Best of our wild blogs: 17 Mar 14

Green Drinks March: Be a part of an independent study!
from Green Drinks Singapore

Two Different Pansies @ Punggol End
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

from Monday Morgue

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Turn Ubin into ecotourism spot?

Regular visitors to Pulau Ubin hope to see as little government intervention as possible. But NMP Faizah Jamal pointed out that some structures, including abandoned kampung homes, are crumbling.
Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - Pulau Ubin could be promoted as an ecotourism destination, a biodiversity hub or a village where Singapore residents weary of the city can go to relax.

Such were the suggestions in response to the Government's call on Monday for views on how to "sensitively" protect and enhance the isle's rustic character and natural environment.

"We will consult and engage widely. And we will not rush, because the process is as important as the outcome, and we want to hear from as many Singaporeans as possible," Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said in Parliament on Monday.

The 10.2 sq km island, about the size of Changi Airport, has seen its population dwindle from 2,000 in the early 1950s to just 38 today. But it still draws over 300,000 visitors every year, more than the average of 104,000 who go to isles like Kusu.

Nature groups and experts said more can be done to tell visitors how unique Pulau Ubin is. It could also be made into a biodiversity hub or an ecotourism spot.

Indeed, Pulau Ubin is unique, said nature enthusiast Ria Tan, 52, as it is one of the last few offshore islands with ecosystems no longer common in Singapore.

"It is home to an intact spectrum of habitats, where inland forests merge into mangroves, leading to mudflats, sandy shores and seagrass meadows," she said.

The isle's habitats, heavily affected by activities like granite quarrying, can do with some sprucing up though.

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum suggested enhancements such as reintroducing rare plant species and those that have disappeared.

Even as individuals and groups suggested how to enhance the isle off Changi, most also stressed that its charm should be kept.

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Dry spell ends as heavy showers hit Singapore

Dylan Loh Channel NewsAsia 16 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Heavy showers hit Singapore on Sunday, ending the 27-day dry spell which started last month.

The National Environment Agency said in a statement on Sunday that the rains had been blown in from the South China Sea by strong easterly winds, and the showers had been heaviest in the eastern and southern parts of the island.

It was relief for many, and thundery showers are forecast for the next two days in the late morning and afternoon.

The rain will certainly provide relief to the parched earth, which had turned brown during Singapore's record dry spell.

Many people took to social media to post a flood of wet weather images from various parts of the island. One of them was Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who welcomed the rain on his Facebook page.

The dry spell did bring some lessons, as it has raised awareness about the need for water conservation.

The National Environment Agency said the northeast monsoon's dry phase is expected to transition to the inter-monsoon period in the final week of March -- meaning more rainy weather is expected.

- CNA/ac

More thundery showers expected as 27-day dry spell ends
Channel NewsAsia 16 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Singapore can expect thundery showers in the late morning and afternoon in the next two days, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said.

More rainfall can be expected over the next fortnight as the Northeast Monsoon transitions to the inter-monsoon period expected in the last week of March 2014, the agency added.

This comes as heavy showers in the late morning and afternoon on Sunday ended the 27-day dry spell that started on February 17.

The NEA said the downpour was due to an "equatorial band of extensive rain clouds in the southern part of the South China Sea, brought in to Singapore and the surrounding region by strong, deep easterly winds".

The showers were heaviest in the eastern and southern parts of the island, which received the least rainfall during the dry spell.

All except one of the Meteorological Service Singapore's 64 rainfall stations recorded rainfall above 1mm.

As of 6.30pm on Sunday, the highest rainfall total recorded is 52.6mm at Changi, while 19 other stations in the east, south and central areas recorded rainfall totals ranging from 31mm to 51.8mm.

The highest rainfall recorded in an hour is 33.2mm (between 12.35pm and 1.35pm) at Sentosa.

- CNA/ac

3-hour PSI drops to 9 at 4pm today
Today Online 16 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) has dropped to 9, with the 24-hour PSI at the 23-33 range, reported the National Environment Agency (NEA) at 4pm today (March 16). The readings are within the “Good” range.

This comes as heavy downpours were reported across the island, with many taking to social media to report the rain which arrived after a record-breaking dry spell.

Yesterday, the NEA said a slight change in the prevailing wind direction, together with brief showers in the afternoon yesterday mostly in the eastern and central parts of the island, brought some improvement to the hazy conditions in Singapore. Winds shifted from northeasterly to easterly yesterday, blowing haze in southern Johor away from Singapore.

A total of three hotspots were detected in Peninsular Malaysia and 11 hotspots in Sumatra yesterday. The low count is due to cloud cover and a partial satellite pass.

An NEA report yesterday said that hazy conditions can still be expected for the next few days in the late afternoons and evenings should the wind direction change to blow from the northeast and if the hotspots in southern Johor persist.

