Best of our wild blogs: 30 Sep 15



Amazing plants in Macritchie
lekowala!

One-Legged Olive-winged Bulbul
Bird Ecology Study Group

Asian Fairy-bluebird – Female feeding on moth
Bird Ecology Study Group

New report aims to show companies how they can actually achieve zero deforestation in their supply chains
Mongabay Environmental News


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Indonesia needs 3 years to tackle haze: President Joko Widodo

In an interview with the BBC, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he "needs time" to end the forest fires that are causing the haze.
Channel NewsAsia 30 Sep 15;

JAKARTA: It will take three years for results to be seen from efforts to end the huge annual forest fires that are causing the haze in the region, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told the BBC in an interview on Tuesday (Sep 29).

Mr Widodo said Indonesia had "gone to great lengths" to tackle the haze, "including sending 3,700 soldiers, nearly 8,000 police officers and four water-bombing planes to put out the fires".

The President also told the BBC that authorities are building water reserves in the forest and canals to get water to the hotspots, while also "making progress to enforce laws against forest-burning".

"You will see results soon and in three years we will have solved this," he said, adding that Indonesians were also victims of the haze.

Smog-belching blazes, an annual problem in South-East Asia, have intensified in Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo island in the past three weeks, sending a cloud of acrid smog across the region.

The illegal fires are set to clear vast tracts of land to make way for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations, and Indonesia has failed to halt the practice despite years of pressure from its neighbours.

- CNA/rw

Indonesia 'needs time' to tackle haze - Joko Widodo
BBC News 30 Sep 15;

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo has said he needs time to tackle the forest-burning which creates a haze every year over South East Asia.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, Mr Widodo said Indonesians were also victims of the haze, but it would take three years for results to be seen from efforts to end the huge annual fires.

He also said Indonesia was open to investment, promising to cut red tape.

And he dismissed criticism he had failed to deliver on election promises.

Illegal fires

Speaking to the BBC Asia Business correspondent Karishma Vaswani in Jakarta, Mr Widodo said the haze was "not a problem that you can solve quickly".

The pollution is caused by people in Indonesia's Sumatra, Kalimantan and Riau regions illegally burning large areas of forest and peat for planting, mostly with lucrative palm oil trees.

It is repeated point of tension between Indonesia and its neighbours every year, often causing air conditions classified as highly hazardous to human health. Earlier this year it was so bad in Riau province a state of emergency was declared.

Singapore and Malaysia have called on Indonesia to do more to address the problem, though Indonesia has often pointed out that some of the companies responsible for the burning are foreign-owned and that their neighbours benefit from cheap palm oil products.

Mr Widodo said Indonesia had "gone to great lengths" to tackle it already, including sending 3,700 soldiers, nearly 8,000 police officers and four water-bombing planes to put out the fires.

It was building water reserves in the forest and canals to get water to the hotspots, he said, while also making progress to enforce laws against forest-burning.

"You will see results soon and in three years we will have solved this," he said.

Joko Widodo swept to power a year ago, and captured the imagination of the country's youth with his man of the people image. But what a difference a year makes.

Although during the interview he appeared to put on a show of confidence about his handling of the economy - currently his administration's biggest headache - he was short on specifics and dismissed concerns that he has disappointed his supporters by saying that Indonesia is a big country and it takes time to fix the many problems it has.

That may be true but overwhelmingly the mood amongst investors and businesses I met in Jakarta was one of exasperation. When will the president stop talking and start acting, many asked me.

'Recovery on the way'

Mr Widodo - popularly known in Indonesia as Jokowi and a former governor of Jakarta - was elected in July last year promising to reinvigorate the economy and increase infrastructure spending.

But after a decade of improving living standards, Indonesia is facing its slowest average growth rate in a decade and many have already grown disillusioned.
Mr Widodo said government spending was picking up, and signs of recovery would be clear by early next year.

He said he was working to remove red tape in many industries to encourage investment and trigger growth.

But any infrastructure spending had to be privately funded and transparent, he said, saying a much-vaunted foreign-backed high-speed rail network was recently cancelled because it had not met these conditions.

"This is my job and my responsibility to open the door for investment, to provide a business environment in order to build industries in Indonesia. We have to build industrialisation and infrastructure so people can work there."

Watch Karishma's full interview with Joko Widodo on Talking Business this weekend on BBC World and BBC News Channel


Indonesia needs three years to solve haze problem, says President Joko Widodo
The Straits Times/Asia News Network Jakarta Globe 30 Sep 15;

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo said he needs time to tackle the forest-burning, and that his citizens were also victims of the haze that is affecting the region.

However, it would take three years for results to be seen from efforts to end the huge annual fires, as it is "not a problem that you can solve quickly," Mr Joko said in an exclusive interview with the BBC.

More than 3,700 soldiers, nearly 8,000 police officers and four water-bombing planes in Indonesia have been deployed to put out the fires.

Singapore has offered assistance, but Indonesia has yet to accept the help. Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also said he was "more than willing" to help.

Indonesia is building water reserves in the forest and canals to get water to the hot spots, Mr Joko said, following a visit to Central Kalimantan to inspect the damage from raging fires last week.

Laws against forest-burning have also been enforced, he added.

On Tuesday, Indonesia's police chief Badrodin Haiti told Asean ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur that about 210 cases of forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra were being investigated, and 40 were ready to be taken to court soon

Singapore too have begun legal action against five Indonesian firms it believes are among the culprits behind the fires.

"You will see results soon and in three years we will have solved this," Mr Joko said. (k)(++++)


Indonesia needs years to tackle forest fires: Jokowi
Today Online 1 Oct 15;

JAKARTA — The annual fires that have blanketed Southeast Asia in hazardous smoke are not a problem that can be easily solved and it will take three years to see results, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo said.

“We’ve been working hard in dealing with the haze problem but this isn’t a problem that you can solve quickly because it involves land burning in tens of thousands of hectares in six provinces. My people are the victims too,” he said in an interview with broadcaster BBC published on its website yesterday.

A source of tension between Indonesia and its neighbours every year, the pollution is caused by people in Indonesia’s Sumatra, Kalimantan and Riau regions illegally burning large swathes of forest and peat for planting, most notably with lucrative oil palm trees.

The thick smoke generated by the fires spreads to the neighbouring regions, engulfing large areas with acrid smog.

Singapore and Malaysia have called on Indonesia to do more to address the problem, though Indonesia has often pointed out that some of the companies responsible for the burning are foreign-owned and that their neighbours benefit from cheap palm oil products.

Mr Widodo dismissed criticism he had failed to deliver on election promises and told BBC that Indonesia has gone to “great lengths” to address the problem, deploying 3,700 military officers, 7,900 police officers, 18 helicopers and four planes to put out the fires.

“But again, we need time,” he added. “We need to build temporary water reserves in the forests, we need to dig canals to flow water to the peat forests. This physical work needs time. I think we need three years for all this physical work to be completed, for you to see the result. But I believe there will be progress every year too, because there is consistency in our approach.”

Nonetheless, Mr Widodo has ordered an acceleration of efforts to extinguish forest fires, the thick smoky haze of which has affected parts of western Indonesia and neighboring Singapore and Malaysia. The order was given to the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, who was summoned yesterday to brief the President on the haze.

Indonesia’s task force on the transboundary haze was also discussing yesterday whether it was necessary to raise the problem to the level of a national disaster. The decision to declare the haze a national disaster has to be made by the National Disaster Management Agency.

However, Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister and head of the task force, Dr Siti Nurbaya Bakar, said that it was more important to tackle the problem operationally and put out the fires quickly.

“We will have this discussion today but for me, it’s more important about the operation instead of the terminology,” she explained. “What is the difference? The point is that we have to do the best thing for the people, also for our neighbours. I’m also following everyday and every hour what is happening with the air pollution in Singapore.”

The last time Indonesia declared a state of national emergency was during the 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed more than 200,000 in the country. AGENCIES


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Indonesia needs no help from Singapore yet

Antara 29 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia will not need help as of now from Singapore to overcome forest and land fires currently raging in the country, cabinet secretary Pramono Anung said here on Monday.

"We will first strive to overcome them (the fires) by ourselves. So far, there has not been any agreement with Singapore (about dealing with these fires)," he added.

He said the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry were continuing to coordinate with regard to updating steps that could be taken to overcome the crisis.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said there were certain technical constraints in accepting assistance from Singapore.

She said Singapore has offered a water bomber with a capacity of 5,000 liters while Indonesia has already used two to three water bombing units of a similar capacity.

"The BNPB has also prepared 17 water bombing planes with a capacity of 500 liters each," he said.

Singapore has offered to help with a C-130 aircraft to conduct cloud seeding operation and also a Chinooks helicopter to fight forest fires.

"It is used to transport a huge number of personnel and is good but according to the national police chief, it needs an extraordinarily amount of fuel," she said.

Singapore has also offered to send an assessment team and a planning team but Minister Siti said it would be difficult to coordinate with them.

"I cannot imagine it. We are working in five provinces of Riau, West Kalimantan, South Sumatra, Jambi and Central Kalimantan. Should we have to report to these teams? I have explained this to the President," she said.

With regard to the issue of haze, she said the Indonesian government has made it clear that any party, be it an individual or a company, violating the law will be blacklisted, their permits will be revoked and they will face legal action.

So far, legal action has been initiated against seven companies in connection with land fires and if new violations are found, similar action will be taken, she said.

