Best of our wild blogs: 2 Oct 15

Pasir Ris check in the haze
wild shores of singapore

Mangrove Pit Viper and the Saltwater Crocodile
Bird Ecology Study Group

Grey-rumped Treeswift feeding chick – on video
Bird Ecology Study Group

Short Morning Walk At Lower Peirce Reservoir (26 Sep 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Can technology help clean up the palm oil industry?
Mongabay Environmental News

Singapore takes legal action against 5 Indonesian companies over haze
Mongabay Environmental News

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Blame it on the haze? It's not that easy, say doctors

Local group HEAT is looking for those who may have suffered the ill-effects of the haze, in a bid to take legal action against firms responsible for the smog. But doctors say it is difficult for anyone to prove his condition is a 100 per cent due to the haze.
Leong Wai Kit, News 5 Channel NewsAsia 1 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: A volunteer group Haze Elimination Action Team (HEAT) is looking for Singaporeans who may have suffered the ill-effects of the haze, in a bid to take legal action against companies responsible for the smog. However, doctors have said it will be difficult for anyone to prove that his condition is a 100 per cent due to the haze.

Five-year-old Kayla Lim's skin flared up three weeks ago. Her parents said they took her to several doctors, all of whom blamed her condition on the haze. Kayla has had eczema since she was three, but her parents said this is her worst episode so far.

Kayla’s mother, Amber Lim, said: "She was bleeding. The pus came out and it's a bit smelly. What hit me the most was when I was in a shopping mall and there was this little girl who said 'Look at her skin!' Then I said to myself, I'm going to keep her indoors. She wanted to hug me but when I hug her, she would say 'Ouch, it's too painful, it's too painful’.

"And because we need to apply creams on her every hour, every time I want to apply the cream, she would beg me: 'Don't touch me, it's very painful', but I have no choice because if I don't apply it, it will flare up more."

For her latest bout of eczema, Kayla's medical costs have come up to about S$1,000. Her parents are more than willing to fork out the money, but they say there is a limit to what they can do.

Kayla’s father, Jason Lim, said: “My house windows and doors are all closed. The air purifier is running, the air-con is running, and I still can't protect her from this haze that's all around us. It's a mixture of helplessness and I guess, anger, that I can't do anything else to help her - short of taking her out of the country completely for this whole period, just to let Kayla's skin rest. I don't see any other option."

Even with groups such as HEAT trying to seek redress for those like Kayla, doctors Channel NewsAsia spoke to said it is very difficult to prove that a patient's condition is 100 per cent related to haze. For instance, if a person did not have bronchitis before, but contracted bronchitis during the haze period, doctors can say that the haze could be a contributing factor. Even then, doctors caution that it is hard to say it is 100 per cent the fault of the haze.

If a person has asthma, a pre-haze FEV1 test can be done to test a person' lung function and several of these tests will need to be conducted - one before, one during and one after the haze period. Again, doctors say the varying results cannot be 100 per cent conclusive as there are many other factors that could affect the outcome of the FEV1 test.

- CNA/ms

Firms move towards green procurement
Some companies are moving to ensure that their supplies are environmentally sustainable, as authorities are encouraging such practices.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 1 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: The topic of green procurement has been in the spotlight in recent days, especially after the authorities said it is a way for the Government to influence the supply chains.

CapitaLand is an example of an organisation that practises green procurement. The property developer ensures all its paper supplies are certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC).

"As a sustainable developer, we go beyond making our buildings environmentally sustainable. We actually operate our offices in a socially responsible manner,” explained CapitaLand’s Vice President for Environment, Health and Safety Foo Peng Er.

“One common item is copier paper. Our copier paper is FSC-certified. It means that it comes from sustainably managed forests. It includes certification of its chain of custody, which ensures that its source, its process and the chain of command, custody, goes through to the end buyer. So we are confident when we see that the paper is FSC-certified," he added.

To promote green procurement among more firms, the Environment and Water Resources Ministry is working with the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), starting with the public sector. There are also plans by the Council to eventually expand the practice to supermarkets.

Cold Storage supermarket, for instance, has already started to contact its suppliers to seek clarification on whether their products are sustainably procured. The supermarket chain said it shares its consumers' concerns about environmentally-friendly products.

Another supermarket chain, NTUC FairPrice, said it is supportive of the Government's efforts. It has also engaged with the authorities and its suppliers to find a long-term solution to the haze situation. FairPrice supermarkets already carry products that are certified for their eco-friendliness.

As part of its immediate plans, SEC will send letters to 2,800 companies this week to urge them to commit to buying only sustainable palm oil and pulp products. The companies are members of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF).

“By getting our member companies onboard this initiative, their partners and suppliers will hopefully be influenced to do the same. It is our intent to encourage member companies to embark on the journey towards responsible sourcing of palm oil, wood and pulp products. By working with SEC, we hope to reach out to the wider business community to ensure responsible procurement of resources,” said SMF’s Secretary-General, Lam Joon Khoi.

Mr Lam added: "This initiative is a continuous and progressive journey. We should not expect our members to change their business practices overnight, as some of them may have contractual obligations with their suppliers. The SEC can help businesses embark on this path of procuring and using sustainable palm oil and paper products."

SMF foresees some challenges in getting the companies to make the switch, as sustainably procured products are known to be costly.

However, Ms Foo said: "I think it may not just be about cost. It's about the long term. And in the long term, we want to live in a world that is sustainable for our next generations and we need to take action now."

- CNA/xq

More outdoor events cancelled as haze lingers
Today Online 1 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — With the haze showing no signs of retreating from unhealthy or very unhealthy levels, more organisers were forced to cancel or postpone outdoor events today (Oct 1).

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said air quality is expected to span the high end of the unhealthy range, to around the mid-section of the very unhealthy range tomorrow, and may get worse if the wind blows denser haze in from parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan that are burning.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index was 149 to 190 (at the higher end of the unhealthy range) at 9pm today. The 1-hour PM2.5 level, which measures fine particulate matter, was 61 to 101 microgrammes per cubic metre.

Saturday’s edition of Pedestrian Night — an initiative to enliven the Orchard Road shopping stretch by closing part of it to vehicular traffic every first Saturday of each month — is off, announced the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) today on its Facebook page.

The cancellation was out of consideration for the health and safety of employees, visitors and all street performers, ORBA said. Pedestrian Night promotions and shopping deals in malls will still be on offer to shoppers, who are advised to stay indoors and take the necessary precautions.

Instead, the stretch between the junction of Scotts and Paterson roads, and the junction of Orchard and Bideford roads will remain open to vehicles from 6pm to 11pm. Pedestrian Night is scheduled to take place again on Nov 7.

Another event scheduled for next Saturday was also postponed today. Diner en Blanc, a picnic where participants dress in white, will take place at a later date because of the haze, its organisers said on Facebook.

Entry passes and e-store items that have been purchased will remain valid for the rescheduled event and refunds will be processed on a case-by-case basis, with instructions to be provided when the new date is confirmed.

The organisers apologised for the inconvenience caused. Last year’s edition of Diner en Blanc was held in July at Sentosa’s Tanjong Beach and attended by about 3,000 people.

Earlier this week, the Spring Wave 2015 music festival that was to be held next Saturday at Fort Canning Green was also cancelled by organiser Friendly Dog Entertainment.

In a separate media advisory today, the NEA said rainfall for the first two weeks of October is likely to be below normal, with southwest monsoon conditions forecast to prevail. Short, thundery showers are likely on four to six days, mostly in the late morning and afternoon. Rainfall in September was below average in most parts of Singapore.

Pedestrian Night on Oct 3 cancelled due to haze
The next Pedestrian Night will take place on Nov 7, says the organiser.
Channel NewsAsia 1 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: This Saturday's (Oct 3) Pedestrian Night at Orchard Road has been cancelled due to hazy conditions in Singapore, organiser Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) announced.

In a statement on Thursday (Oct 1), ORBA said this was "out of consideration for the health and safety of our staff, our visitors and all street performers," as the air quality continued to hover between the Unhealthy and Unhealthy ranges.

"With this cancellation, the Orchard Road stretch between Scotts / Paterson junction and Orchard Road / Bideford junction remain fully open to vehicular traffic from 6pm - 11pm," the association added.

Pedestrian Night takes place on the first Saturday night of every month, and a stretch along Orchard Road would be closed to traffic for various events, including live performances and flash sales.

The next Pedestrian Night will take place on Nov 7.

- CNA/hs

Below normal rainfall expected in first half of October
AsiaOne 1 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE - Singapore can expect to have short-duration of thundery showers for the first two weeks of October.

In a statement released by the National Environment Agency (NEA), thundery showers due to Sumatra winds can be expected on one to two days in the pre-dawn hours and early morning.

During this period, maximum temperatures of around 34 degrees Celsius can be expected on a few days, added NEA.

South-west Monsoon conditions are forecast to prevail with low level winds blowing predominantly from southeast or south-southwest.

