Best of our wild blogs: 26-27 Sep 15

Two Additions to the Singapore Checklist
Butterflies of Singapore

September happenings at the "Mother Reef"
Sisters' Islands Marine Park

Seringat-Kias over 2 years with star surprise
wonderful creation

Night Walk At MacRitchie Reservoir (25 Sep 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

eurasian curlew swallows a stone @ SBWR-26Sep2015

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Singapore's largest reclamation project begins in 1965

Theresa Tan Straits Times 27 Sep 15;

The Housing Board started preparatory work on Singapore's largest reclamation project.

The East Coast reclamation project aimed to reclaim land from Bedok to Tanjong Rhu in its first two phases.

The reclaimed land was to be used to build more houses, schools, parks and other community facilities for a growing population.

An estimated 200,000 people were expected to live in a new suburb sitting on the reclaimed land.

Then National Development Minister Lim Kim San said: "We have been changing Singapore's skyline. This project will change our shorelines and map."

The feasibility of reclaiming land from the sea by using the hilly land in Bedok had first been investigated in 1961.

A year later, a pilot project was started and 19ha of land was recovered from Bedok Point.

The pilot scheme's success allowed the Housing Board to go ahead with land reclamation on a large scale.

The East Coast reclamation project, carried out over seven phases, was eventually completed in 1985.

It added more than 1,500ha of land for housing, recreational and other uses and cost the Government over $600 million.

Today, East Coast Park, the Esplanade and the Marine Parade housing estate are some of the landmarks sitting on land reclaimed under this massive project.

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Our firefighters are 'working around the clock': Asia Pulp and Paper

The pulp and paper giant says it is working on a response to the National Environment Agency, after it was served a notice seeking information on what it is doing to put out fires on its land concessions.
Channel NewsAsia 27 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Asia Pulp and Paper Company (APP), one of the world's largest pulp and paper companies, said its firefighting teams are working around the clock to manage forest fires on its suppliers’ land in Indonesia.

In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia on Saturday (Sep 26), APP said it was bringing in additional resources from across its supply chain to battle the blaze.

On Friday, Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) said it has served a notice to APP under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, seeking information on its subsidiaries in Singapore and Indonesia, as well as measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires in their concessions.

NEA's action comes as smoke from raging forest fires in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan has pushed air quality to unhealthy levels in Singapore for several days over the past fortnight.

APP, a member of Indonesia's Sinar Mas Group, has an office in Singapore. "We are coordinating with the relevant parties the appropriate responses to the NEA," it told Channel NewsAsia.

It added that the causes of fire are "highly complex". "They involve the rights of local communities, illegal activity by small and medium enterprises and fundamental complexities over land use rights, spatial planning and maps, ownership and protection. This is why we are working with other stakeholders to focus on prevention and to find a long term solution to the causes of fire," APP stated.

The company said it takes forest fire "very seriously" and has operated a "Zero Burning" policy in its supply chain since 1996.

APP products include Enlivo notebooks, Inspira paper and Paseo tissue paper.

Supermarket chain FairPrice, which carries APP products, said it is seeking clarification from the company on the notice from NEA.

“FairPrice cares for our environment and encourages our partners to adopt sustainable practices in their operations. We are deeply concerned over this matter and are in contact with our suppliers to seek clarification from them,” its spokesperson said.

- CNA/ly

Indonesia's biggest paper firm back in the spotlight
It is told to supply info on its Singapore and Indonesia subsidiaries and what suppliers are doing to fight fires
Marissa Lee Straits Times 27 Sep 15; also AsiaOne

It is the largest pulp and paper firm in Indonesia, backed by the powerful Widjaja family.

But it seems Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) is now Singapore's biggest target in the fight against illegal forest fires, which have led to the haze crisis affecting millions across Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

It has been ordered by the National Environment Agency (NEA) under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to supply information on its Singapore and Indonesian subsidiaries, as well as what its suppliers are doing to fight fires.

APP stood out among the five companies that Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan named on Friday as possible culprits behind forest fires in concession land in Indonesia.

This is because compared to the four firms also under investigation, two of which are its suppliers, APP is one of the world's largest manufacturers of tissue, stationery and other paper products. Contrary to earlier reports, APP is not listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) and remains under the control of the Widjajas' Sinar Mas Group, one of the largest Indonesian conglomerates. The group's business covers pulp and paper, agriculture, property, financial services, energy, infrastructure and telecommunications.

Despite its business pedigree, APP has on a number of occasions found itself thrust under the spotlight of the authorities here.

In 2001, APP was the subject of a probe by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), after creditors and investors cried foul when APP defaulted on US$13.9 billion of debt earlier that year. But the case, along with a parallel probe by the CAD into APP's sister company, Asia Food and Properties, was closed two years later without any disclosure as to why the firms were investigated.

Today, Sinar Mas ranks among Indonesia's richest business groups. Investors have since funded five Singapore-listed firms controlled by Sinar Mas with $4.3 billion of loans and bonds.

This has helped the Widjaja empire reach a market value of US$7.5 billion (S$10.7 billion) on the SGX, data compiled by Bloomberg in May showed.

Singapore-listed firms under Sinar Mas include the world's second-largest palm oil producer Golden Agri-Resources, Indonesia's largest developer Sinar Mas Land, coal miner Golden Energy and Resources, investment holding company Bund Center Investment and lifestyle developer Top Global.

APP is the timber plantation and paper manufacturing arm of Sinar Mas. The firm and its suppliers control concessions covering 2.6 million ha in Indonesia.

Reports indicate that there were more than 300 fire alerts recorded on those concessions in Sumatra earlier this month.

APP also has dozens of subsidiaries from Mauritius to the Cayman Islands, in different functions such as trading, distribution, investment and financing.

