Best of our wild blogs: 3 Apr 14

Imagine Ubin Workshop
from The Leafmonkey Workshop

from The annotated budak

Is 20 millions tons enough? Scientists recommend plastic crackdown as oceans choke from news by Morgan Erickson-Davis

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In Singapore’s Center, but a World Away

JUSTIN BERGMANAPRIL New York Times 2 Apr 14;

It’s not often that you can find yourself completely alone in densely developed Singapore, not a building or road in sight and the only sound the trilling of birds overhead.

Yet this kind of blissfully quiet and unhurried experience is possible in a stretch of nearly hidden parkland that runs for about 15 miles from north to south behind housing developments and highways, cutting through some of the island’s priciest real estate.

Known among residents as the Green Corridor, the new park takes its inspiration from the High Line in New York and the Promenade Plantée in Paris, repurposing land that had once been used for a railway to create an unlikely nature preserve in the urban heart of the city.

And echoing the grass-roots movement that saved the High Line, the Green Corridor may not have been possible were it not for the efforts of conservation- and heritage-minded residents who led a campaign to persuade the Singaporean government to leave it untouched.

The old railway’s complex history partly explains why the land stayed out of developers’ hands so long. Built during British colonial rule in the early 1900s to ferry tin and rubber from the Malay Peninsula to the Singapore port, the railway remained under Malaysian control as part of the separation agreement that came with the 1965 division of Singapore and Malaysia. It wasn’t until 2010 that the countries finalized a land swap in which the rail corridor was transferred back to Singapore.

That was when a group called the Nature Society (Singapore) stepped in with a proposal to preserve the land, citing New York and Paris as examples of how other cities made use of abandoned railway lines. “We were concerned because traditionally when Singapore takes over a piece of land, the first thing they want to do is parcel it out to developers,” said the society’s vice president, Leong Kwok Peng, who spearheaded the drive to create the nature preserve.

A lively social media campaign followed with a Green Corridor website,, and a Facebook page aimed at galvanizing public support behind the project. Soon, residents were sharing their own photos, videos and downloadable maps of the verdant and untamed corridor online.

“We’re losing our natural spaces, and our shared memories are being erased quite rapidly, so it’s important to have a place where we can remember the past,” said Eugene Tay, an environmental activist who started the campaign and organized a series of public walks on the old railway line that drew some 600 curious residents.

The government proved receptive to the idea and agreed to preserve the Rail Corridor, as it calls the green space, in its entirety. After the tracks were removed (they had to be returned to Malaysia as part of the land-swap agreement), the trail was opened to the public in early 2012 and is now a popular spot on weekends for joggers, bikers, nature photographers and dog walkers. A 6.5-mile Green Corridor Run drew 6,000 participants last year and will be held again on May 18. And the National Heritage Board and a private company called Singapore History Consultants recently introduced a historical walking tour for students.

The trail itself, now just a dirt track fringed by towering rain trees, wild bamboo and banana plants, may receive a face-lift in coming years, too. The government is soliciting ideas from the public on how the corridor could be upgraded to make it more visitor-friendly. There are currently no toilets or rest areas and few signposts, and some cyclists and joggers would like to see it paved.

Others hope it remains unchanged. The trail offers a glimpse of a forgotten Singapore, winding its way through forests, community gardens, old steel railway bridges and graffiti-covered underpasses (yes, in squeaky-clean Singapore). On a walk with their dogs on a recent morning, two expatriates, Emma Chiang of Australia and Jessica Howell from Britain, said the beauty of the trail is how wild and unrestricted it is — they can take their dogs off their leashes, and locals can forage for edible greens.

“It’s so peaceful,” Ms. Howell said. “It’s my favorite place to walk in all of Singapore.”

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Haze Monitoring System's full operation faces obstacle: Balakrishnan

Channel NewsAsia 2 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: Environment ministers meeting in Brunei to tackle the haze problem have welcomed Indonesia's commitment to expedite the ratification of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

Writing on his Facebook page, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said the ministers renewed their offers of assistance and "made some progress" in finalising the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on collaboration with Jambi.

But the key sticking point was the unwillingness of some governments to share relevant land use and concession maps.

"This is an obstacle to full operationalisation of the Haze Monitoring System," said Dr Balakrishnan.

He added that he is disappointed with the lack of transparency.

He said: "Nevertheless, we have to find a way forward so that errant companies know that governments will exchange information and collaborate to take enforcement action.

“I shared our draft bill on Transboundary Haze with our Indonesian counterparts. I have also asked for the names of companies, and the evidence to be shared with us so that we can take appropriate action against the culprits. This will be a long journey."

Dr Balakrishnan acknowledged that the meeting was a "difficult" one which took place under the cloud of possibly even worse transboundary haze this year.

He noted that the haze began much earlier due to the unusual dry weather from January to March.

There is a higher probability of this being an El Nino year, with even drier weather in the months ahead.

