Hazy conditions to persist till Wednesday: NEA

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) edged towards Unhealthy levels on Tuesday (Sep 8), with readings of 90 to 104 as at 10pm.
Channel NewsAsia 8 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) for the Republic moved closer towards the Unhealthy range (101 to 200) on Tuesday (Sep 8).

In a media advisory, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the hazy conditions were due to smoke haze from Sumatra being blown in by the prevailing south-southwesterly winds.

As at 10pm on Tuesday, the 24-hour PSI was 90-104, in the high end of the Moderate range to the low end of the Unhealthy range.

NEA noted that widespread moderate to dense smoke haze was observed in southern and central Sumatra. Haze was also observed to have spread over the sea areas east of Sumatra.

For the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday, the prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the south or southwest and hazy conditions are expected to persist.

NEA added that thundery showers are forecast for Singapore on Wednesday morning. The 24-hour PSI for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the low- to mid-end of the Unhealthy range and may further deteriorate if the winds are unfavourable.

Based on the air quality forecast, the NEA has advised the public to reduce prolonged outdoor physical activity and added that those who are feeling unwell should seek medical attention.

- CNA/wl/ms

PSI may worsen, haze expected to persist
Today Online 9 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — There will be little respite from the haze that has cloaked Singapore for much of today (Sept 8), with the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) likely to be in the low to mid end of the unhealthy (101-200) range tomorrow (Sept 9), the National Environment Agency (NEA) said.

Today, the 24-hour PSI ventured into the unhealthy (101-200) zone from 11am.

The poor air quality was due to smoke haze from Sumatra being blown in by the prevailing southwesterly winds, said the NEA.

As at 8pm today, the 24-hour PSI was 92-105, in the high end of the moderate (51-100) range to the low end of the unhealthy range, up from 85-98 at 8am.

Meanwhile, the three-hour PSI was 118 at 8pm, down from the day’s high of 134 at 6pm but far higher than 74 at 8am.

Thirty-eight hotspots were detected in Sumatra today. The low hotspot count was due to cloud cover over parts of central Sumatra today.

Widespread moderate to dense smoke haze was seen in southern and central Sumatra, said the NEA.

Haze was also observed to have spread over the sea areas east of Sumatra, said the agency.

The NEA said hazy conditions are expected to persist tomorrow with thundery showers forecast for the morning.

The 24-hour PSI is expected to be in the low to mid end of the unhealthy range, and may further deteriorate if the winds are unfavourable.

Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, healthy people, including the elderly, pregnant women and children, should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion, said the NEA. Those with chronic lung or heart disease should avoid such activities, the agency added.

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

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‘A historic step to tackle haze’ - Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution ratified

MARTIN CARVALHO The Star 9 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: With Indo­nesia now on board – the last country to do so – the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution has now been ratified by all the member states.

This marks a historic step in the collective efforts by member nations to tackle the annual smog.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the ratification of the agreement was an “absolute necessity” and part of the Asean goal of promoting the right to clean air for member states.

“In January, Indonesia deposited the instrument of ratification of the Asean Agreement of Transboundary Haze Pollution with the Asean secretary-general.

“The agreement has now been ratified by all Asean member states,” he said in his keynote address at the 36th General Assembly of the Asean Inter-Parlia­mentary Assembly here yesterday.

The issue, he said, had become a topic of discussion with Malaysia being Asean’s chair this year.

“This is the first regional agreement, which has become quite a topic, that binds a group of conti­guous states to tackle transboundary haze pollution resulting from land and forest fires.

“It is a historic step and one that many of us in the region know all too well is an absolute necessity,” he said.

Parts of Malaysia are currently being blanketed by haze with the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings hovering near unhealthy levels in several locations, including Kuala Lumpur, which is host to several Asean programmes.

Indonesian Member of Parlia­ment in charge of environment and international relations Hamdhani Mukhdar Said said he would raise the matter up to push his govern­ment into putting in more efforts to deal with the haze problem.

“I want to apologise to the Malay­sian people for the haze. The annual haze is not intentional but due to the drought that affects parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan,” he told reporters during a break in the assembly.

The Indonesian government, he added, had set aside US$1mil (RM4.34mil) to the provinces affected by peat and forest fires.

“We will request the government to give more allocation to help fight the fires,” he added.

The transboundary agreement was first signed by Asean nations in 2002, with Malaysia being the first of the 10-member regional grouping to ratify its laws to address the issue.

Indonesia was the final nation to sign the agreement in September last year and ratified its laws this year.

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Indonesian MP apologises to Singapore, Malaysia for haze

"This always happens during the hot and dry season. We would like to apologise to the governments of Singapore and Malaysia," says Mr Hamdhani Mukhdar Said on the sidelines of an ASEAN meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
Melissa Goh, Malaysia Bureau Chief, Channel NewsAsia 8 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: An Indonesian Member of Parliament (MP) has apologised to neighbouring countries for the haze that is enveloping Singapore and most parts of Malaysia.

