Best of our wild blogs: 30 Dec 14

Registration for Feb public walks at Sisters Island opens 1 Jan
from Sisters' Island Marine Park

New species and rediscoveries in Singapore this year featured in Straits Times
from lahiruwijedasa

Paddyfield Pipit preening
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Malaysia: Situation worsens, more than 200,000 displaced by flood

New Straits Times 29 Dec 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: The number of evacuees nationwide has swelled to 232,912, with Kelantan topping the list with 160,000 as it rained heavily in many parts of the East Coast.

The situation in Terengganu and Pahang also showed no let up with both having more than 60,000 at relief centres.

In Kemaman, Dungun and east Pahang, heavy rain is reported since morning.

However, in certain parts of Kelantan flood water has dried up. Our photographer Bazuki Muhammad who was in Kampung Wakaf Sena saw many cars stranded on the road as villagers cleaned up their houses.

Access to east coast cut off
The Star 29 Dec 14;

PETALING JAYA: Access to the country’s flood-hit east coast states is now almost totally cut off after waters submerged many of the main roads to the affected areas.

The number of evacuees also rose by nearly 40,000 overnight as the Meteorological Department warned of a new round of heavy rains lasting until Wednesday.

A total of 200,023 evacuees are currently seeking shelter at more than 500 relief centres in five states, up from 160,921 on Saturday.

The East Coast Expressway was the latest major road to be flooded yesterday when water from Sungai Pahang spilled over at the 126km stretch of the highway at Temerloh, cutting off access to most parts of Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu.

The Works Ministry in a Twitter message issued information on an alternative route that is still open for travellers to the east coast states, starting from Karak via the coastal road through Cherating and then on to Kuala Terengganu and Kota Baru.

As at 6.30pm yesterday, Kelantan remained the worst-hit state with the number of victims rising to 124,966 from 81,925 the day before.

Terengganu had 36,410 evacuees, Pahang (33,601), Perak (4,581) and Johor (465).

The Meteorological Department issued a three-day “yellow” stage alert from today for Perlis, Kedah, north Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Johor.

The alert, which warns of the possibility of monsoon rains and heavy winds, also covers Kudat and Sandakan in Sabah as well as Kuching, Samarahan, Sri Aman, Sarikei, Sibu, Mukah and Betong in Sarawak.

In Alor Setar, the Muda Agriculture Development Authority (Mada) announced that it had opened tide gates at three irrigation canals over the past two weeks to prevent the floods in Kedah and Perlis from worsening.

Its chairman Datuk Othman Aziz said the measure was necessary to prevent water from Sungai Pendang, Sungai Anak Bukit, Sungai Padang Sanai, Sungai Bata and Sungai Arau from spilling over.

There were no plans yet to release water from the Pedu, Ahning and Muda dams in Kedah, Othman said.

In KUANTAN, Temerloh has been effectively cut off to land vehicles after a section of the East Coast Expressway became severely flooded.

According to the Pahang Public Works Department, several trunk roads leading to and from the district were also inaccessible to all vehicles.

Main roads from Temerloh to Bera and Jerantut have also been closed after the water level rose to more than a metre high.

A spokesman from the Pahang police contingent headquarters flood operations room said the Seremban- Kuala Pilah-Serting-Muadzam Shah-Kuantan route could be used as an alternative for travel between Kuantan and Kuala Lumpur.

Disaster first response impeded
The Star 30 Dec 14;

PETALING JAYA: The National Security Council (NSC) disaster management was hampered when its staff at the district level were themselves victims of the flood.

The NSC cited a “complete collapse” of its disaster management team at the district levels in the East Coast as the cause of delays in rescue and relief efforts.

Getting individuals and companies to donate food and other supplies was the “easiest” part – the trouble in finding and rescuing the displaced and working out which area was the worst affected magnified when communications systems were down.

The NSC secretary Datuk Mohamed Thajudeen Abdul Wahab said their national disaster management team functioned by communicating from federal to state, and state to district level.

This time, however, the team at the district level had been hit themselves.