According to NEA, thundery showers affected the island on some days mostly in the late morning and afternoon in September.

In a weather review by NEA from Sep 16 to 30, the heaviest rainfall occurred on Sep 15 where the highest recorded one-day rainfall was 93mm in Tuas.

The highest temperature record ranged from 34.2 to 34.5 degrees Celsius, while the lowest was recorded between 22.7 and 23.1 degrees Celsius during this period.

Most parts of Singapore received below average rainfall in Sep 2015, according to NEA.

The lowest rainfall of 42mm and 68mm (60 to 75 per cent below average) was recorded over the east areas of Singapore around Kallang and Changi.

Rainfall was highest over Tuas and around Seletar, where 190mm to 230mm (10 to 35 per cent above average) of rain was recorded by NEA.

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Hard to prevent fires due to poor land governance: Asia Pulp and Paper

Overlapping licences from other businesses issued by other parts of the Indonesian government and other factors are making it difficult to manage land concessions.
Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia 1 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) says it will submit its reply to the Singapore government concerning forest fires on its suppliers' concession land within the deadline on Friday (Oct 2).

Last Friday (Sep 25), the country's National Environment Agency served notice on the Indonesian company, requiring it to give information on its suppliers' fire-fighting efforts. It was the first time the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act was applied since it was passed last year.

APP is a subsidiary of the Sinar Mas Group, one of Indonesia's largest conglomerates. The company and its suppliers control concessions covering more than two million hectares in Indonesia.

Even though the company has a zero burning policy, some 10,000 hectares of land in Jambi and Riau belonging to its supplier are currently on fire. APP says it has deployed about 3,000 firefighters and three helicopters to try and put out the blaze.

The firm said it does not have a specific target when exactly the fires can be put out, stressing that firefighters are working hard to douse the blaze as soon as possible. APP claims the fires did not start on its suppliers’ concession land, but once ignited, they were not able to stop the fires from encroaching into the concessions they held.

“Even though our suppliers are given licence of a concession, it doesn’t mean that we have full control of everything that happens in the concession because sometimes within that concession there is a village, there is a community claiming (land), there is overlapping licence from other business, like palm oil, or rubber, or mining, licence (that) was issued by other parts of the government,” said Aida Greenbury, managing director of sustainability at stakeholder engagement at APP.

“What is our rights, what is our obligations, what should we do, who is responsible for what, who is managing what, becomes unclear.”

Environmental activists blame this state of affairs on poor land governance.

“Lately, the government has started to try to issue some new regulations to tackle the land issue in Indonesia, to really work together with civil society to map where is the customary line, where is the local people’s line,” said Agung Wiyono, senior social specialist at The Forest Trust.

Last week, Singapore began legal action against five companies in its toughest anti-haze measure so far.

APP was one of them. It has been ordered by the Republic's National Environment Agency, under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, to provide information on what its suppliers are doing to fight the forest fires.

Non-governmental organisations lauded the move.

“Greenpeace has been pushing the Singaporean government a couple of years ago to also act on their companies, especially Singaporean-based companies who are responsible for what’s happening in Indonesia, because for many, many years the perception of people in Singapore is like whatever is happening in Indonesia, is just Indonesians, it has nothing to do with Singapore,” said Bustar Maitar, global head of Greenpeace’s Indonesia Forest Campaign.

APP says it welcomes Singapore’s inquiry, and sees this as an opportunity to work more closely with the country. Be that as it may, the forests of Sumatra and Kalimantan continue to burn, and parts of the region continue to be affected by a haze that is harmful to health.

- CNA/ec

Company blames haze crisis on illegal activities
Ayomi Amindoni, 1 Oct 15;

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) rejected accusations saying that the pulp and paper company was behind the haze crisis currently affecting areas in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

APP managing director of sustainability Aida Greenbury said forest fires within concession areas did not mean that it was the company that had started the fire.

"It's illogical that we would burn the forests since we need timber for our pulp and paper industry," said Aida in a press conference on Monday.

She further explained that as a subsidiary of Sinar Mas Group, APP had not been involved in any deforestation since 2013. "That means we no longer open conserved forests for industrial timber plantations," she explained.

Aida admitted there were cases in which fires had started from within APP supplier's concession areas, primarily due to illegal slash and burn practices.

She said the majority of the fires were perpetrated by individuals who wanted to clear land cheaply and quickly for subsistence farming, agriculture and other purposes.

To prevent such activities, Aida said the supplier’s forest security team conducted daily patrols and joint operations together with local law enforcement institutions.

"During the joint patrols we found several illegal activities in Jambi and Riau in the past two months. We already reported it to the police," she said.

On the same occasion, Sinar Mas managing director Gandi Sulistiyanto said Sinar Mas and its business unit supported the government's action against forest fire offenders.

"We will cut our contract with suppliers found guilty of burning forests," he claimed.

Earlier, police investigators had named at least seven companies and 133 individuals suspected of using fires to clear land in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

They have released the acronyms of the seven companies at which the suspects worked. They are: PT BMH, PT RPP and PT RPS in South Sumatra; PT LIH in Riau; and PT GAP, PT MBA and PT ASP in Central Kalimantan.

Based on National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) data, as of 5 a.m. local time on Thursday, 492 hot spots were detected in Central Kalimantan, followed by East Kalimantan (211) and South Sumatra(168). In total, Kalimantan had 791 hot spots while 192 hot spots were found in Sumatra, reported.

Separately, environmental group Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) is calling on all of the people affected by the haze to carry out a class action lawsuit against the government.

West Kalimantan-chapter Walhi director, Anton Widjaya, said in Jakarta on Thursday it was important for them to carry out a class action suit because the government had tended to neglect the rights of people who became the victims of smoke pollution from forest fires allegedly perpetrated by companies.

“Walhi will act as a facilitator for people who want to file lawsuits against state authorities. In West Kalimantan, we have opened seven posts to accommodate people’s aspirations,” he said as quoted by Antara news agency.

In West Kalimantan, the haze situation has affected schools and economic activities, causing health problems. The Air Pollution Standard Index (ISPU) in the province touched the level of 1,300, or four times higher than the dangerous level of 300-500. (ebf)

Walhi encourages people to file class action suit over haze disaster
Antara 1 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) has encouraged haze-affected residents to file a class action suit against the government.

The class action is needed as the government tends to ignore the rights of the people affected by the haze caused by the land and forest fires, Walhi Director for West Kalimantan Anton Widjaya said at the Walhi Office in Jakarta on Thursday.

"Walhi is ready to act as a facilitator for the people filing a suit against the government. In West Kalimantan, we have opened seven command posts to accommodate the peoples aspirations," he said.

In West Kalimantan, the haze induced by land and forest fires have disrupted the local economy, learning activities, and human health.

Furthermore, the general pollution standard index once hit a level of 1,300, or four times as high as the dangerous level of 300 to 500. On average, the index reached 600 to 800.

By early October, the Walhi office in West Kalimantan will have gathered 500 identity cards from residents, who are seeking to file a class action suit against the government. "We want 1,000 residents to join the move," he said.

Meanwhile, the Walhi Office in Jambi province is also ready to coordinate with local residents to file a class action suit against the government.

"We demand that the state take legal responsibility over forest fires in Jambi," Walhi Manager for Jambi, Rudiansyah said on Thursday.

Besides filing a class action suit, the Walhi Office in Riau is also planning to refer the issue of the haze disaster, which has caused tens of thousands of people to suffer upper tract respiratory infections, to the United Nations.

Forest fires are a result of corporate crime to which the state has turned a blind eye, the Walhi Director for Riau Province, Riko Kurniawan said.(*)

Read more!

Malaysia: Tourists Advised To Reduce Outdoor Activities Due To Haze

Bernama 30 Sep 15;

MELAKA, Sept 30 (Bernama) -- Tourists are advised to reduce outdoor activities in view of the current haze situation to avoid health problems, Deputy Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin said.

She said the current haze situation has to some extent affected the tourism sector and reduced tourists arrivals compared with the previous count.

"Nevertheless, there are some tourists continuing their holiday here as scheduled," she told Bernama here.

In this regard, she encouraged tourism operators to carry out more indoor activities and advised tourists to take precautionary measures such as wearing face mask when doing outdoor activities.

According to the Department of Environment portal, as at 9 am Wednesday 18 areas recorded unhealthy air quality with Bukit Rambai, here recording the highest air pollutant index (API) reading of 150, followed by Port Dickson in Negeri Sembilan (142).


Tap into local research on API readings
AHMAD FAIRUZ OTHMAN New Straits Times 1 Oct 15;

THE haze returned with a vengeance last Thursday during Hari Raya Aidiladha. It had been gone for a week, but it has now blanketed many parts of the state, which caused the closure of schools and affected flights at the Senai International Airport in Johor.

However, a recent debate occurred on social media that the haze was not about the hot spots in Sumatra or Kalimantan or the blame game on who should be held responsible for the smog.