The paper supplier does not compile an annual report on its website, posting only two annual reports of two operating subsidiaries based in Jakarta, Indah Kiat Pulp and Paper, and Pabrik Kertas Tjiwi Kimia.

From these, The Sunday Times learnt that APP also provides management services to the two subsidiaries, deriving income in the form of management fees.

For instance, Indah Kiat paid APP a management fee of US$8.6 million for the six months ended June 30, according to its latest financial report.

Tjiwi Kimia paid APP a management fee of US$4.7 million in that same period.

Sinar Mas does not consolidate its total group earnings in one financial report either. It had previously said the rationale for this is that each company in the group is independent.

However, the pulp and paper arm of Sinar Mas is one of the group's largest divisions by asset size.

Indah Kiat had US$6.56 billion and Tjiwi Kimia US$2.76 billion in total assets at the end of June this year, according to their latest financial reports.

The last year for which APP reported its accounts to Singapore's Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) was 2013.

A search with Acra revealed three directors in connection with APP. They are Indonesian Suresh Kilam, Australian Cosimo Borrelli, and Japanese Kunihiko Naito.

APP company secretary Lee Tai Wai, a Singaporean, is also one of the owners of limited-liability partnership Audit Alliance, the firm appointed to audit the accounts of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.

Efforts by The Sunday Times to contact the four men were not successful by press time.

Environmental activists have also been attacking Sinar Mas for years, resulting in companies such as toymaker Mattel cutting APP-made paper packaging out of their supply chain.

Some, like sustainability expert Jessica Cheam, called the NEA's latest invocation of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act "significant".

"It is the first time that Singapore has commenced legal action and also the first time that the Act will be tested since it was passed last year," she said. "The litmus test would be how the companies respond to it, and whether it would prove an effective measure for taking companies to task if they are found responsible for the illegal fires."

Responding to queries on the latest enforcement action by the NEA, an APP spokesman said the company is preparing to respond to the agency.

But she added that as a forest-based business, APP gains absolutely nothing from burning land.

"Fires, therefore, pose an economic threat for APP and cost us a lot of money and resources to deal with," she said. "In addition, the resulting damages from fires cause sufferings to our employees and communities within our operations, as well as threaten the very forests that we have invested to protect."

Yesterday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Facebook that he was committed to cracking down on the culprits behind the forest fires. "My commitment alone, however, will not work without the support of all parties: government, private and public," he said.

Read more!

Haze hits open-air eateries, tourist attractions

Melissa Lin The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 Sep 15;

Business at open-air hawker centres and al fresco restaurants has dipped as customers hide indoors to avoid the haze.

Several tourist attractions were also closed in the past two days, as the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) crossed over to hazardous levels.

Despite conditions improving yesterday, a number of events today and tomorrow have been cancelled or postponed as a precaution.

Madam Yong Fong, 65, owner of Bugis Street Chuen Chuen Chicken Rice at Balestier Market, said her takings have fallen by 20 per cent to 30 per cent since the haze hit two weeks ago. Customers who come mostly order takeaways, she said.

Over at Amoy Street Food Centre, Mr Kiang Choon Tong, 68, owner of Soon Heng Pork and Fish Porridge, said even his regular customers are staying away.

"It's been very difficult. First there was the ban on yusheng (raw fish), then the haze now," he said.

At L'Angelus French Restaurant in Club Street, the number of walk-in diners has dwindled, said general manager David Lim. "No one sits at the outdoor seats. On Thursday night, the whole street was like a ghost town," he said.

Mr Katsumi Mizutani, owner of the L'Opera group of restaurants, said sales at his al fresco restaurants in Boat Quay and Telok Ayer fell by at least a quarter but more people showed up at Pizzeria L'Operetta, which is fully indoors.

Meanwhile, Sentosa closed its Port of Lost Wonder attraction and suspended its tours of Fort Siloso yesterday. Singapore Ducktours, which has seen ticket sales plunge by 20 per cent, cancelled three of its open-top bus tours this week.

Events this weekend that have been cancelled owing to the haze include two Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations in Sembawang and Woodlands organised by the People's Association, and an annual cycling road race by organiser CycoSports.

The National Heritage Board has cancelled more than five events, including this afternoon's snowskin mooncake workshop at the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall. Two other events today have been postponed - the Peranakan Museum's Secret Party and the National Museum of Singapore's Historia SG: The Gardens in a Garden City lecture.

Meanwhile, television customers of StarHub can watch over 140 channels for free this weekend, including HBO and Discovery Channel, the telco announced yesterday. The free preview, which began at 5pm yesterday, ends at 9am on Monday.

Haze Subsidy Scheme: More than 2,200 claims made
The Haze Subsidy Scheme is offered at all polyclinics and clinics under the Public Health Preparedness Clinic Scheme.
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 26 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Many Singaporeans have been tapping on government subsidies to seek treatment for haze-related conditions. Since the scheme was activated last Wednesday, there have been more than 2,200 haze subsidy claims made at polyclinics.

Minister of State for Health Dr Lam Pin Min provided the update on Saturday (Sep 26), on the sidelines of a visit to three General Practitioner (GP) clinics in Simei offering the Haze Subsidy Scheme.

Said Dr Lam: "What I gathered was there is an increase in terms of haze-related conditions being seen at the participating clinics to the extent of about maybe 10 to 20 per cent of their attendances are actually haze-related. And many (said) that the Haze Subsidy Scheme is very useful in terms of decreasing the out-of-pocket expenditure for those patients who are eligible for the scheme."

The subsidies are offered at all polyclinics and clinics under the Public Health Preparedness Clinic scheme, which aims to help patients get treatment even in times of emergency. Currently, there are 585 GPs registered as Public Health Preparedness Clinics.

