Best of our wild blogs: 23 Sep 15

30 Sep (Wed): Ballast Water Management and Marine Bio-Invasion
Green Drinks Singapore

Macro Photography Outings – August 2015
Bugs & Insects of Singapore

4 Steps to Create a Free Dashboard for Monitoring Your Green Business and News
Green Future Solutions

Who’s responsible for Indonesia’s fires?
Mongabay Environmental News

Many solutions to Southeast Asia’s haze problem proposed, but no end in sight
Mongabay Environmental News

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When the haze doesn't go away

Euston Quah, Tan Tsiat SiongTHE STRAITS TIMES AsiaOne 23 Sep 15;

Singapore has been shrouded in haze from the Indonesian forest fires in recent weeks. This transboundary pollution problem remains intractable despite seemingly increased efforts in recent years to mitigate it.

The region should not expect this problem - which has lasted for at least two decades - to be resolved any time soon.

The recent policy enacted by Singapore - to impose harsh fines on errant companies whose activities contribute to the transboundary haze - is likely to be futile. The reason is simple: The problem lies outside Singapore's jurisdiction and cannot be solved by us alone.

The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, passed in Singapore's Parliament last year, will not have any impact on the transboundary haze if Singapore companies are the only ones hauled up to face the law, whereas non-Singapore firms contributing to the haze problem go scot-free.

Many also optimistically expect that Indonesia will take action against those responsible for illegal forest fires, but that is not going to happen fast enough for the haze to clear up soon.

In the meantime, what could be done? While international pressure on the culprits should continue, it is extremely important to work with stakeholders, which include not only the victim countries but also farmers and plantation owners in haze-originating countries, regional organisations (for example, ASEAN, Apec), global agencies (for example, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund) and other non-governmental organisations.

For Singapore, it is crucial that we accept that the haze will be with us for years to come, and learn to live with it while mitigation efforts are ongoing.


At the root of the problem is the cross-boundary nature of the haze pollution. It is difficult for any country to assert extra-territorial jurisdiction without infringing on the sovereignty of other nations.

For Indonesia, enacting land-use statutes or changing institutions to regulate forest burning can be tedious.

Nevertheless, the greater challenge lies in the enforcement of these laws.

As highlighted in an earlier Straits Times article ("Tough to pinpoint haze culprits"; Sept 15), the identification of errant culprits is no easy feat and the prosecution of perpetrators is also a long-drawn-out process.

Besides, Indonesia, as a developing country, has to carefully allocate its resources across other critical needs such as infrastructure development, education and subsidies to the poor.

The onsets of the forest fires are exacerbated by natural factors like the cyclical El Nino which prolongs the drought and intensifies the fires.

In fact, meteorologists predict that this year's El Nino will have one of the strongest effects since 1950. With Indonesia being home to the world's largest area of tropical peatland, dousing its forest fires is evidently a much harder task than it appears.

The peat can continue to burn for months even after surface fires have been put out.


The haze imposes significant costs on the region. Haze particles can cause eye and throat irritation and respiratory illnesses, that will entail more medical expenses and cause a loss in productivity.

Other sectors of the economy, such as tourism, retail and conferencing, will also be affected when tourists decide to skip the haze-affected countries. Indirect costs in the form of reduced visibility and cancellation of recreational activities are also significant.

Recent school closures in several states of Malaysia and Singapore's offer of fire-fighting assistance to Indonesia are other examples of consequential costs.

During the 1997 haze, an episode that lasted three months, a conservative estimate of the economic costs of the haze in Singapore (by Professor Euston Quah, one of the two authors of this piece) was US$163 million.

In 2013, the one-week haze period which saw the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reaching a record high of 401 led to estimated economic losses of US$50 million, a figure extrapolated from previous findings. In the future, the economic costs are likely to increase.


Commentators often suggest that consumers should boycott products made by plantations that use the slash-and-burn method to clear land.

This approach is hardly feasible, given that identifying plantations complicit in causing fires is difficult. A boycott will likely penalise many of the poor who are hired by the plantation owners.

Furthermore, palm oil products produced by these errant plantation owners may be used as intermediate goods to produce final foods. Final producers might be unfairly penalised in a product boycott.

One should note that the forest fires also contribute significantly to carbon emissions and hence global warming. In 1997, the carbon emissions from the three months of forest fires exceeded the annual carbon emissions of the whole of Europe.

It is also crucial to keep up the pressure on Indonesia to alleviate the haze problem, by mustering the collective influence of international and regional agencies.

There should be continual and systematic research in this part of the world on the damage caused by haze at the sectoral level.

Calculating these costs could help Singapore better negotiate with haze-originating countries and estimate the costs of aid to be given to Indonesia. It can also help the governments in Singapore and Indonesia to offer targeted assistance to the affected sectors.

Currently, the clear response of Singapore, which includes timely dissemination of information to the public, the Haze Subsidy Scheme, and the WeCare packs, is highly applaudable.

The Singapore Government can take an even more active role in advising people against outdoor activities.

It can consider imposing a mandatory shutdown of outdoor sports facilities when PSI levels reach the very unhealthy or hazardous levels. This could be accompanied by a compensation scheme for affected businesses.

The perennial haze problem requires a multi-faceted approach.

While protest efforts continue, it is important for now to give more thought to what Singapore could effectively do to mitigate the ill effects of the transboundary haze on the economy, our health and our everyday life.

