Best of our wild blogs: 7 Sep 15

Bumboat ride to Pulau Ubin now $3 per person
wild shores of singapore

Pin-striped Tit-Babbler (Mixornis gularis) @ Upper Seletar Reservoir
Monday Morgue

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Break out in green this holiday week

Environmental groups, agencies have host of activities for September school holidays
Audrey Tan Straits Times 7 Sep 15;

With the September school holidays under way, agencies and green groups have lined up a slew of environmental events to help students and their families better appreciate nature in Singapore.

From nature talks to craft sessions where participants can learn how to make clay sculptures of animals such as snakes and crabs, and guided coastal and nature reserve walks, there is a growing movement to expose people to more than just skyscrapers and malls.

"Many people do not know of the biodiversity that is present in their own backyard," said the Herpetological Society of Singapore's Sankar Ananthanarayanan, 20. The life sciences undergraduate from the National University of Singapore is a co-founder of the group of reptile and amphibian enthusiasts.

"We want to show people the herp (reptiles and amphibians) diversity that Singapore has in its nature reserves, dispel any misconceptions and answer questions people may have about herps," he added.

The society is organising the first of its free guided walks at Lower Peirce Reservoir on Sunday.

He said: "Lower Peirce Reservoir is very accessible, just a stone's throw from Upper Thomson Road, but many people do not know the history or the presence of animal and plant life in the area. We want the people of Singapore to be aware and proud of local biodiversity."

For instance, people can expect to see the clouded monitor lizard, black bearded gliding lizard and, if lucky, the gold ringed cat snake.

The 20 places on this weekend's walk have already been snapped up, but the society said it will be conducting more excursions.

The National Parks Board (NParks) is also expecting more people to take part in its activities this school holiday week.

A number of its programmes - including a nature and drama event tomorrow and a talk on Saturday on cold-blooded animals like reptiles and fish - have already been fully subscribed.

"We have lined up a whole range of activities at our parks, gardens and nature reserves during the September holidays for families to learn more about our biodiversity," said NParks' director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah.

Such programmes - also held during the March, June and December school holidays - aim to raise awareness and appreciation of nature as well as encourage the conservation of Singapore's natural heritage.

Last year, NParks ran holiday programmes for about 1,200 participants and expects more this year. "New guided tours and workshops are designed and added to our suite of activities every year," said Mr Wong. They include the Wow Wild West series celebrating wildlife at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

For nature group Naked Hermit Crabs, which has been conducting free guided walks since 2007, such activities can help raise awareness about local threatened habitats.

"Having lost over 50 per cent of our natural coastline and shores over half a decade, we conduct such walks to raise awareness of our shores which are in danger," said Ms Sumita Thiagarajan, who guides tours to Chek Jawa Wetlands on Pulau Ubin. "We guide at Chek Jawa as the ecosystem is unique and it is the only place in Singapore where you can find six different environments in one area: coastal forest, coral rubble, sandbar, seagrass lagoon, mangroves and rocky shore. Through these walks, we hope more people will appreciate what our shores have to offer, and they will want to protect our shores."

Junior college student Teo Min Ru, 18, said the range and quality of the activities on offer are good, although they tend to reach out to groups already interested in nature.

"If nature walks are publicised on NParks' platforms and websites of nature groups, the followers are likely to be people already interested in such events, which I feel leaves out a large group of people.

"If activities like games and movies are taken to other spaces, like schools and community libraries, they may be able to capture a larger audience that might want to try out new things."

Details of future Herpetological Society walks will be posted on

To sign up for NParks events visit:

Related links
Wild happenings during the school holidays on the wildsingapore happenings blog.

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Man reported missing in nature reserve

Today Online 7 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — A search is on for a 76-year-old man who was reported missing in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve on Saturday evening.

The police are appealing for information on the whereabouts of 76-year-old Mr Ng Kang Leng — also known as Wong Kang Leng. He was last reported to be at the Eco-Link bridge near the Bukit Timah Expressway at about 3pm on Saturday, walking in the direction of MacRitchie Reservoir.