The Ministry of Health is still collating the number of claims from the Public Health Preparedness Clinics, as the clinics have up to a month from the date of the patient's visit to submit their claims to the Ministry.

With the Haze Subsidy Scheme, Public Assistance cardholders are fully subsidised and do not have to pay. Pioneer Generation Card holders will pay no more than S$5, while other eligible Singaporeans, including low-income earners, will pay no more than S$10.

The air quality in Singapore reached Hazardous levels on Thursday night, before improving on Friday afternoon. Slightly hazy conditions are expected on Saturday, said the National Environment Agency.

- CNA/xq

CCs islandwide distribute 60,000 N95 masks to residents
MARISSA YEO Today Online 25 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — A total of 60,000 N95 masks were collected by 30,000 residents at the 108 community centres (CCs) islandwide by 3pm today (Sept 25), even though air quality improved over the day after tipping over to hazardous levels in the morning.

The haze shelters — air-conditioned rooms at CCs and Residents’ Committee centres — saw relatively fewer users, but the People’s Association (PA) assured that should the haze enter the hazardous levels again, the shelters — which close at midnight — will be open 24 hours.

As at 3pm today, grassroots volunteers and PA staff had also conducted 2,700 house visits to residents who are immobile or sick, and elderly with medical conditions and living alone. The efforts yesterday involved 3,000 volunteers, the PA said.

Eligible Singaporeans and permanent residents are entitled to collect two masks each, upon presenting the blue CHAS card or Pioneer Generation card. The masks are also given to ComCare recipients who are above 62 or have longer-term medical issues. The distribution comes on the back of the WeCare packs containing food items, medication and a N95 mask that were given out last week to 30,000 vulnerable households.

Mrs Wong Ah Moi, 82, went to Tanjong Pagar CC today, after hearing about the mask distribution from her friend. “(Although) it is uncomfortable for me to breathe with the mask on, this makes it more convenient for me to go out,” she said, adding she was grateful for the masks.

Another resident, Ms Kuah Geh Heok, 51, welcomed the initiative as the masks were expensive for her, but felt two masks were not enough. “I think I will give them to my (adult) children,” she added.

Haze subsidy: 15,000 cases so far
Salma Khalik, The Straits Times AsiaOne 27 Sep 15;

An estimated 15,000 people have benefited from the haze subsidy in the past 10 days.

The Government aid means they need to pay no more than $10 when they see a doctor for haze-related medical problems. Pioneers pay $5.

The number of patients tapping the subsidy appears to be far higher than in 2013, when only 20,500 people used it over the four months of haze. Part of the reason is the extension of the benefit to the 450,000-strong Pioneer Generation - those aged 16 and above in 1965.

However, doctors say they are seeing many more patients who are ineligible for the subsidy who are suffering haze-related problems such as breathing problems, runny nose, eye irritations, eczema and even pneumonia.

Dr Lam Pin Min, Minister of State for Health, who visited three participating GPs in Simei yesterday morning, said claims from GPs take at least a month to reach the ministry.

Polyclinics have seen 2,200 such patients since the scheme started on Sept 16. During the 2013 haze, polyclinics saw about 15 per cent of such patients, he said.

Dr Kelvin Goh, who sees about 100 patients a day at his clinic at the Simei MRT station, said about 20 to 30 of these appear to have haze-related respiratory problems.

Others say the haze triggered their eczema, sinus problems or asthma but he added that not all are eligible for the subsidy.

5 shocking health hazards of the haze
Click on thumbnail to view. Story continues after photos.
(Photos: Various sources)

Dr Teoh Oon Hoe, head of respiratory medicine at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) has advised parents whose children suffer from asthma to ensure that they take their medicine, especially if they develop shortness of breath.

"A surge in the three-hour PSI increases the risk of asthma exacerbations in such children," he said.

His colleague, Dr Edwin Thia, who deals in maternal foetal medicine, said there is "no strong evidence to suggest that short-term exposure" would affect unborn children, as all studies have been on prolonged exposure to pollutants causing low birth weight, pre-term birth and intrauterine growth restriction.

But he added: "As a precaution, we would advise that pregnant women reduce exposure to haze for the health of their unborn baby."

Meanwhile, public hospitals are keeping the windows in their subsidised wards closed to prevent the haze from affecting their patients, many of whom are elderly.

About four in five public hospital beds are in subsidised B2 and C class wards, which are naturally ventilated, with no air conditioning.

A spokesman for Changi General Hospital (CGH) said it is "managing the wards' temperature through the use of portable air-condition units in addition to our spot cooling system". It also uses portable fans.

Aside from portable air-conditioners, the National University Hospital (NUH) is using air purifiers in its subsidised wards. It has also added filters to some of the air-conditioning systems to minimise pollutants in the air.

Ms Joanne Yap, chief operating officer of the new Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, said its centralised air filter system is able to filter up to 80 per cent of synthetic dust and 95 per cent of air particles.

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Indonesia hopes to take over Riau Islands airspace management in 3-4 years

According to Indonesian news agency Antara, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan says this would be possible once the necessary infrastructure and manpower are ready.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 26 Sep 15;

JAKARTA: Indonesia has said it hopes to take over management of the flight information region (FIR) above the Riau Islands from Singapore in three to four years.

According to local news agency Antara, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan said this would be possible once the necessary infrastructure and manpower are ready.

Luhut said Indonesia is serious about the transfer of FIR authority, and the government has taken steps including meeting the relevant ministers in Singapore.

Luhut added that he met Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean last week, and the discussion on the FIR was conducted in a friendly atmosphere.

"The dialogue went well, in a positive spirit. Besides that, I've also met with the Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister, who said they supported us to take over the FIR in three to four years from now," said Luhut.

