Best of our wild blogs: 24 Sep 15

Asian Fairy-bluebird catches a cicada
Bird Ecology Study Group

“Prancing around the palm” – courtship behavior of Asian Koels
Bird Ecology Study Group

Of Godwits, Dowitchers and Curlew
Singapore Bird Group

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Singapore and Malaysia urged to share responsibility for Indonesia forest fires

Jewel Topsfield Sydney Morning Herald 24 Sep 15;

Jakarta: Singapore and Malaysia should share responsibility for the annual forest fires that have cloaked the region in deadly haze by buying carbon credits from Indonesia, according to the Indonesia-based Centre for International Forestry Research.

Singapore and Malaysia have complained bitterly over what the Straits Times dubbed the "enveloping menace". The Singaporean Government called for stricter action against the perpetrators and information on those responsible for the haze.

But Centre for International Forestry Research scientist Herry Purnomo said Singapore and Malaysia needed to share the responsibility for the fires and haze with Indonesia as they shared the profits from palm oil.

"I would like them to buy carbon credits from the people of Sumatra," said Dr Herry. "So many of my colleagues produce carbon credits but there are no buyers."

The Centre for International Forestry Research aims to help shape policy and improve the management of tropical forests.

Fires are often used to clear land for palm oil and acacia plantations because it is about 10 times cheaper than mechanical land clearing. It is especially difficult to access remote peatland with heavy machinery.

Palm oil plantations owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies reaped revenues of $US18.4 billion ($25.8 billion) in 2014.

"In compensation, Malaysia and Singapore could be carbon credit buyers," Dr Herry said.

Indonesia has launched investigations into 200 companies and ordered four to suspend operations for allegedly causing forest fires, as it struggles to combat the devastating haze caused by hotspots in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said losses caused by the fires could reach trillions of rupiahs and brought disadvantage to the entire country.

The government has declared seven companies suspects for having forest fires on their land.

"I instructed the Minister of Environment and Forestry to not hesitate in revoking the licences of irresponsible concession holders," Mr Joko said during a visit to firefighters at Gantung Damar village in South Kalimantan on Wednesday.

The government had created artificial rain, provided 17 water-bombing helicopters and deployed more than 2000 military and police. Mr Joko said concession holders must dig canals on peatland to prevent future fires.

But Dr Herry said while the government was taking the fires seriously, it was not strong enough to solve the problem.

He said a "patronage network" made up of elites who wore multiple hats, such as farmers, politicians, businesspeople and government officers, benefited enormously from the fires.

"These protective patronage networks hinder the government's capacity," Dr Herry said. "The scale of these financial benefits means livelihood alternatives need to be significant."

The chairman of the Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association, Joko Supriyono, disagreed.

He said palm oil companies that burned to open up their plantations faced jail sentences of up to 10 years. Companies that burned on planted concessions would be "burning our own assets". "We have no motive and reason to burn the land," he added.

He cited Global Forest Watch data that found most of the fires were not on land held by palm oil company concession holders.

"Journalists should not dramatise situations. This is a very big problem but we have already done the best thing to overcome the crisis," he said.

Greenpeace Indonesia spokeswoman Anisa Rahmawati said there were about 110,000 deaths a year across South-East Asia due to the fires that blight the region annually.

"Pupils can't go to school for a month, 460 flights have been cancelled due to the fire haze - these are things you can't value with money," she said.

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Golden Agri says halts palm oil buys from haze-implicated supplier

MICHAEL TAYLOR Reuters 23 Sep 15;

Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), the world's second-largest listed palm planter by acreage, has stopped buying from a supplier sanctioned this week for allegedly causing forest fires in Indonesia, it said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Indonesian government has launched investigations of more than 200 companies as it scrambles to control fires on Sumatra and Kalimantan islands by the end of November, amid complaints from Singapore and Malaysia about smoke from the fires or the so-called "haze".

The haze has blanketed parts of Southeast Asia in recent weeks, pushing pollution levels to unhealthy levels in Singapore, Malaysia and northern Indonesia.

Earlier this week, Indonesia ordered four companies to suspend operations, including unlisted palm company PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo (LIH). LIH is owned by small, Jakarta-listed PT Provident Agro, which did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

"Due to recent developments we have currently halted purchases from PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo, pending further clarification from them regarding the status of their operating licence," Singapore-listed GAR said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

Provident Agro told Reuters on Tuesday that LIH had not received notice of its operational license being suspended or revoked.

An Indonesian Palm Oil Association official said on Wednesday the industry group was discussing whether to expel LIH from its membership rolls.

