Best of our wild blogs: 4 Oct 15



Kusu Pilgrimage Season: 13 Oct - 11 Nov 2015
wild shores of singapore

Life History of the Dingy Bush Brown
Butterflies of Singapore


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Insufficient evidence from studies to use an hourly PSI

FONG PENG KEONG, DIRECTOR, POLLUTION CONTROL DEPARTMENT, NATIONAL ENVIRONMENT AGENCY
Today Online 3 Oct 15;

We thank Mr Tan Zhi Rui for his suggestions in “Hourly PSI readings would allow for better decision-making” (Sept 28). The National Environment Agency (NEA) is providing hourly, real-time haze information on our various platforms.

Since April last year, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), three-hour PSI and one-hour PM2.5 concentrations have been published hourly, on the hour, on the NEA website, the haze microsite (www.haze.gov.sg/haze-updates/pollutant-concentrations) and our myENV mobile app.

The scale used to convert PM2.5 concentrations to the PSI has been derived based on health studies of exposure over a 24-hour period. This is why the NEA uses the 24-hour average concentrations to compute the PSI.

Although there have been recent studies of sub-daily or shorter PM2.5 exposure, the evidence from these studies is insufficient for the development of one-hour PSI based on exposure to PM2.5 for a one-hour period.

During periods of transboundary haze, the primary pollutant determining the PSI level is fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. Only the 24-hour PSI value has a corresponding Ministry of Health advisory because scientific and epidemiological studies of the health effects of exposure to particulate matter have been based on this duration of exposure.

The forecast of 24-hour PSI levels, which the NEA issues every evening during haze periods, and the corresponding health advisory can be used to plan ahead, such as for activities for the next day. For a guide to more immediate activities, the three-hour PSI and one-hour PM2.5 concentration levels can be used as indicative measures to make adjustments to daily activities.

For example, if the three-hour PSI and one-hour PM2.5 concentration levels are high, people may wish to postpone strenuous outdoor activities such as jogging.

The health impact of air pollution is related to the concentration levels of pollutants, the duration of exposure, as well as the individual’s health status and level of activity.

For more information, members of the public may visit our website (www.nea.gov.sg) and the haze microsite, follow us on Twitter (@NEAsg) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/NEASingapore) or download the myENV app.


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Singapore's haze problem dates back to the 1970s, records show

Samantha Boh, Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Oct 15;

Singapore has been plagued by haze since the 1970s, and it is unrealistic to think that the problem can be solved in three years, as Indonesian President Joko Widodo has predicted, experts told The Straits Times.

While some of the measures he put in place may help alleviate the situation, broad changes must happen both on the ground and at the government level there to have a real impact.

Said Professor Euston Quah, head of Nanyang Technological University's Department of Economics: "It will certainly take more than three years to greatly reduce the fire episodes."

Among other things, laws need to be changed and greater coordination is required among various government institutions, he said.

And National University of Singapore law professor Alan Tan noted that the problem was not just about companies setting fires, but hinged on the unfair parcelling of land.

"There is a deeper problem of land use inequity affecting local communities whose lands are taken by the companies, often with the collusion of corrupt officials. This results in villagers encroaching into plantation lands, and both sides use fires indiscriminately for their own ends," he said.

"This aspect of the problem cannot realistically be solved in a matter of a few years. It must involve fundamental reform of land use policies."

Prof Tan stressed that there is no way to ban fires altogether, as it remains the fastest and cheapest way to clear land in an agrarian economy like Indonesia.

"The goal should be to ensure controlled burning, and this must take into account complexities like weather patterns, peat lands, land use disputes, local government autonomy and corrupt local officials."

Records show that the haze has plagued Singapore as far back as 43 years ago.

On Oct 18, 1972, a Straits Times article headlined "Persistent haze" warned Singaporeans to prepare for several more weeks of haze discomfort caused by extensive fires in Sumatra and Indonesia Borneo.

Shocked citizens had then said they were suffocating in their flats. An earlier article that month had reported that a "heavy dust haze enveloped large area of Singapore", affecting thousands of commuters.

That was to be the first of many similar experiences. The haze has shrouded the island time and again, and now, Singapore is bracing itself for what could be its worst prolonged spell of haze to date.

Scientists have warned that this year's episode could be as bad as or even worse than 1997's conditions - widely regarded as the most serious haze event on record.

That year, the haze lasted three months and cost Singapore an estimated US$163 million (S$232 million).

This year, it has so far stretched for 11/2 months, with no respite in sight.

Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, said: "If it is true that the current conditions are tracking those experienced in 1997, we should be prepared for a longer period of haze, with levels similar to those experienced during the last three weeks."


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Haze crisis set to be 'one of the worst on record'

Francis Chan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Oct 15;

The transboundary haze crisis, which has sent air pollution levels soaring, is on course to set a new precedent with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) the latest to say it could become one of the worst on record.

Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan - one of the hardest hit by smoke from raging forest fires in Indonesia - yesterday had a Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) level that hit 1,936. In Indonesia, a PSI reading of 350 and above is considered hazardous.

It takes a far lower reading for schools to be closed. Thousands of troops and policemen have been deployed to fight forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra, the other island where fires are burning on peatlands starved of moisture due to the lack of rain.

The Indonesian national police have arrested hundreds of suspects and started probes into several plantation firms in connection with the use of outlawed slash-and-burn techniques to clear land.

Canals with dams in fire-prone areas are being built to prevent peatlands from drying out in the dry season.

These measures, observers told The Straits Times earlier this week, are by far the most wide-ranging effort by any Indonesian government in dealing with the annual haze crisis since 1997.

However, Nasa warns that the prolonged dry season ahead means air pollution levels in the region may be among the worst on record.

"Conditions in Singapore and south-eastern Sumatra are tracking close to 1997," said Dr Robert Field, a Columbia University scientist based at Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in an Agence France-Presse report yesterday.

"If the forecasts for a longer dry season hold, this suggests 2015 will rank among the most severe events on record."

Climate experts here have said the dry weather will continue to pose the greatest challenge in the fight against the haze.

Most agree with Dr Field, noting that the extreme dry weather during this El Nino season will continue to cause peatlands to burn more readily.

Palangkaraya-based weather forecaster Roland Binery told The Straits Times that the haze in the area worsened again yesterday because there were new fires developing and spreading in the Tumbang Nusa and Pulang Pisau areas.

"The prevailing wind blew from the south carrying the smoke from there to Palangkaraya," he said.

Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) said yesterday that it had reiterated on Thursday the country's offer of help to tackle the fires, including providing aircraft to conduct water bombing and cloud-seeding operations.

"Indonesia clarified at the meeting that it had enough resources of its own and did not need to call on the assistance offered by Singapore at this time," said MEWR, referring to the high-level meeting between Singapore and Indonesia on Thursday, initiated by the Indonesian government.

Kuala Lumpur marathon cancelled as city turns grey with smog
AFP AsiaOne 4 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR - One of Malaysia's biggest marathons was cancelled on Saturday over fears the health of more than 30,000 runners was at risk from thick smoke caused by Indonesian forest fires that have sparked a regional environmental crisis.

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Organisers of the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon set for Sunday said it would not be held due to worsening air quality in Kuala Lumpur, which was shrouded in an acrid grey haze from the slash-and-burn fires.

The haze has afflicted large swathes of Southeast Asia for weeks, sparking health alerts,school shutdowns and affecting flights.

Robert Field, a Columbia University scientist based at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been quoted by the space agency as saying that a possible longer dry season might make the 2015 haze crisis "the most severe on record".

Scientists predict the current crisis could surpass 1997 levels, when out-of-control fires sent pollution soaring to record highs in an environmental disaster that cost an estimated US$9.0 billion.

The fires on plantations and peatlands that are being illegally cleared by burning are located on Indonesia's huge islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

Close to half of Malaysia's 52 pollutant monitoring stations around the country, including those in the capital, registered "unhealthy" air quality on Saturday.

"The health and safety of all our runners remains our top priority," organisers of the marathon, with prize money at US$120,000, said in a statement on their website.

Runners applauded the cancellation of Kuala Lumpur's 42.2-kilometre marathon, with some taking digs at Indonesia over the mess.

"This cancelation needs an apology from (the) Indonesian government as well," read one comment on Facebook.

Another social media remark read: "Wise decision by the organisers. No one wants to cancel a big event like this but the air quality is really bad. Safety of runners is of paramount importance."

The annual Kuala Lumpur race has gained popularity since it started in 2009 with more participants from overseas taking part over the years.

