Best of our wild blogs: 11 Sep 15

Analysis and noteworthy points from “GE 2015: Casting a Vote for Environmental Progress” session
Green Drinks Singapore

Wild Intern (Oct-Dec 2015) - Now open for applications!
wild shores of singapore

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Meet Singapore's own 'bird man'

Bird lover and NUS researcher David Tan has turned his hobby into a career
Audrey Tan Straits Times 11 Sep 15;

For "bird man" David Tan, 26, birdsong is more than just background noise, it's a language.

"When you start paying attention, you realise that there is more to their calls than just noise," says the researcher from the Evolutionary Biology Laboratory at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

"When a bird is showing aggression, trying to attract a mate, or communicating with another bird, the calls are all different."

For instance, the Javan mynah - a small black bird with a yellow beak commonly seen around Singapore - makes a "hwee-hwee" sound when alarmed. Juveniles begging for food, however, produce a distinctive series of chirps.

Speaking to The Straits Times during a stroll at the NUS campus, Mr Tan stops in his tracks to listen to a bird call. Whipping out a pair of binoculars, he points out birds such as the drongo - a black bird with a tail that resembles a mermaid's, one of the more vocal species known to mimic the alarm calls of long-tailed macaques, which they follow around the forest.

Mr Tan is one of the lucky few who has managed to turn a hobby into a job.

His interest in birds took flight when he was an 11-year-old pupil at Tao Nan School. He and a classmate chanced upon what they thought was a streaked weaver building a nest in a tree in the school compound.

"Birds are pretty, birds are colourful, and there are so many things to observe about their behaviour," he said. "What really interested me about birds is the fact that they are ubiquitous - they are everywhere, but a lot of us don't realise that."

Through student life in Dunman High School and, later, Temasek Junior College, he went birdwatching on weekends with his father's army-issue binoculars.

He decided to take his passion one step further when he matriculated into NUS in 2010, enrolling in the department of biological sciences with a specialisation in environmental biology.

"I came to university expecting to study molecular biology, which was a topic that reigned supreme when I was in secondary school and junior college," he said.

"But when I realised that I could major in environmental biology and study birds, I decided to do so... Many people thought I was crazy for studying something without a clear career path."

He did research on the population genetics of striped tit-babblers for his honours thesis under Assistant Professor Frank Rheindt from the Avian Evolution Lab, and graduated last December.

The striped tit-babbler is a small bird native to Singapore. It has a yellow breast with black streaks and a reddish-brown crown. Mr Tan had originally wanted to study the straw-headed bulbul, which is globally endangered, but its preference for nesting in tree canopies made it difficult to study. The babbler, however, was a good alternative as it was also a forest dweller, but one that occupies the lower regions of the canopy.

Since 2013, he has also been appealing on social media for people to call him whenever a dead bird is spotted. The carcasses provide valuable genetic information, which enables researchers to study bird evolution, conservation and disease, among others.

"Since many of these birds are close to impossible to sample for research purposes, and since the birds we usually get form only a small subset of the birds in Singapore, the carcasses provide a valuable supplementary source of tissue and DNA."

He added that his work with the carcasses is linked to his current research on bird genetics, because the skin and tissue samples collected can go into long-term storage until needed for further study.

But his main research builds on work he did as an undergraduate on the striped tit-babblers.

"I'm interested mainly in how the fragmentation of their forest habitats affects the genetic diversity of the population," Mr Tan said.

A common misconception is that birds can simply fly away when their habitats are under threat, he said. But forest birds like the babblers hardly ever leave their habitats.

When such birds die with their habitats, the effects are twofold: There are fewer individuals available to mate and the gene pool shrinks; and habitats become fragmented, with populations living in each fragment becoming isolated.

The result is that genetic "errors", such as a pre-disposition to illnesses or physical defects, accumulate.

Analysing the genetic data of these birds gives conservationists like himself a better idea of whether the different populations are in-breeding or not.

Habitat destruction is not the only threat that birds face.

During migration season from late September to March, birds like pittas, flycatchers and kingfishers fly long distances from countries such as Siberia and China, stopping in Singapore to rest.

During these months, people might encounter injured birds, or birds that appear to be stunned or in a daze. This could be due to exhaustion from flying long distances, or disorientation, having been distracted from cues from the stars and moon by city lights.

"People sometimes try to 'rescue' them by taking them home or trying to feed them, but this often does more harm than good," Mr Tan said, citing how some people may try to feed an insect-eater with fruit.

People who find baby birds, especially after the prime breeding season between March and August, also tend to want to "rescue" them.

Instead, he said, the best thing to do is to call trained professionals from the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) or Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Some nature enthusiasts also pose a threat to these birds. Aggressive nature photographers on the prowl for "action" shots have been known to manhandle these creatures.

Last December, a photographer who tethered a tern chick's legs to a bush for a photograph was fined $500 for animal cruelty.

The incident drew the ire of the birding community in Singapore when photographs posted on Facebook showed a young tern struggling in front of a bush, unable to move away.

Mr Tan added that some photographers have been spotted injecting air and styrofoam into live fish at the Little Guilin nature park in Bukit Batok. This causes the fish to float to the surface.

"Birds like the grey-headed fish eagle that prey on fish would swoop down to catch them, providing the photographers with the perfect action shot - this is unethical and extremely cruel to both the fish and the bird," Mr Tan said. A bird that ate such prey could be poisoned or choke.

He believes there should be more dialogue between the authorities and the scientific and photography communities to discuss what practices are acceptable, and what are not.

"More importantly, I think good nature photography can happen only when photographers have some level of empathy for their subjects and recognise that birds are not simply automatons that mindlessly respond to stimuli.

"They are living creatures that are sentient and complex."

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Singapore's industrialisation over 50 years

Singapore has few natural resouces but the country's mix of economic ambition and industrial strategies have produced 50 years of continuous growth.
Lee Song Im Channel NewsAsia 10 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Skyscrapers and distinctive buildings dot Singapore's downtown financial hub. But 50 years ago, it was a different story.

Singapore’s independence in 1965 signalled the end of the dream of a Malayan common market and the beginning of a host of economic challenges.

"Our primary challenge was high unemployment rate – it was 14.5 per cent. With the British pulling out, there were 40,000 jobs at stake,” said Mr Yeoh Keat Chuan, managing director of the Economic Development Board (EDB).

Singapore was on its own to seek its own market and livelihood. With no industries and poor infrastructure, the only way to get the wheels of its economy moving was to attract foreign capital.

"(The foreign capital) already have clients, international clients. So that helped us - instead of starting from day one again, they've already brought along a market for us,” explained Associate Professor Toh Mun Heng from the Department of Strategy and Policy at the National University of Singapore Business School.

The government began to devise plans to bring in the multinationals. Labour laws were tightened, industrial infrastructures set up and government organisations like the Economic Development Board and Jurong Town Corporation established.

"We were developing generic industrial land, because we were trying to support industries of all kinds. So long as their investors were prepared to come in to build a manufacturing plant and create jobs, we were prepared to support them,” said JTC Corporation’s CEO Png Cheong Boon.

Foreign companies were soon attracted, lured by Singapore's favourable investment policies and its approach to industrial relations.

"Starting in 1979, Singapore changed its politics from more labour content-based to a more sophisticated approach, starting with IC production and computer production. It was perfect for us, because we're coming into an environment where we also find experts which can deal with such issues. That was perfect for setting up,” said Pepperl+Fuchs’ managing director Juergen Seitz.

By the 1980s, Singapore was one of the leading production centres of consumer electronics in Asia. However, the period also coincided with Singapore's first post-independence recession.

"Singapore started to look at specific industries that were key drivers of the economy, for example, we started to look at the semiconductor industry, as one of the key drivers, or chemical industry as one of the key drivers,” said Mr Png.

To support these sunrise industries, Singapore developed specialised industrial parks. One of the first and high-profile projects was the formation of Jurong Island.

"We reclaimed the land around the seven islands off the shore of Singapore to form Jurong Island to support the whole energy and chemical industries,” said Mr Png. “We have companies in the petrochemical chain, co-locating next to one another. It allows companies to operate more efficiently, because you get the feedstock from your supplier next door, and then you supply your product to your customer next door. And that's the logistic efficiency that helps companies to be more competitive."

Clusters of gigantic cylindrical tanks amid a maze of pipelines now dot Jurong Island. The project's success was extended to the growing number of the world's leading energy and chemical companies setting up bases on the island. To date, it has attracted investments in excess of S$35 billion.

For half a century, Singapore has enjoyed almost unbroken economic success, driven by rapid industrialisation. But with India and China emerging as great industrial powers in recent years, Singapore has made a conscious effort to redirect growth.

"A shift from not just value adding but value creating, developing new products, services and solutions for the Asian market and global markets as well,” explained Mr Yeoh.

Mr Png added: "We may have to develop more innovative space, such as our food hub, surface engineering hub, where we provide common facilities and shared infrastructure which will help companies to reduce their space requirement and to help them optimise their productivity."

Last year, in a bid to maintain its global edge, Singapore revealed plans to be the world's first Smart Nation – an initiative aimed at harnessing technology to improve urban life. To realise this vision, public and private sector efforts will be integrated across a range of regulatory frameworks and industries.

"You have to have a concerted effort together, manage the situation together. I look at it as Singapore's effort to continue, to manage our strategy – the industrialisation strategy – as a continuum, to suit and to accommodate our ambition. And also to give ourselves a continuity, to continue to be relevant,” said Professor Toh.

- CNA/xq

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Air quality unhealthy, PSI hits highest in 2 years

Today Online 10 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — Air quality has reached its worst in two years, prompting Singapore to register its concerns over the haze situation with Indonesia and offer assistance.

At midnight, the 3-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit 211 while the 24-hour PSI was at 135-152. Hazy conditions are expected to persist.

These readings are the year’s highest so far, and exceed last year’s highest 3-hour PSI reading of 153 on Oct 6 and 24-hour PSI reading of 125 on Oct 7.