Showers are expected to continue over the next three days, with thundery showers on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the NEA’s three-day forecast. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHANNEL NEWSASIA

Rain brings relief to sweltering Singapore
Today Online 17 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — Heavy showers across Singapore yesterday ended a 27-day dry spell and improved the hazy conditions experienced over the past week, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) staying in the “good” range throughout the day.

The rain, which started at 9.40am, was heaviest in the eastern and southern parts of the island — areas that received the least rainfall during the dry spell, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in a statement yesterday.

All except one of the Meteorological Service Singapore’s 64 rainfall stations recorded rainfall of above 1.0mm.

As at 6.30pm, the highest rainfall total was 52.6mm at Changi. Nineteen other stations in the east, south and central areas recorded rainfall totals ranging from 31.0mm to 51.8mm.

While there had been occasional brief showers on Saturday afternoon, the NEA had said then that the rainfall was not widespread and heavy enough to break the dry spell.

Yesterday, many people took to social media to post a flood of wet weather pictures. Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan also welcomed the rain on his Facebook page.

The rain was the result of an equatorial band of extensive rain clouds from the southern part of the South China Sea brought in to Singapore and the surrounding region by strong, deep easterly winds, said the NEA.

In an update on the haze situation, the NEA said no hot spots were detected in Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra yesterday due to extensive cloud cover. As at 10pm, air quality in Singapore was in the “good” band, with the three-hour PSI at 14 and the 24-hour PSI between 19 and 29. The 24-hour PM2.5 was between 10 and 19 micrograms per cubic metre.

The NEA also said there were showers over parts of Peninsular Malaysia and central Sumatra, including the Riau province, with the former seeing improved air quality. As at 5pm yesterday, only three areas — one in Perak and two in Selangor — reported air quality in the “unhealthy” range.

Schools in Malaysia that were closed last Friday due to the hazardous levels of air pollution have been directed to reopen today, reported Bernama.

Thundery showers are expected in Singapore in the late morning and afternoon today and tomorrow, while the air quality for the next 24 hours is expected to remain in the “moderate” band, said the NEA yesterday. The showers have been forecast as the North-east Monsoon transitions to the Inter-Monsoon period expected in the last week of this month.

Winds in the surrounding region are also expected to blow mainly from the east over the next few days. Should the winds temporarily turn in direction to blow from the north-east, or if there are hot spot activities in southern Johor, slightly hazy conditions are to be expected.

An earlier dry spell between Jan 13 and Feb 8 also lasted 27 days.

At last, heavy rain returns
Jacqueline Woo MyPaper AsiaOne 17 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - The heavy rain that hit many parts of Singapore yesterday was greeted with unbridled joy by Singaporeans sick of the recent dry spell.

The National Environment Agency's (NEA's) three-hour Nowcast, which tracks rainfall patterns, showed thundery showers across the island. This followed light showers on Saturday.

On Facebook, one user called Melly Mel wrote: "All the plants are rejoicing in this rain. 'Finally some water,' they say!"

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean posted a photo of himself standing in the rain: "Yeah! It's pouring in Pasir Ris Park after our community run this morning. Nice to get wet!" The post had garnered more than 730 likes as of 10pm yesterday.

The rain also cleared the haze. As of 8pm, the 24-hour PSI was in the 20 to 31 range.

The NEA said the showers were heaviest in the eastern and southern parts of the island, which received the least rainfall during the dry spell.

Showers yesterday also affected parts of peninsular Malaysia and central Sumatra, including Riau province, and no hot spots were detected in those areas because of extensive cloud cover.

Thanks to "improved conditions", the air quality for today will be moderate, and Singaporeans can expect thundery showers in the late morning and afternoon over the next few days.

The NEA had earlier said that more rainfall can be expected as Singapore heads into the inter-monsoon period. Even so, total rainfall for this month is likely to be below the March long-term average of 185.9mm.

Local weather researcher Winston Chow said the fluctuating weather conditions are not likely to continue, given Singapore's climate for this time of the year, as the weather context for the next few months is "favourable for humid, cloudy, and possibly rainy conditions, especially in the afternoons".

The dry spell started in mid-January, with February setting the record for being the driest month in Singapore since 1869.

National water agency PUB has been topping up Singapore's 17 reservoirs with Newater since January. Yesterday's rain "helped to increase water levels in our reservoirs slightly", said Mr George Madhavan, director of PUB's 3P Network. Although "some rain has returned", the public should continue to conserve water, he added.

A National Parks Board spokesman said the rain is "a welcomed respite and will help our plants recover".

For owners of local farm businesses such as Eden Garden Farm's Chan Yow Tiong, 63, the rain was a heartening sign, and one that was much welcomed. "My pond was about to dry up," said Mr Chan, who waters the vegetables in his farm with pondwater.

Other farmers including Mr Soh Chau Hian, 68, pointed out that yesterday's rain alone would not be enough to offset the parching effects of the dry spell. "The soil is still very dry," he said.