It was about Malaysia’s Air Pollutant Index or API reading, which is used by the Department of Environment (DoE) to measure air quality.

In Johor, many folk compared the API provided by the DoE with the system used to measure air quality by the Singaporean authorities.

There were stark differences in the readings between Johor and Singapore last week and this week.

While many people saw thick blankets of smog outside their windows in Johor, it was not reflected in the API readings, which were in the early range of the unhealthy band of between 101 and 200.

This newspaper reported on Monday that the Singapore National Environment Agency’s Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit the hazardous range (above 300) last Thursday evening and climbed to 341 at 5am on Friday.

In Johor Baru, the API readings during the same period were in the unhealthy band of between 139 and 192.

DoE director-general Datuk Halimah Hassan said the API readings were not watered down, but explained the different figures were due to Singapore’s inclusion of a sixth parameter in determining air quality.

Malaysia measures five parameters to determine API: carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter (PM10).

Since April last year, Singapore has included a sixth parameter, known as fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in measuring its air quality under its PSI.

The PM2.5 refers to particles 2.5 micrometres in diameter or smaller, which can only be seen by electron microscope. Fine particles come from combustions, such as motor vehicles, forest fires or agriculture burning.

Experts and the layman had a lot to say about the story. Environmental Protection Society Malaysia vice-president Randolph Geremiah said he was all for having better API equipment if there was a need for it.

Johoreans were more brash in their comments.

“Our API system is a joke,” said a friend, who has been posting photographs of the haze in Johor Baru and API readings on Facebook.

One photograph was a view from one side of the Johor Straits, which saw the haze blanketing the view of Singapore from Johor.

A father of two from Taman Mount Austin, Johor Baru, Frankie Tan, was rather worried about the fine particulate matter or PM2.5 in the air, which is yet to be measured in the API.

“I think our health is important and I know that PM2.5 molecules are very harmful if it gets into your lungs,” said the senior manager at a property development company, who has now limited his family’s outdoor time.

The issue raises a lot of questions about the API readings and its technology, but it is something that can be improved with budgeting and the use of available technology.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) has been using its own calculations to measure fine particulate matter in the air.

UTM campus sustainability director Associate Professor Dr Mohd Fadzil Md Din said recent readings of air quality at its Skudai campus proved that its instrument showed almost similar readings as those shown in Woodlands, Singapore.

The instrument calculated a fine particulate matter (PM2.5) reading of 229 at noon on Tuesday. This was comparable with Singapore’s three hour PSI of 240.
“This shows the instrument used by UTM is at par with the one used by Singapore,” said Fadzil.

There is hope for our API system, but perhaps more effort must be made to unearth the research and development that has been done by Malaysian researchers on air pollutant calculations.

These systems are changing with the times and can produce accurate readings of air pollution.

And accuracy is very much needed when measuring the haze, which has an impact on health and workers’ productivity as well as affects sectors, such as education, tourism and sports.

Haze choking farms too
The Star 2 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: Chickens are dying by the millions in a month, farm produce is dwindling, vegetables are wilting, and end consumers are set to be the biggest losers – all because of the haze.

Vegetables production in several states is down by a third, sending prices up by more than two-fold. And farmers are saying that if the haze were to continue, prices will go even higher.

Penang and Province Wellesley Farmers Association chairman Loo Choo Gee estimated that on average two to three million broiler chickens in the northern region of Penang, Kedah, Perlis and Perak die in a month because of the haze.

He added that this was a big issue every year and that at times the mortality rate could rise up to four million of the 50 million that are produced in a month in peninsular Malaysia.

“Chickens are more sensitive to the haze than humans. They have respiratory problems and become weak. We have to give them vitamins. When they are weak, they are slow to grow and that is not good,” said Loo, who is also a farmer.

He said that during the haze they would need to increase the price of chicken by 10sen to 20sen per kilo from around RM4.50 to RM4.70.

“Many farmers try and keep the breeder chickens that are meant for culling alive so they can lay more eggs. But even hens become weak during the haze and lay fewer eggs,” said Loo.

Sarawak Livestock Breeders Association chairman Lee Jin Chiaw said that egg production has dropped by about 2%.

In Johor, the owner of Lew Brothers Poultry Farm Sdn Bhd, Lew Kim Huat said that egg production at its two farms in Ulu Tiram and Layang had declined to about 5% since the start of the haze.

“Our hens are becoming restless and weak,’’ he said adding that about 28,000 of the 700,000 birds also died due to suffocation, about twice the usual number of deaths.

Lew said, normally each bird produces 25 eggs per month but for the past one month they produced between 15 and 20 eggs each.

In Kota Tinggi, Johor, long beans cost RM6 per kg compared with RM2 to RM3 before the haze period.

A wholesaler, Tan Pak Looi, cautioned that the price of chillies, now at RM6 per kg, was expected to rise in the next two to three months.

The current batch of chillies survived as they were planted and harvested before the haze, he added.

Tan said vegetables production had fallen due to a lack of sunlight while the lack of rain had worsened the situation.

Penang Island Vegetable Wholesalers Association chairman Tan Ban Ben said the prices of certain vegetables had doubled due to the haze.

“The weather has also affected the production of spring onions and celery which have doubled in price,” he said adding that spring onions used to cost RM5 to RM6 two weeks ago, but the wholesale price is now RM12.

A vegetable supplier in George Town, V. Raj, 47, said wholesale prices of vegetables from Cameron Highlands have gone up by 50%.

“Profits have also been cut by at least 20%. Chinese broccoli (kai-lan) increased from RM2.50 to RM5 while Chinese cabbage also rose to RM2.50 from RM1.20 and tomatoes from RM4 to RM6,” he said.

Farmer Khor Tiam Seng, 38, from Cameron Highlands, said vegetable production there had dropped by 10% to 20%.

“I had to increase my prices in order to maintain profit. And it is the customers who will have to pay more.”

Two-month-long haze shrinks fruits along with profits
The Star 2 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: The two-month long haze is causing a lower yield of crop, fruits and vegetables.

One of the main producers of Cavendish banana in the country, Kulim (M) Bhd is expecting a low year-end harvest due to the haze.

Kulim Montel Farm manager Omar Rohani said the haze had badly affected the growth of new buds at its two banana farms in Kota Tinggi and Renggam, Johor.

He said the banana trees at the 165ha and the 110ha farms only produced about 4,500 and 6,000 new buds.

“This is about half of what our farms normally produce,’’ Omar said yesterday.

He pointed out that in July and August, the plants at the Kota Tinggi produced about 11,948 buds and those in Renggam 10,538 buds.

Omar said the estimated sales from the July and August fruits were expected to be between RM240,000 and RM260,000.

“We expect our sales in October and November to go down to between RM180,000 and RM200,000,’’ he said adding that even the size of the fruits were also smaller because of the haze.

Omar said this year’s haze, which had prolonged for almost 35 days, was the worst compared with last year’s which lasted less than a month.

According to Dr Mohd Norowi Hamid, who is the director of Agrobiodiversity and Environment Research Centre in Mardi, the haze reduced the photosynthesis rate because less sunlight reached the plants.

He cited the case that occurred in Serdang during 2013 when a 50% reduction in sunlight caused a 40% lower photosynthesis rate in the corn plants. This in turn had reduced the yield.

Dr Mohd Norowi said with padi, if the haze occurred during the grain filling stage, the crop would face a reduction of 1.2%.

He said the two rice planting seasons in Sekinchan, Selangor were from the start of January to the end of April and the start of July to the end of October.

Haze affecting migratory birds
The Star 2 Oct 15;

JOHOR BARU: The haze is also affecting migratory birds making their annual journey here to escape the winter of east Asia.

“People think the haze has caused them problems but animals, in particular migratory birds, have it much worse,” said Malaysian Nature Society Johor chairman Vincent Chow said.

“They need to see the stars to guide them from East Asia to South-East Asia, making their way to the coastline of Johor to find food such as small fish,” he said.

Chow said the haze this time around was much worse than previous years. Migratory birds usually choose Johor to escape the winter cold of China, South Korea and Japan. The birds usually begin their thousand-mile journey when winter is near in East Asia and they travel south by using the East Asia-Australia flyway.

In spring, which is between February and March, they will make their return journey up north, as food such as insects would be plentiful for them there.

Chow said other animals were also finding it hard to live through the haze which brought ash and a nauseating smell with it, making it difficult for them to find food in the wild.

Read more!

Malaysia: Johor Party calls for review of water agreement with Singapore

KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 1 Oct 15;

JOHOR BARU: Johor PKR has called on the state government to declassify the contents of the Malaysia-Singapore Water Agreement 1962.

Its chairman Hassan Karim also said the agreement, which reportedly ends in 2061, should be re-evaluated to ensure that the welfare of Johoreans is prioritised.

“The agreement should be declassified and made available to the public,” he said during a press conference.

Hassan also said the party would be forming a special committee to look into water supply issues in the state.