- CNA/ms

No major progress on system to monitor haze
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 3 Apr 14;

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — As neighbouring countries continued to rebuff the Republic’s push to kick off the haze monitoring system that it had invested considerable time and money in, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday expressed his frustration, following another meeting with his counterparts on the haze problem that failed to yield any significant breakthrough on that front.

The unwillingness of countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia to share the land use and concession maps needed for the monitoring system to work was a key sticking point, he told the Singapore media.

“Quite frankly, I am disappointed with the lack of transparency; I think governments can and should do more. This is an area which precisely calls for more transparency and greater collaboration, so although they have not yet agreed to share the concession maps, nevertheless the issue remains live on the table and we will continue to push for it,” said Dr Balakrishnan, who revealed that negotiations were tough, with “contentious moments”.

While there was unanimous agreement that the transboundary haze problem needs to be solved, steps taken towards a solution were small and incremental, despite a warning that this year’s haze might be more severe, with meteorologists predicting drier weather and a likelihood of the phenomenon known as El Nino developing in the second half of this year.

While he acknowledged that Indonesia has made considerable efforts in the process of ratifying the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreement on transboundary haze pollution, Dr Balakrishnan said he was “frustrated with the very slow pace with which our counterparts are moving”.

Singapore began developing the haze monitoring system in 2012, investing S$100,000 in it.

Said Dr Balakrishnan: “It’s actually all ready, the only missing elements are the land use and concession maps. Unfortunately, some governments are unwilling or they say they are unable, for a variety of reasons, to publish those maps.”

He said Indonesia had explained that it is unable to share its concession maps now, as it has started trying to integrate and consolidate a single map from the many versions that are being used by various ministries.

“They have said that will take another two years or so to be completed ... I think two years is a very long time to wait. I don’t think we can afford to wait,” he said.

Dr Balakrishnan said Malaysian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment G Palanivel had said at a press conference that his country would not share all concession maps, but would share maps of hot spots causing the transboundary haze at a government-to-government level.

Adding that this offer was not made during the meeting among the ministers, Dr Balakrishnan said: “I hope I can hold him to that.”

He added that there was “a lot of to-ing and fro-ing” at the meeting over whether the countries wanted to keep the option of the monitoring system on the table or “whether they wanted to walk away from it”.

“I think the sense was that they don’t want to walk away from it, but nevertheless, there is still a lot of pushing and shoving that will have to go on to make the critical data of land use and concession maps available,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

Noting that Malaysians and Indonesians suffered during the latest bout of haze last month, Dr Balakrishnan reiterated that it is in all the countries’ interest to have greater collaboration and cooperation.

“It’s pointless to just engage in finger-pointing. If we just stopped at that and the meeting broke up at that level, we wouldn’t have achieved anything,” he said.

Dr Balakrishnan said he had asked Malaysia and Indonesia to share evidence and the names of firms that have engaged in illegal burning activities. This will come in useful when Singapore’s proposed law — tabled in Parliament in February — to deal with errant companies is passed, he said.

“I’ve offered to even go (to Indonesia) and have a seminar to explain the details, our principles and thinking behind this Bill ... I’m willing to make this extra effort because we have to demonstrate sincerity (and) collaborative action in practice. It’s no point just going on our own,” he said.

Meanwhile, efforts to renew the Singapore-Indonesia collaboration in Jambi to tackle forest fires are being finalised. Dr Balakrishnan said he is hoping for a conclusion before the end of the year.

Not all haze issues can be solved in one meeting, say ASEAN ministers
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 3 Apr 14;

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Association of Southeast Asian Nations environment ministers yesterday stressed that not all issues related to the annual transboundary haze problem could be solved in just one meeting, even as reporters repeatedly quizzed them on whether there was a sense of urgency in tackling it.

The slow process is due to the countries looking not only at “short-term but long-term” solutions, said Brunei’s Minister of Development Suyoi Osman, who chaired a joint press conference after the 16th Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee Meeting on Transboundary Haze Pollution ended before lunch yesterday.

He said: “It may be long haul, but this is our 16th meeting and we want to make sure that each meeting means we are that close to finding a solution ... I hope that in future meetings, we will be able to achieve more.”

When pressed, Mr Suyoi said there is “always” a sense of urgency when the five countries — Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Thailand — meet to discuss the haze, as it is a problem that has been around “for quite some time now”.

While he acknowledged that the main stumbling block — the sharing of concession maps — had not been surmounted, the minister said the countries will be moving ahead to “try to find some other ways where we can actually see the HMS (haze monitoring system) being operationalised”, such as sharing information on fire-prone areas at the government-to-government level.

The S$100,000 haze monitoring system, which Singapore developed, uses hot-spot data and satellite images to pinpoint illegal burning activities. However, it requires accurate concession maps that can specify the companies or entities with rights to carry out logging or plantation activities on a particular piece of land.

Indonesian Deputy Minister of Degradation Control and Climate Change at the Ministry of Environment Arief Yuwono said Jakarta is in the process of consolidating everything into a single map and will not be sharing its concession maps with its neighbours until the process is completed.

