Best of our wild blogs: 5 Oct 15

It’s World Animal Day!
Life of a common palm civet in Singapore

Critters at USR and Mandai Areas
Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

bar-tailed godwit @ SBWR - 04Oct2015

Sumatran (Common) Pam Civet (Paradoxurus musangus) @ Jedburgh Gardens
Monday Morgue

Read more!

Fund-starved Cat Welfare Society barely manages to survive

Ng Huiwen, Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Oct 15;

After 16 years of looking out for its feline friends, the Cat Welfare Society (CWS) almost had to stop its work last month because of insufficient funds.

But the society, which is the main cat welfare group here, earned a new lease of life two weeks ago after extending its fund-raising campaign. It had initially failed to raise its target amount of $200,000 after its five-day online fund-raiser, which started on Sept 17.

However, after the campaign was extended on donation platform by two days, it received more than $231,550 in online and offline donations. A total of 1,220 donors had contributed $200,550 through the website.

Calling it a "fund-raiser for survival", CWS president Thenuga Vijakumar said the society would have had to cease immediate operations if it were unable to raise enough money. However, she described its latest fund-raising success as "short-lived", as the money raised will allow it to operate only till the end of this year.

Efforts are still ongoing to raise funds through other means to tide it over beyond December.

Like CWS, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) does not generally receive government grants and finds it a challenge to garner donations.

SPCA requires about $2 million a year, largely raised through public donations and fund-raising activities, to fund its animal shelter, veterinary services and other services, including its 24-hour emergency service and sterilisation programmes. It is also raising funds for the completion of its new animal shelter and office complex at Sungei Tengah.

Said SPCA executive director Corinne Fong: "Donations made to the animal welfare cause have become increasingly divided among an ever-rising number of animal shelters and rescue groups."

The Sunday Times understands that there are, at least, 30 animal welfare and rescue groups in Singapore. Of these, four - CWS, SPCA, Acres and SOSD, formerly known as Save our Street Dogs - have Institute of Public Character (IPC) status, which means they can issue tax- deductible receipts for donations.

CWS was granted IPC status in 2013. While this led to an increase in donations, from about $440,000 in 2013 to more than $620,000 last year, Ms Thenuga said it is far from enough to cover its expenses.

"People assume that with IPC, donations will start rolling in from large corporations or foundations. The reality is that a lot of them don't include animal welfare in their portfolios," she added.

On average, CWS now requires about $70,000 a month to operate, up from $50,000 a month last year.

The bulk of its funds are channelled to nationwide programmes in sterilisation, and mediation services between those who find stray cats a nuisance and cat lovers - a service which CWS said is facing a growing demand as it looks to go beyond HDB blocks to include condominiums and commercial facilities.

Last year, CWS sterilised a total of 4,749 cats, from fewer than 3,000 in 2012. It aims to sterilise at least 5,000 cats this year.

Cutting back on its operations is not an option for CWS, as this would erase much of the progress it has made in animal welfare over the years, said Ms Thenuga. Agreeing, cat lover and National University of Singapore undergraduate Chesna Goh said: "I've seen CWS greatly improve the stray cat situation. Even if the cats don't get adopted, at least they are properly vaccinated and sterilised."

The 22-year-old, who donated $200 to the society recently, believes that if it were to close down, the stray cat population would increase drastically and the culling rate will rise as well. She said: "A lot of people aren't very tolerant of stray cats. The cats would lose a very important mouthpiece advocating for them and a lot would miss out on the opportunity of being able to find great loving homes."

Read more!

Water woes in Johor, cloud seeding to help fill dams

CHUAH BEE KIM New Straits Times 4 Oct 15;

NUSAJAYA: The cloud seeding operation to boost levels at two dams faced with critically low water levels in Johor is expected to be conducted soon.

Johor Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad said no date has been fixed for the operation.

However, he said the authorities were now waiting for the presence of suitable clouds that are needed for cloud seeding.

"The cloud seeding operation will continue until the water levels at the Sungai Layang and Sungai Lebam dams are stabilised.

“Currently, the water levels at both dams have registered only a slight increase," Hasni said , adding that more rain is needed.

"It is hoped the cloud seeding operation, to be carried out continuously whenever conditions are favourable, will solve the water woes by the end of the year," he said after launching the state-level 'Anugerah Desa Sejahtera 1Malaysia 2015 at the banquet hall of the state assembly building in Kota Iskandar, here.

Hasni said the state government will furnish Singaporean authorities with details of the operation such as type of aircraft and technology to be used, and the grace period.

Meanwhile, Hasni said the ongoing water rationing exercise in Pasir Gudang and parts of Kota Tinggi district, which was done to preserve water from the two dams, will continue until Oct 15.