Can the annual haze episode go away? With the adoption of the right strategies and measures, it might no longer be a regular occurrence in the long run.

For now, accept that the haze is here to stay, and come up with adaptation strategies to live with it.

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Indonesia investigating Singapore-owned company for forest fires; suspends 4 local firms

A Singapore-owned firm is under investigation for causing forest fires in Indonesia, where authorities have also ordered four Indonesian companies to suspend operations.
Channel NewsAsia 22 Sep 15;

JAKARTA: A Singapore-owned firm is under investigation for causing forest fires in Indonesia, an Indonesian environment ministry official said on Tuesday.

Thick smoke caused by forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan islands has blanketed the region in recent weeks, pushing pollution levels to unhealthy levels.

Over 200 plantation and forestry companies are being investigated, said Muhammad Yunus, director of criminal law at the environment ministry.

"That number can still go up," he said. Mr Yunus added a Singapore-owned company is among the companies being investigated, but did not elaborate.


Indonesian authorities have taken action against four Indonesian companies in Sumatra whose lands were set ablaze resulting in smog.

PT Tempirai PAM Resources and PT Waringin Agro Jaya - oil palm plantation companies in South Sumatra - have had their permits revoked. They have been instructed to stop operations.

The other two companies are in Riau. The Environment and Forestry ministry suspended the operations of PT Hutani Solarestari and PT Riau Langgam Inti Hibrido - a logging company.

All four companies could face prosecution should the Indonesian authorities pursue criminal charges against them. So far 27 companies are being investigated for carrying out the slash and burn techniques in clearing their land, while 140 individuals are also being questioned.

Meanwhile rain has brought much respite to residents in Riau - one of the areas hardest hit by the haze. Indonesia's Disaster Mitigation agency said the air quality and visibility have improved along with the drastic drop in the number of hotspots. Some schools have began to re-open.

- CNA/Reuters/xq/rw

Government revokes permits of companies involved in forest fires
Antara 23 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Environment and Forestry Ministry has revoked the permits of three plantation companies proven guilty of setting fires to land and forest areas.

The three errant companies are PT Tempirai Palm Resources and PT Waringin Agro Jaya in South Sumatra province and PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo in Riau, Secretary General of the Environment and Forestry Ministry Bambang Hendroyono noted here on Tuesday.

In addition, the ministry has also revoked the permit of forest concession holder PT Hutani Sola Lestari in Riau province for being involved in forest fires.

"(The decision) to revoke the operational permits was reached during an overnight meeting to discuss the imposition of sanctions. The meeting was led by the environment and forestry minister," Hendroyono affirmed.

After their permits were revoked on Tuesday, the companies are banned from operating until the police have completed their criminal investigations, he remarked.

He claimed that the companies must return their allocated land areas, which caught fire, to the state within two months.

When questioned about the plantation areas that caught fire, he explained that the ministry will soon make an inventory of the land areas.

"We will restore the land as part of the governments responsibilities. Hopefully, next year, the land will not catch fire," he added.(*)

Indonesia starts legal action against companies linked to SE Asia haze

Indonesia has ordered four companies to suspend operations for allegedly causing forest fires that have sent thick smoke across a swathe of Southeast Asia, an environment ministry official said on Tuesday.

Indonesia has launched investigations against more than 200 companies as it scrambles to bring the fires on Sumatra and Kalimantan islands under control by the end of November, amid complaints from neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia.

Previous government efforts to halt the seasonal slash-and-burn practices have failed to tackle the problem due to a lack of policy coordination and legal wrangling that can take years to resolve.

"These suspensions will be in effect until the criminal proceedings undertaken by the police are finished," environment ministry secretary general Bambang Hendroyono said.

Three palm oil plantation companies have had their permits frozen and one forestry company has had its licence revoked, he added. All the companies were Indonesian-owned.

Plantation company PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo (LIH), which is owned by small listed firm PT Provident Agro, was among the companies to have its permit frozen, Bambang Hendroyono said.

Provident Agro said in an email to Reuters that LIH had not received any notice of its operational license being suspended or revoked.

Director of criminal law at the environment ministry, Muhammad Yunus, said a Singapore-owned company was also under investigation, but declined to elaborate.

President Joko Widodo has ordered thousands of security personnel backed by helicopters to help fight the fires, and has threatened to revoke land permits from companies found responsible.

Haze has blanketed the region in recent weeks, pushing pollution levels to record highs in Singapore, Malaysia and northern Indonesia.

An air pollution index in Singapore rose into "unhealthy" territory on Tuesday, according to a government website.

Underscoring the difficulties for the Indonesian government, the Supreme Court this month upheld for the first time a 366 billion rupiah ($25.26 million) fine against PT Kallista Alam for illegally burning peatland, a case that took three years to be resolved.

Green groups say that the Indonesian government needs to put in place a longer-term plan to tackle the annual burning, and that a greater proportion of budgeted funds should be spent on prevention.

($1 = 14,490.0000 rupiah)

(Additional reporting by Michael Taylor, Fergus Jensen, and Eveline Danubrata and Rujun Shen in SINGAPORE; Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Stephen Coates and Christopher Cushing)

Palm Oil Producers Deny Role in Forest Fires, Cite ‘Zero-Burn’ Policy
Jakarta Globe 22 Sep 15;

Jakarta. The head of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association, or Gapki, on Tuesday came out in support of the country’s palm oil producers against allegations of causing the haze choking several regions, saying producers stand to lose from deliberately lighting forest fires and abide by a “zero burning” policy.