He said the massive floods which hit Kelantan and Terengganu in 1967 and then in 2004, were “nothing compared to the floods this year”.

“In the districts, the frontliners of our disaster management machinery include the village headman and district officers.

“But due to the magnitude of the floods, most districts were completely inundated.

“Our entire district machinery collapsed as they had become victims themselves.

“At this point electricity supply had to be cut to ensure victims do not get electrocuted.

“This made communications even more challenging, with downed lines handphones with drained batteries and no power.

“For us to know where help was needed and how bad each district was hit became the biggest problem,” he said yesterday.

“To make things worse, accessing these districts became impossible during the peak of the flooding between Dec 23 to Dec 27.”

“We could not use heavy vehicles, the currents were too strong to use boats and the winds were too turbulent to go by air,” he said.

Now, he said, the peak was over and things were getting “slightly better” as it was possible to deliver aid by air and on the ground.

He said 15 helicopters had been deployed in Kelantan alone. But there were still areas in the flood stricken states where helicopters had no landing ground and it was either government agencies, NGOs, or ad hoc leaders on the ground taking charge of distributing aid.

While the NSC coordinated the rescue and relief efforts, the agencies conducting the actual rescue efforts include the Fire and Rescue Department, army, police and Civil Defence Department.

The Meteorological Department yesterday issued its highest “Red Stage” warning for heavy rains in Dungun and Kemaman in Terengganu, Kuantan, Pekan and Rompin in Pahang and Mersing in Johor.

It said intermittent and occasional rain is expected to continue until Wednesday.

According to Bernama, the number of flood victims evacuated were 147,072, in Kelantan, 35,501 in Pahang, 32,210 in Terengganu, 7.407 in Perak and 175 in Johor.

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Indonesia: Population surge, soil damage worsen Bandung floods

The Jakarta Post 29 Dec 14;

Recurrent floods in Bandung regency, West Java, worsen year after year and require comprehensive solutions involving many parties, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has warned.

BNPB spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said comprehensive handling was needed to deal with the Bandung floods both in terms of infrastructure and environmental awareness

“Population growth and environmental degradation have increased the frequency of floods,” Sutopo said in Jakarta over the weekend.

Floods have been inundating five districts in Bandung regency for almost two weeks, submerging at least 36,000 houses in water 30 centimeters to 3 meters deep.

The affected districts include Baleendah, Dayeuhkolot, Bojongsoang, Katapang and Cicalengka. Some 14,000 residents of these districts have been forced to evacuate.

Flooding of the Bandung basin area and along the basin areas of the upstream Citarum River have been occurring for a long time because of the topography, which resembles a bowl, according to Sutopo.

Data show that floods have been hitting the areas almost annually since the 1980s.

“A number of the affected districts, namely Baleendah, Dayeuhkolot, Majalaya, Bojongsoang and Banjaran are densely populated and developing industrial areas,” he said.

The population of the Bandung basin area was 6.2 million in 2000 and is estimated to have increased to 9.1 million in 2014.

According to Sutopo, this huge growth in population has resulted in widescale exploitation of space and the environment, causing the erosion of between 1 million and 1.7 million tons of land per hectare from seven sub-river basin areas of the Citarum River.

This, he went on, had triggered sedimentation in the Citarum and its tributaries.

The head of the Citarum Management Center (BBWS), Adang Saf Ahmad, said that the river’s problems were very complex. He identified at least six problems that needed to be handled by a number of parties.

“The main problems are sedimentation in the basin of the Citarum and damage to forests around its upstream areas, especially in Kertasari and Pacet districts,” Adang said in Bandung as quoted by

This had caused major erosion as every rainfall washed away soil that would settle in the downstream areas, he explained.

“According to our records, the volume of mud settled in the basin of the Citarum reaches 500,000 cubic meters annually,” Adang said.

Other problems, he said, included a decrease in the surface of groundwater, widespread dumping of trash in the river and land conversion.