Indonesia has been trying for at least two decades to end the seasonal fires caused by slash-and-burn clearances on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, where large areas of forest concessions are held by pulp and paper and palm oil companies.

GAR is monitoring known hotspots against third-party suppliers' locations, the statement said, and will work with suppliers in high-risk areas to help them in fire management, prevention and suppression.

Indonesia's current focus is on companies involved in starting fires but sanctions against buyers implicated are also a possibility, Eka Widodo Soegiri, spokesman at the Indonesian environment and forestry ministry told Reuters.

Any punishment for companies based overseas would be dealt with by the foreign ministry through government to government talks, Soegiri said.

President Joko Widodo is due to visit hotspots and haze areas in both Sumatra and Kalimantan this week.

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

GAR is the parent of Indonesian palm company PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology, the target of an anti-deforestation campaign by Greenpeace in 2009-2010 that led to a boycott of its palm products by leading buyers.

GAR produced 2.95 million tonnes of palm oil in 2014 from plantations mostly in Sumatra and Kalimantan. (Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina and Kanupriya Kapoor; Reporting by Michael Taylor; Editing by Tom Hogue)

Indonesia corporates to take action against suppliers responsible for fires
The Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association says it will expel members found to be responsible for causing forest fires.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 22 Sep 15;

JAKARTA: Corporations with land concessions in Indonesia are taking strong action against suppliers found to be responsible for causing forest fires.

The Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association, or GAPKI, says it will expel members, while at least one pulp and paper company says it will terminate its business relationship with errant suppliers.

Speaking at a forum in Jakarta on Wednesday (Sep 23), the corporations insisted they practise a zero-burning policy internally, and with their external stakeholders.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry has taken four corporations to task for illegal land clearing, which has set forests ablaze and generated dense haze over the region.

Three of them - palm oil plantation companies - have had their operations suspended, while the fourth, a wood pulp company, has had its business license revoked. One of the companies is also facing sanctions from GAPKI.

One of the world’s biggest pulp and paper companies, Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings - better known as APRIL - says so far it has no links with any of the corporations being investigated.

It says it welcomes authorities to investigate if they find something wrong, and will cooperate as well as abide with all procedures.

“We apply the no-burning policy strictly to us internally, and to our supply partners as well, so if they are found burning their fires, we will take necessary actions, and ask them to fix that, or to terminate the business relationship with us,” said APRIL managing director Tony Wenas.

“In the past the investigations have not found nothing yet, so if they are found guilty of course we will take necessary actions.”

Indonesia says it will share with Singapore the names of companies suspected of causing the forest fires which have led to a deterioration of air quality in the city state.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told her counterpart last week the names will be shared once the information has been verified. However, Singapore has yet to receive the names from Indonesia.

Environmental activists present at the forum questioned Indonesia’s reluctance to share companies' names, believing that the prosecution process will be quicker once information is shared.

“It's necessary for Indonesia to be more transparent with the companies that are responsible for the fires, because it will help them to prosecute in their own regulations,” said Greenpeace forest campaigner Anisa Rahmawati.

“In Singapore for example, if the company has a shareholder, or at least listed in Singapore, they can also prosecute. There are many angles that we can use to make them don't really do that anymore.”

But, one observer, claiming that the names of companies are already known, said Singapore should be more proactive.

“The list is already there, the 286 of the companies are indicated. Singapore needs to be proactive, not to be waiting, waiting,” said Professor Henry Purnomo, a scientist at the Centre for International Forestry Research. “Singapore is a more developed country than Indonesia with more clear rules. Please, don't wait for Indonesia, just do it.”

Singapore passed a cross-border air pollution law last year, which allows its courts to prosecute those responsible for starting the fires, if those fires result in unhealthy levels of haze in the Republic.

But inadequate information on land ownership in Indonesia, and insufficient enforcement where the fires are, make it difficult to bring the law to bear on errant companies.

- CNA/ec

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Voting on the squeeze for space

Corrie Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 23 Sep 15;

Local theatre group Drama Box presented three productions at this year's Singapore International Festival of Arts that could stand as individual pieces.

The three were a free interactive performance in the heartland (The Lesson), a physical theatre piece set against a lush green landscape (The Cemetery: Dawn), and a riveting work of testimonial theatre in a black box (The Cemetery: Dusk), each thought- provoking in its own way.

However, as interlocking parts of a whole, the It Won't Be Too Long trilogy transforms into a powerful and moving commentary on how space is disputed - and ignored - in Singapore, in the words and gestures of its people. It is a fitting conclusion to an arts festival that has taken well-calculated risks with its commissioned work and scored some excellent productions along the way.