She said the government has also been discussing a long-term solution to the problem, including encouraging the communities to change the tradition of burning forests for land clearing.(*)


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Malaysia and Singapore offer to help Indonesia tackle haze issue

Malaysia willing to help Indonesia tackle haze issue
M. KUMAR The Star 29 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is more than willing to help Indonesia tackle the haze issue, says Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein (pic).

The Defence Minister said while Malaysia had yet to officially offer help to Indonesia, they were more than willing to do so.

"We are willing to help. I am looking to get in touch with Singapore and Indonesia to see how we can go forward with this as it is a regional issue that affects us all yearly," he said in a press conference at Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia Tuesday.

Hishammuddin also said he had personally been affected by the haze.

"I'm also suffering because I am asthmatic," he said.

Schools in several states were closed on Monday and Tuesday to the haze, following Air Pollutant Index (API) readings reaching unhealthy and very unhealthy levels.

On Sept 15, schools in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Malacca were closed after API readings in some of the areas rose to nearly 200.

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

The haze in Malaysia is caused by open burning and forest fires in Indonesia.

Singapore open to giving more help to put out fires in Indonesia
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 29 Sep 15;

JAKARTA: Singapore is open to considering giving more help to put out the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan if Indonesia needs it, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Tuesday (Sep 29).

Speaking to Singapore reporters in Jakarta, Dr Ng said the current aid package still stands, and it will be up to Indonesia to activate it.

On Monday, Dr Ng had meetings with Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan and Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.

Among the things discussed were the forest fires that are causing haze in Indonesia and the region.

Dr Ng said that he appreciated that President Joko Widodo and Mr Luhut have taken a personal interest in dealing with the problem.

“(Mr Luhut) said that they are determined to deal with the situation of the haze because the health of Indonesians are being affected," said Dr Ng.

OFFER TO HELP STILL STANDS

Dr Ng also reiterated Singapore’s offer of help to Indonesia. Singapore had previously offered to send C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding and Chinook helicopters with large water buckets to douse the fires. Dr Ng said that whether or not what Singapore is offering is adequate, is up to Indonesia to decide.

Indonesia has rejected Singapore's offer for help several times, with its Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar saying that the assets being offered were not enough. Dr Siti also raised concerns on Monday about the assessment team the Republic is offering to send.

Dr Ng stressed that whatever help Singapore is giving cannot infringe on the sovereignty, as well as command and control of the operations. He said he was also assured to know that Mr Luhut is open to work with non-government organisations.

"I think the more they open up, not only to Singapore but other countries to help to deal with this regional issue, whether it's in ASEAN or international countries, I think the better, the quicker the solutions will be found," he added.

During Dr Ng's meeting with the Indonesian ministers, he also discussed issues concerning the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) training over the South China Sea.

In recent months there have been comments made by Indonesian officials about their unhappiness that Singapore's aircraft might be infringing on its airspace. Dr Ng stressed that the RSAF's training is in full compliance with international agreements, specifically The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“The RSAF has been training in the South China Sea for well over four decades since the 1960s and this was even before the UNCLOS was an international agreement and ratified by countries including Singapore and Indonesia," said Dr Ng.

"Before we ratified the UNCLOS agreement, we were very careful to ensure that our training in the South China Sea will be preserved as we sign on the agreement and this was on the basis in which we signed the UNCLOS agreement."

Dr Ng also reiterated that Singapore’s administration of the Flight Information Region (FIR) over the Riau Islands is not an issue of sovereignty, but of efficiency and safety.

He noted that Indonesia wants to take over the management of the airspace in three to four years. He said Singapore would leave it to the decision of the international agencies and would comply with whatever decision is made.

- CNA/dl


Indonesia ‘making progress’ on tackling haze
Today Online 29 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — Despite a sharp exchange of words between leaders from Indonesia and Singapore over the haze situation, the Republic’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said today (Sept 29) following a two-day working visit to the country that he was assured that progress is being made in Indonesia to deal with the problem, which has caused suffering to its people.

As Singapore continues to be shrouded in smog — the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PS) level was in the “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy” ranges for most of today — Indonesia’s disaster management agency said that more than 135,000 Indonesians were reported to be suffering from respiratory diseases. The country has sent almost 21,000 personnel to fight forest fires raging in its northern islands but the situation remains dire, prompting Riau province acting governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman to extend a state of emergency for another 14 days.

More than 135,000 Indonesians were reported to be suffering from respiratory diseases, according to Indonesia’s disaster management agency.
During his trip to Indonesia, Dr Ng held meetings with Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan and Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu. Among other topics, they discussed the haze situation.

Speaking to Singapore media at the end of his visit, Dr Ng stressed that it was “more productive to deal with the problem, the haze, than with the words”. Dr Ng said the two Indonesian leaders whom he met were motivated to resolve the problem because of the impact on their citizens’ health. “General Luhut described how they went to Kalimantan and the PSI there on some days had even exceeded 1,000. They fully recognise that the tourist industry is being affected; planes are grounded if not diverted,” said Dr Ng. “But more importantly, the health of Indonesians – they are subjected to these conditions and are affected... So to me, that was a very good starting point — that they wanted to resolve the haze problem for their own citizens.”

The Indonesian leaders also understood that the haze was an “engineering problem” that has to be prevented, instead of being reacted to, Dr Ng said. “The prevention of haze requires engineering solutions to stop... forest fires before they occur, as well as enforcing legislation to stop errant companies that are resorting to slash-and-burn techniques for commercial reasons. But I think the realisation that it is better to prevent fires than it is to put it out, if followed through, gives us a bigger greater chance that it will be solved.”

Dr Ng said he was also assured by the fact that Gen Luhhut was willing to work with non-governmental organisations. “The more they open up – not only to Singapore, but to other countries to help deal with this regional issue, whether it is in ASEAN or international countries – I think the better, as quicker solutions will be found,” he said.

Dr Ng reiterated that the haze is a “chronic health issue” that affect tens of thousands, or even millions of people in the region.

“So it will have to be dealt with and I am reassured that (Indonesian President Joko Widodo) is personally taking note of the issues,” he said.

In the past week, Mr Widodo had gone to Borneo and Sumatra islands to check on efforts to stop the forest blazes. He had set a deadline of two weeks to a month to stop the burning.

Dr Ng said that “every (Indonesian) leader” whom he spoke to understood the negative impact of the haze on not only Indonesia but the region as well. Noting that travellers would give South-east Asia a miss during periods of haze, he said: “(The Indonesian leaders) recognise that if this continues over a long period, jobs will be lost, the economy will suffer... If somebody put a cost to it, it would amount to enormous opportunity cost and ultimately, the loss of not only the health but livelihoods.”

During his meetings with the Indonesian leaders, Dr Ng reiterated Singapore’s offer of an assistance package that includes a C-130 aircraft for cloud-seeding operations, a Chinook helicopter with a water bucket for aerial fire-fighting, and up to two C-130 aircraft to ferry the Singapore Civil Defence Force fire-fighting assistance team. “Whether it is adequate or not, it is up to them to decide...The Singapore Armed Forces is always open to considering offering more help,” Dr Ng said.

Indonesia has rejected Singapore’s offer for help several times, with its Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar saying that the assets being offered were not enough. Dr Siti also raised concerns yesterday about the assessment team the Republic is offering to send.

Dr Ng said: “As with all assistance that we have offered in situations like this, we have been very clear that we go into this region fully respecting the sovereignty of the host nation. And that we cannot act in a manner that infringes on their sovereignty, and command and control.”

Separately, Malaysia’s Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he was “more than willing” to help Indonesia tackle the forest fires, and cautioned that bilateral relations could be affected if the situation continues. “If you let it drag, simple things like fighting haze can become something that will affect bilateral ties,” said Mr Hishammuddin, stressing that a regional effort was needed to address the problem. WITH AGENCIES


Offer to help Indonesia fight haze 'still stands'
Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Sep 15;

Singapore's offer to help Indonesia resolve the haze crisis still stands and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will also consider enhancing its assistance package if more aid is needed, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday.

"If they need more help... the SAF is always open to consider more help," said Dr Ng, who was speaking to The Straits Times a day after high-level talks in Jakarta. He said he made the offer again during his talks with Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan and Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu on Monday.

"And both Pak Ryamizard and Pak Luhut thanked me for this offer and they understood that the offer is still open," he added.

Indonesia has struggled to put out illegal forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan that have blanketed many parts of the country, Singapore and Malaysia in thick smoke.

Singapore extended a helping hand to Indonesia earlier this month, but its help was thrice rejected publicly by Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, who said her country had the resources to deal with the crisis.

The Singapore offer, however, has elicited mixed responses from Indonesian leaders. Lawmaker Ahmadi Noor Supit told the government not to reject offers of aid to put out the fires. "We should not be averse to it, we should not act as though we can cope alone, especially in terms of funding and equipment," he added.

Mr Ahmadi's comments come on the back of remarks by Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, who said on Sunday: "Singapore can come and see for themselves if they want to help. Don't just talk."

Dr Ng said yesterday that while Singapore's offer remains, it was up to Indonesia "to activate our help".

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also said he was "more than willing" to help Indonesia deal with the fires alongside Singapore.

Meanwhile, the haze continues to wreak havoc in the region. Acting Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman yesterday extended the state of emergency in his province after it was covered by haze that reduced visibility to about 100m.

