Best of our wild blogs: 19-20 Sep 15

Life History of the Plain Lacewing
Butterflies of Singapore

Night Walk At Venus Drive (18 Sep 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Hummingbird Hawk Moth, Hummingbird and Sunbird
Bird Ecology Study Group

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Arrests over haze could be game changer

The Star 20 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: There was to be no more dragging of feet from the authorities, said Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs Luhut Panjaitan during a high-level meeting in Jakarta.

Track down the culprits and send them to jail, ordered the former Special Forces general on Tuesday, who until recently was also President Joko Widodo’s chief of staff.

Luhut might as well be speaking on behalf of the president, who was on a working tour of the Middle East when the Pollutant Standards Index in the Riau capital of Pekanbaru hit a record 984 on Monday. Any reading of 300 and above is considered hazardous.

His words clearly carried weight.

About 140 suspects, including seven described by Indonesian police as corporate executives, were promptly rounded up on Wednesday. The rest were individuals – farmers mainly – not officially linked to any of the larger firms, or their smaller suppliers that run plantations on concession land.

The swift action, particularly against the corporates, came as a surprise to many.

Such arrests are rare. Some would even go as far as to say they do not expect any convictions from these cases that primarily involve the breach of environmental laws.

After all, it’s not the first time that suspects in such cases were arrested and charged in court.

Several cases dating back to 2012 and 2013 – the year when forest fires were so severe they caused record levels of air pollution in Singapore and states of emergency in Malaysia and Indonesia – remain in limbo with no convictions.

Getting tough on recalcitrant companies and individuals has always been a challenge for the Indonesian authorities.

Green groups and observers say investigations are often let down by poor law enforcement, corruption and unclear rules on land use.

No wonder national police chief Badrodin Haiti once said prosecuting crimes against the environment was more complex than dealing with terrorism.

There were, however, cases in which plantation companies were successfully prosecuted.

The recent case against Indonesian palm oil company PT Kallista Alam is one.

The firm had its appeal rejected by the Supreme Court last month and was ordered to pay a staggering 366 billion rupiah (RM107mil) in fines for illegally burning peatland in Aceh back in 2012.

Illegal forest fires on peatlands in Sumatra and Kalimantan have been the source of the haze that blanketed parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in recent weeks.

Another example is the case of Malaysian firm Adei Plantation.

In September last year, a Riau district court sentenced one of the firm’s managers to one year in jail and fined him two billion rupiah for failing to prevent forest fires on his company’s estate in June 2013.

That judgment came at a time when Indonesia was trying to show that it was willing to act on environmental offences.

Heavy penalties like the one meted out to PT Kallista Alam for offences under Indonesia’s environmental laws, however, remain uncommon.

In fact, prosecutors had sought a five-year sentence for the manager from Adei.

At the time, Mas Achmad Santosa, who oversaw law enforcement monitoring at the now defunct presidential working unit, UKP4, said the penalties against Adei were too light considering the impact its actions had on the health of the people in Riau, and on the image of Indonesia in the eyes of Singapore and Malaysia.

Green groups have continued to maintain that lenient sentences remain a weak link as the deterrent effect has not been felt, nor have they put a stop to the illegal burning of forests and peatlands in Indonesia.

However, the Environment and Forestry Ministry – which filed the lawsuit against PT Kallista Alam three years ago – reportedly said that the ruling against the firm on Aug 28 was a landmark decision considering the massive fine, which is possibly the highest ever imposed in an environmental law case.

Many are now hoping that the Supreme Court verdict would set a precedent for future law enforcement against such firms.

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Indonesia: Thick haze still lingers, though hot spots decrease 19 Sep 15;

The number of hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan has decreased over the last few days, yet the haze from forest and land fires remains fairly thick, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

“Visibility is still low and the average air quality is unhealthy,” said BNPB head Sutopo Purwo Nugroho on Friday as quoted by Antara news agency.

The Terra and Aqua satellites on Friday detected 471 hot spots in Sumatra and 398 hot spots in Kalimantan.

In Sumatra, the hot spots were detected in Jambi (166), followed by South Sumatra (148), Riau (116), West Sumatra (25), Bengkulu (10), North Sumatra (four) and Lampung (two).

In terms of visibility, Pelalawan in Riau and Jambi encountered the lowest with 200 meters, followed by Dumai (300 meters) and Pekanbaru (500 meters), both in Riau, and Palembang in South Sumatra (1 kilometer).

In Kalimantan, the hot spots were spread around Central Kalimantan (190), South Kalimantan (133), East Kalimantan (42) and West Kalimantan (33).

The region’s lowest visibility occurred in Sanggu Buntok in Central Kalimantan (100 meters), followed by Nanga Pinoh in West Kalimantan and Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan (200 meters), Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan (300 meters), Pontianak in West Kalimantan (400 meters), Ketapang in West Kalimantan and Sampit in Central Kalimantan (500 meters), Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan (700 meters) and Muara Teweh in Central Kalimantan (1 kilometer).

BNPB also reported that the haze in Sumatra was no longer reaching the Malacca Strait or neighboring Singapore and Malaysia. However, the agency added, the smog in Kalimantan was still reaching the western part of Malaysia’s Sarawak state in northern Borneo.

“Almost 80 percent of Kalimantan is blanketed by smoke,” said Sutopo.