Air quality is considered to be unhealthy when the 24-hour PSI ranges from 101-200. The 3-hour PSI, which reflects the PM2.5 concentration levels averaged across 3 hours, is an indicative measure that is not tied to the Ministry of Health's health advisory.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said that 328 hotspots were detected in Sumatra today, up from 140 yesterday. Haze was observed in central and southern Sumatra and some of it has spread to the sea areas east of Sumatra and south of Singapore, said the NEA. The 24-hour PSI for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the low to middle range of the unhealthy band, and may further deteriorate if the winds are unfavourable.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan today conveyed Singapore’s deep concern with the deteriorating haze situation to the Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar, while Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen called Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu to reiterate the Singapore’s offer to assist Indonesia’s efforts in combating the forest fires in Sumatra.

Dr Balakrishnan called for urgent actions to be taken, including stricter enforcement actions against the perpetrators. He also reiterated Singapore’s offer of an assistance package for Indonesia, and requested for information on those responsible for the haze so as to facilitate appropriate enforcement action, said the NEA.

As part of the overall haze assistance package, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have placed on standby 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 (SCDF) fire-fighting assistance team.

“The SAF stands ready to support and assist the Indonesian military (TNI), which has been deployed to put out the fires,” said MINDEF in a statement.

Since 2005, Singapore has consistently offered haze assistance packages to Indonesia in the run-up to the traditional dry season from June to October. Singapore renewed its haze assistance offer to Indonesia in June this year.


Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, the NEA said healthy persons should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. 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. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention.

In response to media queries, a spokesperson from the Elections Department (ELD) said voters who are heading out to cast their votes on Polling Day tomorrow are advised to take guidance from the NEA’s advisory issued, should haze levels remain in the unhealthy range.

“There are priority queues at polling stations for the elderly and disabled. Those who require any assistance or feel unwell should approach election officials at their respective polling stations,” said the ELD spokesperson. The 832 polling stations will be open from 8am to 8pm.

To ensure the health and safety of some 30,000 election officials who will be on duty islandwide on Polling Day, ELD has also taken mitigating measures such as instituting adequate rest breaks and hydration for all officials.

Meanwhile, telco Singtel earlier today said it has activated its haze contingency plans, with some 5,000 N95 masks distributed to its staff who are required to work outdoors. The telco will be suspending outdoor work for its field operations staff and contract workers “should the haze situation worsen, reaching hazardous levels and affecting visibility”.

“We have advised our employees of the precautionary measures they should take based on the health authorities’ guidelines, such as reducing or avoiding outdoor activities to minimise their haze exposure,” said Singtel’s Group Chief Human Resources Officer Aileen Tan.

Haze may remain in unhealthy range on Friday: NEA
AsiaOne 10 Sep 15;

Haze conditions in Singapore has deteriorated since Thursday morning, and may remain in the unhealthy range on Friday, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The 3-hour Pollutants Standard Index (PSI) and 24-hour PSI readings climbed steadily throughout Thursday and reached 200 and 128-143 respectively at 10pm.

A 24-hour PSI reading that exceeds 100 is considered to be unhealthy.

In neighbouring Sumatra, the number of hotspots also increased to 328 from 140 the previous day.

NEA said that the 24-hour PSI on Friday is expected to remain in the low to mid sections of the unhealthy range, and may further deteriorate if the winds are unfavourable.

The Singapore Government has also offered assistance to Indonesia to help combat the haze.

The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) said that they have placed on standby 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 (SCDF) fire-fighting assistance team.

NEA advises members of the public, especially the elderly, pregnant women and children, to minimise prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. Those who feel unwell should seek medical attention.

Air quality may enter Very Unhealthy range on Friday: NEA
"The 24-hr PSI for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the mid- to high-end of the Unhealthy range, and may enter the Very Unhealthy range if denser haze is blown in," the National Environment Agency said in an update at 1am on Friday.
Channel NewsAsia 10 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: The air quality in Singapore is set to remain in the Unhealthy range through Friday (Sep 11), said the National Environment Agency (NEA), as Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan expressed concern to Indonesia over the situation.

There was a deterioration in hazy conditions due to smoke haze from Indonesia, as the number of hotspots detected in Sumatra increased to 328 from 140 on Wednesday, said NEA in a statement. Haze has spread to the sea areas east of Sumatra and the south of Singapore, the agency added.

The air quality in Singapore hit unhealthy levels on Thursday, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) crossing the 100 mark. The 3-hour PSI at 8.00am on Friday (Sep 11) was 64, while the 24-hour PSI was at 152-176.

"The 24-hr PSI for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the mid- to high-end of the Unhealthy range, and may enter the Very Unhealthy range if denser haze is blown in," NEA said in an advisory at 1am on Friday.

Dr Vivian “has conveyed Singapore’s deep concern with the deteriorating haze situation to the Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Dr Siti Nurbaya Bakar,” said NEA.

“Minister Balakrishnan called for urgent actions to be undertaken, including stricter enforcement actions against the perpetrators,” the agency said. “Minister Balakrishnan reiterated Singapore’s offer of an assistance package for Indonesia. He also requested for information on those responsible for the haze so as to facilitate appropriate enforcement action.”

The Ministry of Defence has offered assets including a C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding operations and a Chinook helicopter with a water bucket to help fire-fighting operations. Meanwhile, the Indonesian military on Thursday sent more than 1,000 soldiers to South Sumatra province to put out the fires.


In the past week, one specialist has observed a 20 per cent increase in the number of patients with respiratory illnesses.

"Mainly the asthmatic patients, the patients with chronic obstructive lung disease are coming to us with acute respiratory symptoms - they have more cough, more phlegm or even breathlessness,” said Dr Jim Teo, a physician at The Repiratory Practice. “This group of patients need more attention and stronger medical treatment in order to avoid getting worse or avoid being hospitalised."

Non-governmental organisations are pitching in to help. WWF Singapore is working with community group the People's Movement to Stop Haze to distribute masks at public areas, when the PSI reading goes beyond 200. They have prepared about 9,000 masks to be given out at public areas to those who need them, including the elderly.

"By giving out the masks, it helps people to understand this problem is very real,” said Ms Karen Sim, a conservation resource manager at WWF. “But I don't think we should just focus on the mask itself, but the message behind - why do we even have this problem? From there we teach people about the causes behind the haze - unsustainable palm oil and pulp and paper production."

- CNA/xq

Organisations activate haze contingency plans
MARISSA YEO Today Online 11 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — As the haze worsened yesterday, various organisations began putting into action their contingency plans.

With Singaporeans heading to the polls today, the Elections Department (ELD) has advised Singaporeans to note the NEA’s advisory. “There are priority queues at polling stations for the elderly and disabled. Those who require any assistance or feel unwell should approach election officials at their respective polling stations,” said an ELD spokesperson in a media release yesterday.

To ensure the health and safety of some 30,000 election officials who will be on duty islandwide, ELD has also taken mitigating measures such as instituting adequate rest breaks and hydration for all officials.

Meanwhile, telco Singtel earlier today said it has activated its haze contingency plans, with some 5,000 N95 masks distributed to its staff who are required to work outdoors. The telco will be suspending outdoor work for its field operations staff and contract workers “should the haze situation worsen, reaching hazardous levels and affecting visibility”.

Pre-schools contacted by TODAY have also taken action, with some already suspending outdoor activities even before the haze worsened over the day. EtonHouse International School has been monitoring the PSI index closely and outdoor activities would be suspended the moment it exceeds 100, said senior principal Josephyne Ho. The school will also minimise physical activities and monitor their children’s health.

Likewise, NTUC My First Skool said its schools — it operates over 100 centres islandwide — cut down on physical and strenuous outdoor activities when the PSI readings breach 100. “We also encourage principals to take their own initiative to adjust classroom activities and needs if visually they feel that the haze situation is at a level above their comfort level despite PSI readings,” said a My First Skool spokesperson.

G8 Education, which operates over 40 childcare centres, said that should the haze worsen, it will keep all doors and windows at its centres closed, and those with chronic heart and lung conditions will be placed in air-conditioned rooms.

Standing fans and air purifiers will be kept switched on throughout the day to ventilate the classrooms.

Nursing homes, meanwhile, told TODAY they would keep fans on at full blast. Ms Leong Sok Boy, a nurse at Paean Nursing Home, said: “If the haze worsens, we will close the door temporarily and I may suggest to my boss to (purchase) air purifiers.”

Retailers have also seen sales of N95 masks increase, but said that there are sufficient stocks. Watsons has a total of 22,000 masks stocked in all its stores and saw a double-digit growth in the sales for N95 masks over the past weeks.

FairPrice has seen a 10 per cent increase in sales of the N95 masks since the last week of the past month. “At present, our stores continue to have sufficient supply to meet the demands. Customers are encouraged to only buy what they need for their personal use,” said a FairPrice spokesperson.

Last year, the Ministry of Health said it had 16 million N95 masks on standby in the case of a shortage.

Unhealthy haze casts pall over Singapore
Today Online 11 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — The Republic experienced its worst haze in two years yesterday, with the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) breaching the 200-mark — prompting Singapore to register its concerns over the haze situation with Indonesia and offer assistance.

Air quality was in unhealthy territory for much of the day, with the 24-hour PSI at 132 to 148 as at 11pm. The three-hour PSI reading was an eye-watering 207, exceeding the three-hour PSI of 153 seen last year. Air quality is considered “very unhealthy” when the 24-hour PSI crosses 200.

In an update yesterday evening, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said that 328 hotspots were detected in Sumatra yesterday, up from 140 the day before. Haze was observed in central and southern Sumatra and some of it has spread to the sea areas east of Sumatra and south of Singapore, said the NEA.

The 24-hour PSI is unexpected to be in the low to middle range of the unhealthy band (101 to 200) today, and may further deteriorate if the winds become unfavourable. The NEA advised healthy persons to reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion, while the elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion, as should those with chronic lung or heart disease.

With the situation deteriorating, Singapore’s leaders reached out to their Indonesian counterparts yesterday to urge action and offer fire-fighting assistance. The NEA said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday conveyed Singapore’s “deep concern” to the Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar, and called for stricter enforcement actions against the perpetrators.