It Won't Be Too Long brought together three different spaces: Toa Payoh Central is a public space, the School of the Arts Studio Theatre is private and Bukit Brown Cemetery is a problematic mix of both. In each space, the audience is confronted with overlapping issues of the contestation of space in Singapore, an island often described as "land-scarce" and assumed to value "progress" and urban redevelopment over wildness and history.

The Lesson, which took place in a large inflatable theatre in Toa Payoh, challenged audience members to reach a consensus on which public locale ought to be demolished to make way for a new (fictitious) MRT station, including a columbarium, an historic cinema, rental flats, a wet market and a marsh. Audience members were required to vote and the show happened to take place in the run up to Polling Day on Sept 11 by sheer but serendipitous coincidence.

Essentially, the task was impossible. Even if audience members did reach a consensus (to prevent the situation from falling into the hands of "the relevant authorities"), it was done with great gnashing of teeth. Each space on the chopping block had its own unique and irreplaceable attributes and the facilitators drew out passionate discussions from audience members and passers-by who suddenly had a stake in shaping their physical landscape.

I had initially shelved The Lesson in a different compartment of my mind when I attended Dawn at Bukit Brown Cemetery in the wee hours of the morning last Saturday. On its own, this six-person movement piece (which is revisited with much better context in Dusk) does not quite go beyond heavy-handed symbolism about death and departure - including one instance where a pickup truck drives through the performance area as a rather obvious nod to the disruptive construction of the highway.

But it was the act of waking up at 4am to get to the cemetery at 5.30am, of walking to the candle-lit performance area under the cover of darkness while one is hemmed in by silent, desolate construction sites, of seeing and hearing morning crack open over the gorgeous green environs - Dawn is absolutely crucial in place-setting for Dusk, where the morning's events, as well as The Lesson, gain a much richer context.

It is Dusk that ties all three parts together in a difficult open-ended question to the audience: What next? Director Kok Heng Leun and playwright Jean Tay have meticulously gathered a multitude of voices from real-life interviews, press conferences, press statements and newspaper reports to portray the life and death of Bukit Brown Cemetery, from the early stirrings of civic activism in 2011 - when it was first announced that a large highway would be constructed and cut through the municipal cemetery - to the death knell several years later.

Dusk fleshes out the painful tussle between civil society groups and the authorities, including then-Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin, and key figures such as Ms Jennifer Teo from SOS Bukit Brown and Dr Chua Ai Lin, president of the Singapore Heritage Society.

These personalities are all brought to vivid life by the capable trio of Timothy Nga, Karen Tan and Jo Tan, who play all the characters - from a straight-talking tombkeeper to the diverse group of nature lovers, volunteers and activists, as well as those whose ancestors were buried in Bukit Brown and had to move.

The interviews are as sharp and punchy as they are frustrating and sad. While Bukit Brown is at the core of the narrative, the various anecdotes shade in a larger picture of historical amnesia, indifference and the relentless machinery of Singapore's tight urban planning. Can preservation and progress exist on the same plane in Singapore or will they always be at heartbreaking odds?

Drama Box's thoroughly researched performances invert the power structure such that the audience (standing in for the public at large) is ultimately the one with the most agency and choice.

Bukit Brown proves that civil society groups can lobby the authorities successfully only when they have strong public backing.

But what is the public doing with this power? What kind of Singapore will they shape - one where emotion and the various "intangibles" of history, culture and heritage are eroded by pragmatism and the thrust of progress? Or a Singapore that genuinely values various perspectives?

These wonderful productions by Drama Box are a timely reminder that it certainly won't be too long before Singapore evolves - and hopefully, it won't be too late to make a difference.

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Singapore issues stop work order on fire-hit Bukom refinery unit

Reuters 23 Sep 15;

Singapore has issued a stop work order on a fire-hit unit at Royal Dutch Shell's 500,000 barrels per day refinery on Pulau Bukom island off the city-state, Shell said on Wednesday.

"A stop work order concerning the affected unit was issued by the Ministry of Manpower on Aug. 25," a Shell spokeswoman said.

A stop work order is usually issued in cases where severe lapses in safety and health conditions cause immediate danger to the people at work.

A fire broke out on Aug. 21 at a section of an unidentified unit undergoing maintenance at the Pulau Bukom Manufacturing site, Shell's largest wholly owned plant. Six contractor workers suffered burns and were hospitalised.

The refiner stopped all work in units undergoing scheduled maintenance and eventually stopped all non-essential activities across the site, the spokeswoman said.

"All other units at the Pulau Bukom Manufacturing Site continue to operate normally and there is no expected disruption to our planned production rates," she said.