Additional reporting by Goh Wei Hao

Here comes the rain again as Singapore marks World Water Day
Amelia Tan The Sunday Times AsiaOne 18 Mar 14;

Singapore marked World Water Day on Saturday, and right on cue, light rain fell in some places on Saturday afternoon for a brief respite from the prolonged dry weather.

Singaporeans including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took to social media to welcome the burst of rain.

"Arriving at ITE College Central for the National RC Convention - RAIN!!" wrote Mr Lee on his Facebook page, along with a picture of the Institute of Technical Education college seen through water droplets on a car windscreen.

He was on his way to a residents' committee (RC) event.

It was but a passing shower mostly in eastern and central Singapore. The National Environment Agency said in a statement yesterday that as of 5pm, the highest rainfall recorded was 3.8mm at Scotts Road.

"The rainfall this afternoon was not widespread and heavy enough to break the current dry spell," it added.

Since dry weather conditions will stay, conserving water must continue to be a priority for Singaporeans, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Sunday at a World Water Day event at Marina Barrage.

He said the dry spell has not affected the country because the Government has planned and invested in water systems.

But he said Singaporeans must be prepared for a prolonged dry spell and called on them to make small changes to conserve water.

They can save water by taking shorter showers, washing clothes on a full load in washing machines and brushing teeth with a mug instead of using running water.

"When added up, these savings will help stretch our water resources further," he said.

Mr Teo was among several ministers and Members of Parliament who attended World Water Day events at Marina Barrage, Jurong Lake, Geylang River, Punggol Waterway and Yishun Pond.

More than 17,500 people took part in activities such as mass walks and cycling.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who was at Jurong Lake, also urged Singaporeans to save water. "Water is especially precious now, and it is important for all of us to do more for water conservation," he said.

Tuas has had the most rainfall in the first two weeks of March, with a total of 18.6mm. There were brief afternoon showers in the western parts of Singapore but other areas had little or no rain.

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Spit, smoke, litter illegally? Soon, a volunteer might catch you

Woo Sian Boon Today Online 17 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — The authorities are looking to form a volunteer corps of individuals who will be empowered to fine offenders who litter, spit, urinate and smoke in prohibited places.

Initially envisioned as an anti-litter volunteer corps — trained and given the same warrant cards as enforcement officers from the National Environment Agency (NEA) — by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan last year, the scheme could now be expanded to include other public health offences.

This comes after the NEA received feedback from volunteers under a programme targeting litter, as well as from other members of the public, that they are keen to do more than just engage litterbugs.

Under the Community Volunteer Programme, the NEA currently trains and issues authority cards to members of civic groups. It empowers the volunteers to ask litterbugs to pick up after themselves, but should they not comply, the volunteers can only take down the offenders’ particulars, to be handed over to the NEA. The NEA will then investigate the cases before prosecuting the offenders.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, the NEA said it is exploring the feasibility of recruiting voluntary enforcement officers, and will announce more details when the scheme is firmed up.

The NEA’s move to encourage a greater ground-up movement against littering comes as the number of tickets issued for littering rose to 9,346 last year, a 14-per cent increase compared to the 8,195 cases in 2012. Since May, the agency has also increased its enforcement hours against littering and smoking from 24,000 to 35,000 man-hours per month.

Since the Community Volunteer Programme was launched in late 2012, 153 volunteers from five non-governmental organisations like the Public Hygiene Council, Waterways Watch Society and Cat Welfare Society have been trained and authorised to take down the particulars of litterbugs.

The NEA said it welcomes more members of the public to come forward as volunteers.

To date, they have engaged more than 500 litterbugs, with the large majority cooperating and binning their litter when approached.

The one exception — a repeat littering offender, according to the NEA — was caught smoking and throwing away his cigarette butt in a non-smoking zone. The litterbug was fined S$500 and made to serve a Corrective Work Order of three hours.

Volunteers TODAY spoke to said that offenders would usually comply with their requests to pick up their litter without the need for them to whip out their authority cards.

The goal is not just to book offenders, but give them a chance to correct their behaviour in the hope they will choose not to litter in future, said Ms Margaret Heng, 52, a volunteer with the Public Hygiene Council.

“The fact that they are willing to pick it up means they know that it’s wrong and they can be changed. And we would like to convert them. If everyone plays their part in keeping the environment clean, then everybody will get to enjoy it more,” she said.

Mr Liak Teng Lit, who heads the Keep Singapore Clean Movement, said he ultimately hopes for a culture in which all Singaporeans — authorised or not — will remind each other not to litter.

He said: “In Japan, for example, if you litter, almost definitely someone next to you is going to tell you off. In Singapore, this is not so common.

“I hope the day will come when, if anybody litters, somebody on the side will just remind them: Please don’t do it.”

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Gardens in the spotlight again

Kezia Toh The Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - On the tail of the 155-year-old Singapore Botanic Gardens' bid last month to be a Unesco World Heritage Site, an exhibition dedicated to it has opened at the National Museum of Singapore.

