Best of our wild blogs: 18 Sep 15

Brown-throated Sunbird and banana flowers
Bird Ecology Study Group

Look at how much e-waste Singapore has saved from the landfill

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Companies putting workers' health first

Olivia Ho, Joanna Seow, Priscilla Goy, Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Sep 15;

Environmental control officer Ganesh Kumar, who works at a Braddell Road construction site, checks the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) level on the National Environment Agency website every hour and alerts supervisors if it goes above 200.

The haze may appear to have eased, but companies are putting workers' health first, even at the risk of failing to fulfil contracts.

Bosses of construction, cleaning and landscaping companies told The Straits Times yesterday that they hope customers will understand and bear with reduced services if the air quality worsens.

"Cleaners can continue to do the important tasks like clearing rubbish bins, but clearing fallen leaves can be left for another day," said Mr Sunny Khoo, sales director of Clean Solutions. His firm provides cleaning services at public and private housing estates.

He said: "We hope clients and residents won't complain if they see more rubbish around than usual."

Mr Woon Chiap Chan, country managing director of ISS Facilities Services, which employs about 250 workers to do outdoor landscaping, cleaning and pest control, said customers have been understanding so far when told that workers may have to avoid non-critical work, such as sweeping outdoor compounds, for a couple of days.

"But if it's prolonged - for one or two weeks - then it will be a headache as we may be penalised," he said.

At 5pm yesterday, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was at 98-118, between the high end of the moderate range and the low end of the unhealthy one.

Many firms have put in place measures to protect staff who work outdoors.

At a Braddell Road construction site, environmental control officer Ganesh Kumar checks the National Environment Agency's website every hour for the PSI levels.

If the PSI goes above 200, he alerts supervisors across the site.

Said Mr Ganesh, 25: "We brief workers about the haze at two meetings every day, and also monitor those with breathing problems, and arrange for them to do work in the storerooms or office."

CHL Construction safety officer Richard Teo said that he updates site supervisors every hour and would suspend non-essential outdoor activities if the three-hour PSI goes past 200.

At Lum Chang Building Contractors, older workers and those with asthma have been redeployed to work indoors where possible, while at BD Cranetech, workers have been encouraged to have lunch in air-conditioned places and not to stay outdoors for more than 10 hours.

Workers at sites The Straits Times visited yesterday were not wearing masks, although they said they had been supplied with them. Most did not think the haze was bad enough to warrant wearing the masks.

Mr Syed Amrul, 27, a supervisor at a site in Toa Payoh, said he was too busy to get his mask, which he left in the storeroom. He said the haze gave him a headache on Monday, but that he has since felt better.

He said: "I took some medicine, but I didn't see the doctor because I thought it was a small matter."

Another supervisor in Toa Payoh, Mr Chew Hock Hwee, 54, said his team of men did not want to wear masks as they were tarring the road. He said in Mandarin: "It is very hot work, so the masks are uncomfortable. Of course, if the PSI goes over 200, we must let them rest."

60 senior centres to get improved masks
Samantha Boh, The Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Sep 15;

A new range of anti-haze masks will be distributed for free to 60 senior activity centres across Singapore by this weekend, in an effort to provide protection from the haze without causing discomfort.

Makers of the AIR+ Smart Mask claim it has better ventilation and fits better than the standard N95 mask. It comes in three sizes, has an internal valve for air flow and keeps the temperature around 4 deg C lower than the N95.

The mask was invented and developed over a year by a Singapore-based core team of four engineers from ST Engineering subsidiary Innosparks. It was approached in 2013 by Temasek Cares - the non-profit, philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings - to develop an improved anti-haze mask.

The team found that N95 masks do not fit everyone, which can result in air leaking into the mask, putting the wearer at risk of inhaling pollutants.

The discomfort due to heat trapped within the mask can also deter people from wearing it.

"We wanted to fill the gap," said Mr Gareth Tang, general manager of Innosparks, who led the effort. "We wanted to develop something for the children, the elderly and the front-line workers."

The team carried out 3D facial scans of more than 800 individuals, including students, to come up with the right fit for Asian faces.

A micro-ventilator was also developed to improve air flow and reduce the temperature within the mask when it is attached to the front of it. It also reduces the level of accumulated carbon dioxide from up to 5 per cent in a standard mask to 1.5 per cent. Increased carbon dioxide build-up can cause headaches and shortness of breath.

About 29,000 AIR+ Smart Masks and 6,000 micro-ventilators will be distributed to the 60 senior activity centres. The $300,000 initiative is being led by Temasek Cares and ST Engineering, and was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday.

The masks cost $7.20 for a box of three and $29.90 for a rechargeable micro-ventilator. While currently sold exclusively at Watsons pharmacies, they will be made available at all Guardian and Unity outlets from tomorrow until the current haze episode is over.

Impact of bad air on economy 'difficult to quantify'
Marissa Lee, Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Sep 15;

The haze has affected some outdoor leisure venues but the already weak tourism sector, coupled with the bleak global outlook, mean the direct cost to the economy of the bad air will be hard to measure.

Inbound tourist numbers have been trending down since 2013 for many reasons so the "incremental impact" of visitors opting to go elsewhere just to avoid the haze will be hard to ascertain, said UOB economist Francis Tan.

Other costs may only become apparent further down the road.

The haze cloud was slow to reach Singapore this year, wrongfooting those who had expected the skies to go dark in July or last month, like in previous years.

"They're caught by surprise this time, but if people learn from this episode, and if the haze prolongs to the end of this month, both tourists and Singaporeans could start planning (to get) away from Singapore for the whole July to September period (next year)," said Nanyang Technological University economist Euston Quah.

A prolonged haze spell is likely. The south-west monsoon, which has been carrying smoke from the burning peatlands in Sumatra to Singapore, is expected to last until late next month, the National Environment Agency said on Tuesday.

Even so, experts are not worried that the annual haze may taint Singapore's reputation as a "clean and green" destination. "They know it's not our fault, that this is a transboundary issue and not due to Singapore being less efficient," said Professor Quah, noting Singapore has also taken active steps to manage the problem over the years.

It is also fortunate that the forecast is for haze conditions to lighten up this weekend, just as the country plays host to the Formula One Grand Prix and Singapore Summit economic forum.

Experts agree that this year's haze - which has been around for two weeks - will have very little impact on the economy, unless conditions deteriorate. "A lot of the industries are haze-immune," said Mr Tan, noting that most of the workforce operates indoors.

But with many already complaining of raspy throats and itching eyes, Prof Quah warned that a prolonged haze would be a blow to output. "It affects our mood and definitely affects productivity," he said.

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Indonesia turns down Singapore’s offer to help extinguish forest fires

Today Online 17 Sep 15;

JAKARTA — Indonesia has turned down an offer of military assistance from Singapore to extinguish wildfires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, with thick haze from the fires also severely affecting air quality in the city-state.