Singapore has been in control of the airspace above some areas in Riau - such as Batam, Tanjung Pinang, Bintan and the Natuna islands - since 1946.

The current set of regulations was put in place with the approval of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

- CNA/ec

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Malaysia: After days of clear skies, haze returns to Sabah

The Star 27 Sep 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Air quality in the city deteriorated, with visibility reduced to about 3km on Saturday as many parts of the state were shrouded by the haze again.

After several days of clear skies, hazy conditions prevailed in many districts, with northern Kudat and Tawau in the east coast reporting visibility of 4km.

Sabah Meteorological Services Department director Abdul Malik Tussin said visibility in Labuan was also reduced to 4km yesterday.

He said the hazy conditions were due to the prevailing south-westerly winds that were blowing in smoke and and airborne particulates from hotspots in Kalimantan.

The haze in Sabah is expected to persist for another two days.

“It will clear after a rainy spell which we are expecting over the next few days,” said Abdul Malik.

He added that afternoon showers were also anticipated over parts of Sabah’s west coast, east coast districts and in the interior.

Dujuan causes wind to come from south, bringing the haze along
ZAFIRA ANWAR New Straits Times 26 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The thick haze blanketing Peninsular Malaysia is a result of the change of wind direction caused by the Dujuan tropical storm.

Malaysia Meteorological Department officer Ambun Dindang said the formation of the tropical storm, located northeast of Luzon Island in the Philippines, has caused the wind to come from the south.

"Right now, the winds are blowing from the Sumatera Islands towards Malaysia. "The winds aren't that strong, between 9.3 kph to 18.5 kph but it is the direction of it, continuously blowing from the south that's bringing the haze from Sumatera and Kalimantan to our country," he told the New Straits Times when contacted.

Ambun said tropical storm was expected to make a landfall in China on Sept 29, which would alter the wind blow direction.

"The current wind blow direction would last until month-end. Once the storm dissipates, the wind direction would, as well," he added.

API readings worsen throughout Malaysia
The Star 27 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: People choked as the air quality in the Klang Valley, Malacca, Negri Sembilan and parts of Sarawak deteriorated.

Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and nearly all of Selangor were covered in thick haze, with a rapid rise in Air Pollutant Index (API) readings.

In Kuantan, the air quality also remained at an unhealthy level.

In Petaling Jaya, the API doubled from 61 at noon to 123 at 7pm, while in Shah Alam it rose from 62 to 128 over the same period.

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

Other areas with unhealthy air quality as at 7pm yesterday were Putrajaya (121); Cheras (110); Kemaman (119); Port Klang (125); Banting (119); Sri Aman (118); Kuching (112); Indera Mahkota in Kuantan (105); and Balok Baru in Kuantan (122).

Also in the unhealthy range were Seremban (115); Port Dickson (115); Nilai (114); Bukit Rambai (108); and Malacca City (136).

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry said in a statement that the haze caused by land and forest fires in Indonesia was currently being blown by winds from Kalimantan to West Sarawak.

It said a map issued by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre also showed the haze moving from central Sumatra to the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

Schools in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Malacca were closed on Sept 15 after API readings in some of the areas rose to nearly 200.

Operations come to a halt after haze hinders visibility
RAZAK AHMAD The Star 27 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: The worsening haze caused the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang to be closed for nearly three hours after the smog reduced visibility to below 300m.

The airport runway was closed at 4.50pm as the air quality situation deteriorated in the Klang Valley, with winds blowing in the haze from land and forest fires in central Sumatra.

The closure caused flights to Subang to be diverted to Penang and Johor Baru, while several flights taking off from the airport were delayed.

In a tweet, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd said the runway was re-opened at 7.45pm after visibility improved and urged all affected passengers to check with their airlines for their flight schedules.

Firely and Malindo Air operate from the airport.

Civil Aviation Department director-general Datuk Seri Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the closure of the runway was a safety precaution due to the worsening haze.

“The Subang airport has been reopened. All other airports continued to operate as usual,” he said.

Both the KL International Airport and KLIA2 remained open to air traffic.

In a statement, Malindo Air said all its affected passengers had been notified and that they could either change their flight dates for free or opt for full refunds.

Malindo Air CEO Chandran Rama Muthy said flights which were supposed to land at Subang during the closure were diverted to Penang and Johor Baru.

He said one flight from Trichy, India, which was scheduled to land at KLIA2 in Sepang, was initially diverted to Penang due to the haze but was later allowed to land in KLIA2 when visibility improved.

Firely CEO Ignatius Ong said all of the airline’s flights in and out of the airport were affected during the closure and urged passengers to contact the airline.

In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said its operations at KLIA were largely unaffected by the haze yesterday.

It said only one of its planes, Flight MH2591 from Miri to Kuala Lumpur, was diverted to Penang due to poor visibility.

“Aside from Flight MH2591, all other Malaysia Airlines flights in and out of KLIA were not affected by the haze,” it said.

Subang Airport flights suspended due to haze
RAZAK AHMAD The Star 26 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: Flights in and out of Sultan Abdul Aziz airport in Subang were suspended from about 5pm to 7.45pm Saturday due to poor visibility caused by the haze.

Firefly chief executive officer Ignatius Ong, when contacted, said that the airport was closed to flight operations at about 5pm.

He said that Firefly has flights operating out of Subang until 10pm and all of its flights had been affected.

Malindo Air CEO Chandran Rama Muthy said they had yet to decide whether to cancel their flights departing the airport, as they were waiting for guidance from authorities.

A Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) spokesperson said visibility at the airport was down to 350m, which prevented aircraft from taking off or landing.

He said both KLIA and KLIA2 were operating as normal.

In a tweet, MAHB said the runway was re-opened at 7.45pm.