Indonesia under pressure to control forest fires cloaking the country and its neighbours in smoke
Forests deliberately set alight for agriculture have caused pollution beyond state’s borders, which has now reached dangerous levels
Charlie Cooper The Guardian 3 Oct 15;

Pressure is mounting on Indonesia to control forest fires that continue to cloak the country and its South-east Asian neighbours in a choking haze. US Space agency Nasa is warning that the smog could be one of the worst on record. Despite Indonesian government efforts to contain the fires, which are deliberately started by companies using “slash and burn” techniques to clear land for agriculture, this year’s haze has been exacerbated by unusually dry conditions. Once started, fires can spread many miles from their source and are fuelled by peat-rich soils.

According to the Global Fire Emissions Database, this year’s burn has produced 600m tons of greenhouse gases – equivalent to what industrialised Germany produces in carbon dioxide annually.

The extent of the haze is now polluting relations between Jakarta and its neighbours, who are also suffering.

In the past month, pollution readings in Singapore have hit levels considered dangerous. Throughout the region, schools have been periodically closed, flights grounded and the elderly issued with pollution masks as smog levels spike. In Pekanbaru, in Sumatra’s Riau province, one of the worst-hit areas, a makeshift clinic for new-born babies was set up in an air-conditioned room in the mayor’s office. Malaysia evacuated 173 of its citizens from the region last month. The conditions have prompted protests outside Indonesia’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Nasa satellite evidence revealed particle levels similar to the peak of the last major haze event in 2006. “If the forecasts for a longer dry season hold, this suggests 2015 will rank among the most severe on record,” said Dr Robert Field at Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Indonesia has repeatedly faced calls from its neighbours to control the fires. This year, 20,000 troops have been deployed to Sumatra and the country’s Kalimantan territory on Borneo, using water-bombing and even chemically-induced rainfall to help control the fires.

Wildlife has also come under threat, with orang-utan sanctuaries reporting a rise in the number of rescued animals, left stranded and without food by fires.

Dr Karmele Llano Sanchez, veterinary director at International Animal Rescue’s sanctuary in Kalimantan, Indonesia, said the fires were also making it easier for hunters to find and trap infant orang-utans for the illegal pet trade.

Campaigners’ hopes for a legal crackdown on the fires in Indonesia have been raised by the government’s successful case last month against palm oil company PT Kallista Alam, which was forced to pay $25.6m (£17.5m) in compensation for illegal burning.


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Maybe monkeys too need N95 masks

Natalia Huang, The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Oct 15;

Dry throat and itchy eyes - Singapore residents have all become reluctantly familiar with the effects of haze on our bodies. Even pets are suffering from haze-related illnesses, as reported recently.

So what about the wild animals in Singapore's forests and streams? They don't have the luxury of N95 masks or air purifiers (whose value in a forest would be questionable), and they can't escape behind closed windows. Are they dying in the dozens or doing just fine?

Essentially, the scientific answer is: We don't know. Little research has been conducted on the topic.

As an ecologist, I've spoken to several zoologists and botanists on this topic recently. Based on what we know about animals and their needs, and what we know about the haze, these experts shared their observations and opinions on the potential impact of haze.

The haze has two main effects on the environment that affect animals: smoke and sunshine.

SMOKY EFFECTS

First, smoke. This is the most obvious effect of haze. Animals need to breathe, and the presence of smoke and pollutants in the air could cause breathing difficulties for them just like it does for humans.

Birds, for example, consistently take in oxygen to support their active lifestyles of flying, foraging for food, looking for a mate and singing. With less available oxygen in the smoky air to fuel them, birds might be expected to be less active.

And that seems to be the case - captive birds are reported to be quieter and less active on hazy days, and researchers have noticed bird activity to be lower this month in an ongoing rooftop garden study. This means less time spent doing important things like looking for a mate.

Frogs, too, are less active during the haze, not unlike their response during dry periods, Dr David Bickford, an expert on frogs, says. Their permeable skins and need for moisture might mean they are sensitive to the hotter and drier air the haze brings. Frogs may be quieter during hazy periods, with the males not calling as passionately.

The effects of smoke on mammals are probably easier to understand as they are most like us. For example, monkeys have eyes like ours and lungs like ours (albeit smaller and therefore less able to handle pollutants), and probably experience a dry throat and itchy eyes like we do.

In the immediate term, young and elderly monkeys might suffer the most, but the rest of the population is likely to be fine, if slightly less rambunctious than usual.

EFFECTS OF SUNSHINE

If we are lucky, the haze-filtered sun casts an eerie orange light on the country; if we are unlucky, the sun is blocked out entirely, and this seems to bother some animals.

Two butterfly experts, Mr Anuj Jain and Mr Simon Chan, told me they recall seeing fewer butterflies during the 2013 haze event, and think this might have been related to the lack of sunshine.

Butterflies are more active on sunny days, frenetically feeding and frolicking with potential suitors. When butterflies are less active, they might not reproduce - and given that the average lifespan of an adult butterfly is three weeks, (well within the normal timeframe of a haze event), the butterflies might die without reproducing.

But decreased activity in one or two generations is not enough to impact the populations, Mr Jain says, as insect numbers naturally fluctuate over time. Butterflies have a neat survival trick of choosing to spend more time in egg or pupae stages until they sense better environmental conditions for life.

Butterflies and other wildlife in this region have probably not evolved to deal with fire and haze, given that it is a recent human- induced phenomenon. Short-term disruptions may not affect entire species or ecosystems, but long-term effects are unknown.

Apart from animals, plants also depend on sunshine. They need sunshine to photosynthesise, and this gives them food to grow and to produce leaves and fruit. Less sunshine is available to plants when dust settles on their leaves and when the sun is blocked out by the haze.

Extensive research in Indonesia has been conducted on plant response to haze since the 1990s - their findings show that plants grow slower, lose leaves faster and photosynthesise less due to reduced radiation and elevated pollution levels.

This means plants will probably produce fewer fruits when it's hazy. This is why palm oil production is expected to be lower this year as less palm fruit is expected.

But there is yet another consequence of haze that could damage the health of plants, wildlife and entire ecosystems: the effect of acidity and nutrients.

If the haze is a result of forest fires, it follows that haze is composed of carbon-based particles. When these particles dissolve in rainwater, it could result in acidification of the rainwater, which in turn would increase the acidity of any environment that the rainwater lands in.

Such acidic rain could dissolve protective leaf cuticles, increase soil acidity leading to root death, and affect vital soil cycles. All of this would weaken plants, leaving them vulnerable to pathogen attack, says botanist Lahiru Wijedasa.

"Increasing acidity just needs to affect one plant process in a magnitude enough that will affect everything else - and the same applies to all ecosystem processes," Mr Wijedasa told me.

Ecosystem-level changes could be more dangerous than changes to individual species as such changes could impact entire ecosystems and the plants and animals that make up that ecosystem.

Increasing acidity could also directly affect aquatic animals such as tiny insects, crabs and frogs. Such species can be more sensitive to pollutants, and may also react to any increase in nutrient levels in the streams. While nutrients are desirable, excess nutrients can have devastating effects on ecosystems, particularly freshwater systems.

Researchers found nutrient levels of nitrogen and phosphorus were up to eight times higher in the coastal waters of Singapore during previous haze events - but we don't know if similar effects occur in our forest streams too.

Frog eggs and tadpole development could be compromised, especially in our less hardy forest species, which are more likely to undergo high physiological stress, says Ms Mary-Ruth Low, amphibian and reptile researcher.

But the impact of haze may not be direct. A real risk is that the haze depresses the immune system of an animal and leaves it open to attack from bacteria, viruses and other baddies - this is why we often get colds during a haze event. A disease a healthy animal can fight off under normal conditions might become the straw that breaks the camel's back in the haze.

In the absence of rigorous studies, all we can offer as wildlife and ecology experts are our observations and considered opinions. Wildlife - and humans - might be able to handle short bouts of haze, but of concern is prolonged exposure, repeated exposure, high extremes and the impact over the long term.

How to mitigate the impact of the haze on wildlife is similar to that for humans - reduce the haze through better agricultural practices - for example, sustainable oil palm practices which do not burn forests or peat forests for planting crops.

What's good for Homo sapiens in this case is good for wildlife too.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

The writer is principal ecologist at Ecology Matters, an environmental consultancy providing ecological advice and biodiversity studies for environmental impact assessments.


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Multiple events in Singapore cancelled due to haze

Day one of the FINA/airweave Swimming World Cup, FOX's zombie apocalypse challenge and a heritage trail challenge were among the events cancelled on Saturday (Oct 3).
Channel NewsAsia 3 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Multiple events were cancelled on Saturday (Oct 3) due to the deteriorating air quality in the Republic.