"[Members of Gapki] have implemented sustainability principles," Joko Supriyono, head of Gapki, said as quoted by Antara. He added that buyers of palm oil products demanded eco-friendly practices in the production and supply chain.

Producers face heavy sanctions and risk having their permits revoked if found to be clearing land through fire, Joko said.

"It is impossible for companies that have invested trillions of rupiahs to take the risk of having their permits revoked just because they want to save the cost of land clearing," he said.

Joko cited data from Global Forest Watch, which found that between January and the end of August this year, fires in oil palm concessions stood at 16 percent of all land, as opposed to 65 percent of non-concession land.

Separately, the secretary general of the Environment and Forestry Ministry, Bambang Hendroyono, told Antara that the ministry had frozen the operating permits of three companies linked to forest fires.

Tempirai Palm Resources and Waringin Agro Jaya in South Sumatra and Langgam Inti Hibrindo in Riau will have their permits frozen. The ministry also froze the permit of Hutani Sola Lestari in Riau province, which held a logging concession permit.

Bambang said that as of Tuesday the companies could not proceed with their operations until the police had completed an investigation into the fires.

Indonesia is currently in a state of emergency as thick haze from forest fires blankets several provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan, stretching as far as Singapore and Malaysia and sending air pollution indexes to dangerous levels.

Govt revokes, suspends licenses of forest burners
Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 23 Sep 15;

The government has announced the revocation of permits for four firms whose concessions in Sumatra and Kalimantan have burned up recently, adding to the haze fire disaster that has engulfed the nation.

One of the firms, PT Hutani Sola Lestari (HSL), is alleged to have supplied timber to PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), the country’s major pulp and paper producer. However, the pulp and paper giant has denied the allegation.

“RAPP has no connection whatsoever with HSL,” RAPP president director Tony Wenas said in a press statement on Tuesday.

According to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) database, HSL is a subsidiary of Raja Garuda Emas, previously known as Raja Garuda Mas, a business group controlled by one of the country’s richest businessmen, Sukanto Tanoto. Sukanto also owns RAPP.

According to Environment and Forestry Ministry secretary-general Bambang Hendroyono, HSL obtained its concession for a 45,990-hectare plot of land in Riau in 1999. The permit was supposed to have been valid for 55 years, but it will now expire following the government’s recent decision to revoke the permit.

“After we revoke the permit, it means that all operations should be stopped and all financial obligations have to be carried out,” Bambang told a press conference in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Bambang said that the rights to manage the plot of land would be relegated to the government within 60 days.

Besides HSL, the government decided to suspend licenses for three palm oil companies; PT Tempirai Palm Resources and PT Waringin Agro Jaya, both in South Sumatra, and PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo in Riau.

“As of today, all operational activities of these companies are to be halted,” Bambang said, adding that the suspension would be effective until there were court verdicts on the cases.

The companies are also to be considered responsible for regenerating the burned land, with the ministry saying that it was currently taking samples from the burned land to estimate the environmental damage as well as the cost to repair it.

The four firms are the first few companies on a long list of 286 companies that the government is targeting for allegedly causing land and forest fires.

Of the 286 companies, 90 hold industrial forest permits and production concessions, 49 hold land-conversion permits and 147 hold land-use permits.

All together, they are responsible for burning of 191,993 hectares of land.

The decision to impose administrative sanctions before bringing the cases to court is something that is unprecedented. It is also a part of a grand plan set up by the central government to put an end to forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, areas that have struggled with worsening land and forest fires over the past 18 years.

Both the Association of Indonesian Forest Concessionaires (APHI) and the Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association (Gapki) have rejected the general notion that big companies are behind the rampant forest fires, arguing that they are actually victims of the widespread slash-and-burn land clearing practices that are common in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Slash-and-burn farming is a generations-old agricultural practice to clear land quickly through the cutting and burning of forests and woodlands to clear the areas for agricultural purposes.

“There’s no way we would burn [our own concessions] because we would suffer from losses due to the loss of plantation assets,” APHI executive director Purwadi Soeprihanto said on Tuesday.

Likewise, head of Gapki’s agrarian and spatial planning division, Eddy Martono, said that most of its members whose concessions had burned up were in fact victims.

“While it’s true that the fires occurred on the concessions, these concessions were not controlled completely by the companies. For example, we already obtained land-cultivation permits but in those areas, local people still lived there. So if we looked at the hotspots, the fires happened on our concessions but they were actually [the wrongdoing of] local people,” he told a press conference at Gapki offices on Tuesday. “Gapki members are actually victims from this disaster.”

Langgam Inti Pelindo, one of the companies whose permit is to be suspended, is a member of Gapki.

“From PT Langgam’s report to us, their concession caught fire from neighboring plantations,” Eddy said.

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Indonesia: Haze remains unbeatable despite downpours, efforts to douse fires

Rizal Harahap and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 22 Sep 15;

Despite the declining intensity of smoke in some parts of Sumatra over the past two days, the overall air quality on the island has remained at alarming levels, putting residents and local authorities on constant alert regarding the impact of thick haze on health and transportation safety.

In West Sumatra, a Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) station in Bukit Kototabang, Agam regency, reported on Monday that some regions in the province recorded the air quality at the “moderate” or “healthy” level.

Thick haze that brought down the air quality in Agam to the “dangerous” level on Saturday, for example, subsided on Monday following rain that poured over the area on the weekend.