"All passengers are advised to check with the respective airlines for their flight schedule," it said.

Schools in three states to resume today, says ministry
The Star 27 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: Schools in Johor, Tereng­ganu and Kelantan will resume today as the haze is still within acceptable levels, said the Education Ministry.

The decision was based on the monitoring of Air Pollutant Index (API) levels throughout the country, which was still under the 200 reading as at 4pm yesterday.

The ministry said state and district education offices would continue to monitor the API readings.

In the event that the API increased to unhealthy or very unhealthy levels, it said the departments could take their own action on whether to keep the schools open.

An API of between 101 and 200 is considered unhealthy, while an API of between 201 and 300 is very unhealthy.

In Johor Baru, state Education Department director Aminuddin Adam said schools would be not be closed today because the API levels were still at average.

“Should there be a necessity for school closure, parents will be informed via the media so that they can make the necessary arrangements.

“Teachers will be on standby at the affected schools to inform them,” he said.

Aminuddin added that the department was keeping tabs on the air quality on an hourly basis and would update the schools on the latest situation.

He also urged parents to keep up with the latest updates and check the Department of Environment’s website for the latest readings.

No Malaysia Airlines Flight Affected By Haze
Bernama 26 Sep 15;

PUTRAJAYA, Sept 26 (Bernama) -- No Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAS) flights in and out of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) have been affected by the haze, said the national carrier Saturday.

However, it said Malaysia Airlines Flight MH2591 from Miri to Kuala Lumpur was diverted to Penang this afternoon due to poor visibility caused by the haze.

"Aside from MH2591, all other Malaysia Airlines flights in and out of KLIA are not affected by the haze," MAS said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a Malaysia Airport Holdings Berhad (MAHB) spokesperson, without elaborating further, confirmed the MH2591 landed safely in KLIA at 4.12pm today.

As of 3pm, the Air Pollutant Index (API) reading in area around KLIA such as Putrajaya is categorised as poorer air quality at 99.

A Bernama check around klia2 found the area covered with haze and visibility was two kilometres.


Haze Does Not Affect Daily Activities In Johor Baharu
Bernama 26 Sep 15;

JOHOR BAHARU, Sept 26 (Bernama) -- The haze which hit several areas in the state since Thursday does not affect the daily activities of the residents of Johor Baharu.

Bernama visited several locations including the wet market and the Larkin Public Transportation Terminal here this morning and found most people including foreign nationals working here opting to function as normal.

However, certain quarters such as the young, disliked leaving the house, thinking that the haze could have an adverse effect on health.

Bus driver, Zul Ghafar Mohd Tarini, 33, said he worked as usual today but had to exercise extra care when driving.

"The haze at night is worse, compared to day time. I am forced to wear a mask and drive more slowly to avoid mishap," he said.

Vegetable wholesaler Zakaria Hasan, 60, was thankful his business remained brisk although the public preferred to spend less time outdoors due to the haze.

"The haze is temporary in nature, so whether they want to or not, the public has to venture out to buy provision.

"Due to this, my business is not affected in the least," said Zakaria, from Kelantan.

However, this was not the case with student, Nur Alina Hassan, 23, who said the haze had affected her outdoor activities with her friends and caused her to have sore throat and cough.

"I am not comfortable going anywhere in such weather. In fact, I avoid going out of the house if there is nothing important to do," she said.

As of 4 pm Saturday, the Air Pollutant Index (API) recorded in Larkin Lama was 104, Pasir Gudang 105, Muar 77 and Kota Tinggi 73.

This situation was different compared to yesterday, with API reading in Larkin Lama (190), Pasir Gudang (194) and Kota Tinggi (129).


Read more!

Indonesia: More than 10,000 Jambi residents suffer respiratory infections 26 Sep 15;

More than 10,000 people in the city of Jambi have been suffering from acute respiratory infections (ISPA) due to haze from land and forest fires.

“Jambi Mayor Syarif Fasya has called on the health officers to work extra hard by visiting the residents instead of waiting for them to come to the health centers,” said Jambi provincial administration spokesperson Abubakar as quoted by on Saturday.

In addition to thick smoke, Jambi city is also blanketed with leftover ashes from the burned forest and land with the Air Pollution Standard Index (ISPU) reaching the level of 525 parts per million (ppm).

“Jambi residents should have been evacuated since the ISPU is already highly hazardous for their health,” said Jambi Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Arif Munandar.

According to Arif, over the past three days, hot spots were not detected in the province. The smog that blanketed the city allegedly came from South Sumatra.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Jambi spokesperson, Dwi Atmoko, said that rain was predicted to fall in the province from around mid-October until mid-November.

“Jambi’s visibility over the last three days was only 100 to 400 meters,” said Dwi.

Jambi Police are currently investigating 15 plantation firms and have named 28 people suspects for allegedly being involved in land-burning cases. (kes)(++++)

Land, forest fires put humans, endangered animals at risk
Novi Abdi and Andi Hajramurni, The Jakarta Post 26 Sep 15;

Despite the improving air quality in several cities in Sumatra on Friday, land and forest fires have continued to create problems in many parts of the country, putting local residents and ecosystems at risk.

In East Kalimantan, fires have reportedly burned over 200 hectares of the Samboja Lestari orangutan sanctuary since Wednesday.

Located some 50 kilometers north of Balikpapan, the 1,852-ha facility, managed by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF), currently accommodates 209 orangutans and 47 honey bears in its rehabilitation and reintroduction programs.

“What we are concerned most about is that the smoke [from the fires] will cause our staff and orangutans to suffer from diseases,” BOSF’s spokesperson Nico Hermanu said on Friday.