The committee, to be chaired by him, would study and identify the cause of water problems in Johor.

“We will submit our recommendations on ways to improve service in Johor to the state government,” he said, adding DAP and Parti Amanah Negara (PAN) would be involved.

On a separate matter, Hassan said that Johor PKR is looking to contest eight more state seats in the general election and are eyeing Permas, Gambir and Puteri Wangsa.

"I believe what we are asking for is realistic," he added.

Read more!

World's Oldest Rainforests Burn as Indonesia Spreads Haze

Neil Chatterjee Bloomberg News 2 Oct 15;

Having promised to extinguish forest fires in Riau in western Indonesia by early October, President Joko Widodo jetted into Sumatra island last week for a progress check. The smoke was so thick his plane couldn’t land, forcing him back to the capital.

Exacerbated by dry conditions from El Nino, the haze has blown across Southeast Asia, blanketing Singapore, parts of Indonesia and Malaysia in a smog that has closed schools and forced some people to flee their homes. In what has become an annual “haze season” ritual, governments are bickering about who is to blame and how to fix things, fearing a hit to tourism and economic activity.

So far Widodo, known as Jokowi, is following a similar track to his predecessors: Threaten to punish the palm oil and other plantation companies whose land is ablaze and send soldiers in to help fight the fires. But unless he addresses the broader factors behind the burning off, the chances are the haze will keep coming back.

Jokowi’s maneuverability is limited by a decentralized system of government put in place in 2001 in the world’s largest archipelago that has coalesced power around local officials and potentially made it harder to tackle corruption on the ground. There’s also been little effort over the years to address a complex system of overlapping land permits where forest is illegally burned to claim ownership and increase the value to sell for plantations.

“There is no strong control, no strong standards on making decisions at the local level,” said Bustar Maitar, head of Indonesia forests for campaign group Greenpeace. “Jokowi should create strong standards to follow.”

Hazardous Pollution

Fire hotspots have been burning all year in the tropical forests of Sumatra and Borneo, but the government only acted after complaints by neighbor Singapore and as haze in the area surged. The worst of it has been in Indonesia itself: A pollution index at Palangkaraya in central Kalimantan province reached 1,990 last week, more than five times the level considered “hazardous,” and around 125,000 people in the country are suffering haze-linked health issues.

“The government seems to be working slow in handling this, we have lived three years like this with smoke,” said Helda Satriani, a resident of Rumbai in Riau who is nine months pregnant with her first child. “Government, please, take immediate action!”

Political Roadblocks

Jokowi took office a year ago promising to address structural bottlenecks in Southeast Asia’s largest economy, from building infrastructure to making bureaucracy more efficient. He came to power with high expectations given his success in tackling red tape as Jakarta governor. Since then, he’s run into roadblocks from vested interests and even his own party, causing unease among investors and helping make the rupiah Asia’s second-worst performing currency this year.

After his September pledge, Jokowi has scaled back expectations, saying in a BBC interview this week it could take three years to see results.

Southeast Asia has some of the oldest continuous rainforest in the world, part of a swathe that once ran from Malaysia to Northern Australia. Much of Sumatra has a thick canopy of trees covering waterlogged peat soil, an early form of coal, which is drained when logged, leaving a vast area of tinder that can explode and smolder for extended periods. The fires may be extinguished by November, the country’s disaster agency said on Thursday.

Discouraging Landowners

Still, “it’s ridiculous for Widodo to say this will take three years,” said Keith Loveard, head of political risk at Jakarta-based security company Concord Consulting. “What is required is the application of the law in a manner that discourages landowners, small and large, from continuing this practice, in other words tough penalties handed down without exception.”

The government devolved power to the regions to prevent the archipelago from breaking apart after the end of dictator Suharto’s three-decade rule and the Asian financial crisis in 1998. Dubbed the Big Bang decentralization, Indonesia almost doubled the share of government spending to regions and transferred almost two thirds of the central government workforce, according to a 2003 World Bank report.

Re-centralizing land permits may not be possible as the country is too big, but establishing a master map with clearer ownership would be a step forward, said Kevin O’Rourke, who wrote “Reformasi: The Struggle for Power in Post-Soeharto Indonesia.”

Single Map

Jokowi told Bloomberg in February he wanted to create a single map for all provinces to prevent overlapping concessions, though there’s been no detail since.

“If we can have one map by 2020, that will be very helpful,” said Aida Greenbury, the manager for sustainability at Singapore-based Asia Pulp & Paper Co., one of whose suppliers PT Bumi Mekar Hijau has been named a suspect for causing fires. There are 500 licenses held by other companies across the land in its supply chain, and while burning has no value for APP it triples the price others can sell land for, she said.

In a country with traditional slash-and-burn agricultural practices, local communities are allowed to burn up to 2 hectares of land per family. Prevention of illegal larger scale burning has been limited, with the government freezing permits for four companies so far.

Still, pruning the “thicket of licenses” created over decades will take time, Trade Minister Tom Lembong said in an interview on Wednesday.

“The government is like a super tanker, you are trying to turn around the policy regime, but it’s like turning around a super tanker.”

New strategy sought to fight 'slash and burn' problem
The Star 1 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: As a blanket of haze, caused by thick smoke from forest fires in Indonesia, covers parts of South-East Asia, the region is struggling to find an effective response to the problem, experts said.

The haze has caused health problems, flight delays and school closures across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in what has become an annual ordeal that has defied attempts by governments, businesses and green groups to tackle it.

At the heart of the problem are palm oil plantation owners, who use cheap and easy slash-and-burn techniques to clear forests and meet rising global demand for the oil used for cooking and in household products from shampoo to ice cream.

Experts stress that Indonesia, home to the world's third-largest tropical forest acreage, holds the key to the problem and needs to put into practice a long-term plan to enforce laws, tackle the fires and spend more on prevention.

Margareth Sembiring, senior analyst at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said the complexity of the issue means it is difficult to make the region haze-free. "Strengthening law enforcement in Indonesia is undoubtedly key in solving the problem," she said.

Other experts say companies and consumers must also play a part by pushing for palm oil to be produced more sustainably.

Environmental groups like Greenpeace have targeted companies in high-profile campaigns, and some firms have made commitments to help stop deforestation by palm oil plantation owners.

Golden Agri-Resources, the world's second-largest listed palm planter by acreage, said last week it had stopped buying from a supplier punished by Indonesia for allegedly causing forest fires.

Indonesia, the world's fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, mainly from deforestation, will be one of the countries under scrutiny at December's United Nations climate change conference, which will try to get legally binding commitments from the 120 member nations to cut CO2 emissions.

Under criticism from its neighbours, the government has investigated more than 200 companies and ordered four to suspend operations for allegedly causing forest fires as it scrambles to control blazes on Sumatra and Kalimantan islands.

Weak law enforcement in Indonesia is exacerbated by a lack of transparency about land ownership, making it harder to pinpoint and punish perpetrators, experts said.

"Without a centralised, public map that shows resource ownership, it will remain hard to find the offending companies or landowners," said Andika Putraditama, Indonesia research analyst at the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Indonesia last December launched its long-awaited "One Map" initiative, a comprehensive map of land ownership to provide clarity on the boundaries of land owned by companies, communities and the government.

It is due to be completed in two to three years, but progress has been hampered by overlapping land use permits and other technical issues, experts said.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said her ministry had given all data about the permits it had issued to the Economy Ministry, which is coordinating the project. "Basically, we want early prevention (of the fires), if possible starting now," she said in response to questions put by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

She declined to comment on questions about the budget for fire prevention and efforts to make land allocation more transparent.

Indonesia in 2014 became the last country to ratify the Association of South-East Asian Nations' (Asean) transboundary agreement to tackle haze, some 12 years after it was launched.

The accord calls for concerted regional efforts to prevent or put out the fires, but every year, June-September monsoon winds send thick smoke from Indonesia to Malaysia and Singapore.

"It is important to understand that Asean stands on a sovereignty principle," said Sembiring. "The onus is on all member states to develop their own national policies and programmes based on the agreement and implement them accordingly."

The haze has also led to calls for a boycott of products containing palm oil, but green groups say a more effective approach would be to boost sustainable production.

The rapid growth of palm oil plantations, now covering over 11 million hectares in Indonesia - an area bigger than Iceland - has been a leading cause of fires and deforestation.

Demand for sustainable palm oil is rising, and around a fifth of the world's palm oil is now certified as such by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body of consumers, green groups, plantation firms and consumer goods companies.

RSPO standards require its members to stop cutting virgin forest, produce or source oil only from land to which growers have clear rights, and not to clear land by burning.

Through satellite data and online maps the RSPO has tracked the origins of the current haze.

The data showed no fire alerts at RSPO-certified palm oil concessions between January and August, compared with 627 at those without certification. – Reuters/The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Indonesia hopes for rain to douse forest fires causing smog in Southeast Asia
Reuters 1 Oct 15;

Indonesia is hoping for rain to help extinguish forest fires that have been smoldering for weeks, shrouding parts of Southeast Asia in thick smog, a government official said on Thursday.