The same downpour, however, only managed to briefly reduce the intensity of haze that blanketed the provincial capital of Padang, located 100 kilometers southeast of Agam. After rain subdued the haze on Sunday night, the smoke thickened again on Monday morning.

“With the current level of rain intensity, West Sumatra will not see haze disappearing as long as it keeps coming from the neighboring South Sumatra, Jambi and Riau provinces,” GAW head Edison Kurniawan said on Monday.

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 peatland and plantations. The ongoing haze crisis has also been exacerbated with this year’s prolonged dry season that has been triggered by the El NiƱo weather phenomenon.

In Pekanbaru, Riau, the local Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) station reported that 139 hotspots had been detected in the province on Monday morning, an increase from only 20 spotted a day earlier. The figure accounted for almost half of the total 284 hotspots detected across Sumatra.

BMKG officer Aristya Ardhitama attributed the surge in the number of hotspots to returning fires in peatland.

“The only way to completely put out fires in peatland is by submerging it in water. That’s why heavy equipment will be needed to build canals to engulf fire-prone peatland,” Aristya said.

Despite the increase in the number of hotspots, Riau has also seen the air quality in some regions improve from “dangerous” to “unhealthy”, the BMKG reported.

Responding to the fluctuating haze intensity, Pekanbaru Education Agency head Zulfadil said his office had decided to extend its earlier policy to close local schools, which was supposed to be lifted on Monday.

“After coordinating with officials from the Riau Education Agency, we have decided to extend the policy until the Riau provincial administration lifts its current haze emergency status,” Zulfadil said.

The Riau Transportation Agency recently reported that more than 600 flights from and to Pekanbaru’s Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport were delayed or canceled during recent weeks due to poor visibility.

In North Sumatra, Nias search and rescue (SAR) station coordinator Torang M. Hutahaean said thick haze that had blanketed Nias waters for the past three days had caused many local fishermen to become lost in the middle of the sea.

In Central Java, some 100 hikers were reportedly trapped on Mount Slamet as fires caught alight in a forest on the slopes of the 3,428-meter-high volcano. “Military and SAR personnel have been deployed to make sure that all climbers can be rescued,” Purbalingga Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Priyo Satmoko said.

Apriadi Gunawan in Medan and Agus Maryono in Purbalingga contributed to this article.

Central Kalimantan's PSI pushing 2,000
MY PAPER AsiaOne 23 Sep 15;

JAKARTA - The haze from Kalimantan's forest fires intensified yesterday, driving the pollution gauge in parts of the Borneo island to hazardous levels, especially in Central Kalimantan province, where the pollution index came close to 2,000.

In Sumatra, the other centre of the haze outbreak, rainfall helped alleviate the pollution in Riau province. But the air may worsen again in Jambi and South Sumatra provinces after days of improvement, reported the local media.

According to data from the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics, the Pollution Standards Index (PSI) at Palangkaraya, capital of Central Kalimantan, reached a day's high of 1,986.73 yesterday, more than five times above the "hazardous" air quality base level of 350.1, reported Bloomberg.

In the West Kalimantan city of Pontianak, the gauge peaked at 706.45.

The morning visibility in Palangkaraya reached only 10m yesterday, and residents had to put up with a stench in the air and irritated eyes, online newspaper Banjarmasin Post reported.

The persistent haze prompted about 150 activists to stage a protest yesterday outside the office of Central Kalimantan's acting governor Hadi Probowo, urging for quick and concrete solutions, reported the newspaper.

"The government is not serious in addressing the fire in Central Kalimantan. They only prevent the burning, but never go for the perpetrators," said one protester.

Meanwhile, Jakarta announced it has revoked the licence of Indonesian wood supplier Hutani Sola Lestari, which is based in Sumatra, reported Agence France-Presse.

Environment Ministry spokesman Eka W. Sugiri also said three companies running oil-palm plantations in Sumatra are banned from operation until legal actions against them have been completed.

Muhammad Yunus, director of criminal law at the Environment Ministry, said a Singapore-owned company was also under investigation, but declined to elaborate, reported Reuters.

The fires, mostly started to clear land for oil-palm and pulp and paper plantations on Sumatra and Kalimantan, are an annual occurrence.

But Indonesian President Joko Widodo has insisted this year that law breakers will be punished.

Police have in the past week launched investigations into several companies and arrested executives, while more than 170 individuals are also being probed over the fires.

Malaysia's state of Sarawak, which borders Kalimantan, yesterday reported the return of the haze, with the Air Pollutant Index (API) in the capital of Kuching reaching 112, an unhealthy mark, the BorneoPost reported.

But the API in Kuala Lumpur hovered in the moderate range of between 70 and 80.

In Sumatra, the haze in Jambi province has thickened again, the Tempo daily reported, without citing the PSI.

According to Arif Munandar, who heads the Jambi branch of the National Agency for Disaster Management, the haze came mainly from the neighbouring South Sumatra province.

Air quality in Pekanbaru - Riau's capital, where a haze emergency was declared last week - was reported to be good yesterday.

Haze worsens as Singapore, parts of Indonesia covered in smog
Today Online 23 Sep 15;

JAKARTA — The haze from Indonesian forest fires intensified this afternoon (Sept 22), driving the pollution gauge in parts of the country to hazardous levels and blanketing downtown Singapore with a layer of smog.