Meanwhile In South Sulawesi, fires in Bengo village, Kimapoccoe subdistrict, Cenrana district, Maros regency, razed 50 ha of Hasanuddin University’s educational forest and 50 ha of neighboring forest that is part of the Bantimurung-Bulusaraung National Park.

“Fortunately, we managed to put out the fire so that it did not expand to the residential complex located only 500 meters from the burned site,” Maros Regency Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Suyuti said on Friday.

In North Sumatra, all airports in the province were declared free of haze on Friday after struggling with poor visibility for the past several weeks.

Meanwhile, in neighboring West Sumatra, the intensity of haze significantly dropped following downpours in most parts of the province.

“Looking at the present conditions, we are optimistic that the air quality in West Sumatra will continue to improve as the haze is better handled in its place of origin,” said acting head of West Sumatra provincial BPBD, Zulfiatno.

However, Riau, the country’s largest oil-producing region, was still struggling with poor visibility on Friday.

“The visibility in Rengat, Indragiri Hulu [regency], is 100 meters, Pelalawan [regency] is 200 meters, Dumai municipality is 1,500 meters and Pekanbaru municipality is 4,000 meters,” Meteorology Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Pekanbaru station head Sugarin said.

BMKG Pekanbaru also reported that 1,465 hot spots had surrounded Sumatra on Friday, an increase from 1,025 the previous day.

“Of the 1,465 hot spots detected, 1,296 are in South Sumatra,” Sugarin said.

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

The ongoing haze crisis has been exacerbated by this year’s prolonged dry season triggered by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Apriadi Gunawan in Medan and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb in Padang contributed to this article.

Haze still blanketing parts of Riau although hot spots disappear 26 Sep 15;

A number of areas in Riau province were still covered by thick haze although hot spots had not been visible in the province's forests for the past 24 hours on Saturday morning.

The worst, according to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Pekanbaru, occurred in Rengat, Indragiri Hulu regency, where the visibility was only around 50 meters on Saturday morning. In Bengkalis Island, the thick haze disrupted people’s activities.

Head of BMKG’s Pekanbaru office Sugarin, however, said that the conditions of the provincial capital of Pekanbaru and Dumai city were much better as the visibility reached 1,000 m and 2,000 m.

According to Sugarin, the haze in Riau came from forest fires in the neighboring provinces like South Sumatera, Lampung and Bangka Belitung.

BMKG recorded 71 hot spots on Sumatra Island as monitored by Terra and Aqua satellites in the morning. As many as 55 hot spots were detected in South Sumatra, 12 in Lampung, three in Bangka Belitung and one in North Sumatra.

The weather in Riau was cloudy. Light rain, accompanied by thunder and strong winds, may occur in the evening in northern, western, eastern and central Riau.

Riau Police have named 58 suspects in connection with forest burning from early 2015 until September 2015, while 16 corporations are under police investigation. (edn/bbn)(++++)

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Indonesia: Food stocks enough to bear El Niño peak

Ina Parlina, The Jakarta Post 26 Sep 15;

Current rice stocks were sufficient to weather the peak of the El Niño weather phenomenon, the government announced on Friday.

Presidential Chief of Staff Teten Masduki said on Friday that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was continuing to monitor the efforts to ensure that rice stocks were sufficient and evenly distributed throughout the country.

Teten issued the statement amid reports that the government was planning to import rice from neighboring countries Thailand and Vietnam because of the El Niño impact.

“There is indeed a threat, a possibility that [the calculation of] food stocks might be changed by El Niño. But, until now, the food stocks at Bulog [State Logistics Agency] are relatively sufficient,” Teten said at the Presidential Palace on Friday.

The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) recently acknowledged that its national rice output estimate of 75.5 million tons this year did not factor in the potential impact of El Niño, hinting that the real production figure could be lower as a result of harvest failure.

The estimate was based on real production between January and April without taking into account potential crop failures resulting from the long drought in the harvest season between May and December. The figure showed a 6.64 percent increase compared with last year.

Bulog has said that by December, the agency’s stocks of subsidized rice would reach 62,000 tons from the 1.5 to 2 million tons needed to meet next year’s demand, while its current total remaining stocks stood at 1.7 million tons.

Meanwhile, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said on Tuesday that Bulog was currently in the process of purchasing around 1.5 million tons of rice from Thailand and Vietnam following concerns that rising prices of Indonesia’s staple food could cause social unrest.

Teten, however, declined to comment on the plan.

“This is not about whether to import or not to import. It is about how the government ensures that prices are affordable amid people’s weakening purchasing power caused by the current global economic slowdown,” Teten said.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has predicted that the El Niño weather phenomenon will reach its peak in October, while the prolonged drought has caused harvest failures in several rice-producing regions.

According to Teten, the precise effect that El Niño would have on national rice production was still being calculated.

“But, rest assured, the President is giving his full attention to matters related to food stocks,” Teten added.

In its efforts to anticipate El Niño-related drought and harvest failure, the government has built irrigation channels spanning 1.3 million hectares, small dams and shallow wells. The Agriculture Ministry has also distributed 21,000 water pumps to farmers in drought-prone areas.

Jokowi: RI has sufficient rice stocks
The Jakarta Post 28 Sep 15;

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has said that the country’s current rice stocks are sufficient and no imports are necessary.

“Rice demand can be met by our farmers’ production, so there’s no need for imports. We have imported no rice, despite pressure to do so,” the President said during a visit to rice fields in Cikarang village in Karawang, West Java, on Sunday, as quoted by Antara news agency.

Indonesia’s rice stocks reach 1.7 million tons at present. In October and November, there would be further rice harvests, Jokowi added.

“That’s plenty, that’s safe,” he said.

Some of the stock will be distributed to poor families and put into reserves as the country is facing a dry season prolonged by El Niño.