Hazy conditions in Singapore took a turn for the worse yesterday, with air quality reaching very unhealthy levels. The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) entered the very unhealthy band of 142-203 at 4am. As of 3pm, the 24-hour PSI was between 172 and 210. The three-hour PSI, which is not tied to a health advisory, stood at 246.


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Parents hope that haze will not disrupt PSLE

Amelia Teng MY PAPER AsiaOne 30 Sep 15;

Parents whose children are sitting the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) tomorrow are hoping that the haze will not affect it.

Ten parents The Straits Times spoke to said that pupils' health should be the top priority, and they would understand if the exam has to be postponed by a few days.

However, they also said that the delay would be disruptive for their children who have already made their preparations in the past few weeks and months for the PSLE.

On Friday, Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah told reporters at the Tanjong Pagar Community Club that the PSLE, like other national exams, may be rescheduled if the air quality looks like it will reach very unhealthy or hazardous levels.

On Thursday night, the Ministry of Education (MOE) decided in an unprecedented move to close schools the next day as the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) levels reached just under 300, above which the air quality is considered hazardous.

More than 100 students who were due to take the GCE O-level music and higher music practical exams last Fridaytook them yesterday instead.

The PSLE is scheduled to start tomorrow and end next Tuesday.

Secretary Jasmine Goh, 44, whose daughter will be taking the exam, said: "I'd prefer if the PSLE just went ahead because this haze looks like it will last quite a while.

"The children have been preparing and looking forward to the first day so it's very disruptive if it's postponed."

MOE said last week that contingency plans for national exams are in place should haze conditions remain unhealthy or worsen.

All schools have enclosed spaces for candidates to take their exams, and schools will also be provided with air purifiers so that exams are not disrupted.

Housewife Abdoul Rahime Mahabouby, 42, whose son will be taking the exam, said: "Most parents just want to finish the PSLE as their kids are fully prepared at this stage.

"But if the air is hazardous, the exam should be delayed because children could get health problems such as itchy eyes and throats."

Joyce Wong, 41, a part-time piano teacher whose daughter has been preparing for the exam, said there would be "no choice" if exams were postponed due to worsening air quality.

"Even if schools can make alternative arrangements, I don't know if all schools have enough air-conditioned rooms to hold the children," she said.


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Singapore drive to buy only green palm oil products

Janice Tai And Boon Chan MY PAPER AsiaOne 30 Sep 15;

Some 2,800 companies will soon receive pledge letters from the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) this week to get them to commit to buying only sustainable palm oil products.

The council said yesterday that it is working with the Singapore Manufacturing Federation to get all its members on board in adopting green procurement practices. Such a move is aimed to exert pressure on supply sources in Indonesia to have their palm oil products certified to be from sustainable sources.

Last week, then Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan mentioned green procurement as a way for the Government to influence the supply chains. The council said they are working with the ministry on this and will start off with paper products.

"When the public agencies practice it, hopefully the private sector will follow suit," said SEC chairman Isabella Loh.

"What is holding them back is that there is a lack of certified palm oil products in the market," she added.

For instance, only 10 per cent of palm oil products in Indonesia are certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The council is working to raise the percentage of products that are certified to 75 per cent by coming up with its own palm oil certification scheme.

One of the five Indonesian companies believed to be causing the haze from the burning - Asia Pulp and Paper - has some of its products certified by the Singapore Green Labelling scheme run by SEC.

The council said it has started its own separate investigation and issued the company a letter of declaration to state its sources of wood, paper and pulp products. Asia Pulp and Paper has yet to respond.

SEC also called on governments to relook their biodiesel subsidies that incentivise companies to grow their palm oil production.

More than 30 per cent of palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia are diverted to make biodiesel blends. The Indonesian government tripled such subsidies to 5,000 rupiah (S$0.50) per litre, from 1,500 rupiah per litre in May this year.

Hazy conditions here worsened yesterday, with air quality reaching very unhealthy levels in some parts of the country, deteriorating from Monday's unhealthy levels.

Today's outlook does not appear to differ from yesterday's situation.

The National Environment Agency said in a 7.30pm update yesterday that the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the high-end of the unhealthy range (101 to 200) and the low-end of the very unhealthy band (201 to 300).

The "worsening and persistent haze situation" has also prompted the cancellation of the Spring Wave 2015 music festival here, said the event's organiser Friendly Dog Entertainment.

It added yesterday that those who bought tickets to the outdoor event planned for Fort Canning Green on Oct 10 can contact ticketing agents such as Sistic for refund policies.

In coming to a decision, the health and safety of concertgoers, artists including rockers Luantan-Ascent, Wu Bai and Chang Chen-yue, partners and staff was of the "utmost priority", said the organiser.

Singapore Environment Council pushes for green procurement in public sector
The Singapore Environment Council is urging the public sector to switch to using environmentally-friendly office supplies, starting with sustainable paper products.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 29 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) is pushing for green procurement in the public sector by working with the Environment and Water Resources Ministry in what is seen as top-down efforts to eliminate the recurring haze problem in Singapore.

SEC is urging the public sector to switch to using environmentally-friendly office supplies, starting with sustainable paper products.

Said Mr Edwin Seah, SEC's executive director: "What is important is the public sector as the major consumer base. If they can mandate or at least make it a commitment that they will procure goods from sustainable sources, I think that is a very important signal.

"But it will also trigger manufacturers and suppliers, who want to then do business with the public sector, to then think about changing their ways of procuring palm oil and paper products to ensure that these are sustainably procured."

Currently, many products on the shelves use sources that are not sustainably produced. Due to increasing global demand for palm oil and paper products, forests in Indonesia and Malaysia are razed by fire - the most economical way to clear land for plantation.

This causes the toxic haze which Singapore grapples with almost annually. That is why SEC is working with the Singapore Manufacturing Federation to get buyers to pressure suppliers in these countries, to produce sustainable palm oil and pulp.

It is also sending out letters to 2,800 companies - all members of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation - later this week, to seek their commitment.

CERTIFYING PRODUCTS MADE USING SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL

SEC is also joining forces with the Roundtable for Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an international non-profit association that certifies products made using sustainable palm oil, to work towards certifying 75 per cent of all palm oil produced.

Currently, only 10 per cent of palm oil produced has received the RSPO certification.

SEC itself has the Singapore Green Labelling Scheme, which endorses products that are environmentally-friendly. It currently has certified more than 3,000 products and has a reach in nearly 27 countries.

However, it was revealed that some products from Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), a company that has come under fire recently for its alleged unsustainable practices, are certified by SEC. The Council has called in APP for questioning, but there is no response yet. If APP is found guilty, SEC will take action to blacklist the company.

CULTIVATING BIODIESEL

The Council believes another major factor causing the haze is the use of biodiesel as an alternative source of energy to non-renewable fossil fuels.

Right now, more than 30 per cent of palm oil is converted to biodiesel. Biodiesel is used, for example, in vehicles. This can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and could contribute in fighting global climate change. However, most of the time, it is unsustainably cultivated.

The Indonesian government, for example, has significantly raised biodiesel subsidies. It has also invested in research and development to boost palm oil production for biodiesel.

The Council is thus urging these countries to revisit such incentives and ensure that transboundary haze can soon be a thing of the past.

- CNA/ek


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Indonesian forest fires cause regional concern

Fardah Antara 29 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Millions of people in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore have been affected by the haze mainly arising from forest, peatland, and plantation fires on Sumatra and Kalimantan islands over the last few weeks.

Dense haze has forced the temporary shutdown of schools in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Malaysia, and Singapore. Tens of thousands of people on the two islands have suffered from diseases, such as respiratory problems, pneumonia, and eye irritation due to the haze.

The operations at airports in some provinces on those islands are almost paralyzed as flights are frequently hindered by the smog arising from wildfires that has reduced visibility up to 50 meters in the worst-hit areas.

The Indonesian government has taken utmost efforts and has deployed nearly three thousand military and police personnel to help put out the fires and impose legal enforcement against the perpetrators.

The Indonesian Police have so far named a total of 204 people as suspects in forest and plantation fire cases across the country.

However, El Nino-induced prolonged drought and strong winds have worsened the fires.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has fallen ill due to the haze, according to a post on this Twitter account.

"Jerebu masih teruk (Haze is still terrible) - I have already lost my voice, and my nose is blocked," he tweeted on Sunday (Sept. 27).

The Malaysian media reported that Hishammuddin also agreed that the haze situation should be discussed at the regional level as it appears to have become a yearly affair.

Straitstimes.com reported that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was concerned over the worsening haze situation in the country.

"I understand that the haze situation in certain states in Malaysia is at an unhealthy level. Reduce outdoor activities, if needed, use face mask," advised Najib, who was in News York, on his Twitter and Facebook on Sept. 27.

Malaysia's Education Ministry said in a statement on Sept 27 that schools in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negri Sembilan and several parts of Sarawak would be closed on Monday (Sept 28).

Meanwhile, Singapores elementary and high schools were shut down on Sept. 25 as the haze shrouding the city state had reached a hazardous level.

Singapores Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan noted in a statement at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 on Sept. 27 that the issue of forest fires cannot be resolved unilaterally. The haze is affecting the health of millions of people, aircraft safety, and the regional economy.

"We need closer regional and international cooperation to apply legal and commercial pressure on errant companies to prevent them from profiting from unsustainable land and forest clearing," he said as quoted by Straitstimes.com.

Dr Balakrishnan linked the issue of haze to some of the UNs Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all, as well as the sustainable management of forests and preventing land degradation and biodiversity loss.