Two of six contract workers remained in the intensive care unit as of late August, while the other four had been discharged, the spokeswoman added, declining to give the latest update on the condition of the workers.

Investigations into the cause of the fire were ongoing.

Shell declined to give further details on how long the unit will be shut for or how much supply will be affected.

But traders said Shell was in the spot market on Tuesday looking for an early-October loading gasoil cargo at a higher than market price.

It was unclear whether the requirement for a cargo was related to the loss of production at the refinery.

In May, Reuters reported that Shell was planning to shut Bukom's largest 210,000 bpd crude unit and a diesel-producing hydrocracker unit for one to two months in the third quarter for planned maintenance.

The refinery suffered production losses in September 2011 due to a fire that forced the company to shut down a crude unit and a fluid catalytic cracker.

(Reporting by Jessica Jaganathan;Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Malaysia: Sarawakians trying their best to cope with haze

The Star 24 Sep 15;

KUCHING: With little improvement after a month, many Sarawakians are just trying their best to weather the haze problem.

Layang Layang Aerospace, which operates Sarawak’s flying doctor service, has seen its Kuching helicopter grounded for most of the se­cond half of this month.

“It’s just so bad and unfortunate. Our helicopters should not fly when visibility is under 3km. We need ground visuals, not to mention visuals of electricity poles and all sorts,” said ope­rations manager Captain Irwin Menezes, who is also chief pilot.

The company’s helicopters are based in the state capital, Sibu and Miri. So far, the Sibu and Miri teams have not been affected.

The flying doctor serves rural Sarawak where there is no road access, visiting up to 100 settlements each month.

“Everyone in the aviation industry is affected, including commercial flights. Our wor­kers have caught the flu although no one has taken leave. As advised, we drink lots of water to get through the haze,” added Menezes.

Meanwhile, hotel corporate communications executive Ng Ai Fern is worried about her six-month-old’s health ever since the haze started last month.

“What do you do when the air is this bad? He has been coughing a little bit. He is too young to be taking medicine.

“People say drink lots of water but my baby is only six months old. He can’t drink that much water and he can’t tell us how he feels,” she said.

Since last week, Ng and her husband have kept their son indoors as much as possible. Except for trips to the nanny during the day – as both parents work – they do not expose him to the outdoors.

“You constantly feel he is at risk. He stays indoors with the air-conditioner on all day long, but then again, too much air-cond is not good,” she added.

Visibility in Kuching yesterday afternoon was 800m.

State health director Datuk Dr Zulkifli Jan­tan said there had been an increase of 30% in outpatient cases related to the haze since last week.

“In this situation it is normal to have more patients. However, there has not been any significant increase in hospital admissions,” he said.

Several areas in Sarawak continued to experience unhealthy air quality yesterday, with Samarahan recording the highest Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of 191 at 9am before dropping to 167 at 3pm.

The API was 150 in Kuching and 127 in Sri Aman at 3pm while Sarikei recorded 101 briefly before going down to 100.

Sarawak: Haze Back, Disrupts 7 Flights To And From KIA
Bernama 22 Sep 15;

KUCHING, Sept 22 (BERNAMA) -- The haze returned Tuesday, and by noon the Kuching Division had registered an Air Pollutant Index (API) of 96, from 76 as of 8am.

Kuching International Airport (KIA) senior manager Mohd Nadzim Hashim said by noon, seven flights involving 668 passengers were affected.

He said the flights comprised two departures with 448 passengers and five arrivals involving 220, adding that those affected were on Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and AirAsia flights between Sibu and Kuching, and Bintulu and Kuching.

"The visibility distance at KIA was at 800 metres this morning before improving to 900 by noon.

"All passengers on flights using the KIA are advised to check their flying schedules with the respective flight companies before going to the airport for any possible disruption," he said when contacted by Bernama.

Meanwhile, according to the department of environment, the API for Sri Aman was at an unhealthy 116, which was the highest in the state as of noon.

It was followed by Kuching with a moderate 96, Samarahan (90), Sarikei (85) and Sibu (74).


Be wary of fake portal with false haze info: DOE
ADIB POVERA New Straits Times 23 Sep 15;

KUCHING: A fake portal has been identified for spreading false and misleading information on the haze situation in Sarawak, Department of Environment said.

In a statement today, the department said information on haze provided by the portal ( was false and had created panic among the people in the state.

“The department is serious about an act by certain quarters spreading false information on haze in the state, which had created panic among the people in Sarawak.

“For the official and latest Air Pollutant Index readings, please visit the department’s link for haze on our website at or download the MyIPU application for smartphones via ‘Google Play’ (for Android users) or App Store (for iOS users).”