The BBWS noted that the groundwater had decreased by an average of 8.3 centimeters annually because of the decrease in the water catchment areas as a result of forest clearing and conversion into agricultural fields in the upstream areas, as well as excessive exploitation of groundwater resources.

The high rate of land conversion for housing purposes, according to Adang, rendered the surface of the soil unable to absorb and retain rainwater

This was concerning because as the capital of the province with the fourth biggest population in Indonesia, Bandung needed a massive supply of clean water, he said.

Sutopo said that a short-term handling proposal for the Citarum basin areas had been discussed during a ministerial coordination meeting in 2010, following a major flood.

Among the proposed solutions included conservation of seven sub-river basin areas of the upstream Citarum, relocation of residents, dredging of the Citarum and its nine tributaries, construction of 22 dams and retention pools, improvement of drainage facilities and revitalization of the river banks.

The total fund proposed for the project at the time was Rp 3.3 trillion.

“Unfortunately, it has never been approved,” Sutopo said.

Separately, West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan said that the handling of the Citarum so far had focused on its downstream areas, but more funds would now be allocated to the improvement of the upstream areas.

“We will continue evaluating and seeking solutions. We hope that the Citarum’s problems can be dealt with thoroughly within the next five years,” Heryawan said.

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As Indonesia’s Forests Burned, No End in Sight to Infernos

Seventy percent of 1,908 companies under the Forest Ministry’s supervision are said to be committed to complying with state environmental standards
Kennial Caroline Laia Jakarta Globe 30 Dec 14;

Environmentalists have attributed most of the haze cases in Sumatra this year to the slash-and-burn clearing of peatlands to make way for plantations, especially for oil palms. President Joko Widodo has signaled a tougher stance against the practice. (Antara Photo/Untung Setiawan)

Jakarta. Slash-and-burn clearing of forests to make way for plantations topped Indonesia’s list of environmental problems in 2014, with several major forest and land fires in Sumatra once again undermining the country’s fight against deforestation, while generating choking clouds of smoke that left local residents ill and prompt the ire of neighboring countries.

The Indonesian office of international environmental group Greenpeace says the number of fire incidents over the past few years have continued to increase in Riau, a Sumatran province at the center of major forest and land fire incidents in Indonesia in recent years.

Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Muhammad Teguh Surya says a total of 6,644 fire hot spots were detected across Riau in 2011, and this figure has continued to rise: 8,107 hot spots in 2012 and 15,112 hot spots in 2013.

“As of October this year, we recorded more than 21,000 fire hot spots,” Teguh told Indonesian news portal earlier this month.

The Riau administration declared a state of emergency in the province in late February after it failed to tackle fires and haze that spread to surrounding provinces, forcing airports to shut down and disrupting flights, as well as threatening the health of residents.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency, or BNPB, said during the emergency period that ran from Feb. 26 to April 4 that potential economic losses from the fires and haze were estimated at Rp 20 trillion ($1.61 billion). Nearly 22,000 hectares of land were torched, including 2,400 hectares located in biosphere reserves.

Nearly 6 million people were exposed to the haze, and 58,000 people suffered respiratory problems as a result.

Riau was forced to declare another state of emergency in July. Although local firefighters, with the help of the military and police, eventually managed to extinguish most of the fires, they kept coming back throughout the year.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho has highlighted the need for better law enforcement. In the wake of the peak of the fire and haze incidents in the first quarter of the year, police have arrested dozens of people for allegedly starting the blazes, but law enforcement in the sector has generally been considered toothless, with security officers criticized for only nabbing small-scale farmers and barely going after the large plantation companies in whose concessions many of the hot spots are located.

“The key is law enforcement. Peatlands burn easily, and once they burn, it’s difficult to extinguish the fire. Prevention is more effective than putting out the fires,” Sutopo said.

Environmentalists have attributed most of the haze cases to the clearing of peatlands to make way for plantations, especially for oil palms.

Local farmers and big plantation companies been blame each other for starting the fires, but President Joko Widodo, during a visit to Riau last month, won activists’ praises when he threw his weight behind the smallholders.