The government, Jokowi said, was expecting an additional supply of 15 million tons from upcoming harvests between now and December.

“The future challenge is how to provide incentives for farmers to encourage them to produce more rice,” he said.

The government has designated six provinces — West Java, East Java, Central Java, North Sumatra, South Sumatra and South Sulawesi — to be the country’s main food producers, meeting the majority of national demand. The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) recently acknowledged that its national rice output estimate of 75.5 million tons this year did not factor in the potential impact of El Niño, hinting that the real production figure could be lower as a result of harvest failure.

The estimate, which represented a 6.64 percent increase compared with last year, was based on real production between January and April without taking into account potential crop failures resulting from the long dry spell during the harvest season between May and December.

The State Logistics Agency (Bulog) has said that by December, the agency’s stocks of subsidized rice will reach 62,000 tons of the 1.5 to 2 million tons needed to meet next year’s demand, while its current total remaining stocks stand at 1.7 million tons.

President Jokowi was accompanied by First Lady Iriana on his visit to the village in Karawang, which is a major rice-producing area.

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As Indonesia Prospers, Air Pollution Takes Toll

JOE COCHRANE New York Times 26 Sep 15;

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The young woman sat on a bench at a bus terminal here one recent morning, listening to her iPod beneath a bright blue sky. But despite the sunshine and a light breeze, the woman, Fety Dwiyanti, wore a face mask. She did not have the flu or a cold, though, she was just worried about what was getting into her lungs.

“It’s because of the air pollution and dust,” she said. “Every time I go outside, I put it on.”

Jakarta, a sprawling city of 10 million, has long had a problem with air pollution. To address it, it phased out the use of leaded gasoline 10 years ago, among other measures. But as the economy has grown at a rapid clip over the last decade, the number of vehicles in the capital has soared, with more people able to afford them. And air quality has gotten worse.

That has led to a strange development: a rise in the number of “blue sky days” — when the air is clear enough to allow views of the lush mountains of nearby West Java — along with higher pollution levels.

“When we see the sky is blue, it’s just one indicator that air quality is good, and not really an accurate one,” said Dasrul Chaniago, director of pollution control and environmental damage at the environment and forestry ministry. The ministry estimates that at least 70 percent of Jakarta air pollution is from vehicles.The main peril to public health is from fine particle pollution — measuring 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller and found in, among other things, auto emissions — that can sneak into people’s nasal passages and lungs. Such pollution particles are significantly smaller than mold spores, pollens or typical atmospheric dust.

“Car emissions are better,” said Agnes J. Safford, who heads GreenWorks Asia, a Jakarta-based environmental consultancy. “But you’re getting more fine particles because there are more cars. So it looks clearer, but it’s not better.”

Jakarta has never been viewed as one of Asia’s most livable cities. Imagine Los Angeles on a bad day, but with more smog and bumper-to-bumper traffic.

While pollution here does not compare to the dire levels in cities like Beijing and New Delhi, it is serious enough for the State Department to have put Jakarta on a priority list of American Embassies to be fitted with air quality monitors this year. The American Embassies in Beijing and New Delhi already have the monitors; results posted online garner intense interest.

More Jakarta residents are suffering the physical effects of dirtier air, experts say. A study by the University of Indonesia Faculty of Public Health found that 58 percent of all illnesses among people living in the city were related to air pollution as of 2011, up from 35 percent a decade earlier. And the problem is thought to have gotten worse since the study was done..

The conditions include asthma, bronchitis, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, said Dr. Budi Haryanto, chairman of the university’s Department of Environmental Health, which carried out the study

Dr. Budi said that nationwide, air pollution causes 2.8 million lost work days a year, along with 1.3 million absences at schools, 9,000 hospitalizations and at least 6,500 premature deaths. “And we can say there’s an increase in disease in all Indonesian cities. There’s an increase in pollutants everywhere.”

Jakarta accounts for around 40 percent of all auto sales in Indonesia; more than 480,000 new cars hit the capital’s streets in 2014 in addition to 1.4 million new motorcycles, according to the Association of Indonesian Automotive Manufacturers.

“Indonesia lags more than five years behind its neighbors, including Thailand and China, in fuel quality standards,” said Michael Dunne, who runs an automotive consultancy firm based in Hong Kong and has worked extensively in Indonesia.

“Junk fuel in, junk exhaust out, no matter how good the engine might be,” he said.

Still, there are signs that the government is tackling the problem. For instance, it is mandating that the auto sector improve emission standards on new vehicles to meet European levels starting in 2017.

In Jakarta, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Council collects data from eight monitoring stations across the city to measure air quality minute by minute. The agency also deploys vans with air monitoring equipment to take measurements in specific locations.

Experts say it will take long-term projects to improve Jakarta’s air quality, like the continuing construction of a mass transit system that officials hope will reduce the number of drivers on the streets and highways. Another project involves the city government buying land to create more green spaces.

In the meantime, Jakartans who wear face masks are an increasingly common sight.

Fina Chrisnantari, 30, an assistant in an office management company, says she will continue to wear a mask to and from work. She has been wearing one for about a year. “I’m not sure how much it helps,” she said as she waited for a bus in downtown Jakarta. “A few days after being out, you can still feel it in your lungs.”

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Vietnam: Climate change may be alarming

Vietnam News 26 Sep 15;

Nguyen Van Tue, head of the Hydrometeorology and Climate Change Department under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, spoke with Ha Noi Moi (New Ha Noi) newspaper about the effects of climate change in Viet Nam.

Climate change is a big challenge and cause severe natural disasters for many countries, including Viet Nam. Is this true?

Yes. Climate change causes global warming, leading to changes in rainfall, melting ice and rising sea levels worldwide.

