Best of our wild blogs: 21 Sep 15

Singapore has wild dolphins! Aug-Sep 2015 sightings
wild shores of singapore

The Maiden Walk of the HSS: an afternoon @ Lower Peirce!
Herpetological Society of Singapore

Javan Myna and Noni fruits
Bird Ecology Study Group

Palm King (Amathusia phidippus phidippus) @ Sungei Buloh
Monday Morgue

Read more!

'Spider ambassador' out to nurture nature lovers

Ex-envoy donating massive collection to museum, writing book on local spiders
Jasmine Osada Straits Times 21 Sep 15; and AsiaOne

Mr Joseph Koh's home contains a creepy-crawly secret - a collection of 12,000 spider specimens, possibly the largest of its kind in South-east Asia.

Meet Singapore's very own "Spider-Man". A former career diplomat who last served as Singapore's High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam for six years before retiring in 2012, Mr Koh is a spider expert who has described in journals more than half a dozen spider species that are new to science.

The 66-year-old has been interested in them ever since he was a child. "My father gave me a lot of natural history books," he said.

"Later on, he also introduced me to macro-photography. This kickstarted what was to be my lifelong hobby, and I have been collecting and photographing spiders since I was an A-level student."

He is helped by his wife, Mrs Peifen Koh, also 66, who regularly joins him on his spider-collecting field trips, even to the forests of Brunei while he was working there.

Her job was to hit the leaves of a bush or plant with a stick and catch any spiders that fell out by holding an upturned umbrella underneath. However, Mr Koh insists that his wife's involvement was not out of a love of spiders.

"Once, we were talking to a Bruneian prince about my spider-collecting trips and he was very surprised to learn that my wife often goes along on those trips with me. He asked Peifen if she loves spiders as much as I do, to which she promptly replied, 'No, Your Highness, I do not love spiders; I love my husband.' "

After four decades of gathering spiders in the forests of South-east Asia, Mr Koh is devoting his time to projects to teach future generations of Singaporeans more about appreciating the natural environment.

He has pledged to donate his collection of 12,000 specimens to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. But work must first be done to identify, sort and label the specimens before they can be transferred to the museum in stages.

"I have sorted only about 30 per cent of my collection," he said.

"Identifying spiders is hard work and takes a lot of time, so I would be happy if I can manage to successfully identify one spider a day.

"This is not a job I can finish in my lifetime."

Mr Koh has been actively working with young people who have a passion in arachnology, or the study of spiders, to pass on his knowledge and skills.

"It's more than just about grooming young people to help look after my spider specimens," he said.

"More importantly, I can help foster their love for nature and they can, in turn, inspire others or help make a difference to Singapore."

Mr Koh is also working on a new book about the different spider species found on the Republic's shores, of which he estimates there are 800.

This book, which will be his third, follows a similar volume on Brunei's spiders, published two years ago.

"I had originally wanted to retire, but the National Parks Board requested that I write this new book, and gave me the perfect reason to do so: Since I had already written a comprehensive book about Brunei's spiders, why not work on one for Singapore?"

But completing the book might take a while. Mr Koh said that he is still "on Page 1" due to his busy schedule.

One of the things that has been keeping his schedule packed is his involvement in the Friends of Ubin Network, a discussion group involving nature lovers and government officials on how to best preserve and enhance Pulau Ubin's natural environment.

"In studying spiders in Singapore over the last 40 years, I have never ceased to be amazed by the many unusual and uncommon species on Ubin," Mr Koh said. "Something can be done not just to preserve and enhance Ubin's natural heritage, but also to enrich the biodiversity education of our children.

"I don't really have time to enjoy my retirement; I'm busier than before. But knowing that I can help younger Singaporeans and future generations better appreciate and love nature is what drives me."

Read more!

Shanmugam: "Only so much" Singapore can do to help fight haze

The Straits Times AsiaOne 21 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE - There is "only so much" Singapore can do to prevent the haze from recurring, Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam said on Sunday.

In a Facebook post, Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that Singaporeans' frustrations with the yearly recurrence of the haze was amplified because it was a problem that could be prevented.

"The frustration of our people is all the greater because the haze can be prevented. The majority of the fires are man-made, by companies seeking to profit while people pay the costs."

Mr Shanmugam highlighted that Singapore had taken various efforts to combat the haze: "We have offered assistance to help fight the fires (including this year, but our offer has yet to be accepted). We passed a bill in August 2014 that would allow us to prosecute errant companies found to be causing or contributing to the haze. We have asked Indonesia to give us the names of the companies so that we can consider if we can take action against them."

However, he said that Singapore's ability to stop the fires was limited as they are occurring in another country.

Mr Shanmugam stressed that Indonesia also had a responsibility to take legal and enforcement action against errant companies which violated Indonesia's own laws.

He described as "positive steps" the Indonesian government's actions to declare a state of emergency, deploy troops and assets to deal with the haze, and prosecute companies.

In his post, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, pointed out that the pollution affected not only Singaporeans, but also Indonesians closest to the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan who were the worst affected.

He said that the haze was not only a health hazard which especially affected the young, the elderly and those with chronic lung and heart conditions, but also affected regional economies.

"The 1997 haze cost Southeast Asia an estimated US$9 billion (S$12.6 billion). The potential loss to Riau's economy this year has been estimated at around eight per cent of the province's GDP - some Rp20 trillion (S$1.8 billion)."

Mr Shanmugam revealed that he had expressed "deep concern" while speaking with Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi on Friday, while emphasising that a longer-term solution was necessary.