Similarly, Malaysian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment G Palanivel said his country will only share maps of hot spots causing the transboundary haze at the government level. “We cannot disclose the entire map of the country — that will cause a lot of other issues. So, we will restrict ourselves to areas where there is open burning, we will share on a government-to-government basis,” he said.

As to whether Indonesia and Malaysia are sufficiently prepared for the dry weather ahead — which may exacerbate the haze — both men noted that their respective countries had shared their contingency plans to tackle fires which had occurred earlier this year with their neighbours.

For example, Indonesia had carried out water bombings to put out the blaze on 20,000ha of land in Riau.

Mr Arief also said 202 individuals and 45 companies had been investigated for conducting illegal burning activities so far this year.

In Malaysia, Mr G Palanivel said, 7,000 firemen were mobilised to put out fires that had erupted in states such as Pahang, Johor and Perak, while court action would be taken against those responsible for causing the fires. He said: “I feel the situation has improved a lot now ... but because of this dry spell, sometimes, (there are things) we cannot control.”

No agreement on concession maps at ASEAN haze meeting
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 2 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE — The 16th sub-regional ministerial steering committee meeting between ASEAN’s environment minsters concluded this afternoon (April 2) in Brunei with the impasse on the sharing of concession maps still not breached.

A joint statement released after the meeting said that countries have been urged to share hotspot areas that cause transboundary haze on a government-to-government basis instead.

Speaking to Singapore media after the meeting, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan described the meeting as “tough”, with “many contentious moments” as each of the five countries discussed solutions to tackle the transboundary haze that has plagued the region annually.

While he acknowledged that Indonesia has made considerable efforts in the progress to ratify the ASEAN agreement on transboundary haze, Dr Balakrishan said he was “frustrated by the slow progress and disappointed at the lack of transparency” by governments in their unwillingness to share their countries’ concession maps publicly.

During the meeting, Dr Balakrishnan also shared Singapore’s plans to pass a Bill on transboundary haze pollution, adding that he offered to explain to Indonesia the “details, principles and thinking behind this idea” for a more effective collaboration to solve transboundary haze.

Efforts to renew the Singapore-Indonesia collaboration in Jambi are also being finalised.

Dr Balakrishnan also added that Singapore’s offers of assistance to Malaysia and Indonesia to put out fires on the ground remains on the table.

Meteorologists have predicted that the weather phenomenon known as El Nino is likely to develop in the second half of this year, which may lead to a worst bout of haze returning during periods of dry weather conditions.

Haze: Breakthrough in map sharing efforts with Indonesia unlikely
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 2 Apr 14;

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Legal and operational difficulties stand in the way of a breakthrough by Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) environment ministers to get Indonesia to share its concession maps to combat transboundary haze, said Indonesian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity yesterday.

There is currently no reference map to produce or verify the accuracy of existing concession maps, said the officials who attended a technical working group meeting, ahead of today’s 16th Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee meeting on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

The S$100,000-haze monitoring system, which Singapore developed, uses hot-spot data and satellite images to pinpoint illegal burning activities. However, it requires accurate concession maps that can specify the companies or entities with rights to carry out logging or plantation activities on a particular piece of land.

Indonesia is in the midst of developing a larger-scale reference map that can then be used to draw up concession maps, an Indonesian official told reporters yesterday. This reference map is expected to be ready by the end of the year. “Perhaps we can talk about it again next year,” he added.

A delegate from Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the country is prohibited from sharing its concession maps under the law. He said Indonesia’s Parliament is set to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution by October.

The Steering Committee, comprising Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, is meeting today in Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, to discuss the implementation of the haze monitoring system, among other haze-prevention measures.

Singapore’s delegation is led by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

A joint statement is expected after the meeting, which comes as concerns that the prolonged dry weather the region has been experiencing may lead to an earlier and more severe bout of transboundary haze this year.

The possibility of El Nino, a weather phenomenon characterised by dry weather, kicking in this year was also raised by the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre during yesterday’s meeting.

It put the likelihood of El Nino occurring at 60 per cent.

Singapore frustrated at slow pace in tackling haze
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE - A ministerial meeting of five ASEAN nations to tackle the regional haze problem ended with little progress yesterday, prompting Singapore to express frustration.

After the one-day session with Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia held in Brunei, Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan told reporters he was "frustrated at the very slow pace of progress" and "disappointed at the lack of transparency".

A key sticking point was the reluctance of some governments to share relevant land use and concession maps, he said without naming any country.

As a result, the haze monitoring computer system developed by Singapore cannot be put to full use to pinpoint haze-causing fires and identify culprits, he added.

When asked whether Indonesia would share the maps Singapore seeks, the country's deputy minister of degradation control and climate change Arief Yuwono told reporters his government is consolidating various maps to produce a standardised "One Map".

"As long as this process is not finished yet, we cannot give the information," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan said he was told the "One Map" would not be completed for about another two years.

Much of the haze in Singapore is caused by farmers starting fires to clear land in Indonesia.