The process of obtaining rubber is the focus of the More Than A Garden exhibition, a nod to its key role in boosting the early 20th-century prosperity of Malaya and Singapore.

Visitors can smell and touch a smoked rubber sheet, view a video and see rubber tapping tools as well as what was used to transport rubber seedlings.

Ms Jean Wee, director of the Preservation of Sites and Monuments division at the National Heritage Board, says the exhibition gives the public an idea of why the Gardens has been submitted as a Unesco bid. "People have asked us, 'Are you sure the Gardens can make it?' I want them to understand why we are putting in the Gardens, and for them to understand how significant rubber was as a crop that transformed our landscape and our economy at that time.

"We still have a long road ahead of us," says Ms Wee, adding that she hopes to receive clarifications on the bid by December this year.

The 222 sq m exhibition will also touch on the stories of four pioneering rubber tycoons in Singapore such as Tan Kah Kee, and includes a recording of Henry Nicholas Ridley's voice.

Ridley, the first scientific director of the Gardens, served for 23 years from 1888 and was called the "father" of the rubber industry. He was known for convincing Malayan coffee planters to grow rubber trees instead, and developing a more efficient method of latex gathering without damaging the tree.
- See more at:

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Malaysia: Park plans sun bear release

ruben sario The Star 17 Mar 14;

KOTA KINABALU: Five endangered Malayan sun bears that were seized and handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department now have a chance to return to the wild.

The five were recently transferred to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sandakan from the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, near here, where they were initially sheltered.

They were either seized by wild life rangers between June last year and March 1 or handed over to the department by the public.

Officer-in-charge of the park and veterinarian Dr Rosa Sipangkui said that the four male and one female bears were tranquillised on March 10 and given a full medical examination to make sure they were healthy before they were put in cages for an eight-hour journey to their new jungle home at the conservation centre.

“One day they may be rehabilitated and released into a protected forest reserve,” she said.

The conservation centre’s chief executive officer, Wong Siew Te, said his team took three hours to unload the bears when they arrived there and to settle the animals into a bear house.

“We are monitoring their progress and will keep the public updated on how they are doing.

“The bears are not among those that were for public viewing at the wildlife park,” he said, adding that two more bears were expected to arrive at the conservation centre.

“With that, the bear population at the centre will increase to 34,” he added.

Wong reminded the public that it was an offence to keep protected species and should they have any such animal in captivity they should surrender it to the department.

“Sun bears are protected by law, and cannot be kept as pets,” he said, adding that they were forest dependent and played important roles in the forest ecosystem as seed dispersers, forest engineers, forest doctors and forest farmers.

“They keep our forests healthy, for the benefit of humans and all life-forms.”

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Malaysia: Firemen still battling bush and peat fires

New Straits Times 17 Mar 14;

KUANTAN: After weeks of no rain, the intermittent rainfall on Saturday helped to cool the state capital here.

However, it did little to dampen bush and peat fires.

Although the downpour helped extinguish flames in some parts of the state, fire and rescue personnel continued to battle the fires, with several hot spots identified along the East Coast Highway near Gambang and in Rompin.

A Fire and Rescue Department spokesman said the rainfall had reduced the fire activities.

But, he said, firemen were still stationed in several fire-prone forest areas to contain the situation.

He said the peat and bush fires along the Kuantan-Pekan stretch, which previously produced thick smoke that engulfed nearby areas, were not fully put out and fierce winds might fan the flames.

"The rain has brought some relief, as it has managed to control the fire and clear the haze.

"But, heavy rain lasting several hours would be the best solution to bring the bush fires to an end.

"Although the rain has helped to extinguish the fires on the ground, the ember could burn for a long period and creep through the underground layer, prompting continued bush and peat fires.

"Currently, there are still reports of fires at an oil palm plantation in Pekan, at Taman Nusa Puteri in Rompin and near the Gambang toll plaza."

He reminded motorists to drive carefully, as peat fire emissions could post a threat.

Rain refreshes Klang Valley
New Straits Times 17 Mar 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Visibility in the Klang Valley improved yesterday, thanks to timely showers.

However, some areas remained shrouded in haze.

At 9am yesterday, Petaling Jaya registered a visibility level of 400m, while the visibility in Subang and Sepang was at 700m. Visibility improved as the day progressed, with Petaling Jaya and Subang improving to 8km, and Sepang to more than 10km at 5pm, thanks to heavy rain.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) in Banting, which recorded an unhealthy level, saw an increase from 142 at 9am to 147 at 5pm. The API in Shah Alam also recorded a spike, from a moderate 71 earlier to unhealthy (104) at 12pm, before increasing to 110 at 5pm.

Port Klang, which was at an unhealthy level in the morning, improved gradually. Eleven areas nationwide recorded moderate API readings. Thirty-six other areas showed good readings.

Rain brings respite from heat and haze to Johor folk
The Star 17 Mar 14;

JOHOR BARU: Rain in most districts in the state brought relief to the people after the state experienced a prolonged hot spell and haze.