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Malaysia, Penang: ‘Worst floods in living memory’

ROYCE TAN The Star 23 Sep 15;

GEORGE TOWN: Residents in Kampung Binjai in Bayan Lepas have been left reeling from the worst floods that they can remember.

Building manager Mat Pozian Rashid, 48, said the first thing that crossed his mind when he saw his house inundated was to carry his diabetic father Rashid Saidin, 83, to safety.

“It was still raining heavily when I woke up at about 7am.

“I then carried my father to the couch as the waters were rising very fast.

“My carpet, furniture and my laptop have been damaged.

“My priority was to get my father to higher ground to make sure he remained safe. His toes were amputated two years ago, and he can’t walk,” he said.

Mat Pozian said he had to take the day off to help his family clean the house.

Several nearby places like Bayan Baru, Teluk Kumbar and Bayan Lepas were also badly affected yesterday.

Many workers were reportedly late for work as they faced traffic snarls along the flooded and slippery roads.

Civil servant Lee Boon Heng, who lives in Bayan Baru, was also stranded as he tried to reach his workplace.

“The jam was worse along Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah heading towards the Bayan Lepas Industrial Zone.”

Office worker BT Lim, who stays in Jalan Khaw Sim Bee, said the area was flood prone.

“After a 30-minute downpour, the drains would become blocked and as a result, the water would flow onto the road,” he said.

Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said peninsular Malaysia was in the south-west monsoon phase and was expected to receive rainfall of between 100mm to 200mm in September and October.

“Based on the Drainage and Irrigation Department’s records, rainfall was heavy between 8am and 11am,” he said in a statement.

A rainfall of 68mm was recorded in Sungai Pinang, 52mm in Kolam Sungai Dondang and 68mm in Lorong Batu Lanchang.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department has forecast isolated showers in the morning today and fair weather for the whole of tomorrow.

Floods and mudslide hit Penang
ROYCE TAN The Star 24 Sep 15;

GEORGE TOWN: An early morning downpour caused flash floods in many parts of the town here, leading to traffic snarls at low-lying areas like Jalan Khaw Sim Bee, Jalan Westland, Jalan P. Ramlee, Jalan Logan, Jalan Anson, Jalan Transfer and Jalan Hutton.

However, the worst-hit areas were away from the town centre, with a deluge of mud and sand hitting Jalan Paya Terubong heading towards Balik Pulau.

There was also a bumper-to-bumper crawl after an uprooted tree blocked a good part of the road.

Traffic police were deployed to the scene to control the traffic flow until the tree was removed.

Resident Y.S. Chai, 42, who lives in a terrace house in Jalan Paya Terubong, said the flash flood was one of the worst that had ever occurred as it washed mud and soil down to the road and into the house compounds.

She said the heavy rain lasted for only about 30 minutes but muddy waters rose very quickly and rushed onto the front porch of her house.

“I have never encountered a flood this bad before. It took us around three hours to clean everything up,” she said.

Further down the road, a gloomy Pon Kah Tong sprayed water from a hose to clear the mud that had accumulated in his car service workshop.

Paya Terubong is an area that has seen rapid development in recent years.

The floods subsided before noon.

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Indonesia's President: Law enforcement imposed on individuals, companies causing forest fires

Antara 23 Sep 15;

Banjarbaru, S Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo affirmed that the law will be imposed equally on individuals and companies found guilty of causing or being involved in forest and land fires.

"Everybody is equal before the law," the head of state remarked during a visit to an area affected by a hotspot in Guntung Damar Village in the South Kalimantan city of Banjanbaru on Wednesday.

He noted that forest and land fires in certain parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan Island have caused losses worth trillions of rupiah.

Therefore, the president revealed that he had ordered Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar to revoke the principle business licenses of all companies found guilty of causing forest and land fires.

The haze from forest and land fires over the past weeks has triggered health problems among the people living in disaster zones and has also disrupted commercial flight operations in several main cities, including at the Kuala Namu International Airport in North Sumatra.

President Widodo said he will continue to monitor forest and land fires affecting the two main islands and has urged the military, police, and local governments to work together to extinguish them.

They also need to conduct a sustainable public awareness campaign program to educate the locals to stop using the slash and burn method to clear land, he remarked.

"Solid collaboration is needed as extinguishing forest and land fires, which have ravaged tens of thousands of hectares of land, is not easy. Therefore, all-out efforts are needed," he noted.

Meanwhile, Chief of the Antasari district military command Colonel Muhammad Abduh Ras stated that stringent law enforcement measures have been imposed on those allegedly involved in forest and land fires.

A total of 142 people have been questioned, and six have been declared as suspects, he said, adding that seven companies in South Kalimantan were also allegedly responsible for the forest and land fires.