Mr Hamdhani Mukhdar Said, an MP in charge of international relations and environment, said Jakarta has allocated US$1 million to provinces bearing the brunt of forest fires. He was speaking on the sidelines of an ASEAN inter-parliamentary meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

The haze in Kuala Lumpur, brought on by forest fires burning in Sumatra and Kalimantan, has altered lifestyles somewhat. City dwellers have been advised to stay indoors and keep themselves hydrated. Those who need to be out and about make sure to put on their masks. Meanwhile, motorists have been urged to car pool or use public transport for the time being to reduce pollution.

Air quality in most places in the southern and central states of peninsular Malaysia registered unhealthy levels on Tuesday (Sep 8). The acrid smell is expected to get worse with the onset of the dry season.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, speaking at the ASEAN inter-parliamentary assembly, highlighted the regional agreement on transboundary haze pollution that is binding on all 10 member countries, including Indonesia. Jakarta had finally ratified the agreement early in January after being accused of dragging its feet for years.

Mr Najib said: “It is a historic step one that many of us in the region know all too well, it is absolutely necessary. It is the right to clean air, which is topical."

Under the agreement, it is incumbent on Indonesia to mitigate the problem through a concerted national effort and international cooperation. If it does not, it can be held liable for wreaking havoc on its neighbours, something which Indonesian MPs have repeatedly apologised for.

Mr Hamdhani, who is also the MP for Kalimantan, said: "This always happens during the hot and dry season. We would like to apologise to the governments of Singapore and Malaysia."

Malaysian parliamentarians are calling on their Indonesian counterparts to do more to tackle the perennial problem. Said Mr Pandikar Amin, Malaysia’s Speaker of the House of Representatives: "The Indonesian side must make sure that … when people who are doing it, (if) big companies, oil palm plantations are doing the burning, they will be fined."

The situation, which has plagued Indonesia and its neighbours for years, has led to some finger-pointing. Jakarta has in the past claimed that some of the big plantation companies behind the slash-and-burn practices were Malaysian-owned.

- CNA/ms

Haze: Indonesian MP Apologises To Malaysia, Singapore
Bernama 8 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 (Bernama) -- A member of the Indonesian House of Representatives today apologised to Malaysia and Singapore over the haze problem which has affected the two countries.

Hamdhani Mukhdar Said, a member of the National Democratic Party for the Kalimantan Tengah constituency, said the Indonesian government was taking measures prevent the fires in several districts in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

"We apologise to the governments of Malaysia and Singapore on the matter...The Indonesian government has done its level best to combat the problem, in fact our president (Joko Widodo) has also visited the locations," he told reporters on the sidelines of the 36th ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) here today.

He said Indonesia was experiencing a dry season which caused the forest fires.

"Some communities are opening farms, but if they started the fires, we will punish them.

"But in some areas, the fires started by themselves due to the extreme hot weather, in fact some Malaysian-owned oil palm plantations were also razed," he said.

However, he said the rainy weather in Kuala Lumpur has helped to reduce the impact of haze here.

According to the Department of Environment website, seven areas recorded unhealthy API (Air Pollutant Index) exceeding 100 as at 8 am this morning.

Three areas in Negeri Sembilan with unhealthy API readings were Nilai (135), Port Dickson (117) and Seremban (114).

Also having unhealthy API were Melaka city (111), Bukit Rambai (126), Batu Muda (Kuala Lumpur) (108) and Banting (106).


Indonesia apologises for haze
MARTIN CARVALHO The Star 8 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: An Indonesian Member of Parliament has apologised for the haze currently blanketing the region.

Hamdhani Mukhdar Said, who is in charge of environment and international relations, said he would raise the issue with the Indonesian parliament for more efforts to deal with the haze situation.

"I want to apologise to the Malaysian people for the haze.

"The annual haze is not intentional but due to the droughts that affects parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan," he told reporters during a break in the 36th General Assembly of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly here on Tuesday.

He said the Indonesian central government has allocated US$1mil to provinces affected by peat and forest fires.

"We will request the government for more allocation to help fight the fires," he added.

The haze afflicting Malaysia is a result of widespread clearing of forests in Indonesia for oil palm plantations.

Indonesia apologises for haze
ROZANNA LATIFF New Straits Times 8 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: An Indonesian member of parliament has apologised for the bout of haze currently affecting the region.

Hamdhani Mukhdar Said, one of eight Indonesian delegates here for the 36th General Assembly of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA), said the issue would be raised with the Indonesian parliament, in order to push for more action to deal with the haze situation.

"I want to apologise to the Malaysian people for the haze.

The fires that caused the haze were not started intentionally but were due to the drought affecting parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan," he told reporters on the sidelines of the event.

The Indonesian central government, he said, had allocated a total of US$1 billion annually to combat fires, particularly in provinces such as Riau and Jambi, where over 200 hotspots have been detected.