The pollution index at Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan province reached 1,990.4, more than five times the “hazardous” air quality base level of 351, according to data from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics. In the West Kalimantan city of Pontianak, the gauge was at 481.64. In Singapore, the 3-hour PSI rose to 161 as of 5 pm, while the 24-hour PSI was 85-103.

Indonesia’s enforcement of its laws against plantation owners is key to resolving the haze that covered parts of Southeast Asia in the past few weeks, Singapore’s Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Friday. The smog led the city-state to cancel outdoor events and flights were diverted across the region.

Seven flights at the Kuching International Airport in the east Malaysian state of Sarawak were also affected due to low visibility because of the haze, state news agency Bernama reported.

Indonesia last week set a 14-day deadline starting to extinguish fires in Riau, and a 30-day target for South Sumatra and Jambi. The government has detained suspects in companies in various parts of the country.

Indonesia will take firm action on concession holders and blacklist directors, commissioners and owners involved in forest fires, Mr Luhut Panjaitan, coordinating minister for politics, law and security affairs, said yesterday in Jakarta, adding he was betting his reputation on the matter.

The haze led organisers of the Formula One race in Singapore over the weekend to add contingency plans such as selling N95 masks at cost and having medical personnel on standby for haze-related conditions. BLOOMBERG

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Malaysia won't protect its companies in Indonesia for causing haze

Malaysia has said it will not protect its companies if they are found guilty of practising slash-and-burn to clear lands in Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia.

By Melissa Goh, Malaysia Bureau Chief, Channel NewsAsia 23 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has said it will not protect its companies if they are found guilty of practising slash-and-burn to clear lands in Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia.

Malaysia's Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said Indonesian authorities need to put in place proper laws and tighten enforcement in order to effectively curb the haze menace.

Mr Wan Junaidi, who took over the ministry less than two months ago, expressed regrets that the scheduled meeting with his Indonesian counterpart was postponed indefinitely.

He said it's not fair for Jakarta to blame foreign plantation giants for starting fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan that have engulfed the region in choking haze, including neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.

Mr Wan Junaidi said: "Any company operating in Indonesia is subjected to Indonesian laws. If you have the proper and right kind of law, no company nor individual will oppose it. It all boils down to enforcement ... and the political will. Malaysia as a nation, we are not going to protect them if indeed Malaysian companies are doing it."

Many oil palm concessions in Kalimantan and Sumatra are owned by listed plantation companies in Malaysia which sometimes leased out lands to small holders. Mr Wan Junaidi said these small holders may not have the knowledge and expertise to clear lands for new crops, apart from slash-and-burn that's regarded as the cheapest and fastest method.

Mr Wan Junaidi said: "Why it happens so much in Kalimantan and Sumatra and it does not happen here when we have the same kind of porous peat land is because we take care of it ... we have the expertise, the knowledge and the experience, we are ready to assist Indonesia as and when necessary."

He said Malaysia stands ready to help Jakarta in early warning and prevention of peat forest fires, including building tube wells and fire breakers in hotspots in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Mr Wan Junaidi added that both countries are working towards signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to operationalise the plan by year end.

- CNA/de

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Malaysia: Breathing problems on the rise

SHARON LING The Star 23 Sep 15;

KUCHING: More people are seeking treatment for respiratory ailments, likely due to the haze, said doctors in the state.

Dr Wong Mee Heang of a clinic in Batu Kawa said the number of such patients increased by about 20% in the past week.

“We are seeing more asthmatic cases and patients with bronchitis, upper respiratory tract infection, cough and flu,” she said.

She added that these ailments were usually aggravated by haze, which returned yesterday after a brief respite.

Ear, nose and throat specialist Dr Wong Howe Tung said he also saw an increase in such cases.

After four days of relatively clear air conditions, the haze returned to Sarawak yesterday with Kuching, Samarahan and Sri Aman areas recording unhealthy air quality levels.

Meanwhile, the Singapore-based Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre reported that Kali­mantan was still shrouded in smoke and haze as dry weather conditions prevailed.

Images from the NOAA-18 satellite, which tracks open-burning sites larger than 10sq m, showed 475 hotspots in Kalimantan on Monday.

Cyclone making haze worse

PETALING JAYA: The haze is back after a hiatus of several days and the air quality is now getting worse in Sarawak and several other parts of the country.

A cyclone in the Philippines is carrying winds with smoke particles from land-clearing fires in Indonesia towards Malaysia.

Of the 53 areas measured nationwide, the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings rose in 23 of them.

It fell in seven areas and was unchanged in the rest as at 5pm yesterday compared to readings taken in the same period a day earlier.

Kuching was the highest with 127, followed by Samarahan (123) and Sri Aman (121).

In Port Klang, the air quality worsened from 61 to 69; 52 to 56 in Petaling Jaya; 61 to 71 in Larkin; 71 to 78 in Pasir Gudang; 54 to 65 in Kota Baru; and 53 to 69 in Port Dickson.

A reading of 100 to 200 indicates unhealthy air quality; 201 to 300 is very unhealthy; and above 300 is hazardous. A reading of 51 to 100 is moderate.

In Sabah, the air quality worsened in the south-eastern Tawau district while some interior areas were also affected yesterday.

Sabah Meteorological Department director Abdul Malik Tussin said visibility fell to about 4km in Tawau, which borders Kalimantan, where some 78 hotspots were recorded.