In South Kalimantan, 1,538 hotspots have been detected, of which 1,460 have been put out. Thus, there are still 70 hotspots on the ground, he noted.

A CN295 aircraft, three Casa 212 light aircraft, and 17 helicopters were deployed to extinguish the remaining hotspots that indicate the presence of wildfires.(*)

President lauds parties involved in fire fighting efforts
Antara 23 Sep 15;

Banjarbaru, South Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) praised all parties involved in the efforts to fight forest and land fires in several provinces in the country.

"We highly laud all parties that have taken part in the efforts to fight land fires," he stated here on Wednesday.

President Jokowi visited Banjarbaru and personally inspected the fire situation in Guntung Damar in the village of Guntung Payung, Landasan Ulin.

The hard work put in by the provincial and district governments as well as personnel from the military (TNI)/police was a concrete action taken to overcome the fires, the president remarked.

In view of this, their hard work must be lauded, and it is hoped that the fires could be overcome and would not occur in future, he emphasized.

"Every day, I monitor the firefighting efforts and see that all have worked hard, and the results are visible by a decline in the number of fires," he pointed out.

"Not only hundreds but tens of thousands of hectares of land across Indonesia has been burnt down, and so, all parties must work together to help overcome them," Jokowi remarked

Fires in the past month in the country have led to haze, which has disrupted activities of the people and also flights and flight schedules.

President Jokowi was accompanied by First Lady Iriana, Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Education Minister Baswedan, TNI Commander General Gatot Nurmantyo, and Head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency Willem Rampangilei.

Widodo Heads to Borneo to Check Fire Fighting as Haze Hazardous
Fitri Wulandari Herdaru Purnomo Bloomberg 23 Sep 15;

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo is heading to Borneo and Sumatra islands to check on efforts to stop forest blazes that are causing pollution across the region.

Widodo, who has set a deadline of two weeks to a month to stop the burning, will speak to fire fighters in southern Kalimantan on Borneo on Wednesday and then head to Sumatra for two days, his office said in a statement. A pollution gauge in Pontianak in Kalimantan worsened to 779.4 on Wednesday, double the level considered hazardous, while in Singapore a three-hour index was up to an unhealthy level of 116 as of 11 a.m.

Widodo, known as Jokowi, is facing regional pressure to step up efforts to combat perennial forest burning by cracking down on companies with fires on their concessions. The government on Tuesday said it suspended the permits for three Indonesian palm oil planters and revoked the permit for a forestry company.

“There are 14 companies that are being investigated by police,” said Fadrizal Labay, the head of forestry and plantations for Sumatra’s Riau islands, near Singapore. “There will be a possibility of criminal and administrative action.”

PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo, one of the palm companies named by the government and majority-owned by PT Provident Agro, said on Tuesday it was not responsible for causing any fires and will cooperate with the authorities.

Indonesia’s enforcement of its laws against plantation owners is key to resolving the haze, Singapore’s Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Friday. The smog has led the city-state to cancel outdoor events and flights have been stopped across the region.

Responsibility for the blazes, which also emit greenhouse gases from burning peatlands, is complicated by uncertainty over land rights and overlapping permits in a country with widespread official corruption.

Widodo checks up on efforts to tackle forest blazes in Borneo
Today Online 23 Sep 15;

JAKARTA — Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo is heading to Borneo and Sumatra islands to check on efforts to stop forest blazes that are causing pollution across the region.

Mr Widodo’s visit comes as his administration faces regional pressure to step up efforts to combat perennial forest burning by cracking down on companies with fires on their concessions. The government yesterday (Sept 22) said it had suspended the permits of three Indonesian palm oil planters, and revoked the permit of a forestry company.

“There are 14 companies that are being investigated by police,” said Mr Fadrizal Labay, the head of forestry and plantations for Sumatra’s Riau islands. “There will be a possibility of criminal and administrative action.”

Mr Widodo, who has set a deadline of two weeks to a month to stop the burning, was slated to speak to fire fighters in southern Kalimantan on Borneo today before heading to Sumatra for two days, his office said in a statement. A pollution gauge in Pontianak in Kalimantan worsened to 779.4 today, double the level considered hazardous.

PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo, one of the palm companies named by the government and majority-owned by PT Provident Agro, said on Tuesday it was not responsible for causing any fires and will cooperate with the authorities.

The head of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) backed the country’s palm oil producers, saying producers stand to lose from deliberately lighting forest fires and abide by a “zero burning” policy.

“(Members of Gapki) have implemented sustainability principles,” Mr Joko Supriyono, head of Gapki, told Antara news agency yesterday.