He said that there had been no concrete progress thus far despite Singapore's efforts to raise the issue at ASEAN, the United Nations and other fora and suggest ways for regional countries to co-operate.

He concluded that "a lasting solution is needed. Our people expect that. And understandly so".

The haze this year has blanketed parts of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

Indonesia has been sending conflicting signals on Singapore's offer to aid in dealing with the haze. Earlier, Channel NewsAsia reported that Indonesia's Vice President Jusuf Kalla had invited Singapore to help, only for Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar to decline Singapore's offer.

In Singapore, the air quality has been in the "unhealthy" range for most of the week leading up to Sunday, Sep 20, when the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix is scheduled to take place.

Race organisers had previously released a statement clarifying that the racing and entertainment programmes from Sep 18-20 would not be altered despite the hazy weather, and the practice sessions and concerts on Friday and Saturday proceeded smoothly.

On Sunday, however, the air quality had improved and fallen back into the "moderate" range, according to the National Environment Agency.

Greater interest in plants with air purification abilities amid hazy conditions in Singapore
The plant called mother-in-law's tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata), for example, has a special air purifying ability to go along with its unusual name.
Janice Lim Channel NewsAsia 20 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: With the return of the haze recently, nurseries are seeing greater interest in these plants and companies are finding ways to further enhance their air purification abilities.

While plants in general are able to purify air, research in the United States and Australia has shown that there are some plants that perform this function better than others.

The plant called mother-in-law's tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata), for example, has a special air purifying ability to go along with its unusual name - it can absorb harmful substances, such as benzene and formaldehyde, which could be present in the air.

These toxic particles are known as volatile organic compounds and are usually found in paints or new furniture. Long-term exposure to these substances is potentially harmful to human health.

Other plants with similar abilities include the peace lily, the Boston fern and the money plant. Besides absorbing toxic particles, these plants also provide fresh oxygen to the environment and release negative ions which are beneficial for one's health.

Mr Peter Cheok of Far East Flora said Singaporeans are always looking for plant types suitable for an indoor environment.

"Particularly because Singaporeans are usually very busy with work, we are using plants which are suitable for indoor and do not require much maintenance, easier to take care of and yet will still grow well. This range of plants has always been popular with our customers," said Mr Cheok.

One biotech company in Singapore, In Vitro, has found that injecting microorganisms into the soil can increase the plants' air purification abilities by up to 10 times.

The company's founder, Mr Kris Soh, said: "Plants and microorganisms have a symbiotic relationship. Toxic gases or impurities in the air are trapped by plants, which move them from their leaves to their roots. During this process, the plants will remove or to break down certain levels of these toxic gases. The rest that is not being broken down will be fed to micro-organisms, which will break them down biologically into smaller, harmless particles as well as water."

In turn, micro-organisms produce carbon dioxide and water which plants - using energy from the sun - convert into food.

- CNA/xk

Read more!

NParks marks 25 years of park connectors in Singapore

A total of 200 trees were planted at the Balam and Pelton Canal Park Connectors to mark the 25th anniversary of Singapore's Park Connector Network.
Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 20 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: The National Parks Board (NParks) on Sunday (Sep 20) marked the 25th anniversary of the Park Connector Network (PCN) in Singapore, with the planting of 200 trees at Balam and Pelton Canal Park Connectors by members of the community including schools, corporate organisations and residents of MacPherson.

The island-wide network of green links improve connectivity to major parks, nature sites and housing estates in Singapore, by taking advantage of drainage and road reserve land.

Over the years, the network has stretched to more than 300km in length. It has also evolved beyond its initial function of connecting parks, and now sports facilities such as bicycle-wheeling channels along overhead bridges along the routes.

In a blog post, Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said it was heartening that the community has developed a strong sense of ownership towards the PCN, such that successive National Development Ministers have embraced and enhanced it.

"Our park connectors have become well-loved green spaces. Volunteers have organised guided rides and cycle-in movies to liven up the PCN," wrote Mr Khaw.

"Cycling group LoveCycling SG has bicycle maintenance workshops and cycling sessions. PCN advocates like Mr Han Jok Kwang have provided many suggestions to improve the PCN, and initiated fund-raising activities to support these improvements. He described his initiatives as good old kampung 'gotong royong'."


On Sunday, a new park connector along Hougang Avenue 3 was also launched to link the Punggol waterways down to the Marina Bay area.

It is the last stretch of the Central Urban Loop, and also the latest addition to the island-wide network of park connectors that forms part of NParks' "City in a Garden" vision.

With the completion of the Hougang Avenue 3 park connector in August, residents of Hougang and MacPherson now have seamless access to the Central Urban Loop. The 36km loop stretches from Lower Pierce Reservoir to Punggol Waterways and leads into the city via the Kallang Park Connector.

NParks said these connectors make efficient use of the space running alongside road and drainage reserves, in densely populated areas such as Aljunied, Serangoon and Paya Lebar.

Said NParks Director of Parks Development, Yeo Meng Tong: "The challenges we face are always about the surrounding infrastructure, which are already there.

“So, we have to be careful to make sure that the utilisation of this reserve land is well integrated with the surroundings, so that the residents and the people around it (who are) working there as well can have easy access to the park connectors, which lead them to better connections to our parks, or other leisure activities."

He added that some challenges include the installing of wheel gutters instead of wider bicycle ramps, to aid cyclists up overhead bridges.

According to Mr Khaw, the PCN is still "growing strong," with an additional 30km of Park Connectors to be completed in Ang Mo Kio, Lorong Halus, and Ulu Pandan over the next three years. NParks aims to eventually grow the PCN to 360km long by 2020.