In the interiors of Keningau and Ranau, visibility was at 6km and 7km respectively. In Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan, it was more than 10km.

“We expect the south-westerly winds to blow until Sept 28, although tropical storms over the South China Sea may help lift the haze briefly from Sabah,” said Abdul Malik.

In Kuching, Sarawak, poor visibility yesterday caused two flights to be cancelled while 13 others were delayed.

Kuching International Airport senior manager Mohd Nadzim Hashim said visibility there dropped to a mere 1km.

In a statement yesterday, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry said satellite imagery showed more than 470 hotspots in Kalimantan and 26 in Sumatra.

MOSTI Ready For Cloud Seeding If Haze Returns - Madius
Bernama 21 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 21 (Bernama) -- The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) is on a standby mode to conduct another cloud seeding operation as the haze is expected to return within this week, said its minister Datuk Madius Tangau.

"We have been informed that the hazy condition will return anytime this week, however cloud seeding will only be carried out if the Air Pollutant Index readings exceed 100 for three days in a row.

"Till then we will be on a standby mode to face any possibilities of the returning haze," he said after officiating The International Science and Nature Congress (ISNaC) 2015, here Monday.

The Star daily quoting the Meteorological Department spokesperson Dr Hisham Mohd Anip said a potential cyclone is building up on the eastern side of the Philippines that was 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 and the number of fires raging in Indonesia.

Last Wednesday's cloud seeding operations in northern Selangor, southern Perak and west Pahang had successfully generated rainfall in those areas.

The country was shrouded in haze since last week due to the forest fires in Indonesia, causing schools in several states to be closed and several airlines having to reschedule their flight.


Read more!

Malaysia: Despite state efforts, illegal logging remains rampant in Sarawak

The Star 23 Sep 15;

KUCHING: Although there has been progress, Sarawak’s journey to curb illegal logging is still a long and winding road, with many potholes to show for decades of destruction.

Sungai Asap residents – resettled Dayaks displaced by the Bakun dam a generation ago – know this too well.

They call overloaded logging trucks lori hantu or ghost lorries.

Tony Akit, a deliveryman and an Uma Bawang resident, said poor response from the authorities in the past had left many feeling voiceless and that there was no point in complaining.

“A lot of loggers are always using the road. Day or night, you see trucks carrying logs every day, which is why the road is so bad,” he said.

Talk to any Sungai Asap resident and it would seem that everyone has a story about a relative or friend who has been in an accident due to the poor road conditions or the trucks.

“Sometimes you hit a pothole when you are driving fast, or a lorry appears and suddenly you end up in a ditch.

“I know a person who died after hitting a logging truck two or three years ago,” said Tony.

The 129km-long Jalan Bakun, which was completed in 2001, is the only way out of Sungai Asap. The nearest airport is almost 200km away in Bintulu.

This is almost as rural as Sarawak gets. Here, there is no petrol station (fuel is sold literally by the barrel and hand-cranked into vehicles) and no post office.

Along the single carriageway to Bakun, the road is lined with timber yards and sawmills. The road itself is a perpetual work in progress, with pothole repairs and recently, the installation of height barriers.

These barriers were installed around the time Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem announced his anti-illegal logging campaign.

Barriers act as a passive defence against overstacked logging trucks. Measuring 4.2m high, all vehicles can pass, including trucks with the legal limit of logs.

According to the Road Transport Department, the only type of vehicle taller than such trucks are double-decker buses.

But in just one year, more than half of all the barriers have been damaged or dismantled. The evidence, twisted yellow steel bars, are strewn by the side of the road for all to see.

Near the end of Jalan Bakun is a new road to the Murum dam.

Locals, including Tony, say this new road, which goes another 67km inland, is sometimes sealed off.

No one here is quite sure how this can happen. But what is clear is that the road damage to Murum is even worse although it was only completed last year at a cost of RM600mil.

In an interview with The Star, Sarawak Public Works Department director Zuraimi Sabki confirmed that more than half of all the height barriers were dismantled this year.

Between February and April, three barriers along Jalan Bakun (at KM1, KM39 and KM54) were spoilt on purpose. In fact, the one at KM1 has been replaced twice. Along Jalan Murum, two barriers (KM3 and KM18) were taken down in July.

Zuraimi said new and better engineered barricades, each costing RM150,000, were being installed.

“They take one down, we will build another. They thought we would just give up but no, they don’t know we are serious.

“We are not surprised that they damaged the barriers. Based on past experience with road damage, we knew there was quite a lot of these activities going on,” Zuraimi said last week.

The replacement barriers would go up at different locations, he explained, as the loggers could go off-road onto their own network of mountain passes.

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Bid Farewell to Groupers and Snappers, Unless Fishing Practices Improve, WWF Says

WWF 18 Sep 15;

17 Sept 2015, Kuala Lumpur: Some of Malaysia’s best-loved seafood such as groupers and snappers might soon disappear, harming an RM8.79 billion fishing industry, unless sustainable ocean management practices are implemented, WWF-Malaysia said.

“Just 10 percent of commercially valuable fish remain available for consumption after being largely fished-out in the last fifty years,” said Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma, Executive Director/CEO WWF-Malaysia.

“If business continues as usual in our fishing practices, we will experience an irreversible collapse in our fishing industry.”

Overfishing, destructive fishing methods (like fish bombing), pollution and unsustainable coastal development have led to significant declines in coral reefs, which are integral to the survival and health of marine life.