He also reiterated Singapore’s offer of an assistance package for Indonesia, and requested for information on those responsible for the haze so as to facilitate appropriate enforcement action, said the NEA.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen called Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu to assist in combating the forest fires in Sumatra. The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have placed on standby 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.

“The SAF stands ready to support and assist the Indonesian military (TNI), which has been deployed to put out the fires,” said MINDEF in a statement.

The haze is at its worst since 2013, when the PSI soared to a choking 401 in June that year. The smog blanketing the region put pressure on Indonesia to take action, but progress has been slow in enacting measures such as a regional haze monitoring system. Singapore last year enacted the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, which allows entities causing or contributing to unhealthy levels of haze here to be fined up to S$2 million.

Firms, clinics prepare for worsening haze
3-hour PSI hits new high of 207 while 24-hour PSI creeps up to 132-148
Claire Huang Business Times 11 Sep 15;

AS the smog clouding Singapore thickens, led by the slash-and-burn agricultural activities in Indonesia, local businesses have activated precautionary measures, while more patients seek treatment for respiratory conditions.

At 11pm on Thursday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading hit a new high of 207, while the 24-hour PSI reading crept up to between 132 and 148. The readings had crossed over into the "unhealthy" range of between 101 and 200 earlier in the day.

NEA said in its advisory that the hazy conditions here were exacerbated by smoke blown from Sumatra by the prevailing south or southwesterly winds. It said the haze is expected to persist on Friday, as the prevailing winds are forecast to blow in from the south-southeast or south.

"The number of hotspots detected in Sumatra increased to 328 today (Sept 10) from 140 yesterday. Haze was observed in central and southern Sumatra. Some haze has spread to the sea areas east of Sumatra and south of Singapore," the agency said, adding that Singapore has registered its "deep concern" to Indonesia and called for urgent action to be undertaken. Singapore has also offered to assist Indonesia's efforts to fight the ongoing forest fires.

Back home, some medical groups expect to see more patients seeking treatment for conditions triggered by the deteriorating hazy conditions.

Parkway Shenton medical director Koh Hau Tek said Shenton Medical Group is seeing a 15 per cent rise in the number of cases with upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) and infections at its clinics. Dr Koh noted "those affected seem to be from all ages", especially those with underlying respiratory conditions like asthma.

Raffles Medical Group's (RMG) deputy medical director Michael Lee said the group has seen "a spike of 10-20 per cent in the number of patients for the past week". Besides causing the onset of URTI and eye and throat irritation, the haze has also aggravated patients' pre-existing medical conditions - namely asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema, Dr Lee said.

On the business front, firms are gearing up for the expected yearly routine of countering the haze.

Food caterer Neo Group, for example, said it monitors the PSI levels, has a ready supply of surgical masks and will also stock up on NR95 masks. To encourage its drivers to drink more water, the company has issued them 1.9-litre water carriers and prepares cooling herbal tea for staff on a regular basis during hazy weather.

Others like local lenders OCBC and UOB have issued advisories to employees and begun distributing masks.

Patrick Chew, OCBC's head of operational risk management, said it has pre-issued N95 respiratory masks to bank branches and the various offices for easy access. Should conditions worsen, he said external activities that are non-critical will be scaled back.

Workers at HSL Constructor Pte Ltd carry out the standard practice of wearing masks at sites even without the haze, said CEO Charles Quek. He added that, from past experience, his workers avoid intense activities like excavation works when the PSI hits dangerous levels.

Air quality in Singapore remains in Unhealthy range
The 3-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was 75 at 11am after hitting a high of 248 at 3am. Air quality is expected to stay in the Unhealthy range on Friday (Sep 11).
Channel NewsAsia 11 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Air quality in Singapore improved on Friday morning (Sep 11). The 3-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was 88 at noon after hitting a high of 248 at 3am. The corresponding 24-hour PSI ranged from 144-167.

The air quality is expected to stay in the Unhealthy range later Friday, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan on Thursday expressed concern to Indonesia over the situation.

There was a deterioration in hazy conditions due to smoke haze from Indonesia, as the number of hotspots detected in Sumatra increased to 328 from 140 on Wednesday, said NEA in a statement. Haze has spread to the sea areas east of Sumatra and the south of Singapore, the agency added.

The air quality in Singapore rose to unhealthy levels on Thursday, with the 24-hour PSI crossing the 100 mark.

- CNA/al/wl/hs

Hazy conditions improve due to shift in wind direction: NEA
Air quality remains unhealthy, may deteriorate in the late afternoon should the winds turn unfavourable
Today Online 11 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — Air quality remained in the unhealthy range this morning (Sept 11) although the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings registered an improvement.

As at 11am, the 24-hour PSI was at 146 - 168, down from a high of 158 - 182 at 5am. The 3-hour PSI reading was at 75, down from the year's highest of 248 at 3am.

The 24-hour PSI for the next 12 hours is expected to be in the high end dropping to the mid section of the unhealthy range (101-200), said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in an update this morning.

The NEA said hazy conditions improved due to a shift in the direction of the prevailing winds to southeasterly and are expected to continue improving through the day as the winds are forecasted to be maintained. "However, widespread haze is still persisting in Sumatra and there is a chance that the haze situation in Singapore may deteriorate in the late afternoon should the winds turn unfavourable," said the NEA.

Singapore experienced its worst haze in two years overnight, with the three-hour PSI breaching the 200-mark, hitting 207 at 11pm and reaching a high of 248 at 3am early this morning. The PSI then began to decline steeply in the following hours.

Yesterday, 328 hotspots were detected in Sumatra, up from 140 the day before.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday conveyed Singapore’s “deep concern” to the Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar, and called for stricter enforcement actions against the perpetrators.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen called Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu to assist in combating the forest fires in Sumatra. The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have placed on standby 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.

Air quality in S’pore at its worst since April 2014
Jasmine Osada, Straits Times AsiaOne 11 Sep 15;

Haze at Bedok Reservoir Park at 4.30pm when the 3-hour PSI at 4pm is 138 on Sept 10, 2015. The haze on Friday (Sept 11) has since improved.

Singapore was hit yesterday by the worst haze since April last year - when the index measuring air quality was tweaked - and the authorities warn that it could deteriorate.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) rose through the day to between 132 and 148, in the unhealthy range of 101-200, by 11pm. The three-hour PSI then was 207, in the very unhealthy range.

Last year, the highest three-hour PSI was 153 on Oct 6, and the highest 24-hour PSI was 107-125 on Oct 7.

Those heading to the polls today should expect hazy conditions to persist, said the National Environment Agency yesterday.

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

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan conveyed Singapore's deep concern over the deteriorating haze situation to Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar yesterday, when the number of hot spots in Sumatra rose from 140 on Wednesday to 328. He called for urgent action to be undertaken, including stricter action against the perpetrators.

Both he and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen repeated Singapore's offer of help - it had put on standby aircraft and personnel to seed clouds and carry out aerial firefighting, and a firefighting assistance team.

Yesterday, Indonesia sent more than 1,000 soldiers to Sumatra to aid firefighting efforts.

The S-League football match between Albirex Niigata and Tampines Rovers at Jalan Besar Stadium was postponed due to the haze. EtonHouse, which runs 17 pre-schools, suspended outdoor activities once the PSI crossed 100.

Several firms here have started implementing contingency plans.

Doctors also reported a spike of up to 20 per cent in patients with haze-related conditions, such as blocked noses and irritated skin.

Dr Michael Lee, deputy medical director of Raffles Medical Group, said: "We expect to see more patients in the coming weeks if the haze continues to worsen."

Undergraduate Benny Sng, 24, who was sick from the haze, said: "I'm not looking forward to standing in the queue tomorrow even though it is my first time voting. If the air quality worsens, I will take a mask along with me."

The worsening haze has disrupted long-weekend plans for some.

Billing executive Josephine Lim, 49, said: "I had planned to visit the Botanic Gardens with my family on Saturday. But with the haze so bad, I'm planning to stay indoors."

Bad air making more people ill
Salma Khalik, Straits Times AsiaOne 11 Sep 15;

Doctors are seeing a sharp rise in the number of patients suffering from haze-related ailments as Singapore was blanketed with smoke yesterday.

The medical conditions include upper respiratory tract infections, irritation to the nose, eyes and throat, and allergies of the nose and skin.

The Shenton Medical Group said its GP clinics are getting 15 per cent more patients while Raffles Medical's GP clinics are getting 10 per cent to 20 per cent more.

Doctors who The Straits Times spoke to say the haze appears to affect people of all ages, from young children to the elderly.

Dr Tan Tze Lee, a general practitioner in private practice, said he is seeing slightly more seniors affected.

He said he has treated 20 per cent more patients this week, but most had "minor to moderate irritation" and the situation is not as bad as it was in 2013, when the quality of air crossed the "hazardous" level.

The 24-hour PSI reading was between 132 and 148 at 11pm. The three-hour PSI then was 207, in the very unhealthy range.

This is higher than last year's 24-hour peak of 107 to 125 seen in October.

A PSI value within 101 to 200 is considered unhealthy.

Read more!

Hazy skyline irks tourists as Singapore readies for polls

Annabelle Liang, Associated Press, Singapore Jakarta Post 10 Sep 15;

Air pollution in Singapore reached its highest level in a year on Thursday as smog from Indonesian forest fires shrouded the island nation in a veil of gray, irking tourists and alarming authorities with hours left before general elections.

The Pollutant Standards Index, Singapore's main measure of air pollution, hit 160 in the late afternoon, cruising above the official "unhealthy" bandwidth of 100, according to the National Environment Agency. Anything above 200 is considered "very unhealthy" particularly for young children, the elderly and those with heart and lung diseases.

In 2013, the same three-hour index hit a historic high of 401, way above the "hazardous" mark of 300.

"It is a little bit disappointing. We weren't expecting this at all," said truck driver Ken Ridden, who had just arrived from Queensland, Australia, for a five-day trip with his wife, daughter and son. "You see all the nice photos in the brochures and they look good, but there's haze around," he said, gesturing to the barely visible city skyline.