“The best thing to do is to give the land to people so they can use it to plant sago. What’s made by people is usually environmentally friendly. They won’t do any harm to nature,” he said. “However, if we give the land to corporations, they will only switch it to monoculture plantations.”

Joko’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, won plaudits from the international community for parading as an environmental champion — pledging Indonesia’s commitment to cutting its carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent by 2020 using its own resources, and by 41 percent with international support. He enacted a moratorium on deforestation in 2011 to achieve those goals, and the ban will be in place until next year.

Yudhoyono’s administration, however, came under fire after Nature Climate Change journal published in June a report of a study that found Indonesia had overtaken Brazil as the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter by deforestation, despite the much-ballyhooed moratorium.

The report said Indonesia’s primary forest loss totaled more than six million hectares from 2000 to 2012, with an average increase of 47,600 hectares per year.

“By 2012, annual primary forest loss in Indonesia was estimated to be higher than in Brazil; 0.84 million hectares and 0.46 million hectares, respectively,” it added.

Zenzi Suhaidi, a campaigner manager with the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, or Walhi, criticized a presidential regulation on peatland protection issued by Yudhoyono earlier this year because it changed the status of Benoa Bay in the south of Bali from a conservation area into a so-called buffer zone.

The change in status allows a controversial commercial development project in the area to proceed, despite an outcry from local fishermen and environmental activists.

“In spite of its name, the regulation jeopardizes the sustainability of peatlands because it compromises certain stakeholders’ interests, and the regulation provides no deterrent effects,” Zenzi said.

He also pointed to a clause in the regulation that rules on environmental restoration requirements for forestry and mining firms, saying it offered a lot of room for backroom deals.

“That was a setback by Yudhoyono this year. The regulation ‘inadvertently’ provides room for gratuities,” Zenzi said.

“This year we’ve seen the effects of forest destruction, yet the previous administration still issued that regulation to exploit [forests].”

Zenzi, though, like other environmental activists, is encouraged by Joko’s take on green issues, following his visit to Sungai Tohor village in Riau’s Meranti Islands district in late November.

They believe the president’s siding with local farmers and his particular attention to the management of peatlands are positive signs of his commitment to the environment. Joko, during that visit, introduced a canal system to manage the water level in peatlands to make them more resistant to fires. He said he wanted the system to be part of the government’s permanent policies on Indonesia’s peatland management.

Joko also has ordered reviews of logging permits and concessions of plantation and mining firms, in an effort to crack down on slash-and-burn clearing of forests.

“Those commitments may be part of a concrete agenda that will have significant effects. And implementations of all of them must start in 2015,” Zenzi said.

He said the government must set up a body to ensure implementation of those commitments, suggesting a name like “the Anti-Forestry Mafia Committee,” or “the Agrarian Conflict Resolution Board.”

“Mechanisms [for resolutions] have to be built because the number of cases of [land] conflict and environmental degradation are very high already, and the incidents are widespread,” Zenzi said.

He added Joko’s administration also faced a challenge in the form of regulations issued during Yudhoyono’s term.

“Although Joko’s administration has signaled its good intentions to fix our country’s environmental problems, we cannot forget that there are many policies on the environment arbitrarily issued by the previous administration,” he said.

Rasio Ridho Sani, a deputy to the environment and forestry minister, however, argued that Indonesia had made significant improvements in the environmental sector, citing growing environmental awareness among logging, plantation and mining firms operating in forests.

He said 70 percent of the total 1,908 companies under the ministry’s supervision were committed to complying with the government’s environmental standards. The figure is an increase from 49 percent in 2004.

“Seventy percent of those corporations have refined their commitments to managing their activities and the effects toward the environment,” Rasio said.

“This means the environmental awareness of the business community has increased. And we hope that the number will stay that high and increase even further,” he said.

He added that the public’s awareness about environmental issues was also improving, citing how more people were starting to cycle to work and were committed to recycling their waste as part of a greener lifestyle.

“This is a very good sign for our nation,” Rasio said.

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