Best of our wild blogs: 1 Oct 15

Where does your poop go? EIA for new outfall in the sea for public viewing
wild shores of singapore

Turn the Little Red Dot green
Green Future Solutions

10 amazing plants in our MacRitchie Forest
Love our MacRitchie Forest

Read more!

Singapore population hits 5.54m but growth slowest in a decade

The Republic’s population grew 1.2 per cent between June 2014 and 2015, the slowest growth in 10 years, according to statistics released by the National Population and Talent Division.
Channel NewsAsia 30 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Even as more Singaporeans are getting married and having babies, the Republic’s population grew at its slowest in a decade, rising 1.2 per cent to reach 5.54 million in June.

The statistics, released on Wednesday (Sep 30) by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) in its annual Population in Brief report, also showed that the number of citizens rose to 3.38 million, through births and immigration.

There were about 20,000 new citizens last year, with 37.5 per cent of them aged 20 and below, 27.9 per cent of them aged between 31 and 40, and 19.6 per cent above 40 years old. The Government plans to continue taking in between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens each year to prevent the citizen population from shrinking, the report said.

The number of permanent residents remained stable at 0.53 million. The Government will grant about 30,000 PRs each year to keep the PR population stable and to ensure a pool of suitable candidates for citizenship, the NPTD said.

The number of Singaporeans getting married reached a 17-year high last year, with 24,037 citizen marriages registered. There were more than 33,000 citizen births, which tied with 2012 - a Dragon year - for the highest number of citizen births in the last 10 years.

The resident total fertility rate (TFR) increased from 1.19 in 2013 to 1.25 in 2014, with the increase seen across all ethnic groups, NPTD said.

The proportion of citizens aged 65 and above increased from 12.4 per cent last year to 13.1 per cent this year. The median age of Singapore citizens also rose from 40.4 years to 40.7 years. Currently, there are 4.9 citizens in the working age band of 20 to 64 years for each citizen aged 65 and above, down from 7.2 a decade ago.

The number of non-residents - largely comprised of foreigners working here and their families, as well as students - rose by 2.1 per cent to 1.63 million, slower than the 2.9 per cent growth the previous year. This was mainly due to a slowdown in the number of foreign workers arriving in Singapore, the report said.

Measures taken by the Government to mitigate the inflow of foreigners saw foreign employment growth - excluding maids - slowing after reaching a high of 77,000 in 2011-2012. It fell to 60,000 in 2012-2013, then declined further to 33,000 a year later and to 23,000 in 2014-2015.

The NPTD noted in its report that businesses will continue to face a tight labour market. “The Government will support businesses to shift towards skills- and capital-intensive ways to grow, so that businesses can continue to grow and succeed here, to create quality jobs for Singaporeans,” it said.


Experts said Government policies like the Marriage and Parenthood package, which has quadrupled from S$500 million since 2001 to S$2 billion in 2013, act as an incentive for couples to have children.

Other factors, such as the stable economic and manpower outlook last year, might have also influenced their decision to do so.

"The past couple of years have also not shaken us to the point whereby we start to rethink long-term investment, and growing a family is a long-term investment," said Associate Professor Paulin Straughan from the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore. "If we are very uncertain about holding down jobs, for example, then very few would dare to venture into expanding a family."

Experts also said that the consistent inflow of immigrants over the years, who later became citizens, has helped the Singaporean base to grow. This in turn might have led to more citizen births.

"The other important aspect that we need to look at is when a Singaporean marries a non-Singaporean because then the Singaporean brings home another warm body," said Assoc Prof Straughan. "And when they get married here, and again sink roots and grow their children here, that contributed to our birth figures as well."

However, Singapore continues to see an ageing population.

Mr Christopher Gee, a research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, said: "The old-age support ratio, if left unchecked and not addressed, will become a problem ultimately. It is not something you can feel overnight. It is something that creeps up on you.

"It will take effect in respect to maybe lower productivity ... It might be seen as lowered vitality or dynamism in the economy. So, all of these things can compound over many years."

- CNA/cy/ek

S’pore’s population growth slowest in a decade
Population increased by 1.2% to 5.54m in June despite high number of births in 2014

SINGAPORE — Despite the number of births last year matching a decade-high achieved in 2012, the Republic’s population grew at its slowest pace in more than 10 years — inching up by 1.2 per cent to reach 5.54 million as of June.

The annual Population in Brief report — issued today (Sept 30) by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) — showed that the number of citizens grew by 1 per cent over the past year to reach 3.38 million while the number of permanent residents remained stable at about 530,000.

The growth of the non-resident population — it stands at 1.63 million as of June — slowed from 2.9 per cent last year to 2.1 per cent. This was due to “concrete steps” to slow the growth of Singapore’s foreign workforce, NPTD said. In all, about 23,000 foreign workers were added to the labour force between June 2014 and June this year. In comparison, 33,000 more foreign workers came to Singapore in the preceding one-year period.

Last year, there were 33,193 citizen births while marriages involving at least one citizen reached a 18-year high at 24,037.

However, the citizen population continues to age, as more post-war baby boomers enter the older age groups. The median age of citizens has risen to 40.7 years, up from 40.4 last year. About 13.1 per cent of citizens were aged 65 and above as of June, up from 12.4 per cent last year.

Correspondingly, the proportion of working adults between 20 and 64 years supporting senior citizens - or the citizen old-age support ratio - fell further to 4.9 this year, down from 5.2 last year and 5.5 in 2013.

The inflow of foreign manpower was a hot topic during the 2011 General Election, and since then, the Government has tightened its foreign worker policy. It has said that there will be no U-turn on the tight lid on foreign worker numbers here.

NPTD noted that businesses will continue to face a tight labour market. “The government will support businesses to shift towards skills- and capital-intensive ways to grow, so that businesses can continue to grow and succeed here, to create quality jobs for Singapore,” it said.

Economists and sociologists whom TODAY spoke to reiterated that Singapore cannot afford to close its doors to immigration and foreign labour, and policymakers have to continue to calibrate the inflow as the Republic pushes on with efforts to raise the productivity of a leaner workforce.

SIM University senior lecturer Walter Theseira said it is a conundrum that has no easy solution. Said Dr Theseira: “Are we getting that growth from productivity? The answer unfortunately is not to the extent we would like. Can we do better? Yes but how? If we knew how to get there, we would have definitely done that by now. I think neither the government nor businesses know what the magic solution is to productivity and they’ve tried but it’s a difficult problem to solve.”

While the Government has been seeking to bring in foreign labour who are higher-skilled, it is not as straightforward as it seems, he said.

“Even if you set out to bring in higher-skilled manpower, you bring in quite a lot of medium-skilled manpower who have skills which are quite common or replicated among the Singapore population,” he added.

Institute of Policy Studies research fellow Christopher Gee felt the focus should be on bringing in foreign workers who can help raise productivity and add value - but not in the narrow sense. “Just because you bring in a low skilled worker, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the value-add that the worker creates will be low. They might work on an infrastructure project that generates a lot of value in future. So from that perspective, it’s about understanding how that worker can contribute to the economy in a sustainable and long-term manner,” said Mr Gee.

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Paulin Straughan said there is a concern whether there are enough bodies in the workforce to “ensure and sustain a vibrant economy”. “The implications of the more stringent immigration rules that have been put in place has resulted generally in faster ageing of the population,” she said.

Associate Professor Straughan, who had spoken previously about the rising trend of transnational marriages, reiterated the need to look at ways to better integrate foreign spouses and children of these families into the local population and workforce.

About 37 per cent of marriages last year were transnational marriages involving Singaporeans. The proportion has held steady at about four in 10 of all marriages between 2004 and 2014.

Non-resident population growth continues to slow: NPTD
Today Online 30 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — The Republic’s non-resident population growth continued to slow this year following Government measures that rein in foreign employment.

This resulted in the slowest growth of Singapore’s total population in over a decade, the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) said in its annual report.

Despite over 33,000 citizen births, the highest in the last decade along with the 2012 Dragon year peak, the island’s total population gained only 1.2 per cent year-on-year to 5.54 million as of June 2015.

Singapore’s population includes 3.90 million residents — or 3.38 million Singapore citizens and 0.53 million permanent residents (PR) — and 1.63 million non-residents such as dependants, international students and individuals who are here for work.

Growth of the non-resident population slowed to 2.1 per cent, down from 2.9 per cent last year. Foreign employment gained only about 23,000 in the year to June 2015, marking a constant slowdown since the 2011-2012 period when it rose by 77,000.

The citizen population grew by 1 per cent, a similar pace as last year, with citizen births and calibrated immigration.

Due to increasing life expectancy and low fertility rates, the citizen population continues to age, with 13.1 per cent aged 65 and above, compared to 12.4 per cent last year and 8.8 per cent in 2005.

Currently, there are 4.9 citizens in the working age band of 20-64 years, for each citizen aged 65 years and above. This is a decline from 7.2 in 2005, according to the NPTD report.

To prevent the citizen population from shrinking, the Government said it plans to continue taking in between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens each year.

Permanent residence is an intermediate step through which suitable foreigners and spouses take up citizenship in Singapore.

Since the tightening of the immigration framework in late 2009, the Republic has taken in about 30,000 new PRs a year, to keep the PR population stable and to ensure a pool of suitable candidates for citizenship.

The number of marriages involving at least one citizen increased from 21,842 in 2013 to 24,037 in 2014, the highest figure since 1997.