Mr Ng, a volunteer known to several nature groups, is 1.67m tall and has short grey hair, and was last seen wearing a light blue shirt and black pants and carrying a black haversack. “Police trackers and officers from Tanglin Division are involved in the ongoing search and rescue operations with the assistance of PUB and NParks officers,” the police said in a media statement yesterday.

Nature activist and blogger Ria Tan shared the post from the police on her Facebook page last night, saying Mr Ng had gone for a Naked Hermit Crab walk at Pasir Ris in February, adding: “I do hope he is found soon. He is such a lovely person.”

The police also requested trekkers, cyclists and runners in the area to keep a lookout for Mr Ng.

Police appeal for information on Mr Ng Kang Leng
AsiaOne 7 Sep 15;

Police are appealing for information on the whereabouts of 76-year-old Mr Ng Kang Leng @ Wong Kang Leng.

He was reported missing within the Central Catchment Nature Reserve since Saturday, Sep 5, at about 6.52pm.

Mr Ng's last reported location was at the Eco-Link bridge near the Bukit Timah Expressway at about 3pm, walking in the direction towards MacRitchie Reservoir.

He is described as 1.67m tall and has short grey hair. He was last seen in a light blue shirt and black pants, and was carrying a black backpack.

Police trackers and officers from Tanglin Division are involved in the ongoing search and rescue operations with the assistance of PUB and NParks officers.

The police have requested anyone with information to call their hotline at 1800-255-0000 or submit information online at

Trekkers, cyclists and runners in the area are also advised to keep a lookout for the missing man.

Lost hiker found after 45-hour search by more than 200 police, NParks and PUB officers
Lee Hui Chieh Straits Times 7 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE - A 76-year-old man who lost his way while hiking was found near Upper Peirce Reservoir on Monday afternoon after a 45-hour search by the authorities.

Mr Ng Kang Leng planned to walk from Dairy Farm Road towards MacRitchie Reservoir - his first time doing so - on Saturday afternoon.

After he lost his bearings, he called the police for help at about 6.50pm, but was unable to give specific details of his whereabouts.

More than 200 officers from the Singapore Police Force, the National Parks Board (NParks) and national water agency PUB were deployed to look for him.

They eventually located him at about 3.40pm on Monday, after combing both the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

He was taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital for a physical examination. He has also since been reunited with his family members, who thanked the agencies involved.

NParks advises the public to stay on the designated trails while trekking and call the NParks helpline on 1800-471 7300 if they encounter any problems.

Man, 76, found after being lost in nature reserve for almost 2 days
Today Online 8 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE – A 76-year-old man who was lost in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve has been found nearly two days later.

Mr Ng Kang Leng — also known as Mr Wong Kang Leng — was found this afternoon (Sept 7) after an extensive 45-hour search and rescue operation involving more than 200 officers from Police, PUB and National Parks Board. The officers combed both the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Mr Ng was eventually located at about 3.40pm in the vicinity of Upper Pierce Reservoir.

Mr Ng, an avid hiker and volunteer known to several nature groups here, had wanted to hike from Dairy Farm Road towards MacRitchie Reservoir last Saturday afternoon. However, he lost his way and had called Police for assistance just before 7pm the same day.

According to police, as it was the first time Mr Ng was attempting the route, he was unable to provide specific details of his whereabouts other than the fact that at about 3pm, he had passed by the Eco-link bridge near the Bukit Timah Expressway in the direction of MacRitchie Reservoir.

Mr Ng was conveyed to Ng Teng Fong Hospital for a physical examination and has been reunited with his family.

76-year-old who went missing in Central Catchment Nature Reserve found
AsiaOne 7 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE - The 76-year-old man who went missing within the Central Catchment Nature Reserve last Saturday has been found, the police said in a statement today.

Ng Kang Leng was located at about 3.40pm this afternoon after an extensive search-and-rescue operation that involved the police, the Public Utilities Board and the National Parks Board.

They said Mr Ng, an avid hiker, had lost his way while attempting to hike from Dairy Farm Road towards MacRitchie Reservoir on Saturday afternoon. He then called the police for help in the evening, but he was unable to provide specific details of his whereabouts.

More than 200 officers from the government agencies deployed combed both the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve before the police eventually found Mr Ng at Upper Peirce Reservoir.