Read more!

Malaysia: PM says Indonesia must act against culprits causing haze

The Star 4 Oct 15;

MILAN: The Indonesian government needs to take action against parties causing the haze problem which has not only affected the air quality of Malaysia, but its economy as well, says Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak (pic).

The Prime Minister said only Indonesia could take action against them to ensure and prove if the haze was due to irresponsible plantation companies carrying out open burning or due to the effects of weather changes.

"They are operating there, we want Indonesia to take action. Summoning them is one thing, but proving they conducted such acts is another matter.

"Only Indonesia alone can gather evidence and convict the companies concerned.

"It should also be determined if the cause of the fires are deliberate or due to weather conditions," he said when asked on the worsening haze situation.

He told this to Malaysian journalists before leaving for home after a three-day working visit to Milan since Friday. Najib said the solution to the haze problem needed the close cooperation of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore to formulate more effective measures.

"It will take into consideration the agreement signed by the three countries to combat haze.

"Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are still working on interpreting the agreement into a suitable form of action to ensure the situation does not recur," he said. - Bernama

Indonesia should pay for losses incurred in latest haze episode
PRIYA PUBALAN New Straits Times 4 Oct 15;

GEORGE TOWN: Indonesia should compensate for losses incurred from the worsening haze in the country.

Deputy Women, Family and Community Development minister Senator Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun said this, adding that this was the morally right thing to do.

"Hawkers are selling 30 per cent lesser; people are missing their flights, schoolchildren skipping school.

It is high time we get compensated.

"I understand the hardship that many are going through in these trying times," she said after officiating the Penang MCA Mid-Autumn Festival gathering at Jalan Transfer here today. Chew said she, too, was a victim of the haze as she had missed two flights this morning.

"I was supposed to be in Perlis and Kedah, but all flights were cancelled due to haze," she added.

DPM: Malaysia urges Indonesia for stronger measures to solve haze
ROZANNA LATIFF New Straits Times 4 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has called for stronger measures from Indonesia to solve the haze problem, saying that the current plans in place will take too long to be effective.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Malaysia welcomed the commitment shown by Indonesian president Joko Widodo to strengthen enforcement and fire-prevention measures, but lamented that the plans would take at least three years to see results.

“We are grateful for the measures, but we think it will take too long.

Every day, there is still open burning being carried out by farmers in Indonesia,” he said. He was responding to a BBC interview on Sept 29, in which Joko called for countries to give Indonesia time to tackle forest fires.

Zahid said steps were being undertaken by both countries to fight the haze, including legal action against companies responsible for carrying out harmful practices which contributed to forest fires.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tunku Jaafar had also been sent to negotiate with his Indonesian counterparts on the steps to be taken, Zahid said. “We know that there are measures being taken but it is not enough. This happens every year.

Already, we are spending too much on medical expenses, especially for those with problems such as asthma,” he said. Zahid was speaking at the launch of ‘U-Turn’, a magazine talkshow by TV AlHijrah and the Home Ministry focusing on the spiritual rehabilitation of inmates in the Prisons Department parole programme.

Bomba Malaysia prepared to assist Indonesia put out forest fire
The Star 4 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department is prepared to assist Indonesia in putting out forest fires in that country which has been the main cause for the cross-border haze in the country currently.

Its director-general, Datuk Wan Mohd Noor Ibrahim (pic) said on Sunday that the department was willing to offer aid if they (Indonesia) needed external support including from Malaysia to help in tackling the haze problem which was becoming critical lately.

"Usually, when a foreign country requests for help from our country to resolve a disaster, they will certainly contact our Government beforehand.

"As such, we are prepared to help if the situation warrants, but it depends on the government itself because it will decide whether to send the fire personnel to join the mission to put out the forest fire in Indonesia," he said when contacted by Bernama.

He said the Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department had the complete assets and skills needed if the department was chosen to carry out the mission to put out the forest fires in Sumatera and Kalimantan.

"Forest fires are different from the normal fires because the forest is very demands the security agencies to deploy all assets available to put out the fire because the operation is most challenging.

"In addition, the operation also needs the services of many personnel because it covers a very large area," he said.

As at 9am today, air quality in most areas throughout the country deteriorated with several areas in the Klang Valley recording unhealthy air pollutant index (API) readings and one area posted a dangerous level with the API in Shah Alam at 308.

On Saturday Science, Technology and Innovations Minister Datuk Madius Tangau said in a statement that the severe haze affecting the country since the middle of last month would ease briefly from Oct 6 to 9.

However, he said the haze would return on Oct 10 following a tropical storm forecasted in eastern Philippines if the fires in Sumatera and Kalimantan were not extinguished.