It began around 7am in the coastal east, in areas like Kota Tinggi and Mersing yesterday and moved west to Batu Pahat, Muar, Pontian and Johor Baru.

A spokesperson from the Meteorological Department said that the department also recorded isolated showers in Segamat and in some parts of Mersing during the wee hours yesterday.

“We predict that there will be wet days ahead,” she said, adding that the wet weather was expected to last until tomorrow.

State Health and Environment executive councillor Datuk Ayub Rahmat said that the brief downpour helped reduce air pollutant particles that contributed to the haze in Muar.

“The few hours of rain had lessened the haze,” he said, adding that the state was expected to see rainy days ahead as the monsoon season was approaching.

Ayub said that the monsoon usually started early March, but due to changes in wind directions from the north, the wet season would only start somewhere around the third week of this month.

On its website, the Department of Environ-ment said Banting in Selangor recorded unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) reading yesterday morning.

The API reading in Shah Alam rose from moderate to unhealthy at 107 by 2pm.

Meanwhile, 10 areas recorded moderate API, namely Muar (51), Bukit Rambai (54), Nilai (55), Port Dickson (59), Balok Baru, Kuantan (65), Kangar (51), Kuala Selangor (59), Pelabuhan Klang (98), Petaling Jaya (96), and Batu Muda, Kuala Lumpur (63). Another 38 areas recorded good API reading.

API readings of between 0 to 50 are categorised as good, moderate (51-100), unhealthy (101-200), very unhealthy (201-300) and hazardous (more than 301).

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Indonesia: Fighting fires not solution to land fires in Riau -- President Yudhoyono

Antara 16 Mar 14;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has stated fighting fires is not solution to the question of forest and plantation fires in Riau province.

"The solution to fundamental problems is not just fighting fires. We must find the solution so the problems will not continue like this every year," the President said on the yard of the Riau governors official residence here on Sunday morning.

Fighting fires would never solve the cause of land fires which were deliberately set by irresponsible persons, he said.

In a short dialog with Riau Governor Annas Maamun, Chief of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Syamsul Maarif, Minister/State Secretary Sudi Silalahi, Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi, and Coordinating Minister for Peoples Welfare Agung Laksono, the President said he wanted to get first-hand information from local residents affected by haze caused by forest and plantation fires.

"I want to hear what the local residents have looked at and heard of. This way we may hear what has really happened. Dont bring them to us but we must visit them," he said.

President Yudhoyono arrived at Roesmin Nurjadin Airport in Pekanbaru on Saturday evening after making a stopover in Batam due to low visibility in the Riau provincial capital.

Shortly after arriving in Pekanbaru, the President met with personnel of integrated emergency operations to tackle land fires in the province.

To conduct the operations, two battalions of troops from the Marine Corps and the Air Forces Special Forces (Kopaskhas), plus personnel from the Air Defense Artery Unit, equipped with 11 Hercules C-130 planes have been readied.

The government has decided to launch three-week integrated operations which focus on arresting suspects in forest and plantation fires, providing health services to affected residents and fighting fires.

The President had originally been planned to take leave early this week to campaign for his Democrat Party in the runup to the April 9 legislative election. But on Friday (March 14) he cancelled the leave and instead traveled to Riau along with the alarming level of haze disaster in the province. ***1***

Reporting by GNC Aryani


(T.SYS/A/S012/B003) 16-03-2014 15:16:04

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia: Shoot-on-sight order issued for haze offenders in Riau

Ina Parlina and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 16 Mar 14;

In response to the ongoing forest fires in Riau that have caused severe haze across Sumatra, National Police chief Gen. Sutarman declared Saturday that the police would shoot on sight any suspects involved in land burning activities that resisted arrest.

“If the offenders resist arrest or harm other people, just shoot them,” Sutarman said as quoted by Antara news agency at the Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base in Pekanbaru, Riau.

He said that officials implicated in the crime would suffer the same treatment: “Shoot them too.”

Police have named as many as 60 suspected-fire starters in Riau. “One suspect is from PT NSP,” Sutarman continued.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has urged all parties, including firemen, to work harder to overcome the severe haze and set a three-week deadline.

Yudhoyono visited Pekanbaru to inspect several areas affected by the choking haze on Saturday, a day after he launched his three-week integrated emergency operation.

He arrived at Pekanbaru’s Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport Saturday afternoon after his flight from Adi Soemarmo International Airport in Surakarta, Central Java, was diverted to Hang Nadim International Airport in Batam due to visibility issues.

“The operation to extinguish the fires should be intensified and I expect [the situation] to be over within three weeks,” Yudhoyono told a joint-group of firemen, including those from the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) as quoted by Antara.

The integrated emergency measure aims to tackle fires and haze, provide health services to affected individuals and enforce the law. The President has also ordered National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Syamsul Maarif to lead the joint operation and asked companies in Riau to actively prevent fires from occurring.

Riau residents have been advised to minimize outdoor activities, while thousands of people across the province are suffering from various illnesses as a result of the deteriorating air quality.