Last week, Singapore released a statement saying its armed forces were ready to support the Indonesian Military (TNI) in combating the forest fires.

Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar confirmed today (Sept 17) that she had passed up the offer in a phonecall with her Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan.

“They offered help, but I told them we’re still trying to handle it ourselves,” Dr Bakar said, as quoted by newsportal

She added that Singaporeans were indeed badly affected by haze coming from Jambi and South Sumatra, but it was not “dangerous”.

The TNI and Indonesia’s National Police have deployed more than 1,000 officers to control fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan. THE JAKARTA GLOBE

Jakarta again declines Singapore haze help
Indonesia has rejected help from Singapore to assist with firefighting efforts in fire-ravaged parts of Sumatra.
Channel NewsAsia 18 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Indonesia again declined Singapore's offer of help in fighting haze-causing fires, with Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar saying Indonesia is trying to handle the situation on its own.

Earlier this week, Indonesian media reported that vice-president Jusuf Kalla had called on Singapore to help. "Singapore please come and tackle the haze because the effect is also felt by Singapore. We, not to mention Singapore, dislike (the haze). Everyone dislikes it and we have put in extra effort to tackle the fires,” he was reported saying on Tuesday.

This latest U-turn came after the country stepped up its firefighting efforts. President Joko Widodo ordered the mobilisation of hundreds more troops and enforcement officers to tackle the forest fires, which have caused air quality to reach hazardous levels in Riau.

Minister Siti Nurbaya will be meeting with her Malaysian counterpart next week in Jakarta, to discuss how to tackle the haze crisis.

Malaysian minister Dr Wan Junaidi Jaafar said a memorandum of understanding will be signed between the two countries, along with Singapore, Brunei and Thailand on what actions to take. They will also explore how to help Indonesia put out the fires.

Currently, Indonesian law dictates that provinces will have to declare an emergency before the central government and foreign countries can help. The meeting is aimed at reducing red tape and speeding up the provision of aid.

So far, Indonesia has arrested executives from 7 companies accused of contributing to the haze and air pollution in the region.

Meantime, there was a slight improvement in haze levels in Singapore on Thursday, but the air quality remained unhealthy for the east Malaysian state of Sarawak. Authorities say schools in Sarawak will remain closed.

On Wednesday, the air pollutant index registered above 200 and there were also some disruptions to air traffic due to poor visibility.

Singapore’s environment agency, NEA said the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading was expected to remain within the moderate range for much of Thursday due to prevailing wind conditions.

Slightly hazy conditions can be expected if the wind changes direction.

- CNA/jb

Indonesia again declines Singapore's help to fight haze
The Star 18 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has again declined Singapore's assistance to fight the haze.

She reportedly told CNN Indonesia on Thursday that her country is still trying to handle the crisis on its own.

This, however, appears to be a u-turn on an earlier invitation by vice-president Jusuf Kalla for Singapore to help. "Singapore is ready to help, so I think please do," said Kalla in Jakarta on Tuesday.

The haze, caused by illegal forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, has blanketed parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in recent weeks.

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said last Friday that Indonesia had accepted an offer from Singapore to help combat the fires but that was turned down a day later by Siti, who said Indonesia had enough resources. Singapore's offer was renewed again on Monday – this time, she told Singapore Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan that she would reconsider.

The latest reversal comes after Indonesia revealed a wide-ranging plan to tackle the haze crisis, which includes deploying more troops and police to help with fire-fighting and stepping up cloud-seeding operations to douse the blazes.

Meanwhile, Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) said cloud seeding to clear the air of haze has not been, and will not be, done here as its effectiveness is doubtful.

"Cloud seeding requires existing clouds as it cannot generate rain out of thin and dry air," it said on its website Thursday. "During dry seasons, cloud seeding is less effective due to the lack of suitable clouds.

"The small size of Singapore and the variability of winds also mean that the induced rain, if any, may not fall directly over our island."

Rumours have been circulating that cloud seeding is being carried out to reduce the impact of haze for the Formula One race this weekend.

The rumours, spread on messaging app WhatsApp, implied that the resulting rain was harmful, and urged people to keep away from "chemically induced rain showers".

Dr Balakrishnan has also reiterated the point in a Facebook post saying: "NEA does not engage in cloud seeding and has no plans to do so."

Cloud seeding is an attempt to induce rain by introducing chemicals such as silver iodide into clouds. It has been done in Malaysia and Indonesia, where haze has caused air quality to reach hazardous levels.

Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, said that while silver is considered a pollutant, its input by cloud seeding is "negligible compared with the contribution of other emission sources such as refineries, power plants … and even (road) traffic".

He said it does not cause acid rain. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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Please help to tackle haze in Indonesia: VP Kalla to Singapore

"Singapore please come and tackle the haze because the effect is also felt by Singapore," Liputan6 quotes Mr Jusuf Kalla as saying.
Channel NewsAsia 12 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has invited the Singapore Government to help resolve the haze crisis in Sumatra and Kalimantan, according to a report by SCTV's Liputan6 television news programme.

"Singapore is ready to help. So, I think, please do ... because Singapore also knows that a natural disaster can happen anywhere," he was quoted as saying on Tuesday (Sep 15).

"Singapore please come and tackle the haze because the effect is also felt by Singapore. We, not to mention Singapore, dislike (the haze). Everyone dislikes it and we have put in extra effort to tackle the fires," Mr Kalla added.

His comments came after Singapore's Ministry of Defence confirmed that Jakarta accepted the Singapore Armed Forces' offer to send C-130s for cloud seeding and Chinooks for large water buckets to douse fires, only to decline it later.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo subsequently ordered the mobilisation of hundreds more troops and enforcement officers to tackle the forest fires which have caused air quality to reach hazardous levels in Riau.

Mr Kalla had previously criticised Indonesia's neighbours for complaining about annual transboundary haze caused by Sumatra forest fires. "For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us. They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset," he said in March.

On Tuesday, the vice-president stressed that firm action would be taken against those involved in land and forest fires, and said sanctions would be meted out accordingly, reported Liputan6.

Mr Widodo also pledged this week to crack down on companies and individuals behind the fires. "The president's instruction is clear - law enforcement must be firm so that this will not happen again next year," national police chief Badrodin Haiti told reporters late Wednesday.

- CNA/al

Jusuf Kalla wants Singapore’s help to fight haze
Today Online 18 Sep 15;

JAKARTA — Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has reportedly invited Singapore to help tackle the haze emanating from fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, a departure from remarks earlier this year in which he dismissed the Republic’s concerns over the yearly affliction.

“Singapore is ready to help, so I think, please do, because Singapore also knows a natural disaster can occur anywhere,” Mr Kalla reportedly told Indonesian news outlet Liputan6 on Tuesday (Sept 15) at his office in Jakarta.