Day one of the finals at the FINA/airweave Swimming World Cup, slated to start that evening, were among them. Organisers of the two-day event say the upward trend in the 3-hour PSI readings prompted the cancellation, for the safety of all, including athletes and spectators.

The heats of the international event had also been rescheduled in the morning.

The Corporate Community Games also cancelled its opening ceremony, as well as events such as the dragon boat competition. This, after the 3-hour PSI at 7am was 172, while the 24-hour PSI was in the Unhealthy range.

Also cancelled was a zombie apocalypse challenge - FOX The Walking Dead Mission Survive - meant to be held in the Marina Bay area.

Meanwhile, a heritage trail challenge organised by CapitaLand was also affected. Organisers had informed participants of the cancellation via SMS at about 5am on Saturday.

- CNA/ek

FINA Swimming World Cup finals cancelled due to haze
A FINA spokesperson says they will monitor the PSI for events scheduled for Sunday, but are currently set to go ahead as planned.
Channel NewsAsia 3 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Day one of the finals for the FINA/airweave Swimming World Cup Singapore 2015 scheduled for 6pm on Saturday (Oct 3) has been cancelled due to the haze situation in Singapore.

Organisers said: “Considering the guidelines and regulations suggested by NEA (National Environment Agency), and the deteriorating haze situation today, we have decided to cancel the finals scheduled for this evening.”

"Spectators who have purchased tickets for this evening's session will be eligible for a refund," organisers added. Those with season passes will be notified on refunds by Thursday.

The payment of the prize money for Saturday’s races that were cancelled will be based on the comparison of the best times made in other events of the second cluster in Hong Kong and Beijing, said the Singapore Swimming Association.

"With the haze caused by the fires in Indonesia, the health and safety of all athletes, guests, officials, spectators, volunteers and staff remain as our top priority," said Organising Committee of the Cup's chairman Ang Peng Wee.

Following the cancellation, the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) said they may consider any class action suits against any Singapore-listed company linked to the burning of forests in Indonesia.

"The haze caused by the raging fires in Indonesia not only poses a threat to our health, but it also destroys the months of hard work put into preparing for programmes and events like the FINA/airweave Swimming World Cup Singapore 2015, which was to be held at the OCBC Aquatic Centre this evening," said SSA Vice President of Finance Jose Raymond.

"The investment put into the event, through sponsors, time spent by our staff and volunteers, and the effort taken by athletes and officials to travel to Singapore have been wasted beyond measurement," added the former CEO of the Singapore Environment Council. "The Singapore Swimming Association, along with FINA deeply regrets cancelling day one of the finals.

"On our part, the SSA will seek legal advice and may consider joining other parties and individuals in any class action suit which is brought against any Singapore-listed company which is linked to the burning of forests in Indonesia which is now causing one of the worst haze episodes to affect the region and in particular Singapore."

Saturday morning's heats went ahead, but the men's 1,500-metre and woman's 800-metre freestyle events were cancelled, also due to the haze. The 3-hour PSI at 5pm on Saturday was 222, while the 24-hour PSI was 144-182, in the Unhealthy range.

Singapore Swimming Association President Lee Kok Choy says those who were scheduled to swim Saturday evening would be disappointed at the cancellation.

"We are disappointed, because of the haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia," he said. "Some of them managed to swim in the morning, and that went quite well, but those who were scheduled to swim in the evening will be quite disappointed I'm sure."

Among them was Singapore swimmer Danny Yeo who was set to compete in the 100m and 400m freestyle.

"I am pretty disappointed as I wanted to improve my times from the heats this morning in the finals, but I understand that it is for the safety of the swimmers and completely understand that it had to be cancelled," he said.

Executive Director of FINA Cornel Marculescu says the schedule for Sunday "is still unchanged depending on weather condition".

More information can be found on their website.

- CNA/ek


Haze causes evening session of FINA/airweave World Cup to be cancelled
GERARD WONG Today Online 3 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — The organisers of the Singapore leg of the FINA/airweave World Cup have cancelled this evening (Oct 3)'s session as a result of the worsening haze situation.

According to a status update on the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA)'s Facebook page, the decision to cancel the session at the OCBC Aquatic Centre was made after the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading hit 190 at 4pm, veering close to the Very Unhealthy Range (201-300).

A media statement by Organising Committee Chairman Ang Peng Wee said: With the haze caused by the fires in Indonesia, the health and safety of all athletes, guests, officials, spectators, volunteers and staff remain as our top priority. Hence, with the deteriorating 3-hr PSI reading, we have made the decision to cancel the finals scheduled for 6pm this evening.

Organisers added that spectators who purchased tickets for this evening's session will be eligible for a refund.

The organisers are adopting a wait-and-see approach with regards to tomorrow's scheduled heats (10am) and finals (6pm).

According to them, the events will run as per normal.

FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu said in a statement: "Considering the guidelines and regulations suggested by NEA, and the deteriorating haze situation today, we have decided to cancel the finals scheduled for this evening.

"The schedule for tomorrow is still unchanged depending on weather condition.

We apologise to the local organizing committee, to our partners, to our local and overseas broadcasters who have bought broadcast rights for events, to our title sponsor airweave, series sponsors Omega and Speedo, and to all partners engaged by the local organizing committee.

We also apologise to all the fans of swimming around the world.

We look forward to providing an outstanding swim meet tomorrow."

Top swimmers at this year's FINA/airweave World Cup leg in Singapore include American Missy Franklin, who has won four Olympic golds, and Hungary's Katinka Hosszu who holds multiple world records.


Haze disrupts global swimming event
Chua Siang Yee, The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Oct 15;

The haze yesterday cost Singapore part of a star-studded international sporting event, one of the highlights of the Singapore swimming calendar. And similar haze conditions are expected to continue today, although there is a chance of relief depending on wind direction.

Organisers of the Singapore leg of the Fina Swimming World Cup yesterday decided to cancel the evening finals at the Sports Hub's OCBC Aquatic Centre, an open-air facility. And that meant spectators who paid $25 for a day pass or $40 for a two-day season pass had to miss world-class clashes, such as the 200m backstroke final featuring American Olympic champion Missy Franklin and Australia's world champion Emily Seebohm.

Instead, the medals went to the three fastest swimmers in the morning heats, while spectators were informed that they could get a refund for the affected session.

The event, which ends today, features over 260 top swimmers from around the world as they try to qualify for next year's Olympics. Said Seebohm: "It's disappointing for us but nothing can be done. The health of the swimmers is important and I wouldn't want to risk my health."

Ms Felicia Ayling, a teacher who had bought tickets to yesterday's final for her daughter and herself, also spoke of her disappointment. "We've got tickets for tomorrow and we hope the haze clears up," added the 44-year-old.

The Singapore Swimming Association and world swimming body Fina, the organisers, said on Friday that races would be scrapped if the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was above 200 just before the start of each session.

With yesterday's reading increasing from 168 at 2pm to 190 by 4pm, they decided to cancel the 6pm evening session, which comprised 15 finals. The eventual three-hour PSI reading at 6pm was 242.

Fina executive director Cornel Marculescu, who apologised for the cancellation, said the decision was made after considering National Environment Agency (NEA) guidelines and yesterday's deteriorating haze situation. He said today's race programme, in which the heats are scheduled for 10am, and finals are set for 6pm, remains unchanged.

The haze also forced the Sports Hub to close its water sports centre and Splash-N-Surf facilities. It said on its Facebook page that all activities at its outdoor venues would stop if the three-hour PSI reading exceeds 200. If it rises above 300, all activities at the Hub would stop. Singtel TV and Fox television channel also called off a morning event at Marina Bay for around 1,500 fans of The Walking Dead series, ahead of its return next week.

Thursday's 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Singapore and Afghanistan at the National Stadium is also at risk.

A Football Association of Singapore spokesman said: "Should the haze in Singapore worsen considerably, a decision will be taken by Asian Football Confederation match officials on the most appropriate course of action in the best interests of all parties."

At 9pm yesterday, the 24-hour PSI was at 152 to 187 - well into the unhealthy range. Haze levels were worse in the afternoon, said the NEA, as haze from the surrounding region was blown in by the prevailing southerly winds.

Today, the haze levels are expected to be between the high end of the unhealthy range and the low end of the very unhealthy range (when the 24-hour PSI goes above 200). But with prevailing southerly winds forecast to shift gradually to blow from the south-east, the haze may drop to the mid-level of the unhealthy range.