"We appreciate any other form of assistance we can get, especially in terms of manpower and infrastructure."

"There are many places where the fires are occurring, but we have been unable to put them out because we do not have the right tools or machinery to get the water there," Hamdhani said.

Indonesia officially ratified the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in September last year, the 10th and final Asean country to do so since the treaty was first signed in 2002.

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Malaysia: Projects to widen and deepen rivers to get priority for funds

The Star 9 Sep 15;

PUTRAJAYA: The Finance Ministry (MoF) has been instructed to give top priority to requests for funds to expedite projects to widen and deepen rivers which were found to have caused floods, says Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

He said the MoF could channel any unused allocations to the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) for the purpose.

“DID has a full list of the rivers but they need to be more proactive and be quick to resolve the matter,” he told a press conference after chairing the federal management and disaster relief committee meeting here yesterday.

Dr Ahmad Zahid said that although the DID had been carrying out river widening and deepening projects, apparently such efforts were still insufficient and major floods had occurred.

He said that with the coming monsoon season, it was important to expedite such work so that water from the rivers could flow uninterrupted into the sea.

On a separate matter, Dr Ahmad Zahid, who is also Home Minister, said he had not been informed by Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar whether the police had opened any Investigation Paper (IP) on reports by news­papers that there was a political conspiracy involving several Opposition leaders to topple Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

He said it was Standard Operating Procedure for the police to open an IP before taking further action.

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Malaysia: Sarawak wants all open burning to stop

YU JI The Star 8 Sep 15;

KUCHING: Stop all open burning activities, says the Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) once again, after detecting sporadic incidences of forest fires within Sarawak.

Near Bintulu on Sunday, huge plumes of smoke were reported along Jalan Bakun about 50km from the dam. An early NREB report indicated the fire was started by residents of longhouse Uma' Bakong, possibly for hill paddy planting purposes.

NREB Sarawak controller Peter Sawal (pic) said, "open burning for subsistence farming is not regulated by the law".

"However, we will remind them to be more careful especially during this dry and hazy period," Peter told The Star by phone on Tuesday.

"As observed this morning during investigation, there is no more fire.

The burnt area is about 2km from the longhouse.

“Heavy rain the night before doused the fires. However the only accessible road (to the longhouse) became flooded and was inaccessible. We were not able to enter that area. A reminder letter will be issued."

Peter said the board was concerned of small fires started by local communities could spread to other areas. NREB has cancelled all open burning permits since the dry season began and have not issued any since.

The Air Pollution Index (API) for Bintulu was moderate at 56 around 11am today.

Meanwhile, the Asean Specialised Meteoroligical Centre said 124 hotspots were detected in Kalimantan on Monday, down slightly from the 132 detected a day before.

"Kalimantan and Sumatra continued to be shrouded in widespread moderate to dense smoke haze.

“Haze was also observed to have spread to Strait of Malacca and parts of the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia," said its update at noon Monday.

"The hotspot activities in Sumatra could not be fully determined due to cloud cover in central Sumatra and partial satellite pass."

On Sept 2, the centre based in Singapore issued Alert Level Three, the most severe, for Sumatra.

In its seasonal update, it said climate conditions indicate "a mature El Nino". South east Asia region’s rainfall has shown a clear response to the El NiƱo development, with observed large-scale drier-than-normal conditions.

"Most of the models predict strong El Nino conditions until the first quarter of 2016, after which it is expected to start to gradually dissipate," the centre said.

The API reading in Kuching today at noon is 92 in Samarahan, 84 in Sri Aman and 78 in Kuching. Upnorth in Miri, it was 27. Visibility in the state capital plunged to 1.5km.

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Malaysia: Haze Expected To Subside By Sept 20 - Meteorology Department

Bernama 8 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 (Bernama) -- The Meteorological Department predicts that the haze which has caused air pollution throughout the country, is expected to subside by Sept 20, with the change in the direction of monsoon winds from Malaysia to Indonesia.

Senior Meteorology Officer of the National Weather Centre, Dr Mohd Hisham Mohd Anip said at present, the monsoon winds are blowing from Indonesia to Malaysia.

He said the wind flow towards Malaysia had caused the Air Pollutant Index (API) throughout the country to go up since two weeks ago.

"Now we can see a consistent pattern in wind flow from Indonesia to our country. We expect the change to occur on the 20th of this month.

"Today, we can see the API reading in the Peninsular states is increasing and this is expected to go on for a few more days," he told Bernama here today.

Mohd Hisham said the department did not intend to carry out cloud seeding to produce rain as it would be done if the API reading reached an unhealthy level for three consecutive days.


Thick haze back in southern Sarawak
YU JI The Star 9 Sep 15;

KUCHING: Southern Sarawak is once again blanketed by thick haze after about a week of relatively clear sky.

The air pollution index (API) for Samarahan, 10km from here, was an unhealthy 102 at 2pm yesterday.

In the city centre, the API was 87 in the morning but visibility plummeted to 1.5km by noon.