He also said: “Singapore, please come (to help tackle the haze) because it also affects Singapore. We, not to mention Singapore, also dislike (the haze). Everyone dislikes it. We have put in extra efforts (to tackle the fires).”

However, Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar struck a different note yesterday (Sept 17), telling CNN Indonesia that her country has declined Singapore’s offer to help. She was quoted saying that Indonesia is “still trying to handle it ourselves”, reported Jakarta Globe.

The haze has resulted in a state of emergency called in Riau and has also shrouded other parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore this month.

Singapore’s Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen have reached out to their Indonesian counterparts, offering an assistance package that includes a C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding operations, a Chinook helicopter with a water bucket for aerial fire-fighting, and up to two C-130 aircraft to ferry the Singapore Civil Defence Force fire-fighting assistance team.

Indonesia and Malaysia have conducted cloud seeding and Indonesia has also moved to take haze offenders to task. The Indonesian police has named at least seven companies and 133 individuals suspected of using fires to clear land in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the Jakarta Post reported yesterday.

The Indonesian police released acronyms of seven companies, but one of the suspected companies, PT Bumi Mekar Hijau, has denied wrongdoing and said none of its executives have been arrested, the Indonesian news outlet reported.

Mr Kalla had in March denounced Singapore and Malaysia for complaining about the haze caused annually by forest and plantation fires in Indonesia.

“For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and never thanked us. They have suffered because of the haze for a month and they get upset,” he had said.

His comments echoed that of former Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Agung Laksono in 2013, chiding Singapore for “behaving like a child” in response to the haze, which breached the 400-mark on the Pollutant Standards Index that year.

Then-Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono later apologised to Singapore and Malaysia for the pollution caused by forest fires in his country.

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44 eateries to join WWF eco seafood event

Jessica Lim, The Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Sep 15;

Bluefin tuna will be taken off the menu at Hinoki Japanese Dining for three weeks next month in an effort by the restaurant to be more environmentally sustainable.

The eatery is one of 44 to have pledged to stop serving overfished species and introduce sustainable seafood dishes for the Responsible Seafood Festival - a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) event that runs from Oct 3 to 25.

Its owner, Mr Kevin Cheong, has been serving bluefin tuna sashimi and belly dishes since the restaurant opened in the Central Business District five years ago.

"It's our star item," said Mr Cheong, who explained that the fish's oil content is high and its meat firmer than other tuna varieties. "We have never used any other tuna besides bluefin; the colour and taste are all wrong."

The 46-year-old reckons that most Japanese restaurants here offer the fish, but he decided to be part of the festival because he wanted to do his part for the environment. His restaurant will also stop serving its ad hoc speciality abalone, whale and shark's fin dishes during the festival. Instead, it will offer a sustainable seafood multi-course omakase meal - a Japanese concept in which diners let the chef decide what they will have.

"Commercially, it might be a way for us to differentiate ourselves from other restaurants," he said.

The festival will also be a trial to see if the move to sustainable seafood can be made permanent.

Singapore consumes an average of 100,000 tonnes of seafood a year. An estimated 20 per cent of this comprise 19 types of fish from the WWF's "red list" of overfished species, including the flowery grouper, which is common on Chinese restaurant menus here.

Mr John Tanzer, director of the WWF International's Global Marine Programme, told The Straits Times that these fish often end up in high-end restaurants. "The more rare something becomes, the more expensive it becomes, and the more incentive there is for someone to catch it," he explained. "We cannot continue the way we have been going. We are going to rob future generations of their food supply and healthy oceans."

The problem of overfishing is not unique to Singapore. According to the WWF, by 2048, the world's oceans will no longer be able to provide people with seafood. Figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations show that over 90 per cent of global fish stocks are overfished and 6 per cent are depleted.

Mr Tanzer said that the festival will help the WWF to get its message across to the retail trade and consumers here. "People eat out a lot. If we can help them understand the concept of sustainable consumption and, hopefully, influence the choices they make, that would be useful," he said.

Cost, however, can be a stumbling block for some businesses. Sustainably caught crabs, for instance, can cost 15 per cent more than non-certified ones. There is also a question mark over whether customers will take the bait.

Engineer Yeo Min, 31, is unlikely to change her eating habits. She said: "It is really difficult to change mindsets and one fewer consumer won't make a difference... I cannot even finish one whole fish by myself during mealtimes."

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Strain of bacteria linked to infections from raw fish found

Scientists from A*STAR’s GIS, together with TTSH and the Singapore Infectious Diseases Initiative have sequenced the strain of Group B Streptococcus (GBS) responsible for the increase in severe infections observed in Singapore this year, which could lead to tests for detection of the strain.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Scientists from A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), together with Tan Tock Seng Hospital and the Singapore Infectious Diseases Initiative have sequenced the strain of Group B Streptococcus (GBS) responsible for the increase in severe infections observed in Singapore this year.

With the sequence, the team of scientists are now working to develop new tests for the detection of this bacteria strain.

In a media release, GIS on Thursday (Sep 17) said it has managed to isolate the strain of GBS - known as Streptococcus agalactiae - that caused meningitis in a local patient. It noted that the recent outbreak of GBS was unusual, as it is associated with the consumption of raw Song (Asian bighead carp) and Toman (snakehead fish).

Dr Swaine Chen, Senior Research Scientist in the GIS Infectious Diseases Group and Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine who led the project said, “Sequencing is a key first step in modern infectious disease outbreak investigation. Having the sequence will help with ongoing studies to understand how and why this strain can cause serious disease. We are making this data publicly available immediately to accelerate progress as much as possible.”

Dr Chen added: "By having this DNA sequence, now when we see another sick patient, we can be very precise in knowing this is the same strain and part of the same outbreak. If it is coming from the food, we can be very sure that this same strain that caused the infection in the patient is actually the one that's present in the food as well. So this helps overall, in terms of us being able to track what's happening - if it is contamination of food (that caused a patient's illness) or if the outbreak is still ongoing."


Prof Timothy Barkham, Senior Consultant in Laboratory Medicine, TTSH and Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology, National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine said the initial genome sequence will assist in the development of a simpler test that would enable medical professionals to detect the bacteria faster and more cost effectively.

“If a simpler test can be developed, it will contribute to testing patients, food products and surveillance. While we are gratified to see the reduction in cases recently, the GIS sequence can now be studied to look for clues as to why this strain causes serious disease and where it may have come from," he said.

Most strains of GBS bacteria, found in the gut and urinary tract of about 15 to 30 per cent of adult humans, pose little danger to healthy people, GIS said.

Earlier in 2015, MOH observed an increase of patients infected by the GBS bacteria – an average of 20 cases per week since the beginning of the year. Before the outbreak, MOH saw about three cases of GBS infections per week.