He said forest and peatland fires in South-east Asia "impair the health of millions of people in the region, compromise the safety of aircraft and damage the regional economy". "The large quantities of carbon dioxide released set back global efforts to mitigate climate change," he added.

On Sept. 10, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said that Minister Vivian Balakrishnan conveyed Singapores deep concern over the deteriorating haze situation to Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar, according to the Straitstimes.com.

He called for urgent action to be undertaken, including stricter action against the perpetrators.

The NEA also sent warning notices to four Indonesian companies, which were determined to cause the current haze pollution in Singapore.

From its investigations, haze-causing fires may have occurred on land concessions held by four Indonesian companies. The companies are: PT Rimba Hutani Mas, PT Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries, PT Bumi Sriwijaya Sentosa and PT Wachyuni Mandira.

In addition, NEA has served notice to Asia Pulp and Paper Company (APP), an Indonesian company with an office in Singapore, seeking information on its subsidiaries in Singapore and Indonesia, as well as measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires in their concessions, Channel News Asia reported.

The Singaporean media wrote that deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Dr Balakrishnan have all communicated directly with the Indonesian authorities on Sep 17, 18, 10, and 14 respectively.

A strong criticism came from Singapores Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who expressed his discontent through a Facebook post on Sept. 24, while referring to the "shocking statements made by senior-level officials from Indonesia, with a complete disregard for our people, and their own - PSI levels in parts of Indonesia are at almost two thousand (PSI above 350 is considered hazardous in Indonesia)."

"How is it possible for senior officials in the government to issue such statements without any regard for their people, or ours, and without any sense of embarrassment, or a sense of responsibility?" wrote the Singaporean minister, without mentioning the name of the Indonesian senior official.

His criticism was responded by Indonesian Vice President M Jusuf Kalla, who was in New York for the UN General Assembly, on Sept. 27, saying that Indonesia has taken utmost efforts to put out the forest fires, but the problem could not be dealt with in a short period of time.

The Indonesian government is open to receiving assistance from any country, including Singapore, keen to help put out the forest fires, according to him.

"Please do, we are open. Singapore could participate and see personally. Singapore, please (come) if it wants to help, do not just talk," Kalla stated.

Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi said she had communicated with her counterpart in Singapore to explain about the measures being taken by Indonesia.

"Indonesia is very serious about tackling the forest fires, including imposing legal enforcement and increasing public awareness," the minister added.

Indonesian Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung, however, in Jakarta, on Sept. 28, said the country does not need help as of now from Singapore to overcome forest and land fires.

"We will first strive to overcome them (the fires) by ourselves. So far, there has not been any agreement with Singapore (about dealing with these fires)," he added.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said there were certain technical constraints in accepting assistance from Singapore.

She said Singapore has offered a water bomber with a capacity of 5,000 liters while Indonesia has already used two to three water bombing units of a similar capacity.

"The BNPB has also prepared 17 water bombing planes with a capacity of 500 liters each," he said.

Singapore has offered to help with a C-130 aircraft to conduct cloud seeding operation and also a Chinooks helicopter to fight forest fires.

"It is used to transport a huge number of personnel and is good but according to the national police chief, it needs an extraordinarily amount of fuel," she said.

Singapore has also offered to send an assessment team and a planning team but Minister Siti said it would be difficult to coordinate with them.

"I cannot imagine it. We are working in five provinces of Riau, West Kalimantan, South Sumatra, Jambi and Central Kalimantan. Should we have to report to these teams? I have explained this to the President," she said.

With regard to the issue of haze, she said the Indonesian government has made it clear that any party, be it an individual or a company, violating the law will be blacklisted, their permits will be revoked and they will face legal action.

So far, legal action has been initiated against seven companies in connection with land fires and if new violations are found, similar action will be taken, she said.

The government has also been discussing a long-term solution to the problem, including encouraging the communities to change the tradition of burning forests for land clearing.

Referring to Minister Shanmugams criticism, Minister Nurbaya urged the government of Singapore to adopt a wiser and fairer approach to the ongoing forest fires.

"So, actually, what I want to say is that it should also have a fair outlook with regard to it (forest fire problem). The change (in the air pollution index in Singapore) is occurring hourly. It is frequently going up and down. What does it mean? It means that Indonesia has been making efforts (to extinguish the fires). We do not stay idle. Moreover, they said the government is shameless and irresponsible," the minister stated after speaking at a discussion on "Ecosystem management, hydrology and rehabilitation after peatland ecosystem fires".

In the meantime, Presidential Chief of Staff Teten Masduki has called on Singapore to understand the difficulties being faced by Indonesia in dealing with the current forest and land fires.

"This is not a simple task," he informed newsmen at the presidential palace compound on Sept. 28.

He pointed out that Singapore, on the other hand, had also enjoyed clean air for more than nine months from Sumatra.

"We know about several plantation and mining industries that stash their income from exports in Singapore," he affirmed.

He emphasized that Indonesia is not staying idle, but has continued to make efforts to fight the fires and imposed sanctions on those setting fires to forests or land that led to haze.(*)


Haze shrouds ASEAN forum on transnational crime
Even though the meeting had nothing to do with the haze, ASEAN ministers concurred it is a regional problem that could sour relations among member countries.
Melissa Goh, Malaysia Bureau Chief, Channel NewsAsia 29 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: For weeks, choking haze from neighbouring Indonesia has shrouded many parts of Southeast Asia, polluting air to unhealthy levels, forcing schools to close, and disrupting flights.

It was no surprise then that the matter surfaced on Tuesday (Sep 29) at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) forum on transnational crime - a meeting that had nothing to do with the haze.

"We are enjoying the haze imported from our neighbour, but I do understand that Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia are very tolerant neighbours. This is part of an ASEAN problem," said Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi.

The issue is threatening to sour relations with Jakarta as affected countries begin to count the cost of the perennial haze, generated by forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan. These fires are a result of companies and individuals using slash-and-burn methods to clear land.

"If you let it drag, simple things like fighting haze can become something that will affect bilateral ties,” said Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. “It must be resolved on a regional issue if not bilaterally, trilaterally between Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia."

Singapore on its own has served legal notice on five Indonesian companies it believes are among those responsible for the fires. Under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, companies can be fined up to US$70,000 a day for the unhealthy air.

"It's the first step for us to see what we can do from Singapore to make sure companies registered in Singapore can be put to task for supporting, promoting or even perpetrating those acts from across our waters," said Singapore Second Minister for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli.

But its effective enforcement, Masagos said, will require cooperation from other countries.

Indonesia's police chief General Badrodin Haiti, who was present at the ASEAN forum, said more than 40 individuals have been arrested in connection with starting fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Jakarta he said is also freezing assets and suspending concession rights of errant companies regardless if they are locally or foreign owned. "From the information gathered, three already have their licenses suspended while one was revoked, we hope this will help with the situation," he said.

But although enforcement is key and heavier penalties may act as a deterrent, at the end of the day, companies that flout the laws repeatedly will eventually have a bad reputation and lose out in the long run.

"The world today is more sensitised to environmental issue,” said Masagos. “We hope that it will set a good signal to these companies to take it seriously because it will affect their bottom line sooner or later."

- CNA/ec


Indonesia believes its forest fires not on agenda for Asean Ministerial Meeting
LOSHANA K SHAGAR AND JASTIN AHMAD TARMIZI The Star 29 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Indonesia believes its forest fires will not be on the agenda of the 10th Asean Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC) this week.

Indonesian police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti said the country's long-standing problem of forest fires will not be an agenda at AMMTC because it was not a transnational crime, but an issue to be dealt at another platform.

"At the moment we have dealt with approximately 210 cases of forest fires both from Sumatera and Kalimantan.

"All the cases are being investigated, including those involving some corporations, and about 40 of the cases can be charged in court soon," he told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting Tuesday.

Asked on a Singaporean volunteer group's plan to sue companies involved in starting fires in Indonesia, Badrodin said there was no action by Indonesian police on the matter at the moment.

"Coordination for the matter will be managed by the foreign ministry.

"It is also important to note that while most of the corporations that condone the open burning have Indonesian names, they could actually be run by foreign investors," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi later responded to Badrodin's statement, saying he appreciated the Indonesian government's commitment towards solving the problem.

"Hopefully with a more comprehensive approach and effort, this haze won't be a problem from next year on.

"I am confident that the Indonesian president (Joko Widodo) will be able to tackle the problem as well," he told reporters at a press conference here.


Indonesia sends thousands to fight fires, makes no progress against hazardous 'haze'
Reuters 29 Sep 15;

Indonesia has sent nearly 21,000 personnel to fight forest fires raging in its northern islands, the disaster management agency said on Tuesday, but smoke cloaks much of the region with pollution readings in the "very unhealthy" region in neighboring Singapore.

Slash-and-burn agriculture has blanketed Singapore, Malaysia and northern Indonesia in a choking "haze" for weeks, pushing up pollution levels and disrupting flights, as it does every year. Indonesian efforts to halt the seasonal clearances have failed.

More than 135,000 Indonesians were reported to be suffering from respiratory diseases, the disaster agency said in a statement.

"Looking at the current situation, it essential for us to extend the period of state of emergency due to haze for another 14 days," said Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, acting governor of Riau province, one of the worst-hit areas.

"Our focus will remain on monitoring the health of our people."

Schools in parts of Malaysia were ordered closed for a second day on Tuesday and Singaporean commuters were wearing masks as they have for much of the last two weeks.