Additional reporting by Priscilla Goy


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New changes introduced to Green Homes @ North West programme

It is part of an initiative jointly organised by the National Environment Agency, North West Community Development Council and Singapore Environment Council to encourage households to certify their homes.
Nur Afifah Ariffin, Channel NewsAsia 3 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: New changes have been introduced to the existing Green Homes @ North West programme to encourage households to take small progressive steps towards becoming a certified ideal Green Home.

It is part of an initiative jointly organised by the National Environment Agency (NEA), North West Community Development Council (CDC), and Singapore Environment Council (SEC).

This includes two new criteria and a three-tier ranking awarded to home owners who fulfil the various criteria of a Green Home. The new criteria calls for home owners to allow natural ventilation in common living spaces, as well as choosing a television with a five-tick energy efficiency rating.

The previous five criteria included owning electrical appliances with the three-tick rating on the new energy label, using an instantaneous water heater and having a recyclable collection corner.

Households which fulfil any three of the seven criteria will be awarded Silver and four criteria for Gold, while those that fulfil all seven criteria will be awarded Platinum. The launch of the enhanced Green Homes @ North West was attended by MPs from the various constituencies in the North West district on Saturday (Oct 3).

They are Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Acting Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, Mayor of North West District Teo Ho Pin, Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin, as well as fellow MPs from the North West District, Dr Lee Bee Wah, Mr Vikram Nair, and Mr Henry Kwek.

Since November 2013, the existing programme has reached out to home owners of 19,000 Build-to-Order (BTO) units in the district. It now aims to target some 40,000 owners of new and existing housing units.

"Environmental ownership is one of the key efforts in terms of promoting green Singapore, and also the world,” said Dr Teo. “We live in a world with limited resources and all of us can play a part to make it sustainable. One of the most sustainable habits is actually to go Green Living lifestyle. We hope that through all these green living habits, our residents can adopt a green living lifestyle and from there adopt Green Living in North West."

Dr Teo added: "In the past, we had five criteria. So we thought that by increasing the criteria, first we can provide some challenges to our residents to keep their homes green. At the same time also, we can encourage more of them to participate in Green Home @ North West. The whole idea is to encourage ownership among our home owners to actually adopt green living habits."

- CNA/ek


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No Plan By Malaysian Individuals, Groups To Sue Indonesian Companies Over Haze - Nancy Shukri

Bernama 3 Oct 15;

KUCHING, Oct 3 (Bernama) -- No individual or group in Malaysia has plans to initiate legal action against companies in Indonesia deemed to be responsible for the current haze, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nancy Shukri.

She said those with such an intention would need to "first study the international law in terms of our jurisdiction".

Nancy was asked to comment on the initiative by the Singapore government to sue five Indonesian companies for allegedly causing the haze which has also badly affected the island state.

She said the issue could be quite debatable because to proceed, there needed to be strong evidence that any company being sued was really responsible and was causing the haze in a specific area.

"We have yet to see the success of the Singapore action. It is definitely going to be very challenging," she said.

According to Nancy, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia were always having discussions on the haze problem.

"I hope something positive can come out of these," she said after officiating at the "Quality Day" celebration of Sekolah Menengah Teknik Sejingkat.

In her speech, she reminded students that technical and vocational education and training (TVET) would give them more opportunities to secure employment as the country progressed towards achieving high-income society status by 2020.

She said that out of the 1.5 million new jobs created in many programmes under the 11th Malaysia Plan, 60 per cent would be based on TVET qualifications.

"In Sarawak, the Sarawak Corridor of Renewal Energy (SCORE) will generate some 1.6 million jobs. These too are going to be mainly technical in specifications," she said.

-- BERNAMA


Read more!

Malaysia: Flights disrupted due to poor visibility

The Star 4 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: Deteriorating air quality disrupted flights at two major airports in pe­­ninsular Malaysia and MetMalaysia is warning that the haze could last longer than first expected.

Six AirAsia flights to and from KLIA2 and eight to and from Penang International Airport were disrupted as of 5pm.

“This is due to visibility below the minimum level caused by the haze. Affected passengers were notified and attended to accor­dingly at the airport,” said AirAsia Berhad in a statement.

The airline added that it would continue to monitor the situation closely and keep its guests informed.

A spokesman for Malaysia Airport Holding Berhad said visibility at KLIA had dropped to 0.7km from 2km the previous day.

But he said no flight had to be cancelled at any airports as a result of the haze.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Madius Tangau said MetMalaysia initially predicted the haze to ease by the start of this month.

But the formation of a tropical storm in the Philippines had resulted in consistent south-west winds bringing the transboundary haze back over Malaysia, he said.

“The tropical storm known as the Mujigae, formed on Oct 1, had resulted in the south-west winds,” he said in a statement.

He said Malaysia should get a short reprieve between Oct 6 and Oct 9 following a change in wind direction.

The haze is predicted to make a comeback if fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan are not extinguished on Oct 10 on the heels of another tropical storm in the eastern Philippines.

A total of 23 areas reported unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings as of 5pm compared with only 13 areas at noon.

Areas recording the highest API readings were Seremban (170), Nilai (169), Shah Alam (166), Port Klang (159) and Petaling Jaya (153).

The Health Ministry has also made necessary preparations to face the possible increase in cases of illnesses.

Its deputy minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahya said there was enough medicine and face masks to meet the situation.

In George Town, many Penangites cancel­led their outdoor activity as the haze wor­sened and hit the unhealthy level.

The Seberang Prai Municipal Council issued a notice, saying that its Car-Free Morning event today in Jalan Todak 2 and Jalan Todak 3 in Seberang Jaya had been cancelled due to the unhealthy air quality.

The air quality in Penang deteriorated as the day progressed yesterday, with the DOE monitoring station at Universiti Sains Malaysia registering API readings of 71 at 6am, 81 at 11am and 99 at 2pm before breaching the unhealthy level at 4pm with a reading of 109.

However, Penang International Airport senior manager Mohd Ariff Jaafar said there were no flight cancellation as yet.


Worsening haze leads to cancellation of games, low visibility warnings
The Star 4 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: The worsening haze situation in the Klang Valley and several parts of the country has led to the cancellation of se­veral sporting events as well as warnings about plunge in visibility.

Four Malaysia Cup matches last night were called off while the Standard Chartered KL Marathon scheduled for today was also cancelled.

The called off matches are – Group A’s Johor Darul Ta’zim II vs Terengganu (Pasir Gudang Stadium), Group B’s Armed Forces vs Sarawak (Tuanku Abdul Rahman Stadium, Paroi), Group D’s Police vs Pahang (Shah Alam Stadium) and PKNS FC vs Penang (Selayang Stadium).

The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) competitions committee came to the decision based on the request by the match commissioners after the Air Pollution Index (API) soared above the 150 level.

However, the Group C match between T-Team and Felda United at the Sultan Ismail Stadium in Kuala Terengganu will continue as scheduled.

Organisers of the Standard Chartered KL Marathon said in a press statement yesterday that the health and safety of runners remain­ed their top priority.

“Since our last announcement, the haze has unfortunately reached unhealthy levels according to the latest monitored alert.”

The statement said the decision to call off the event was made on the advice of the me­­dical team, the Malaysian Athletics Federation and the Institut Sukan Negara.

“It had the support of co-organisers City Hall and sponsor Standard Chartered Bank Malaysia.

“We appreciate the support shown by our runners throughout this challenging weather situation,” the organisers said.

They advised registered participants to directly proceed to Dataran Merdeka to collect their race entitlements from 6am until noon today.

“To those who are unable to collect their entitlements during that time, an alternative arrangement will be announced through the Standard Chartered KL Marathon social media channels on Facebook and Twitter,” the statement added.

However, it said that route closures and support infrastructure would remain in place along Jalan Raja Laut, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Raja Chulan, Jalan P. Ramlee, Jalan Ampang, Jalan Kuching, Jalan Parlimen, Jalan Cenderawasih, Jalan Lembah and Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin from 6am until 9am today.

On Friday, organisers stated that the marathon would go ahead as weather conditions had improved and API readings were at mo­derate level.

The Meteorological Department issued a warning on haze-induced low visibility of less than 5km over the waters off nine states – Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Johor, Pahang and Sarawak – yesterday.

“The condition is risky to sea vessels without navigational equipment,” it said.


KL Marathon cancelled due to worsening haze
T. AVINESHWARAN The Star 3 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: The Standard Chartered KL Marathon has been cancelled due to the worsening haze situation.