According to the BNPB, as of Saturday morning, the air quality in several areas, including Pekanbaru city and Bengkalis, Siak and Kampar regencies, had yet to improve although rain in Pekanbaru at noon, just before Yudhoyono arrived, had cleared the air somewhat.

“The areas [noted above] registered more than 300 on the pollutant standards index [PSI], or hit a dangerous level,” BNPB spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said, adding his team would continue to seed clouds to induce rain. Under normal conditions, the PSI range is between zero and 50.

As many 11,260 residents of Pekanbaru had been treated for acute respiratory infections as of Saturday, Antara reported. On Friday, Riau Health Agency recorded that there were more than 55,000 residents in the province suffering from haze-related illnesses, including acute respiratory infections, pneumonia and skin and eye irritation.

Some residents have left the city in an attempt to protect their health.

The thick haze also disrupted the legislative election campaigns in Padang, West Sumatra.

“If haze still covers the areas on April 9, [we are] worried voter turnout will be affected,” West Sumatra General Elections Commission (KPU) member Nova Indra said. “People are [already] reluctant to leave the house for daily chores, such as a trip to the market, due to the haze.”

Police Warn Riau Fire Starters as SBY Lands in Province
Jakarta Globe 16 Mar 14;

Pekanbaru. The chief of the National Police has sent a strong warning to anyone caught illegally slashing and burning land in Riau: stop immediately or risk being shot for resisting arrest.

“If anyone fights back and endangers [officers or others], just shoot them,” National Police chief Gen. Sutarman said in Pekanbaru on Saturday.

He said the same policy should be applied to security or government officers allegedly involved in land burning.

“Shoot them as well,” Sutarman said according to Indonesian news portal

He added that police have so far named 60 suspects for allegedly igniting fires in Riau.

Most of the suspects have been identified as local farmers. One plantation firm — National Sago Prima, a subsidiary of publicly-listed Sampoerna Agro — was also named a suspect, however.

Riau Police chief Brig. Gen. Condro Kirono, meanwhile, said his office had formed a special team consisting of 558 officers tasked exclusively with hunting down those responsible for setting land and forest fires in Riau.

The resulting haze from the fires has disrupted flights and has caused tens of thousands of local residents to suffer from respiratory illnesses.

The haze has also spread to neighboring provinces such as Jambi and West Sumatra. Jambi on Saturday reported nearly 56,000 of its residents also suffered from respiratory illnesses, reported.

Condro said the team involved different organizations, including the Indonesian Military (TNI) as well as forest rangers, and was split up into nine smaller groups. Five of the groups have been sent to Bengkalis district and four to Pelalawan district.

“[The Pelalawan teams] will focus on Meranti Bay, which borders the Kerumutan Wildlife Conservation,” Condro said. “There have been lot of hotspots likely caused by illegal logging [there].”

The Bengkalis teams, meanwhile, will concentrate on the Giam Siak Kecil Biosphere Reserve in the subdistrict of Bukit Batu. “The Bengkalis teams can also cross to Rupat island, where there are a lot of hotspots.”

Police made these statements as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono landed in Pekanbaru on Saturday to inspect the situation.

Upon arriving in Pekanbaru, the president and his entourage took a road trip to Rimbo Panjang village in Kampar district to see firsthand the remnants of the burnt lands. On Sunday, after a meeting with Riau Governor Annas Maamum, the president was scheduled to take another trip 120 km away to Siak district, which is among the regions worst hit by the fires.

“It’s better that we listen to the residents’ stories — of what our brothers have seen and witnessed, of their hopes,” Yudhoyono said in Pekanbaru on Sunday according to the president’s official website. “Proper solutions will usually arise after we hear all of [the stories].”

The President, irritated by local officials’ slow response to the fire and haze issues, on Friday said he would take over and lead emergency measures himself if local officials and cabinet ministers continued to fail to address the problems.

Yudhoyono announced three emergency measures to handle the Riau fires: extinguish them as soon as possible, provide health treatment for affected residents and bolster law enforcement in affected areas. This despite the fact that the governor of Riau had already declared a state of emergency in the province last month.

The “Integrated Emergency Operation” initiated by the president will take place for three weeks, the president said.

Facts on the ground

On Sunday, citing satellite images, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) reported 171 hotspots in Riau, with Siak district reporting the most hotspots (78), followed by Indragiri Hilir (32) and Meranti (28).

“Officers have put out fires across 15,837 hectares of lands, from a total of 19,538 hectares burned,” the BNPB said. “Yesterday, air officers successfully dropped 60 water bombs on Giam Siak Kecil.”

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported visibility of 2 km at 6 a.m. on Sunday, marking a significant improvement from when visibility was less than 300 meters during the height of the crisis.

The agency also forecast light to heavy rains in Riau over the next two days, as well as showers until April, heightening hopes that fires and the haze could be further reduced.