During the week, air pollution levels have been steadily increasing, hampering campaigning for Friday's parliamentary elections.

However, Singaporeans will have no choice but to vote. It is mandatory for all Singaporeans aged 21 and above to cast their vote.

"They are burning forests, it's blowing here. What can we do about it?" Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the crowd at a lunchtime rally on Tuesday.

He said the wealthy city-state was working with its giant neighbor Indonesia on fixing the problem, but said that they had to solve it.

"The government is cooperative, attitudes among the community, something different," Lee said.

In January, Indonesia ratified a long-awaited regional agreement on haze pollution that is binding on all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The agreement calls on Indonesia to take steps to ease the problem through efforts of its own and international cooperation. If not, it can be held liable for the impact of haze on its neighbors.

"[It is] a little disgusting," said Taiwanese student Chang Chun Wei, who felt the haze affected his experience of local attractions. "Last time I came here is very clean, just not like this time," he added.

- See more at:

Read more!

Timely for Singapore, Indonesia govts to prove that haze policies work

Margaret Sembiring Straits Times AsiaOne 11 Sep 15;

With the onset of the El Nino season, forest fires in some Sumatran and Kalimantan provinces of Indonesia have generated thick clouds of haze across the Malacca Strait. Just within the past week, thick haze has paralysed airports in Pekanbaru, Batam, Kualanamu (Medan), Aceh and Jambi, with incoming and outgoing flights getting delayed for hours or cancelled altogether.

Schools were also closed for days to allow children to stay at home and minimise their exposure to the smog. Concurrently, the PSI readings in Singapore have worsened over the past few days.

The recurrence of haze is expected but still unacceptable. Haze incurs hefty costs on health and the economy, and often strains Singapore-Indonesia relations.

For years, numerous efforts have been taken to address forest fire issues in Indonesia's affected provinces. Besides other initiatives, Indonesia has put land and/or areas prone to forest fires under surveillance; collected data and information relating to hot spots and the spread of haze; mapped burnt areas; and used the Fire Danger Rating System to monitor forest fire risk.

Additionally, Indonesia has developed standard operating procedures in preventing and suppressing land and/or forest fires; strengthened and raised community awareness through public education; introduced early prevention activities or training; strengthened the institutions and legislation that support a zero- burning policy; and coordinated law enforcement across different agencies, including the Corruption Eradication Commission.

Forest fires in Riau Province, which severely enveloped Singapore and parts of Malaysia in mid-2013, were even regarded as a national emergency, during which the National Agency for Disaster Management was called upon to suppress the fires.

To complement its domestic efforts, Indonesia forged bilateral co-operation with Singapore and Malaysia to build local capacity in dealing with forest fires in Jambi and Riau provinces respectively.

Indonesia also takes part in the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy (2006 - 2020), a regional initiative aimed at managing community livelihood on peatland, thereby preventing forest fires.

Despite these continuing efforts, the haze has recurred.

Myriad factors can explain this. They include deep-seated economic interests in slash-and-burn techniques; lack of fire-suppression systems deep in the forests; and the sheer size of fire-prone areas and limited capacity to access and protect them. Overlapping land claims add to the complexity of forest fires and resultant haze problem.

Just before former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ended his term in October last year, the Indonesian Parliament finally ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

The ratification generated mixed reactions, with some perceiving it as a positive development after 12 years of waiting, while others regarded it as no more than signing a non-enforceable agreement.

His successor, President Joko Widodo, merged the ministries handling the environment and forestry with the hope of improving bureaucratic coordination and improving efficiency in responding to environmental and forestry issues, including forest fires and the haze pollution triggered.

A coalition of environmental groups in Indonesia, however, has cautioned that such a merger would only further complicate inter- sectoral coordination.

During the same period, the Singapore Parliament passed the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014, which aims to deter firms or entities in or outside Singapore from taking part in activities that contribute to transboundary haze affecting Singapore.

Critics, however, have said that the effectiveness of the new law largely depends on the ability to accurately identify errant firms or entities, as well as on law enforcement and co-operation from the Indonesian counterparts.

Indonesia's overlapping concession maps have often been cited as one of the main reasons that hinder law enforcement efforts in affected areas.

In December last year, Indonesia launched the much-anticipated One Map of National Thematic Geospatial Information.

It put into effect the One Map Policy which was mandated in an Act on Geospatial Information three years earlier.

As the One Map attempts to create one reference, one standard, one database, and one portal for otherwise various and often overlapping maps, it is expected to provide a better avenue for stronger co-operation and coordination for national development, including responses to forest fires and the resulting haze.

The current haze episode, therefore, is the first to occur after these major measures were taken in Indonesia and Singapore.

How different will things be now?

Criticism was levelled against the new initiatives when they were first introduced.

With the fast thickening smog in Singapore and parts of Indonesia's Sumatran and Kalimantan provinces, it is timely for both governments to prove that their policies do work.

Ultimately, bringing the real culprits to justice, suppressing the fires quickly, minimising future occurrences of forest fires, and making the region haze-free would be the real indicators of success of these measures.

The writer is a senior analyst at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

This article first appeared in RSIS Commentary.

Haze: Health, wealth at stake
Samantha Boh THE STRAITS TIMES AsiaOne 10 Sep 15;

The haze is back.

After creeping up over the last few days, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), an indication of air quality, reached unhealthy levels (101-200) on Tuesday morning.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has warned that the conditions might worsen, although rain over parts of Singapore yesterday provided some respite.

Forest fires are raging in Indonesia due to the widespread clearing of forests for oil palm plantations, and smoke has been blown over here by prevailing winds from the south and south-west.

In Sumatra, air quality hit hazardous levels on Tuesday in Pekanbaru and Dumai, both in Riau, with flights grounded at the Pinang Kampai airport by poor visibility. An operations manager for Pelita Air has even likened the conditions to the haze in 2013.

It is bad news if the haze turns out to be as bad as that in 2013. In June 2013, the three-hour PSI, an indicator of the amount of air pollution in the previous three hours, hit a historic high of 401, and the 24-hour PSI was at a high of 246.

Continuous exposure to unhealthy PSI levels over a few days can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat in healthy people. The effects are worse for the elderly, pregnant women and children, and people with chronic lung or heart disease.

The haze is unhealthy for the economy too.

In 2013, the Singapore Retail Association estimated an 8 per cent to 12 per cent dip in business during the normally busy school-holiday period.

The 1997 haze here, which lasted three months, is estimated to have led to economic losses of almost US$300 million (S$426 million) by Professor Euston Quah, head of Nanyang Technological University's Department of Economics.

Some economists have also estimated the damage to Singapore from Indonesia's forest fires at $5 million a day.

When the haze hits, it is not just the health of Singaporeans that is at stake but that of the economy as well.

Hazing rituals
After all the meetings and promises, the smog in South-East Asia still proves ineradicable
The Economist 11 Sep 15;

OF COURSE there is an app for it. Air4ASEAN, produced by the Thai government, sends smartphones a pretty if depressing map of the parts of South-East Asia afflicted with “the haze”, the foul smog that has been almost an annual curse for two decades now. It also offers data for each of the ten member countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Tap “Indonesia”, however, and the page that loads is one of several with nothing but the word “soon”. That is apt. The haze emerged as a man-made catastrophe in 1997, when forest fires in Indonesia and Malaysia shrouded much of the region, causing severe disruption and untold damage to human health. Ever since, ASEAN, and in particular Indonesia, the biggest source of the haze, have been promising to tackle it. However, ASEAN’s efforts have tested the organisation’s aspiration to become more than a talking-shop among governments and to forge a co-operative “community”.

ASEAN was designed precisely to foster the kind of regional co-operation that cross-border pollution seems to demand. And the scourge affects all its members. Smog caused by burning forests in Myanmar is now an annual event in northern Thailand. Last month Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, the ASEAN countries that share the Mekong river, met for the fifth time to discuss haze-prevention. It is, however, in the southern ASEAN countries—Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore—that the smog has become perennial and seemingly insoluble.

This haze season is the first since Indonesia ratified the “ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution”, 12 years after it was signed, and launched its “one map” initiative, a cartographic exercise which was supposed to make it clearer who owns the land where fires are burning. This would give teeth to a “Haze Monitoring System” which ASEAN introduced in 2013. But if it knows whose land the fires are on, Indonesia is not telling its neighbours. Simon Tay and Lau Xin Yi of the Singapore Institute for International Affairs, a think-tank, lamented in an article this month that “the progress and co-operation” of past years may now be receding. It did not help that earlier this year Indonesia’s vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, castigated Singaporeans for complaining about the haze instead of thanking Indonesia for the 11 months a year when they enjoy “nice air from Indonesia”.

In little Singapore such comments evoke a deep-seated fear of being at the mercy of its huge neighbour. And now the smog is back. The island’s Pollution Standards Index (PSI), which measures air quality, has been creeping into the “unhealthy” level of over 100, reaching a three-hour average of 137 on September 10th. So far this year’s haze has been mild compared with 2013, when the PSI briefly passed 400 (above 300 is considered “hazardous”). Yet the level is still alarming for a regional hub that relies on providing a pleasant and healthy place to live, in comparison with, for example, more polluted Hong Kong. Last year Singapore passed a law enabling legal action to be brought in its own courts against those accused of poisoning its air.

Singapore’s murky air is still pristine compared with the peasouper choking parts of Sumatra, the big Indonesian island nearby. In Riau province, in the north of Sumatra, the PSI reached 436 on September 3rd. Poor visibility closed the airport, and children were kept home from school. In all, six provinces in Sumatra were put on “emergency alert” as hundreds of “hotspots” of burning trees and vegetation flared and smouldered. They were being fought with water-bombing from helicopters and cloud-seeding aeroplanes. On September 10th more than 1,000 soldiers were deployed to fight fires. Four days earlier Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, visited South Sumatra, one of the worst-affected provinces. Mr Joko said he had ordered the police to get tough on companies found to have started the fires, with a new task-force formed to co-ordinate the battle of the fires. But he sounded exasperated: “Everyone knows what needs to be done.”