The recently released WWF’s ‘Living Blue Planet Report’ shows that the destruction of the world’s coral reefs have resulted in reduced marine populations on average by half, globally. Some fish species have declined by close to 75 percent, all of which have impacted the fishing industry while depriving people of an essential protein supply.

These declines will hit Malaysians particularly hard, with fish now being the most important protein source for the country. In 2014, Malaysia surpassed Japan as one the biggest consumer of fish and seafood in the region (reported in The Star article “Malaysians eat more fish than Japanese”, 18 August 2014).

The report also shows a decline of 49 per cent of marine populations between 1970 and 2012. The analysis tracked 5,829 populations of 1,234 species, making the data sets almost twice as large as past studies and giving a clearer, more troubling picture of ocean health.

The findings are based on the Living Planet Index, a database maintained and analysed by researchers at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). In response to alarming statistics raised in WWF’s Living Planet Report 2014, this special report studies how overfishing, damage to habitat and climate change are affecting marine biodiversity.

WWF-Malaysia has spent nearly half a century in its mission to protect and preserve the country’s marine life. Our latest initiative aims to meet the Aichi Biodiversity Target of protecting at least a tenth of its oceans.

“We are working with the state government of Sabah, businesses and communities to help protect almost one million hectares of ocean in the proposed Tun Mustapha Park (TMP),” said Dato’ Dr Sharma.

“This globally-significant park will protect the well-being and livelihoods of more than 80,000 people living on the coast and over 50 islands in northern Sabah and beyond.”

WWF-Malaysia wants the TMP to be gazetted as a marine park by the end of 2015, which will help Malaysia meet the global ocean protection target. Once gazetted, TMP will provide protection to coral reefs which are vital in protecting important marine species such as the Grouper and Snapper.

“As the Aichi Biodiversity Target is identified under the Green Growth Thrust of the 11th Malaysia Plan, we hope the Malaysian Government will make necessary allocations for implementations to protect our ocean and marine resources,” added Dato’ Dr Sharma.

The Living Blue Planet Report also finds that much of the activity threatening the ocean is avoidable and solutions do exist to turn the tide. Populations of fish critical to human food security are in serious decline worldwide, with some at risk of collapse, according to the emergency edition of a WWF report.

The updated study of marine mammals, birds, reptiles and fish shows that populations have been reduced on average by half globally in the last four decades, with some fish declining by close to 75 percent. The latest findings spell trouble for all nations, especially people in the developing world.

“We urgently published this report to provide the most current picture of the state of the ocean,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “In the space of a single generation, human activity has severely damaged the ocean by catching fish faster than they can reproduce while also destroying their nurseries. Profound changes are needed to ensure abundant ocean life for future generations.”

Research in the WWF report indicates that species essential to commercial and subsistence fishing – and therefore global food supply – may be suffering the greatest declines. Underscoring the severe drop in commercial fish stocks, the report details the dramatic loss of 74 per cent of the family of popular food fish that includes tunas, mackerels and bonitos.

Adding to the crisis of falling fish populations, the report shows steep declines in coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses that support fish species and provide valuable services to people. Over one-third of fish tracked by the report rely on coral reefs, and these species show a dangerous decline of 34 per cent between 1979 and 2010.

“The fortunate news is that solutions do exist and we know what needs to be done. The ocean is a renewable resource that can provide for all future generations if the pressures are dealt with effectively,” said Lambertini. “If we live within sustainable limits, the ocean will contribute to food security, livelihoods, economies and our natural systems. The equation is that simple. We must take this opportunity to support the ocean and reverse the damage while we still can.”

The Living Blue Planet Report details opportunities for governments, businesses and communities to secure a living ocean. Important measures to preserve ocean resources include preserving and rebuilding natural marine capital, wiser consumption and prioritizing sustainability.

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Syrian war spurs first withdrawal from doomsday Arctic seed vaults

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 22 Sep 15;

Syria's civil war has prompted the first withdrawal of seeds from a "doomsday" vault built in an Arctic mountainside to safeguard global food supplies, officials said on Monday.

The seeds, including samples of wheat, barley and grasses suited to dry regions, have been requested by researchers elsewhere in the Middle East to replace seeds in a gene bank near the Syrian city of Aleppo that has been damaged by the war.

"Protecting the world's biodiversity in this manner is precisely the purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault," said Brian Lainoff, a spokesman for the Crop Trust, which runs the underground storage on a Norwegian island 1,300 km (800 miles) from the North Pole.

The vault, which opened on the Svalbard archipelago in 2008, is designed to protect crop seeds - such as beans, rice and wheat - against the worst cataclysms of nuclear war or disease.

It has more than 860,000 samples, from almost all nations. Even if the power were to fail, the vault would stay frozen and sealed for at least 200 years.

The Aleppo seed bank has kept partly functioning, including a cold storage, despite the conflict. But it was no longer able to maintain its role as a hub to grow seeds and distribute them to other nations, mainly in the Middle East.

Grethe Evjen, an expert at the Norwegian Agriculture Ministry, said the seeds had been requested by the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA). ICARDA moved its headquarters to Beirut from Aleppo in 2012 because of the war.

ICARDA wants almost 130 boxes out of 325 it had deposited in the vault, containing a total of 116,000 samples, she told Reuters. They will be sent once paperwork is completed, she said.

It would be the first withdrawal from the vault, she said. Many seeds from the Aleppo collection have traits resistant to drought, which could help breed crops to withstand climate change in dry areas from Australia to Africa.