183 Riau residents evacuate due to haze
Antara 16 Mar 14;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - A total of 183 people have fled their homes in Siak district, Riau province, due to thick smoke from forest and plantation fires.

"Smoke and fire are worsening. I saw smoke shroud my house. The fire was only 10 meters away from my house," evacuee Nurbasah said on Sunday.

The evacuees who are taking shelter at the Siak district seedling cultivation office are residents of Buatan Besar hamlet.

The evacuees consist of 35 children under five, 47 elementary school students and 101 adults.

Nurbasah said many residents were actually reluctant to evacuate because they want to protect their farm land and houses from fires.

"They later decided to evacuate after police picked them up on vehicles (to evacuee camp)," he said.

(Reporting by FB Anggoro/Uu.B003)

Editor: Priyambodo RH


Pekanbaru Airport resumes operation after haze problem
Antara 16 Mar 14;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - The Sultan Syarif Kasim International Airport in Pekanbaru city, Riau Province, has resumed its operation on Sunday after being disrupted by smog disaster for several days, the airport authority said.

"This morning, a Lion Air plane just landed at around 06.45 AM. We called on other airlines to operate normally because the haze starts diminishing," the airports duty manager, Ibnu Hasan, said here Sunday.

The pilot visibility was currently 2,500 meters, he said.

Thick haze, caused by continued forest fires in Riau over the past month had disturbed air transportation in the province.

As a result of thickening haze, the airport authority should temporarily stop flights due to low visibility.

Meanwhile Pekanbarus Chief of Airlines Operator Committee (AOC) Ahmad Nixon said six airlines were still halting operation due to haze in Pekanbaru city.

"Silk Air tries to fly from Pekanbaru airport today but it then cancels it due to the haze, while Mandala Air says it will assess todays weather condition before deciding whether to resume its flight service or not," Ahmad said.

The Firefly airline said it would still halt its operation until further notice while Citilink airline said it stop flying to and from Pekanbaru until March 17.

"Other airlines such as Lion group and Sky Aviation convey that they will not fly from and to Pekanbatu until March 19. While the national flag carrier Garuda Indonesia says it will not serve Pekanbaru route until March 22," he added.

(Reporting by FB Anggoro/translating and editing by Amie Fenia Arimbi/R013)

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia: An environmental law is not ‘green’ without full peat protection

Yuyun Indradi, Jakarta Post 16 Mar 14;

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s recent steps to regulate development on Indonesia’s carbon-rich peatlands might look like a step forward, but the regulation contains one major weakness: It does no guarantee full peatland protection.

The protection of peatland is one of the first levels of defense that Indonesia can implement if it is to reduce the release of climate-changing greenhouse gases — not to mention a measure that could mitigate the conditions that have lead to the forest fires.

Indonesia’s peatlands store approximately 60 billion tons of carbon — nearly six times more than all the carbon humans emitted in 2011. And this does not even include carbon in the forests themselves. If they disappear, it would unlock much of this carbon and release it into the atmosphere.

But while Yudhoyono’s new law might look at first sight to be progressive, it is not more than a very partial initiative. Peatlands within concession boundaries and shallow peat will not be protected by this regulation. Many companies have peatlands inside their concessions that have not been turned into plantations yet.

In fact, peat is such a complex facet of the landscape that even degrading shallow peat at the fringes of a massive peat dome often leads to the collapse of the entire dome.

While an increasing number of companies are adopting policies that exclude peat from conversion, the government seems unable to match these commitments, even if it is clear that Indonesia can only achieve its greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments by halting the conversion of peatland into palm oil and pulpwood plantations. A consistent approach is missing.

First, these areas should be properly identified and mapped. Without knowing not only exactly where they are but also where the areas are that companies could use to develop new plantations, it is impossible to halt the disintegration of peatland.

Second, many existing plantations are on peatland. Measures must be taken to restore the damage that has been done. Peat landscapes exceed plantation borders, therefore an integrated landscape-level approach, as proposed in the National REDD+ Strategy, will have to be adopted. This is missing from the proposed regulation.

A review of all existing concessions is urgently needed to both halt peatland clearance and restore what has so far been damaged. This should not solely depend on a handful of companies taking responsibility for doing the exercise themselves.

Instead of a comprehensive plan to protect one of Indonesia’s most precious landscapes — and the world’s largest carbon stores — President Yudhoyono is considering a proposal that might “green” Indonesia’s image, but do little to make a lasting difference. The current forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan are proof of the fact that regulations without coherent action plans are of no use. Nevertheless, peatland destruction continues largely unabated.

Yudhoyono, who is constitutionally ineligible for the presidency after two terms in office, should not sign this regulation if it does not protect all peatland. He should first revise it to be in line with what scientists say is necessary to halt the disintegration of peatland. And then he should ensure that existing government initiatives currently spread across different policies come together in one coherent peat ecosystem action plan.

Only then will he leave a legacy that will make a real difference.

The writer is a Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner.