NParks also announced that 5,500 trees are being planted across the island from Aug 1 to Oct 31, as part of Clean and Green SG50. The initiative will involve an estimated 20,000 people in planting more than 100 species of trees along parks, park connectors and Nature Ways, and highlights how greenery has become an integral part of Singaporeans' lives.

- CNA/xk

NParks launches new 36km park connector
FRANCIS MICAH LAW Today Online 21 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — The National Parks Board (NParks) marked 25 years of the birth of its Park Connector Network (PCN) with the launch yesterday (Sept 20) of the new Central Urban Loop at the Pelton Park Connector.

The 36-kilometre loop was completed after the addition of the 4.4-km Hougang Ave 3 Park Connector this month, and is the fifth loop in NParks’ plan to have seven PCN loops.

In a blog post, Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said that in the next three years, an additional 30km of park connectors will be completed in Ang Mo Kio, Lorong Halus, and Ulu Pandan.

The latest loop gives visitors easier access to popular spots such as Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and Punggol Waterway Park. The Hougang Ave 3 Park Connector also provides a direct link to the North-Eastern Riverine Loop for Hougang and Macpherson residents, and to the Eastern Coastal Loop for Punggol residents.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority is now working with consultants to minimise several obstacles along the Kallang Park Connector, such as overhead bridges, which requires cyclists to dismount and push their bicycles.

While bicycle gutters have been added, older visitors might find the process challenging. Visitors can, however, use alternative routes along the loop for a smoother journey to their destination. “Our park connectors have become well-loved green spaces. Volunteers have organised guided rides and cycle-in movies to liven up the PCN,” Mr Khaw noted.

NParks has now hit its goal of 300km of Park Connectors five years ahead of time. It aims to reach the next target of 370 km by 2020 as part of the Government’s Land Transport Masterplan, which foresees a 700-km PCN by 2030. NParks has also begun plans for an Island-wide Loop that snakes along the coast of Singapore in the near future.

Park connectors reach 300km at 25-year mark
Zhaki Abdullah and Jalelah Abu Baker AsiaOne 21 Sep 15;

In 1992, then Minister for National Development S. Dhanabalan planted a tembusu tree at Kallang Park Connector to mark the birth of the Park Connector Network.

Yesterday, the length of these connectors in Singapore reached 300km, with the launch of the Central Urban Loop.

In a blog post yesterday, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: "Our park connectors have become well-loved green spaces." He added that it is heartening that the community has developed a strong sense of ownership towards them.

Residents in Hougang will now be able to cycle directly to Punggol and Kallang, thanks to the completion of the new Hougang Avenue 3 Park Connector.

Construction of the 4.3km park route began last year and it completes the 36km Central Urban Loop, the fifth loop in the Park Connector Network (PCN).

It links the existing North Eastern Riverine and Eastern Coastal loops, allowing residents in Ang Mo Kio, Hougang and Serangoon improved access to attractions such as the East Coast and Punggol Waterway parks.

"I'm interested in exploring the new Central Urban Loop," said Sengkang resident Woon Wai Meng, 38. The media engineer, who is an avid cyclist, added that he looks forward to more of the park connectors being linked together across the island.

Another two loops, the Southern Ridges and Central Nature, are currently in the planning stages.

Also in the works is the Round Island Route, which will circle around Singapore and link up with the other PCN loops.

In his blog post, Mr Khaw said that in the next three years, another 30km of park connectors will be completed in Ang Mo Kio, Lorong Halus and Ulu Pandan.

The PCN has expanded from a 5km stretch linking Bishan Park to Braddell Road in 1992 to a 300km network connecting parks, nature sites and housing estates around the island.

The National Parks Board (NParks) works together with other agencies, including town councils and the Land Transport Authority, to improve the PCN experience for users, such as by integrating park connectors with existing facilities like exercise areas and playgrounds and improving accessibility for cyclists.

The network is expected to expand to 360km by 2020.

The opening of the Central Urban Loop coincides with the 25th anniversary of the conception of the PCN in 1990.

NParks marked the occasion with an event held yesterday afternoon at the MacPherson Community Club.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Mr Dhanabalan were in attendance. Also present was Japanese landscape architect Junichi Inada, who conceptualised the park connectors in 1987 while working at NParks.

He presented his idea in a report, which was later picked up by the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Inada said: "My concept has been realised. I am very honoured, and I am most happy that people are using the PCN."

Mr Kenneth Er, NParks' chief executive, said: "The park connectors are the green veins of our city in a garden, connecting our communities to our parks and providing myriad recreational options for many."

Additional reporting by Jalelah Abu Baker

Read more!

Indonesia: 58,000 Hectares Ablaze in Sumatra as Haze Spreads West

Jakarta Globe 20 Sep 15;

Jakarta. Fires that have cloaked large swaths of Sumatra in a choking haze, spreading as far as Singapore, have destroyed at least 58,000 hectares of forest on the Indonesian island, an official said.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said on Sunday that the government was investigating nearly 300 companies for alleged slash-and-burn practices.

“In total there are 276 [private business] entities [with areas which have been on fire]. Some have not been identified because they are cooperatives and bearers of land use permits, which are under the auspices of the National Land Agency,” she said.

“There are 147 [unidentified entities]. But from an environmental standpoint they are being suspected of violating the law.”

Siti said her office has deployed at least 200 officers to investigate firms with concessions on which fires had been detected, suspecting them of slash-and-burn practices.

“We will analyze [the officers' findings] to determine if [the firms] can be penalized or even have their operations suspended,” she said.