He was conveyed to Ng Teng Fong Hospital for a physical examination and has since been reunited with his family, who expressed their heartfelt appreciation for the search efforts, the police said.

Elderly hiker lost in jungle for 2 days: Wet underwear kept him cool
Shaffiq Alkhatib, Ang Qing, New Paper AsiaOne 11 Sep 15;

On the spur of the moment, Mr Ng Kang Leng, 76, decided to set off on a hike last Saturday afternoon.

He ended up getting lost in the jungle and, because he had been unprepared, had no food, water or a torch.

For the next 45 hours, the retired primary school teacher wandered around and slept in the wild until a search party found him on Monday afternoon.

To quench his thirst during his ordeal, he drank water left inside discarded capped plastic bottles, which he had found.

When he got hungry, he ate plants such as young fern fronds.

Mr Ng told The New Paper yesterday from his bed at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in Jurong: "I didn't know what to eat so I took small bites of plants. I knew that I had to spit them out should I feel any burning. I followed my instincts.

"I'm also diabetic and did not have my medication when I got lost in the forest."

He added that he came up with an ingenious way to beat the heat. With a smile, he said: "I took off my underwear and dipped it in a river. I then wrapped the wet underwear around my neck to keep cool."

The father of two children in their 40s said he had gone for his monthly art class at the Wallace Education Centre, off Dairy Farm Road, earlier that day.


When the three-hour class ended at around noon, he decided to check out the nearby Eco-Link@Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE).

Mr Ng, who prefers to hike alone, said he had previously explored other places such as Pulau Ubin and MacRitchie Reservoir.

It was his first trip to the Eco-Link@BKE, which was built over the BKE to allow wildlife to cross between the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment area. It is not accessible to hikers.

Mr Ng, who had only a whistle and his art books in his haversack, said the hike was decided upon "on the spur of the moment and (I) didn't tell my family".

"I wanted to see how the animals travel. But I found out it was not open to the public. So I took a detour.

"I followed a trail and ended up in a thick forested area. I walked until I reached a body of water. I walked another way and (came across) more water.

"It was like I was on an island. I felt as if I was going round in circles."

When he realised he could not find his way out, he called the police at around 7pm and told an operator that he was near MacRitchie Reservoir.

He was wrong. He was actually closer to Upper Peirce Reservoir.

Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Mark Yeo, the operations officer at Bukit Timah Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC), said about 20 officers were immediately sent to MacRitchie Reservoir to look for Mr Ng.

When they could not find him, the search was widened and more than 200 officers from the police, Gurkha Contingent, national water agency PUB and National Parks Board were deployed.

Dogs from the K9 unit also joined in the two-day search.

DSP Yeo said: "We were very concerned for Mr Ng's health especially due to his age. It was a life-and-death situation."

Mr Ng said he blew his whistle to attract attention and called for help in vain. "I tripped over roots, got entangled in vines and was pricked by thorns. But I was not scared. I had to keep calm to survive," he said.

"When night came, it was not too dark, thanks to the moon. I slept on the ground on the first night and moved nearer to the water on the second."

The search was expanded to the Upper Peirce Reservoir area on the second day.

On Monday afternoon, officers spotted Mr Ng sitting by the water, about 4km from the PUB Chestnut Avenue Waterworks near Bukit Panjang.

Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Rikesh Chand Rai from Bukit Timah NPC said: "Mr Ng looked relieved and he said, 'Wah! So many people!'

"We gave him water and he drank two bottles. We also gave him bread to eat. He was covered with scratches, but seemed fine."

Mr Ng said that an officer from the Gurkha contingent, whom he knew only as Noh, helped him walk to safety.

"When we reached a slope, Noh carried me on his back. After that, we took a boat across the water to civilisation. He gave me his walking stick as a memento."

Mr Ng's son, Mr Kevin Wong, 43, said the family was thankful to the officers for their hard work in finding his father.

"It was comforting to know that people were out there looking for him," he said.

Mr Ng said the incident has taught him to be more prepared when hiking in future.

"People always say that Singapore is small. But it suddenly felt so big when I got lost," he said.