He had a point. Everybody knows the fires are lit as the cheapest way of clearing land for farming or a plantation—especially for oil palm. Some burn out of control and some, on peatland, can smoulder underground for years, flaring up during a prolonged dry spell (linked, this year, to the Pacific-wide El Niño phenomenon). Everybody also knows that the solution is not to find more effective ways to fight the fires, but to stop them being lit in the first place. That means making sure everybody knows how much harm they do, as well as changing the firelighter’s calculation of risk and reward. Peter Holmgren of the Centre for International Forestry Research, with its headquarters in Indonesia, sums up the solution in two words: propaganda and prosecution.

Keeping the home fires burning
The propaganda seems to have worked at least among the big palm-oil producers, most of which now flaunt their green credentials, seeking to have their produce certified as “sustainable”. Since 2011 Indonesia’s government itself has imposed a moratorium on clearing primary forest and peatland for plantations. And the police in Sumatra have this year caught 39 people suspected of illegal land-burning. Yet the remnants of what just a generation ago were vast swathes of virgin rainforest still smoulder and flame. Oil palm remains a lucrative crop. Powerful interests perhaps still profit too much from the fires, and local governments fail to implement orders issued from Jakarta, the capital. The central government may be failing to share information simply because it does not have it.

Even if it is wilfully secretive, ASEAN cannot realistically enforce disclosure. Its guiding principle is not to meddle in its members’ internal affairs. All it can do is embarrass them, and invoke “the ASEAN way” of consensus and co-operation. But Indonesians are suffering the worst of the haze. If their government cannot solve the problem for them, it is unlikely to be shamed into doing so for the sake of gasping Singaporeans and Malaysians.

Read more!

Singapore offers Indonesia help in fighting forest fires

Singapore has assets on standby, as well as a fire-fighting assistance team on hand to help put out ongoing forest fires in Indonesia, says the Ministry of Defence.
Channel NewsAsia 10 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Singapore has offered to assist Indonesia’s efforts to fight ongoing forest fires in Sumatra, which has been causing haze in Singapore and in Malaysia.

The Ministry of Defence on Thursday (Sep 10) said that Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has called his Indonesian counterpart Ryamizard Ryacudu to reiterate Singapore’s offer of fire-fighting assistance.

“The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have placed on standby 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 (SCDF) fire-fighting assistance team,” said MINDEF in a statement.

“The SAF stands ready to support and assist the Indonesian military (TNI), which has been deployed to put out the fires,” MINDEF added.

The forest fires caused air quality in Singapore to reach unhealthy levels on Thursday, with the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) crossing the 100 mark.

Indonesia’s military on Thursday sent more than 1,000 soldiers to South Sumatra province to put out the fires. Willem Rampangilei, the chief of Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency, said the forest fires will be extinguished in two weeks.

- CNA/xq

Read more!

Malaysia: Haze worsens in Sarawak and Sabah

YU JI The Star 11 Sep 15;

KUCHING: The haze in Sarawak could get worse, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said.

His warning came as schools were ordered to halt outdoor activities and hospitals reported a rise in cases of respiratory illnesses.

“If the wind direction does not change in the next 48 hours, then the present unhealthy level in Kuching will reach Sarikei and Sibu in central Sarawak,” Junaidi said.

In the afternoon, three areas in southern Sarawak recorded the highest air pollutant index (API) readings in the whole country for this year.

At 2pm, the API was 150 in Kuching, in Samarahan it was 174 and in Sri Aman it was 155.

The API was 100 in Sarikei and 91 in Sibu. Up north, it was 64 in Miri.

No hotspots were detected in Sarawak and Sabah. Most of the haze is from across the border.

Dr Wan Junaidi said “four-fifths” of the Indonesian portion of Borneo was “under a cloud of smoke”.

The haze is so thick that at least two satellites have been unable to detect hotspots.

“The satellites did not get a clear picture perhaps because of the thick haze. We could not discern the number (of hotspots). There’s nothing much we can do if the wind doesn’t change. This cloud of smoke will keep coming,” he said.

In one of the last complete passes by the satellite AQUA on Sept 8, it detected a staggering 951 hotspots in Borneo.

Yesterday, the API in Pontianak, the closest Indonesian city to Kuching, was reportedly above 500.

Sarawak Assistant Public Health Minister Datuk Dr Jerip Susil said there had been a marked increase in respiratory illness cases in hospitals and clinics in the state.

“All the hospitals are seeing more asthma patients. In clinics, we are seeing more cases of flu-like symptoms, including runny nose, coughing and red eyes,” Dr Jerip said.

An Education Department circular has been issued to all schools to stop sporting activities.

With visibility in the state capital as low as 400m in the morning, several flights at Kuching International Airport were rescheduled or diverted.

Meanwhile in Kota Kinabalu, the situation worsened overnight, with visibility in the city reduced by more than half and more districts enveloped by the smog.

State Meteorological Services Department director Abdul Malik Tussin said visibility in Kota Kinabalu dropped to 3.5km as at 2pm yesterday compared to 8km a day earlier.

Hazy morning for Sarawakians
ADIB POVERA New Straits Times 11 Sep 15;

KUCHING: Sarawakians in the southern part of the state woke up thick dust as the haze worsened in Samarahan, Kuching and Sri Aman.

The three divisions registered an unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) at 8am today.

Samarahan remained as the worst affected division with an unhealthy API reading of 176 followed by Kuching with 167.

The API for Sri Aman reads 163. Sarikei showed improvement this morning when it recorded a moderate reading of92.

The API reading for Sarikei was 101 yesterday.

The Department of Environment, in a statement on Thursday, said the deteriorating air quality in several parts of Sarawak are caused by transboundary haze due to peat and forests fires in Kalimantan, Indonesia.

"Based on a report by Singapore-based ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC), it had stated that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's statelite image identified an increase in the number of hot spots in Sumatera and Kalimantan.

"As of Wednesday, a total of 140 hotspots have been identified in Sumatera. "The satellite image had also picked up 25 hotspots in Kalimantan," said the department.

The department did not ruled out there might be more hotspots in Kalimantan since the satellite image was unable to spot hotspots for the entire territory.

More than 500 cases of open burning in 11 days
The Star 11 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: Over 500 cases of open burning and forest and peat fires were recorded throughout the country in the past 11 days.

A check with the Fire and Rescue Department’s website showed 565 cases of open burning, forest fires and peat fires from Aug 31 till yesterday.

There were 17 cases of open burning, forest fires and peat fires recorded for yesterday and Wednesday with six cases in Selangor, five cases in Johor, three cases in Sarawak, two in Pahang and one in Sabah.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said based on investigations by the Department of Environment (DOE), 3,248 cases of open burning nationwide were detected up to Sept 8.

Of the number, 579 cases were open burning in forest areas, 1,162 in agricultural areas, 710 of small open burning, 624 in bush areas, 91 in landfill areas, 63 in construction areas and 19 in industrial areas.

“As for enforcement measures for the same period, compounds were issued for 215 cases of open burning.

“Notices were issued for 15 cases and directives for 41 cases.

“Investigation papers have also been prepared for 18 cases of open burning,” he said in a statement yesterday.

The haze is expected to travel across Pahang and Johor in the next 48 hours.

Meanwhile, four places in Sarawak recorded deteriorating air quality yesterday, according to the DOE website.

Read more!

Indonesia: Forest fires in Sumatra will be extinguished in 2 weeks: Disaster mitigation chief

Indonesia has sent more than 1,000 soldiers to South Sumatra to put out ongoing forest fires.
Sujadi Siswo, Channel NewsAsia 11 Sep 15;

JAKARTA: The chief of Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency, Willem Rampangilei, has said the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan will be extinguished in two weeks. The two-week target has been given to all agencies tasked with fighting the fires.

The Indonesian military sent more than 1,000 soldiers to South Sumatra province on Thursday (Sep 10) to put out ongoing forest fires. The personnel departed from a Jakarta air base on Thursday morning.

This comes after the national disaster mitigation agency sought for more reinforcements to deal with the forest fire situation in Sumatra. A multi-agency task force that includes the police and military has been mobilised.

Thursday's troop deployment is for South Sumatra, which currently has the most number of hotspots compared to the neighbouring province of Jambi, followed by Riau.

The soldiers are being equipped with fire fighting equipment and have been given orders not to leave until the fires have been put out.

The biggest challenge is putting out fires in peatlands, three to five metres underground. Aerial water-bombing will not be as effective as the peatland needs to be flooded with water jets to put out the underground fire. This is where the soldiers will be needed.

More troops could be deployed if the situation calls for it. In 2013, some 3,500 soldiers were deployed in Sumatra to fight the forest fires that led then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to apologise to Singapore and Malaysia.

The forest fires are happening again this year and weather experts in Indonesia have said the peak of the current dry spell is expected in October.

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

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.

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

- CNA/rw/ms

BNPB new chief pledges to get rid of haze in two weeks
Rizal Harahap and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 10 Sep 15;

A day after being appointed the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Willem Rampangilei pledged on Wednesday to clear up in two weeks the haze currently blanketing Sumatra.

“In two weeks, that is what we are going to do. We will do our best,” Willem said in his first official visit to Pekanbaru, Riau, after replacing Samsul Ma’arif.

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

Willem said his visit to Riau was not meant to take over the responsibility of local administrations in combating forest and land fires, arguing what they needed to do was intensify and strengthen what had already been undertaken.

“People have suffered for far too long. The haze escalation is no longer disruptive but has threatened the health of many people,” he told a press conference held at the Riau forest and land fires emergency task force premises at Roesmin Nurjadin Air Base in Pekanbaru.

He said the economic loss caused by the haze could not be dismissed as insignificant. Quoting a 2013 World Bank report, he said that the total financial loss that Riau suffered from the haze amounted to Rp 20 trillion (US$1.4 million).

He said that, after being sworn in as BNPB head and receiving instructions from President Joko Widodo to put an end to the haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan, he stipulated a deadline to finish dealing with the haze within two weeks.

He added he would focus his work on the three provinces of Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra, and that the haze there would be dealt with comprehensively.