This year, Singapore faces the threat of even worse haze than last year because of two potential weather forces, according to the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre. These are: lower than usual rainfall expected from now to October in parts of the region, and the El Nino weather phenomenon, which is linked to drought.

Last year, the record-breaking haze caused an islandwide scramble for masks, with the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index, which measures air quality, peaking at a hazardous 401 on June 21.

Said Dr Balakrishnan: "We have to find a way forward so that errant companies know that governments will exchange information and collaborate to take enforcement action."

For instance, he has asked Indonesia and Malaysia to share the names of suspected culprits they are investigating for the fires.

Mr Arief said 202 individuals and 45 companies are being investigated so far this year.

Dr Balakrishnan pointed out some optimistic moves, including the progress Indonesia has made towards ratifying the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

It would, among others, let firefighters from ASEAN countries put out fires in Indonesia.

Singapore and Indonesia also plan to sign a memorandum of understanding to resume collaboration on anti-fire efforts in Indonesia.

The five ASEAN countries yesterday issued a statement pledging to "continue to be vigilant and take additional preventive measures and immediate fire suppression in the event of any... transboundary haze in the coming months".

They, however, did not specify the measures.

Indonesia unlikely to share maps for haze monitoring soon
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Apr 14;

Indonesia is unlikely to share in the near future maps which are necessary for a regional haze monitoring system.

The computer system developed by Singapore uses satellite images and hot-spot data to pinpoint fires that lead to haze. But it needs the concession maps to identify which firms are responsible for the land plots where the fires occur.

The Straits Times understands that Indonesia is not able to provide these maps as it is still putting together a larger-scale reference map which can be used to produce accurate concession maps or to verify existing ones.

The reference map is expected to be completed by the end of the year, an Indonesian official told reporters yesterday in Brunei, where delegates from five ASEAN countries have been meeting to discuss the haze issue.

Another Indonesian official said that the country is prohibited by law from sharing such concession maps in the first place.

Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan is expected to discuss the concession maps with fellow ASEAN ministers today.

That is when he and ministers from Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand and Malaysia will attend the 16th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution. The committee oversees moves to prevent haze from forest and other land fires in the five countries.

Yesterday's meeting, also in Brunei, was the 16th Meeting of the Technical Working Group, which National Environment Agency chief executive Ronnie Tay attended.

Last month, the Singapore Government said this year's haze could be worse than last year's record pollution, which saw the three-hour PSI in Singapore hit a hazardous 401 on June 21.

This is partly due to a weather phenomenon known as El Nino - linked to droughts in South-east Asia - that is expected to develop in the second half of the year.

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UN panel issues dire warnings over climate change

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Apr 14;

Ice caps are melting, water supplies are under stress, heatwaves and heavy rain are intensifying - and the worst is yet to come, said a sombering report issued yesterday by a United Nations group that provides periodic updates on climate science.

Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world's oceans, where coral reefs are dying, and slowly acidifying waters are killing off plant and animal life.

This will worsen unless greenhouse gases are curbed, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Prepared by hundreds of the world's top climate scientists, the report - the second in a four-part series - laid out the impact and risks of climate change worldwide and how these could be reduced.

Food security was at risk too, said the panel, with maize and wheat crop yields reduced worldwide. Meanwhile, heat-related deaths had also increased in some regions, it added.

For Asia, climate change could mean higher risks of coastal and urban flooding, more deaths due to warmer temperatures, and drought-related water and food shortages, the panel warned.

While it did not comment on Singapore specifically, it said Asia's key climate threats are "extreme precipitation and temperatures", sea-level rises, and even cyclones.

The IPCC noted a "medium" risk of flooding, heat-related deaths and water and food shortages increasing in Asia between now and 2040. But it said the risks and impact could be reduced via measures such as early warning systems, practices to avoid heat stress for outdoor workers and diversifying water sources.

In Singapore, a national climate change study had estimated that the mean sea level around the country could rise by up to 0.65m, and temperatures could increase by up to 4.2 deg C by 2100.

Dr Chris Gordon, director of the Centre for Climate Research Singapore, said a 3 deg C rise in temperature would affect heat stress and ecosystems here.

Higher temperatures and reduced rainfall make fires - and haze - more likely. Dengue cases may also increase, as warmer temperatures shorten the virus' incubation period in mosquitoes.

"Climate models... show a very consistent signal of increasing heavy rainfall events in our region over the coming century," he said. He added that there may also be more, and more intense, dry spells, "but the modelling evidence (for this) is less conclusive".

"Sea-level rise... combined with storm surge events, will increase the likelihood of coastal flooding," he said. This risk is compounded by the fact that most of Singapore lies within 15m above sea level, and about a third is less than 5m above the water, according to the National Climate Change Secretariat.

To address this, in 2011, the Government raised the minimum reclamation level of new projects to 2.25m above the highest recorded tide level.

Singapore is also vulnerable to crop failures around the world as it imports more than 90 per cent of its food, said experts.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said boosting local production and diversifying the country's food sources are its two core strategies to ensure food security.