In a press statement released on Saturday, the organisers said the health and safety of runners remained their top priority.

“Since our last announcement, the haze has unfortunately reached unhealthy levels according to the latest monitored alert.

“Due to the rapidly deteriorating air quality, and on the advice from the medical team, the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF), and the Institut Sukan Negara, we regret to announce that the Standard Chartered KL Marathon will be cancelled,” the statement said.

The organisers added that the decision was further supported by co-organisers Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) as well as sponsor Standard Chartered Bank Malaysia.

“We appreciate the support shown by our runners throughout this challenging weather situation,” the organisers said.

They advised registered participants to directly proceed to Dataran Merdeka to collect their race entitlements from 6am until noon on Sunday Oct 4.

“To those who are unable to collect their entitlements during that time, an alternative arrangement will be announced through the Standard Chartered KL Marathon social media channels on Facebook and Twitter.

“Following the cancellation, route closures and support infrastructure will remain in place along these roads: Jalan Raja Laut, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Raja Chulan, Jalan P. Ramlee, Jalan Ampang, Jalan Kuching, Jalan Parlimen, Jalan Cenderawasih, Jalan Lembah and Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin on 4th October 2015, from 6am until 9am,” they added.

On Friday, organisers stated that the marathon would go ahead as weather conditions had improved and API readings were at moderate level.


Health Ministry prepares to face prolonged haze
The Star 3 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry has made necessary preparations to face the possible increase in cases of illnesses due to the haze, which is expected to continue for another month.

Its deputy minister, Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahya said there was enough medicine and face masks to meet the situation.

"There is no need to worry. So far, there is no alarming increase in haze-related illnesses from our observations at hospitals and clinics nationwide," he told a media conference after opening the Organ Donation Awareness Week on Saturday.

On Friday, Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Willem Rampangilei was quoted by local media as saying that the haze problem, caused by forest and plantation fires in Indonesia, would end in a month with the beginning of the rainy season.

He said with the weather shift, the fires in the peat lands would be put out and the haze, which has plagued Malaysia and Singapore for the last two months, would be eliminated.

In another development, Hilmi said the ministry had not received any report on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) affecting the current season's haj pilgrims from Malaysia.

He said special teams have been stationed at airports to conduct health screening on haj pilgrims upon their return since the arrival of the first flight last Sept 29.

Friday, 14 of the 287 Thai haj pilgrims were quarantined on suspicion of being infected by MERS on their return to Thailand.

They were quarantined at the Narathiwat Rachanakarin Hospital.

Meanwhile, Hilmi said the Organ Donation Awareness Week was being carried out at 76 locations nationwide from today.

The target is to get 6,000 new organ donors, he added.

He said that as of August this year, 308,299 Malaysians or 1.1 per cent of the country's population, had pledged to donate their organs.

As of august this year, there are 19,507 Malaysians waiting to carry out organ transplant and most of them are kidney patients, he added. - Bernama


Very unhealthy air quality in seven areas
RAHMAH GHAZALI The Star 4 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: Seven areas recorded very unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings with Shah Alam being the highest at 299.

As of 8am Sunday, the haze situation worsened in six other areas.

Very unhealthy readings were recorded in Batu Muda (278), Petaling Jaya (250), Banting (244), Port Klang (234), Putrajaya (231) and Seremban (202), according to the Department of Environment’s website.

Twenty-four areas had unhealthy API readings including Nilai (198), Port Dickson (191), Cheras (182), Bukit Rambai (179), Bandaraya Melaka (174) and SK Jalan Pegoh (171).

Other areas include Kuala Selangor (167), Seberang Jaya 2 (162), USM (159), Jalan Tasek (153) and Muar (146).

Moderate readings were recorded in Langkawi (98), Tanjung Malim (94), Kangar (83), Kuching (80) and both Kota Baru and Tanah Merah (77).

The haze, which has affected the country for more than a month, was due to the open burnings in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan.

It had also forced schools to be closed, flights cancelled and the latest being the annual Standard Chartered KL Marathon to be called off.

API readings of between 0 and 50 indicate good air quality; 51 and 100 (moderate) 101 and 200 (unhealthy), 201 and 300 (very unhealthy) and over 301 (hazardous).


Supply Of Livestock, Vegetables Not Affected By Haze
Bernama 2 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 2 (Bernama) -- The haze that hit the country since last month does not affect the supply of livestock and vegetables.

The supply of chickens, however, was reported to have dropped slightly due to uncertain weather condition, which had also caused health problems to the animal.

In KUANTAN, Cameron Highlands Vegetable Farmers Association secretary Chay Ee Mong said the vegetable production at Cameron Highlands Agriculture Centre was also not affected by the haze at the moment.

The area has been recording better Air Pollutant Index (API) reading compared to most areas in other states, he told Bernama when contacted today.

Nevertheless, Chay expressed hope that the haze would disperse and the situation would return to normal as soon as possible, so that the production of fruiting vegetables, such as beans, tomatoes and chilies, would not be affected in the long run.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Federation of Ruminant Breeders Association chairman Samad Kassim said that livestock supplies, such as goat and cattle, were still available as usual.

"However, these livestock are also experiencing cough and pressure due to the weather," he said.

Selangor Chicken Breeders Association chairman Datuk Ishak Mat Arif said, right now, the supply of chickens in the country was slightly affected by the haze as many chicks and adult chickens died due to the bad weather condition.

He said this was because chickens required clean air to grow.

Ishak said that due to the situation, the current price of live chickens had also risen to RM4.80 per kilogramme from RM4.20 previously.

Head of Veterinary Department's Bird Section, Dr Wan Mohd Kamil Wan Nik, on the other hand, said that the department had not received any serious report on chicken-related issues, including shortage of supply.

"The Federation of Livestock Farmer's Association said that there is nothing to worry about. The supply of chickens and eggs are sufficient and the chicken production volume still stand at 1.9 million per day, as usual," he said, referring to a monthly meeting held with the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry, recently.

Commenting on the death of chickens due to the haze as reported in certain states, Dr Wan Mohd Kamil said it was not necessarily due to the haze and was probably caused by other factors.

He said chickens bred in indoor farms were less affected by the haze as compared to those in outdoor farms.

In KOTA BAHARU, the supply of fish and marine products had also remained unaffected as more coastal and deep sea fishermen in Kelantan still went out to the sea to fish as the haze situation in the state was not serious.

Bernama checks in Tumpat and Pasir Puteh, the two major fishing areas in the state, found that most of the fisheries industry players were operating as usual.

Tumpat Fishermen Association chairman Abdul Kadir Yusof when contacted said: "The association has about 300 members, comprising coastal and deep sea fishermen. The haze is not serious in this area and they can still go to sea to fish. The volumes of their catches are still the same."

Manager of Jet Tujuh (M) Sdn Bhd, a deep sea fishing company in Pasir Puteh, Roslan Abdul Rahman said the company was still operating as usual and its fishing boats could still go as far as 30 to 50 nautical miles from Tok Bali beach to fish.

In KUALA TERENGGANU, the chairman of Southern Kuala Terengganu Fishermen Association, Hasan Ismail, however, said many fishermen were unable to fish due to the haze, which had limited their visibility and affected their income.

Bernama checks in several fishing villages, such as Kampung Gelugur near Kerteh; Kampung Che Wan in Kijal, Kampung Pantai Kemasik and Kampung Geliga in Kuala Kemaman, found that at least 500 fishermen could not go to sea due to haze.

-- BERNAMA

Better air quality from next week
The Star 3 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: The haze is expected to dissipate somewhat with better air quality from Tuesday.

Meteorological Department director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said tropical storm Mujigae was expected to hit Hainan island in China the previous day.

“The presence of this tropical storm will affect wind patterns in our region for a few days and there will be less rainfall.

“After the storm hits land, the wind strength is expected to weaken and our country will experience humidity with rain in the west coast states and western Sarawak and the west coast of Sabah,” she said in a statement yesterday.

As of 4pm yesterday, only three places recorded unhealthy air pollutant index (API) readings of over 100, with Malacca city at 103, Bukit Rambai (105) and Port Dickson (102).

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry also said the country’s overall weather was improving with less areas recording unhealthy API readings.

“Cross-border haze from Sumatra and Kalimantan is still influencing our air quality,” it said.

A total of 269 hot spots have been detected in Kalimantan.

Only one hot spot was detected in Sumatra, as the satellite was unable to thoroughly observe the area due to cloud cover.