The government has launched a crackdown on companies found to be involved in slash-and-burn agriculture, promising to publish a list of violators before the end of the year.

"We're drafting the list as we await the administration process. It won't take long, [we'll have it ready] in December at the latest," Siti told reporters in Jakarta on Friday.

According to Siti, the companies will be categorized into three levels and punished accordingly.

The different punishments are meted out based on the amount of land burned, with the first category being 100 hectares or less, the second being 100-500 hectares, and for those involved in burning over 500 hectares or more, the company's operation permit will, at the very least, be revoked by the local government.

"It should only take a week for permit withdrawal. If the local governments [don't] do it, the ministry will," the minister said, adding the government would take over the concession area in that case.

To date, authorities have named 10 firms as suspects over forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimatan.

The haze was reported to have reached West Sumatra on Sunday from the epicenter of the disaster some 300 kilometers east in Jambi and Riau provinces. Visibility was as low as 100 meters in some areas of West Sumatra, which, unlike the other provinces on the island, has not registered any fire hot spots.

The smoke has led to some 4,000 complaints about respiratory ailments among residents of West Sumatra.

Haze crisis escalates
Syofiardi Bachyul Jb and Syamsul Huda M. Suhari, The Jakarta Post 20 Sep 15;

With no sign of immediate recovery, regions enveloped by smoke produced from land and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan have continued to struggle not only with the impact of deteriorating air quality, but also with the expansion of affected areas.

In West Sumatra, a Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) station in Bukit Kototabang, Agam regency, reported that the air quality in areas around the station had dropped to the “dangerous” zone after its level of particulate matter (PM10) was measured at 436 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³) on Saturday morning, the highest level recorded this year.

According to the government’s existing guidelines, air quality is considered “healthy” if its PM10 level stands below 50 µg/m³, “moderate” when the level stands between 50 and 150 µg/m³, “unhealthy” between 150 and 350 µg/m³, “very unhealthy” between 350 and 420 µg/m³ and “dangerous” when it surpasses 420 µg/m³.

“At 10 a.m. the PM10 level in areas around the station stood at 408 µg/m³ and quickly increased to 436 µg/m³ by noon. Several hours later, the returned to the ‘very unhealthy’ level”, station head Edison Kurniawan told The Jakarta Post.

Agam, home to 500,000 people, is located 100 kilometers northwest of the West Sumatra provincial capital of Padang, which has also been struggling with the impact of thick haze over the past few weeks.

Edison said the high intensity of haze in Agam had been mainly caused by the increasing number of hot spots from wildfires in southern Sumatra, including in neighboring Riau and Jambi provinces.

“Today, the air condition is very poor. Even those living in Bukittinggi are now starting to smell the smoke,” he said, referring to a popular resort city located 100 kilometers north of Padang.

Jimi Metrison, a Bukittinggi resident, said that thick haze had begun to blanket his hometown on Saturday.

“People in Sungai Puar hamlet could not see Mount Marapi, even though the distance between the area and the volcano is only 5 kilometers,” Jimi said.

Apart from West Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan are among the provinces hardest hit by the air pollution originating from fires in peat land and plantations.

In Riau, the Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) detected 127 hot spots across the province on Saturday morning, an alarming situation after the province had managed to reduce hot spots to almost zero over the past two weeks.

“Pelalawan [regency] had the highest number of hot spots, 53, followed by Indragiri Hulu with 49,” Pekanbaru BMKG head Sugarin said as quoted by Antara news agency.

Of the 127 hot spots, 90, according to Sugarin, were identified as fires with a level of certainty above 70 percent.

Meanwhile in Gorontalo, hundreds of local residents and forest rangers strived on Saturday to extinguish fires raging in more than 20 hectares of a conservation forest in North Dulamayo, Gorontalo regency.

“We have put out fires on the south side of the forest and are now working to handle those in the north,” Yosef Talawo, a forest ranger, told the Post.

Worsening forest fires have also threatened some of the most biodiverse and carbon-rich ecosystems in the country, its protected forests and peat lands.

According to NASA’s Active Fire Data on the Global Forest Watch Fires (GFW Fires) platform, half of the fire alerts in Riau are occurring in protected areas or those where new development is prohibited under Indonesia’s national forest conversion moratorium.

A large number of fire alerts, for example, are concentrated in Riau’s Tesso Nilo National Park, which has been significantly damaged by illegal encroachment in recent years.

The approximately 83,000-hectare park lost more than half of its tree cover from 2001-2013, according to Global Forest Watch data. The park is a habitat for critically endangered Sumatran elephants and tigers.

Meanwhile, the government has agreed to share with Singapore detailed information on companies responsible for land and forest fires in the country, a development that could enable Singapore to prosecute Singaporeans as well as foreign firms involved in illegal burning outside Singapore.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said on Saturday that she had talked with her Singaporean counterpart, Vivian Balakrishnan, to discuss the issue.

“I told him that I would inform the public [about companies responsible for forest fires] anyway. I didn’t specifically say that [we] would give [the information] to Vivian. I will send [the information] through diplomatic channels, ie through the Indonesian Foreign Minister [Retno LP Marsudi],” she told the Post.

The news came after Singaporean Foreign Minister K Shanmugam called Retno to express his deep concern over the ongoing haze crisis. He said strong action was needed against guilty companies, and urged Indonesia to share their names with Singapore.

Hans Nicholas Jong contributes to this report from Jakarta

Police Ready to Send First Forest Fire Case to Court
Jakarta Globe 20 Sep 15;

Jakarta. Indonesian police are expediting a criminal investigation into one of 10 companies charged so far with starting forest fires that have generated choking haze across vast swaths of Sumatra and reached as far as Singapore.