For years, the region has suffered annual bouts of smog, caused by slash-and-burn farming in Indonesia's northern islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, but governments' efforts to tackle the problem have failed.

A lengthy dry season in Indonesia this year has been worsened by the El Nino weather effect, making it harder to contain the fires in the absence of rains that usually arrive in November.

Indonesia has already spent millions and deployed thousands of firefighters and several water-bombing planes in its efforts to put out the fires, the official, Willem Rampangilei, told reporters.

"The fires can only be put out by rain and water-bombing, so it needs time," said Rampangilei, the head of Indonesia's national disaster management agency.

"We are hoping by the end of October or early November, the haze problem will be resolved."

The agency had previously hoped to put out the fires, which are often blamed on smallholders or plantation companies, by mid-October.

Growing pollution from the smog has disrupted flights and forced school closures in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia, while thousands of people on the two Indonesian islands are reported to be battling respiratory diseases.

Indonesia has faced criticism from neighbors and green groups for not doing enough to prevent the fires, which cause millions of dollars worth of damage to health and the environment every year.

It has repeatedly turned down assistance from Singapore, which has offered water-bombing equipment and personnel to help put out the fires.

Indonesian officials, including Vice President Jusuf Kalla, have repeatedly said they have enough resources to handle the crisis, with Kalla adding that neighboring countries should be grateful for clean air provided by Indonesia's rainforests outside the haze season.

Rampangilei said Indonesia had the crisis under control.

"We are very grateful but everything is under control and there is progress," he said, when asked why the government would not accept foreign assistance.

The environment ministry says it is taking legal action against four companies and is investigating about 200 more.

Singapore, where commuters have taken to wearing protective face masks, has urged Asia Pulp & Paper Co Ltd to check if subsidiaries and suppliers have links to the forest fires. The firm has said it will cooperate.

(Reporting by Bernadette Christina and Cindy Silviana; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Annual haze crisis to stay despite Indonesia's efforts
Francis Chan, Straits Times AsiaOne 2 Oct 15;

The annual haze crisis is here to stay despite one of Indonesia's best efforts in recent years to counter the illegal forest fires that cause it.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo told the BBC in a report out yesterday that he needs time to tackle the issue, which has affected the lives of millions across his country, as well as Singapore and Malaysia.

The illegal fires on peatlands, including concession areas marked for cultivation by plantation companies, are "not a problem that you can solve quickly", said Mr Joko.

"You will see results soon, and in three years, we will have solved this."

Some 3,700 soldiers and nearly 8,000 policemen have been deployed to fight forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra islands.

The national police have arrested many suspects and commenced probes against several plantation firms in connection with the use of outlawed slash-and-burn techniques to clear plantation land.

Mr Joko has also ordered canals with dams in fire-prone areas to be built to prevent peatlands from draining out during the dry season and becoming tinder for fires.

While observers agree that these are by far the most wide-ranging efforts by any Indonesian government in dealing with the crisis, which has sent air pollution to at times hazardous levels, most remain sceptical over Mr Joko's timeline.

Professor Asit K. Biswas from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said the issues surrounding the haze crisis are so complex that it cannot be resolved in three years.

A key factor is that Indonesia does not have the data or expertise "to fully appreciate even the extent and magnitude of the problem", said the expert on resource and development-related issues.

"This includes who are the people responsible for it, why is it happening and what are the solutions that need to be implemented and who will implement them," he added.

The effects of climate change on regional weather patterns are also not on the side of Indonesia.

Some climate experts have warned that the extreme dry weather from the El Nino phenomenon will continue to cause peatlands to burn more readily this year.

El Nino - which started in March this year - typically lasts nine months but some say indications are that it is set to peak only in November and could possibly last well into the first half of next year.

Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency said last week that data from 2006 to last year shows that hot spots typically appear between June and October. Its spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho had also said earlier that the prevailing dry spell may mean they may continue to burn until next month.

Assistant Professor Winston Chow of the National University of Singapore's geography department is of the view that while climate change will not cause more fires or hot spots, it will create conditions that favour hot spots to form.

"There's a subtle but important difference and hence climate change must be factored into long-term planning for mitigating the haze crisis," he added.

Singapore and Malaysia have offered to help Indonesia fight the forest fires. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who was at high-level talks with his Indonesian counterpart on Monday, said he was reassured that Mr Joko has personally taken note of the issues related to the haze crisis.

"I wish him every good outcome as they approach this in a more determined way to prevent the fires," said Dr Ng. "And I am glad that their primary motivation is for the health of their own citizens."

Read more!

Indonesia: It's not just haze - forest clearing leads to subsidence

David Fogarty, The Straits Times AsiaOne 2 Oct 15;

As thousands of hectares of flammable peatlands go up in smoke in Sumatra and Kalimantan, Indonesia is facing another crisis caused by decades of unbridled forest clearance to develop oil palm and pulpwood plantations - subsidence.

Millions of hectares of Indonesia's former forest lands are slowly subsiding and could become flooded wastelands unable to grow food or timber-based products in one of the world's most populous nations. Combined with rising sea levels, the scale of the problem becomes even more stark because much of the east coast of Sumatra is just a few metres above sea level.

Mr Marcel Silvius of global non-governmental organisation Wetlands International said between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of Sumatra's peatlands have been drained, largely for agriculture.

"These peatlands will become unproductive so that, over time, almost the entire east coast of Sumatra will consist of unproductive land that will become frequently flooded," Mr Silvius, programme head for climate-smart land use, told The Straits Times. "That means the livelihoods of the local communities will be jeopardised, industrial plantations will not be possible any more."

Sumatra's forest cover has plunged to less than 30 per cent. And nowhere has the loss been greater than the peatland-rich provinces of Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra, where vast oil palm and pulpwood plantations now occupy the areas where dense peat swamp jungles once stood.

"We're talking about four (million) or five million hectares," Mr Silvius said, when asked how much land could be lost due to peatland clearance in eastern Sumatra, an area about the size of Switzerland.

"It's not something just of the future. We already see it happening. Large areas of palm oil plantations are being flooded in Dumai in northern Riau."

Some areas, such as the Kampar Peninsula in Riau, could sink into the sea within decades unless businesses change the way they use peatlands.

Mr Silvius started studying Sumatra's peat swamp forests in the 1980s and saw their rapid deforestation over the next two decades.

To stop the deforestation and damage to the land, he said, the Indonesian government should stop issuing licences immediately to companies wanting to develop peatlands and start quickly to restore damaged areas, such as by re-wetting them.

Indonesia's peatlands are crucial because they are rich in plant and animal species and because they are one of the world's greatest storehouses of carbon. That carbon, in the form of leaf litter, dead trees and other material, builds up over thousands of years into vast peat domes that can be up to 20m high.

The carbon is trapped because the domes are filled with water, like a sponge, and don't degrade. Clearing and draining the peat using deep drainage canals quickly releases the water and the peat dries out, releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas. Over time, the peatlands subside as they dry out, creating huge areas ripe for fires.

Subsidence can be about 1m in the first year after clearing and digging drainage canals and about 5cm a year afterwards. Eventually, the land becomes vulnerable to water intrusion from the sea or rivers during the wet season, flooding large areas of plantations. As the subsidence continues, the flooding gets worse.

The situation is no better in Kalimantan or Sarawak, in Malaysia.

A study by Dutch institute Deltares, commissioned by Wetlands International, with results released in May, focused on how deforestation and drainage of tropical peatlands in Sarawak leads to subsidence.

The study focused on 850,000ha in the Rajang River Delta.

From 2000 to last year, oil palm plantations increased from 6 per cent to 47 per cent of the delta's land area, while the area of swamp forest decreased from 56 per cent to less than 16 per cent, the study says. The remaining area is also mostly drained, meaning that the entire area is now subsiding, it found.

The researchers, using a conservative rate of subsidence of 3.5cm a year, estimated that flood risk was already high in the area, affecting 29 per cent of plantations by 2009.

This was projected to rise to 42 per cent in 25 years, 56 per cent in 50 years and 82 per cent in 100 years. "It is predicted that at some point, oil palm production will have to be abandoned," the study concluded.

The threat from prolonged flooding has alarmed some companies fearing the loss of plantations, which are major assets.

Asia Pulp & Paper, Indonesia's biggest pulp and paper firm, has large concession areas on peatlands, particularly in Sumatra. APP recently commissioned Deltares to carry out what the company says is the largest mapping exercise for tropical peatlands using LiDAR equipment placed on aircraft. LiDAR uses pulsed laser beams to create three-dimensional maps of the earth's surface and vegetation.

Deltares will create a map covering about 4.5 million ha, or about a quarter of all Indonesian peatlands, where APP's suppliers are located. The information will help APP craft a new set of policies on improving management of peatlands in its concessions that the company hopes other land owners will also follow.