Meanwhile in West Sumatra, rain that poured over various areas, including Padang, Padang Pariaman, Bukittinggi and Payakumbuh on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning helped the haze subside.

“Rain fell only three hours after students of state-run Islamic high schools in Payakumbuh and residents of two subdistricts in Limapuluh Kota regency conducted Istisqo mass prayer to ask God to send rain,” Fajar of Payakumbuh said.

Head of the observation and information section of Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Padang office, Budi Imam Samiaji, said that medium to heavy rains pouring in from some regions did help the haze subside on Wednesday.

“The rain in Padang was light, but it increased the visibility up to 7,000 meters at Minangkabau International Airport,” said Budi, adding that the visibility at the airport was previously, at its worst, only 1,500 meters due to the haze.

Budi also predicted that the chance of rain in some regions in West Sumatra was still high until mid-October.

“West Sumatra is still in a transition period. There is potential for rainfall amid a few days of heat. This has made us optimistic that the haze will not worsen,” Budi said.

While the new BNPB chief promised to clear Sumatra from the haze, many areas in Kalimantan affected by the thick smog might require a longer time to improve.

In North Barito, Central Kalimantan, the regency environment agency head Suriawan Prihandi said that a test of air quality in the region revealed that the air was not healthy at all due to the worsening haze.

“This can have a adverse impact on human health, especially in terms of an increase in the number of ISPA sufferers,” Suriawan said as quoted by Antara news agency, recommending residents to curtail outdoor activities.

The city’s education agency secretary Mahlani said the administration decided to send elementary students home for a week to avoid them suffering health problems due to the haze.

“The holiday is just for students, not for the teachers who have to work and prepare student examinations,” Mahlani said.

The Kalimantan chapter of Bank Indonesia has provided and distributed around 10,000 masks to students in the capital city of the province.

“We have prioritized the distribution of the masks to students,” the bank’s deputy head, Abas Sumarna, said.

The BMKG station at Temindung Airport of Samarinda, East Kalimantan said Terra and Aqua satellites detected 131 hot spots in East Kalimantan and North Kalimantan on Wednesday.

TNI deploys 1,150 soldiers to mitigate haze disaster
Antara 10 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The National Defense Forces (TNI) is deploying 1,150 soldiers of the Air Force Special Force, the Marine Corps, and the Army's Strategic Reserve Command to mitigate the haze disaster in Sumatra.

TNI Chief General Gatot Nurmantyo according to written information received in Jakarta today, bid farewell to the soldiers joining the haze disaster mitigation task force at Halim Perdanakusuma Air Base in East Jakarta on Thursday.

Nurmantyo remarked that the TNI soldiers will be assigned to extinguish land and forest fires in the districts of Musi Banyuasin and Ogan Komering Ilir in South Sumatra province.

"This is a noble task to save the forest ecosystem and the community. We need to work together to deal with this disaster," he emphasized.

The TNI chief instructed the soldiers to scour the forest areas in their efforts to locate hotspots. He also urged them to not give up and to continue performing their duties.

"I urge every member of the task force to comb the forest areas to find hotspots. Giving up is not part of TNI's character," he affirmed.

The dispatch of soldiers to South Sumatra came four days after President Joko Widodo inspected the preparations to mitigate the haze disaster in the province on Sunday.

During the visit to South Sumatra, the president was accompanied by TNI Chief General Gatot Nurmantyo, National Police Chief General Badrodin Haiti, and Head of the National Disaster Mitigation Board (BNPB) Syamsul Maarif.

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

72 Named Suspects in Growing Haze Crisis
Jakarta Globe 11 Sep 15;

Jakarta. More than 70 people have been named suspects for allegedly burning forest and lands in Kalimantan and Sumatra, exacerbating the returning haze crisis, police said on Thursday.

So far, 72 people have been found to be involved in burning 29,380 hectares of land in South Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan, National Police spokesman Ins. Gen. Anton Charliyan told reporters in Jakarta.

Local law enforcement officers have recorded 48 cases of arson, 16 of which have been fully investigated and are ready to be handed to prosecutors.

The suspects are not employed by any company, Anton said, adding that police will still develop their investigation to look into possibility of corporate involvement.

"We have ordered regional police to form task forces that will focus on the haze problem," said Anton.

Life-threatening smoke from forest and wildfires have exponentially increased in the past few months, sending air pollution indexes to dangerous levels, and reaching neighboring countries Singapore and Malaysia.

Hot spots decrease in Riau 10 Sep 15;

Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Pekanbaru, Riau, has stated that the Tera and Aqua satellites have monitored a total of 210 hot spots across Sumatra on Thursday, decreasing from 283 hotspots the previous day.

Head of BMKB in the Riau provincial capital of Pekanbaru said that South Sumatra still had the highest number of hot spots, reaching 123 based on monitoring reports at 7 a.m. on Thursday.

According to Sugarin, hot spots were also seen in seven other Sumatran provinces.

“The level of confidence for the hot spots is 70 percent," Sugarin said as quoted by

He also said that there was a lot of haze in Riau.

“Light rain is expected to occur in the afternoon and in the evening across the north, middle and coastal parts of Riau. The temperature will reach around 31.5 to 33.5 degrees Celsius,” Sugarin said.

Visibility was decreasing due to the haze from the hot spots. However, in Pekanbaru the visibility was gradually improving and is currently around 1500 meters.

Head of Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency Edward Sanger explained to that light and moderate rain had poured over some parts of Riau, which made the fires and haze less intense.

He said that a weather modification task force team was cloud seeding to produce rain and had also water bombed the forest fires from helicopters. “If there is haze, it is likely caused by forest fires in other provinces,” he added. (nov/bbn)(++++)

Jakarta deploys over 1,000 troops to fight forest fires
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, The Straits Times/Asia News Network Jakarta Post 11 Sep 15;

Indonesia is calling in more than 1,000 troops to help fight fires raging out of control near Palembang, blanketing the capital of South Sumatra province in hazardous, choking haze.

Winds have blown the acrid smoke from southern Sumatra northwards, reaching Riau province close to Singapore, where air quality plummeted on Thursday.

About half of the 1,059 soldiers arrived in Palembang around noon yesterday, bringing with them water pumps and masks as they geared up for a ground offensive. The remaining soldiers arrived in the afternoon.

The deployment is the first since mid-2013, when uncontrolled forest and land fires in Riau and southern Sumatra triggered thick haze that smothered Singapore and Malaysia, causing pollutant indexes to hit historic levels.

This time round, the fires are located predominantly in the southern part of Sumatra. The blazes are being exacerbated by the El Nino weather pattern that continues to strengthen. El Nino typically reduces rainfall in South-east Asia and can cause severe drought, leaving forests ripe for serious fires.

"Soldiers have to comb every corner of the forest that caught fire or that has potential to catch fire. Don't give up because giving up in this condition is not the character of an Indonesian soldier," said Indonesia's armed forces commander, General Gatot Nurmantyo, when sending soldiers off from Jakarta.

The air quality index in Palembang reached hazardous levels yesterday, forcing schools to close until at least tomorrow. Visibility ranged from 100m to 300m early yesterday. The index in Palembang was above 300. A reading of zero to 50 is considered good, 51-100 moderate, 101-200 unhealthy, 201-300 very unhealthy, and above 300 hazardous.

In Riau province, the worst-hit area was Pelalawan where visibility was only 100m, and the index above 300. Schools were ordered to close.

The air quality in Dumai, also in Riau province, improved slightly after good rainfall on Wednesday.

"The skies in Dumai have improved quite a lot. It's below 300 now, and is also cloudy at the moment," Mr Basri, head of Dumai's environment department, told The Straits Times.

Air pollution in Riau's capital Pekanbaru, which reached hazardous levels on Wednesday, improved yesterday. The visibility level was up to more than 1,000m.

Pinpointing those responsible for the fires can be tough, officials say. Most are started by people, including farmers and illegal loggers, and some by companies clearing land. Fires often start outside plantation concessions and then move inside. Some concessions also have communities living on non-developed land within their boundaries, complicating the picture further.

"We are mapping it out to identify areas that have the potential to have fires. We know most of them are not spontaneous fires, because they are started intentionally. Going forward, we will guard these potential fire areas for prevention," Gen Gatot said.

Fires have also covered much of Kalimantan in smoke, with parts of Central and East Kalimantan provinces covered in dense haze, according to the latest regional haze map produced by the Meteorological Service Singapore.

Hundreds of hot spots have also been reported in West Kalimantan and the haze has spread to Sarawak, disrupting flights. Visibility was down to 400m in Kuching yesterday morning. (k)(++++)

Thousands of Indonesians down with respiratory illnesses from haze
Strait Times/Asia News Network, Jakarta Post 11 Sep 15;

Tens of thousands of Indonesians have been treated for respiratory illnesses caused by thick smoke from hundreds of forest and land fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said on Friday (Sept 11)The dry weather is set to persist for several more days, it added.

Across many areas, schools have been closed and flights delayed.

Nearly 15,000 residents in Riau province in Sumatra, near Singapore, suffered from upper respiratory infections, 22,855 residents in South Sumatra and about 40,000 in South Kalimantan, according to the BNPB statement.

"The haze has produced wide-ranging impacts, in terms of health, comfort as well as security. The upper respiratory infection cases are not to be taken lightly," said the newly appointed head of BNPB, Mr Willem Rampangilei.

Nearly all five provinces in Kalimantan were shrouded by smoke, said Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, BNPB's spokesman.

Kalimantan had 1,312 hotspots, of which 508 were in the worst-affected West Kalimantan province, as at 5am Jakarta time on Friday, according to satellite imagery.

Kalimantan was suffering its worst haze so far this year, in terms of the size of the areas shrouded by haze.

Sumatra recorded 575 hot spots, and 78 per cent of those were in South Sumatra province.

BNPB will send in another helicopter to South Sumatra soon to beef up water-bombing operations, to add to the several that are operating now.

Visibility in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, was 500m. In Pelalawan, also in Riau, it was 200m.

The air pollutant index in the provinces affected by thick haze -- which also include Jambi province, Central Kalimantan province and South Kalimantan province -- was mostly between the unhealthy and hazardous levels.