Indonesia has faced criticism for turning down offers of help from Singapore, even as it struggles to contain fires that have been exacerbated by a prolonged dry season.

Indonesian officials, including Vice President Jusuf Kalla, have repeatedly said they have enough resources to handle the crisis, with Kalla adding that neighboring countries should be grateful for clean air provided by Indonesia's rainforests outside the haze season.

Kalla this week toned down his earlier comments and said Indonesia was open to foreign assistance, according to media.

President Joko Widodo last week visited Central Kalimantan and called for urgent action including building canals to irrigate parched peatlands where fires can be harder to put out, media reported.

Indonesian government has launched investigations of more than 200 companies and taken legal action against just four.

(Reporting by Reuters reporters; Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina in JAKARTA and Rujun Shen in SINGAPORE; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Nick Macfie)


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Malaysia: Johor schools to remain closed tomorrow

NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 29 Sep 15;

State Entrepreneur Development, Cooperative, Education and Information committee chairman Md Jais Sarday said he was concerned about the well-being and health of students especially with the haze situation.

"This will involve some 618,362 primary and secondary school students," Jais told on Tuesday.

The Education Ministry made the decision as Air Pollutant Index (API) readings as at 4pm Tuesday, showed no significant change from Monday.

However, the Ministry ordered all schools that were closed in Malacca Monday to reopen on Tuesday due to improved haze conditions in the state.

Jais added that all kindergartens and institution of higher learning should also follow suit and remain closed.

He added that there would be an announcement on Wednesday if the schools would reopen or stay closed on Thursday.

Students having respiratory problems should get a report from the clinic or hospital if they are unfit to attend school due to the present haze situation.

Jais, when contacted, said medical reports would be required for students who did not attend school for long periods due to respiratory illness.

Asked if so far there were any such cases, Jais said that so far there were non but the state education department was monitoring the situation.

According to the Environment Department's Air Pollutant Index (API), Larkin Lama in Johor showed an "Unhealthy" reading of 126 as at 5pm Tuesday.


Clear weather expected in next few days but smog will return this weekend
JOASH EE DE SILVA AND VINCENT LIAN The Star 30 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysians will enjoy a short reprieve from the haze in the next few days, but it is set to make a return over the weekend.

According to Meteorological Dep­artment spokesman Dr Hisham Mohd Anip, the phasing out of Typhoon Dujuan in Taiwan yesterday would see winds being pulled from clearer parts of Indonesia.

The winds over Sarawak had already shifted yesterday evening but for penisular Malaysia, the wind will start shifting today.

“Also, more rain is expected in the next two or three days, which will cause haze levels to gradually decline,” said Hisham.

However, another low-pressure area is slowly building up in the northern part of the South China Sea close to the west of the Philippines.

“This means that on Saturday or Sunday, the winds will shift again, bringing back the air from the dense haze areas in Indonesia to Malaysia,” he said.

Dr Hisham said this condition would last until the end of next week as the low-pressure area enhances into a tropical cyclone.

He added that the severity of the haze would be hard to predict as there had been interference in their satellite readings of hotspots in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The constant change of winds, he said, was most likely due to the El Nino effect, which is reported to be the strongest in over half a century.

“Usually we only experience thick haze for about two or three weeks, but this year it has persisted longer than usual,” Hisham added.

As of 5pm yesterday, 10 areas recorded unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings. The areas were Kota Tinggi (111), Larkin Lama (126), Muar (113), Pasir Gudang (121) in Johor, Bandaraya Malacca (118), Bukit Rambai (118) in Malacca, Port Dickson (101) in Negri Sembilan, Balok Baru (126), Indera Mahkota (114) in Pahang and Kemaman (108) in Terengganu.

At the Kuala Lumpur Inter­national Airport, as at 5.30m, all flights have gone on as scheduled except for one AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur to Pekanbaru, which was delayed because visibility was below the minimum level due to the haze.

According to Malindo Air chief executive officer Chandran Rama Murthy, Subang Airport also enjoyed a day of smooth flights except for those flying to Kerteh airport, which was closed down due to the haze.

As for Firefly, only one flight was affected by the closing down of Kerteh airport, said its chief executive officer Ignatius Ong.

“We arranged for a bus to transport the passengers from Kerteh to Kuantan airport before flying them to Subang,” he said.


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Indonesia: Companies in Riau alleged to have set land fires

Antara 29 Sep 15;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Seventeen companies in Sumatras province of Riau are believed to have set land fires in eight districts in the province.

"All the companies are now being dealt with by the police in their respective districts," Adjunct Senior Commissioner Guntur Aryo, the head of public relations of the regional police command, stated here on Tuesday.

He noted that two companies were being investigated by the police in Indragiri Hilir, three in Pelalawan and Kampar respectively, two in Rokan Hilir, and one in Indragiri Hulu.

Of the 17 companies, only PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo (LIH) has been confirmed as a suspect, the case of which is now being handled by the directorate of special crimes of the Riau regional police command.

He noted that all the companies had been cordoned off by the police and declared as status quo until investigations are completed.

He declined to reveal the names of all the companies due to fears that it would disrupt the investigation process, though he confirmed that most of the companies are operating in the plantation sector.

So far, the Riau regional police command has declared 68 individuals as suspects in land fire cases, and 23 cases out of them have been handed over to the prosecutors office.

On September 17, the Riau police arrested an executive of PT LIH known by the initials FK as a suspect in the case of land fire in Pelalawan.

Ari Rachman Nafarin, the vice director of special criminal investigation department of the Riau police command, noted that FK was arrested in Tanjung Mutiara in the district of Agam, West Sumatra.

PT LIH has been confirmed as a suspect in the case of setting land fire that occurred in the middle of the year.

The palm oil company has been charged with negligence that has caused fires based on Law Number 32 of 2009 on environment protection and management.(*)

40 suspects to be charged, says Indonesia’s top cop
NURADZIMMAH DAIM New Straits Times 29 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Forty people suspected to be involved in the open burning in Sumatera and Kalimantan will be charged soon.

Indonesia National Police Chief Gen Badrodin Haiti said investigations revealed that there were 210 cases of burning in the two areas that have caused fire in plantation and forest leading to haze.

"Investigations also revealed that there were foreign companies that have registered under the name of the locals involved in the activity which have flouted laws in regards to plantation, forestry and wildlife protection.

We are in the process of identifying the real enterprise owners," he told reporters at the 10th Asean Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime, here.

He said one of the companies had its license revoked while license of three others had been frozen.


Police round up more suspects for burning forests
Fedina S. Sundaryani and Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 30 Sep 15;

As the country struggles to deal with land and forest fires raging in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the National Police have said they are investigating 219 cases that could lead to the prosecution of individuals and firms responsible for starting the fires.

National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Suharsono told reporters on Tuesday that four of the 219 cases were being investigated at the National Police headquarters while the rest were being investigated by regional police.

Data from the National Police showed that the South Sumatra Police were currently handling 34 cases, the Riau Police 68 cases, the Jambi Police 18 cases, the Central Kalimantan Police 57 cases, the West Kalimantan Police 26 cases, the South Kalimantan Police eight cases and the East Kalimantan Police four cases.

Suharsono said that of the 219 cases, police investigators had wrapped up their probes into 42 cases and had handed them over to the prosecutor’s office, with the dossiers, evidence and suspects of 18 cases having been transferred to court for trial.

“There are a total of 205 suspects [from all the cases]; 196 individual suspects and nine corporate suspects,” he said.

At least 68 individuals have been detained by the police.

Suharsono added that the four cases being investigated at the National Police headquarters did not involve individuals who allegedly started the forest fires, but were cases against those in the higher echelons of firms accused of being involved in the crimes.

The individuals and firms were charged under Law No. 32/2009 on the protection of the environment, which carries a minimum prison sentence of three years and a maximum of 10 years along with a fine of Rp 3 billion (US$204,457).

Firms responsible for fires could also have their licenses revoked.

The number of cases being investigated by the police has jumped from Sept. 15 when there were only 130 cases with 150 individual and corporate suspects nationwide.

As police stepped up their prosecution of individuals responsible for forest fires, local regions continued to deal with health risks from haze that blanketed a number of cities.

The Pekanbaru health agency in Riau said that the number of people needing treatment due to exposure from the haze had reached 8,673 by Tuesday.

“The data was based on the number of individuals who received outpatient treatment at eight emergency health posts and 20 community health centers by Sept. 29, 2015,” head of the Pekanbaru Health Agency, Helda S. Munir, said on Tuesday, as reported by Antara news agency.

Helda said that 7,628 of the patients were treated for respiratory tract infections, while the remainder suffered from asthma, pneumonia, eye irritations, skin irritations and diarrhea.

Authorities in Riau have also decided to extend the haze emergency status for the next two weeks.

“The decision was based on the fact that the air quality index has not improved. The figure continues to hover above 400 PSI [pollutant standard index], which could be considered dangerous,” said Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency head Edwar Sanger.

Earlier, the Pekanbaru branch of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said that on Monday there were still 285 hotspots in Sumatra, encompassing South Sumatra, Lampung and Bangka-Belitung. Up to 239 of the total were found in South Sumatra.


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Indonesia: Pekanbaru mayor orders evacuation of infants due to haze

Antara 29 Sep 15;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Mayor of Pekanbaru Firdaus has issued an order to evacuate infants under six months of age in 12 sub-districts badly affected by haze arising from the forest fires.