Syria's four-year civil war has killed an estimated 250,000 people and driven more than 11 million from their homes, with 7.6 million displaced within Syria.

(Reporting by Alister Doyle; editing by Andrew Roche, Larry King)

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Sumatran rhinos likely to become extinct, conservationists warn

Conservation group IUCN wants Indonesia and international donors to take urgent action to save ‘weirdest of all rhinos’
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 22 sep 15;

Earth’s last remaining Sumatran rhinos are edging perilously close to extinction, according to one of the world’s top conservation bodies.

There are fewer than 100 of the animals left in the rainforests of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the Kalimantan province of Borneo. The last Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Malaysia was spotted two years ago in the Sabah region of Borneo but experts last month declared the species extinct in that country.

That has prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to sound the alarm over the species’ fate, which it said is headed for extinction if urgent action is not taken.

“It takes the rhino down to a single country,” said Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN’s species survival commission. “With the ongoing poaching crisis, escalating population decline and destruction of suitable habitat, extinction of the Sumatran rhino in the near future is becoming increasingly likely.”

The rhino is the smallest of the three Asian rhino species – there are also just 57 Javan rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and more than 3,000 Indian rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis). The population of the Sumatran species is believed to have halved in the last decade.

The last official assessment in 2008 put their number at about 250 but Stuart said, with hindsight, the true number then had probably been about 200. Poachers kill the rhinos for their horn, which is even more valuable than that of African rhinos.

“For hundreds of years, we’ve been unable to stem the decline of this species. That’s due to poaching. It’s due to the fact they get to such a low density the animals don’t find each other and they don’t breed. It’s due to the fact that if the females don’t breed regularly, they develop these tumours in their reproductive tract that render them infertile,” he said.


A large number of females in the wild were likely infertile because they do not breed often enough, he said. The only Sumatran rhino in the western hemisphere, a male called Harapan, is due to be flown from Cincinnati Zoo in the US to a rhino sanctuary in Sumatra this autumn to help the species breed. There are only nine of the animals in captivity worldwide.

Stuart said a good plan had already been agreed on how to save the species but political commitment was now needed from Indonesia and international donors to fund it. The plan envisages a survey to identify all the remaining individuals, and then bringing them together to help them breed and protect them with military-like levels of security from poachers.

“It’s a fantastic animal. It’s the weirdest of all the rhinos. They meow like a cat,” Stuart said. “No one is going to get rich on Sumatran rhinos other than those illegally trading in the horn. There are frankly no economic benefits to saving it, it’s just a moral obligation.”

Sumatran rhino likely to go extinct unless action is taken urgently, warns IUCN
IUCN 22 Sep 15;

With fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos surviving in the wild, the species will likely become extinct unless the Indonesian Government urgently implements the Sumatran rhino recovery plan, warns IUCN on World Rhino Day. The remaining 100 Sumatran rhinos represent less than half of the population size estimated during the last IUCN Red List assessment of the species in 2008.

Listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, the Sumatran rhino is now presumed extinct in the wild in Malaysia, as announced last month in the journal Oryx. Over the last 50-100 years, the Sumatran rhino has become extinct in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, India, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. According to the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Asian Rhino Specialist Group, the Sumatran rhino is now only found in a few sites in Sumatra, and only a handful of individuals are believed to survive in Kalimantan, Borneo.

“Malaysia was once regarded as one of the last strongholds for Sumatran rhinos, thus losing them from this country presents a major blow to the survival prospects of the species,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s SSC. “With the ongoing poaching crisis, escalating population decline and destruction of suitable habitat, extinction of the Sumatran rhino in the near future is becoming increasingly likely. The Indonesian Government urgently needs to develop intensive protection zones with significantly enhanced security enforcement in all sites where Sumatran rhinos still occur.”

The initial catastrophic population decline in Sumatran rhinos was primarily driven by poaching for use of horns in traditional medicine, coupled with continued habitat loss and infrastructure development, which has led to fragmentation of key forest habitats of the species. Today, the species’ populations are small and isolated, which lowers their breeding rate, adding to the ongoing threat from poaching. Unable to breed regularly, isolated females are at risk of developing tumours in their reproductive tracts leading to infertility and further exacerbating the decline.

Urgent measures for saving the Sumatran rhino were agreed in October 2013 at the Asian Rhino Range States Meeting in Indonesia, and have since been used to develop a new recovery plan for the species. The Indonesian Government now needs to allocate funding for the implementation of the plan, and to ensure that a system is in place to make urgent, rapid and bold decisions as the plan is implemented, according to IUCN.

Alongside developing intensive protection zones and consolidating isolated animals into larger populations, managed breeding is one of several key strategies needed to save the species. As part of the global effort to save the Sumatran rhino, a young male named Harapan, born at the Cincinnati Zoo, will join five other rhinos at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Sumatra’s Way Kambas National Park next month.

“It is hoped Harapan’s relocation will further accelerate conservation breeding of the species in captivity,” says Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, Chair of the IUCN SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group. “But the long-term future of the species will ultimately be decided by the actions of the Indonesian Government and civil society. We need effective collaboration between government agencies and conservation institutions, allocation of significant funds by the Indonesian Government and international donors, as well as strengthened support from the public.”

The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is the most threatened of all rhino species due to its rapid rate of decline. It is also the smallest and the hairiest species and the only Asian rhino species with two horns.

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