A source at the police identified the company in question as Bumi Mekar Hijau, a South Sumatra-based supplier to Singapore-listed Asia Pulp and Paper (APP).

Under the charges being brought by investigators, company executives could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of deliberately setting the fires to clear forested land for planting.

“Next week we’ll be ready to submit the case [to prosecutors],” the source told the Jakarta Globe on Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Hopefully the prosecutors can deem [all the evidence] sufficient so we can proceed to investigating other companies that have also burned forests.”

Bumi Mekar Hijau was earlier this year the subject of a civil suit filed by the government over fires inside its concession last year. A court in South Sumatra threw out the case in February.

In the current investigation, police have charged an unnamed executive from the company with violating a prohibition on slash-and-burn forest clearing.

An APP spokesman told Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper that it was “not aware of any new formal police charges against any of our suppliers at this time” and maintained that APP had operated a “zero burning” policy in its supply chain since 1996.

Police have charged 10 companies in Sumatra and Kalimantan along with 127 individuals for slash-and-burn practices, which are believed to be behind the thick haze that has blanketed parts of the country as well as Singapore and Malaysia, bringing air quality indexes in all three countries to unhealthy levels.

The companies face fines of up to Rp 10 billion ($694,000) each, while the suspects face jail time of up to 10 years under the environmental protection and forestry laws.

The companies also face having their permits revoked by the government.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) called on Sunday for the government to employ some of the nation’s best lawyers to prosecute these cases, saying they could serve as a precedent for future prosecutions and lawsuits against other companies.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said on Sunday that the government was investigating nearly 300 companies for alleged slash-and-burn practices.

The ministry has deployed at least 200 officers to investigate firms with concessions on which fires had been detected, suspecting them of using the slash-and-burn method of clearing land. The minister promised to publish a list of violators before the end of the year.

Thick haze causes reduced visibility in Padang 20 Sep 15;

The Ketaping, Padangpariaman office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in West Sumatra said thick smoke from several provinces across Sumatra had reduced visibility in Padang to around 1,000 meters on Sunday.

“After two days of rain, haze has blanketed Padang and West Sumatra again, resulting in limited visibility,” BMKG Ketaping weather analyst Yuni Fitria said as quoted by Antara in Padang on Sunday.

She said the smoke came from neighboring provinces, such as Riau and South Sumatra, while in West Sumatra, several hot spots were detected in the southern part of the province.

Yuni said haze was not only blanketing Padang but had been spreading evenly over West Sumatra.

“The smoke will only clear if rain falls on detected hot spots,” she said, adding that rain was not expected in the next two days.

The pollution has hampered resident’s activities. Padang Beach and Agus Salim Sports Stadium were not as crowded as usual on Sunday.

The head of disease control and disaster mitigation at the West Sumatra administration’s health agency, Irene, said the administration had instructed regencies and municipalities to instruct people to wear masks and reduce outdoor activities. “We are calling on all residents to reduce outdoor activities and increase their intake of vitamins to stay healthy,” she said.

Irene further explained that the number of people suffering from acute respiratory infections (ISPA) had reached 3,220, down from 6,009 in the previous week. (ebf)

Minister promises tough action on fire starters
Rizal Harahap, 20 Sep 15;

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has said the government will impose tougher sanctions against any company found guilty of practicing slash-and-burn forest clearing.

According to Siti, this year’s land and forest fires in Riau have been far fewer than in previous years, and the smoke currently blanketing Riau is largely from fires in Jambi and South Sumatra.

“It seems that Kalimantan and southern Sumatra are chasing each other on the emergence of hot spots. That’s why we are focusing our attention on those two areas,” said Siti, speaking on the sidelines of a two-day visit to Riau, which ended on Sunday.

Siti said the government would not let up on its efforts to investigate environmental damage caused by fires from land clearing, which allegedly implicates several plantation companies in Riau.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry, she added, had dispatched at least 70 environment surveillance officials (PPLH), 116 forest ecosystem controllers and 48 forest rangers (Polhut) to Riau to analyze the level of violations committed by companies.

“The results of the analysis will determine what kind of sanctions we will impose on the companies, whether we only need to impose administrative sanctions or if we have to freeze the permits of companies proven to have committed legal violations,” said Siti.

The minister said her visit to Riau was aimed at ensuring that companies proven guilty of legal violations would be sanctioned immediately.

“By the end of this year at the latest, all land problems in Riau must be completely resolved,” she said.

Citing official data, Siti said 276 companies had been involved in land-burning cases in several areas across Indonesia, 147 of which had obtained land-management permits from institutions other than the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

“Those who damage the environment will get similar sanctions. The public are fed up with seeing companies that violate the law given warnings only,” said Siti.

Slash-and-burn land clearing practices are widely seen as a major cause of land and forest fires in Riau.

Nonetheless, Siti said the government did not intend to change an existing regulation allowing people with 2 hectares of land to clear their land using slash-and-burn.

“This traditional method of land-clearing has been in practice across the globe since the era of the nomads. If we change the regulation without a proper study, we run the risk of affecting people’s livelihoods,” the minister said.

“One thing we need to do is ensure that the implementation of slash-and-burn clearing methods does not violate legal requirements,” she added.

The government might, Siti went on, seek to deter the use of fire to clear land by offering economic incentives. (ebf)

Govt acts on haze health issues
Rizal Harahap, 20 Sep 15;

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has urged the Riau administration to pay close attention to health problems caused by haze currently blanketing parts of the province.