Commenting further on the haze situation which was of greater concern now, Wan Mohd Noor advised the people to stop any open burning activity to prevent the haze from becoming worse. - Bernama

Read more!

Malaysia: Minister announces two-day shutdown due to haze danger

OH CHIN ENG The Star 5 Oct 15;

ALOR SETAR: Close to 7,000 schools with almost four million students will be closed today and tomorrow because of the worsening air quality over the peninsula.

Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid said schools in Peninsular Malaysia, except those in Kelantan, would be closed.

As for Kelantan, Labuan, Sabah and Sarawak, he said the ministry would monitor the air quality levels hourly before deciding on schools there.

“If the levels deteriorate in these four places, we will take the same steps,” he told reporters at SMK Seri Ampang in Jalan Kuala Kedah yesterday.

The directive affects 6,798 schools, which have a total enrolment of 3.7 million students and more than 300,000 teachers.

All teachers and school staff, with the exception of security guards, have also been told to stay at home.

“This matter must be addressed correctly and quickly as it can harm our children in school,” he said.

Mahdzir also said that schools ordered to close because of the haze need not replace classes.

He also announced that the Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3, Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia and Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia examinations would not be postponed because of the haze.

“These examinations will be postponed only if the Air Pollutant Index (API) levels breach 500 or ‘emergency’ level,” he said.

Mahdzir said state education departments and schools should make arrangements to supply face masks to students sitting for examinations.

Afternoon sessions of schools in Kedah, Terengganu and Johor continued as usual yesterday but some schools recorded a low turnout due to rumours over social media that classes had been cancelled.

The Education Ministry had closed 4,561 schools from nine states, involving 2,617,432 students as the API reading breached the unhealthy and very unhealthy levels between Sept 15 and 30.

The nine states were Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Pahang, Johor, Sarawak and Perak.

In KUALA LUMPUR, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Selangor cancelled all classes because of the deteriorating air quality.

In a statement, it said the final examinations for diploma students would be carried out as scheduled, adding that staff were also required to attend work as normal.

“UiTM will continue to monitor the situation and keep the students notified from time to time.

“Announcement of any cancellation of classes will be made a day earlier,” it said.

As for the campuses in other states, it said their heads would make the announcement.

The last time a state of emergency was declared over the haze in the peninsula was on Aug 11, 2005, covering Kuala Selangor and Port Klang.

The API readings rose beyond the very hazardous level of more than 500 in the two areas.

Schools, government offices, businesses and the ports were closed but shops selling essential goods, supermarkets, clinics and pharmacies remained open.

The worst case of air pollution caused by the haze, however, occurred in September 1997. An emergency was declared in Kuching and eastern areas of Sarawak when the API reading reached the extremely hazardous level of 839.

Malaysia shuts schools as haze worsens
Close to half of Malaysia's 52 pollutant monitoring stations registered unhealthy levels of air quality, with this year's pollution set to be the worst on record.
Channel NewsAsia 4 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian authorities on Sunday (Oct 4) ordered most of the country's schools shut for two days because of possible health risks posed by the thick haze from Indonesian forest fires.

The education ministry said all schools, except a handful in outlying areas, must close their doors on Monday and Tuesday.

"The haze that is happening is beyond our control," said Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid. "This issue has to be addressed wisely and quickly as it can do harm to our children. We will not compromise with anything that may bring harm to our children in schools."

The persistent smog has afflicted large swathes of Southeast Asia for weeks, sparking health alerts, numerous school shutdowns and affecting flights. The pollution is on track to be the worst on record, surpassing the US$9 billion damage recorded in 1997.

Close to half of Malaysia's 52 pollutant monitoring stations around the country registered "unhealthy" air quality on Sunday. Six stations, including one in Kuala Lumpur registered "very unhealthy" levels, with one area in the outskirts of the capital hovering close to the "hazardous" level.

While Malaysia, Singapore and large portions of Indonesia have for weeks choked on pungent smoke from forest fires on Sumatra Island, the Philippine island of Cebu also suffered its seventh straight day of haze on Saturday.

Monsoon winds blowing northeast from the Indonesian blazes could have carried the smog, state weather forecaster Romeo Aguirre told AFP. Meanwhile, Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Sunday he hoped Indonesia could discuss long term measures to tackle the crisis.

"We hope its commitment is not only on paper or mere statements pleasant to the ears, but through implementation which could end all haze problems," he was quoted as saying by Bernama.

The worsening haze has also affected key sporting events in the region. Day one of the Singapore leg of the FINA World Championships - swimming's World Cup - which included four-time US Olympic gold medallist Missy Franklin, was cancelled on Saturday.

One of Malaysia's biggest marathons set for Sunday was also cancelled because of health fears for the 30,000 runners, and local football league matches have been shelved.