As the day wore on, the API in Sri Aman – the worst affected by haze in the country last month when the API reached 129 – hovered in the high 80s.

Only Miri escaped – it had an API of 34.

According to the Asean Specia­lised Meteorological Centre, much of Kalimantan and Sumatra continued to be shrouded in moderate to dense haze.

It said its satellites detected 124 hotspots in Kalimantan on Monday. On Sept 4, there were 399 hotspots.

The Singapore-based centre elevated Sumatra's forest fires to Level Three – the most severe – last week after 222 and 380 hotspots were detected on Aug 31 and Sept 1, res­­pectively.

Kalimantan is at Level Two, for exceeding 150 hotspots over two consecutive days.

In its September regional weather and haze review, which was released yesterday, it warned that El Nino conditions were increasingly likely in the coming months.

It said drier-than-normal conditions could be expected, particularly in the southern and eastern parts of South-East Asia.

Forest fires in central Sarawak have been confirmed by the Natural Resources and Environmental Board (NREB).

On Sunday, huge plumes of smoke were sighted along the Bintu­lu-Bakun road, about 50km from the dam.

An early report said the fires were likely started by longhouse dwellers for hill padi planting.

Sarawak NREB controller Peter Sawal said warnings were issued.

Asked if the residents could face fines, he explained that subsistence farming activities, including open burning, on native customary rights land “were not regulated by law”.

“The area was about 2km from the longhouse. Heavy rain doused the fires. There were no more fires when we visited,” he said.

The NREB has cancelled all open burning permits since the dry weather began.

Weatherman sees winds changing from Sept 20
The Star 9 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: The haze is ex­­pected to linger till Sept 20, after which regional winds will direct the smoke back to Indonesia.

“Based on wind forecasts, there will be a change in wind direction then.

“Instead of the wind coming from Indonesia, it is going to be reversed,” Meteorological Department spokesman Dr Hisham Mohd Anip said.

He said Sept 20 might also signal more rain with the start of the inter-monsoon period.

Nilai was hardest hit by the haze, with an air pollutant index (API) reading of 139 between 10am and 11am yesterday.

Parts of Malacca and Negri Sem­bilan were at an “unhealthy” level (APIs over 100). Banting in Selangor and Batu Muda in Kuala Lumpur also recorded “unhealthy” levels.

Most parts of Selangor, Pahang, Perak, Johor and Kedah recorded “lower moderate” levels.

More haze is expected to blanket parts of the peninsula and east Ma­­lay­­sia over the next day or two.

Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said smoke from Sumatra was expected to car­­ry over to the east coast.

He said satellites detected 124 fire hotspots in Kalimantan on Monday, adding that the Department of Environment had written to Indonesia over the haze problem.

Dr Wan Junaidi said he would meet his Indonesian counterpart in Jakarta soon to discuss the problem.

A total of 3,242 open burning cases were detected in Malaysia as of Monday since the start of the year.

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Indonesia: Plantation Companies to Blame for 70% of Forest Fires, Yudhoyono Says

Jakarta Globe 8 Sep 15;

Jakarta. Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has declared plantation and logging companies they main culprits in setting the forest fires generating clouds of choking haze, and called on the current administration to shut down their operations.

“Arrest the instigators and also the funders,” Yudhoyono said at a lecture at the National Resilience Institute in Jakarta on Tuesday.

He claimed that 70 percent of the forest fires burning across the archipelago were set by plantation companies to clear land for farming.

Yudhoyono, who served two terms in office from 2004 to 2014, said his administration had managed to scale back the annual fire scourge until 2013, when fires in Sumatra’s Riau province caused haze that sent air pollution indexes in Singapore and Malaysia to record hazardous levels.

Yudhoyono said that during his time in office, he had no hesitation about deploying soldiers to fight the fires, but environmental activists argue that his administration was not particularly zealous about cracking down on the companies setting the fires.

In June 2013, at the height of the worst forest fires in more than a decade, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) submitted a petition condemning Yudhoyono for not doing enough to address the problem.

Indonesia investigates 10 firms over smog-causing forest fires
Reuters 8 Sep 15;

Indonesia is investigating 10 firms over worsening forest fires that have created a blanket of smog over Southeast Asia, threatening them with sanctions if they are found responsible, a government minister said on Tuesday.

The thick haze from Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan islands has forced the repeated cancellation of flights in the area and pushed air quality to unhealthy levels in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said companies could face sanctions if found violating their permits.

"While the legal process is going on, in parallel, there has to be a decision or act taken on the company's permit," the minister told reporters.

Sanctions range from a written warning to a fine to revoking a firm's permit.

The minister named only one of the 10 firms under investigation, a small private company called Tempirai Palm Resources. It was not immediately possible to reach it for comment.

Indonesia has failed in previous attempts to stop the regional haze, with 2013 giving the worst pollution readings since 1997.

The heavy smoke from slash-and-burn clearances often comes from the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, where large forest concessions are used by pulp and paper and palm oil companies, some of which are listed in Singapore.

