop at protesting. That’s why we support their initiative.”

The Matang Mangrove Swamp Reserve in Perak is reportedly the best managed mangrove swamp in the world, meaning there is hope for us in terms of conservation. It isn’t enough to say mangroves are important though — we should go out right now and grow our own bakau kurap if possible.

Read more: GREEN: Don’t look down on mud - Live - New Straits Times

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