- CNA/dl

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Malaysia: Haze stunts oil palm growth, oil production may fall 10% to 20%

The Star 18 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: A haze that’s engulfed parts of the world’s biggest oil palm-growing region in South-East Asia threatens to stunt fruit growth and disrupt harvesting during the peak production season.

The smog worsened this week, forcing Indonesia to deploy military personnel to fight forest fires and water bomb the rising number of hot spots.

In Malaysia, flights were diverted due to low visibility and around 2,000 schools were shut as air quality in some states reached unhealthy levels.

Palm oil production may decline 10% to 20% in the affected areas, according to IJM Plantations Bhd chief financial officer Purushothaman Kumaran.

A prolonged haze amid the strongest El Nino in two decades may hurt oil palms in the coming months and can potentially support prices which slumped to a six-year low in August. Heavy haze curtails the amount of sunlight reaching trees and hinders photosynthesis, resulting in lower yields six months down the line, according to Malaysian plantation consultant Ganling Sdn. The blazes are often started to clear land for plantations.

“The palm is under stress,” Ling Ah Hong, director at Ganling, said by phone on Tuesday. “If the haze prolongs over a long period, like a month or two, there may be some impact on production because it affects photosynthesis activity of the palm trees.”

Palm plantations are already bracing for dry weather caused by the El Nino. The weather pattern will peak around the end of the year and sea temperatures may exceed, or come close to, the those seen during the record event in 1997-98, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.

The strong El Nino would be “good news” for palm oil prices, which usually spike during the event and lift plantation stocks to outperform, Credit Suisse Group AG said in a report on Monday. Palm oil futures on the Bursa Malaysia Derivatives traded at RM2,116 a tonne by 3.52pm yesterday, having plunged to a six-year low of RM1,867 last month.

At the time of the 1997-98 El Nino event, palm oil prices doubled in 12 months as output dropped 7% in Indonesia and fell 5.5% in Malaysia.

The haze has sent the air pollutant index in Pontianak, West Kalimantan soaring past the hazardous levels, while capital cities in Riau province and South Sumatra recorded unhealthy levels. That may keep plantation workers indoors, according to Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd. — Bloomberg

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Malaysia: Cleaner air over weekend, but haze back on Tuesday

The Star 18 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: Eastern winds are expected to blow the haze away this evening, giving Malaysians cleaner air over the weekend.

However, the Malaysian Meteoro­logical Department (MetMalaysia) said this would be temporary, with winds ready to bring the haze back from Indonesia on Tuesday.

“By tomorrow evening, we expect the wind to change direction by coming from the east. However, this is only temporary.

“By Tuesday, the wind might come from (the) south (from Indonesia) again,” said MetMalaysia spokesman Dr Hisham Mohd Anip yesterday.

He said Sarawak, which might also have clearer skies over the weekend, would see the haze coming back there on Monday evening, earlier than the peninsula.

As of 4pm yesterday, Samarahan recorded an Air Pollutant Index reading of 199 with Kuching at 192.

A downpour over parts of the peninsula cleared skies in some states, though certain areas such as Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur hovered at the 101 unhealthy mark.

Dr Hisham said rains in the peninsula were natural.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Madius Tangau said cloud-seeding was carried out in Malacca, north Johor and Negri Sembilan yesterday.

However, cloud-seeding in Sarawak yesterday could not be carried out since the weather was not good enough for rain clouds to form and the haze made flying too dangerous.

Too hazy to study in Sarawak
The Star 18 Sep 15;

KUCHING: Schools were closed and flights disrupted as air quality reached very unhealthy levels with the index exceeding 200 in parts of Sarawak.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) reached 209 in Kuching at 10am and 210 in Samarahan at 11am yesterday, forcing 463 schools in both divisions to be closed.

The state Education Department issued an advisory to close the schools early yesterday morning when the API was hovering near 200.

An API of 101-200 is considered unhealthy while 201-300 is very unhealthy.

Some 184,808 students and 15,162 teachers were affected by the closure.

In a statement yesterday evening, the Education Ministry said these schools would remain closed today.

It added that the district education office and schools had been directed to inform parents and guardians about the closure.

Fireman Wan Afzal Wan Abdul Rahman, 40, said he was worried when he heard about the closure on radio at 8am.

“I immediately rushed to school to pick up my daughter, who is in Year Three. It’s worrying because the air is not healthy,” he said.

Morzeyan Jumat, 35, said she had to pick up her four children, who are in kindergarten up to Form One, from four different schools.

“It’s good that the schools are closed as it’s getting difficult to breathe,” she said.

Headmistress Liaw Hui Lin said parents had already been calling her school since early morning before she received the official notification at about 8.25am.

“Even this morning a lot of students were not around as the air was unhealthy and we understand why parents don’t want their children to be in school,” she said yesterday.

Serina Lim, who owns a dance and fitness centre with her husband, said her family was increasing their water intake and getting creative with assorted fruit juices to cope with the hazy conditions.

“My husband has had to use inhalers for the first time in his life and our toddler’s sensitive skin has been flaring up since the haze started. Because of this, we have just invested in two air purifiers,” she added.

By 3pm, Malaysia Airports Bhd confirmed that four flights could not land at Kuching International Airport and had to be diverted while another five flights from Kuching were cancelled.

The affected flights were those to and from Kuala Lumpur, Tanjung Manis, Pontianak and Mulu.

Disruptions to schedules were severe, affecting Malaysia Airlines, MASwings, AirAsia and Xpress Air.

Seven flights took off late while 11 more could not land on time.

Airport general manager Mohd Nadzim Hashim said 3,619 passengers were affected.

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Malaysia: Rabies hits northern region


GEORGE TOWN: A rabies outbreak has hit Perlis, Kedah and Penang, three years after the country was declared free from the disease.

To contain the disease, the authorities have been or will be culling stray dogs in the three states.

The order however did not go down well with several animal welfare organisations here.

Those infected must be treated quickly or they will develop fever, muscle pain and headache, which will lead to brain swelling, seizures, paralysis, coma and eventually death.

Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek (pic) said some 200 personnel from the Veterinary Services Department throughout the country had been deployed to the three states, adding that the department would be assisted by the Health Ministry and respective local governments in each affected area.

“The department will be issuing statements and keeping the public updated on the situation.

“We are wary of the situation and taking all necessary preventive steps even though no humans have tested positive for rabies as yet,” he told reporters after handing over a cheque for RM102,500 in death benefit to the family of drowned fisherman Low Tze Kian in Matang, Perak.

Department deputy director-general Datuk Dr Quaza Nizamuddin Hassan Nizam said the zoonotic virus was first detected in Perlis on Aug 19, with 22 bite victims there until yesterday.

“We have culled 256 stray dogs in the state. We have also conducted census on 875 dogs and taken samples from 65 of them, out of which eight tested positive for rabies,” he said.