Lost in the jungle? Stay calm and stay put

Hikers can avoid getting lost in nature reserves by sticking to the trails, said veteran nature guides.

Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai, 52, said: "Stay on the trails, don't hike on closed trails.

"Know your directions, the route that you're taking and how long it takes. Having a phone is not good enough, it is better to take a compass."

Regardless of how short a walk in a nature reserve may be, it is always safer to take precautions.

It is not a public park, said Mr Rajathurai, who has been a guide for 34 years.

He encourages hikers not to start walks in the late afternoon, when there is limited daylight left.

Nature activist Ria Tan, 54, who runs wildlife website WildSingapore, said: "No one should go out alone. Be prepared when you go out. This includes bringing enough water and food for your own needs so you don't have to eat wild plants."

On Sunday night, Ms Tan, a nature walk guide for 15 years, posted on Facebook, asking for help to find Mr Ng.

She knows Mr Ng as he had attended a walk in February organised by the Naked Hermit Crabs, a group of volunteer guides that Ms Tan is part of.

So what happens if you do manage to get hopelessly lost?

Mr Rajathurai said: "Don't panic. Call the National Parks hotline or the police.

"Most importantly, stay put. Never go off the trail as it makes the search party's job more difficult."

If there is no phone reception, he said: "Head towards the sound of traffic or follow the edge of the reservoir to the nearest PUB stations. Don't go deeper into the jungle or try to swim in the reservoir."

Puzzled at how Mr Ng could have strayed from the trail, Mr Rajathurai said: "When he started, he was close to the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE). It's strange that he cut through the forest without crossing Chestnut Avenue or BKE."

NParks advises trekkers to stay on the designated trails and to call the 24-hour NParks helpline at 1800-471-7300 if they encounter any problems.

Previous incidents

October 2011

A retiree got lost for eight hours while hiking in a forest on the fringes of Upper Seletar Reservoir.

The 53-year-old man started his hike in the morning with just a 500ml bottle of water, his wallet, keys and mobile phone.

But about 15 minutes after following a jungle footpath, he realised he was on unfamiliar ground.

Two NParks officers and a boat driver on a boat spotted him along the shoreline of Upper Seletar Reservoir.

He suffered blood clots under his toe nails and had difficulty walking immediately after the incident.


The National Parks Board conducted two searches to find lost hikers in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. The hikers had strayed from the marked trails.

In the first case, a couple got lost while taking a walk in the nature reserve at around 10pm. They ended up spending a night in the jungle and a search team found them the next morning.

In the second case, three hikers attempted to trek on a route that is not open to the public. They were found two hours later.

October 1992

Four students got lost while trekking in MacRitchie Reservoir in the evening.

Two of them swam about 200m across the reservoir to the Singapore Island Country Club to get help.

Police rescued the other two hikers later that night.

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Eco incense paper burners prove popular

The new burners produce only 3 per cent of ash, compared to the traditional metal burners.
Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times AsiaOne 7 Sep 15;

Eco-friendly incense paper burners that cut down on the smoke by half have proven to be popular with residents, according to town councils.

The stainless steel low-emission burners were rolled out across the island in time for the current Hungry Ghost Festival.

The canisters, which were piloted last year, come with lids which prevent ash from flying out, and have holes to improve air flow for more efficient burning. Just 3 per cent of ash is produced with the new burners, compared to conventional open-top red metal burners.

The new burners cost $200 each and can last about two years, compared to the red burners, which last six months and cost about $50.

A spokesman for Choa Chu Kang town council, which introduced 600 of the new burners, said: "Residents - especially those living on lower levels - are generally happy, as the effects from burning has been greatly reduced."

The older version is "often a cause for unhappiness" due to "smoke and flying ash", added a Nee Soon Town Council spokesman. Around 700 of the new burners have been placed around the neighbourhood.

Other town councils which have introduced the burners include Sembawang, which set up 700 across the constituency, and Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council, which installed 260 in the months leading up to the Hungry Ghost Festival, which runs from Aug 14 to Sept 12 this year.

Marked annually by some Singaporean Chinese, it is believed that the souls of the dead roam the earth during the month.