- AFP/yt

Haze: Malaysia Cup match between Perak and JDT postponed
IVAN LOH The Star 4 Oct 15;

IPOH: The Malaysia Cup match between Perak and Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) has been postponed.

After getting instructions from the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), the match was called off as the Air Pollutant Index (API) exceeded 160.

Speaking to journalists on Sunday after the announcement, Perak Malaysia Cup team caretaker manager Datuk Azhar Ahmad said another date would be decided by the FAM later.

"JDT has an upcoming AFC match. We need to accommodate their schedule," he said at the Perak Stadium.

Four Malaysia Cup matches have been called off on Saturday due to the haze.

The FAM earlier announced that matches at venues where the API reading exceeded 150 would be postponed.

Azhar said tickets that have been sold for the match could be kept and used on the rescheduled match date.

"Tickets will continue to be sold at counters," he said.

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 closure of schools with flights cancelled. The annual Standard Chartered KL Marathon was also 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).

Flights delayed and cancelled in Penang
ROYCE TAN The Star 4 Oct 15;

GEORGE TOWN: The worsening air quality has caused several flights from the Penang International Airport (PIA) in Bayan Lepas to be cancelled and delayed.

PIA senior manager Ariff Jaafar said on Sunday that three flights to Subang were cancelled while five other flights to Subang and Johor Baru were delayed.

He added that the operations of PIA remained normal and the Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) was monitoring the situation with the Malaysian Meteorological Department and airline companies.

Ariff urged passengers to be patient and check for the latest updates on MAHB’s Twitter, which uses the handle @MY_Airports.

As of noon, API readings recorded by the Department of Environment stood at 148 in Perai, 174 in Seberang Jaya and 172 on the island.

Figures from the Malaysian Meteorological Department showed that horizontal visibility as of noon was at 0.8km in Bayan Lepas and 0.4km in Butterworth.

Several events in Penang including the Seberang Perai Municipal Council’s (MPSP) car free morning were cancelled.

Haze forces closure of three airport runways
RAHMAH GHAZALI The Star 4 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: The runways of three airports were forced to close due to the deteriorating haze on Sunday morning, Malaysia Airports Berhad (MAB) said.

In a series of tweets, MAB said the affected airports were the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang, Sultan Abdul Halim Airport in Alor Setar and Sultan Azlan Shah Airport in Ipoh.

MAB said visibility fell to 350m at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport as of 6.35am.

"The airport runway was declared closed until further notice. All passengers are advised to check with the respective airlines on the flight schedules," it said.

MAB also said that visibility was at 500m for both Sultan Abdul Halim Airport and Sultan Azlan Shah Airport as of 7.20am and 7.30am respectively.

It, however, said that operations were running as usual at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2).

"Visibility at KLIA and KLIA2 was reported at 1000m as of 8am this morning. Airport operations are currently running as usual.

"However, all passengers are advised to check with the respective airlines on their flight schedules," it added.

Haze: Less than 3km visibility
New Straits Times 4 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Haze-induced low visibility of less than three kilometres is expected to persist till tomorrow over the waters off the Straits of Melaka, Tioman, Bunguran, Kuching and Reef South.

The condition is dangerous to sea vessels without navigational equipment, according to a Meteorological Department statement today.

Low visibility is also expected to persist over the waters off Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Johor, Pahang, and Sarawak.--BERNAMA

Read more!

Indonesia: Govt proposes life insurance aid for haze disaster victims

Antara 4 Oct 15;

S Sulawesi (ANTARA News) - The government will propose a life insurance assistance for 1.2 million holders of Welfare Family Card (KKS) affected by thick smoke from hundreds of forest and land fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

"We have communicated with the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) regarding a life insurance assistance for the affected people. It is possible for them to get a life insurance assistance," Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa said here on Sunday.

According to Parawansa, the haze disaster caused by forest and land fires had disrupted the income of the affected people.

"The Social Service Ministry has calculated the number of the affected people. Nearly 25 percent or 1.2 million of the poor people in six provinces currently hold Welfare Family Card (KKS)," she said.

"The plan is being discussed by the Directorate General of Budget, Ministry of Finance," she said.

Based on the proposal, she noted, every person will receive a grant of Rp10,000 for 90 days.

According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), tens of thousands of Indonesians have been treated for upper tract respiratory infection caused by thick smoke.

The National Police Headquarters is currently handling 236 cases of forest and plantation fires in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

"Up till October 2, 2015, the National Police have handled 236 reports of forest and plantation arson," Head of the National Polices Crime Investigation Department (Bareskrim) Commissioner General Anang Iskandar, said here, Saturday.

The cases involve 190 individuals and 46 companies including two foreign corporations.

The police have also named 216 suspects in those cases.