He also revealed that five people had been bitten by stray dogs and were being treated in Kedah since Sept 13, adding that 476 stray dogs had been culled there.

“Of the samples taken from 65 dogs in Kedah, 17 were positive,” Dr Quaza Nizamuddin said.

He said there have been two bite victims in Penang - a council worker who was bitten during a dog nabbing operation and a boy from a fishing village in Balik Pulau.

Penang Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin said the first case was a 44-year-old man from Pokok Sena in north Seberang Prai on Sept 8 while the second case was an 11-year-old boy from Taman Nelayan, Kuala Sungai Pinang in Balik Pulau who was bitten on Monday. Both were hospitalised and have since been discharged.

Dr Afif believes the disease was transmitted from Perlis.

He said the World Organisation for Animal Health declared Malaysia rabies-free in 2012 after the last case detected was in 1999.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng yesterday declared Penang as a rabies infected area and said all stray dogs in the state would be caught and put to sleep.

“Under the directive, pet dogs are also not allowed to be taken out of the state except with a written permit issued by the department’s Penang director. All dogs which are three months old and above need to be vaccinated,” he told a press conference in Komtar.

He said dog owners should also ensure that their pets are confined within an enclosed space, securely tied and led around by chain to prevent them from escaping and be infected.

Penang Animal Welfare Society founder Barbara Janssen said she disapproved of mass dog killing.

“There are many dogs on the street which are cared by people but not housed in their compound. Most of them had been spayed or neutered to reduce stray population. To kill them outright now is a waste of public money and unfair,” she said, adding that the society would find out from their counterparts in the United Kingdom and India of alternative methods of rabies control.

Save Our Strays Penang spokesperson April Sham said two cases of rabies in the state was no cause for hysteria, adding that it was extremely uncommon for people to get bitten by rabid animals.

“If bitten, people can seek medical treatment. Rabies is not a justification for slaughtering healthy animals. Killing is not the only solution,” she said.

About half of the some 50,000 dogs in Penang are strays, Dr Afif Bahardin said.

He said it was almost im possible to identify rabies-infected dogs and warned that any dogs found outside their compounds would also be caught and put down even if they were licensed.

“We have to contain the disease before it becomes endemic in Penang and all stray dogs would be put down. It is the only known method to prevent the spread of the disease which has a high mortality rate,” he added.

Veterinarian Dr K. Pavabakaran said he had not seen a single case of rabies in his 40 years of practice.

He said the authorities would have the best knowledge of how to contain the disease although he cautioned on a carte blanche campaign to kill all stray dogs.

Penang SPCA administrator Lily Leng said the state had directed the association not to take in any strays and for the public to walk their dogs with a leash as a precaution.

Rabies outbreak: Perlis, Kedah, Penang report infections
The Star 18 Sep 15;

GEORGE TOWN: There is a rabies outbreak in Perlis, Kedah and Penang, three years after the country was declared free from this contagious and often fatal viral disease.

To contain the disease that spreads from infected dogs and other mammals to humans through bites, veterinary services departments in those states will be culling stray dogs.

The order did not go down well with seve­ral animal welfare organisations that claimed there were other solutions.

Those infected must be treated quickly or they will develop fever, muscle pain and headache, which will lead to brain swelling, seizures, paralysis, coma and eventually death.

Penang Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin said the first case there was a 44-year-old man from Pokok Sena, Seberang Prai, on Sept 8.

The second case was an 11-year-old boy in Taman Nelayan in Balik Pulau on Monday.

Both were hospitalised and have since been discharged.

Dr Afif believed the disease was transmitted from Perlis where a case was reported in August.

Veterinary Services Department deputy director-general Datuk Dr Quaza Nizamuddin Hassan Nizam said the first case in Perlis was on Aug 19, with 22 victims in total so far.

Five people were bitten by stray dogs in Kedah since Sept 13 and infected, he said.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng declared yesterday that all strays in the state would be captured and put down.

Under the directive, pet dogs cannot be taken out of the state, unless written permission was given by the State Veterinary Services Department director.

“Also, all dogs three months and older must be vaccinated,” Lim said at a press conference in Komtar.

Strays in Perlis and Kedah were also being culled. Some 200 veterinary services personnel from around the country have been deployed to the three states.

Penang Animal Welfare Society founder Barbara Janssen said she disapproved of the killing of stray dogs.

The society would ask its counterparts in Britain and India about other methods of rabies control, she said.

Save Our Strays spokesman April Sham said two cases of rabies were no cause for hysteria.

The World Organisation for Animal Health declared Malaysia rabies-free in 2012 after the last case detected was in 1999, according to Dr Afif.

Infections likely came from Thailand
The Star 19 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: The rabies infections in the north likely came from neighbouring Thailand since the infections are concentrated in Perlis, Kedah and Penang.

Nineteen dogs were found with rabies from 64 tested in Perlis as of yesterday; 17 were infected from 31 checked in Kedah; while three out of 15 tested in Penang were rabid.

The Veterinary Services Depart­ment said infected dogs could have brought the viral disease into Malaysia which has been rabies-free since 1999.

However, its deputy director-general Datuk Dr Quaza Nizamuddin Hassan Nizam declined to name the country that the infected dogs could have come from.

“We were free from rabies but the disease still occurs in a neighbouring country,” was all he would say.

He said it was standard procedure to vaccinate dogs against rabies at the border but these areas were quite porous and an infected animal likely got past.

The department was working with the police to ensure that pet dogs in the three states did not cross borders until the end of the outbreak.

Dr Quaza said it would be costly and time consuming for police to set up roadblocks to enforce this, so he urged dog owners to be responsible.

He warned that the animals would be confiscated and quarantined if the order was disobeyed.

“Even if the dog is later found to be free of rabies, the owner will still be fined,” Dr Quaza said.

He advised dog owners to keep their pets within the compound of their homes. They should also keep the animal on a leash when taking it for a walk, even if it has been vaccinated, he said.

Dogs older than three months must be vaccinated.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek urged anyone bitten by a dog to seek immediate medical treatment.

As of yesterday, 27 people were bitten by dogs in Perlis; eight in Kedah; and six in Penang. All have been treated and discharged from hospital.

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Indonesia: Police yet to ascertain foreign companies` involvement in forest fires

Antara 17 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The National Police (Polri) has yet to ascertain the involvement of foreign companies in setting forest and land fires that have occurred in several regions in Indonesia.

"We have yet to mention the names of the foreign companies involved in setting forest and land fires. We are still investigating," National Police Chief Badrodin Haiti remarked here on Thursday.

The police has received the names of the suspects and companies in connection with the cases.

"The police is still investigating the involvement of directors and commissioners in the company as part of its efforts to ascertain the complicity of the foreign companies.

"The owner of the company could be involved in forest and land fires. But, claims should be backed by legal facts," he emphasized.