They believe that offerings, when burned, are transported to the spirit world for their dead relatives' use, and are a way of showing respect.

A spokesman for Sembawang town council said that while residents are happy to use the new burner, some heavy users tend to prefer the traditional burners as they allow a greater volume of offerings to be burned at any one time.

According to a report in July by Nanyang Technological University scientists, air quality gets worse during the annual festival, with the concentration of certain pollutants going up by as much as 60 per cent.

Sengkang resident Tan Yong Hong, a 35-year-old software specialist, said the new model is good for neighbourliness. "It not only reduces smoke and ash, improving the air quality, but is also a more considerate method."

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No let-up in unhealthy haze likely today

Today Online 6 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — There will be no let-up from the haze today, with air quality possibly climbing into the low end of the unhealthy range in the next 24 hours.

The haze descended on Singapore yesterday morning, with the three-hour Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) creeping over 100 for several hours, before improving over the course of the day.

As at midnight, the 24-hour PSI was 90-98. The National Environment Agency (NEA) attributed the haze to the spread of smoke from Sumatra and the surrounding region under light wind conditions. The reading had risen steadily over the course of the day from 77-83 at 9am.

The number of hot spots fell to only six yesterday, down from 50 on Friday and 111 on Thursday but widespread smoke haze was observed in central and southern Sumatra.

The NEA said it still expects occasional hazy conditions today, with the 24-hour PSI for the next 24 hours fluctuating in the high end of the moderate range (51 to 100) to the low end of the unhealthy (101 to 200) range.

Event organisers are watching the lacklustre air quality closely.

Outdoor events taking place this weekend and the next include two Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-16 Championship matches this evening at the Jalan Besar Stadium, while the Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix is in two weeks.

Asked what their contingency plans were should the haze take a turn for the worse, and whether they were concerned about an impact on turnout, event organisers TODAY spoke to said they were monitoring the situation before deciding to activate any plans.

A Football Association of Singapore spokesperson said: “The safety and well-being of players is of utmost importance to the FAS and we are closely monitoring the haze situation together with the AFC. Should the haze in Singapore worsen considerably, a decision will be taken by AFC match officials on the most appropriate course of action, in the best interests of all parties.”

Netball Singapore chief executive officer Cyrus Medora said in previous years, it had postponed events when the PSI hit unhealthy levels.

“Some of players had wanted to continue and some didn’t, but we still said no,” he said. “(Our policy) is generally the same this time, and we will continue to monitor (the situation).”

The Pesta Sukan Netball Carnival will be held on Sept 12.

The People’s Association said its grassroots activities will carry on as the air quality is still within healthy range. “PA will continue to monitor the haze situation and stand guided by the 24-hour PSI forecast and health advisory issued by the NEA. As far as we know, there has been no drop in the number of people participating in our activities,” a spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix said the possibility of haze is ne of the many potential issues that are covered in its contingency plan.

“The plan was formulated and refined with stakeholders, government bodies and the Formula One community. In the event that the haze causes visibility, public health or operational issues Singapore GP would work closely with the relevant agencies before making any collective decisions regarding the event.”


Haze set to get worse, hit ‘unhealthy’ range
Today Online 6 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — The haze that has shrouded Singapore for the past week is expected to get worse tomorrow with the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) likely to move into the “Unhealthy” (101-200) range, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said today (Sept 6).

If winds are unfavourable, the reading may deteriorate further as air quality drops, added the agency.

Today, the 24-hour PSI crept into the low end of the unhealthy zone for several hours in the morning and evening.

At 8pm, the 24-hour PSI was 93-106, in the high end of the moderate range (51-100) and the low end of the unhealthy range due to haze that was blown into Singapore from Sumatra by prevailing winds, said the NEA.

Widespread moderate to dense smoke haze was observed in southern and central Sumatra, and the haze has spread to the sea south of Singapore, added the environment agency.

The decline in air quality yesterday came after a week when the 24-hour PSI fluctuated mostly in the moderate range due to forest and plantation fires in Sumatra.

Despite the thickening haze, just one hotspot was detected in Sumatra today — down from six yesterday, 50 on Friday and 111 on Thursday.