The median age at first marriage remained stable for both genders from 2013 to 2014, at 30.1 for citizen males in 2014 (same as 2013) and 27.9 for citizen females in 2014 (compared to 27.8 in 2013).

Transnational marriages (between citizens and non-citizens) continued to comprise more than a third of all marriages involving citizens last year. The proportion of inter-ethnic marriages has almost doubled from a decade ago to 20 per cent, reflecting the increasing diversity in Singapore’s population, the NPTD said. KIM SO-HYUN

5.54m living here but less coming to work
Ong Hwee Hwee, My Paper AsiaOne 1 Oct 15;

Singapore's population stood at 5.54 million as of June, a 1.2 per cent growth from June last year, latest figures show.

But the pace of growth was the slowest in more than a decade, mainly due to the continued slowdown in the growth of the foreign workforce, according to a report released by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) yesterday.

In the previous year, the population rise was 1.3 per cent.

The 5.54 million population figure comprises 3.38 million citizens, 530,000 permanent residents (PRs) and 1.63 million non-residents.

The growth in non-resident population slowed to 2.1 per cent this year, down from 2.9 per cent last year. This continues a downward trend seen in the last few years. The number of non-residents was 1.6 million last year.

Close to half of the non-residents here (45 per cent) were work permit holders mostly in occupations in which it was difficult to hire locals, such as construction, said the NPTD report.

The rest were dependants of citizens, PRs or work pass holders (16 per cent); maids (13 per cent); employment pass holders in managerial and executive positions (11 per cent); S Pass holders in sectors like retail, manufacturing and healthcare (11 per cent); and foreign students (4 per cent).

"Businesses will continue to face a tight labour market. The Government will support businesses to shift towards skills- and capital-intensive ways to grow, so that businesses can continue to grow and succeed here, to create quality jobs for Singaporeans," said the report.

The citizen population, however, crept up by 1 per cent, thanks to a rise in citizen births which, along with births in 2012 (a Dragon year), were the highest in the last decade.

There were 33,193 Singaporean babies born last year, although the year was not a particularly auspicious one to many Singaporeans for having children. That matched the record in the popular Dragon Year in 2012.

As a result, the total fertility rate for residents rose to 1.25 last year, from 1.19 in 2013. The increase was seen across all ethnic groups.

This, however, was still well below the replacement rate of 2.1.

But until there is a surge in birth rates, Singapore's population continues to age, with Singaporeans living longer and having fewer babies.

Those aged 65 and older formed 13.1 per cent of the citizen population as of June, up from 12.4 per cent last year.

"There are more citizens in the older age groups today as the 'post-war baby boomers' enter their silver years," said the report.

That would mean that there are currently 4.9 citizens in the working age band of 20 to 64 years for each citizen aged 65 years and above. A decade ago, the figure was 7.2.

Singapore population crosses 5.5 million
The Straits Times AsiaOne 1 Oct 15;

Singapore's total population has hit 5.54 million, five years after crossing the five million mark, even though population growth in the 12-month period since June last year has sunk to an 11-year low.

The total number of people, including permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners working here, continues to rise sluggishly. It crept up just 1.2 per cent, a tad slower than the 1.3 per cent in the previous year.

These latest figures are from a National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) report out yesterday.

It shows citizen marriages and births were at a high last year, but these silver linings could not stave off the slower growth, which is a result of the Government's continued efforts to tamp down the hiring of foreign workers.

Growth of the resident population, which includes PRs, has stayed constant. As of June this year, there were 3.38 million citizens and 530,000 PRs.

In contrast, the non-resident pool grew a lot slower: 2.1 per cent against 2.9 per cent in the previous year. Nearly half the non-residents were work permit holders in occupations locals shun, like construction workers.

As businesses continue to face a tight labour market, the Government will help businesses explore more skills- and capital-intensive ways to grow, so that they continue to thrive and create quality jobs for Singaporeans, said the NPTD.

"The Government is committed to help Singaporeans do well in the workplace," it added.

One of the ways is through the SkillsFuture scheme, which lets Singaporeans upgrade themselves throughout their lives.

The clampdown on foreign labour is set to stay but there is good news for the resident population.

The number of citizen births last year was 33,193 - matching the numbers in 2012, which was the auspicious Dragon Year. The rise lifts the total fertility rate for residents from 1.19 in 2013 to 1.25 last year.

Singapore's flagging birth rates and its ageing population worry its leaders, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. At this year's National Day Rally, Mr Lee announced a slew of pro- family measures to boost numbers, including a more generous Baby Bonus package, larger Medisave grants for newborns and an extra week of paternity leave on a voluntary basis, giving fathers two weeks of leave.

More couples tied the knot last year too. There were 24,037 marriages involving at least one citizen - the most since 1997. Measures in recent years, like the Parenthood Priority Scheme, which helps married couples with children buy homes, and the introduction of paternity leave have helped.

"These improvements have provided couples with a favourable environment to make important decisions - marriage and setting up a family," said Dr Kang Soon-Hock, head of the social science core at SIM University.

Still, the population will continue to age, so the Government will continue its calibrated approach to immigration, taking in between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens each year, said the NPTD. It has also given PR status to about 30,000 foreigners yearly since 2009 to keep numbers stable and maintain a pool of suitable candidates for citizenship. Most PRs are in the "prime working ages" of 25 to 49.

Said the NPTD: "Immigration helps to balance the shrinking and ageing of our citizen population."

Read more!

Singapore-Batam ferry services stopped for 3 hours due to haze

Janice Tai, Samantha Boh, Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Sep 15;

More than 600 passengers, half of them Singaporeans, had their travel plans delayed when ferry services between Singapore and Batam stopped for three hours yesterday afternoon due to the haze.

A spokesman for the Singapore Cruise Centre said it was notified by the Batam Harbour Master at 1pm that all ferries scheduled to leave the Indonesian island were not able to do so.

"As a result, ferries departing from Singapore were also halted," he said.

It was the first time the haze had caused the ferry services to stop.

Low visibility from the haze caused by fires in Indonesia's Riau province also led to delays at Batam's Hang Nadim International Airport in the morning, with some flights having to be re-routed.

Conditions in Singapore took a turn for the worse yesterday, with air quality reaching very unhealthy levels, while efforts intensified to bring the culprits to task.

The Singapore-listed firm facing legal action from the Government for being one of the possible culprits behind the haze stands to lose its green label status for its paper products sold here, said the Singapore Environment Council (SEC).

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), the largest pulp and paper firm in Indonesia, sells the Nice, Jolly and Livi brands of tissue paper here with the Singapore Green Label seal on them.

The seal to endorse a product as environmentally friendly may have to go if the council finds that APP has been getting raw materials such as wood, paper or pulp from unsustainable sources.

"We have sent them a letter to declare their product sources but they have yet to respond," said SEC chairman Isabella Loh.

She said the products were issued the green label more than five years ago.

APP was served a legal notice by the National Environment Agency last Friday to supply 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.

Yesterday, the council said it would send pledge letters to some 2,800 companies this week urging them to commit to buying only sustainable palm oil products.

These are members of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, which the council is working with to get companies to adopt green procurement practices. Such a move would exert pressure on supply sources in Indonesia to certify their palm oil products as being from sustainable sources.

Last week, outgoing Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said having green procurement practices was a way for the Government to influence the supply chains.

The council said it was working with the ministry on this and would start with paper products.

"When the public agencies practise it, hopefully the private sector will follow suit," said SEC's Ms Loh.

"What is holding them back is that there is a lack of certified palm oil products in the market to choose from," she added.

For instance, only 10 per cent of palm oil products in Indonesia are certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an international non-profit certification body.

PSLE to be held in enclosed spaces, with air purifiers
Today Online 1 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — The Primary School Leaving Examinations will begin tomorrow (Oct 1) as scheduled despite the hazy conditions, with arrangements made for the examinations to be held in enclosed spaces, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) said in a joint statement today.

Air purifiers will be provided at the venues so that it is safe for the examinations to continue without disruption, even if the haze conditions unexpectedly worsen during the period of the examinations.

“The safety and well-being of all examination candidates remain our top priority,” said MOE and SEAB, adding that schools will remain open and national examinations will proceed as scheduled.

The joint statement added that candidates with underlying medical conditions or who feel unwell should seek medical attention.

The existing processes for candidates who are ill during the national examinations will be activated for candidates who are unable to take the examinations due to haze-related illnesses. Those who are medically certified unwell and are unable to sit for the examinations should inform their schools. Private candidates should inform the SEAB through the MOE at 6872 2220.

Candidates who feel unwell while taking the examinations should inform the examination invigilators immediately. Schools and examination centres are prepared and ready to handle such situations, said MOE and SEAB. “Candidates can be assured that they will not be penalised or disadvantaged if they are unable to take or complete the examinations due to haze or other medical conditions.”

The National Environment Agency has forecast that the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index tomorrow is expected to be in the high end of the unhealthy range and low end of the very unhealthy range. It may deteriorate to the mid-section of the very unhealthy range if denser haze is blown in.

How haze affects Singapore's greenery
Some plant owners are taking precautions, by moving the plants indoors and giving them extra care. However, experts say most of the greenery in Singapore can withstand short spells of haze.
Leong Wai Kit, News 5 Channel NewsAsia 30 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Amid hazy conditions in Singapore, some plant owners have been taking precautions by moving their plants indoors, and giving them extra care. According to experts, prolonged haze is not just bad for humans, but also that of plants.