According to the law, a person involved in setting forest fires can be sentenced to a minimum three years and maximum 10 years in prison.

Earlier, President Joko Widodo had ordered that stringent actions must be taken against the perpetrators of forest fires, which caused haze, disrupted normal life, and affected public health.

"The president has ordered that firm legal action should be taken against the perpetrators of forest fires, irrespective of whether they are individuals or corporations, so that it serves as a deterrent in future," Willem Rampangilei, the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), stated at a press conference here on Wednesday after attending a limited meeting with the president.

He noted that Haiti, who had also attended the meeting, supported this stance, affirming that a law enforcement task force assigned to deal with forest and land fires had tackled 18 reported cases and named 140 suspects, including seven corporations. He remarked that 17 corporations were involved in the fire incidents.

Badrodin noted that the seven arrested suspects, who were only identified by their initials, were JLT from PT PMH in Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra; P from PT RPP in South Sumatra; S from PT RPS in South Sumatra; FK from PT LIH in Riau; S from PT GAP in Sampit, Central Kalimantan; GRN from PT MBA in Kapuas; and WD was arrested from PT ASP in Central Kalimantan.

The police chief stated that more people could be arrested as investigations were still ongoing.

"This is the result of the presidents order to take firm action to prevent any recurrence of such fires next year," he emphasized.

General Haiti suggested to the government, which is the regulator, to blacklist companies that had allegedly caused the fires. This would make it possible to reject their applications for permits.(*)

House asks for budget revision to combat haze
Dandy Koswaraputra, 17 Sep 15;

The House of Representatives urged the Indonesian government to review next year's state budget to get extra funds, up to Rp 10 trillion (US$714 million), in order to combat forest fires.

House member Herman Khaeron said that the state budget for the Environment and Forestry Ministry was quite insignificant, Rp 6.7 trillion in 2015, and decreasing to Rp 6.3 trillion in the 2016 state budget.

“We need extra funding, at least Rp 10 trillion, to cope with forest fire disasters alone,” Herman told on Thursday.

He said the funds aimed to build infrastructure and public awareness through holding training sessions in which local people fully understood how to handle such disasters instead of deploying military or police troops to extinguish forest fires.

“I regret that the government does not seem proactive in preparing for the situation,” Herman asserted, adding that he appreciates the forestry ministry's efforts to provide fire extinguishing equipment.

According to Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, around 52,000 hectares of land in Sumatra were ravaged by fire, while 138,000 ha in Kalimantan were scorched.

Herman added that with such mediocre preparation, Indonesia suffered financial losses every year caused by the endless forest fires.

Herry Purnomo, a scientist at CIFOR and professor at Bogor Agricultural University, said that Indonesia would likely suffer $4 billion in losses this year, relating to agriculture production, destruction of forests, health, transportation, tourism and other economic endeavors.

A 2013 World Bank report shows the total financial loss from forest fires in Riau province at Rp 20 trillion ($1.4 billion).

Herry added that Malaysia and Singapore, as smog-affected countries, should be more responsible in dealing with forest fires by issuing regulations and law enforcement for their citizens’ companies operating in Indonesia.

“About 50 percent of palm oil companies operating in Indonesia are owned by Malaysians and Singaporeans," Herry asserted.

According to Herry, Indonesia has at least 11 million hectares of oil palm plantation spread across the islands, from Sumatra to Papua.

A number of palm oil companies clear land by burning it in order to reduce production costs, Herry said.

“Lets make a comparison between the cost of mechanized [land clearing] and burning. The first one costs Rp 2 million [$150] per ha and the second one is only $7 per ha,” he said.

Herry added that swidden agriculture had been practiced by farmers in many places in Indonesia for generations and was now adopted by the industry as the best method for cost cutting.

“So, the swidden method has become a policy and common practice for many plantation companies,” he added.

Forest fires and smog have therefore become an annual problem for Indonesians, due to improper practices of plantation companies, Herry said.

Smoke-belching blazes, an annual problem in Southeast Asia during the dry season, have intensified in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo over the past two weeks, sending a cloud of acrid haze across the region. (DK) (++++)

Lawmakers support government’s action on forest-fire offenders
Dandy Koswaraputra, 17 Sep 15;

Indonesian lawmakers said on Thursday that the House of Representative would support President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s move to punish those responsible for starting forest fires.

“Since the previous government was in office, we have been supporting the government in any effort to stop forest burning,” House member Herman Khaeron told

The President has asked police to bring those responsible for the forest fires before the courts and revoke their company licenses.

“[Attempts to bring] them to court have been happening over the past two years,” Herman said, suggesting it was about time that efforts were intensified.

National Police Chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti said on Wednesday that the police had ramped up their prosecution of firms responsible for the rampaging fires, The Jakarta Post reported.

Badrodin said that police investigators had named at least seven companies and 133 individual suspected of using fires to clear land in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Police have released the acronyms of the seven companies at which the suspects worked, and they are: PT BMH, PT RPP, and PT RPS in South Sumatra; PT LIH in Riau; and PT GAP, PT MBA and PT ASP in Central Kalimantan, the Post reported.

Some of the suspects were charged under Article 108 of the 2014 Plantation Law and could face a maximum 10-year prison sentence and fines of up to Rp10 billion (US$692,000).

Responding to the allegations, one of the suspected companies, Bumi Mekar Hijau (BHM), denied any wrongdoing, saying that none of BHM’s executive had been arrested by Indonesian police.

“The Indonesian police investigators are conducting an investigation into [our] company and we have cooperated well,” Kristianto, BHM legal representative stated in a text message received by on Thursday.

Kristianto added that from the start, BHM had implemented a “zero burning” policy and helped the government of Indonesia to preserve the environment.

“The company also expresses a deep concern over this fire disaster and is actively cooperating with the government of Indonesia to help control the forest fires,” Kristianto said.

According to Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, around 52,000 hectares of land in Sumatra have been ravaged by fire, and 138,000 ha in Kalimantan.

Smoke-belching blazes, an annual problem in Southeast Asia during the dry season, have intensified in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo over the past three weeks, sending a cloud of acrid haze across the region. (DK)

Police should pursue perpetrators of forest fires: President
Antara 17 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo has urged the police to continue with its law enforcement efforts to arrest the perpetrators of forest fires.

"The police should continue to pursue the perpetrators. The national police chief has announced the names of the suspects who have allegedly started forest fires in Indonesia," President Widodo stated here on Thursday.

The president pointed out that two types of forest fires are affecting six provinces and the neighboring countries.

"Fires that occurred in peatland areas can be difficult to extinguish as they may continue to burn underground for long periods of time," he stated.

Secondly, several companies deliberately set fire to hundreds of hectares of land area.

Earlier, the Indonesian police expressed its commitment to thoroughly investigate all errant companies that burnt down forests leading to haze, which has affected various regions in the country.