"We will evacuate them this afternoon. A team is now coordinating the evacuation process," Mayor Firdaus noted here on Tuesday.

The local authorities will coordinate the evacuation of infants below six months of age from underprivileged families, he stated.

They will be evacuated to a city hall that has been transformed into a makeshift nursery and has been equipped with baby boxes, air conditioners, and a health clinic. The local authorities will also provide milk to the infants.

The evacuation has been deemed necessary as Pekanbarus air pollution index has reached a hazardous level over the past week.

"At present, the air pollution index in Pekanbaru has reached one thousand psi, which is categorized as hazardous," he remarked.

Poor families usually do not have good facilities for infants, thus the air quality inside their homes is similar to that outside, he noted.

"Therefore, we are trying to provide facilities, including good air conditioning, so that the infants, the countrys next generation, can breathe clean air," he affirmed.

The evacuation process will be carried out by personnel of the local disaster mitigation office (BPBD), health office, community health centers, and village heads.

"The infants will stay at the city hall as long as the air quality is bad," he noted.(*)

Fires in Jambi, S. Sumatra pollute now fire-free Riau
thejakartapost.com 29 Sep 15;

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Pekanbaru says that thick smoke would continue to blanket several areas in Riau, potentially reducing visibility to around just 100 meters.

“The wind is now tending to move toward Riau. Meanwhile, the wind passing across Riau will turn toward the southeast and slow down. That’s why it will be difficult for us to avoid smoke from Jambi and South Sumatra,” BMKG Pekanbaru head Sugarin said as quoted by Antara new agency in Pekanbaru on Tuesday.

He said that based on the agency’s weather data, as of 7 a.m. local time on Tuesday, thick smoke was still blanketing four areas, namely Dumai, Pelalawan, Pekanbaru and Rengat.

“In Pekanbaru, visibility has reduced to only 200 meters while in Pelalawan and Rengat in Indragiri Hulu regency [it is] 100m. In Dumai, visibility is better, reaching 1,000m,” said Sugarin.

Based on Terra and Aqua satellite imagery data, 190 hot spots are spread across Sumatra. Most are concentrated in South Sumatra, where there are 178 in total. Jambi has 11 hot spots and Bangka Belitung has one.

Earlier, acting Riau governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman announced that the provincial administration had decided to extend the air-pollution emergency status, which would have expired on Monday.

“[...] today, we agree to extend the air pollution emergency status to Oct. 11,” he said.

Arsyadjuliandi said the air-pollution emergency status helps the Riau administration to be more focused in handling illnesses resulted from the haze disaster.

He said that Riau had been free from hot spots and fires for the last several days, though still, smoke was blanketing areas in the province.

“The smoke from several neighboring provinces has continued to cover Riau. We will focus our attention on handling the health impacts of the haze,” the acting governor said. (ebf)(++++)

RI struggles to conquer haze crisis
Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 29 Sep 15;

Despite the government’s pledge of all-out recovery efforts, land and forest fires have continued to rage in many regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan, leaving local residents to struggle with thick haze that puts their health at risk and the education and transportation sectors in jeopardy.

In Riau, the country’s largest oil-producing region, a high intensity of smoke blanketed many parts of the province on Monday despite the absence of hot spots indicating land and forest fires in the province since a day earlier.

Head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Pekanbaru station, Sugarin, said of the 285 hot spots detected on Monday in Sumatra, 239 had been spotted in South Sumatra, 29 in Bangka-Belitung and 17 in Lampung.

“The deteriorating air quality in Riau is triggered by haze produced by the remaining forest and land fires in a number of our neighboring provinces,” Sugarin said.

In the provincial capital of Pekanbaru, visibility was recorded at 100 meters on Monday morning. Indragiri Hulu and Pelalawan regencies shared the same level of visibility at 200 meters while Dumai municipality recorded slightly better visibility at 500 meters.

Data at the Riau haze disaster emergency post showed that, as of Monday, the air pollutant standard index (PSI) in the four regions of Pekanbaru, Kampar, Siak and Rokan Hilir stood at “dangerous”, with Pekanbaru recording the highest level of air pollution with 858 PSI.

According to the government’s existing guidelines, air quality is considered “healthy” if the pollutant level stands below 50 PSI, “moderate” when the level stands between 51 and 100 PSI, “unhealthy” between 101 and 199 PSI, “very unhealthy” between 200 and 299 PSI and “dangerous” when it surpasses 300 PSI.

In response to the worsening haze, the Pekanbaru Education Agency on Monday decided to again temporarily shut schools until Wednesday after resuming classes on Friday and Saturday.

“It’s better for the children to stay at home amid thick and dangerous haze like at present,” agency head Zulfadil said.

Over the past weeks, air pollution from fires in peatland and plantations has severely affected several regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan, including Jambi, Riau, South Sumatra, West Sumatra and Central Kalimantan.

The ongoing crisis has also been exacerbated by this year’s prolonged dry season, caused by the El NiƱo weather phenomenon.

Soon after his inauguration on Sept. 9, the new chief of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), Willem Rampangilei, said the agency would aim to clear up the haze blanketing Sumatra in two weeks.

Among indicators of success, he said, would be airports in the regions operating normally without disruptions from haze, sending students back to school and reducing symptoms of acute respiratory infections (ISPA).

Approaching the end of the month, however, the government-led recovery efforts have shown little progress, as the number of fires detected remains fluctuating.

In West Sumatra, the Dharmasraya regional administration also decided to halt school activities on Monday as the air quality in the region stood at a “dangerous” level over the past three days.

“We decided to take the measure to help students avoid the impacts of haze on their health,” Dharmasraya Education, Youth and Sports Agency secretary Sutadi said on Monday, as quoted by Antara news agency.

Thick haze has also cost thousands of air travelers time and money.

Ria Permana Sari, 28, a Pekanbaru resident, said she had had to travel overland to Padang, West Sumatra, to get a flight to Jakarta since all flights from Pekanbaru’s Sultan Syarif Kasim (SKK) II International Airport to the nation’s capital had been canceled since Saturday because of poor visibility.

“Many passengers have been forced to travel overland to Padang to fly to Jakarta. For this, we have to spend an extra Rp 150,000 [US$10.10] for the trip, which takes six hours from Pekanbaru,” she said, as quoted by Antara.

Meanwhile, in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, the local Health Agency said the extraordinary occurrence status for ISPA in the city had entered a third week.

The agency’s disaster and endemic section head Fransiska said 759 people had visited local community health centers (Puskesmas) throughout last week for ISPA treatment despite the long weekend for Idul Adha (the Islamic Day of Sacrifice).

“If there was no holiday, the number of patients coming to Puskesmas for ISPA treatments last week for sure would have been higher than 759,” she said.


All flights from Hang Nadim Airport delayed due to haze
thejakartapost.com 29 Sep 15;

Authorities of Hang Nadim International Airport in Batam, Riau Islands, say the visibility at the airport and in surrounding areas has decreased to below 500 meters, forcing them to delay all flights scheduled to depart on Tuesday morning. Several flights scheduled to land in Hang Nadim were rerouted to other airports, they added.

“Visibility was still below 500m this morning. No flight has departed from the airport and flight arrivals have also been disrupted,” Hang Nadim International Airport general affairs manager Suwarso said as quoted by Antara news agency in Batam on Tuesday morning.

He said it was the worst visibility the smoke from forest fires in Sumatra had caused in Batam.

Antara reported that visibility had been getting worse since Monday afternoon, causing the disruption of flights bound for Hang Nadim, Batam. Based on airport arrival data, eight flights should have landed as of 8:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday, but reportedly no flights arrived.

Three departures, Lion Air flights departing for Jakarta and Pangkal Pinang and a Garuda Indonesia flight departing for Jakarta, have been delayed until the situation to improves.

“We have continued to monitor the situation and are still waiting for developments. Thick smoke blanketing the airport’s runways is still disrupting our flight schedules,” said Suwarso.

A number of people who came to pick up friends and relatives at Hang Nadim Airport said they had not yet received information on when the rerouted flights would arrive in Batam.

“I was informed that the Lion Air flight from Jakarta is still in Medan [in North Sumatra]. It has not yet departed to Batam,” said Rizal. The disrupted flight schedules have caused a passenger build-up at the airport’s departure terminal. (ebf)(++++)


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Indonesian disaster report for first quarter of 2015

Jakarta Post 30 Sep 15;

There have been 600 natural disasters that happened in the first quarter in 2015. Around 97.8 percent of those disasters were landslides, floods and strong winds. In terms of frequency, landslides are most common.

Like previous years, the number of disasters that happened in January are the highest. This January, there were 285 events, most of which were landslides. While in February and March, there were 240 and 75 disaster events, most of which were caused by strong winds and landslides.

Landslides were the most deadly disasters since they resulted in many casualties or missing people. Strong winds become the most damaging disasters since they destroyed many homes.

Disasters in January 2015

The intensity of the rainy season,usually reaches its peak at the turn of the year. This January it rained almost every day. The result was it poured on most of the regions in Indonesia. Not a few of them endured floods. There were 90 cities/regencies from 25 provinces that had disastrous floods in January 2015.

Aceh province is the westernmost region in Indonesia and it was hit with floods on the second week in January. The region that has 15 watersheds is frequently struck with floods in the rainy season. In January, five cities/regencies were flooded: Southeast Aceh, Pidie, Aceh Tamiang, North Aceh and Subulussalam City.