Better peatland management can reduce the risk of fires and slow the rate of subsidence. It should also involve restoring and protecting threatened deep-peat areas.

As part of its new peatlands best-practice programme, APP has pledged to retire 7,000ha of active plantations in deep peatlands, where the need for urgent restoration efforts was identified.

NGOs such as WWF and Wetlands applauded the announcement but said much more needed to be done to halt and reverse decades of deforestation and damage to millions of hectares of peatlands by plantation companies.

Mr Silvius said blocking of drainage canals and re-wetting drained peat areas and replanting them with native vegetation are part of the solution. Paludiculture, in which farmers earn an income from crops that flourish in water-logged soil, such as sago palm or illipe nut, is another solution but requires a radical change in thinking and political backing on how to develop these wetlands.

As for APP, the LiDAR study results could be a shock for them and other firms, he said.

"I think it is the first time a company is taking a step like that to look seriously at the sustainability issue. But I think the conclusions are going to be kind of shocking for them because most of their areas will prove to be totally unsustainable in the long term."

Read more!

Indonesia decides against labelling haze as national disaster

The Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said raising the haze problem to a national disaster level will not extinguish the fires sooner.
Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia 1 Oct 15

JAKARTA: The Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) on Thursday (Oct 1) said it is not necessary to raise the forest fires and haze crisis to a national disaster level.

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

In recent days, lawmakers and NGOs have urged the government to declare the forest fires and haze a national disaster.

However, BNPB explained that certain conditions needed to be met.

For example, the number of deaths has to exceed 500, and the amount of economic loss has to be more than 1 trillion rupiah or US$68 million.

In a news conference on Thursday, BNPB chief Willem Rampangilei said that even though the government is not declaring this as a national disaster, the amount of resources being deployed is already on a national scale.

He said raising it to a national disaster level will not extinguish the fires sooner.

"If you say we are overwhelmed, we're not,” said Wilhem. “Is it under control? Are we able to manage the forest fires? The answer is clearly we can. This is not a personal judgement, but based on what we have seen on the satellite pictures."

Willem said there has been progress with the number of hot spots decreasing, but he expects the haze to persist because even though fires are put out on the peatlands, the land is still smouldering and this will take time to resolve.

Willem added that he hopes the problem can be completely dealt with by the end of October or early November.

- CNA/ec

Clusters of forest fires widespread
The Jakarta Post 1 Oct 15;

The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) has admitted that it has become increasingly difficult to quell the raging forest fires that have razed large parts of the archipelago this year.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said that fires in 2012 and 2013 were concentrated in Riau, but this year, fire clusters were more widespread, with South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan recording the most severe cases.

“Water supply [to put out fires] is also limited, while peatlands is hard to deal with,” says Sutopo at the State Palace on Wednesday.

The limited supply of water has made it hard to carry out water bombing procedures on the burned land.

Sutopo said the agency would now focus on combatting fires in severely-affected areas such as South Sumatra’s Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyasin as well as the province’s border area with Jambi.

In Central Kalimantan, the agency will try to extinguish fires in the Pulang Pisau, Kapuas and East Kotawaringin regencies.

“Teams in South Kalimantan will support efforts in Central Kalimantan,” said Sutopo.

Over the past weeks, air pollution from fires in peatland and plantation areas has severely affected several regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan, including Jambi, Riau, South Sumatra, West Sumatra and Central Kalimantan.

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

73 hotspots detected in Barito, C. Kalimantan
Antara 1 Oct 15;

Muara Teweh (ANTARA News) - The Terra and Aqua satellites detected 73 hotspots indicating forest fires along Barito River that flows through the districts of North Barito, Murung Raya, East Barito, and South Barito, Central Kalimantan Province, on early Thursday.

"The hotspots were monitored on Thursday until 6 a.m. local time in the four districts. The number increased from that recorded in the previous days," Aswaludin, the spokesman of the Muara Teweh administration in North Barito District, stated.

Of the 73 hotspots, eight were found in South Barito, 14 in East Barito, 25 in North Barito, and 26 in Murung Raya.

The haze shrouding Muara Teweh reduced visibility to 300-400 meters on Thursday morning, compared to 1.5 thousand meters on the previous day.

The North Barito authorities have extended the haze emergency response status until October 31, 2015, from September 30 earlier.

On September 29, the haze arising from forest and plantation fires in North Barito District, Central Kalimantan, had reduced visibility to 50 meters in Muara Teweh.

"This morning, the thick haze, coupled with fog, significantly reduced the visibility and has been causing respiratory problems," Yaser, a local inhabitant of Muara Teweh, said.

Elpi Epanop, the head of the education office of North Barito, decided to shut down schools from kindergarten level to senior high in nine sub-districts until September 30 due to the haze.

East Kalimantan fires escalate, affect local orangutan sanctuary
N. Adri The Jakarta Post 1 Oct 15;

Forest fires have continued to engulf parts of Kalimantan, leaving local residents and endangered animals and wildlife struggling to survive the several-week long disaster.

In East Kalimantan, fires that emerged since Tuesday night have reportedly burned some areas inside the 1,852-hectare Samboja Lestari orangutan sanctuary, located some 80 kilometers south of the provincial capital of Samarinda.

Last week, fires also burned some parts of the facility, which is managed by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF), but were finally extinguished by the weekend.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, BOSF spokesperson Nico Hermanu said the series of fires had so far razed over 200 hectares of forest in the facility, which currently accommodates 209 orangutans and 47 sun bears in its rehabilitation and reintroduction programs.

“The fires have also damaged our helipad,” he said, adding that the helipad was located only 200 meters away from the BOSF office.

Despite the fluctuating intensity of forest fires, the sanctuary management, still has no plan to relocate staff and animals from the facility in the immediate future.

“Our current concern is that our staff and animals will suffer from respiratory problems due to the haze,” Nico said.

From Tuesday evening, BOSF staff, supported by fire fighters and volunteers from the East Kalimantan Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina and the Environment and Forestry Ministry, have been deployed to extinguish fires in the facility.

Over the past several weeks, many regions in Indonesia, have been struggling to put out both man-made and natural land and forest fires. The ongoing disaster, which has also triggered a major haze crisis, has been exacerbated by this year’s long dry season triggered by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Earlier this week, the Sampit Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) in Central Kalimantan managed to evacuate an orangutan from the Wengga Metropolitan residential complex, Baamang district.

The endangered primate had been seen roaming around the area since last week, and was believed to have been displaced from its habitat due to the fires that have ravaged forests in the province over the past two months.

Despite being estimated to be 11 years old, the orangutan weighed only 20 kilograms, indicating that he was malnourished.

“We will take the orangutan to Pangkalan Bun city for [medical] examination. If he is physically fit and ready, we will soon return it to the Lamandau conservation forest,” Sampit BKSDA official Muriansyah said on Tuesday, as quoted by Antara news agency.

BKSDA officers, supported by BOSF staff, needed several hours to finally capture the orangutan, whom local residents affectionately call “Doni”. After several attempts, the officers finally managed to put him to sleep with tranquilizer darts.

The Switzerland-based environmental organization International Union for Conservation Nature (IUCN) has listed the orangutan an endangered species since 2000.

Forest fires in Ketapang regency, West Kalimantan, also forced two orangutans to flee from their habitat to a rubber plantation belong to residents of Kuala Satong subdistrict last week.

Ketapang BKSDA head Junaidi said on Tuesday the two orangutans, one estimated to be 30 years old and the other seven years old, had been captured by his officers.

“The evacuation was carried out after reports from local residents who had spotted an orangutan roaming around a well looking for water,” he said in a written statement. “The mother later came over, so they found two orangutans at the location.”

Paramedics on standby for evacuated infants in haze-hit Pekanbaru
Antara 1 Oct 15;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Pekanbaru administration has mobilized some paramedics who are on standby for 24 hours to help infants currently evacuated to the Pekanbaru municipality offices hall to protect them from the haze caused by forest fires.

"Since Wednesday, the hall has accommodated infants and their mothers," Head of the Pekanbaru health office Helda S. Munir noted here, Thursday.

The infant evacuation command post set up by the municipality is run by a doctor and two nurses, among others, in each shift.

An outpatient clinic has also been opened in the hall to treat those affected by the haze.

Pekanbaru Mayor Firdaus has issued an order to evacuate infants under six months of age in 12 sub-districts badly affected by haze arising from the forest fires.

The local authorities coordinate the evacuation of infants below six months of age from underprivileged families, he stated.

They are being evacuated to a city hall that has been transformed into a makeshift nursery and has been equipped with baby boxes, air conditioners, and a health clinic. The local authorities will also provide milk to the infants.

The evacuation has been deemed necessary as Pekanbarus air pollution index has reached a hazardous level over the past week.

"At present, the air pollution index in Pekanbaru has reached one thousand psi, which is categorized as hazardous," he remarked.

Poor families usually do not have good facilities for infants, thus the air quality inside their homes is similar to that outside, he noted.