The NEA attributed the low hotspot count to a “partial satellite pass” — a situation where an orbiting satellite is still passing over the area being monitored.

Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, healthy people should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion, said the NEA.

The elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion, while those with chronic lung
or heart disease should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion.

Those who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention.

Event organisers told TODAY on Saturday that they are watching the air quality closely.

NEA: Expect hazy conditions today
Audrey Tan Straits Times AsiaOne 7 Sep 15;

HAZY conditions are expected today, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) - a measure of air quality - for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the low to middle section of the unhealthy range and may further deteriorate if the winds are unfavourable, NEA said in an 8pm statement.

Prevailing winds are also forecast to blow from the south or south-west today.

Yesterday, air quality crept into the unhealthy range from as early as 3am yesterday morning, with the 24-hour PSI registering readings of between 92 and 100 across Singapore.

NEA said the occasionally hazy conditions were due to haze being blown in from Sumatra by prevailing winds.

At 9pm, the 24-hour PSI readings across Singapore ranged from 93 to 106, in the high end of the moderate range and low end of the unhealthy range.

The 24-hour PSI remained close to this range throughout most of yesterday.

When 24-hour PSI readings are below 100, normal activities can be carried out. But when they start to inch above 100, the authorities advise healthy people to reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor activities. The elderly, pregnant women and children should do as little of such activities as possible, while those suffering from chronic lung or heart disease should not engage in these activities.

NEA said in a haze situation update on Saturday that haze experienced in Singapore was due to "the spread of haze from Sumatra and the surrounding region under light wind conditions".

Widespread smoke haze was also observed in central and southern Sumatra, the agency said.

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Indonesia: Joko Talks Tough as Forest Fires Blaze Out of Control

Jakarta Globe 6 Sep 15;

Jakarta. President Joko Widodo has called for firm action against individuals and companies responsible for the forest fires burning out of control in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The haze generated by the fires has forced the closures of schools and airports in both regions, and sent air pollution indexes to hazardous levels.

“I already gave the order to the forestry minister: take firm action against the perpetrators,” Joko told reporters at Jakarta’s Halim Perdanakusuma air base on Sunday, just before taking off for South Sumatra to survey the situation firsthand.

“If we let them be, the fires will continue. We must put an end to these wrong practices… I want no more forest fires next year,” Joko said.

He later blamed “disobedient” plantation companies for setting the fires to clear land for planting, saying he had asked the Environment and Forestry Ministry to revoke the operating permits of companies found guilty of setting such fires igniting fires, and the police to impose criminal charges against them.

“I've already ordered the National Police chief to take firm action, to mete out the harshest punishment for companies that fail to obey [a prohibition in slash-and-burn forest clearing],” the president said after his arrival in South Sumatra later in the afternoon, where he inspected a once-forested area that had been razed by fire outside a village in Ogan Komering Ilir district.

Environmental activists also have also pointed to plantation companies’ slash-and-burn methods for most of the fires, although these companies have in turn blamed the smallholders often operating within or on the borders of their concessions.

Joko said forest fires and the haze they generated in Sumatra and Kalimantan over “the past few years” had caused an estimated Rp 50 trillion ($3.5 billion) in economic losses, while triggering protests from Singapore and Malaysia, where the haze routinely blots the sky and poses a serious public health threat.

“So let’s do all we can to immediately put an end to forest fires. All must take action and coordinate,” the president said, extending the call to the public, local governments, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), the Environment and Forestry Ministry, and the police and military.

This is not the first time Joko has made such a call, nor is he the first Indonesian president to do so. His predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, also threatened perpetrators with heavy punishment every time forest fires flared up during the dry season, and in 2013 issued an unprecedented apology for haze that sent air pollution indexes in Singapore and Malaysia to record levels.

The calls have proven fruitless so far, though, with forestry officials seemingly looking the other way as plantation companies and smallholders continue to torch what little forest cover remains, particularly in Sumatra.

President checks preparations to mitigate haze disaster
Antara 6 Sep 15;

Palembang, S Sumatra (ANTARA News) - President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo arrived at Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Airport in Palembang, South Sumatra, on Sunday to check preparations to mitigate haze disaster in the province.