"Of the 216 suspects, 205 are individuals, and 11 are connected to corporations," he stated.

Further, he explained that of the 216 suspects, only 72 have been detained. They comprise 67 individuals and five suspects representing corporations.

Of the total, four cases are handled by Bareskrimhas, 34 cases by the South Sumatra provincial police, 68 cases by the Riau provincial police, 20 cases by the Jambi provincial police, 61 cases by the Central Kalimantan provincial police, 29 cases by the West Kalimantan provincial police, 9 cases by the South Kalimantan provincial police and 11 cases by the East Kalimantan provincial police 11.

The two foreign companies being investigated are PT ASP of China, which is being handled by the Central Kalimantan provincial police, and PT KAL of Australia, which is being handled by the West Kalimantan provincial police.(*)

S. Sumatra Companies Face Charges Over Fores Fires
Jakarta Globe 4 Oct 15;

Jakarta. Two more corporations and 126 individuals who are allegedly responsible for the slash-and-burn practices causing the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan have been criminally charged by the National Police, a source revealed on Tuesday.

To date, the police have investigated a total of 130 incidents and 24 companies involved in the paper and palm oil businesses, but have only been able to charge three companies. Bumi Mekar Hijau, which operates in Riau, was the first corporation to be charged for the offense this year. On Tuesday, a police source revealed that Tempirai Palm Resources and Waymusi Agro Indah, both located in Ogan Komering Ilir district of South Sumatra, have also been charged.

President Joko Widodo visited Ogan Komering Ilir last week to personally inspect efforts to control forest fires, which have affected the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan and are also sending choking haze as far as Singapore and Malaysia.

During the visit, Joko instructed National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti, who accompanied the president, to not only investigate individuals involved but also corporations believed to be using slash-and-burn practices to clear land to make way for rubber and oil palm plantations.

Director of the police's criminal investigation department Brig. Gen. Yazid Fanani defended the process of investigations saying, “don't compare [investigations] in the field with those done in Jakarta. We have to deal with bushes, mountains, jungles and ravines. [At times, we can't] even access areas because there are no roads.”

Badrodin echoed the sentiment on Tuesday, saying that slash-and-burn cases are more difficult to solve than those involving drugs or terrorism. “In terrorism and drugs [cases], we have access to preliminary information, there’s the links and networks [of offenders],” he said, adding the police in such cases can also question people who know the suspects and use wiretapping or tracking methods to go after perpetrators.

“However, for [forest] fires, [the problem is] how do we get this [preliminary information] fast, and [how do we figure out] who started it?,” Badrodin said.

Badrodin added that satellite technology can now detect a fire, but there are also drawbacks, “we can’t possibly install CCTV to monitor every [part of] the forests."

However, some Indonesian scientists and businesses have called on the government to revise laws that allow for small subsistence farmers to perform slash-and-burn practices.

Meanwhile, the World Resources Institutes said in a statement on Saturday that fires have reached crisis levels in South Sumatra and Kalimantan, arguing that the situation is worse this year than the major outbreaks in June 2013, March 2014 and November 2014.

The WRI said satellites have detected 1,189 "high-confidence" fire alerts, exceeding the highest peaks of the last two years and it said “many of the fires, which are used to clear land for agriculture, are occurring on carbon-rich peat soils, causing widespread haze.”

Sumatra hospital says no jump in acute respiratory illnesses despite haze
Hospitals in South Sumatra are not seeing a rise in serious respiratory illnesses due to haze, says hospital director Dr Mohammad Syahril.
Jack Board Channel NewsAsia 4 Oct 15;

PALEMBANG: Despite making emergency preparations, hospitals in South Sumatra are not seeing a rise in serious respiratory illnesses due to lingering and hazardous haze, according to staff at one of the region's largest facilities on Saturday (Oct 3).

Since the beginning of September, the state-run RSUP Dr Mohammad Hosein Hospital in Palembang has placed a haze contingency team of eight doctors and three nurses on standby 24 hours a day to respond to any escalation in the situation.

At least 125,000 people are suffering from haze-related illnesses across Indonesia, said the head of the country's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPNB), Willem Rampangilei.

But according to hospital director Dr Mohammad Syahril, the air pollution, which at times has exceeded 1,000 API in South Sumatra, is not causing problems for the health system. "The impact of the smoke is not really heavy," he said. "The increase in the number of people suffering from ISPA (acute respiratory system infection) is not big."

Dr Mohammad said although his hospital and the local government understood the possible severity of the situation, not all locals heeded the warnings.

"Most of them take this as a serious problem, but some don't. If the situation is like this they're still not aware about wearing a mask," he said. He added that most people will only seek treatment at public health clinics and general practitioners if they are suffering from eye, throat or skin ailments.