Observations show that in the past century, the average global temperature has increased by about 0.74 degrees Celsius, while in the last 50 years, the growth rate of temperatures nearly doubled compared to the past 50 years.

The year 2010 was the hottest year in history. Global warming lowers the amount of ice in both hemispheres, including in the Arctic Ocean, where the amount of ice has decreased by between 2.1 to 3.3 per cent per decade.

This is the reason why the average sea level rises 1.8mm per year.

The effect of climate change is clear in Viet Nam. The average temperature in the country has increased by 0.5 degrees Celsius per year over the past 50 years.

Particularly in 2015, due to the impact of the El Nino phenomenon, the country has had more hot days. The rainfall tends to decrease in the north and increase in the south. Storms and tropical depressions tend to retreat to the south of the country.

In particular, the occurrence of storms and hurricanes is becoming more frequent, and the rainy season will end later than past years. Drought and heat tends to rise unevenly between regions, particularly in the Central and South.

What is the effect of climate change on the sustainable development of Viet Nam?

According to a World Bank report, Viet Nam is one of five countries heavily affected by climate change. In particular, water resources, coastal areas and agricultural sectors are the areas that are most vulnerable.

From 2001 to 2010, natural disasters left 8,500 people dead and missing, causing economic losses of 1.5 per cent of GDP a year.

Predictions for climate change and rising sea levels indicate that the average temperature of Viet Nam will rise by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century, leading to an increase of the sea level.

As a result, the Mekong River Delta will be flooded in 39 per cent of its area; HCM City will have 20 per cent flooding; coastal provinces in the Red River Delta will have 10 per cent flooding; and the central region will have 3 per cent flooding.

Consequently, 10 to 12 per cent of the Vietnamese population will be directly affected by climate change with economic losses of 10 per cent of GDP per year. These are alarming numbers. Therefore, it is vital for Viet Nam to respond to climate change.

What should the country do to lessen the effects of natural disaster and adapt to climate change?

Recognising the serious impact of climate change, the country has ratified the Framework Convention on Climate Change of the United Nations and worked with international communities to cope with climate change.

The Party Central Committee has issued a resolution on active response to climate change, enhancing resource management and environmental protection.

The government has also issued many policies to cope with climate change, such as the national target prog-ramme on climate change, the National Strategy on Green Growth and a project on greenhouse gas emission management. In addition, to adapt to climate change, Viet Nam has implemented flood-resistance housing, reinforced embankments and implemented technologies to turn salt water into fresh water.

It has focused on coastal mangrove afforestation and watershed protection, which together provide solutions and create jobs for residents.

For example, the central province of Quang Nam has carried out projects to upgrade traffic and irrigation works to prevent salt water intrusion and retain fresh water for irrigation and domestic use. The Mekong River Delta has installed disaster warning systems.

In addition, the country has focused on raising community awareness through environmental protection activities. — VNS

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Giant 'blob' of cold water in North Atlantic bucking trend of warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures, say scientists

Temperatures of the sea surface in a vast region south of Greenland are near to, or below their lowest recorded levels
Steve Connor The Independent 26 Sep 15;

A giant “blob” of cold water has appeared in the North Atlantic over the summer months, bucking the global trend of warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures around the world, scientists said.

Temperatures of the sea surface in a vast region south of Greenland are near to, or below their lowest recorded levels, leading some scientists to speculate that it may be a sign that the vast oceans currents of the North Atlantic are slowing down due to large volumes of glacial melt-water running into the sea.

Since the beginning of the year, scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have recorded much lower sea-surface temperatures than usual in the region south of Greenland and Iceland, with some area recording the lowest eight-month period on record.

This contrasts with the noticeably higher-than-average temperatures seen in almost every other part of the world, which has coincided with a strong “El Nino” event in the Pacific Ocean – the warm sea current associated with a disturbance in normal weather patterns.

A spokeswoman for the UK’s Met Office said: “North Atlantic sea surface temperatures are well below average and they have been all summer.”

One suggestion is that the freshwater run-off from the melting Greenland glaciers are disturbing the ocean “engine” that drives the North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation – the giant “conveyor belt” of sea currents that include the Gulf Stream.

The engine that drives ocean currents is powered by the sinking of cold, salty water from the sea surface to the seabed in a part of the North Atlantic south of Iceland. But some scientists fear that it is being disturbed by a layer of cold freshwater, which tends to remain on the sea surface, because the less-dense freshwater floats on the denser, salty water.

The 'blob', highlighted in blue, just south of the coast of Greenland

Earlier this year, scientists published a study suggesting that the North Atlantic circulation – the northward flow of warm, surface water and the southward flow of deep, cold water – had slowed down by between 15 and 20 per cent during the 20th Century.

“The current ‘blob’ was caused partly by strong winds over the Atlantic during the winter 2013-14 taking a lot of heat out of the ocean, but I think there are longer-term changes going on in the Atlantic that would give a similar temperature pattern,” said Leon Hermanson, a senior scientist at the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter.

“The magnitude of the changes on time scales of decades is larger than the effects we expect from Greenland land-ice melt or other factors slowing down the Atlantic conveyor belt,” Dr Hermanson said.

“The measurements we have of the conveyor belt are only ten years long and not at the ideal latitude to study the northern North Atlantic, but I think, based on my own and other people’s research, that the conveyor belt is currently decreasing, mainly due to climate variability and only a little due to climate change,” he said.

Researchers have calculated that some 8,000 cubic kilometres of freshwater has flowed from Greenland into the Atlantic between 1900 and 1970, and that this rose significantly to 13,000 cubic km between 1970 and 2000.

“It is conspicuous that one specific area of the North Atlantic has been cooling in the past hundred years while the rest of the world heats up,” said Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

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