The President accompanied by National Defense Force (TNI) Chief General Gatot Nurmantyo, National Police Chief General Badrodin Haiti, and Head of the National Disaster Mitigation Board (BNPB) Syamsul Maarif arrived at the airport at around 10.00 a.m. by presidential flight. They were greeted by South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin.

Shortly after arriving at the airport, the President and entourage went straight to the meeting room at the airport to hold a closed-door meeting to coordinate forest and land fire mitigation efforts in the province.

According to the Presidential Bureau, the President wants the haze disaster to be handled quickly and properly.

The President and entourage later inspected the preparations made by haze disaster mitigation command post in Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin districts.

The BNPB said earlier land and forest fires affected the provinces of South Sumatra, Riau, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan during this years drought.

President Jokowi told reporters that the closed-door meeting only discussed efforts to mitigate hotspots so that their impact will not spread.(*)

Haze task force set up
Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 6 Sep 15;

The government has set up a “haze emergency” task force as the pollution from forest fires in some parts of the country has sent air quality down to its lowest level in many months, putting millions of people at great risk of suffering health problems.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry, as the main coordinator of the national task force, convened its first meeting on Saturday to discuss the technical details of the task force, which will involve the National Police and the Indonesian Army (TNI), as well as the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPT).

“There will be a decree signed by the Environment and Forestry Minister [for the establishment of the task force],” the ministry’s secretary-general, Bambang Hendroyono, said. “The decree will be issued on Monday.”

The task force will conduct a “haze emergency” operation at the national level to support soon-to-be-established task forces on regional levels, with the respective governors acting as coordinators.

Also present during the meeting were governors from provinces affected by recurring forest fires: Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan.

While each province has attempted to prevent forest fires and extinguish them, the efforts have been hampered by a lack of financial support and coordination with the central government, something that the task force aims to rectify, according to Bambang.

At the initial stage, the Transportation Ministry had given permission to fly to more than 20 airplanes and helicopters, he said.

“In the past, the effort [to extinguish the forest fires from the air] had been slow because the helicopters [used for water bombing] could not fly [because they lacked permission]. They were stuck for almost five days,” Bambang said. “Now, the permission can easily be granted, including one for an Air Tractor from Australia that we rented. It’s already in Riau.”

He said the task force would prioritize the usage of existing technology, such as cloud seeding projects. “We will make fire extinguishing from the ground more effective and focus on regencies prone to forest fires,” Bambang said.

The task force would also make greater use of existing monitoring posts, which were established last year, he said.

“So the posts will monitor from early morning where the hot spots are in order to determine which regencies are to be prioritized,” said Bambang. “The result of the monitoring will be reported to governors in the evening to be followed up the day after. The monitoring posts will work 24 hours and have links to a command center at the ministry.”

The chairman of the National Body for Disaster Management (BNPB), Syamsul Maarif, said on Friday the President, among others, had called for establishing more monitoring posts in a number of places in Sumatra and Kalimantan to help the firefighters do their jobs more effectively.

Syamsul said four posts will be established in Sumatra and another four will be established in Kalimantan.

The task force would deploy more human resources to regions in order to monitor forest fires,
Bambang said.

He added the task force would not have to deal with budget constraints as both regional and national disaster mitigation agencies had committed to provide as much financial support as was needed. “This meeting asked the governors as the ones in charge of the Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency [BPPD] to work in coordination with the BNPT so that there are no more budget problems,” said Bambang.

Syamsul said the number of hot spots had gone down in Riau and Jambi on Friday, but had increased in South Sumatra.

A US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite operated by Singapore detected a total of 184 hot spots in the five provinces as of Thursday, while the Modis Terra Aqua satellites detected 689 hot spots.

However, analysts have predicted the number of hot spots could grow as climate experts warned this year’s El NiƱo is very likely to match the intensity of the record-breaking weather phenomenon in 1997, which induced a prolonged drought and widespread fires in Indonesia.