“The movement of thick and moderate haze from burning areas in central Kalimantan and south of Sumatra combined and formed a ring of haze that covered a huge area in the peninsula’s west coast and east coast,” it added.

As of Thursday, 3,439 open burning cases were detected in the country involving forests (591 cases), agriculture land (1193), industrial land (19), construction land (70), dumping sites (94), bushes (683) and other small open burning incidents (789).

The ministry said compound notices were issued for 216 open burning cases.

“Investigation papers have been prepared for 23 open burning cases for court action,” it said.


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Indonesia: Haze remains major problem despite rain, fewer hot spots

Rizal Harahap and Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post 3 Oct 15;

Despite recent downpours in several parts of Sumatra, the intensity of haze in many regions on the island has remained high, pushing down air quality to alarming levels.

In Riau, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Pekanbaru station reported that light rain had fallen over nine regions in the province, including Rokan Hilir, Indragiri Hulu, Pelalawan, Dumai and the provincial capital of Pekanbaru, from Thursday evening to Friday morning.

The rain, however, did almost nothing to reduce the thick pollution that has blanketed the area over recent weeks.

“The intensity [of the smoke] has slightly decreased, but we are not yet completely free from haze,” BMKG Pekanbaru station head Sugarin said on Friday.

The rain also failed to significantly improve air quality and visibility in Riau, the country’s largest oil-producing region.

In Rengat, visibility slightly increased from 50 meters on Thursday to 200 meters on Friday, while in Pelalawan it improved from 100 to 500 meters. Meanwhile in Pekanbaru, visibility was recorded at 1,000 meters on Friday, improving from 500 meters a day earlier.

Sugarin said the haze over Riau came from neighboring provinces.

Data from the Terra and Aqua satellites, according to Sugarin, showed that 693 hot spots indicating land and forest fires had been seen on Friday in Sumatra, a drastic increase from 156 detected a day earlier.

Of the hot spots, 613 were detected in South Sumatra, 37 in Lampung, 32 in Jambi, nine in Bangka-Belitung, one in Riau Islands and one in Riau.

“Only one was detected in Riau, in Siak regency to be precise,” said Sugarin, adding that not a single hot spot had been detected in Riau province during the previous seven days.

Over the past few weeks, many regions in Indonesia, including Riau, Jambi, North Sumatra, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan, have been struggling to anticipate the impacts of smoke produced by both man-made and natural land and forest fires. The ongoing disaster has been exacerbated by this year’s long dry season triggered by the El NiƱo weather phenomenon.

Meanwhile in North Sumatra, leaders of seven Protestant churches, including Protestant Batak Christian Huria (HKBP), Batak Karo Protestant Church (GBKP), Protestant Banua Niha Keriso (BNKP) and Simalungun Protestant Christian Church (GKPS), on Friday called on the government to declare the haze crisis in some provinces a national disaster so it could be handled thoroughly and the root causes addressed.

The churches, which represent some six million congregation members, also urged local administrations and the central government to provide proper health assistance for people in the worst-hit regions.

“The haze at present needs to be handled nationally in measured stages so the forest fire cycle can be thoroughly dealt with until the root of the problem,” HKBP priest Willem TP Simarmata said.

Separately, fires raging within Bantimurung-Bulusaraung National Park in South Sulawesi since Thursday afternoon had reportedly extended to the site of five cultural heritage caves. The fire was also close to residential areas.

The five caves are Leang Kassi, Leang Kajuara, Leang Cadidia, Leang Lompoa and Leang Tinggia.

Further, the fires have threatened the habitat of protected animals including Karongkong birds, tarsiers, cuscus and eagles.

Park official Daniwari Widiyanto said the blaze was difficult to control because it was on high ground on a karst hill.

“We are currently concentrating on extinguishing the fires close to residential areas or streets,” Daniwari said.

Andi Hajramurni contributed to this article.


54,135 people in Riau suffer from haze-related illnesses
thejakartapost.com 3 Oct 15;

Up to 54,135 people in Riau have experienced haze-related health issues, according to the Riau Health Agency, as ash from the province’s land and forest fires kept the Air Pollution Standard Index (ISPU) at an “unhealthy level” on Saturday.

“About 44,960 patients are suffering from acute respiratory infections [ISPA], while others are experiencing skin irritation [3,589], eye irritation [2,753], asthma [2,064] and pneumonia [769],” said agency head Andra Sjafril on Saturday as quoted by tempo.co.

According to Andra, in addition to providing 24-hour service at community health centers (Puskesmas) in regencies and cities, the agency is also offering services through a mobile clinic.

“Treatment is free. If there is an emergency, patients will be referred to Arifin Ahmad General Hospital in Pekanbaru,” said Andra.

He added that medicine supplies were sufficient since the agency was receiving support from the Health Ministry, Riau provincial administration and private institutions.

Although the number of affected residents is on the rise, daily cases are said to be decreasing amid Riau’s improving weather. (kes)(++++)


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Philippines’ week-long haze suspected from Indonesia

The Star 4 Oct 15;

MANILA: The Philippine island of Cebu suffered its seventh straight day of haze, the weather bureau said, as South-East Asian countries battle pollution suspected to emanate from illegal fires on Indonesian plantations.

Monsoon winds blowing northeast from the Indonesian blazes towards the direction of the central Philippines could have carried the smog, state weather forecaster Romeo Aguirre said.

“We suspect that this haze is from Sumatra. It is unusually thick,” Aguirre said.

Haze from local pollution is common in Cebu, home to four million people, but usually disappears within a day.

The current cloud of pollution blanketing the city in a blueish-grey veil is into its seventh day, though it has thinned considerably.

The haze was thickest on Monday, halving the normal range of visibility to 5km around the same time typhoon Dujuan was forecast to pass over Cebu, Aguirre said.

The environment department is expected to conduct further tests to confirm the smog’s provenance, he added.

Malaysia, Singapore and large portions of Indonesia have for weeks choked on pungent smoke from forest fires on Sumatra Island.

The fires are on track to be the worst on record, surpassing the US$9bil (RM39.7bil) damage from a similar incident in 1997, NASA warned on Friday. — AFP


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Malaysia: Illegal loggers clear 4ha in Gua Musang

SHARIFAH MAHSINAH ABDULLAH New Straits Times 3 Oct 15;

GUA MUSANG: ILLEGAL loggers have encroached on Gunung Rabong, here, clearing some 4ha on the fringes of the 16,915ha forest reserve.

It is the latest permanent forest reserve in the state to have been hit by illegal logging syndicates, believed to comprise outsiders and locals operating over the past few years.

The clearing of the forest reserve, situated next to state land and land belonging to Yayasan Islam Kelantan, was uncovered during a state Forestry Department operation last month.

Department director Zahari Ibrahim said it was believed the encroachment on the forest reserve started early last month, based on the size of the cleared area.

“The Gunung Rabong forest reserve is among 38 forest reserves in the state at risk of illegal activities. The forest reserves in Kelantan cover more than 600,000ha,” he told the New Straits Times.

Zahari said the forest reserve was among 50 illegal logging hot spots identified by the department in Kelantan, with most of the areas in Tanah Merah and Gua Musang.

He said a majority of the illegal logging activities in these areas were undertaken in a small scale by villagers hired by syndicates.
“Sometimes, we find villagers working in cahoots with syndicates to earn pocket money.”

Among the areas that had seen rampant illegal logging were Sungai Terah, Batu Papan, Nenggiri, Limau Kasturi and Ulu Galas here and Sokor, Renok Baru and Jedok in Tanah Merah.

The NST team, which joined last month’s operation by the state Forestry Department at the Gunung Rabong forest reserve, saw piles of logs placed in the clearing waiting to be transported by lorries to a stockpile area, also known as “matau”.

The logs were believed to have been cut down by the syndicate with the assistance of villagers.

Checks revealed that new logging tracks were being constructed by the illegal loggers to allow for four-wheel-drive vehicles or lorries to enter.

When the NST team arrived at the scene about 3pm, no vehicles or individuals were in the area.

“It seems our operation here today has been detected by the syndicates,” said a member of the Forestry team, adding that news of an impending raid by the department was often leaked, leading to the cancellation of some operations.

“However, our previous operation was successful as we detained three suspected illegal loggers or syndicate members red-handed.”

It is learnt syndicates used various tactics to evade detection, such as fake documents or fraudulent log removal passes of real loggers.

Zahari said the department planned to increase security features on logging documents, especially log removal passes, as part of efforts to stop illegal logging activities in the state, which he said was “quite serious” compared with other states.

“We believe syndicates use the removal passes of other individuals or companies to move logs cut illegally. We have detected them in a series of operations here and in other districts since July.