He argued that even the cases of patients admitted to the hospital with severe ISPA may not be related to the haze problem. "We can't be sure. Although a long time ago there was no smoke, there was still ISPA," he said.

Local media reported that several children had died from respiratory illnesses in Riau and Jambi, but officials said it could not be confirmed if the cases were conclusively haze-related.

A report released last year by Greenpeace found that an average of 110,000 people across Indonesia die every year as a result of long-term exposure to the hazardous conditions. The casualties peaked in 1997-98 at about 300,000 when El Nino conditions prolonged the dry season.

A study in the nature journal Nature estimated that worldwide, 3.3 million people die every year from air pollution, most of them in Asia. This year is set to be one of the most severe events on record, according to scientists at NASA, and on a similar trajectory to the crisis years when deaths increased.

However, Dr Mohammad said his hospital has recorded no haze-related deaths and said the number of admissions were only up 10 per cent on normal months.


At a primary level, many local people visit smaller health clinics if they are feeling unwell. In one Palembang clinic, there have been consistent numbers of people complaining about haze-related illness, but no serious cases that required further medical attention, said midwife Fitri.

"There have been more patients than normal but still not too many," she said. "Many of them are complaining about having fever and a sore throat as well as asthma."

At Ogan Kemering Ilir, where most of the hotspots have been recorded in South Sumatra in 2015, locals said they were worried about the health impacts, but despite the risks, chose not to wear glasses, face masks or long sleeves to negate the impact of living and working around smoke.

"Actually it really disturbs our health but there are many other problems we have. Lots of our land is burning. The people here are losing their business," said local farmer Eddy.

Most schools have also remained open in the region throughout the crisis, but in West Sumatra, authorities on Friday ordered kindergartens to close indefinitely and consider closing elementary schools if the situation worsened.

Health officials have advised people to take precautionary measures and ensure they are hydrated and stay indoors when possible.

- CNA/xq

Respiratory cases up but most residents shrug off bad air
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Oct 15;

The air is thick with smoke that to this correspondent is unbearable to breathe in, but at an open-air Internet cafe in Central Kalimantan provincial capital Palangkaraya, eight out of every 10 of the young people who are about 20 to 30 years old are without a mask.

Sitting on wooden benches, they are intent on surfing the Internet and checking e-mail at this outdoor facility with affordable Wi-Fi connection, oblivious to the hazardous air that they are breathing in.

This was the spot my colleague, photographer Seah Kwang Peng, and I sent our photos and stories from last Thursday when the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit 1,800, way over the 350 mark, above which the air is considered hazardous.

The air was so heavy, it felt like liquid was seeping into my nose the moment I took off my mask. I put the mask back on quickly, so unbearable it was to breathe in the dense and acrid air. My eyes also watered the way they would not at, say, PSI 400, the reading in Sumatra when I was covering the haze there in 2013. I could also take the mask off for a minute or two then.

Yet, when the people at the Internet cafe were asked why they were not wearing a mask, a college student sitting on one of the benches who identified himself as Mr Hamdi said: "We are used to it."

Palangkaraya has been suffering from hazardous haze from the illegal burning of forests to clear land for cultivation for more than a month now, with the PSI breaching 2,000 in the fourth week of last month and hitting a record high of 2,300 for Indonesia on Sept 26.

The majority of its residents, however, have been stoic about the discomfort from the bad air and doing little to protect themselves from it, possibly because they underestimate its dangers.

"They don't know what the haze could do to their health. They may not suffer now, but later... as a long-term effect, they may do. The worst case is they could get lung cancer," Dr Theodorus Sapta Atmaja, head of human resources and public relations of the state-owned Doris Sylvanus hospital, told The Sunday Times.

To increase awareness among the people of the need to wear a mask to protect themselves against the haze, local governments throughout Central Kalimantan province have stepped up campaigns.

A huge street billboard in Palangkaraya had bold letters that read: "Warning!!! Haze could cause upper respiration infection - wear a mask, drink 2 litres of water a day, eat fruits and vegetable, reduce outdoor activity and have enough sleep."

Ms Gayantri, 27, a divorcee who lives in a 35 sq m landed house with her mother and only daughter in the Antang Kalang area of the city, has tried her best to keep the haze out of her house.

"We bought a second fan, turned both of them on and closed all the windows tight," she said. "This would help us get a good night's sleep."

But during the day, even when they are outdoors and the PSI level is hovering around 2,000, Ms Gayantri and her family do not bother to wear masks.

Not everyone is throwing caution to the wind, however.

For university lecturer Ester Sonya, wearing a mask is her new day-to-day norm, not only outdoors, but also at home when she is in the kitchen or living room. This is because the haze has permeated her house, she said.