"Therefore, we are trying to provide facilities, including good air conditioning, so that the infants, the countrys next generation, can breathe clean air," he affirmed.

The evacuation process is carried out by personnel of the local disaster mitigation office (BPBD), health office, community health centers, and village heads.

"The infants will stay at the city hall as long as the air quality is bad," the mayor noted.

The evacuation process is still ongoing. On the first day, the team evacuated a four-month-old infant and a two-year-old child belonging to a family.

"The family does not have the facility to blow away the haze from their house. The air inside and outside the house is the same," Mayor Firdaus stated.

The evacuation of infants is currently the priority, as the municipality does not have adequate funds to help pregnant women and elderly people, according to the mayor.(*)

Airlines calculate losses due to haze
Arif Gunawan S., 1 Oct 15;

Indonesia’s airlines are calculating the potential losses of flight delays and cancellations caused by smoke from wildfires, currently blanketing areas across Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Garuda Indonesia vice president of corporate communications Benny S. Butarbutar said that around 500 flights had been cancelled throughout September, due to smoke currently affecting several areas such Jambi, Palangkaraya (Central Kalimantan), Pontianak (West Kalimantan) and Riau.

“The effect of the haze on our businesses is very significant. From Sept. 3 to Sept. 21, at least 500 flights had to be cancelled. Our subsidiary, Citilink, had 250 flight cancellations during the period,” he told

Benny further said that Garuda and Citilink had prepared a measure called “3-R”, an abbreviation for Reroute, Reschedule and Refund, to respond to haze-related weather conditions.

He said if the visibility of the destined airport was poor, the pilot would try to reroute the flight to the nearest airport, which had better visibility. If the reroute option was not available, Garuda would decide to cancel and reschedule the flight, waiting for better visibility.

Meanwhile, the refund option was open when passengers decide to withdraw their flight booking permanently.

Sharing similar sentiments, Lion Mentari Airlines (Lion Air) general affairs director Edward Sirait said the current haze-related situation was bad for the airline. Many passengers cancelled their reservations and flights were forced to delay and even to cancel service totally.

“Surely, there is revenue loss due to this. We haven’t got the exact number and are still assessing how much it is going to be,” he said.

Edward said that at the moment, Lion Air crew members who were operating in haze-affected areas had continued to closely monitor the visibility in the airport. They sent reports every half hour, thus allowing flight schedules to be adjusted closer to the reality.

He said the airline had focused on the passenger’s safety in deciding whether or not the flight would continue to operate. “We have applied a contingency plan to follow during this kind of situation. Passengers' safety is our priority,” Edward said.

Benny said Garuda put the passengers first by offering in-flight rescheduling requests and even giving the passengers refunds.

Both of the airlines urged the government to do more to tame the fires.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said that the fires would likely continue until November. Bad weather caused by smoke from the wildfires would continue to threaten people’s health.

Responding to the situation, BNPB called on people to take preventive measures, especially from the health side.

“If it is painful for you to breathe, you have to seek medical treatment,” BNPB head Willem Rampangilei said as quoted by on Thursday.

BNPB also urged the people not to burn the land, saying that the government could not handle the situation entirely on its own. “If the people are aware of how to prevent fires themselves, God willing, it can be immediately resolved,” said Willem, adding that the government had intensified fire extinguishing efforts both via air and land. (ebf)

Palembang sees sharp hike in bus passengers due to haze 1 Oct 15;

Inter-city, inter-province (AKAP) buses connecting Palembang in South Sumatra with Jakarta and other areas of Java have seen a sharp increase in passenger numbers due to haze causing flight delays and cancellations at Sultan Mahmud Badarudin 2 Airport in Palembang.

Data from several bus agencies at Karya Jaya Palembang Terminal, 12 kilometers along the Palembang-Ogan Ilir eastern highway, shows a 60 percent increase in passengers using buses to travel from Palembang to Jakarta and other areas in Java during the last two weeks.

Representatives of the bus agencies said on Thursday that most passengers who had shifted to buses from airlines were traveling to destinations in Java, such as Jakarta and Bandung. They suspected that the passenger hike was due to smoke from wildfires in areas across Sumatra.

A manager of Lorena bus company at Karya Jaya Palembang Terminal, Cik Utin, said she was happy to see such a sharp hike in bus passengers in the city.

“To accommodate the passenger hike, our management has operated an additional two or three buses per day,” said Cik Utin as quoted by on Thursday.

Despite such a significant increase in passengers, Cik Utin said Lorena’s management had not increased bus fares. “The ticket prices are still same. There has been no fare increase,” she said.

A manager of a bus company serving the Pekan Baru-Jakarta route via Palembang, Hendro, said seats on his three of four buses a day to Jakarta were currently up to 90 percent full, every day.

As reported earlier, the haze disaster currently affecting several areas across Indonesia, including Palembang in South Sumatra, has led to flight delays and cancellations due to limited visibility. (edn/ebf)

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Malaysia: Litterbugs force closure of exotic Mossy Forest

AMANDA YEAP The Star 2 oct 15;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: The age-old Mossy Forest in Gunung Brinchang, famed for its exotic flora and lush mossy carpets, has been closed for a lengthy period due to excessive littering.

No activity is allowed at the boardwalk and inside the forest, including hiking up Gunung Irau, during the closure which will be in place until mid-2016.

The closure, effective yesterday, was announced by the Pahang Forestry Department on its Facebook page.

Its director Datuk Mohd Paiz Kamaruzaman described the need to clean up rubbish in the forest as “desperate”.

He said more bins would be placed to help reduce littering, especially at the boardwalk area.

“Signboards urging the public to conserve the Mossy Forest will be increased. Maintenance work will be carried out during the closure.

“The closure will also allow the regeneration and rehabilitation of mossy undergrowth, which is the special feature of the site,” he said, adding that the department would conduct regular patrols during holiday seasons and weekends.

Mohd Paiz said a dialogue with tour operators and NGOs would be held soon to seek their views on ways to conserve the forest.

The move to close the forest did not go down well with some tour guides.

One guide, who wanted to be known only as Bob, 37, blamed local tourists for it.

“There has to be enforcement to prevent people from destroying the site. Offenders should be fined,” he said. “What are we going to promote if the forest is closed?”

Fellow tour guide K. Subramaniam, 65, said the Malaysians destroyed plants by plucking them.

“They don’t listen to us but European and Middle-Eastern tourists do,” he said. “Sometimes, the foreigners even help clear out the trash.”

Another tour guide S. Thiru, 48, wanted to see the forest restored to its natural glory.

“Our Mossy Forest is one of its kind. Many people liken it to the fantastic forest scenes in The Lord of the Rings and Avatar. Our local film Puteri Gunung Ledang was also filmed there,” he added.

Visitors trespass into Mossy area
AMANDA YEAP The Star 4 Oct 15;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Three days after the closure of the popular Mossy Forest in Gunung Brinchang here, tourists are still keen on trespassing into the boardwalk despite the entrance being fenced up by zinc panels.

A check by The Star at 11.30am found that the panels, previously held together by metal wiring only, had been pried open.

“It was already like that when we got here,” said a tour guide, who wished to be known only as Boi, 26.

He said so far, no work had started in the forest yet, and tourists could still walk around to explore.

“The tourists I’m bringing are mostly senior citizens. It is impossible for them to trek the jungle using the natural trail because it’s dangerous for them.

“The best way for them to get their money’s worth for their trip up here is still through the boardwalk,” he said at the site yesterday.

Asked if he knew of the closure prior to the journey up here, Boi said he was not informed.

It was reported in The Star that the Mossy Forest had been closed, effective Oct 1 until mid-2016, due to excessive littering.

The Pahang Forestry Department announced on its Facebook page that no activity would be allowed, and that included hiking up Gunung Irau, during the closure.

Notices of the closure were also put up in front of the boardwalk and at the entry to the road up to Gunung Brinchang, but only in Bahasa Malaysia.

A couple from the Netherlands were spotted near the entrance, as they had made an arduous journey uphill from Brinchang town.

Student Ellen Boon, 24, said they did not hear or know anything about the closure from the locals.

“The signs are not in English, so we couldn’t understand them. It would be disappointing if we spent two and a half hours hiking our way up here for nothing.

“We’ll go in just to have a look. Our tour guide told us not to simply step on the moss, and we intend to listen to him,” said Boon, who had spent the last two months backpacking across Asia with her boyfriend Kevin Beijers, 21.

Kuala Lumpur-based fund manager Sean Yap, 30, had also just reached the entrance of the boardwalk with his family when he learned of the closure.

“This is pretty disappointing. I wanted to show my son around the Mossy Forest, but it looks like we’ll just have to come back another time.

“This place is a tourist attraction spot. I hope they will reopen it as soon as possible,” he said.

Tourists are not the only ones who were dismayed by the closure of the forest, as some tour guides continue to voice out their disagreement with the department’s decision.