Producers face heavy sanctions and risk having their permits revoked if found to be clearing land through fire, Mr Joko said. Buyers of palm oil products also demand eco-friendly practices.

“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.

Indonesia’s enforcement of its laws against plantation owners is key to resolving the haze issue, Singapore’s Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Friday.

The smog has led the city-state to cancel outdoor events, and flights have been affected across the region.

Responsibility for the blazes, which also emit greenhouse gases from burning peatland, is complicated by uncertainty over land rights and overlapping permits in a country with widespread official corruption. AGENCIES

Haze set to last till November as El Nino stretches dry spell
Indonesia's disaster management agency says it will need more soldiers and more funds to battle the forest fires
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta Straits Times 24 Sep 15; and AsiaOne

The haze, a result of forest fires in parts of Indonesia, is set to remain until November, due in part to the dry spell caused by the El Nino effect said to be among the strongest since records were kept in 1950.

Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said that it will need not only more boots on the ground to fight the fires, but also more money to deal with the crisis.

"The number of forest and land fires still has the potential to rise until end-November," said BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho during a press briefing yesterday.

"As a result, BNPB may use up all 385 billion rupiah (S$38.5 million) in government funding earmarked to deal with the fires by end-September and it will have to turn to a 2.5 trillion rupiah 'on-call fund' set aside for other types of disasters."

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in the Central Kalimantan capital of Palangkaraya fluctuated from as high as 1,992 at 6am yesterday, to 1,096 later in the afternoon.

Other places fared better, but only slightly. Palembang in South Sumatra went from a high of 758 at 5am to 180 at 2pm yesterday.

Any PSI reading over 350 is rated as hazardous; while the range of 151 to 250 is considered unhealthy.

"Now, Central and West Kalimantan are seeing the worst (in air pollution)," said Mr Sutopo. "Merauke in Papua has also been burning."

Indonesia has struggled to control the spread of forest fires that caused the smouldering haze, which has affected the lives of millions of people across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in recent weeks.

There are now about 4,800 soldiers and policemen fighting fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, but the BNPB says it wants an additional 600 troops to help.

President Joko Widodo yesterday visited emergency workers deployed to help fight the fires in Banjarbaru, South Kalimantan, before heading to Sumatra, where he will be spending two days inspecting ground conditions and fire-fighting efforts in Jambi, as well as visiting evacuees from the Mount Sinabung volcano eruption. The volcano in North Sumatra last erupted earlier this month.

His men, however, face a tall order, with climate experts warning that the extreme dry weather from the El Nino phenomenon will continue to cause peatlands to burn more readily.

El Nino typically lasts nine months but weather experts say the forecast this year indicates that it is set to peak only in November and could possibly last well into the first half of next year.

According to data from 2006 to last year, hot spots typically appear between June and October, but the prevailing dry weather means they may continue to burn until November, said Mr Sutopo. "The number of hot spots rose again, including fires in South Sumatra... that were previously doused but have re-emerged," he said.

Border areas such as Jambi in South Sumatra - where fires occur in far-flung, hard-to-reach places - have also registered a spike in the number of hot spots, he added.

Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Ministry on Tuesday said it suspended the operations of three plantation companies and revoked the business licence of a fourth over illegal land-clearing practices, which have led to forest fires and the haze in recent weeks. All are Indonesian-owned entities.

The ministry, which is planning to launch civil action against the companies, also said more are expected to be dealt with in the days ahead for breaching Indonesia's environmental laws.

Fire in Unhas education forest escalates
Andi Hajramurni and Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post 23 Sep 15;

While forest and land fires in other areas have finally decreased with rainfall in some regions, a fire that has ravaged the educational forest of Hasanuddin University (Unhas) in Makasssar, South Sulawesi, continues to grow.

As of Tuesday the fire was reported to have burned up to 40 hectares of forest in Bengo village, Kimapoccoe subdistrict, Maros regency, close to the protected forest in Bantimurung-Bulusaraung National Park.

The fire, which began in three spots in the pine forest, was first detected on Monday at 11:30 a.m. local time.

Maros Forestry Agency head Muhammad Nurdin said that fires in some areas on the eastern side of the range had been extinguished, but the ones on the western side had expanded and almost reached the protected forest.

“Due to strong winds the fire has expanded rapidly,” Nurdin said on Tuesday.

He said efforts to extinguish the fire were being conducted by personnel from the local military, police, forestry agency, Maros Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), Bantimurung-Bulusaraung National Park and Unhas students.

Maros BPBD head Suyuti and dean of Unhas’ School of Forestry, Yusran both said that trees in the forest were dry due to the long dry season, making them burn easier.