“Because of the haze we have much less solar radiation coming in,” explained Associate Professor Matthias Roth, from the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore. “We have much less photosynthetically active radiation coming in as well, so it affects the growth of plants and other ecosystems.

“Just a few days of the haze is not too critical, but if we remember the long and severe period in 1997, 1998 when we had haze for many weeks, the vegetation, some of the leaves and trees started to turn brown. So if the haze persists long enough it can have an impact.”

There are about 2 million trees in Singapore. Many of them are large, sturdy, and low-maintenance. Experts have said that while the haze has potential to affect the growth plants and trees, most of the greenery in Singapore can withstand short spells of haze.

But there are vulnerable plants, such as potted plants. Some nurseries in Singapore have said their flowers are drying up faster. One of their solutions is to move them into air-conditioned rooms. Workers also give the vulnerable plant species more water.

“The haze affects the lighting - it blocks off the lighting,” said project manager of Toh Garden Zhuo Hongyi. “So the orchid plants grow slower. And also the particles in the air cause damage to the more sensitive flowers, because particles in the air absorb moisture from the flowers, causing them to look very dehydrated.”

- CNA/ek

How the haze affects animals
Animals are known to be sensitive to weather changes. With the worsening haze situation in Singapore, there has been an increase in the number of pets needing medical attention.
Nur Afifah Ariffin, Channel NewsAsia 29 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Animals are known to be sensitive to weather changes. With the haze situation in Singapore worsening recently, it is no surprise that there has been an increase in the number of pets needing medical attention.

The Animal Recovery Centre said it has seen a 20 per cent increase in pets coming in with eye irritation problems and a 30 per cent increase in those with respiratory problems.

The centre, which treats mainly cats and dogs, said dogs are generally more affected, as they spend more time outdoors.

Said Dr Cheryl Tay, director of medicine at the Animal Recovery Veterinary Referral Centre: "Recently, we had about four, five dogs come in just for coughing after a walk. I think a lot of the dogs that have short noses or really big eyes, like pugs and shih tzus, have a lot of issues with conjunctivitis-type problems, and also with coughing."

Pet owners have also taken preventive measures, starting with reducing the time they take them out for walks.

"Generally, I am not taking him out when the haze is quite bad. The same conditions apply to him as they do to us. We are affected too, my family, my daughter and I,” said Ms Maria Lewis, who owns a dog.

“He has a lot of water handy for him and we also have an air purifier in our house, so he breathes in the same air that we are breathing in,” she added.

Veterinarians also advise pet owners to look out for haze-induced symptoms such as changes in breathing patterns and squinting, and to bring them indoors, should the conditions worsen.

- CNA/dl

No respite from bad air despite downpour
The Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Sep 15;

Those who woke up yesterday morning hoping for clearer skies and fresh air because of the downpour on Monday night were sorely disappointed, as air quality deteriorated despite the rain.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), a measure of air quality here, climbed to very unhealthy levels at 4am yesterday. The three-hour PSI also peaked at 250 at 2pm yesterday.

Experts The Straits Times spoke to said this was because it rained here, not on the fires in Indonesia from where the haze is being blown by unfavourable winds.

Associate Professor Richard Webster, an expert in environmental chemistry from the Nanyang Technological University's School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, said: "It is likely that the rain was very localised in Singapore and did not affect any of the fires in Indonesia. So as soon as the rain stopped, the haze appeared again.

"The only way the rain can help in the long term is if it falls directly on the areas with the fires."

Monday night's rain also left a strong burning smell and smoky conditions. Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, said that while rain can remove some of the airborne particles from the air, it cannot do the same for toxic gases, such as those emitted by peat soil fires.

"The acrid smell of the smoke-haze is associated with those gases, so after the rain, we can still sense it," Dr Velasco said.

However, he noted that whether the smell became stronger after the rain was subjective. He added: "We should analyse the chemical composition of such gases in real time to know more about their toxicity."

National University of Singapore geographer Winston Chow added that the misty conditions experienced after the rain were due to water vapour in the air.

He said: "When the air is humid enough, like it was on Monday before and after the storm, the water vapour in the air tends to condense on some of the smoke haze particles.

"This condensation makes the smoke particles increase in size, scattering light more effectively. This makes the haze appear more smoky or dull grey in appearance… which is what we saw."

Nevertheless, Dr Velasco said intense and long periods of rain, such as the one on Monday, are good for Singapore.

He explained: "Although the sky looks hazy after the rain and many toxic gases remain in the air, it will remove particles and give us some relief."

Read more!

NEA issues notice to fifth Indonesian company over haze

The National Environment Agency is requesting that PT Bumi Mekar Hijau deploys firefighters to extinguish fire on land owned or occupied by them, among other measures.
Channel NewsAsia 30 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: A fifth Indonesian company has been sent a Preventive Measures Notice under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, the National Environment Agency (NEA) announced on Wednesday (Sep 30).

The notice requests that PT Bumi Mekar Hijau deploy fire-fighting personnel to extinguish or prevent the spread of fire on land owned or occupied by them, discontinue burning activities on such land and to submit to NEA any plan of action to extinguish fires on such land or to prevent recurrence.

Last Friday, NEA said it had served a similar notice to four Indonesian firms for haze-causing fires.

Under the Act, the maximum fine for companies found guilty of starting fires is S$100,000 per day, capped at S$2 million in total.


In its statement, NEA also said that the haze may deteriorate to the mid-section of the Very Unhealthy range on Thursday. It noted that air quality deteriorated "slightly" since Wednesday morning, with the 3-hour PSI increasing steadily from 108 at 9am to 187 at 6pm. NEA said haze spreading for Sumatra is still in Singapore's surrounding region and haze from Kalimantan is being blown in as well.

"The 24-hour PSI for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the high end of the Unhealthy range and low end of the Very Unhealthy range, and may deteriorate to the mid-section of the Very Unhealthy range if denser haze is blown in," said NEA.

- CNA/hs

2 potential plaintiffs to sue firms causing haze: Volunteer group
Volunteer group Haze Elimination Action Team (HEAT) also plans to sue companies prosecuted by Singapore and Indonesian authorities with the help of lawyers who have agreed to work pro-bono.
Linette Lim, MediaCorp News Channel NewsAsia 30 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Efforts to initiate civil action against firms involved in setting fire to Indonesia's forests have gained momentum, with two potential plaintiffs coming forward, according to the volunteer group Haze Elimination Action Team (HEAT).

HEAT has identified an individual and an organisation who will sue companies found responsible for the haze, said the group's founder Dr Ang Peng Hwa, in an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia.

"One, a person's family member has been in hospital, incurred expenses of S$10,000 directly as a result of the haze,” he said. “The second one is a sports school. Total shutdown, (costing) S$2,000 a day – no revenue at all for two weeks and still going, now it's more than two weeks.

“So this is a very clear case, losses suffered as a result of the haze. You know, if somebody can be held liable, then sure, we'll go after (them)."

HEAT has planned to sue companies prosecuted by Singapore and Indonesian authorities with the help of lawyers who have agreed to work pro-bono. Currently, companies under investigation include an unnamed Singapore-listed firm, as well as Indonesia's Asia Pulp & Paper, which has entities in Singapore.


Besides civil action, non-governmental organisations, like the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), are getting more Singaporeans to vote with their wallets with the help of awareness campaigns.

"The strongest argument is still the consumer voice, and that's what we're trying to channel, that's what we're trying to aim with the 50,000 pledges,” said WWF Singapore’s Director of Communications Kim Stengert. “I think that's always the strongest argument: As soon as people stand up and say, 'We want you to fix this problem', then companies will follow."

One observer added that the most effective way to tackle the haze is to look beyond the Singapore perspective.

"What we need to look at, what needs to be looked at, is what is the cost to Indonesia's economy, social, economic cost to Indonesian economy because of the haze year after year,” said Asit Biswas, a Distinguished Visiting Professor from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. “If you can show to them, the cost to them as public is high, the electoral game will be very different."

- CNA/ek

NEA serves notice on another Indonesian firm
Today Online 30 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — As the haze continued to cast a pall over businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector here, the National Environmental Agency (NEA) has issued a notice to another Indonesian company, directing it to take fire-fighting measures.

The company PT Bumi Mekar Hijau is the fifth to receive a preventive measures notice from the NEA under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

Haze remained at unhealthy levels today (Sept 30) despite an early morning thunderstorm. As at 11pm, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was 132 to 163, while the 3-hour PSI was 171, down from 224 at 4pm.

The one-hour PM2.5 concentration was 106 to 144 microgrammes per cubic metre.

Haze spreading from Sumatra is still persisting in the surrounding region and some haze from Kalimantan has also been spreading westward to the surrounding region, contributing to the slight deterioration in haze conditions here, the agency said.

The 24-hour PSI tomorrow is expected to be in the high end of the unhealthy range to the low end of the very unhealthy range, and could deteriorate to the mid-section of the very unhealthy range if denser haze blows in.

Last week, the NEA issued a preventive measures notice to four Indonesian companies suspected to be causing the haze, and requested a fifth with an office here to provide more information, putting into action the powers of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act for the first time since it was passed last year.

Businesses catering to tourists here are being hit in the pocket as a result of the haze, with visitors steering clear of outdoor attractions.