It also encouraged Singaporeans to accept alternative food products such as frozen meat, liquid eggs and egg powder. "This will help mitigate the effects of supply disruptions and price increases," said a spokesman.

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Myanmar: 4 million cubic meters of sand exported to Singapore

Eleven 2 Apr 14;

DAWEI - Myawaddy Trading Ltd and Kyaw Kyaw Phyo Company, together with Singapore-based firms, are exporting sand from Myanmar’s southern coastal regions.

Local representatives say more than four million cubic-meters of sand have been exported to Singapore since 2011.

Kyaw Hsan, regional minister for transport and communications, confirmed that Myawaddy Trading Limited — which is part of the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd. — signed an agreement with a Singapore firm to export sand from Myeik and Kawthaung areas.

The Myanmar Ports Authority under the Ministry of Transport and Kyaw Kyaw Phyo Company Ltd. used dredgers to dig up sand from the Dawei River before exporting it to Singapore.

MP Soe Htwe, from Thayetchaung constituency in Taninthayi Region, asked local parliament which companies had dug sand, and how much the regional government got back in tax and developing funds.

Myanmar has reportedly received taxes of more than US$ 12 million. But locals from Taninthayi Region are now facing landslides and river erosion due to digging up of the Dawei River basin and lower parts of the river using dredgers.

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Golfers to Indiana Jones Choke on Smog From Sumatra Fires

Mike Anderson, Neil Chatterjee and Fitri Wulandari Bloomberg 3 Apr 14;

As smoke from Indonesia’s burning forests drifted across the Strait of Malacca into Singapore last June, the pollution index shot up and Ong Eng Tong’s golf course shut down.

“Once the PSI reaches 150 or 200, they have to close,” said Ong, a 71-year-old independent energy consultant. His Singapore Island Country Club was overwhelmed as the Pollutant Standards Index surged on June 21 to a record 401, a “hazardous” reading in a city averaging less than 50 on most days. “I stayed indoors and turned on the air-con.”

This year may be worse, stoked by drought and El Nino. Backed by activists including Harrison Ford, Singapore is pushing fines for culprits overseas. Even Indonesia is faulting last month’s local response to blazes that sickened 50,000 in Sumatra, where fires are set to turn forests into crop fields. Burning in the region’s peatlands emitted as much greenhouse gases as 89 million cars, according to the Center for International Forestry Research.

The unrelenting fires are preventing Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono from keeping his 2009 promise to cut Indonesia’s greenhouse gases by 26 percent. The government has yet to release data on emissions for any year since Yudhoyono started his second term, and Indonesia would be the last member to ratify the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreement on trans-boundary haze.

“Deforestation creates more carbon pollution than all of the cars, trains and planes in the world combined, making Indonesia and Brazil the world’s third- and fourth-largest emitters after the U.S. and China,” according to Jeff Horowitz, the Berkeley, California-based founder of the non-profit Avoided Deforestation Partners.
Indiana Jones

Horowitz co-produced “Years of Living Dangerously,” a documentary scheduled to air on U.S. TV this month featuring Harrison Ford’s visit to rainforests in Sumatra and Borneo. The U.S. actor known for playing Indiana Jones was threatened with deportation after confronting Indonesia’s forestry minister about illegal logging.

Indonesia lost almost 400 square miles of forest each year from 2000 to 2012, according to a paper published last year by Matthew C. Hansen, a University of Maryland professor who uses NASA data to monitor deforestation. The depletion increased at the world’s fastest rate over the last decade, he said.

Indonesia’s peatlands are “basically young coal” and just as toxic when ignited by arson or spontaneous combustion, Agus Purnomo, Yudhoyono’s climate-change specialist, said in an interview last month. The government has extended a moratorium on new permits to develop peatlands and forests until 2015 as part of a $1 billion aid commitment from Norway. Indonesia is now working to define peatlands and who is responsible for managing them, Purnomo said.

Hazardous Smoke

Yudhoyono announced March 14 he would fly into Sumatra’s Riau province, a center of this year’s fire crisis and Indonesia’s booming palm oil business. While local government declared a state of emergency and charged 37 suspects with burning, he threatened to take over, posting on Twitter that “the results haven’t been satisfactory.”

The day before Yudhoyono arrived, Togar Manurung fled Pekanbaru, Riau’s capital, with his wife, child, and eight other families.

“Last year we had haze, but we didn’t have to leave the city,” said Manurung, a 33-year-old pastor wearing a face mask even in his air-conditioned Mawar Sharon Church. The PSI reached 500 -- 200 over the “hazardous” mark -- the day Manurung’s group drove about five hours into the hills.

Air pollution killed 7 million people in 2012, more than AIDS, diabetes and road injuries combined, posing the world’s largest environmental health risk, the World Health Organization said in a report last month. One in eight deaths worldwide can be attributed to tainted air, it said.
Neighbors, Critics

Neighboring nations and conservationists are critical of Indonesia’s efforts and commitment. The president steps down after elections in July, and leading contenders to replace him rarely mention fires or climate targets. Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo and ex-army general Prabowo Subianto have focused on lifting Indonesians’s incomes.