The companies blame smallholders for the fires, but they have been criticized by green groups for not doing enough to stop the haze or the rampant deforestation and destruction of carbon-rich peatlands in Indonesia.

(Reporting by Bernadette Christina; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Haze shrouds the region due to forest fires in Indonesia
Indonesian police have identified 14 hotspots in South Sumatra and authorities say a number of them belong to plantation companies.
Sujadi Siswo, Channel NewsAsia 8 Sep 15;

JAKARTA: A thick haze is once again shrouding many parts of the region. It is a result of fires started in Indonesia for the widespread clearing of forests for planting. The haze this year comes on the back of an especially dry season, made worse by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

Indonesian police have identified 14 hotspots in South Sumatra and authorities have said a number of them belong to plantation companies. Some of the burning areas are in the province's national parks.

Ms Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Indonesia’s Minister for Environment and Forestry, said: “We can identify using the coordinates. We can do that. But the National Reserve is also affected not only by individuals but also plantation companies. There are indications and we have discovered some.”

President Joko Widodo wants plantation companies to be made responsible for any fire occurring in their concessions. But there are difficulties in prosecuting the perpetrators despite knowing who they are, due to the country's complex judicial process.

Mr Willem Rampangilei, chief of Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency, said: “We know the forest fires are mainly caused by man. If you ask me how long it will take to stop them, I am not able to tell now.”

Only a handful of companies have been brought to justice and those who were, got away with light sentences.

Apart from companies and individuals, it is also the dry weather that has sparked the fires, according to an Indonesian Member of Parliament who spoke on the sidelines of an ASEAN meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Hamdhani Mukhdar Said, a Member of Parliament for Kalimantan, explained: "The burning is not intentional, it is because of severe drought in Kalimantan and other areas in Indonesia. The smoke is from peat fires that are burning some 30 centimetres deep underground, that is why it is hard to douse."

A multi-agency task force that includes the police and military is trying to fight the fires, which have shrouded Sumatra and Kalimantan in a dense haze. The haze has hit the provinces of South Sumatra, Jambi and Riau especially hard, forcing schools to close and airports to shut down.

The smoke has also affected neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia, causing the air quality there to deteriorate to unhealthy levels on some days.

All eyes are on how Indonesia tackles the forest fires and the relating smog since it ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution late last year. In December last year, Indonesia had also launched its One Map Policy, to provide better coordination for its various agencies in responding to forest fires and the resulting haze. The question remains whether all these will make a difference this time round.

- CNA/ms

10 firms probed over Indonesia forest fires
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, The Strait Times/Asia News Network Jakarta Post 10 Sep 15;

Ten plantation companies operating in Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi and Kalimantan provinces may see their licences revoked, and may be fined as investigators probe whether they engaged in intentional burning to clear land ahead of the planting season later this year.

Preliminary evidence shows that the companies, which have either oil palm or wood pulp concessions, contributed to the raging fires that spread uncontrollably in the past weeks, spawning thick haze that has sent air pollution indexes in Singapore and Malaysia to between moderate and unhealthy levels.

"Investigations are ongoing. We will immediately announce the names of the companies once we group them into three classes - mild, moderate and heavy breaches," Environment and Forestry Ministry spokesman Eka Soegiri told The Straits Times by phone.

The skyline in central Singapore obscured by haze yesterday afternoon. The haze is expected to persist today, according to the National Environment Agency.

Under Indonesian plantation law, a company found guilty of clearing land by burning can be fined up to 10 billion rupiah (S$1 million), and the management faces up to 10 years in jail.

Companies that fail to control fires started elsewhere but which spread into their concession land also face punishment. The law requires them to have adequate equipment and personnel to control fires within their land.

"In each of the 10 cases, investigators are studying what caused the fire, how it spread, the impact of the fire, how much effort the plantation company put in to control the fire, and the economic losses the fire caused," Dr Eka said.

One of the 10 companies has been identified as PT Tempirai Palm Resources in South Sumatra province, where 45ha of its concession land caught fire.

Mr Ali Hanafiah, Tempirai's manager in charge of emergency response, blamed local farmers who started a fire nearby that spread into his company's concession land owing to strong wind, Kompas daily reported yesterday.

Meanwhile, in Jambi, police have named 20 farmers in their investigation of eight cases of forest and land fires since January, reported The Jakarta Post.

Haze from forest and land fires deteriorated in Kalimantan and lingered in Sumatra yesterday as officials - in some places facing a lack of equipment - struggled to douse the raging fires.

The thick haze has disrupted flights in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra and Kalimantan, and forced schools to close temporarily.

There were 616 hot spots detected yesterday in West Kalimantan alone, reported Kompas. But light rain provided some respite in Riau, increasing visibility in the capital as well as the northern parts of the province, according to Antara news agency.