At the Singapore Flyer, which offers panoramic views of Singapore’s skyline, tourists showed up, only to change their minds about going up after considering the conditions. Twenty-six-year-old Lisa, from Italy, said: “We were a little shocked because everybody is wearing masks. It’s not so nice, and the air is not so fresh.”

Another tourist Gary Metcalf, 50, also decided not to take a ride on the Flyer, and said that his golf session at Raffles Country Club had to be called off because of the haze. He added: “(I am) disappointed with the haze because my friend has not been feeling too well. We knew it was bad, but we did not know that it will be this bad.”

Mr Kian Guan, 50, supervisor of the Ya Kun Kaya Toast branch at the Flyer, said the outlet even shortened operating hours to half a day twice last week, on Sept 24 and 25, when the haze was at its worst. The management considers stopping operations at branches with outdoor seating when the PSI crosses the 200 mark, he said.

Mr Mattias Mross, 41, however, gamely took a ride. “We are from Shanghai so I think we are used to the haze,” he added.

When contacted, the Singapore Flyer management said they have seen a drop in walk-in visitors, but not by a “significant” amount, adding: “We don’t foresee the haze affecting the operations of the Flyer.”

Over at Sentosa, the island has seen visitorship drop about 20 per cent since the onset of the haze.

“When the PSI level exceeds 300, or if the experience of the attraction is compromised, we may suspend operations of our outdoor attractions such as the Wings of Time, as well as outdoor programmes.

“If the PSI rises to levels where visibility becomes a safety consideration for our cable car operations, we will also suspend the cable car rides until the situation improves,” said Sentosa Leisure Management’s divisional director (island operations) Koh Piak Huat.

Last Thursday, it suspended its cable car services when the haze reached hazardous levels and visibility deteriorated.

Travel agencies serving in-bound tourists are also feeling the pinch, although they noted overall visitor arrivals here have been on the decline. Mr Bernard Yu, senior manager for the in-bound travel department at SingExpress Travel, said numbers are down 30 per cent from the same period last year.

There could be a pickup when China’s Golden Week holidays — to mark its National Day — begin tomorrow, but the Chinese economy has been weak, he said.

While there have been no cancellations so far, three travel agents from Hong Kong have enquired about the haze and considered cancelling, he added.

Travel GSH managing director Chai Yin said the agency has seen a slight decrease of about 18 per cent.

But, Singapore is typically a short stop for its customers, who spend a couple of days here before moving on to other countries as part of the itinerary, he said.

Read more!

One solution to the haze problem? Pay Indonesia for fresh air

Today Online 1 Oct 15;

Fresh air and sunshine — things that are essential to life and that almost all can have access to for free hitherto — should not be taken for granted. In today’s world, where market values have come to exert such great influence in almost every sphere of our daily lives, perhaps it is time to subject sunshine and fresh air to market forces.

I want to be clear that I am not of the view that the market mechanism can and should govern all aspects of our lives. Allowing all things to be bought and sold erodes the value of what it means to be a human. It reduces everything to just transactions and encourages the idea that it is each man or woman for him or herself.

We should not need to be incentivised by money to discharge our civic duties, to stand up for what is just and fair, or to show kindness and compassion to others. But, for sunshine and fresh air, perhaps a case can be made for imposing market discipline to ensure we can all continue to enjoy them.

Unless you live underground, you would have realised the preciousness of having blue skies and fresh air these past few weeks. Haze has robbed us of these basic requirements for survival.

This haze problem, which originates from the Indonesian forest fires, has been around for some two decades. But, we are nowhere close to coming up with a long-term solution to the problem. The direction we have been taking thus far is to impose laws, such as Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, and to a certain extent, to appeal to the good sense and goodwill of our neighbour by having bilateral talks and closer cooperation between our governments.

Realistically, I do not see these measures leading to any meaningful long-term results. The reason is, to paraphrase Mr Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid!”.

Primary forests do not generate income for the host country. Yes, they produce oxygen, provide natural habitat for animals and add to the biodiversity of our world. But, so what? To a developing country like Indonesia, it makes economic sense to clear the forest, sell the logs, and use the land for more “productive” uses such as palm oil plantations.

Developed countries that have cleared most of their primary forests want countries that still have green swathes of land to preserve them for the good of the world. This is seen as an unfair request on the developing countries. If forests and land are their primary resources, they want to be free to monetise them.


Currently, carbon emissions trading under the Kyoto Protocol provides some incentives for countries to keep their forests. Under carbon trading, a country having more emissions of carbon dioxide is able to purchase the right to emit more, and the country having less emission trades the right to emit carbon to other countries.

However, not all countries see the need to be parties to the treaty. For example, China, India and the United States have previously signalled that they would not ratify any treaty that would commit them legally to reduce CO2 emissions. However, there has been some backing down from that stance of late.

In the case of haze, we all see the need for fresh air right here and right now. So, neighbouring countries that are benefitting from the oxygen produced by primary forests in their neighbour’s territory should pay for it.

How, then, do we decide how much to pay? One way is to come up with a formula that takes into consideration the population of a country, its GDP per capita and its proximity to the primary forests.

Distance between countries will not change, but population and per capita GDP will change over time. Hence, countries that are closer, those that are richer and that have more people will end up paying more. Based on that formula, country A, say Singapore, will pay a sum every year to Country B, which has primary forests, say Indonesia. The sum will have to be meaningful enough for the receiving countries to keep to their part of the bargain and keep the forests intact. Paying countries can monitor the green land area through satellite images.

As for the receiving countries, the amount they receive will depend on the area of their primary forests. So, these primary forests will be a source of recurring income for them. However, should there be any pollution in the form of haze coming from the receiving countries, there will be penalty and the amount paid will be reduced accordingly.

Framing the issue as a move to procure a steady source of fresh air for its populations may be something that most governments are willing to accept. We pay for food and water — the other two key ingredients for survival. Why not pay for fresh air, too?

As for the receiving countries, it is in their interest to keep the forests intact and there will be sufficient incentives for them to clamp down on the slash-and-burn practice.

So, which countries should be in this arrangement? Well, any country that is participating in global trade.

No other mechanism for organising the production and distribution of commodities had proved as successful as the markets. Oxygen is a commodity we all cannot live without. It may be time to take the radical move and consider subjecting it to market forces.

It is, perhaps, the only way to ensure that we still have primary forests on the face of this earth 50 to 100 years from now.


Teh Hooi Leng is a multi-award winning journalist turned fund manager. She is now a partner in Aggregate Asset Management, manager of a no-management fee Asia value fund.

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Bukit Brown's iconic gates to be refurbished, relocated

Melody Zaccheus, Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Sep 15;

The iconic cast iron gates that greeted visitors entering Bukit Brown Cemetery for close to a century have been removed from their posts to make way for an eight-lane road.

Still, the good news for heritage groups is that the rusting metal structure in Lorong Halwa will be refurbished and eventually relocated at the mouth of a new access road near its original location.

On Monday, construction firm Swee Hong removed the iron gates and placed them in an on-site Land Transport Authority (LTA) storage facility alongside other cemetery artefacts such as tombstones. The concrete columns will be removed in the coming weeks.

After that, the National Heritage Board (NHB) will hire a contractor to carry out refurbishment works.

The Bukit Brown entrance gates comprise several components including a pair of cast iron gates through which cars used to drive in, two side gates for pedestrians, and four free-standing square columns.

Likely prefabricated in Britain, the cast iron gates were shipped to Singapore while the square columns were cast on the spot. The cemetery opened in 1922.

The refurbishment is an initiative by a recently formed multi-agency work group chaired by the Ministry of National Development (MND). It includes the NHB, LTA and civic organisations All Things Bukit Brown and the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS).

Some parts of Bukit Brown have been razed as the LTA constructs a major eight-lane road through the cemetery to connect the MacRitchie Viaduct to the Adam Flyover. The LTA said the project is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

NHB assistant chief executive of policy and development Alvin Tan said the gateway is significant: "It is one of the last remaining cemetery structures of its kind and serves as an iconic place marker for the cemetery and its heritage."

SHS president Chua Ai Lin said said the SHS played an "important role advising the working group on conservation best practices".

Among its suggestions: to construct a wooden frame to support the iron gates' structure upon removal and during storage; to minimise handling and movement; and to enlist a specialist metallurgy conservator.

On the gates' future position at the mouth of a smaller road, Dr Chua said this would affect the visitors' sense of arrival.

"The old entrance was majestic and had a sense of grandeur as you stepped forth down a wide road to the historic graves beyond," she said.

But she added that "the relocation of the original gates does help to preserve some sense of continuity".

A spokesman for MND said the working group is looking at issues such as future use of the cemetery's artefacts and enhancing the site for visitor access.

All Things Bukit Brown's co-founder Catherine Lim said the group's discussions have been "fruitful and productive" so far.

She added: "Our belief is that Bukit Brown is definitely a heritage site worth preserving. We are contributing ideas to the working committee to see what we can do for it in the short and long term."

Said the MND spokesman: "The Government will continue to support the efforts of civil society, interest groups and interested individuals to discover more about Bukit Brown, and for the heritage of Bukit Brown to be shared and celebrated with more Singaporeans."

Read more!

More rat burrows plague S'pore

My Paper AsiaOne 1 Oct 15;

More than 26,000 rat burrows were discovered across Singapore in the first half of this year, with 90 per cent found in housing estates, reported Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao yesterday.