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Malaysia: Call to preserve seagrass bed in Penang

New Straits Times 17 Mar 14;

IMPORTANT ECOSYSTEM: The seagrass is also a source of marine food

GEORGE TOWN: PENANG is at risk of losing its one and only seagrass bed to development.

This is because of a proposed reclamation of a 125ha middle-bank near Gazumbo, a small uninhabited sandy island which can be seen from the first Penang Bridge.

The proposed reclamation project is part of the Penang Structural Plan gazetted in 2007.

Aware of the importance of the natural habitat, Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu had suggested in the state legislative assembly sitting in December last year that the seagrass bed be excluded from the proposed reclamation.

Speaking to reporters recently after visiting Gazumbo, Teh said the seagrass bed should be preserved because it is the natural ecology and habitat of marine life.

"The bed should be preserved as an ecological site. Marine life would be affected if the seagrass bed is destroyed.

Teh said the middle bank should be used for research and ecosystem purposes.

"It is important for the middle bank to be removed from the reclamation proposal.

"If not, the ecosystem may be destroyed in the name of development," he added.

Teh said the bed also protected fishermen from the strong waves when they are at sea.

Meanwhile, state Legislative Assembly speaker Datuk Law Choo Kiang said the seagrass bed should be exempted from any development.

He said the state government should protect the seagrass bed to maintain the ecology of the area.

According to Law, the bed has existed for more than 50 years and the seaweed and seagrass on the bank have become a source of marine food.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) environmental biology graduate Wong Yun Yun said there were at least four species of seagrass found on the middle bank, including Halophila ovalis, Embalus acoroides and two others from the same species.

She said the species were among 60 species found in the world and among 18 in the Straits of Malacca.

There are also other marine life including Stichodactyla sp., Ulva reticulata, Amphiroa fragilissima, Fan Shell, and Brittle Star.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said any reclamation could only proceed if it fulfilled the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) report.

"If there is no compliance with the DEIA report, there will be no project. We will leave it to the Department of Environment.

"Whatever decisions we made have to depend on studies and technical advice, not just sentiments and emotions," he added.

Read more: Call to preserve seagrass bed - Northern - New Straits Times

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Polluted Paris chokes in the springtime sun

Michel Rose PlanetArk 17 Mar 14;

Charges were also waived for the city's pioneering cycle and electric car-sharing schemes this week as a visible haze hung over the streets of the French capital.

European Environment Agency (EEA) figures for Thursday showed there was 147 micrograms of particulate matter (PM) per cubic meter of air in Paris compared with 114 in Brussels, 104 in Amsterdam, 81 in Berlin and 79.7 in London.

Background pollution -- the outdoor air quality experienced by the average citizen -- topped the 100 maximum measurable index level in Paris on Thursday, data from pollution watchdog showed, making the French capital the only European capital in the "very high" level zone. The index stood at 81 in London, 76 in Berlin and 61 in Madrid.

Paris is traditionally more susceptible to poor air quality than other main western European capitals, with only Athens scoring worse according to World Health Organization (WHO) annual averages collected in 2008.

Fiscal support for diesel over gasoline in motor vehicles and heavy private vehicle traffic have been cited as causes.

The near-absence of wind and temperatures about 10 degrees Celsius above seasonal averages were also a factor this time, according to Meteo France data.

EU environment officials noted that pollution hotspots elsewhere in the world are far worse.

"While the current levels in Europe do pose a significant risk to health, peak levels can be up to 4-5 times higher in Asian cities like Beijing," an EEA spokesman told Reuters.

"Nevertheless, the levels of PM pollution encountered in the currently affected European regions would also be classified as pollution episodes in Asian cities," he said.

Three environmental groups worried over the recurring spikes in French air pollution this week filed a lawsuit "against x" - where the person or body deemed responsible is difficult to ascertain - for "endangering the lives of others."

"We know pollution causes deaths. Emergency departments are full of people with breathing problems, that's why we decided to file a complaint," said Nadir Saifi, a member of Ecology Without Borders, one of the groups filing the suit.


City of Paris officials argue the situation would be much worse had the government not introduced the popular bike- and car-sharing schemes now being replicated in cities such as London.

The use of Autolib cars had jumped by 46 percent on Thursday compared to the week before, Paris transport councilor Julien Bargeton said, while Velib cycle use had risen by 72 percent.

Charges for these services and buses, underground trains and other forms of transport will remain free over the weekend.

Speed limits were also reduced by 20 kilometers an hour and authorities in the Ile-de-France region around Paris took all but the most essential public vehicles off the roads.

Warnings from authorities to avoid physical exertions did not deter Parisians from enjoying the warm weather, however.

"My lungs are already polluted by cigarettes, so I don't really care," Sophie Boisseau, 29, told Reuters at the terrace of the Biscornu cafe near the stock exchange in central Paris.

(Additional reporting by Gregory Blachier and Thierry Chiarello in Paris; Editing by Andrew Callus and Mark John)

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