Aceh Tamiang had the most victims, with 13,731 victims from six subdistricts. And the most flooded settlement was in Pidie Regency with at least 4,000 residencies affected.

Just like Aceh, Jakarta also become a province that was frequently having floods during the new year but the impact caused by this years’ flooding was not as bad as previous years. Not only was the rainfall in Jakarta was not as high as previous years but also many related parties had taken preventative measures. Those efforts included coordination meetings from related parties to determine flood mitigation scenarios in Jakarta. These meetings began at the end of 2014.

Combined personnel to help with flood mitigation were also prepared. The number of personnel reached more than 5,000 people, including a task force of 2,000 from DKI Jakarta’s West Maritime Fleet Command,two battalions of Marine engineers to help clean the rivers and four Kodam Jaya task forces for five regions with 1,000 people.

Besides that, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) also established reinforcement posts in many flood-prone points in Jakarta and surrounding areas. Those post accounted for 28 points in which 25 points were in Jakarta while two others were in Bekasi and one in Tangerang. Each post consisted of a team from BNPB along with army, military and police offices and a student regiment.

Floods also struck Banten Province in January 2015. It flooded many regions in 12 villages from Panimbang and Cikeusik subistrict, Pandeglang regency, Banten. These regions were located in flood-prone areas and have been flooded almost every year. The floods happened from the overflowed Cilember River. There were 13,054 flooded homes and 21,528 people affected.

Besides Pandeglang, Lebak regency was also struck by floods. In this region, floods were caused by the overflowing Ciliman, Cimoyan, Ciberang, Ciujung and Cibinuangen rivers and other 189 rivulets that cross the Lebak regency. The Lebak Regency Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) issued an emergency alert status from December 20, 2014, until March 20, 2015. At least 5,355 people were affected and more than 2,200 houses were flooded.

The eastern part of Indonesia was also affected by the floods in the beginning of the year. Major floods happened in Manado City, North Sulawesi; Barru regency, South Sulawesi and Dompu regency, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB).

Floods in Manado happened at the dawn of January 11, 2015, caused by heavy rain that began January 10 in the afternoon and lasted until 2 a.m. local time. Because of the downpour, Tendanau River overflowed and flooded the settlements. There were seven subdistricts that were affected: Bunaken, Singkil, Paal Dua, Tikala, Wenang, Sario and Wanea. At least 2,000 houses were flooded and more than 4,000 people were forced to evacuate.

On the third week in January, floods struck Barru regency, South Sulawesi, beginning January 23, 2015. The impacted subdistricts were Barry, Tanete Rilau, Tanete Riaja, Balusu, Soppeng Riaja and Mallusetasi. There were 6,129 people that were affected in those six subdistricts.

At the end of January 2015, floods struck Dompu, West Nusa Tenggara. These floods happened because there was heavy rain and rivers overflowed. The floods affected 10 villages in Dompu and Woja subdistricts. The results, 20,000 people were affected, 4,200 house flooded, with 23 of them being heavily damaged. The flood was 4 meters high. People were evacuated to the nearest mosques, schools and other buildings that were not affected by the floods.

Disasters in February 2015

This month, most regions in Indonesia were still experiencing heavy rain. From light-to-heavy intensity, rain poured in many regions. Many regions were reportedly struck by floods, landslides and strong winds. Compared to January 2015, the number of disasters that happened declined along with the number of casualties or missing persons.

At the beginning of February, heavy rains hit Jakarta and caused many areas to be inundated by floods. Until 4 p.m. on Monday, February 9, 2015, there were 93 areas inundated in Jakarta. Those areas were scattered around, with 35 areas in Central Jakarta, 28 in West Jakarta, 17 in North Jakarta, eight in East Jakarta and five points in South Jakarta. The floods were 10-80 centimeters deep. The floods resulted in severe traffic jams in many areas.

At that time, the water level in most river systems in Jakarta reached alert III status: 80 cm at the Katulampa sluice gate (alert status III), 210 cm at the Depok sluice gate (alert status III), 820 cm at the Manggarai sluice gate (alert status III), 165 cm at the Krukut Hulu sluice gate (alert status III), 190 cm at the Pesanggrahan sluice gate, 190 cm at the Angke Hulu sluice gate (alert status III) and 675 cm at the Pulo Gadung sluice gate (alert status III). While at the Karet sluice gate, the water level reached 650 cm with alert status I. This condition resulted in many riverbanks being flooded.

Besides hydrometeorological disasters, on January 2015, there was an earthquake that happened and caused damage. The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported a 7.1 magnitude earthquake at Friday 8:45, February 27, 2015. Its epicenter was 572 kilometers under the sea level, which was 104 kilometers northwest of East Flores or 129 km northeast of Sikka, East Nusa Tenggara. No tsunami warning was issued.

According to the map from the quake, the shock was felt in a couple of regions in northern side of East Flores with IV-V intensity (medium). The shock was also felt as medium in Sikka and Kupang. People in East Flores, Mataram City and some in Bali also felt the quake, but quite weakly. The quake that reaches 7.1 on the Richter scale is considered high intensity, however, since the epicenter was very deep, it resulted minor impact or damage. It was reported that there were 19 slightly damaged homes, one moderately damaged educational facility and one slightly damaged worship facility.

The epicenter was an active fault zone that was located on the north of Flores Island. That fault zone had an extension to the northeast of Bali that is known as the Flores back arc thrust belt. The activities from this fault zone have also caused many earthquakes that happened frequently in Sumbawa Islands and Flores. Earthquakes that happened in southern Sumbawa and its surroundings are caused by activities in the Indo-Australia subduction zone plate that is subducting the Eurasian plate. While on the north, earthquakes result from activities in the Flores back arc thrust.

Disasters in March 2015

On March 2015, landslides become the most dominating disasters. It was reported that there were landslides happening almost everyday. Most of these landslides were reported to have happened in Central Java and West Java.

Casualties and missing persons because of landslides in March 2015 totaled to 20 , 12 of whom died because of landslides that happened in Sukabumi on March 28, 2015. Previously, on March 10, 2015, there was another landslide in Sukabumi that caused three casualties. Other landslides that caused casualties and missing persons happened in Brebes, Central Java (March 12), Sumedang, West Java (March 20) and Purworejo, Central Java (March 28).

In Purworejo, landslides that happened on March 28 were also accompanied by floods. Furthermore, a sizeable flood also happened on March 16, 2015 in Indramayu, West Java. This flood affected traffic on the northern coastal highway (Pantura).

Other than that, in March 2015, an earthquake hit North Maluku. The earthquake was 6.2 on Richter scale with epicenter 10 km deep under sea bed on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, at 5:12 a.m. The epicenter was 115 km northwest of West Halmahera, North Maluku. Even though the quake did not triggered any tsunami, the effect was shocking to people in West Halmahera. The cause of the quake was activity in fault zone and a shifting plate resulting from a fault under Maluku sea.

The earthquake lasted for five seconds. People of Ternate also felt a strong shock for three to five seconds. Even in Manado, people could feel the shocks. People that were used to earthquakes were not in panic. Some of them responded by walking out of their houses. From a report that was received from the BNPB, there were 11 heavily damaged homes, 10 moderately damaged homes and 15 slightly damaged homes.


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Indonesia: Jakarta finalizes bylaw on land reclamation

Dewanti A. Wardhani, The Jakarta Post 29 Sep 15;

The Jakarta administration has finished drafting a bylaw to regulate the controversial 17 man-made islets planned to be built off the city’s north coast.

The bylaw draft on the Jakarta north coast strategic area spatial planning specifically regulates spatial planning on each of the islets. Jakarta Development Planning Board (Bappeda) head Tuty Kusumawati said that in drafting the bylaw the city administration had cooperated with experts from the University of Indonesia, Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), as well as hydrology and water management expert Sawarendro and his team.

“The city administration began drafting this bylaw in 2012. We are being extra careful with this because it is very important,” Tuty told The Jakarta Post recently.

In a document obtained by the Post, the city administration claims that land shortage and environmental quality degradation is the main reason for the land reclamation, and that the city aims to be an “international-standard sustainable waterfront city”.

“Around 70 percent of Jakarta’s 662 square kilometers is already in use. The solution to this is to add more land. Through land reclamation, we will get 5,100 hectares of new land, or about 90 percent of our existing land,” Tuty said.

An important point in the new bylaw draft is the classification of the islands. According to the document, the islands would be divided into three areas; the East Zone, consisting of islets A through H, will function as housing; the Central Zone, islets I through M, will be a commercial area and the West Zone, with islets N through Q will be for logistics and sea and air ports.

Further, under the plan each island must have open green space amounting to at least 30 percent of that island’s area, and 5 percent open blue space, such as reservoirs. At least 15 percent of an island’s area is designated for infrastructure and utilities, such as roads. In total, the man-made islets will accommodate 750,000 to 1.4 million people.

Tuty said that developers of islets A through H must also build rusunawa (low-cost rental apartments) on the islands for workers. She pointed out that such a clause would be included in the bylaw, but refused to reveal the amount of rusunawa units per island as the figure was still subject to change.

“We will discuss the draft with the City Council to have the bylaw approved. Hopefully we can get it approved by the end of the year,” she said.

Councilor Selamat Nurdin of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) said that the city council would refuse to discuss the bylaw draft before all issues regarding land reclamation, from environmental to legal issues, were cleared. The City Council recently established a special committee to investigate the land reclamation project and would begin questioning relevant city and company officials and experts in October.