Fire-extinguishing efforts in Riau this year, Siti said, had been much better than in previous years.

“It’s much more manageable. One thing that needs a special effort is the health impacts of the haze,” said the minister during a two-day visit to Riau, which ended on Sunday.

“I’ve received reports that local administrations have established health posts. Therefore, I’ve brought Health Ministry secretary-general [Untung Soeseno Sutarjo] on my visit to Riau, as it is his ministry that properly understands the technical procedures to tackle the crisis Riau residents are currently facing,” said Siti.

Speaking on the visit, Untung confirmed that the Health Ministry would establish two additional health posts to tackle the health impacts of haze in Pekanbaru. Untung said that 14 specialist doctors and paramedics specially deployed from Jakarta would provide healthcare services at the posts.

He added that the two health posts had been established near Arifin Achmad Regional General Hospital (RSUD) in Pekanbaru so that it would be easier for medical workers to refer patients with serious medical problems who needed further treatment. “We are ready to dispatch more health workers if needed,” said the official.

According to the Health Ministry, half a ton of medicines for illnesses caused by haze, such as acute respiratory infections, asthma and inflamed throats, has been sent to Riau and is scheduled to arrive in Pekanbaru on Sunday evening.

The additional medical supplies, Untung said, had been provided to ensure that no more expired medicine was distributed to patients.

“There was a case of expired medicine, which was reportedly caused by a shortage of medical supplies at health posts,” he said.

On Friday, an official at a health post near Sukaramai market in Pekanbaru gave Inflation, an anti-inflammation medicine, to a smoke-affected patient, who later revealed to the press that the medicine had expired in March 2015. (ebf)

Haze disaster is human rights abuse, says rights commission 19 Sep 15;

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has said that the uncontrollable spread of air pollution from forest fires in Sumatra could be categorized as a human rights violation by the state because the government allows it to happen every year.

"The government has committed fundamental human rights abuse because it does not stop [the forest fires] happening," Komnas HAM commissioner Roichatul said as quoted by on Saturday. She said that preventing such annual disasters occurring was the responsiblity of the central government, provincial governments and regency and city governments.

Siti Nurlaila, another commissioner, said the spread of the choking haze had curtailed the fundamental rights of the people to live a healthy life. The people are forced to inhale polluted air in their own homes and workplaces. Therefore, she demanded the government temporarily relocate all people, particularly children, affected by the haze to more healthy areas.

Relocating the people to safe areas is no less important than the efforts to extinguish the fires, according to Siti. "The government has also to provide indoor education and indoor playgrounds for the children affected by the haze," Siti added.

On Friday, a group of people, who described themselves as Riau’s Anti-Haze Movement visited the Komnas HAM office in Jakarta to complain about the worsening impact of the haze on people’s health in the province over the past month.

Siti said that her institution would carry out an investigation. "We have to work immediately because the air pollution in the area has become intolerable," she said, adding that the investigation was important for her institution before submitting a recommendation to the government.

Meanwhile, Riau Provincial Health Agency recorded that the number of people suffering from upper respiratory tract infections (ISPA) as a result of this year's haze had reached 43,386 or about double the 27,200 recorded last year. (bbn)(++++)

Govt investigates hundreds of businesses over haze
Andi Abdussalam Antara 20 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government is now investigating a total of 276 business entities suspected to have caused forest fires which create haze that shrouds Sumatra, Kalimantan, Singapore and Malaysia over the past few days.

The investigation of the 276 business entities, including private companies, cooperatives and other land business title holders, is carried out by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (LHK).

"In total, there are 276 suspected business entities. Some are not yet identified as they turned out to be cooperatives and HGU (land title for industrial purposes) business holders," Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said in Pekanbaru, Riau provincial capital, on Saturday night.

She said some 147 of them were now under examinations process by the National Land Agency (BPN) because they were outside the forest areas.

"But in terms of environment, the likelihood of their violation is strong. I think they have caused damage to the environment because they burnt land," Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said.

She said that after the identification process and found the companies profiles, her ministry would field 70 environment officials, 116 forestry ecosystem supervisors and 40 forest police personnel.

"They will be trained and be deployed simultaneously to the field to check and assess the companies to decide the level of their violation. The companies will then receive light or heavy punishment. Surely, there is the possibility for the companies to have their business frozen," Siti Nurbaya said.

She said most of the entities were palm oil companies whose permits were issued by district heads. The minister said in revealing the fact, she had no intention to pinpoint who was wrong but to emphasize that companies receiving licenses should continue to be monitored.

Therefore, the minister hoped the forest fire cases would soon be settled, even before the end of the year. She is prepared to be pressured if the case remains unresolved at the end of 2015.

"I want this problem to be settled before the yearend. If not resolved, you may yell at me," Minister Nurbaya said.

She said besides Riau, forest fires were found mostly in South Sumatra, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan. "South Sumatra, Central and West Kalimantan are as if competing each other in creating haze. Haze in Riau Province has started since November but it is manageable. Therefore, I decided to handle Riau haze mostly through a phone call with the governor and officials of the Technical Units," she said.

Up to Friday, September 18, due to haze, three provinces have been declared to be in the emergency response status by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), namely the provinces of Riau, Jambi and Central Kalimantan.

South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan provinces were still in the emergency alert status.

Chief of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Willem Rampangilei has set a target of one month to extinguish forest fires that have blanketed South Sumatra Province in haze.

The deadline is in accordance with instructions from President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), Rampangilei said on Friday.

Starting Sept 11, the agency has intensified efforts to put out forest and plantation fires in South Sumatra.