“If the future government decides to open up forests, the 2020 target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions won’t be achieved,” Purnomo said.

Singapore says Indonesia is failing to identify culprits. Jakarta hasn’t responded to requests for maps to pinpoint who controls lands where fires are burning, Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s environment minister, said in a March speech to parliament.

Sumatra had more than 3,100 hot spots indicating fires from Feb. 20 to March 11, 17 percent more than last June’s peak, according to World Resources Institute, which has teamed with Google Inc. (GOOG) to monitor NASA satellite data.
Fire Alerts

“Almost half of the fire alerts fall within timber, palm oil and logging concessions,” said Nigel Sizer, director of forestry at the Washington-based group. “Closer investigation on the ground by Indonesian authorities is needed to determine whether companies have broken strict laws that limit burning.”

Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd., the pulp and paper maker with offices in Jakarta and Singapore, is among companies named by WRI as controlling lands where fires were burning. The company, which has 600 fire fighters, 200 more than last year, said it’s a victim.

“Wood is a raw material for us,” Praveen Singhavi, APRIL’s president, told reporters last month. “We would not burn our raw material. These fires are caused by land-clearing activity by small land holders and the community.”

Immigrants are burning unmapped land to stake claims, said Gary Paoli, a director at Daemeter, a Java-based consultant on sustainable development. The forest ministry controls less land after a landmark ruling last year that forests belong to local communities, he said.
El Nino

“There’s a perfect storm in Sumatra,” Paoli said. “The insecurity of land tenure leads communities to behavior we don’t like, and so much of the undeveloped land is peat.”

Favorable winds this year have shielded Singapore from the early start to Sumatra’s fire season, Balakrishnan said. The city should still prepare for unhealthy air as the El Nino weather pattern extends a regional drought and the winds shift.

Singapore’s parliament is expected to vote this year on a law allowing fines of as much as $357,000 for local or foreign firms linked to burning, Balakrishnan said.

It’s a good first step, Simon Tay, former chairman of Singapore’s National Environment Agency, said in an interview.

“While the fine is not that large, it would trigger consumers or large purchases of palm oil or pulp paper to re-look at their relationships,” Tay said. “The people at the Singapore Stock Exchange might think of banning them.”

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Malaysia: Another long dry spell expected, says climate expert

p. aruna, a. ruban, ivan loh, christopher tan, vincent tan, AND calvin tan The Star 3 Apr 14;

PETALING JAYA: The rainy season has started, but it may not be all good news.

Although the intermonsoon season has begun, an expert says another long dry spell is expected between June and October this year.

Biodiversity and climate expert Faizal Parish also said the current intermonsoon season, which is expected to last until the middle of May, will not see as much rain as in previous years.

“We are likely to get another long, dry period from June until October this year, according to latest predictions by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre in Singapore. We also expect less rain than usual in April,” he said.

“If there is not enough rain over the next two months, water reserves will still be low during the next dry season, with the possibility of another water shortage and more rationing.”

The second dry season, he said, would also bring the annual haze with a high risk of forest and peatland fires. The recent dry spell throughout January and February had caused water levels at dams to drop to near-critical levels.

Authorities were forced to impose a water rationing exercise in the Klang Valley, which is now entering its fourth phase, affecting some 6.7 million people.

Faizal, who is director of the Global Environment Centre here added that the dry spells were linked to global climate change, and such extreme events, were becoming more frequent, not just in Malaysia.

“Rapid development can also be a contributing factor as the loss of forest impacts local climate and rainfall,” he said.

Rationing to start in Taiping area from today
The Star 3 Apr 14;

IPOH: Water rationing starts in Taiping and surrounding areas today. This is despite the “slightly improved” water level at the Headwood water treatment plant.

The water rationing is expected to be enforced for about two weeks.

“The Perak Water Board (LAP) still needs to ensure that water supply to the people would not be disrupted,” Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir told reporters after presenting cheques to three Tamil schools at the State Secretariat building here yesterday.

He said the output of water at the Headwood plant had improved from 26 million litres to 31 million litres per day.

“The water level at the treatment plant is no longer at critical level but the water rationing exercise will still be carried out,” he said, adding that the water rationing was expected to be enforced until April 16.

There is no rationing in other parts of Perak.

Dr Zambry, however, noted that the water level at the Air Kuning dam had started to decrease due to the dry weather.

“The water level is dropping as water continues to evaporate, compounded by the lack of rainfall in the area.”

LAP general manager Datuk Mohd Yusof Mohd Isa clarified that the water level at the Air Kuning dam would be at a critical level if it reached 34m. The current level is 38.1m while the maximum level is 43m.

Dr Zambry said LAP was the best-managed water agency in the country with the lowest amount of non-revenue water (NRW), referring to the volume of lost water for various reasons.