Mr Syaikhul Islam Ali, an MP in the environment committee, blamed weak law enforcement for the recurring problem of forest fires. "Destroying forests, whether on a small or big scale, is a serious crime. The environment minister should not be reluctant. Whoever the culprits are, give them stern punishment." (k)(++++)

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Indonesia: Thick haze disrupts flights at Surabaya, Jambi airports

thejakartapost.com 8 Sep 15;

Thick haze caused by forest and land fires has disrupted flights at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya, East Java, and at Sultan Thaha Airport in Jambi, Jambi province.

On Monday, at least three Citilink and Lion Air flights departing Surabaya for Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan were delayed for more than seven hours.

A spokesperson for state-owned airport operator PT Angkasa Pura I, Liza Anindya, told tempo.co on Monday evening that forest fires in Palangkaraya had disrupted activity at Juanda airport since Saturday, including flights to Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan, Balikpapan in East Kalimantan and Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara.

According to a report by Antara news agency on Tuesday, activity at Jambi’s Sultan Thaha Airport was also disrupted.

"We had to cancel water bombing operations by two of our helicopters due to limited visibility, which was down to 600 meters horizontally and 90 meters vertically yesterday. Today, there will be no commercial flight operations at the Sultan Thaha Airport, which [means cancellation of] 18 flight arrivals and 18 departures," said head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Sutopo Purwo Nugroho on Tuesday as quoted by Antara news agency.

He added that the agency plans to use a helipad owned by PT Wirakarya Sakti, a pulpwood supplier for Asia Pulp and Paper, which has better visibility than the Sultan Thaha Airport.

On land, the BNPB currently heads fire-fighting operations in the regencies of Muaro Jambi, West Tanjung Jabung and East Tanjung Jabung.

"One of the challenges for land operations is the difficulty of finding sources of water. In the Jebus area, for example, we had to use an excavator to construct water trenches. Our equipment is also limited," said Sutopo.

Sutopo added that the Jambi Health Agency had distributed 22,400 face masks in affected regencies and cities and that the Plantation Agency had urged plantation firms to support and collaborate with the taskforce team to extinguish the fires.

Based on data from the Modis satellite on Monday at 5 a.m., there are still up to 413 and 170 hot spots in Sumatra overall and Jambi respectively. (kes)(++++)

Haze issues to worsen
Rizal Harahap and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 8 Sep 15;

Despite President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s visit to one of locations affected by forest fires, the problems related to the worsening haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan are unlikely to be solved soon because many agencies do not have enough capacity and financial resources to tackle it.

Wawan Berlinson, the head of the fire agency of Palangkaraya, the capital city of Central Kalimantan, admitted on Monday that it had no money to help extinguish the forest fires that had reached an alert situation.

“We don’t have a budget for forest fires, except for fires in residential areas. It would take time if we want to ask approval from the City Council for additional funds [for forest fires],” Wawan said.

The province’s Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) had proposed to Governor Hadi Prabowo that he increase the alert status to an emergency status and ask the central government to help tackle the haze problem.

BPBD head Brigong Tom Moenandaz said that, if the alert status was increased, the budget and equipment from the central government to douse the fires could be disbursed.

Separately, Kubu Raya Deputy Regent Hermanus admitted that worsening fires in the regency and Pontianak, the capital city of West Kalimantan, were also caused by methods of burning used for land clearing.

“There is still burning taking place for the purpose of clearing land. We asked people not to do it. Police have also threatened to take stern action,” Hermanus said.

On his visit to the location of a forest fire in Pulo Keronggan village, Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra on Sunday, Jokowi ordered the National Police chief to take stern action against the perpetrators of forest fires.

The inability of the government to tackle the haze caused hundreds of students, activists and environmentalists in Riau, the biggest source of the forest fires, to stage a rally on Monday demanding the environment and forestry minister and their acting governor be sacked.

“They are not worthy of the positions because they cannot seek solutions on haze. If they refuse to step down, just fire them,” the protesters’ coordinator Musa Ali Sanda said.

The protesters also gave an ultimatum to the government to get rid of the haze in five days. Otherwise, they would arrive in bigger numbers.

Quoting Article 28H of the 1945 Constitution, Musa said that the government had the obligation to provide the people with a healthy environment.

“We demand the government realize the mandate of the Constitution.”

The protesters also engaged in a brawl with public order officers as they tried to prevent them from entering the governor’s office compound.

“We are disappointed that the Riau acting governor did not want to have a dialogue with us,” Musa said.

Executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment’s (Walhi) Riau branch, Riko Kurniawan, said he could not understand why the government did not learn from forest and land fires that had reoccurred over the last 18 years.

He also expressed disappointment that the government’s approach had not been more than simply providing trillions of rupiah to extinguish fires.

“It’s not the concrete solution that the people have been expecting from the government. Yet, it’s what the government has been maintaining for the last 18 years,” Riko said.

He said the government had to realize that prevention measures including firmness in policy, law enforcement and peat land protection were much more important than extinguishing fires.