"The police is committed to conducting investigations against the perpetrators. This investigation will not be partial, rather it will be a thorough one," Brigadier General Yazid Fanani, the director of special crimes at the National Polices Crime Investigation Department, stated.

He expressed hope that the investigation would result in the ministries or the concerned state institutions either imposing administrative sanctions against companies found guilty or revoking their permits.

He explained that as of now, sanctions could only be imposed after obtaining a court ruling.

"An administrative sanction, in this case the revocation of the permit, may only be imposed after obtaining a court ruling," he pointed out.

He affirmed that the police are now handling 131 cases of fires being set in forest and land areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Of the total, 28 are still under preliminary probe, 79 are under investigation, while 24 cases have been confirmed.

The cases are related to fires in Riau (Sumatra), South Sumatra, Jambi (Sumatra), and West and South Kalimantan.

He remarked that 126 people have been named suspects in connection with the cases, while a company known as PT Bumi Mekar Hijau has also been named a suspect in the case of a fire in South Sumatra.

Two other companies -- PT Tempirai Palm Resources and PT Waimusi Agro Indah -- which operate in South Sumatra, are also under investigation.(*)

Government to revoke licenses of companies found burning land
Antara 16 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government will revoke the licenses of plantation companies that have set fires to clear land, which has led to haze engulfing several parts of the country, a senior minister stated here on Wednesday.

"We met the president just now to discuss the haze problem and the plans to blacklist owners, boards of directors, and commissioners of companies (found burning land) and revoke their licenses," Coordinating Minister for Political, Security, and Legal Affairs Luhut Panjaitan noted after meeting the president at the State Palace.

Luhut, however, did not disclose the names of the directors, commissioners, owners, and companies whose permits would be revoked.

"I would not disclose it. It will be done by the national police chief. There are several companies, and they (police) are still identifying them. Perhaps, in the next few days, the information will be made public," he pointed out.

Luhut emphasized that the permits had been issued in the past decade to convert 4.8 million hectares of peatland into palm oil plantations.

"So, if fires occur in the allocated land, the permits of the companies managing the land will be revoked, and the land will be restored to its original function," he remarked.

Regarding the haze crisis, Luhut claimed that the government had already implemented measures, including sending three thousand soldiers to help overcome the fires and is also conducting cloud seeding operations to create artificial rain.

"It seems that some results have been achieved. But, I have said that the fires will not stop until November this year. It will be in January, next year, when the situation is expected to return to normal again according to the forecast of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG)," he noted.

He expressed hope that the haze problem would be handled in a more systematic manner next year.

"The situation now is really bad because of the El Nino phenomenon. However, next year, we hope the preparations will be more systematic," he added.

To ensure that the problem does not recur, he affirmed that the preparations to conduct aerial water bombing would be better than this year.

"We have 25 aircraft and helicopters that will be better prepared," he added.(*)

Manager detained, suspected of causing fires in Pelalawan
Rizal Harahap, 18 Sep 15;

Investigators from the Riau Police special crime investigation unit detained PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo (LIH) general manager Frans Katihokang after questioning him in relation to land burning for around six hours at Riau Police headquarters on Thursday.

Frans is believed to be the person most responsible for the burning down of 533 hectares of land included in the land use title (HGU) of an oil palm plantation company in Pangkalan Gondai village, Langgam district, Pelalawan regency.

Frans is the first suspect from a corporation that authorities have arrested in connection to land and forest fires in Riau this year.

Riau Police prosecutors arrested Frans at the employee boarding house of PT Mutiara Agam, subsidiary of PT LIH, in Tanjung Mutiara district, Agam regency, West Sumatra, on Wednesday. The following day they took the 48-year-old man to Riau Police headquarters and asked him 62 questions relating to his alleged negligence having caused the burning down of hundreds of hectares of PT LIH plantation land and surrounding peatland on July 27.

Frans, who wore a mask as investigators escorted him to the detention cell, refused to answer questions from journalists. “We detained him after investigating him intensively. The detention is to protect the suspect so that he is not influenced by witnesses in the case,” said Riau Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Guntur Aryo Tejo.

He said that before naming Frans a suspect, police had investigated dozens of witnesses, including two LIH managers and village officials. They also obtained information from expert witnesses from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture and the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

Guntur said that investigators had conducted a case expose on Sept.15 and concluded that Frans should be named an individual suspect for the burning of LIH land. “In line with his position, the suspect is the most responsible person for what has happened,” said Guntur.

The police charged Frans under Article 98 (1) and Article 99 (1) of Law No.32/2009 on environment protection and management. “If found guilty, he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a Rp 10 billion [US$700,000] fine,” said the police’s special crime investigation unit deputy chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Ari Rahman.

Apart from LIH, he said, around 10 plantation companies in Riau were suspected of either having been involved in, or negligent in handling, land fires in their concession areas. He refused to give details about those companies but shared that “most of them are operating in Indragiri Hulu and Indragiri Hilir regencies”. (ebf)(++++)

Tough task for firefighters battling peatland blazes
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Sep 15;

Indonesian firefighters in Sumatra and Kalimantan have their work cut out for them in battling fires on peatland across the two regions, which have been the source of the haze in recent weeks.

Trying to contain such fires is not unlike playing "whack-a-mole". The fires smoulder under dry peatland and can surface anywhere to trigger another blaze.

Over half of the raging fires in Pekanbaru in Indonesia's Riau province and elsewhere, causing the haze in Singapore and other towns in West Malaysia, are on peatland.

Peatlands, which are usually waterlogged and formed over thousands of years, consist mainly of decomposed vegetation, making it carbon-rich and highly flammable during the dry season.

When burned, peatlands produce copious amounts of smoke, thus releasing a high level of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The yearly haze problem is the result of slash-and-burn agricultural practices carried out largely by farmers, because it is the fastest and cheapest way of clearing plantations for pulp, oil palm and other crops.

Ironically, planting crops on peatland is not easy or cheap owing to moisture, a lack of nutrients and its high acid content. Peatland is thus not fertile. It is also prone to pests and harmful bacteria that live in the moist sponge-like soil.

- See more at:

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Indonesia: Government seizes Vietnam`s vessel with 45 tons of illegal fish

Antara 15 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) has seized a Vietnam-flagged fishing vessel which had allegedly captured 45 tons of fish illegally in Indonesian waters.

"The ship was seized by fisheries surveillance vessel (KP), Hiu Macan Tutul 002, when it was performing illegal fishing activities and had caught fish worth over 45 tons," the Director General of Marine Resources and Fisheries (PSDKP) of MMAF, Asep Burhanuddin, said in written statement here Tuesday.

Burhanuddin explained that the Vietnam-flagged vessel with number KM BV 9980 TS and weighing 85 gross tonnage (GT) was arrested in the Indonesian Exclusive Economic Zone (ZEEI), around Natuna, Riau Islands, on September 12, 2015 at around 8:05 pm.