More copters to fight Sumatra fires
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times AsiaOne 6 Sep 15;

Firefighters working to put out a blaze in Giam Siak Kecil biosphere reserve, home to rare and endangered species, in Riau on Thursday. Riau, given its proximity to Singapore and Malaysia, is the highest priority, said a deputy chairman from Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

Indonesia says it is stepping up efforts to battle haze but critics say more helicopters, planes are needed

Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has deployed three more helicopters to fight the haze-producing fires in Sumatra, bringing the total number to 13, but some environmentalists say that is still far too few.

The haze is making life miserable for as many as 22.6 million residents in Sumatra and three million in Kalimantan. It has blanketed 80 per cent of Sumatra, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said yesterday.

Winds have blown the haze to parts of Malaysia and Singapore as well where conditions eased slightly yesterday, but the skies are not expected to clear completely any time soon.

Indonesia said it is stepping up efforts to curb the spread of land and forest fires in six provinces, including Riau, near Singapore, Jambi and South Sumatra.

But Mr Yuyun Indradi, a Jakarta- based forest campaigner with Greenpeace, told The Straits Times it is not enough.

"Roughly, each province needs at least five helicopters and two aircraft," he said, which means that 30 helicopters and 12 planes would be needed to fight the fires in all six provinces.

"More helicopters and aircraft can sustain the efforts longer," said Mr Yuyun. "It's as simple as that."

Yesterday, however, the BNPB had only two helicopters working in Jambi province and one in South Kalimantan, and planned to add a plane to its efforts in Riau tomorrow, other than its operations in South Sumatra and West and Central Kalimantan.

Riau, given its proximity to Singapore and Malaysia, is the highest priority, said Mr Tri Budiarto, a BNPB deputy chairman in charge of emergency operations, at a media briefing in Jakarta yesterday. As of tomorrow, three helicopters and two planes will be in the air there, more than in any other province.

Dry weather has reduced the water levels in the region's rivers and canals, making efforts to contain the fires challenging, especially for ground teams, said Mr Raffles Panjaitan, director of forest fire control at the Environment and Forestry Ministry, at the same briefing.

"For ground operations, each trip from a water source to a fire site could take between half an hour and two hours," he said.

In the air, water-bombing helicopters and planes are used for cloud-seeding, but a lack of clouds has hampered their efforts to induce rain. On the ground, 1,500 to 2,000 people in each province are working to put out the fires.

The BNPB is coordinating the efforts, which include not only the weather agency and Environment and Forestry Ministry, but also the military and police.

Winds over Sumatra have been predominantly blowing from the south, sparing Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia from the worst of the haze for now, said BNPB's Dr Sutopo.

While several areas in Peninsular Malaysia breached unhealthy levels on Thursday, the readings from all 52 monitoring stations throughout the country showed good to moderate air quality levels yesterday.

In Singapore, the haze is expected to worsen slightly today with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reaching the high end of the moderate range, the National Environment Agency said.

A Jakarta-based MetroTV news reporter yesterday asked Mr Raffles if Indonesia would consider using helicopters or planes lent by neighbouring countries. "We have our own resources," Mr Raffles said. "Why should we be assisted and make ourselves look like we can't handle our problem?"

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Indonesia’s Palm Oil Production to Fall by Up to 30 Percent Due to El Nino, Haze

Jakarta Globe 6 Sep 15;

Jakarta. Crude palm oil production in Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil producer, could fall by up to 30 percent to a range of 27-28 million tons next year due to the ongoing El Nino weather phenomenon, which is damaging crops across the country, according to a representative at an industry association.

“[CPO] production can plunge between 20 percent and 30 percent next year because of effects from El Nino, as well as the haze crisis,” Franky Oesman Widjaja, vice chairman of agribusiness and food at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), said in a forum discussion on Friday, adding that the forecast will depend on how bad the El Nino phenomenon will impact the nation.

According to Franky, who's also chief executive officer at Sinar Mas Group's plantation unit Golden-Agri Resources, the El Nino phenomenon and the ongoing haze problems in Sumatra are disrupting the photosynthesis process by keeping sunlight from the plants.

Indonesia's dry season this year is expected to last much longer than usual due to the El Nino phenomenon. The prolonged drought is also heightening fire risks across the archipelago.

As of last Friday, six provinces have declared a state of emergency as haze from the wildfires on Sumatra and Kalimantan worsened, including Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan.

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