Indonesia sending thousands of troops to fight smog-causing fires
PADAMARAN Reuters 11 Sep 15;

Indonesia said on Friday it will send more than 10,000 troops to fight fires in southern Sumatra, as smoke makes thousands sick, delays flights and pushes air quality to unhealthy levels in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

Indonesia has vowed before to end the seasonal fires but has failed each time to stop the so-called "haze", caused by slash-and-burn clearances on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, where large areas of forest concessions are held by pulp and paper and palm oil companies.

Indonesian troops will be sent to the provinces of South Sumatra and Jambi, two of the main hotspots, Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said.

If necessary, the agency would also send in additional helicopters to help water-bomb fires.

"We have mobilized national resources to put out the fires," newly appointed BNPB chief Willem Rampangilei said in a press release.

South Sumatra, one of the main centers of the fires, has alone reported 22,585 cases of acute respiratory tract infections since Friday.

Early on Friday, Singapore's Pollutants Standard Index rose to 248, which categorizes the air as "very unhealthy", or one level below the index's highest air pollution category of "hazardous".

Singapore, which was voting in a general election on Friday, advised citizens against strenuous outdoor exercise.

(Reporting by Beawiharta and Heru Asphiranto; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Indonesia: Over 12 thousand people taken ill by haze in Riau

Antara 10 Sep 15;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - Over 12,260 inhabitants of Riau Province have fallen ill due to the haze triggered by forest, peatland, and plantation fires flaring up in the province.

The data was obtained from patients seeking medical treatments at community health centers and hospitals in Riau from June 29 to September 7, 2015, Andra Sjafril, the head of the Riau health center, noted here recently.

Of the total number, 2,160 were the inhabitants of Pekanbaru, 2,038 of Dumai City, and 1,044 of Bengkalis District.

As many as 324 people were suffering from severe pneumonia, 315 ailing from asthma, 879 suffering from eye irritation, and 1,256 from skin irritation.

At least 222,100 face masks have been distributed to the local residents across Riau Province.

The authorities have advised people in Riau to stay indoors, to wear face masks while venturing outdoors, and to stay amply hydrated and eat nutritious food to stay healthy amid the haze problem.

In the meantime, 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 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 recently.

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."

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Indonesia: Farmers, locals in search of lifelines to survive water crisis

Ganug Nugroho Adi and Lita Aruperes, The Jakarta Post 10 sep 15;

With this year’s prolonged dry season yet to come to an end, farmers in the hardest-hit regions of Indonesia have been forced to look for alternatives to provide proper irrigation for their farmland and avoid harvest failure.

In an attempt to reduce irrigation costs, farmers in Boyolali, Central Java, for example, have modified their water pumps to allow them to use liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), instead of gasoline, to run the machines. The farmers claimed that the modified version of the machine was more economical to operate.

To irrigate his farmland amid the long absence of rain, Tarmanto, a farmer in Ngargorejo subdistrict, said he had first needed to make an artesian well some 20 meters deep. Tarmanto said he had previously used a water pump fueled with gasoline to pump the water out until he realized that it was no longer economically feasible.

After spending Rp 3 million (US$210) to buy a water pump, Tarmanto said he still needed to buy eight liters of gasoline for Rp 68,000 to operate the pump for 12 hours.

“Even after operating the pump for half a day, the water yielded turned out to be only sufficient enough to irrigate less than half a hectare [ha] of farmland. This is not feasible with the expenses needed for the pump and for the gasoline,” Tarmanto said on Tuesday.

By using the modified version of the water pump, Tarmanto said he could cut fuel costs in half because the machine could now run for 12 hours with two 3-kg LPG canisters as fuel. In the local market, the LPG is sold for Rp 17,000 per canister.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has warned that the weather phenomenon known as El Niño would extend Indonesia’s dry season, which normally takes place between April and September, until November, and affect 18 of the country’s 34 provinces.

In late July, the Central Java Plantation Agency reported that over 6,500 ha of paddy fields had experienced harvest failure due to a lack of irrigation.

The chairman of the Ngargorejo farmers’ association, Warsito, said that at least 200 ha of rice fields in the village now depended mainly on artesian wells for their irrigation.

In Jambi, the East Tanjungjabung Plantation Agency reported that almost 400 ha of crop fields in the regency had experienced harvest failure due to a water crisis. The water crisis had also delayed the planting season in 870 ha of paddy fields across the region.

“As many as 26 tons of paddy seed given to local farmers have been left idle as they are still waiting for the rain to fall [to start the planting],” the agency’s food crop production unit head Mahmud said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile in North Sulawesi, the long absence of rain has also caused the water level in 18 raw water sources in the Sangihe Islands regency to drop by around 50 percent over the past several weeks, putting the regency’s 130,000 local residents at risk of a clean water crisis.

Novilius, a resident of the area, said that one of the two springs in Tarea, which provide water supply for the regional administration’s office and its surrounding areas, had dried out. “Now we are forced to serve customers in many areas using water trucks. Otherwise, many would not receive water,” Novilius said.

Jon Afrizal in Jambi contributed to the article

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Indonesia: Herpes puts Sumatran elephants under threat

The Jakarta Post 9 Sep 15;

The continued survival of Sumatran elephants is at risk, a researcher has said, with many babies dying over the past three years from Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV).

“While adult elephants can survive EEHV attacks, many calves have died [because of EEHV]. The virus is threatening their population,” Muhammad Wahyu of the Medan-based Veterinary Society for Sumatran Wildlife Conservation (VESSWIC) said at a workshop on Tuesday.

A number of veterinarians, zoo officials and mahouts from Sumatran cities, Jakarta, Surakarta, Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Denpasar attended the workshop, which discussed elephant medical treatment and control.

The EEHV virus, Wahyu said, had killed five young elephants in Way Kambas, Lampung, in 2012 and four others between October last year and February. Another calf died in Aceh in February.

EEHV-infected elephants suffered lower immunity, swollen faces and blue tongues, Wahyu went on.

Recent data from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Indonesia revealed that the elephant population in Sumatra had continued to decrease over the past decade, mainly because of illegal hunting, particularly in Riau, Aceh and North Sumatra. The population of Sumatran elephants was currently no higher than 1,000, WCS said, or 69 percent lower than 25 years ago.

The decrease in the population of Sumatran elephants has moved the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to list the species as endangered.

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Indonesia: Walhi denounces coal-fired power plants

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 10 Sep 15;

Amid the country’s economic slowdown, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) has urged the government to reduce its coal dependency in its plan to build power plants to produce 35,000 Megawatts (MW) of power in the next five years.

The government has lowered its economic growth projection in 2016 from 5.8-6.2 percent to 5.5-6 percent, below the projection included in PLN’s 2013-2022 master plan of 6.9 percent.

Based on the PLN projection, electricity demand is predicted to reach 7,000 MW per year, hence the government’s plan to produce 35,000 MW of power in the next five years.

“The economic slowdown is the perfect moment to conserve natural resources instead of exploiting them massively. Developing renewable energy is more suitable because the social and environmental costs of fossil fuel actually slows down economic growth itself,” Walhi executive director Abetnego Tarigan said.

Walhi energy campaigner Pius Ginting said that coal-fired power plants (PLTUs) had been found to reduce the productivity of people living within their vicinity.

“In our study during August 2015, Walhi found that farmers’ productivity declined in Jepara, Cirebon, due to dust from the burning of coal in power plants,” he told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. “Fine particles called PM2.5 and PM10 produced by PLTUs are extremely dangerous to health. Their ultra-fine size enables them to enter the bloodstream.”

A recent study by Harvard University has found that increasing the number of PLTUs from 42 to 159 will increase the risk of death from air pollutants in Indonesia.

The government plans to build some 117 PLTUs in the next decade to meet the demand for more power.

The study revealed that air pollutants from the burning of coal at 42 existing power plants resulted in at least 6,500 deaths per year from strokes, heart and lung cancers and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

This number would rise to 15,700 if the 117 new plants were constructed. The 117 new plants do not include other plants that the current government plans to install in its ambition to produce another 20,000 megawatts of energy. The ambitious project includes the construction of the controversial plant in Batang, Central Java, which continues to face protests from locals in the area.

Besides their hazardous impact on health, PLTUs also increased costs for other sectors, such as the salt industry, said Pius.

“Salt water used in salt ponds turns black due to the activities of PLTUs as well as coal loading and unloading from ships,” he said. “This increases costs and time needed for salt farmers to clean the water.”

Pius added that PLTUs also affected plant life, with leaves turning black and dust covering their stomata and reducing their productivity.

It was, therefore, crucial for the government to alter its 35,000 MW electricity project as it was currently dominated by PLTUs in Java, accounting for 12,400 MW, he said.

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Southeast Asia's blooming black market trade in wild orchids

NUS researchers highlight need for stricter enforcement in 'invisible trade'
Carolyn Khew Straits Times 11 Sep 15;

Researchers here have uncovered, for the first time, a flourishing black market for wild collected ornamental plants in South-east Asia.

Following extensive surveys of four of Thailand's largest markets, the scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) discovered over 300 species of wild orchids traded illegally in the region. Tens of thousands of blooms changed hands within one year.

Some orchid enthusiasts are growing increasingly interested in such blooms, which make their way to countries all over the world, including Singapore, and can sell for thousands of dollars apiece.

But the collection of wild orchids puts at risk wild orchid populations - many of which are rare and little understood.

The study highlights the need for stricter enforcement of rules in the trade, which has remained largely invisible, said the two men behind the study - NUS PhD graduate Jacob Phelps and Associate Professor Edward Webb, from the university's Department of Biological Sciences.

The study, recently published in the Biological Conservation journal, also found other wild-collected ornamental plants sold at the markets, but focused on orchids.

Interviews with traders at Jatuchak market in Bangkok and three markets bordering Myanmar and Laos revealed that most sellers sourced the majority of their plants from neighbouring countries.

This is despite domestic protection and restrictions on the international orchid trade by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), a treaty to protect endangered plants and animals.