“The City Council has received many negative reports regarding land reclamation, and we want to clear up these reports before discussions,” Selamat told the Post.

For example, he said, the councilors had received reports of illegal practices in the development of the man-made islets. Despite the bylaw not being approved yet, two firms have started construction, namely Agung Sedayu Group subsidiary PT Kapuk Naga Indah and Agung Podomoro Land subsidiary PT Muara Wisesa Samudera. Kapuk is in charge of developing islets A through E while Muara Wisesa Samudera is developing islet G.

Both developers have started marketing properties at Golf City on islet D and Pluit City on islet G.

“We have received reports that a certain company may have been stealing sand from Thousand Islands to develop their own [islands]. That is illegal. Therefore, we will not only question city officials and experts in our investigations but also company officials involved in the project,” he said.


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Farmers Flooded From Homes `Like Pests' as Asia Plans 500 Dams

Chris Brummitt Archana Chaudhary Bloomberg Business 30 Sep 15;

The day after the Indonesian government began to fill the lake behind its new Jatigede dam, Apong sat by the graves of her mother, father and infant son, wondering what to do.

Her village of Pada Jaya and its cemetery will soon be at the bottom of the reservoir and she can’t afford to exhume the bodies and rebury them.

“I can’t just leave them here,” she said in the shade of a weeping fig tree, surrounded by eerie holes of exhumed corpses. “But I have a lot of family members to support, no land to move to and no money.”

In the nearby village of Jemah, one of the first that will be flooded, the power supply had been suddenly disconnected and locals were busy dismantling their houses and stacking the materials ready to transport to a new site.

In one home, Kesmawati said she hadn’t received any of the 29 million rupiah ($1,970) promised in compensation for her house and plot of land. The field alone, smaller than a tennis court, would cost about 20 million rupiah to replace.

“Of course it’s not enough, but what can we do?” she said, sitting with her 76 year-old mother, Juriah. “Money can’t replace my life here. People helped each other out. Now it’s just memories.”

Dam Boom

Developing nations are in the middle of the biggest dam construction program in history to generate power, irrigate fields, store water and regulate flooding. Yet governments are finding it harder to move people, who have become less trusting of officials and more connected to information about the effects of the dams. Corruption and wrangles over payments have stalled projects from Indonesia to India for decades and frustrated governments are increasingly turning to the ultimate threat: Move, or we will flood you out.

Jatigede is the latest example, and it is unlikely to be the last. Indonesia plans to build 65 dams in the next 4 years, 16 of which are under construction. India aims to erect about 230. China, is in the middle of a program to add at least 130 on rivers in the mountainous southwest and Tibetan plateau, including barriers across major rivers like the Mekong and Brahmaputra that flow into other countries. It is reported to have relocated people before inundating land.

Like Jatigede, many are financed by Chinese banks and led by the nation’s biggest dam builder, Sinohydro Corp. China is involved in constructing some 330 dams in 74 different countries, according to environmental lobbying group International Rivers, based in Berkeley, California.

“Sending rising waters to flood out people like ​pests​ is barbaric,” said Professor Michael Cernea, a senior scholar at the​ ​Brookings Institution in Washington and former senior adviser for social policies and sociology at the World Bank. “Indonesia has the resources and know-how to resettle these people decently.”

The relocation program is the responsibility of the government, Sinohydro President Liang Jun said in an interview on Aug. 31 at the Jatigede dam.
Opening Ceremony

West Java governor Ahmad Heryawan said the dam will irrigate 90,000 hectares of land and provide water to Cirebon, a city of about 300,000 people on the northern coast of Java. At a ceremony on top of the dam on Aug. 31 to begin filling the reservoir, he acknowledged that not everyone had received compensation and that thousands remained in their homes.

Those being relocated were “heroes of development, not victims,” he said. “We don’t want them to suffer, we want to improve their welfare.”

In the villages that are being submerged, they don’t see it that way. In Cipaku, a rice-farming community 10 kilometers upstream from the dam, residents were angry and disappointed with a government that took office a year ago, largely on the support of farmers and ordinary workers.
“We are staying here till we get what is rightfully ours,” said Aden Tursiman, sitting with his mother in their wooden house at the lowest point in the village. “The government needs to stop cheating the people.”

Protests against dams have multiplied across Asia as activists mobilize residents and media against large projects and question their long-term benefits.
Himalayan Dams
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans about 200 hydropower projects on the mountainous rivers in northeast India, as well as a program of 30 large dams that would help link major rivers across the country.

“We are considering approvals for about 20 to 30 hydro and about 15 irrigation dam projects at the moment,” said Ashwinkumar Pandya, chairman of India’s Central Water Commission, which gives technical and economic clearances for dams. “Dams are an important aspect of planning and they ensure that water and power requirements for the nation are met.”

Officials at the Ministry of Water Resources and Social Justice Department weren’t available or declined to comment on the resettlement programs in India.
“There is not a single dam -- not a single one -- for which India has done proper rehabilitation of people,” said Himanshu Thakkar, a coordinator for Delhi-based South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People. “And typically, all of them have seen costs escalate and delays in building.”

Disputes over compensation and loss of land are still going on in India for dams built half a century ago, such as the Bhakra Nangal dam in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, a pet project of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Many of the protests relate to alleged corruption in rehabilitating residents and allotting new land.

Environmental Impact

“If you take into account the time taken to build large dams, the environmental impact, the social costs of moving people and the delays, the sheer effort makes no financial sense,” Thakkar said. “There are other more viable sources to generate energy and supply water for irrigation.”

Opposition has centered around the Sardar Sarovar dam, north of Mumbai. Members of activist group Narmada Bachao Andola remain in the valley in protest over a decision to increase the height of the wall by 17 meters. Opponents will hold a rally at the site on Oct. 14, led by veteran campaigner Medha Patkar, a former commissioner to the World Commission on Dams.

Construction of the dam, India’s sixth-largest, began in the 1990s and has affected as many as 200,000 people, many from indigenous tribes. The extension has long been requested by Gujarat state, where Modi was chief minister, and will also affect Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

“People are told dams are pro progress, but whose progress?” said Vimal Bhai, part of the Narmada Bachao Andola alliance. “Why should a villager have to give up his ancestral home, land, livelihood and memories to ensure there’s water for those in Delhi and Mumbai to flush their toilets?”

Yet India’s need for crops and power for its 1.2 billion people make dams attractive to state governments, especially in poor regions with low economic output. In the northeast Indian state of Manipur, the government began to fill the Mapithel Dam in January to irrigate more than 20,000 hectares of farmland and generate 7.5 megawatts of electricity for Imphal, the state capital.

Early Monsoon

About 12,000 people lived in the valley, and with the early onset of the monsoon, the lake rose rapidly, forcing people to abandon their homes.

“Huge tracts of paddy fields, river, forest and grazing grounds will be submerged,” according to a statement from the Baptist World Alliance, whose pastors in the largely Christian area are protesting the flooding. The group said there has been “no proper and comprehensive resettlement and rehabilitation program for the affected villagers.”

Building large dams to tame rivers, generate clean energy and irrigate crops has captivated governments since the early 20th century. From the opening of the Hoover Dam in 1936 on the Arizona/Nevada border to the commissioning of the first power generator in the Three Gorges Dam in central China in 2003, dams have been held up as symbols of national achievement.

Yet, over the past decades increasing dissent over the environmental and social costs has called into question the need for many of the projects. The proliferation of alternative sources of clean energy such as solar power, and the development of new, more efficient irrigation systems has further degraded the case for large-scale hydro projects.

“We should still be able to build good dams,” said Jamie Skinner, principle researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development, a UK-based policy research institute partly funded by governments. “The problem with these kind of examples, like the one in Indonesia, is that they fan the flames of the anti-dam lobby. A good dam is one that affects a small number of people who are properly compensated.”

Indonesia’s Jatigede is an archetype of what can go wrong. The $467 million dam will displace about 40,000 people by the time the reservoir is filled in about two months.
Suharto’s Plan

First proposed more than 30 years ago by the government of dictator Suharto, compensation was paid to some villagers in the 1980s. Then the project stalled, Suharto fell from power and the farmers went back to their lives.

The program was revived a decade ago and construction began in 2007 after the project secured financing from the Export-Import Bank of China.

Villagers in the valley were divided into two categories, according to Imam Santoso, director of dams at the public works ministry. Those whose parents had received compensation in the 1980s got 29 million rupiah. Others received up to 122 million. They weren’t offered alternative land. He said there is still time to ensure that residents receive compensation.

President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, signed a decree in January to implement compensation, determined to push ahead with infrastructure programs to bolster the country’s development.

In the areas outside the planned reservoir, rice farmers like Koma are hoping it will bring an end to reliance on seasonal rains. Koma owns a small plot in the village of Majelengka, 50 kilometers from the dam, and says that a water shortage means he can now only grow one crop a year, or sometimes two.

This year, with the advent of a strong El Nino, things are worse than normal.

"The river is all dry," he said, pointing to cracks in the soil big enough to put your hand into. "It seems to rain less and less each year."
In Cipaku, a rice farming community that will be submerged, farmers harvested three crops a year.

At the village’s Islamic school, boys and girls sat next to each other reciting versus from the Koran on Aug. 31, as the reservoir started to fill.

“Where are these children going to go?” said their teacher Imron Nuroni. “Cipaku is going to be scattered. We are almost guaranteed to be impoverished.”


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