“Hence, we will upgrade security features, including introducing watermarks on the documents, to ensure they are not falsified.

“The department had yet to determine whether these syndicates were allowed by the original licence holders to use their passes or if they do it without the knowledge of the holders.

“However, we suspect that there are insiders working with syndicates to misuse the passes or licences.”

On whether the department was authorised to take action against such licence holders, Zahari said the holders could have their licences revoked if there was sufficient evidence.

He said the department would also enhance its standard operating procedure and increase operations against illegal logging.


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Malaysia: Tourist finds dead dolphin

INTAN AMALINA MOHD ALI The Star 4 Oct 15;

GEORGE TOWN: A tourist who had never seen a live dolphin in her life had the misfortune of coming across a dead one off the Tanjung Bungah coast here.

The tourist from Kazakhstan, who wanted to be known only as Zhanar, 28, said she was walking along the beach when she saw a large object at about noon yesterday.

“I went a little closer for a look and saw it was a dolphin, a creature which I’ve only seen on television.

“I could see that some of its skin had peeled off. I then ran back to the hotel and informed the staff about my find,” she said, adding that the staff later arranged for the carcass to be removed.

Zhanar said that coming from an inland country meant she had never seen a dolphin before.

“It was sad seeing the carcass and I actually feel a little traumatised thinking about it,” she said.


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Malaysia: Poachers mar turtle nesting

INTAN AMALINA MOHD ALI The Star 3 Oct 15;

GEORGE TOWN: It is the norm for a turtle to lay about 100 eggs or more each time but only a handful were found after one turtle nested on Batu Ferringhi beach.

Despite efforts to secure the turtle nest, it is believed most of the eggs were stolen.

Fisheries Department officers who had dug up the nest to recover the eggs for incubation and hatching at the Pantai Kerachut Turtle Sanctuary could only find five eggs.

Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa communications director Suleiman Tunku Abdul Rahman said the site fronting the resort was cordoned off when the hotel learnt of the turtle landing.

“We were notified about this early in the morning and we quickly closed the area where the turtle was sighted.

“There had been a change of guards in between and I think this was when the eggs were stolen,” he said.

Fisheries officers who were duly informed found the five eggs when they located the nest at 11am.

Suleiman said a turtle had also nested on the beach fronting Rasa Sayang’s sister hotel Golden Sands Resort in August, and that the fisheries team recovered about 140 eggs then.

“The turtle sighting is a good omen but it is sad that many eggs are missing,” Suleiman said.

A hotel worker first spotted the female turtle crawling up the beach at about 6am yesterday. It left at about 7.15am.

A crowd of hotel employees and guest had by then gathered to capture the moment with their smartphones.

State Fisheries Department officer Mohd Syahrulnizam Ismail said the turtle could have laid her eggs before dawn.

“It would take about 30 minutes for it to lay its egg. We can be certain that the turtle will come back again to lay eggs again in the same spot.

“A turtle can lay around 80 to 100 at any one time,” he said.

The five recovered eggs will be incubated and hatched at the turtle sanctuary on the northern edge of the island.


Turtle nesting to be closely guarded
The Star 6 Oct 15;

GEORGE TOWN: The Fisheries Department expects the turtle whose nesting was disturbed to return within the next 10 days to Batu Ferringhi to lay new eggs.

Department officer Mohd Syahrulnizam Ismail said two staff members would be stationed near the Rasa Sayang Hotel beachfront to look out for the turtle.

“From our experience, we are certain that the turtle would return and our staff will be there from Sunday.”

Mohd Syahrulnizam said the department had taken the five eggs salvaged from the earlier nesting to the incubation and hatching centre at the Pantai Kerachut Turtle Sanctuary.

Most eggs laid by the turtle on Friday were stolen and only five remained when the nest was dug up by Fisheries Department officers.

The theft took place despite the hotel cordoning off the area on learning about the turtle landing.

Mohd Syahrulnizam said it was not easy to safeguard turtle nestings as the stretch was a tourist haunt and anyone could have stolen the eggs.

It’s normal for a sea turtle to lay about 100 eggs or more at any one time.


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Dying seagrass and ‘yellow fog’ signal trouble for Florida Bay

JENNY STALETOVICH Miami Herald 3 Oct 15;

Severe summer drought, lack of historic flow kill miles of seagrass
Stinky yellow water appears; fish begin to disappear
Scientists fear that lethal algae blooms, which plagued bay decades ago, could return

The seagrass in Florida Bay is dying, a sign that the ailing bay could be going from bad to catastrophic.

Years of flood control on top of a prolonged drought wilted the bay over the summer, making already hot water twice as salty as it should be. When scientists hustled out to investigate last month, they found miles of dead seagrass: up to six square miles in Rankin Bight and seven square miles in meadows around Johnson Key, a flat once famed for redfish and snook. A cloud of sulfur had spread in water just off the Flamingo Visitor Center, leaving behind a stinky stain scientists call “yellow fog.” It may cover 25 square miles already.

But what really concerns them is this: The last time the bay looked this bad, a massive algae bloom followed. The bloom lasted for years, turning gin clear water a sickly pea green and unleashing a scourge in Everglades National Park that anglers and scientists still regard as a turning point for the bay.

Imagine if a third of Yellowstone National Park suddenly died.

To emphasize the severity of conditions, scientist Fred Sklar, who monitors the Everglades for the South Florida Water Management District, titled a presentation made last month, “Florida Bay Conditions: Another Perfect Storm?”

“I don’t think there’s anything we can do to stop this. The question might be, is there something we can do to slow it down,” he said. “The train is moving and the only thing we can do is put roadblocks in the way.”

Seagrass scientists who began monitoring the bay in 1995 after the unprecedented bloom threatened to derail the region’s $723 million fishing industry are just as worried.

“It looks like this die-off will be every bit as extensive as the episode in the 1980s,” said Paul Carlson, a marine ecologist with the state’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, who investigated the earlier crash. “There’s places where dead turtle grass … covers the bottom a foot deep.”

And it’s not just the grass that’s suffering. In July, when salinity peaked at 65 parts per thousand, toadfish that lurk on the bay bottom waiting to ambush prey died in Rankin Bight, said Chris Kelble, an oceanographer with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

“My hypothesis is they don't swim away like other fish and the double whammy of extreme high [salinity] and temperature just took them out,” he said.

This year’s winter fish counts turned up no freshwater minnows, the first link in a complicated food chain. Sea trout, a fish perfectly engineered to reflect the health of the bay, failed to show in last’s year count. Researchers caught juveniles this year, but in numbers “nowhere near where they should be or where their numbers have been in the past,” Kelble said.

How the bay got to this point is as much about human meddling as mother nature. For decades, water managers have been struggling to undo damage from the C-111 canal, which was built in the 1960s to barge rocket engines from Homestead to the coast. It shifted a vital flow of Everglades water away from northeast Florida Bay.

Another factor also may be at work: climate change.

With models showing a 10 percent to 20 percent decrease in rainfall over South Florida, heat waves and droughts will likely become more common, making water scarcer and creating Florida Bay’s equivalent of a California wildfire. Climate forecasts also call for fewer hurricanes, which help flush out salty water by stirring up the bay.

“It’s just like the fire analogy in the west,” said Ben Kirtman, a climate scientist at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science. “The water managers will have to make decisions based on that.”

And that means the fight for water — and whether to save the fish or keep the farms or both — could become more heated.

“That’s sort of the elephant in the room that we don’t really talk about,” he said.

Because it is such a complex ecosystem, scientists have struggled to understand how to fix the bay. At 850-square miles, it is actually made up of about 24 different basins, divided by mud banks. Each basin has its own distinct level of salinity, influenced by water from the Everglades, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic ocean, along with years of man-made changes going back to Flagler’s plans to build a railroad across the bay and drain coastal marshes in an attempt to lure ranchers to the mosquito-infested wetlands. Knowing the right mix of groundwater and surface water could be the key to keeping salinity in check, Sklar said. But so far, the balance remains uncertain, he said.

What scientists do know is that to avert an algae outbreak, they need to get it right before time runs out. In the 1980s, a massive die-off spread across five basins. Five years later, an algae bloom unfolded. Most likely, the dead seagrass loaded the shallow bay with nutrients that triggered the bloom.

It took more than 12 years for the grass, considered a key indicator of the bay’s health, to begin recovering. The grass also is critical to maintaining the ecosystem: The rolling meadows provide food and shelter for sea life and stabilize the muddy bottom to keep water clear.