“Hopefully the government will have the wisdom and willingness to look at the root of the problem and not just extinguish fires as if it is an annual project consuming billions of rupiah in funds,” said Riko

Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and West Kalimantan have declared haze emergencies following the worsening forest fires, according to the Environment and Forestry Ministry,

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has allocated Rp 385 billion (US$27 million) to contain the fires through water bombing and artificial precipitation.

For many years, the disaster has been repeated in a similar fashion: in the same provinces and with similar text book measures taken to overcome it amid a barrage of complaints from the people and governments of neighboring countries.

Thick smokes still blanketing part of Riau
Antara 8 Sep 15;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Thick smokes still is blanketing part of Riau disrupting flight schedules from and to this provincial city of Pekanbaru.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics office (BMKG) said visibility in the smoke blanketed areas in the province range from 100 meters to 400 meters.

"The worst is in Dumai and Pelalawan, where visibility is around 100 meters," head of the regional office of BMKG in Pekanbaru Sugarin told ANTARA news agency here on Tuesday.

In Pekanbaru the visibility is around 400 meters and in Kota Rengan of the regency of Indragiri Hulu it is meters, Sugarin said.

He said the smokes came from neighboring province of Jambi, adding, there was no hot spot detected in Riau.

In Jambi and South Sumatra there are tens of hot spots sending thick smokes to the air and were blown by the winds to Riau.

Riau has been widely reported to be the sources of thick smokes polluting the air as far as the neighboring countries .

Jefry Noer, regent of Kampar in Riau, said the black haze of smokes came from peat land not from forests.

"The smokes come not from forest fires but from certain fires in peat lands owned by farmers and companies," Jefry said.

Meanwhile, General Manager of the airport of the Sultan Syarif Kasim II Pekanbaru Dani Irawan a number of flights have been delayed on Tuesday.

The condition, however, improved toward mid of the day allowing airlines to resume flight including to Jakarta, Dani said.

"All airlines have to reschedule flights in the day. Citilink, Garuda Indonesia and Air Asia resumed flight in the middle of the day," he said.

From 2 to 7 September or for six days Citilink canceled 58 flights from the International Airport of Sultan Syarif Kasim II in four routes Pekanbaru-Jakarta, Pekanbaru-Yogyakarta, Pekanbaru-Batam and Pekanbaru-Surabaya.

In West Kalimantan, police in Ketapang are investigating reports against local community and company owners charged with setting forest on fire.

Ketapang police chief Adj. Sr. Comr Hady Poerwanto said the suspects are facing 10 years in jail with a fine of Rp1 billion if found guilty.

The heavy punishment is expected to serve as a deterrent against committing forest fires, Hady said.(*)

16 airports impacted by forest fire smog in Indonesia
Antara 8 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Transportation Ministry has reported that 16 airports on the Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands have been impacted by the forest fire smog hanging over the region for the past one week.

"The visibility has been reduced to below 800 meters, preventing any plane from landing," the ministrys Spokesman J.A. Barata said in a press statement.

Forest fires producing the smog have flared up on the islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan, Java and Sulawesi during the current El Nino-induced drought.

The smog has caused a number of flight delays and cancellations at 16 airports, he added.

In Kalimantan, the affected airports are the Melalan Melak Airport in Kutai (East Kalimantan Province), the Syansyudin Noor Airport in Banjarmasin (South Kalimantan), the Beringin Airport in Muara Teweh, the Iskandar Airport in Pangkalan Bun and the Haji Asan Airport in Sampit (Central Kalimantan), along with the Supadio Airport in Kubu Raya, the Pangsuma Airport in Putussibau, the Susilo Airport in Sintang, the Rahadi Usman Airport in Ketapang, and the Tjilik Riwut Airport in Pontianak (West Kalimantan), and the Atty Besing Airport in Malinau (East Kalimantan).

In Sumatra, the smog-hit airports include Ferdinand Lumban Tobing in Sibolga, and the Silangit Airport in North Tapanuli (North Sumatra), the Sultan Thaha Airport in Jambi, and the Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport in Pekanbaru (Riau), and the Depati Amir Airport in Pangkal Pinang, Bangka Belitung.(*)

Smog in Sumatra compels students to stay home in Payakumbuh
Antara 8 Sep 15;

Payakumbuh (ANTARA News) - Thick smog caused by forest and land fires in Sumatra Island has forced the Payakumbuh city government in West Sumatra to announce a three-day holiday effective Tuesday for the local students.

"The haze disaster has reached an emergency response level. Therefore, in order to safeguard the health of the students, we gave them a three-day off," Head of Payakumbuh City Governments Educational Affairs Hasan Basri informed reporters here, Tuesday.

Basri pointed out that the holiday period could be extended if the haze condition deteriorated.

"We are monitoring the situation until Thursday. If the smog condition worsens, we will extend the holiday period," he affirmed.