What is even more worrying is that the scale of the black market trade has been grossly underestimated by official government data, highlighting the need to better monitor and enforce rules against this "invisible wildlife trade", said the researchers.

Official government data showed "virtually zero" trade in these countries, said Dr Phelps, the lead researcher of the project. He is now with the Lancaster Environment Centre in Britain, researching environmental crime, wildlife trade and conservation policy.

"In this case, we've simply turned a blind eye to plant trade and botanical conservation. This research also highlights a common problem in the illegal wildlife trade - the invisibility of trades that have not been researched and are not formally recognised, so are not subject to action."

In February 2010 alone, Dr Phelps found 168 wild orchids being sold by one trader, on a single day, at a market bordering Thailand and Laos. But going by official records, only 20 such plants were traded between the two countries over nine years.

He said that while the study was done in Thailand, it applied to Laos and Myanmar, where most of the wild plants came from. There are also anecdotal reports of large orchid trades elsewhere, in places like Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

While the trade in greenhouse-cultivated orchids and hybrids - common across the world including Singapore - is legal, the global trade of all wild orchids is restricted and requires special Cites trade permits.

But Dr Phelps believes that no wild orchids in the region are being legally traded with permits.

Of the orchids found to be on sale at the markets, the researchers estimated that at least 60 species were at known risk because of trade, with most species so under-researched that they could not even assess the conservation impact of trade.

Several species found in the markets were new to science.

On sale was also the critically endangered Excluded Lady Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum exul), which is known to exist only within a 4 sq km area of limestone forest in Peninsular Thailand (see story below).

The black market for wild orchids is estimated to be worth millions of dollars today, and collectors go after them for many reasons, ranging from their large blooms to fragrance and rarity.

Orchids are arguably the largest family of flowering plants, with more than 25,000 species. In Singapore, many of the common greenhouse-grown orchids for sale are usually in the genera Dendrobium, Vanda and Phalaenopsis.

"Some hobbyist collectors are also interested in orchids because there are many species that are very narrowly distributed - found only in certain countries or even found only on specific mountains or valleys - and so are quite rare, which attract some collectors, much like some people chase after rare stamps," said Dr Phelps.

Buyers at the markets hailed from all walks of life. They ranged from those interested in attractive plants for their homes and gardens, to orchid enthusiasts from all over the world seeking rare species. Some people were from Thailand itself, but there were buyers from other countries who then exported the plants illegally, said Dr Phelps.

Associate Professor Henrik Pedersen, an orchid specialist from the Natural History Museum of Denmark, told The Straits Times that orchids have become extremely popular worldwide, and this has generated a demand for as many different species as possible.

"The vast majority of orchid enthusiasts do their best to obtain new items for their collection in a legal way, but it is not always easy to know whether the trade history of a given plant has been consistently legal," said Prof Pedersen.

"I am convinced that a significant portion of the orchids covered by the dubious trade are ultimately sold to end users who are actually ignorant of the illegal status of the plants."

While the exact origins of the orchids at the Thai markets are not certain, they are believed to have been mostly harvested from forests. Their generally small geographic ranges and highly specialised ecology also make orchid species particularly vulnerable to habitat degradation and to collection, noted Prof Pederson.

"Because orchids are both very vulnerable and very popular with the public, they can be characterised as 'the panda bears of the plant kingdom,'" he added.

The study highlights the need for stricter enforcement and a better understanding of trade networks, which also involve those in Singapore. For instance, while conducting the surveys in Thailand, Dr Phelps said they came across traders on buying trips for Singapore and Malaysia greenhouses.

Ms Peggy Tan, president of the Orchid Society of South East Asia, said illegal trade can be stopped only with firm action on the part of governments to control illegal exports and encourage habitat conservation. "We need to conserve species in their natural state, as a great many are still awaiting discovery and identification," she said.

Already, some beautiful wild plants have become extinct because of over-collection and habitat loss. The most notable ones are in the lady slipper group belonging to the genus Paphiopedilum.

They include, for instance, the once abundant Paphiopedilum druryi in India, which botanists are no longer able to locate in the wild.

Prof Webb said that for many people, plants simply fail to generate concern and affection in the way that many animals do.

"While we increasingly hear about the illegal trade of elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts, few people will have heard about the illegal trade in hundreds of plant species for horticulture and medicine," he said.

"Yet, commercial illegal trade is an immediate threat to the conservation of hundreds, if not thousands, of plant species in our region."

Tips for buyers
The international trade of all wild orchids is restricted by Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Wild plants are unlikely to turn up at wet markets or florists here, although hobbyists looking to buy more unusual plant species might be able to find some, say experts.


• Wild-collected orchids will often exhibit physical signs of leaf damage; irregular root systems with dead roots and tree bark still attached; cracked leaf midribs (the thick, linear structure at the leaf's centre) due to dehydration.

• Ask where the plants come from and ensure you buy plants only from reputable vendors.

• If plants are imported from overseas, make sure they have Cites permits. If sellers claim they are legally-collected from the wild, be suspicious because this is unlikely.

• Avoid buying species plants via online platforms from greenhouses in Thailand, as these are often laundering operations for wild plants.


Orchids of 'invisible' wildlife trade
Straits Times 11 Sep 15;

Paphiopedilum exul (The Excluded Lady Slipper Orchid)
The fascination with orchids goes back centuries. The Victorians, for example, sent expeditions all over the world in search of new species to entertain wealthy collectors.

Today, many orchids are still highly sought after due to their large blooms, fragrance and rarity.

Here is a look at some of the orchids that were collected and sold illegally at the markets in Thailand.

Paphiopedilum exul
(The Excluded Lady Slipper Orchid)

It is known to exist only within a 4 sq km area of limestone forest in Peninsular Thailand. It is recognised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered and is protected in Thailand.

This photo shows a wild-collected plant for sale at a market in Bangkok.

Dendrobium lamyaiae
(The Longan Tree Dendrobium)

It is found only in northern Laos, although scientists are still uncertain about exactly where it can be found in the wild. The species was first found growing in a greenhouse in Thailand, where it had been illegally imported.

It has not been studied well enough to determine its conservation status, but it is likely threatened because of its presumed narrow distribution, and the pressures of habitat destruction and illegal commercial trade.

Rhynchostylis gigantea
(The Elephant Freckle Orchid)

An attractive, fragrant orchid that can be found across tropical Asia.

Although heavily collected from the wild, the species is also legally grown in greenhouses across Thailand.

Chiloschista lunifera
(The Moon Chiloschista)

This leafless orchid has very small flowers less than 1.5cm in width. This species exemplifies the diversity of the orchid family, as well as some consumers' interest in small, less commonly traded species.

Commercial trade in such species can also be a threat to their conservation, as they are collected in huge volumes.

The conservation status of the Moon Chiloschista, however, has not yet been studied.


Invisible Wildlife Trade Uncovered
The illegal trade of flora of Southeast Asia is larger than previously thought, spurring the call for more attention to be paid to this important form of biodiversity.
Asian Scientist Magazine Sep 15;

AsianScientist (Sep. 28, 2015) - Researchers from Singapore uncovered a previously undocumented, large-scale illegal trade in hundreds of wild-collected ornamental plants in Southeast Asia. Their work was published in the journal Biological Conservation.

Southeast Asia is a widely recognized center of illegal wildlife trade–both as the source region for species ranging from seahorses to tigers, and as a global consumer of ivory carvings, wild pets and traditional Chinese medicinal products. While there are mounting efforts to tackle illegal wildlife trade, including within Singapore to reduce demand for wildlife products, the illegal trade in some species still remains undocumented.

Associate Professor Edward L. Webb, from the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and PhD graduate Dr. Jacob Phelps, have uncovered a previously little recognized Southeast Asian wildlife trade–the illegal sale of wild-collected ornamental plants, especially orchids.

The researchers conducted extensive surveys of wildlife markets across Thailand, including border markets with Laos and Myanmar, and identified more than 400 species of ornamental plants in illegal trade–species widely prized by plant enthusiasts for their beauty, fragrance and/or rarity. Over 80 percent of these plants traded at the markets are wild orchids. Some of these were even listed in published literature as threatened.

Amazingly, several of the plant species the researchers found in the markets are even new to science–including Bulbophyllum anodon and a still undescribed Thrixperumum sp. These species were recently featured in WWF's Magical Mekong Report, which highlighted the problems of discovering new species via illegal trade.

Phelps said, “We first visited some of these wild plant markets in Thailand almost ten years ago, and were amazed by the volume and number of species being traded then. We knew we had to come back to learn more about what was being traded.”

Interviews with traders at the markets revealed that most of them sourced the majority of their plants from neighboring countries, despite domestic protections and restrictions on international orchid trade associated with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The observed trade volumes and richness of plants illegally traded during the survey also greatly exceeded government-reported trade volumes.

In fact, the scientists found that virtually none of the international trade they observed during their field surveys are reflected in official databases, conservation action plans or government policies, even though the trade is occurring openly at public markets across the region.

“In this case, we've simply turned a blind eye to plant trade and botanical conservation,” said Phelps, who is currently with the Center for International Forestry Research in Indonesia. “This research highlights a common problem in the illegal wildlife trade–the invisibility of trades that have not been researched and are not recognized in official government databases.”

Amidst growing efforts to tackle the illegal wildlife trade crisis, the researchers call for more attention to protect Southeast Asia's botanical diversity. In their paper, they highlighted the need for more monitoring and enforcement, as well as research to better understand the impact of trade on wild plant populations and the actors involved in illegal trade. They further call for increased awareness of botanical trade among the international initiatives to address wildlife trafficking.

“For many people, plants simply fail to garner our concern and affection in the way that many animals do. While we increasingly hear about the illegal trade of elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts, few people will have heard about the illegal trade in hundreds of plant species for horticulture and medicine. Yet, commercial illegal trade is an immediate threat to the conservation of hundreds, if not thousands, of plant species in our region,” Webb said.

The article can be found at: Phelps et al. (2015) “Invisible” Wildlife Trades: Southeast Asia’s Undocumented Illegal Trade in Wild Ornamental Plants.

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