“These kinds of things have probably been happening periodically over time,” said Margaret “Penny” Hall, a state seagrass expert overseeing a team investigating the die-off. “It’s not a new phenomenon, but there was a perfect storm where it took off in 1987, probably exacerbated by water management decisions.”

After the 1980s disaster, the state began monitoring 17 spots in the bay, trying to understand what set of conditions might trigger a die-off. They focused on turtle grass, which was hit hardest and grows more slowly, and shoal grass, which can grow faster in harsher conditions. Knowing which grass grows where can give them a good idea of what’s going on in the water. In 1997, as grass began recovering, researchers found the amount of shoal grass had taken over western Rabbit Key basin after the turtle grass died. Overall, shoal grass more than doubled, an indication of harsher conditions.

Over the summer, on the heals of a dry winter that spiked salinity in Taylor Slough, a biologist at Everglades National Park spotted what she suspected was the beginning of a die-off and contacted the researchers who had studied the 1980s event, Carlson said.

When Hall’s team got there, they found two of the five basins hit hardest in the 1980s dead or dying. A third showed signs of trouble.

They think this is what happened: Without rain, the hot water turned saltier and heavier, creating a kind of lid, trapping sulfur in mud and keeping oxygen out. Seagrass can normally tolerate low levels of sulfide, the sulfur that occurs naturally in the mud. But the higher levels caused it to die. Once dead, the decaying grass released even more nutrients and continued the cycle.

“The sulfur is both cause and effect,” Carlson said.

Had more restoration projects been complete, scientists believe the extra water would have helped buffer the harsh drought. But lack of funding, bureaucratic delays and the demands of competing interests have delayed work that might have brought more water south.

This summer, for example, when the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers announced plans to conduct a two-year test on a series of canals, gates and flood control structures to restore water flows, the agency enraged environmentalists by opting for a plan environmentalists say favored farmers. The Corps decided to continue using a pump to keep farmland dry, a decision the Everglades Law Center called as “arbitrary and capricious as it is based on unsupported assertions.”

“We should be doing everything we can to benefit the bay right now,” said staff attorney Julie Dick. The Corps was unable to say whether an environmental study would be done when reached late Friday.

Even with restoration, park superintendent Pedro Ramos said the bay “relies on higher rainfall, which we have not been getting.”

And given climate change projections, he worried that keeping the bay healthy will become only more difficult.

“Things are changing for sure,” he said in a text message. “New territory for everyone, including scientists, and weather seems to just be getting more and more difficult to forecast.”

Recent rain — September had more than 10 inches — may have helped some, but it also changed conditions too quickly. Monitors at Buoy Key show salinity in parts per thousand dropping from the mid 40s to the high 30s in the last few days. Normal ocean conditions are 30 parts per thousand.

But scientists worry the bay is already in a downward spiral — and anglers have long reported seeing fewer fish.

“It’s the largest fish kill I’ve ever seen in the park,” said Capt. Dave Denkert, a guide who has fished the bay since the 1970s and spotted dead pinfish and snapper throughout the summer. “It goes from real salinity to almost completely fresh. It’s extreme one way and extreme the other. It all has to come together.”

When conditions go bad, some fear the fish will simply leave. Already the stock of bonefish, a catch that draws anglers from around the world, are “below the 30 percent threshold considered sustainable,” said Jerry Ault, a University of Miami fish ecologist, who warned that Florida Bay may be a microcosm of bigger problems to come.

“You get to where you really listen to the fishermen because they’re usually the first ones to find something wrong,” Hall said. “They may not know the name of the seagrass, but they know what it looked like.”


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India's pledge clears a significant hurdle towards a climate deal in Paris

India’s announcement means all the world’s biggest economies are now publicly in favour of a deal, but there are still challenges ahead
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 2 Oct 15;

With India’s plan for curbing carbon emissions now in, most of the major developing economies have responded to the UN’s requests for the commitments on climate change that will form the keystone of an agreement to be signed in Paris this December.

Those commitments – to make absolute cuts in future emissions levels, in the case of developed countries; to curb future emissions growth, in the case of less industrialised nations – will not add up to the cuts that scientists say are needed to avoid more than 2C of warming above pre-industrial levels. This is significant, because the 2C threshold is regarded as the limit of safety, beyond which the changes in the climate are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.

On current commitments, warming is still likely to exceed 2 C or even 3C , with potentially severe consequences in the form of an increase in extreme weather, heatwaves, droughts, floods and rising sea levels, that could wreak havoc across the globe.

But this is not the end of the story.

In Paris, governments are expected to sign up to a new global agreement on the climate that would come into effect from 2020, when current national commitments on emissions expire. But while world governments debate their role in avoiding dangerous warming, other commitments are also likely to be significant.

For instance, cities are expected to play an increasing part in driving down carbon dioxide emissions, and many of these commitments are not included in the national government targets. Businesses, too, are coming forward with plans to reduce their emissions, which could have a major impact. Paris is also not an end point but the beginning of a new process by which emissions could be ratcheted down in future, in the form of five-yearly reviews of targets.

Taken together, these factors could add up to enough to meet scientific advice in the coming decade.

India’s announcement is an important step forward in climate diplomacy, too: the country was the only one to stand alongside China in 2011 in rejecting the UN roadmap that has led to the Paris talks.

Last year, China made a historic move by agreeing, at a meeting with US president Barack Obama, that it would cause its emissions to peak by 2030, the first time Beijing had set such a date.

India’s pledge is less clear, with the centrepiece a commitment to derive 40% of its electricity from renewables and other low carbon sources. With its announcement, however, one of the last obstacles to a landmark agreement has now been cleared. All of the world’s biggest economies are now publicly in favour of a deal in Paris, after French president Francois Hollande earlier said that a miracle would be needed to get agreement among nearly 200 countries.

With less than 60 days to go before the Paris conference, things could still fall apart. Just last month Hollande warned of the risk of failure.

Finance will be key. Developed countries agreed at the last landmark climate conference, in Copenhagen in 2009, that at least $100bn in financial assistance would be provided to poor nations annually by 2020 to help them cut emissions and cope with the effects of global warming. Evidence that this will happen has still not been formally accepted, though countries including the UK have recently stepped up their pledges of assistance.

There is also the vexed question of what should be the legal form of any Paris agreement, a subject likely to keep negotiators up late into the night at the conference, and some anxiety among the hosts over whether the text of a deal can be formulated in due time.

Any agreement will have to satisfy the poorest nations of the world, which have less economic power than India and China. They are likely to be the worst equipped to cope with climate change, and plans on how they will be helped to adapt are still in the making. The UN is the only forum in which the least developed countries have an equal voice with the richest, and they will have their say at Paris.


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South Thailand hit by haze, but levels safe

Today Online 4 Oct 15;

BANGKOK — Haze from forest fires in Sumatra is blanketing several provinces in the south of Thailand, but the air pollution level is still under the safety limit of 120 microgrammes per cubic metre, according to the 16th Regional Environment Office (REO) in Songkhla.

Mr Halem Chemarikan, director of the 16th REO, said Hat Yai was hardest hit today (Oct 4) with the particulate matter in the air measured at 108 microgrammes per cubic metre, down from 136 at 8pm yesterday.

Surat Thani, Phuket, Narathiwat, Yala and Satun were also covered with haze, but at an average level of 80 microgrammes per cubic metres, well below the safety limit of 120.

Mr Halem said the haze situation was being closely monitored by his office.

Children and the elderly with respiratory problems should wear a mask and refrain from going outdoors, he said. BANGKOK POST

Haze covers south Thailand provinces, health officials say level is 'safe'
The Nation AsiaOne 5 Oct 15;

HAZE from forest fires in Sumatra is blanketing several provinces in the South, but air pollution levels are still under the safety limit, according to the 16th Regional Environment Office in Songkhla.

Halem Chemarikan, director of the office, said Hat Yai was hardest hit yesterday with particulate matter in the air measured at 108 micrograms per cubic metre, down from 136 at 8pm on Saturday, and below the 120 micrograms safety limit.

Surat Thani, Phuket, Narathiwat, Yala and Satun were also covered with haze, but at an average level of 80 micrograms.

Halem said the haze situation was being closely |monitored by his office.

Children and the elderly with respiratory problems should wear a mask and refrain from going outdoors, he said.

Yala public health chief Dr Utissak Haritrattanakul said the haze could cause eye irritation, nausea, vomiting, tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing. "Please prepare medicines and necessary equipment if you have any underlying diseases. Also visit doctors if they develop any symptom," he said.


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