Compared with last year, the average number of rat burrows discovered each month was slightly higher this year added the newspaper, quoting data from the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The average monthly measurement was used in the absence of year-on-year comparison, said Zaobao.

NEA also said it received 3,600 cases of feedback concerning rats in the first six months of this year, while 4,000 were received throughout last year.

Responding to queries from the newspaper, NEA pointed out that it has been working closely with land owners, town councils, building managements and food shop operators in tackling rat infestations in housing estates, which lie beyond its purview.

Basically, NEA shares information from its surveillance for rat burrows with the respective stakeholders so that pre-emptive measures can be taken, it told Zaobao.

But NEA said it will step up efforts to ensure that all the detected burrows in housing estates are treated.

Introducing its Rat Attack programme into housing estates, NEA said it could take action on town councils found to be negligent in hygiene management.

It is understood that so far no town council has been punished for such an offence, said Zaobao.

Rat Attack is an island-wide surveillance programme introduced in 2011 to detect signs of rat activity in public areas.

NEA also told Zaobao that it has revised the programme to shift its focus from burrows to treating poorly managed garbage collection centres and rubbish chutes in housing estates, as rats now favour such places.

A cleaner in Bishan told Zaobao that he would often find two to four rats in a rubbish chute.

Bishan resident Bridget Low, 67, said: "At times, I see seven to eight rats and they give me such goosebumps. I will flee as I am scared."

Another resident, Jovian Tang, 37, a salesman, said many of the drains near his flat are lined with rat burrows and sometimes, he sees as many as five rats scampering around.

Mr Tang said he has complained to the authorities, but there has been no improvement.

"The problem seems to have worsened since I moved here two years ago," he said.

NEA said it conducted 75,000 inspections on food retail establishments in the first half of this year, and more than 100 enforcement actions were taken against errant premises owners.

Read more!

Malaysia: Cloud seeding around airports

The Star 1 Oct 15;

PUTRAJAYA: Cloud seeding will be carried out in areas where airports are badly affected by the haze to lessen flight delays, cancellation or redirection.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the Department of Civil Aviation would be working with the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to conduct cloud seeding near identified airports.

Among airports where activities had been affected due to the smog are Senai International Airport in Johor Baru, Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang and several airports in Sarawak.

“We are working on cloud seeding because we don’t want further disruptions,” he told reporters after attending the Cabinet meeting.

Liow had also directed the DCA to submit a report on how the aviation sector was affected by the haze.

The report will be presented to the Cabinet at its next meeting.

“The report will show how the haze is affecting us. We are compiling this so that we can inform Indonesia, which is working with us to resolve the problem,” he said.

Liow said a circular had also been issued to port operators on safety concerns linked to the haze.

He noted that Westports Malaysia Sdn Bhd had cautioned smaller vessels not to operate if the visibility dropped to one nautical mile.

Liow said that Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who chaired the Cabinet meeting yesterday, had briefed them on the situation and that the Government would be working with Indonesia on this.

“Indonesia has given us its commitment to act against those responsible for open burning,” he added.

Dr Ahmad Zahid during a visit to Indonesia last month had said that an agreement had been reached between the two countries to have regional co-operation in tackling the haze.

Indonesia, on its part, had agreed to tighten enforcement of laws while Malaysia pledged to conduct monitoring to ensure that Malay­sian government-linked companies operating in Indonesia did not contribute to the problem.

Students return to school today
The Star 1 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: The unpredictable haze situation has led to the Education Ministry having to issue statements almost daily about school operations.

All schools are opened today including those in Johor that have been closed for the past two days.

The ministry’s statement yesterday came about following queries and false messages about the matter.

It also advised that state education departments and district education offices around the country to continue monitoring the air pollu­tant index readings (API).

They could take the necessary action if there were changes to the API readings. In view of “disputes” over Malaysia’s API readings, Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Hamim Samuri gave a briefing yesterday to explain that the measurement system here adheres to the standards set by the US Environ­mental Protection Agency.

“It is not true that the Government is lying.

“If you refer to experts, they will say our method meets international standards,” said Hamim.

He said Malaysia’s API readings differed from Singapore’s in one crucial aspect: Malaysia calculates the index based on PM10 levels, while Singapore measures both PM10 and PM2.5.

PM10 refers to fine particulate matter that are equal to or smaller than 10 micrometres (or microns), while PM2.5 refers to ultrafine particulates that are 2.5 micrometres.

A strand of human hair is typically around 30 to 40 micrometres.

Singapore began incorporating the PM2.5 system in April last year to derive its PSI.

During the haze season, PM10 (or PM2.5) is the most common determinant of the API, which also takes into account four pollutants – sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide.

“Air pollutant readings based on the PM2.5 system are generally higher than those based on PM10. However, it should not matter much as the classification for good, moderate, unhealthy, very unhealthy and hazardous remain the same, regardless of whether it is PM2.5 or PM10,” said Department of Environment director-general Datuk Halimah Hassan.

Hamim said only 12 air quality monitoring stations in Malaysia could capture data on PM2.5, and the Government was expected to equip all its 52 monitoring stations to be PM2.5-compliant by 2017.

This upgrade will cost RM6.24mil, while the annual operating cost of all stations will be RM840,000.

Yesterday morning, air quality deteriorated with 17 areas recording unhealthy levels compared to 11 places on Tuesday evening.

The highest levels were recorded in Bukit Rambai, Malacca (153) and Port Dickson (141). Both Port Klang and Shah Alam had readings of 102.

The most affected areas in Johor were Pasir Gudang (132), Larkin (123) and Kota Tinggi (107).

In George Town, residents woke up to a hazy day again after several days of clear skies. By 2pm, that familiar smoky smell was everywhere.

Housewife Wendy Teoh, 32, said she had to give her morning market visit a miss.

“I did not want to risk having my asthma act up,” she said.

Resident L. Vishwa, who had wanted to go for his daily evening run, said: “I thought the past few days of clear skies was an indication that there was no more haze.”

Easterly Winds In Early October Will Reduce Haze - Environment Ministry
Bernama 30 Sep 15;

PUTRAJAYA, Sept 30 (Bernama) -- The transboundary haze from Sumatra and Kalimantan, Indonesia is expected to dissipate as Malaysia is forecast to receive easterly winds in early October.

'This situation will bring rainfall in most areas in the west coast of the peninsula and parts of western Sarawak in the afternoon and evening.

"It will hopefully reduce the haze from what we are experiencing right now," said a statement by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) based in Singapore detected 99 hotspots in Indonesia yesterday (Sept 29) of which 50 were in Kalimantan and 49 in Sumatera.

No hotspots were detected in Malaysia, said the statement. Meanwhile, the Department of the Environment (DOE) detected 3,427 open burning cases throughout the country until September 27.

Forest areas accounted for 597 cases, agricultural areas (1,197); industrial areas (19); construction areas (67); landfills (94); bushes (689) and small open burning (764).

For the same period, 216 open burning cases were issued compounds, 15 were issued with directive notices, 41 were issued with directive letters while 23 cases involved investigation papers.


Haze still visible in Sarawak as smoke from Kalimantan spreads
YU JI The Star 30 Sep 15;

KUCHING: Lesser but still visible haze remains in Sarawak on Wednesday as smoke from Kalimantan continued to spread to the surrounding region.

As at 2pm, all 10 Air Pollutant Index (API) monitoring stations in Sarawak reported readings under the 100 moderate readings.

Two stations, Kapit and Limbang, had good range readings of 45 and 37.

In Kuching the 24-hour averaged API was 66, but with low visibility of just 1.2km.

No flight disruptions were reported at Kuching International Airport.

The API in the state capital dropped below the 100 reading since 2pm Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the API in Sibu was 54 and in Miri, 70.

A total of 104 hotpots were detected in Kalimantan on Tuesday, according to Terra satellite images from the Singapore based Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre.

The centre said the low hotspot count was due to cloud cover over parts of the island.

"Widespread moderate to dense smoke haze was observed in Kalimantan and spread over to the South China Sea.

“Moderate to dense smoke haze continued to persist in central and southern Sumatra.

Some of the haze has spread into the southern part of the Strait of Malacca and parts of Peninsular Malaysia," said its latest update.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department (Met) is forecasting isolated thunderstorms across Sarawak daily for the next week.

In the Met's El Nino outlook for October to March is forecast that the unusually hot and dry weather would peak late this year until early next year.

"There is a 95% chance the current El Nino condition will peak between late November and January, and gradually weaken through March and May," it said.

According to Met spokesman Dr Hisham Mohd Anip, the phasing out of Typhoon Dujuan in Taiwan on Tuesday pulled winds from clearer parts of Indonesia.

“More rain is expected in the next two or three days, which will cause haze levels to gradually decline,” Hisham said on Tuesday.

However, another low-pressure area is slowly building up in the northern part of the South China Sea close to west of the Philippines.

“This means on Saturday or Sunday, the winds will shift again, bringing back the air from the dense haze areas in Indonesia to Malaysia,” he said.

Haze: 17 areas record unhealthy air at 11am
The Star 30 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The west coast areas of the peninsular remained shrouded in unhealthy air as at 11am Wednesday.

The Department of Environment stated that Bukit Rambai, Malacca recorded the highest air pollutant index (API) reading of 148, followed by Port Dickson (143), Seremban (117) and Milai (118) in Negri Sembilan and Malacca City 138.