“Water loss is not only from burst pipes but also because of theft,” he said.

“However, this is not an excuse and we will ensure the NRW will be minimised annually,” he added.

Water rates to go up in Penang to curb rising demand
The Star 3 Apr 14;

GEORGE TOWN: Penangites will be asked to pay more for their water soon as a means to curb rising demand, especially in light of the prolonged drought, said Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

He said the move was necessary as the soft approach of educating people to reduce water consumption had failed, adding that the last tariff revision was 23 years ago.

“The hike in the tariff is inevitable, but I cannot disclose when the hike will take place as studies, which will take not more than a year, need to be done,” he said yesterday.

Lim gave an assurance that even with the hike, Penang’s water tariff would remain the cheapest in the country.

He said the Penang Water Supply Corporation Sdn Bhd (PBAPP) had asked permission to study the water tariff and the state government had agreed.

Lim revealed that PBAPP had submitted a few business models for the state’s consideration.

“The models need to be submitted to the state exco for approval before being submitted to the National Water Services Commission, which has the final say,” he said.

Lim added that water consumption in Penang was currently the highest in the country – at 295 litres per person per day last year, followed by Perlis (241 litres), Labuan (240 litres) and Perak (238 litres).

For the first two months of this year, Penang’s figure increased to 311.

“The United Nations’ recommendation for domestic water consumption is 100 litres per person per day. In Singapore, the figure is 151.”

Meanwhile, Lim said water rationing would not be implemented in Penang this month because of PBAPP’s efficient supply management.

“If April proves to be another dry month, the state and PBAPP will implement a contingency action plan to avoid water rationing,” said Lim, adding that there were also plans to ask the Federal Government to initiate cloud seeding over the Sungai Muda Dam catchment area.

He said that as of yesterday, there was enough water at the Teluk Bahang Dam for 233 days, Air Itam Dam for 63 days and Mengkuang Dam for 64 days.

Penang Consumer Protection Association president K. Koris Atan said the hike was timely and long overdue.

MB: Rationing will stop when a dam's capacity hits 55%
The Star 3 Apr 14;

SHAH ALAM: The water rationing exercise will only be called off when a dam’s capacity has hit 55%, said Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim.

The Selangor Mentri Besar pointed out that as of yesterday, those in the state were below the 40% mark. As of Tuesday, the Sungai Selangor dam in Kuala Kubu Baru recorded a 36.67% capacity. Its critical level is 30%.

However, Khalid said the water rationing exercise would most likely not be continued after the end of April. “It has already started raining,” he added.

On the state’s restructuring of its water industry, Khalid said he would meet Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili tomorrow to discuss the modus operandi to invoke Section 114 of the Water Services Industry Act 2006.

“Both governments are in the midst of studying the suitable steps in invoking Section 114 so that no one is affected from the restructuring exercise,” he said after chairing the weekly executive council meeting yesterday.

Section 114 allows the Selangor government to buy over assets of the four concessionaries for RM7.76bil – about RM2bil lesser than the previous offers made.

The concessionaries are Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas), Puncak Niaga Sdn Bhd (PNSB), Syarikat Pengeluar Air Selangor Holdings Bhd (Splash) and Konsortium Abbas Sdn Bhd (Abbas). Only Abbas has accepted the initial RM9.65bil offer.

“Although the discussion is taking a long time, it is necessary to ensure that the implementation will be carried out smoothly and could not be challenged in court later,” Khalid said.

The Selangor government, he noted, was confident that the water restructuring would be carried through with the role played by the Federal Government, particularly the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry.

On a state-linked hotel that had to cease operations and retrench more than 100 of its staff at the end of next month, Khalid said he had yet to be briefed on this.

Defending the hotel’s move in doing so, Khalid said Quality hotel, under Kumpulan Perangsang Selangor Bhd, had adhered to all code of ethics in the Industrial Relations Act 1957.

Hoping showers will solve water woes
The Star 3 Apr 14;

PETALING JAYA: Although water reserve levels are dipping at all Selangor dams, the Meteorological Department has “high hopes” that the water shortage will be resolved soon, with more “showers and storms” expected this month.

Department central forecasting office director Muhammad Helmi Abdullah said the intermonsoon season which had just begun would bring rain for about 20 days or “two-thirds of the month”.

“Most of the rain is expected in the west coast but we also expect more rain in the inland areas of the east coast of the peninsula as well as in Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.

The fourth phase of the water rationing exercise was announced on Tuesday by the National Water Services Commis­sion (SPAN) despite the rain over the past two weeks.

Muhammad Helmi said many of the dams were not filling up because much of the rain was not falling in catchment areas.

“It is difficult to tell when the rain will fall over water catchment areas or the dams, but we are targeting these areas through cloud-seeding operations.

“We calculate the movement of the clouds in terms of how fast they move and in which direction, and plan cloud-seeding operations based on these data.

“The recent rain has been a combination of rain induced by cloud seeding and natural rain,” he said yesterday.