The pollution has disrupted activities at most schools in Central Kalimantan, Riau and Jambi; all three have issued a siaga (alert) emergency level, the highest level.

Thousands of officers have been deployed to extinguish the fires. (edn/kes)(++++)

Haze returns to West Sumatra as Malaysians evacuated from Riau
Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 19 Sep 15;

Haze returned to almost all parts of West Sumatra on Friday after thinning for three days following rain over much of the province, forcing the Malaysian government to evacuate its citizens from Riau.

A Global Atmospheric Watch (GAW) station in Bukit Koto Tabang, Agam regency, reported that as of 12 p.m. on Friday the air quality in the region was ‘‘unhealthy’’. The condition worsened until 1 p.m. and persisted as of 2 p.m. although on the previous day the air quality had been reported to be ‘good’.

Station staff member Alberth Nahas said there were two factors that had brought the haze back to West Sumatra.

First, he said, burned land that had caused haze in the southern part of Sumatra was still dry, meaning forest and land fires could not yet be dealt with thoroughly. Second, there might have been differences in air pressure between two air layers close to the surface.

“The difference caused dust particles to be restrained, so we can feel the impacts of haze,” Alberth said.

He added that the strong smell from the haze indicated that its source was not far away and that the pollution came from a relatively low air layer.

Budi of Padang Panjang said that haze was thickening in the city, where the pungent smoke could be smelled strongly.

Padang Panjang Health Agency said it had contacted the West Sumatra Provincial Health Agency’s laboratory center to monitor the air quality in the city on Saturday. As of Friday, schools in the city remained temporarily closed.

In Pekanbaru, Riau, Antara news agency reported that the Malaysian consulate started evacuating its nationals due to the haze. Consulate staff member Antoni said 120 Malaysians, including 86 students and 10 teachers, were to fly bank to Malaysia on Friday.

“This is an anticipatory measure because the air pollution standard index has exceeded the dangerous threshold,” said Antoni, adding that the Malaysians would be transported on board military aircraft from Subang airport, Malaysia.

“We received an order from the Malaysian kingdom to go home because haze in Pekanbaru is very dangerous,” said Ahmad Akifahmi, one of the Malaysian nationals waiting to be transported home.

Meanwhile, Central Kalimantan acting governor Hadi Prabowo said he would revoke the licenses of companies proven to have burned land during the dry season, causing haze.

“This has to be done to create a chilling effect,” Hadi said in Palangkaraya as quoted by Antara on Friday.

Hadi, who is also a director at the Home Affairs Ministry, gave his assurances that licensing would be tightened in the future to help prevent forest and land fires from recurring in the province.

“That’s why in the future every license has to come with the availability of fire fighting facilities including canals, water reservoirs and other equipment,” Hadi said.

Separately, the Central Kalimantan Police’s special crimes detective director Sr. Comr. Anton Sasono said the National Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim) had deployed 15 investigators to help the Central Kalimantan Police investigate land fire cases.

He said the team would work with the hotspot investigation team in company areas indicated to have been burned.

Over half of 70 daily flights from Riau cancelled due to haze
MOHD ISKANDAR IBRAHIM New Straits Times 20 Sep 15;

RIAU (INDONESIA): Thick haze that blanketed Riau has affected almost 50 per cent of the flight operations at the Sultan Syarif Kasim II (SSK-II), here, for the past month.

SSK-II duty manager Hasnan Harun when met yesterday said many flights had to be either cancelled or delayed because aircraft were not allowed to take off or land due to poor visibility.

"Today (Saturday), 38 out of 70 scheduled flights (arrival and departure), including a Malindo Air flight from Malacca, had to be cancelled while the rest were delayed until visibility reached safe level.

"The minimum level of visibility for take off is 700 metres, while for landing is 1,000 metres.

"This morning (Saturday), three flights - AirAsia to Kuala Lumpur, Batik Air and Lion Air to Jakarta were delayed because visibility here as of 9am was only 500 metres," he said.

Hasnan said even if the haze situation had worsened, they would not shut down the airport. Instead, they will keep airlines updated.

He said since the haze started, only two days (Sept 11 and 15) saw zero flight arrival and departure because the visibility level was below 100 metres.

"An average of 8,000 passengers use this airport daily. But since the haze hits Riau, the number has dwindled."

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Indonesia: Dams to cut supply as dry season drags on

The Jakarta Post 19 Sep 15;

WONOGIRI: Gajah Mungkur and Colo dams in Wonogiri, Central Java, plan to stop irrigating farmland for a month, starting on Oct. 1, in an effort to save water, an official has said.

“In the current prolonged dry season, the availability of clean water is imperative. [The move] is in the interests of the wider public,” said the head of state-owned clean water company Perum Jasa Tirta I’s water resource and service division, Winarno Susiladi.

Winarno said the cutting off of irrigation supplies would begin in October, by which time most harvests would be complete, reducing the need for water. “We need to match the farmers’ harvest schedule before we stop the water supply. The closure will also allow maintenance of the dams and irrigation channels,” he added.

The two dams are used to irrigate 24,000 hectares of farmland in Wonogiri, Sukoharjo, Klaten, Karanganyar and Sragen, all in Central Java, and Ngawi in East Java, according to the official.

- See more at:

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