In the Klang Valley, Banting recorded an API of 128, followed by Port Klang 104, Shah Alam 108 and Putrajaya 111.

In Johor, the API reading for Kota Tinggi was 103, Larkin Lama (116), Muar (119) and Pasir Gudang (127) while Balok Baru and Indera Mahkota in Pahang has readings of 133 and 103.

In Terengganu, Kemaman recorded 125 and Paka 112.

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

Twenty-four cloud seeding op done, more to come
ARNAZ M. KHAIRUL New Straits Times 30 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Air Force will continue daily cloud seeding operations in skies above areas badly affected by haze until the environmental disaster fully subsides, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim announced today.

Shahidan, who also chairs the National Security Council (NSC), said the cloud seeding done 24 times since last Friday has thus far not solved the problem, calling for continued efforts daily to encourage rain through cloud seeding.

"This is cross border haze, which is caused by extensive burning in Indonesia, which affects us. What we have decided today is what we could all do best to help ease the situation in our country," said Shahidan after chairing the national disaster management committee meeting at his office today.

At the meeting, the committee was also briefed by the Department of Environment (DOE) on a new phenomenon in changes in the movement of wind that has further brought more haze to the country.

"This means that the haze is no longer coming in our direction only from Sumatera, but also from Kalimantan. The DOE have also forecasted through the reading of wind direction that on Friday we will have moderate levels of haze," said Shahidan, who added that all government agencies have been instructed to continuously monitor the situation.

"Agencies need to continuously monitor the situation and take the necessary steps, particularly the Education Ministry and related agencies. Monitoring should not only be based on official readings, but also on the physical state of the haze. Sometimes the air pollution index (API) readings may provide lower readings, but physically the area is struck with thick haze," he said.

Shahidan also said the council has also called upon state governments, their agencies and local governments in areas affected by haze to distribute face masks and mineral water to the public to help ease their burden.

"The NSC will be distributing these items in affected areas too, but we also call upon good Samaritans to come forward and help the public," said Shahidan.

Liow Instructs DCA, Marine Department To Submit Daily Reports On Haze
Bernama 30 Sep 15;

PUTRAJAYA, Sept 30 (Bernama) -- Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai has directed the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) and Maritime Department to submit daily reports to him on the haze.

Liow said he gave the departments a week to compile the reports and would table the findings at the next Cabinet meeting.

He said the report would show how the aviation industry and ports were affected by the haze and measures that could be taken to reduce flight disruption.

"The haze has affected not only the economy and health but also the aviation industry which saw many flights being delayed, cancelled and re-directed.

"We are compiling this report to inform the Indonesian government that the haze is really affecting us (Malaysia) and how serious the situation is," he said when met by reporters after attending the Cabinet meeting today.

He said Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who chaired the cabinet meeting had briefed on the haze situation and that the government would be working with Indonesia to resolve the issue.

For the past weeks, Liow said the haze had worsened causing many flight cancellations and delays, while airports including in Subang, Sarawak and Johor were also affected.

In addition, he said the ministry had also instructed the Marine Department to issue haze warnings to vessels and ships operating at all ports in the country.

"We have issued circulars to ports and operators to ensure the safety of the ports. West Port too has also issued circulars to all vessels.

"Should visibility fall to below one nautical mile due to haze, fishing boats and small crafts should stop operations for their safety," he said.

Liow said the ministry would continue to monitor the situation at all ports including the Straits of Malacca.

On preventive measures, he said the ministry was working closely with the Natural Environment and Resources Ministry on cloud-seeding at affected airport areas such as Subang, Senai (Johor) and smaller airports in Kuching, Sarawak.


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Indonesia considers declaring haze problem national disaster

Indonesia's haze task force is set to discuss Wednesday if the haze problem caused by forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan should be declared a national disaster, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 30 Sep 15;

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s task force on the haze affecting parts of Southeast Asia will discuss on Wednesday (Sep 30) whether it is necessary to raise the problem of the forest fires and haze to the level of a national disaster.

The decision to declare the haze a national disaster has to be made by the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB).

However, according to Environment and Forestry Minister and head of the task force Siti Nurbaya Bakar, it is more important to tackle the problem operationally and put out the fires quickly.

"We will have this discussion today but for me, it's more important about the operation instead of the terminology," she explained.

"What is the difference? The point is that we have to do the best thing for the people, also for our neighbours. I'm also following everyday and every hour what is happening with the air pollution in Singapore."

Dr Siti said the forest fires and haze problem should not affect bilateral relations, especially with Singapore and Malaysia, both hit by the heavy smoke from the burning forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The two countries have also offered to help Indonesia extinguish the fires, a collective bid to stop the haze which has lowered air quality in both countries to unhealthy and sometimes hazardous levels.

As the haze continues to affect the health of thousands of Indonesians, lawmakers and environmental groups have urged the government to move the status of this crisis to a national disaster level.

They believe that once the problem is categorised as such, more resources, including money and manpower, can be mobilised.

“If it becomes a national emergency status, the government will be responsible to fulfill the rights of the people and provide for minimum standards," said Mukriz Friatna from Friends of the Earth Indonesia.

"Secondly, to channel its resources to put out the fire. There will not be any more stories that we don’t have enough funds.”

However, according to Dr siti, there are already funds to deal with the problem.

The last time Indonesia declared a state of national emergency was during the 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed more than 200,000 in the country.

- CNA/pp

Central Banker Families Flee Borneo Town as Haze Turns Hazardous
Yudith Ho, Herdaru Purnomo Bloomberg 1 Oct 15;

Indonesia’s central bank has evacuated the families of its staff in a regional capital on Borneo, as haze from Indonesian forest fires reaches hazardous levels on the island.

Bank Indonesia paid for the families in Pontianak, in West Kalimantan province, to move to the coast further north, where sea breezes and air conditioning reduced the effect of the smoky air, said Dwi Suslamanto, the head of Bank Indonesia in West Kalimantan. Suslamanto has been calling Bank Indonesia headquarters in Jakarta to stock up on supplies such as clean drinking water.

“We can’t rely on human effort to manage this disaster,” Suslamanto said. “Our only hope is for the rain, and for the people who started the fires to not repeat what they did.”

Pollution from the burning of Indonesian forests has been worst felt in Borneo and Sumatra, shutting schools and leading to increased respiratory illnesses, while winds have worsened the haze in Singapore and Malaysia. The government of Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo is investigating more than 100 companies with fires on their land, yet has made little progress in stopping the haze so far.

A gauge of tiny air-pollution particles reached 989 in Palangkaraya in Kalimantan, and 950 in Palembang on Sumatra, almost three times the 350 level considered hazardous, the country’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said on its website. In Singapore, a three-hour pollution index was at a “very unhealthy” level on Wednesday.

Baby Shelter

Pekanbaru, on Sumatra across the Malacca Strait from Singapore, is providing a shelter for hundreds of babies from poor families to help protect them. Indonesia’s central bank has also urged families and children of its workers in Palembang in Sumatra to evacuate to the southern tip of the island, where the air quality is better.

“The situation is no longer worth it for working or going to school,” said Andhika Ullya Tovano, in Jambi, Sumatra. “Children are dismissed from school, but it’s useless as they’re still playing outside because there’s no special warning from the government despite the hazardous status.”

Indonesia: Govt urged to be more serious about protecting peatlands 30 Sep 15;

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia, an international NGO concerned with conservation, research and environmental conservation, called on the government to be more serious about protecting peatlands by reviewing its developmental policies in those key areas.

“Preventive measures need to be taken continuously to reduce the potential of land and forest fires in the future,” WWF Indonesia’s manager program for Central Kalimantan, Rosenda Chandra Kasih, said as quoted by Antara in Jakarta on Wednesday.

Rosenda said wildfires affecting Central Kalimantan and several other provinces in Kalimantan and Sumatra every year were due to the government’s lack of preparedness to anticipate the droughts.

She said the development of dams needed to be conducted as early as possible to maintain the stability of land humidity and water from inside peatlands throughout the year. It would be less likely for fires to happen in peatlands if there was more water there.

“This effort must be accompanied with peat forest restoration activities to recover its aquatic system,” said Rosendra.

WWF Indonesia’s conservation director Arnold Sitompul said the government needed to carry out an integrated approach together with regional administrations and local communities to prevent land and forest fires.

“[The government] needs to prepare regional administrations and local people by establishing community groups concerned with fires,” he said.

Arnold said most hot spots were in peatlands and that so far the goverment’s prevention and control efforts had not yet been effective.

As of Wednesday, thick smoke has been blanketing Kalimantan. In the past week, the air quality in Palangkaraya and Pontianak has repeatedly dropped to a level deemed dangerous to human health.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said on its official website that Palangkaraya’s particulate concentration data still stood at a level deemed dangerous for health (463 µg/m3).

Land and forest fires have continued to occur in Kalimantan despite President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo’s visit to directly monitor fire extinguishing efforts in Central and South Kalimantan. Schools have given their students a vacation for two weeks. The Central Kalimantan health department has recorded that at least 15,000 people suffered from acute respiratory infections due to smoke in September. (ebf)(++++)

Indonesia ‘must step up measures to tackle haze’
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 1 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in Indonesia yesterday (Sept 30) called for more long-term solutions to tackle the haze and for concrete action to be taken during the three years that Indonesian President Joko Widodo had said was needed for “physical work” to be completed.

In an exclusive interview with BBC News, Mr Widodo said Indonesia needs time to build temporary water reserves in forests and to dig canals for water to flow to the peat forests.