According to Vice President Jusuf Kalla, the government is all out in putting out forest fires and overcoming the haze problem.

"The government is making all efforts to overcome haze. The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) is also involved in providing assistance on humanitarian and health aspects. It distributes face masks and other assistance," Kalla said after attending a fun walk held at the Hotel Indonesia Traffic Circle to observe the 70th anniversary of PMI on Sunday.

The Vice President said that the government had made attempts to put out forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra through technical efforts in the field. Thousands of military personnel are also mobilized to put out the fires.

Some 2,909 military and police personnel have been deployed in stages to help put out the fires on Kalimantan and Sumatra islands. In Sumatras Riau Province, the worst hit by haze, the Indonesian Military (TNI) deployed 1,250 soldiers after President Joko Widodo declared a state of emergency.

Earlier, on Sept. 11, some 1,059 military personnel were sent to South Sumatra, which had also been hit by wildfires.

According to Kalla, who is also the general chairman of PMI, the Red Cross provided assistant from the humanitarian aspect.

"Humanitarian problems are increasingly bigger in line with the dynamism of us all. There are people who become toll of natural disasters, humanitarian victims and other problems. All become parts of our tasks, such as haze, to overcome it," he said.

Kalla said the PMI is providing assistance for haze victims by, among others, distributing face masks to residents.

The executive chairman of PMI, Ginandjar Kartasasmita, said PMI had distributed thousands of face masks to residents affected by the haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

He pointed out that PMI planned to coordinate with the BNPB to take more active part in assisting the people who are affected by haze.

The haze that affected several parts of Indonesia in recent weeks has caused 22,535 people to develop upper tract respiratory infection.

"The number of people suffering from upper tract respiratory infection reached 22,535 as of September 11, 2015.

The figure is likely to increase as haze caused by forest fires still continues," Health Minister Nila F Moeloek said meanwhile.(*)

Read more!

Malaysia-Indonesia MoU to tackle haze set to be signed before year’s end

NURBAITI HAMDAN The Star 21 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Malaysia and Indonesia to tackle the recurrent haze will be signed before the end of the year.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the MoU would pave the way for wider cooperation between both countries to handle the issue.

He said the draft of the MoU had been completed and that he would hold a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart to formalise the agreement.

“The draft is done. I am confident we can sign it this year,” he told reporters after visiting the Panda Conservation Centre at Zoo Negara to see giant panda Liang Liang and her newborn cub yesterday.

The meeting, scheduled to be held on Friday, has also been postponed due to the deteriorating haze situation in Indonesia.

The meeting between Junaidi and his Indonesian counterpart had been postponed twice.

The MoU, which was discussed even before the haze hit the country a few weeks ago, contains four steps to overcome haze – law enforcement, zero burning practice for the Indonesians, peat soil management and collaboration between the two countries whenever fires break out.

The bilateral MoU was the result of the 17th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Tansboundary Haze Pollution, held in Jakarta on July 28 last year.

Indonesia is also expected to sign similar agreements with Singapore, Thailand and Brunei.

In January, Indonesia was the last member country to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

Dr Wan Junaidi also warned that the Department of Environment would take action against Malaysians who were involved in open burning although API readings had been going down.

“I have received reports of four hotspots: two in Kelantan and one each in Johor and Pahang.

“We won’t compromise. Our society needs a healthy environment,” he said.

Discussions On Long-term Solution To Haze Problem On Sept 25 - Zahid
Kamarul Ariffin Md Yassin Bernama 20 Sep 15;

JAKARTA, Sept 20 (Bernama) -- Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar will leave for Jakarta on Sept 25 to discuss long-term measures to combat the haze problem, said Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

He said Malaysia will cooperate with Indonesia to tackle the problem.

"Our Natural Resources and Environment Minister will arrive in Jakarta on Sept 25 to hold further talks with Indonesia and other ASEAN partners," he told a press conference after attending a gathering with Malaysians living in the Indonesian capital at the Malaysian Embassy here Sunday.

On Friday, Ahmad Zahid had said Malaysia and Indonesia will implement long-term measures to resolve the cross-border haze problem which occurs every year.

The haze which affects several countries in Southeast Asia is a recurring annual problem. The main cause is said to forest burning activities for the cultivation of oil palm and other crops in Indonesia, mainly in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Commenting on the government's efforts to provide assistance to Malaysians in Indonesian areas badly hit by the haze, the Deputy Prime Minister said he would discuss this with Malaysia's Ambassador to Indonesia Datuk Seri Zahrain Mohamed Hashim as well as student leaders there.

"The earlier aid rendered was under the National Security Council but now it is under the National Disaster Management Agency. There are also requests for financial aid to Malaysian students in areas badly-hit by the haze, we will look into it," he said.

Commenting on his four-day visit to Indonesia since Friday, his first trip overseas since his appointment as Deputy Prime Minister on July 28, Ahmad Zahid said he chose Indonesia as his first foreign destination, following the tradition of all newly appointed Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers of Malaysia.

"It is to discuss bilateral relations. I conducted several discussions on bilateral relations including issues of common importance such as the need to enhance exchange of intelligence information between enforcement agencies, especially in tackling the threat of terrorism.

"Also the Indonesian workforce in Malaysia as well as their welfare. The process of amnesty for Indonesian illegal immigrants (in Malaysia) was also discussed," he said.

On arrival on Friday morning, Ahmad Zahid had a a meeting with the republic's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan.

This was followed by courtesy call on Indonesian Vice President Jusof Kalla at the Vice-President's Palace.

Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is also Home Minister, held a meeting with Indonesian minister for Manpower and Transmigration Muhammad Hanif Dhakiri while today, he met with Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo.

Zahid also paid a courtesy call on Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the Presidential Palace in Bogor, about 50km from here.

The visit which lasted about an hour, was an unscheduled programme for Ahmad Zahid in Indonesia, after the President sent him an invitation.

"What is important is that the informal relations between the two countries have resolved several problems including that of the process of bringing in Indonesian workers, as well as the system for legalising workers who want to return to Indonesia with the cooperation of the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

"We have asked them (the Indonesian Embassy) to issue travel documents, and the individual will pay a fine which depends on the duration of their stay in Malaysia," he said.


Read more!

Malaysia: Philippines cyclone build-up may blow smog back here

PATRICK LEE The Star 21 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: A potential cyclone building up on the eastern side of the Philippines is likely to pull winds, bringing the haze back from Indonesia to Malaysia.

This is expected to happen from tomorrow and could last until early next month, based on how strong the cyclone turns out to be.

A low-pressure area, otherwise known as a potential cyclone, was currently forming in the east of the Philippines, said Meteor­ological Department spokesperson Dr Hisham Mohd Anip.

“The reason the wind will turn back from the south is because of the development of the tropical cyclone.

“The wind will carry the haze back to Malaysia,” he told The Star via WhatsApp.

When asked how long this could last, he said it could be up to early October depending on the strength of the cyclone and the number of fires raging in Indonesia.

Dr Hisham said even without the formation of a cyclone, the low-pressure area would still result in a change of wind direction, bringing the haze back.

The number of areas with unhealthy air pollution index readings had dropped over the past two days, thanks to winds blowing the smog westward from hotspots in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Haze maps on the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre website showed that winds blowing north-east towards Malaysia on Sept 14 changed to move south-west five days later.

Dense haze was recorded in Central Kalimantan on Sept 19, with moderate haze blowing over much of Sumatra, avoiding Malaysia and Singapore entirely.

Much of the country had clean air yesterday, especially in Sabah and Sarawak, with the highest pollution reading recorded in Seri Manjung in Perak (93) at 1pm.

The air quality improved with 10 areas recording healthy levels from 7am.

According to the Department of Environment’s portal, the three new areas with good air quality were Tanjung Malim in Perak with an API reading of (48), Kuching (50) and Sibu (50).

An API reading of 0 to 50 indicates good air quality; 51 to 100, moderate; 101 to 200, unhealthy; 201 to 300, very unhealthy and 300 and above, hazardous.

Dr Hisham said rain also helped to wash away the haze, adding that there would also be less rainfall.

“It’s difficult to say how much but less rain can definitely be expected until the end of next week,” he said.

He said this was because moisture from nearby regions would be drawn out towards the low-pressure area in the east of the Philippines.

He said the region’s inter-monsoon period, which usually meant wetter weather, had already started but was “disturbed” by the potential cyclone phenomenon.

A Natural Resources and Environ­ment Ministry statement said satellites had spotted 125 fire hotspots in Sumatra and only 30 in Kalimantan because of poor coverage.

Four hotspots were located in Malaysia – Kelantan (2), Pahang (1) and Johor (1).

Read more!

Indonesia: Government predicts rise in C02 emissions by 2020

The Jakarta Post 19 Sep 15;

The government unveiled on Friday its annual emissions target, also known as Forest Reference Emission Levels (FREL), as part of its commitment on implementing the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus (REDD+) scheme.

Although the national agency for REDD+ (BP REDD+), formed in 2013 to fight climate change, was officially disbanded in January and was later merged with the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the government said it continued to maintain its commitment under the ministry.

The FREL figures released by the ministry on Friday started from 0.575 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) this year and are expected to reach 0.593 gigatons of CO2e in 2020.

The projected increase was expected due to deforestation, forest degradation and peat decomposition. The benchmark increases 1.6 percent every year due to inherited emissions from peat decomposition.

“However, it has not included forest fires as a source of emissions because there are many versions of data from different institutions and we still need to explore a more accurate method to map hotspots and peat depth,” Nur Masripatin, the ministry’s director general for climate change, said Friday during the soft launch of FREL and the Biennial Update Reports (BUR) in Central Jakarta on Friday.

The figures will be submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) this December for evaluation.

“The decision to set FREL is a part of our efforts in fighting climate change, along with other efforts such as ongoing mitigation activities related to agriculture and public development in forest areas,” Nur said.

She was quick to mention that the reference level was not directly related to the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) plan that will also be submitted to the UN, which emphasizes emission reduction targets mostly from the energy sector.

FREL are needed as a requirement to be able to implement 2007 REDD+ commitments under the UN. REDD+ is a mechanism aimed at slowing climate change by providing financial incentives to protect forests, as they absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

The mechanism uses a performance-based payment system in which countries may pay Indonesia for keeping carbon stock low.

In 2010, through the National Council on Climate Change (DNPI), Indonesia signed a letter of intent with the government of Norway to reduce forest-based gas emissions in return for financial support of up to US$1 billion.

“However, the disbursement hasn’t been optimal because we haven’t got any reference level as a baseline of our progress,” Nur said.

FREL are calculated by a team of experts from the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, the Geospatial Information Agency (BIG), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

In fact, both BP REDD+ and the forestry ministry published FREL earlier last year but failed to submit them to the UN.

“These FREL are calculated based on the average deforestation rate from 1990 to 2012 while last year they used data from 2000 to 2012. So the figure this year reflects more the government’s policies from year to year,” said Rizaldi Boer, the team reviewer from IPB. (rbk)

Read more!