When this correspondent spoke with the 45-year-old last Thursday at the Doris Sylvanus hospital, she was seeing a lung specialist for a haze-related problem, after dosing herself with cough medicine did not help her condition.

But Ms Ester, who has an eight-year old son, had put a strategy to work three weeks ago when the haze got uncomfortable, to protect her whole family.

"We have designated one air-conditioned bedroom in the house for daily living, sealing it by taping the windows from the inside and the door. This bedroom has become our home now. We sleep and do most of our daily activities there," she said.

It was possibly a wise move, for the number of upper respiratory cases (or locally called Ispa) in Palangkaraya has been rising steeply in the past two months.

While most Ispa cases can be treated on an outpatient basis, those with pre-existing conditions like asthma and weak lungs need to be hospitalised, said Dr Theodorus.

The number of Ispa inpatients at Doris Sylvanus was 34 last month, up from 18 in August.

Children in the age groups of one to four and five to 14 have been the most vulnerable.

Schools in the city were closed for three weeks from Sept 10 to keep the children at home. However, parents had to go to the schools to pick up their children's homework, so that they could keep up with their schoolwork.

"We make parents go to school and students stay home.

"Every Friday, morning to noon, parents are invited to pick up homework instructions at school," said Ms Masmunik Tambang, 59, a teacher at the Langkai primary school in the city centre, who has been teaching for 35 years.

Last Friday, schools were allowed to resume but were told to close again from yesterday to Tuesday as thick haze came back.

"This is the longest forced holiday period I have ever experienced (because of the haze)," said Ms Masmunik.

A new normal: Life goes on for Indonesians despite haze
Despite the API rising to hazardous levels, life goes on for the people of South Sumatra, with many choosing to ignore warnings to remain indoors.
Jack Board Channel NewsAsia 5 Oct 15;

PALEMBANG: Three boys laughed and shouted as they kicked a dusty football around on the lake's edge at Kambang Iwak Park on Sunday afternoon (Oct 4).

It is a popular place for sport and leisure for families and children, especially on the weekends, and under a sky leaking a sallow yellow hue, the 12-year-olds were largely untroubled by the unhealthy air.

Like for many other local people, despite a thick haze hanging over South Sumatra, life goes on. The Air Pollution Index (API) has risen to deeply hazardous levels in Palembang over the past few weeks, caused by fires burning in forests and plantations throughout the region.

Despite advice to remain indoors and wear a face mask, most do not take heed. The boys playing football said the weather does not affect their game. "We always play, it doesn't matter if it's smoky. But we do get tired more quickly," one of them said.

They are far from alone. On a busy running track, two joggers set the pace despite the API hovering around 300.

Sahrul and Rio are members of the Indonesian army and said they need to remain fit, even if the weather is far from ideal. "We run at least 10 kilometres every day, and we're used to the smoke so it doesn't affect us. " Sahrul said. "Our eyes and throats are fine."

Another jogger, Rico, 14, said he would rather not be outdoors, but the hazy conditions have prolonged and he wants to keep fit. "I'm worried about my lungs, it's harder to run now," he said.

Right across the city, there are clear signs of the local population having become accustomed to the haze and ignoring any warnings from health authorities to take precautions.

Yet, at least 125,000 people are suffering from haze related illnesses across Indonesia, according to the head of the country's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPNB), Willem Rampangilei.

But the futsal courts are constantly in use, people are walking the dogs and a group stands in a circle in a makeshift karate competition. It is the new normal in the middle of an environmental crisis.

- CNA/yt

Indonesian govt 'taking multiple steps to battle haze'
Francis Chan Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Oct 15;

Indonesia faces a monumental challenge in resolving the decades-old haze crisis but with President Joko Widodo, there is hope, said his chief of staff Teten Masduki.

The Joko administration has already done more than any previous administration, in terms of how it has responded to the current state of emergency, he added.

However, Mr Teten said he is aware the problem is more pressing this time because Indonesia is not just fighting fires in its own backyard but also going up against Mother Nature, with the vast archipelago experiencing an extended dry spell.

"If you compare with 2014, it is certainly more difficult for our government to solve this problem, and a lot of it is due to the weather and the impact of El Nino," said Mr Teten. El Nino refers to the climate phenomenon that causes a warming trend conducive to burning.

Speaking to The Sunday Times at his office in the Bina Graha presidential complex in Jakarta on Friday, Mr Teten outlined the President's three-pronged approach to deal with the haze.

The first was to deploy thousands of troops to support the Environment and Forestry Ministry's early response to get the flames under control. These measures include water bombing and cloud seeding - which creates artificial rain to douse the fires - as well as building canals to make it easier for landowners to "re-wet" gambut or dry peatland, which burns easily.