“I think we need three years for all the physical work to be completed and for you to see the result — but, I believe that there will be progress every year, too, because there is consistency in our approach,” he said.

He told BBC that Indonesia has deployed 3,700 military officers, 7,900 police officers, 18 helicopters and four planes for water bombing as part of its efforts to contain the haze, which has affected the region in recent weeks.

NGOs Greenpeace and WWF Indonesia said Mr Widodo’s efforts must include the building of dams to block canals in peatlands, to re-wet areas that have been drained.

The building of canals is a common practice for companies growing oil palm trees and trees for pulpwood on peatlands, but drainage of the wetlands — rich carbon stores made up of 90 per cent water and 10 per cent vegetation remains — causes them to be vulnerable to fires, said Mr Yuyun Indradi, Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace South-east Asia.

Mr Widodo’s comments about digging canals contradict his actions on a trip to Riau last November, where he helped build a number of dams across drainage canals, said Mr Yuyun.

“It’s proven canal damming has been effective in preventing and reducing fire.”

WWF Indonesia’s collaboration with Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry to build 1,700 dams in Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan has led to the reduction of hot spots in the area, said its conservation director Arnold Sitompul.

After the damming of canals to re-wet drained peat, there should be reforestation, said Dr Sitompul.

“We are encouraging the government to enforce moratorium in peatlands, while strict law enforcement must be applied to ensure zero fire and zero burning … in all peatlands already (in) concession (areas),” he said.

Concessions are areas that companies have been allowed to develop.

Mr Yuyun called on Mr Widodo to share more details of his three-year plan so the public may help to monitor, and participate.

He also suggested that the damming of canals be made into a “national movement” extending to Jambi, South Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua.

Casting an eye on Mr Widodo’s broader plans for Indonesia, Mr Yuyun was concerned that more forests could be sacrificed to grow more food and to mine coal for power plants.

The President’s recent announcement that he would deregulate and simplify the process of obtaining business permits to lure investments could also undermine efforts to revoke permits of errant companies behind the haze, Mr Yuyun said.

“On one hand, he (Mr Widodo) wants to revoke, but on the other hand he wants to make it easier to get new permits — that’s also quite contradictory,” he added.

“I appreciate any plan that comes from the government to tackle this problem but, again, the government has to be clear and transparent on the plan and … educate the public.”

Some experts have estimated that fires in Indonesia this year, up until Sept 22, have released greenhouse gases equivalent to about 600 million tonnes.

The estimate by the Global Fire Emissions Database, which produces regional and global estimates of fire emissions based on data from 1997 to the present, was published by NASA’s Earth Observatory together with satellite images that were acquired last Thursday.

NASA’s Earth Observatory quoted Columbia University scientist Robert Field as saying 2015 could rank among the most severe burning events on record for Indonesia.

Aerial firefighting strengthens efforts in S. Sumatra 30 Sep 15;

The South Sumatra chapter of the Land and Forest Fire Control Task Force is increasing its air operations to extinguish fires in areas that have been difficult to reach via land routes.

“The aerial firefighting operation to tackle haze [from wildfires], which is still quite thick, has been strengthened as the central government has provided several more helicopters and aircraft for the operation,” said the task force’s deputy chief Yulizar Dinoto as quoted by Antara news agency in Palembang on Wednesday.

He said the task force had just received three helicopters from the central government for water-bombing operations in forest and peat land areas across the province. With the additional three helicopters, plus a new Fixwing X-Track aircraft, Yulizar said the task force now had five helicopters and several aircraft.

He further explained that amid hot weather and very low rainfall, land and forest fires had continued to spread and were quite difficult to tackle with limited personnel and equipment.

Yulizar said apart from aerial firefighting efforts, including the use of weather modification technology, ground efforts in areas where many hot spots had existed, such as Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin regencies, had continued to be intensified.

He said that with those combined efforts, it was hoped that the fires in South Sumatra and several neighboring provinces, such as Jambi and Riau, could be controlled, and haze problems resolved quickly. (ebf)(++++)

Jokowi calls on agency to quickly resolve forest fires 30 Sep 15;

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has called on the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) to quicken the process of extinguishing forest and land fires.

"The President has instructed us to quickly extinguish the forest and land fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan," said head of BNPB Sutopo Purwo Nugroho after a meeting with Jokowi at the State Palace on Wednesday as quoted by

According to Sutopo, the agency has deployed more personnel in significant hot spots such as Jambi, Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra, and Pulau Pisau, Kapuas and Kotawaringin Timur in Central Kalimantan.

"We will add more personnel and air power as well as focus on tackling forest fires in significant hot spots in South Sumatra as as well as Central Kalimantan," said Sutopo. (kes)(++++)

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How to stop deforestation? Make ‘good stuff’ cheaper

Today Online 30 Sep 15;

BARCELONA — Brazil has reduced deforestation in the Amazon by 82 per cent, the country’s president, Dilma Rousseff, said at the United Nations on Sunday, as she announced Brazil’s contribution to an anticipated new global deal to curb climate change.

In the next 15 years, the Latin American nation aims to eliminate illegal deforestation, restore and reforest 12 million hectares, recover 15 million hectares of degraded pastures, and establish 5 million hectares of land on which crops, livestock and forests co-exist, she said.

Brazil is often lauded internationally as an example of how political will, legislation and the right incentives combined can stop forests being cut down.

But even there, the battle is not won, as deforestation spiked in 2013, mainly in areas where agricultural expansion is happening.

“We’ve been deforesting our planet for the last 40 years — don’t expect it to change overnight,” said Mr Andrew Mitchell, founder and executive director of the Global Canopy Programme (GCP), a tropical forest think tank.

According to a new GCP report, more than 50 per cent of the world’s tropical forests have been lost over the last half-century, with Indonesia having replaced Brazil as the country with the highest rates of deforestation.

In the last decade, around two thirds of global deforestation has been driven by the production of agricultural commodities: palm oil, timber and paper products, soya, beef and leather, and to a lesser extent biofuels, the report said.

But more recently some of the world’s biggest companies that produce and trade those commodities have “got it”, realising that destroying rainforests doesn’t make sense for their business in the long term, Mr Mitchell said.

That recognition has given rise to a raft of promises by corporations to stop their operations causing forest loss, in many cases by 2020 or earlier.

Some are joint efforts. The 2014 New York Declaration on Forests, signed by businesses, governments and indigenous peoples, aims to cut natural tropical forest loss in half by 2020 and end it by 2030.

The new Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by 193 countries on Friday, promise to advance the sustainable management of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and plant substantially more trees by 2020.

While the deforestation target has not received much attention, it is one of the few the world is on track to achieve with an extra push to cover the last mile, according to research from the London-based Overseas Development Institute.

While deforestation is expected to continue in the short term, by 2020 the share of the world’s land that is forest is set to start increasing, so that by 2030 there will be almost as much forest as there is today, it said.


To meet goals to end deforestation, the GCP argues that companies must apply their pledges across all commodities, and along their entire supply chains.

Today, only 7 per cent of 250 major businesses it tracks have signed up to zero or zero-net deforestation pledges covering their supply chains, while 59 per cent have no specific policy for commodities.

And pledges vary by commodity. A separate report this month from Supply Change, a project led by Washington-based non-profit Forest Trends, found that of 41 companies that had endorsed the New York Declaration on Forests, 94 per cent had publicly committed to reduce deforestation risk tied to palm oil.

For soy, however, the figure was only 41 per cent and for cattle, 50 per cent.

Certification systems for soy and cattle have yet to catch on, while the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certifies 20 percent of global palm oil production, the report noted.

The GCP’s Mr Mitchell urged reforms that would boost demand for sustainable commodities that do not harm the environment.

“We need to start making the good stuff cheaper than the bad stuff,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Changes to import and export tariffs, taxation of goods, subsidies and government procurement policies could help achieve this, he noted. Developing countries that are major importers of commodities like palm oil — such as China and India — must also come onboard, he added.

It should be possible to make the supply chains of European and North America-based businesses sustainable by 2020, and for the rest of the world by 2030, Mitchell estimated.

Key to this is waking up financial firms, including commercial banks, to the threats their current lending policies pose to forests, he added.

“Trashing forests and making money is great for investors — it’s a very profitable business,” he said.

Efforts are now underway, such the Natural Capital Declaration and the Banking Environment Initiative, to help financial institutions start considering deforestation risk in their investment decisions, the GCP said. REUTERS

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Scientists Say Indonesia Seagrass Meadows Degradation Threatens Food Security

Jakarta Globe 30 Sep 15;

Jakarta. A team of British scientists is launching a project this week that will investigate the condition of seagrass meadows off the coasts of Indonesia's South Sulawesi province – amid growing concerns over losses of the important marine ecosystem across the archipelago.

Richard Unsworth, a marine biologist from Britain's Swansea University and the leader of the project, said in an interview with the Jakarta Globe earlier this week that seagrass meadows were as important as mangrove forests and coral reefs were to marine life and food security.

Not to be confused with seaweeds or algae, seagrasses are a group of flowering plants that live in shallow sheltered areas along coastlines. Similar to grasses on land, seagrasses often form vast meadows underwater – thus the name seagrass meadows.

Unsworth says these meadows provide an important nursery ground for many species of commercial fish and sea invertebrates.