Tour guide R. Ronald, 41, said the closure was particularly difficult for many tour operators because many foreign tourists had booked for the trip two to six months ahead.

“For a freelance tour guide like myself, I only get to earn more when I can guide my customers up into the Mossy Forest,” he said.

Ronald stressed that the authorities who built the boardwalk should be in charge of looking after this famous tourist spot.

“What’s the point of spending thousands on a place like this and they don’t look after it?

“If they can’t afford to do so, at least privatise it.

“Now that it is closed, they only put up a sign that is not even in English. How are the foreign tourists who hike up here on their own going to understand?” he said.

Ronald also urged the department to allow the boardwalk to remain open, and station rangers here to monitor the site to prevent litterbugs from throwing their trash indiscriminately.

On the other hand, tour guide M. Nathan, 40, said the closure was a decision many tour guides were forced to accept.

“It’s important to look toward its long-term benefits for tourism. Once it reopens, hopefully, there’ll be better amenities like toilets. Currently there are none,” he said.

Pahang Forestry Department director Datuk Mohd Paiz Kamaruzaman could not be reached for comments.

It was learnt that the tentative date for the department to meet with tour operators regarding the closure is Oct 13.

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Endangered tortoises seized en route to Malaysia

PATRICK LEE The Star 2 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: In the largest seizure of its kind in Madagascar, Customs officers there seized more than 700 critically endangered tortoises from being smuggled to Malaysia.

According to reports, the seizure of the 771 tortoises, "the size of a tennis ball," were made on Monday.

Conservation group, Turtle Survival Alliance, was quoted in the report as saying that the seizure was the largest of its kind yet.

It said most of the tortoises were "about the size of a tennis ball" and just a few years old.

On its Facebook page, the group said the tortoises were from the radiated and ploughshare species. The tortoises were found hidden in socks and childrens' diapers in two packages listed as "unaccompanied freight."

Neither the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry nor the Department of Wildlife and National Parks here could be reached for comment.

Both the species are critically endangered.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) also lists them as "Appendix I" animals, which means they can be moved only in exceptional circumstances and with a special permit.

CITES' website said such a permit can only be issued if it's for non-commercial purposes and if the movement would not endanger its species' survival.

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Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit calls on regional governments to shut down illegal bird markets

TRAFFIC 2 Oct 15;

Singapore, 2nd October 2015—Experts meeting at Asia’s first Songbird Trade Crisis Summit are calling on Asian governments to bring about an immediate end to the illegal and unsustainable trade that is decimating the region’s wild bird populations.

“The volume of trade is so high that once common wild birds are vanishing at an alarming rate, literally trapped out of existence,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

“We urge governments in the region, especially Indonesia, to take immediate and decisive steps to shut down the illegal trade in bird markets and take legal action against offenders.”

Co-organized by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), TRAFFIC and Cikananga Wildlife Center, the inaugural Asian Songbird Crisis Summit, held in Jurong Bird Park, Singapore, gathered over 35 experts on birds found in the Greater Sunda region to identify the most threatened songbirds and propose actions to save them from extinction.

Over the course of the three-day summit, experts agreed upon a priority list of 30 songbird species in the Greater Sunda region that are verging on extinction if the illegal trade is left unchecked, and identified 12 species needing immediate action.

Only three of these high-priority birds are currently categorized as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List: Javan Green Magpie, Black-winged Myna and Bali Myna. This suggests an urgent need to reassess the status of many of these priority species.

At the centre of the songbird trade is Indonesia, a country with an insatiable demand for songbirds. Of the 184 endemic Indonesian species identified being sold in TRAFFIC’s new report on Indonesian bird markets, 22 are listed as being protected by national law, and all are collected outside of the nation’s zero harvest quota.

Indonesia has the highest number of endemic bird species in the world and the highest number of bird species in Asia. It also has among the highest number of threatened birds globally (131), second only to Brazil (164), a country over five times its size.

To mitigate the crisis, the summit experts proposed actions to be jointly undertaken by academics, NGOs and zoological institutions. They include better education and community outreach, the establishment and expansion of ex situ assurance and breeding colonies such as those currently found at Jurong Bird Park, and further research into the taxonomy and wild populations of the birds. Such efforts must also be complemented with better trade monitoring, enhanced legal protection and effective enforcement.

“We’re in real danger of losing once common songbirds, but hardly anyone is noticing in the shadow of the global focus on poaching of Africa’s rhinos and elephants—but this is no less of a crisis for Asia’s wildlife,” said Dr Sonja Luz, Director of Conservation & Research at Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

“Wildlife Reserve Singapore is committed to conserving priority Asian songbirds through our continued support for in situ projects, and to work towards holistic and collaborative conservation action.”

This meeting has kick-started a long-term collaboration that summit members hope to develop into a specialist group under the IUCN.

“Swift action by the regional governments and conservation organizations is needed to save these beautiful songbirds from being silenced forever,” said Professor Nigel Collar of BirdLife International

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Plastic oceans: What do we know?

David Shukman BBC 2 Oct 15;

As England prepares to introduce a charge for plastic bags - long after many other countries - it's a good moment to catch up on the latest research into plastic in the oceans.

Images of seals, turtles and seabirds trapped in plastic rings, ropes and sheeting always have the power to shock.

And on a visit to Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, I saw for myself how the island's magnificent albatrosses were eating plastic waste that often proved fatal to them.

The tropical beaches were littered with the bodies of albatross chicks whose bellies were filled with everything from old toothbrushes to cigarette lighters to fragments of plastic toys.

One particularly moving sight was a baby albatross chick with a small plastic hook jammed in its beak - its parents would have mistaken the object for food.

And when a wildlife ranger pulled the hook out, we saw that it was attached to a little net of the kind that holds nuts or sweets in a supermarket.

Bird blight

It was a graphic example of the potentially deadly effect of our disposable culture - and rammed home the point to me that when it comes to throwing away rubbish, "away" is not some abstract space but a real location.

So how bad is the problem? The grim assessment on Midway was that every single bird was likely to have ingested some quantity of plastic.

And that chimes with much more recent worldwide research that estimates that 90% of all seabirds have swallowed plastic - and that by 2050, it's virtually certain that any bird found dead will have plastic in its stomach.

So to make that projection feasible, how much of the stuff is drifting in the oceans?

Getting an exact number is never going to be possible but my colleague Jon Amos reported on research earlier this year that came up with an estimate: that about eight million tonnes of plastic waste are added to the oceans every year.

That obviously comes with caveats - and a range of possibilities - but highlights how the scale of the problem is growing.

That's because the plastic, cleverly and usefully designed to be flexible and durable, lingers in the waters.

Plastic trawl

First to break down are the plastic bags - the stresses of wind, waves and tides start to tear them apart and eventually break them into a blizzard of millions of tiny pieces.

At this point the waste switches from being a highly visible problem to one that's almost invisible to the naked eye but potentially far more damaging - and these so-called micro-plastics have become the focus of a whole new field of research.

I joined a team from Plymouth Marine Laboratory on board the research vessel, the Quest, as a series of collecting operations was carried out.

At six different sites - each being sampled once a month - an array of three large nets was lowered just below the surface and dragged through the water for 10 minutes at a time.

At the base of each net was a small container and, when the equipment was retrieved on to the stern of the vessel, the contents were filtered and then analysed.

The most striking finding so far is that every single sampling operation in the course of the project has found pieces of plastic - usually very small, some white, some blue, but mingling unmistakeably with clouds of that vital life-form, plankton.

Back in the laboratory, the scientists reckon that roughly one-third of these plastic fragments have come from the remains of bags or wrapping.

Tiny meal

Some of the stuff has been blown off landfill sites that are close to the shore. Much of the rest might have come from sewers.

So does this matter? At this stage, no-one can tell.

Tests have shown very clearly that when miniscule particles of plastic are in the water, then the creatures at the bottom of the food chain do ingest them.

Remarkable video footage shows fluorescent pieces of plastic drifting near some copepods - a form of plankton - and then being sucked in by them, travelling into their guts.

And if the plastics reach that fundamental layer of the web of ocean feeding, then in theory they can be passed up into the kinds of seafood that we might eat.

So could plastic pollution harm human health?

One of those involved in the project, Prof Tamara Galloway of Exeter University, quotes research estimating that anyone consuming an average amount of seafood would ingest about 11,000 plastic particles a year.

That sounds a lot, and there's a presumption that this can't be good for people, but getting to grips with the precise implications will take a lot more work.

I ask Tamara and her colleagues if they are now eating less seafood. Yes, is the answer.

Changed behaviour

I can't help noticing that their sampling bottles are made of plastic but what about their everyday lives - do they avoid the stuff?

Yes, they say - "we don't buy plastic bottles of water and try to avoid plastic wrapping on food".

The plan to introduce a 5p charge for plastic bags in England goes down well - anything that slows the stream of plastic into the environment is welcomed.

But even if that stream could be totally shut off tomorrow - on every continent and in every ocean - the effects will still be felt for decades to come.

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