He also revealed that the vessel was caught fishing in the Regional Fisheries Management of the Republic of Indonesia (WPP-NRI) without the necessary permits from the Government of Indonesia.

In addition, the vessel was also using prohibited fishing gear that could damage marine resources and fisheries, such as pair trawl.

During the arrest, officers also secured evidence in the form of the vessel with number KM. BV 9980 TS, one radio SSB communication tool, a GPS navigation tool, one unit wet compass, and 45,000 kg of various varieties of fish.

The six Vietnam crew members along with the evidence were escorted to the Unit PSDKP Natuna to face further prosecution.

The Vietnam vessel was suspected of violating Article 93 paragraph (2) in conjunction with Article 27 (2) of Law No. 45 of 2009 on amendments to the Law No. 31 of 2004 on Fisheries.

The punishment for such a crime can invite maximum imprisonment of six years and a fine of up to Rp20 billion.

Burhanuddin added that the Directorate General PSDKP has conducted legal proceedings against 103 perpetrators illegal fishing during 2015.

The number of illegal fishing vessels comprise 55 foreign vessels and 48 Indonesians. The foreign ships were 36 Vietnamese vessels, eight from the Philippines, six from Malaysia, and five from Thailand.(*)

Minister urges using a range of laws to deal with illegal fishing
Antara 17 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesias Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Susi Pudjiastuti has urged law enforcers to implement all relevant laws to end the practice of illegal fishing in the country.

"The shortcomings in the fisheries law must be covered by enforcing other relevant laws," she said here on Thursday, referring to legislation such as the Shipping Law, the Corruption Law, the Manpower Law and the Customs Law.

She said implementation of these laws would shore up efforts to end not only illegal fishing but also other related crimes.

She said it was important to arrest illegal fish poachers, act against corporations which are the masterminds behind such activity and make it difficult for the perpetrators to escape the force of law.

She said she believed that strong action would act as a deterrent against fish poachers.

The minister said several steps have been taken to tackle the poaching menace, and would continue to be taken, including enforcement of the administrative law under which the fishing business licenses of 15 companies have been revoked so far.

Other administrative law enforcement measures taken by her office included revoking the fish catching licenses of 208 ships and fish shipping licenses of 26 ships.

With regard to criminal law enforcement, Minister Susi said she also took action against 18 big fishing companies.

Based on the data of the Directorate General of Fisheries and Marine Resource Surveillance, a total of 94 cases have been handled so far, involving 52 foreign fishing ships and 42 illegal Indonesian fishing ships.

Of the 52 foreign ships, 33 carried the Vietnamese flag, eight the Philippine flag, six carried the Malaysian flag and five had a Thai flag.(*)

Indonesian military adds two thousand personnel to guard Natuna waters
Antara 16 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian military will deploy two thousand personnel to guard the waters of Natuna, Riau Islands, according to Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.

"The number of military personnel will be increased," Ryacudu noted here on Wednesday.

The military personnel will comprise the Air Forces Special Forces (Paskhas), the Indonesian Marine Corps, and the Armys Raiders.

"Natuna will be protected by one company of the Paskhas along with two companies of the Marine Corps and Armys Raiders," he remarked.

In addition, security in the border areas in Merauke, Maluku, and Tarakan, among others, will be strengthened in terms of the primary weaponry defense system (Alutsista) and military personnel.

Meanwhile, the defense ministry will give a briefing to the community in Natuna on defending the country.

As a result, the people will love and defend their country.

"This is a border area. The people should be made aware on how to defend the country. They should be trained," he emphasized.

Bukit Barisan Military Commander Major General Lodewyk Pusung stated that Natuna, as the northernmost island of Indonesia, should be secured with the deployment of additional troops and defense equipment.

"Natuna is only guarded by two companies of the Armys Raiders comprising 270 personnel," he added.(*)

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Rampant plunder of Myanmar timber

Environmental body presses China to curb illegal imports as mountains are sold for gold
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 18 Sep 15;

China has been urged to tighten controls on rampant illegal timber imports across its over 2,000 km-long border with Myanmar.

Myanmar's restive northern Kachin state on China's border is being plundered by timber traders who buy entire mountains, paying sometimes in gold bars, and are decimating the country's forests in one of the largest cross-border illegal timber flows in the world amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Timber is also being sourced from deeper inside Myanmar, says a 24-page report on the Myanmar-China illegal timber trade, released yesterday in Beijing by the Britain-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

"Kachin and Yunnan province in China are at the heart of trade but stolen timber is increasingly being sourced from deeper within Myanmar to feed factories in south and east China," says the report - a product of several investigative trips in the area since 2012.

"The bulk of the timber moving across the border is now high-value species of rosewood and teak."

Most timber entering neighbouring Yunnan province is either cut in or transported through Kachin. It is facilitated by a complex web of warlords, intermediaries, officials and business people.

"All parties profit… from shady Chinese businesses paying in gold bars for the rights to log entire mountains to the official corruption which allows the timber to pass through various checkpoints," the report says.

In theory, Myanmar's legal framework and tracing system for timber are sound, the EIA said. But in reality, Naypyitaw has little or no control over vast swathes of border states. For example, the military controls only around 60 per cent of Kachin. The rest is controlled by various armed groups, which levy taxes on trade passing through their territory. These illegal armed groups grant logging rights, which are not recognised under national law.

The kingpins of the trade are a handful of wealthy and well-connected local business people from both sides of the border, some of whom are named in the report.

The trade is an irritant in Myanmar-China relations. The report cited Myanmar government officials complaining that China did not do enough to stop the trade.

In January this year, Myanmar's army raided an illegal logging operation in Kachin, arresting 155 Chinese loggers who in July were given long jail sentences. The arrests were seen as a warning signal to both the Kachin armed groups and the Chinese logging groups. But the detainees were freed only days later as part of a wider annual presidential pardon, and back-room negotiations with China.

The Greater Mekong subregion, comprising Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, is projected to lose a cumulative 30 million ha of forest by 2030, mostly to illegal logging, commercial plantation, agriculture and urban infrastructure development.

Myanmar alone lost 1.7 million ha of forest cover between 2001 and 2013. Regardless of its origin or where it crosses into China, once timber enters China, it is considered legal for trade and distribution provided all entry taxes have been paid.

The Yunnan authorities have periodically imposed curbs from 2006. But "by 2013, trade in timber products between Myanmar and China reached a record level of 1.7 million cubic metres, worth US$621 million'', the EIA revealed.

A meeting between Myanmar and Chinese forestry officials on Sept 24 presents an opportunity to tighten controls, the EIA observed. China as the main market, must prohibit import of timber deemed illegal by the Myanmar government, and investigate corrupt business groups, the EIA urged.

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