And yet, very little attention has been paid to the largely unknown ecosystem, even amid reports of disappearing and degraded seagrass meadows in many parts of the vast Indonesian archipelago.

A place to hide

“If you're a baby fish, and everything around you probably wants to eat you, you need somewhere to go and hide,” Unsworth began as he tried to explain the importance of seagrass meadows.

“The reef is full of a lot of really big fish that want to eat you. As a juvenile fish, the reef is a really dangerous place to be. But if you're in a seagrass meadow, it's full of dents, shoots, places where you as a small fish can hide."

“Also, in seagrass meadows there are a lot of small shrimps, really small shrimps, small mollusks, full of gastropods you can eat. So you've got shelter where you can hide from big predators, and you don't spend your energy swimming around looking for food. You have much higher chances of survival if you're a baby fish living in a seagrass meadow,” he added.

Previous reports suggest that over 600 species of fish in Southeast Asia utilize seagrass meadows at some point during their life. Many species of invertebrates – such as sea cucumbers, prawns and crabs – also live in seagrasses, which makes them very important to our food supply and security, Unsworth said.

Alarming losses

But while no study has been dedicated to examine the condition of seagrass meadows across Indonesia, reports of sightings – or lack thereof – by fishermen in many coastal areas in the archipelago suggest alarming losses of the important marine ecosystem.

Unsworth, who has been spending several years in Indonesia doing his seagrass projects, said in Jakarta Bay, for example, there used to be a lot of seagrass, but not anymore.

“That goes for many, many places,” the British scientist said, mentioning coastal areas in Sulawesi, Bali and Lombok.

“There are a lot of seagrasses I've seen around Indonesia in the years I've worked here that are looking unhealthy. And we know from some other works that have been done by LIPI [the Indonesian Institute of Sciences] and by some universities in Indonesia – that in many places seagrasses have disappeared [or] have been degraded,” he added.

Unsworth said it looked like only seagrasses in very remote locations in the country were in very healthy condition.

The Briton could not say exactly how many hectares of seagrass meadows have disappeared in Indonesia, only citing a rough estimate that there were some 30,000 square kilometers left now.

Around the world, seagrasses are estimated to be disappearing at the rate of one football field per hour, so this may also be the case in least-studied Southeast Asia, including Indonesia. But nobody knows for sure.

Seagrass and food security

Unsworth cited the findings of his team's previous study at Southeast Sulawesi's Wakatobi island – a popular diving spot known for its rich underwater life. The study found that seagrasses there provided a habitat for at least 70 percent of the fish species caught for consumption in the area.

The study was conducted between 2011 and 2014.

The project to be launched this week, meanwhile, is taking place off Selayar island and in the Spermonde archipelago in the neighboring province of South Sulawesi, and is targeted to last two or three years.

Unsworth said the new study was seeking to examine wider links between seagrass meadows and food security.

“There needs to be a lot more focus on this habitat because mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs are all part of the connected sea scape, where if you lose one, it will impact the whole ecosystem,” he said.

“The loss, the damage of the marine environment is a very significant problem – because the world's population is increasing, Indonesia's population is increasing. And we need to feed people.”

Unsworth and his peers – including collaborators from Britain's Cardiff University and from Hasanuddin University in South Sulawesi's capital Makassar – wish to understand what causes the degradation and disappearance of seagrass meadows in Indonesia.

He said climate change was known to have long-term impacts on seagrasses, “but we need to understand the factors that are driving and disturbing seagrasses at a smaller scale. Because that's really important in terms of understanding how resilient they will be into the future.”

Unsworth and his team recently published a research article in an international journal called Marine Pollution Bulletin – which explains how seagrasses need to be made more resilient.

“And the ways to do that is to stop the small-scale disturbances that we know happen in seagrasses all around Southeast Asia and Indonesia,” he said, citing damaged mangrove forests and polluted rivers spilling out into the sea as among key factors.

The British scientist further added the newly-launched project in South Sulawesi was part of an ongoing regional study also taking place in the Philippines, Cambodia and Srilanka.

The project includes trainings and workshops for local fishermen, to teach them how to protect seagrass meadows in their areas – and not just the mangrove forests and coral reefs.

In Indonesia, Unsworth's team also collaborates with a Wakatobi-based environmental group, Forkani, to deliver the workshops.

To learn more about Richard Unsworth's work and his team's seagrass projects, visit and

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Millions face hunger due to climate change, 'super El Nino': Oxfam

Joseph D'Urso PlanetArk 1 Oct 15;

At least 10 million poor people face hunger this year and next because of droughts and erratic rains linked to record global temperatures and an expected "super" version of the evolving El Nino weather pattern, aid charity Oxfam has warned.

In Ethiopia alone, 4.5 million people need food aid because a combination of El Nino and long-term climate change has made the rainy season more unpredictable, according to United Nations agencies.

El Nino, caused by Pacific Ocean warming, leads to dry weather in some parts of the world and causes floods in others.

This year the phenomenon is expected to peak between October and January and could turn into one of the strongest on record. The last "super El Nino" was in 1997-8.

"Rice and maize crops are both at risk, with serious implications for millions of poor people from Southern Africa to Central America who are dependent on these staples," Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB's chief executive, said in a statement on Thursday.

A scorching drought has ravaged crops in southern Africa already, with South Africa's key maize crop falling by a third and poor yields set to continue into the southern hemisphere summer, according to the country's weather service.

In neighboring Zimbabwe, where the maize harvest is 35 percent below average, the government blamed the drought-stricken farm sector for a halving of its economic growth forecast in July.

Harvests in Central America have fallen by as much as 60 percent for maize and 80 percent for beans this year due to prolonged dry spells linked to El Nino, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Southeast Asia is also affected, Oxfam said.

Warming seas could double the frequency of the most powerful El Ninos, the report noted.

As world leaders prepare for a U.N. summit on climate change in Paris in December, increasing climatic disruption, driven by rising temperatures, threatens to increase the likelihood of humanitarian emergencies at a time when the aid system is already under enormous strain, Oxfam said.

"Governments and agencies need to act rapidly to avert humanitarian disasters in the next year," said Goldring.

"This should serve as a wake-up call for them to agree a global deal to tackle climate change."

(Editing by Tim Pearce.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit

Record El Niño set to cause hunger for 10 million poorest, Oxfam warns
Charity says countries already facing a ‘major emergency’ include Ethiopia, where 4.5 million people need food aid because of scarcity of rain this year
Oliver Milman The Guardian 1 Oct 15;

At least 10 million of the world’s poorest people are set to go hungry this year because of failing crops caused by one of the strongest El Niño climatic events on record, Oxfam has warned.

The charity said several countries were already facing a “major emergency”, such as Ethiopia, where 4.5 million are in need of food aid because of a prolonged scarcity of rain this year.

Floods, followed by drought, have slashed Malawi’s maize production by more than a quarter, farmers in central America have suffered from two years of drought and El Niño conditions have already reduced the Asian monsoon over India, potentially triggering a wider drought across the east of the continent.

Indonesia’s government has declared drought in 34 of the country’s provinces because of El Niño, while 2 million people in Papua New Guinea have been affected by crops shrivelling in heat in some parts of the country and severe frosts in its highlands.

El Niño is a periodic climatic phenomenon where waters of the eastern tropical Pacific warm, triggering a range of potential consequences for global weather. While parts of South America are typically doused in heavy rainfall, warmer, drought-like conditions are experienced in Australia, south-east Asia and southern Africa.

The UK Met Office has predicted this year’s El Niño could be the strongest on record since 1950, warning that famine could grip west Africa.

An Oxfam report, called Entering Uncharted Waters, states the El Niño will rival that of 1998, which caused droughts, floods and forest fires that resulted in 2,000 deaths and caused about $33bn in property damage.

The report warns “major humanitarian emergencies” were possible without proper intervention, pointing out that failure to respond to drought has proved disastrous in recent years, such as 2011 when rains failed in the Horn of Africa and more than 260,000 people died.

Dr Helen Szoke, the chief executive of Oxfam Australia, said the charity had already started work with communities, including in Papua New Guinea, in an attempt to stave off crop failures.

“We are working with farmers in PNG to plant drought-resistant seeds and to help them with the collection of rainwater,” she said. “Vanuatu is another country where we are doing that work although, cruelly, they’ve already had a head start due to the repairing of water systems due to cyclone Pam.

“Our staff in Zimbabwe and Malawi, for example, are expressing concern about the preparedness of the seasonal crop. People who rely on subsistence farming aren’t necessarily prepared for frosts or drought, which is when food security becomes an issue.

“The poorer countries don’t have the systems in place and are much more vulnerable. Potentially millions of people will be affected by a lack of access to water and if food prices go up, the poor will miss out again.”

El Niño-like conditions were expected last year but failed to materialise. The El Niño now brewing in the Pacific Ocean is expected to end in January but may, in the long term, become more frequent. Research published in Nature Climate Change last year predicted El Niño frequency could double because of climate change fuelled by the release of greenhouse gases.

Last year was the warmest year globally on record, with 2015 and 2016 potentially set to cause this record to topple again.

Szoke said the international community needed to ensure El Niño conditions weren’t replicated every year by changes to rainfall, extreme heat and cyclones caused by climate change.

“We can’t keep just patching up communities,” she said. “We need a long-term vision for climate change. We need to reduce emissions, move away from old technologies and address this issue. We have an opportunity to do that in Paris [at UN climate talks] later this year.”

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