Next was the unprecedented step of openly going after those who practise outlawed slash-and-burn techniques to clear land, to cultivate crops like oil palm.

"We know very well that forest fires are an economic crime," said Mr Teten. "They burn the forest to cut the cost for land clearing, mostly at oil palm plantations. So, the President gave a very firm direction to the chief of police to implement the harshest sanctions against not just persons but also companies that are involved in the burning."

Hundreds of suspects have been arrested, and investigations into several plantation firms suspected of starting illegal forest fires have begun. Firms and landowners found guilty could have their business licences revoked and may also be subjected to criminal prosecution.

Another move was to restrict errant landowners from using the land for other businesses, trade or as collateral for loans, said Mr Teten.

No other president has put in place such economic disincentives to prevent future incidents of burning. "So I think this message is very strong," he added.

Mr Teten was made Chief of Presidential Staff just a month ago. The former anti-graft activist is a close aide of Mr Joko. He took over from another Joko insider, Mr Luhut Pandjaitan, who was appointed Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs as part of a recent Cabinet reshuffle.

Mr Teten said he was given the task of coordinating Indonesia's efforts to deal with the haze by Mr Joko. "My duty is to control and make sure that our Posko, or haze task force, is working, and to coordinate their efforts with the other ministries under Pak Luhut."

The transboundary haze crisis this year has sent air pollution levels soaring, affecting millions across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Some observers remain sceptical about whether Mr Joko is able to fix such a longstanding issue. But others, like Singapore Institute of International Affairs chairman Simon Tay, said it is clear the haze crisis is a priority for Mr Joko, who has said it may take up to three years to solve the problem.

Professor Tay said Mr Joko is fighting the fires, and has also pledged to prosecute the firms behind the fires. "If these efforts proceed efficiently and effectively, it will be something not seen before," he said. "The fires and haze are, first and foremost, an economic loss to Indonesia, and most hazardous to its citizens. This is now recognised by the Jokowi government."

Dr Nirarta Samadhi, from the World Resources Institute, said the public should not expect the issue to be entirely solved in three years. "It is too complex for that but, with a concerted effort on transparency and prevention, we could, hopefully, eliminate these extreme public health crises in the coming fire seasons."

Hot spots doubled in Central Kalimantan
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times AsiaOne 4 oct 15

Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province continued to be shrouded in thick haze as the Pollutant Standards Index in its capital Palangkaraya rose to 1,917 before sensors stopped sending updates after 11am yesterday.

The province has been the worst hit by forest fires raging over land embedded with coal deposits that make them almost impossible to put out during this dry spell. This has led to a spike in the number of hot spots recorded by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, particularly in September this year.

Data from the ministry show that Central Kalimantan - on Borneo island - registered 12,327 hot spots in September this year, compared with just 5,574 fires in the same month last year. South Sumatra, the other badly hit province, on Sumatra island saw about 11,450 hot spots, more than three times the number in the same period last year. This brought the total number of hot spots in September to 39,672 this year, compared to just under 15,000 fires recorded last year.

Central Kalimantan is struggling to deal with the haze that forced schools to close again after they reopened for one day on Friday. Schools had previously been forced to close for a record three weeks from Sept 10. "We water-bombed the fires in Pulang Pisau regency on Friday, but the fires re-emerged at the same spots this morning, coming from underneath," Ms Rani Anggraini at the Central Kalimantan governor's office told The Sunday Times by telephone yesterday.

A much larger amount of water - possible only through rains induced by cloud seeding - is needed to put out the fires in Pulang Pisau, where the layers of peatland can reach more than 5m deep. "We are closely monitoring (the situation). Cloud-seeding operations will start as soon as Central Kalimantan has clouds," Ms Rani said.

On Friday, clouds that had the potential to be seeded formed above Central Kalimantan. But they did not stay for long before they were broken up by winds and blown towards West Kalimantan province and Sumatra island, she added.

Cloud seeding in Central Kalimantan may only be possible above Pangkalan Bun city, which is to the west of the province near the border with West Kalimantan and about 400km west of Pulang Pisau. But the areas most hit by fires are to the south and south-east of the province.

Forest and plantation fires have intensified since August, causing more than 100,000 Indonesians nationwide to suffer upper respiratory infections or colds, delaying hundreds of flights at affected airports and temporarily shutting schools.

Thousands of troops have been deployed in Sumatra and Kalimantan to help douse fires.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has underlined three challenges in fire fighting operations. They are: The availability of ground water to douse fire is declining and the prolonged dry weather - coupled with high temperature - is worsening the fires. In addition, ground fire-fighting crew have started to have their health affected due to exhaustion and exposure to haze.

Read more!