Cloud seeding, he said, could also increase the volume of water in natural rain.

The frequency of the operations, however, depended on the availability of aircraft and the weather.

Another reason the recent rains have failed to increase water levels at the dams is because more water is absorbed into the land because of the long dry spell.

“As it was dry for a long period, the land is very dry and more water seeps through the ground than usual, so more water is lost,” he said.

According to the Selangor Water Management Authority (Luas) website, the water storage levels at the Sungai Selangor Dam had dropped to 36.67% of its capacity yesterday, close to the critical point of 30%.

The other dams have also seen lower water levels than the earlier day – Batu was at 90.08% yesterday, Klang Gates 50.04%, Langat 48.74%, Semenyih 71.12% , Sungai Tinggi 61.39% and Tasik Subang 87.70% .

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Malaysia: Petronas to decide on Rapid's status today

SHAREN KAUR New Straits Times 3 Apr 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: The status of the RM60 billion Refinery and Petrochemicals Integrated Development (Rapid) project in Pengerang will be decided today at a board meeting, said Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) director Tan Sri Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas.

He said several matters, including project viability and profit generation for the government, will be discussed.

The Rapid project aims to secure a chunk of the US$400 billion (RM1.3 trillion) global market for speciality chemicals used in products from liquid-crystal display televisions to diapers.

"We will decide whether to go ahead, postpone it, or look at it some other time. There will be a detailed presentation to the board for the first time.

"We are looking at all angles and the risks of running the project. I hope things will be positive and we can proceed," he told Business Times in an interview, here, yesterday.

Megat Najmuddin said Petronas and local and international consultants are currently conducting studies.

The Rapid complex, Malaysia's largest liquid-based green-field downstream development, has been postponed twice due to a delay in the Johor government's relocation of residents and cemeteries.

Megat Najmuddin said even though land acquisition and infrastructure works are ongoing, Petronas will not rush if Rapid is unfeasible.

"We have to weigh the risks with a lot of due diligence. It is not only critical that the refineries perform, but (also) ensuring that the downstream activities we are feeding will add value to the oil and gas that is going to be produced," he said.

Petronas is acquiring 2,400ha of land for Rapid within the mammoth Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex project.

There are about 30 ongoing infrastructure projects, such as the upgrading of the existing dual-lane single carriageway and building a new dual-lane carriageway.

A dam with 88km of pipelines will also be constructed to provide raw water for Rapid and general use in Johor.

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A quarter of Europe's bumblebees, vital to crops, face extinction: study

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 3 Apr 14;

Almost a quarter of Europe's bumblebees are at risk of extinction due to loss of habitats and climate change, threatening pollination of crops worth billions of dollars, a study showed on Wednesday.

Sixteen of 68 bumblebee species in Europe are at risk, the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said. It is preparing a global study of the bees, whose honeybee cousins are in steep decline because of disease.

"Of the five most important insect pollinators of European crops, three are bumblebee species," said the IUCN, which groups governments, scientists and conservation groups.

"Together with other pollinators, bumblebees contribute more than 22 billion euros ($30.35 billion) to European agriculture a year," it said in a statement.

Of Europe's bumblebee species, populations of almost half are falling and just 13 percent are increasing, it said.

Often with yellow and black stripes and bigger than honeybees, bumblebees live in small nests of up to 200 and do not make honeycombs. Some bumblebees are commercially bred to pollinate tomatoes, peppers and aubergines in greenhouses.

"Climate change, the intensification of agriculture and changes in agricultural land are the main threats" to bumblebees, said the report, the first Red List assessment of threats to bumblebees.

The European Union's top environment official said the 28-nation bloc was taking action to improve the situation.

"The EU recently banned or restricted the use of certain pesticides that are dangerous to bees and is funding research into status of pollinators," said EU Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik in a statement.

"However, efforts clearly need to be scaled up," he added. The IUCN study was funded by the European Commission.


The study did not mention the possibility that honeybee diseases were spreading to bumblebees.

A study in the journal Nature in February said that deformed wing virus, for instance, was found in both honeybees and bumblebees in Britain. The virus was more prevalent in honeybees, suggesting it was spreading from them to bumblebees.

"In general, we don't know a lot about bumblebee disease," Stuart Roberts, a member of the IUCN's global bumblebee assessment team, told Reuters.

"Some of these threatened bumblebees are isolated, living in the Arctic or the Alps," he said. "In those places the chance of picking up a disease from a honeybee is almost nil."

The Arctic species Bombus hyperboreus, living in the Scandinavian tundra and Russia, is vulnerable because global warming is shrinking its habitat, the study said.

Populations of the critically endangered Bombus cullumanus, now found only in France, have fallen by more than 80 percent in the past decade, apparently because of a reduction in the amount of meadows with clover, its favorite forage, the study added.

Only queen bumblebees survive the winter.

Honeybees, living in longer-lasting colonies of thousands of bees, make honeycombs largely to ensure that the insects have food to survive months with no nectar-making flowers.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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