Meanwhile in North Sumatra, the haze that has blanketed the province has reportedly begun to subside as the number of hot spots in neighboring Pekanbaru, Riau, also decreased due to rainfall.

Lestari Irene Purba of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Medan office said that almost all regions in North Sumatra including Medan were now free of haze.

Lestari said the haze that blanketed North Sumatra had come from South Sumatra and Riau. As of Tuesday, only 37 hot spots were detected across Sumatra, of which 36 were in South Sumatra and the other in Pekanbaru, Riau.

Separately, in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, the city health agency reported over 3,500 cases of acute respiratory infection (ISPA) as of mid-September due to the haze.

“By the end of August we had 2,400 cases of ISPA and by mid September the figure increased drastically to 3,559 cases,” the agency head Balerina JPP said.

Balikpapan has been exposed to haze for the last four weeks, although it has not been as thick as in other cities in Kalimantan. Visibility in Sepinggan Airport, Balikpapan, was still over 10 kilometers.

N. Abdi contributed to this article from Balikpapan.

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Indonesia: Critically endangered Sumatran rhino pregnant again

Kerry Sheridan AFP Yahoo News 22 Sep 15;

Miami (AFP) - A rare Sumatran rhino in Indonesia is pregnant with her second baby and expected to give birth in May, raising new hope for the critically endangered species, conservationists said Tuesday.

Only about 100 Sumatran rhinos are believed to exist in the entire world so the pregnancy is seen as tremendously good news for those trying to save the animals from extinction.

The mother is Ratu, a wild rhino who wandered out of the rainforest and into the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia's Way Kambas National Park 10 years ago.

She got pregnant in January after mating with Andalas, a male rhino at the park, said Susie Ellis, director of the International Rhino Foundation.

Sumatran rhinos have very long pregnancies that last about 16 months, even though they are the smallest of the living rhino species.

"We just wanted to be sure it would take before we made an announcement because in early pregnancy any number of things can go wrong," Ellis told AFP.

Ratu's pregnancy was announced on World Rhino Day, which aims to raise awareness about the five remaining species of rhinos.

Sumatran rhinos are the only Asian rhinoceroses with two horns. They are covered in woolly hair that ranges from reddish brown to black in color.

While Javan rhinos are considered the world's rarest rhinos, Sumatran rhinos are under increasing threat by poachers and continue to lose precious forest habitat.

View gallerySuci (top), a female Sumatran rhino, and Harapan (below), …
Suci (top), a female Sumatran rhino, and Harapan (below), a male, pictured on July 23, 2013 (AFP Pho …
"One more rhino means one percent more animals. That is not a lot but it is certainly an upward trend," Ellis said.

- Conservation efforts -

Conservationists have been working on a new plan to save the Sumatran rhino, after the animals were recently declared extinct in Malaysia.

Wildlife experts say the rhinos need more intensive protection from poachers, and isolated animals should be moved into areas where other rhinos live, a complicated and costly endeavor that may involve airlifting the lumbering creatures by helicopter.

Ellis said plans are under way to raise money to expand the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, built with foundation funds in 1996 and managed in cooperation with the Indonesian government and the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia.

That way, "other animals that are found out in the forest that are reproductively viable can be brought there to be part of the managed breeding program," Ellis said.

- Rare births -

Births of Sumatran rhinos in captivity are rare. Just four Sumatran rhinos have been born at breeding facilities, including the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary and Cincinnati Zoo.

Ratu's first baby, Andatu, was born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in 2012, marking "the first Sumatran rhino born in an Asian breeding facility in more than 140 years," said a statement by Siti Urbana Bakar, the Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry.

The current pregnancy "represents nearly two decades of international collaboration to save the species," he added.

Andalas, the father of both Andatu and the expected calf, was born at Cincinnati Zoo. He was moved to Indonesia from Los Angeles Zoo in 2007.

The only remaining Sumatran rhino in the United States is Harapan, Andalas' younger brother.

He will be moved from Cincinnati Zoo to Indonesia later this year in an effort to boost the breeding population at the rhino sanctuary, which is currently home to five Sumatran rhinos.

Terri Roth, vice president of conservation at Cincinnati Zoo, said it is difficult to say goodbye, but it is the right thing to do for the rhino population.

"It is hard on the staff and there are a lot of people here in Cincinnati who have fallen in love" with Harapan and the other rhinos that used to live at the zoo, she told AFP.

Harapan's sister, Suci, died last year of an inherited disease, leaving him alone at the zoo.

As for Ratu, she has months to wait before giving birth to a calf that will likely weigh 50-60 pounds (23-27 kilograms).

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