Prior to the decision, several heads of schools, including those from the early childhood education center (PAUD) and kindergartens, had requested the city governments permission to allow their students to stay at home, he remarked.

Speaking about the air quality in the city, Head of Payakumbuhs Environmental Affairs Syamsurial noted that the Pollution Standard Index (PSI) board revealed on Monday that the PSI reached a level of 190 mg/m3, or "unhealthy."

The ongoing forest and land fires have affected several provinces in Sumatra, including South Sumatra and Jambi, and have disrupted commercial flights at several main airports.

This ecological disaster remains an unsolved problem, though the country has had six presidents since the thick smog stemming from forest and land fires enveloped various parts of the Sumatra and Kalimantan islands in 1997 and 1998.

(Reported by MR Denya Utama/Uu.R013/INE/KR-BSR/A014)

Indonesia Intelligence Agency locates 133 fires in C. Kalimantan
Antara 8 Sep 15;

Palangka Raya (ANTARA News) - The Indonesia State Intelligence Agency (BIN) has located 133 fires in plantation areas in Central Kalimantan.

The Chief of BINs regional office, Hadi Purnawan, said after a meeting to set up a task force to deal with the haze problem in the region on Tuesday that fires had spread in 29 plantation areas and that this data had been submitted to the Panju Panjang military resort.

"Of the 29 companies, 10 are still seeking their business rights, while 19 others have obtained them," he added.

He said although fires were spotted in the plantation areas he could not confirm if the fires were caused by deliberate action or other causes.

"They are still to be prove this legally and to confirm if they have violated laws or not," he said.

The Chief of the Central Kalimantan regional police command, Brigadier General Fakhrizal, said the police would take firm action against anyone found guilty of lighting fires.

He said he had instructed the commands chief of special crime investigation to monitor closely the developments on seven companies that have been sealed by the environment and Forestry Ministry.

"We will be indiscriminate. Everyone is equal before the law. We will take action against those that have burnt land or forests, be they individuals or companies," he said.

During the meeting, Colonel Purwo Sudaryanto, was named as Chief of the task force.

(Reporting by Jaya Wirawan Manurung/Uu.H-YH/INE/KR-BSR/A014)

Thick haze puts health, air travel at risk: Indonesia
Rizal Harahap and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb AsiaOne 8 Sep 15;

The intensity of pollution produced by land and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan continued to fluctuate over the weekend, putting the health of local residents at risk and disrupting activities in a number of airports on the two major islands.

On Sunday, as of 10 a.m. local time, the management of Sultan Syarif Kasim International (SSK) II Airport in Pekanbaru reported that there was no flight activity taking place at the airport, as the haze that blanketed the Riau provincial capital decreased visibility to only 300 metres.

SSK II officer-in-charge Hasnan Siregar said although the visibility had increased to around 1,000 metres by 9:30 a.m., most airlines had decided to cancel their morning flights to Pekanbaru over safety concerns.

"In fact, there should have been six flight arrivals from Jakarta and Bandung during that time," Hasnan said.

Local authorities in many parts of the country, particularly in Sumatra and Kalimantan, have been struggling over the past few months to extinguish massive land and forest fires triggered mainly by this year's extended dry season.

In Riau, the country's largest oil-producing region, at least 12 regencies and municipalities have been blanketed by different intensities of pollution over the past weeks, resulting in an increase in the number of people suffering from respiratory illnesses.

Provisional data from the Riau Health Agency, for example, showed that 9,386 people had suffered from haze-related diseases over the past few months. Of that number, 7,412 suffered from acute respiratory infection (ISPA), 903 from skin irritation, 485 from eye irritation, 296 from asthma and 290 from pneumonia.

"During the past week alone, there were 2,601 new patients," agency head Andra Sjafril said on Sunday.

In South Kalimantan, Antara news agency reported that 13 flights from and to Banjarmasin's Syamsudin Noor Airport experienced delays for several hours on Sunday because of the thick haze that covered the city.

A Lion Air flight heading to Surabaya, which was initially scheduled to take off at 6:30 a.m. local time, for example, could only depart at 8:04 a.m., while another serving the Banjarmasin-Yogyakarta route finally left at 8 a.m. after it had been delayed for almost two hours.

"The visibility started to return to normal from 11 a.m. and by noon the visibility increased to 8,000 metres, allowing all subsequent flights to go smoothly," the airport's service section head Wahyu Riyanto said.

The government has recently announced the establishment of a task force that 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.

Meanwhile, in support of ongoing efforts to curb the worsening haze, a number of comic strip drawers accross the archipelago are organising a campaign against the pollution by posting their works, including animation, cartoons, photos, memes and poems under the theme of "protest against haze", on social media.

Pekanbaru-based Dhany Pramata, an initiator of the move, for example, recently created a campaign with the hashtag #MasihMelawanAsap (still fighting against haze) through his Instagram account, which has 55,300 followers.

"As a Riau resident, I will never tire of voicing my protests until the sky over Riau returns to blue," he told The Jakarta Post.

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