Best of our wild blogs: 9 Oct 15

Public Gallery closure in Oct/Nov 2015 during the Kusu Island Pilgrimage season
Sisters' Island Marine Park

Brown Shrike impales caterpillar
Bird Ecology Study Group

Job Opportunity: Museum Officer
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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NEA explains why it does not give hourly PSI readings

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 9 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — Poor visibility during haze episodes is not always caused by air pollutants, the authorities said today (Oct 8).

Questions about the accuracy of Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings and Singapore’s reporting of air quality have persisted and the National Environment Agency (NEA) held a media briefing today to tackle some of these.

There is poor visibility when PSI levels are high, but “poor visibility can sometimes be things other than PSI”, said Dr Felicia Shaw, director of risk and resource at the Meteorological Service Singapore (Met Service).

In the face of calls for one-hour PSI readings, Ms Indrani Rajaram, project director and chief scientific officer of NEA’s pollution control department, reiterated that the public should instead be using the raw one-hour PM2.5 data for various areas of the island as a gauge to take the “necessary action”.

“If tomorrow there’s a health study, a very rigorous health study, that comes out and tells us one-hour PM2.5 concentration is harmful, we’ll use that to do a conversion (to get one-hour PSI). But at the moment the studies out there don’t give you a number that is supported by health studies to do this computing,” she said.

PM2.5 is fine particulate matter that is the pollutant of concern during the haze. Moisture is among the factors affecting visibility, as water droplets scatter light and some smoke particles attract water molecules around them, Dr Shaw explained.

Sulphates — one such water-attracting pollutant — could also lead to deterioration in visibility, and a theory is that particulate matter from the forest fires in Indonesia is rich in sulphates because the biomass has been exposed to volcanic sulphur dioxide.

The Met Service charted the relationship between visibility, PM2.5 and relative humidity for the past month and found that visibility remained poor when PM2.5 levels are lower, so long as conditions were humid. Charts of 2013 and 2014 haze months also show that the thickest haze produces the worst visibility but this was coupled with dry conditions when relative humidity was below 80 per cent.

To calculate the 24-hour PSI, concentrations of each PSI component — sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, ozone and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) — are averaged over 24 hours and converted to a sub-index (a number) via a series of computations. The highest sub-index is the 24-hour PSI.

The NEA began publishing three-hour PSI readings in 1997 to provide an indication of “current levels of air quality”, said Ms Indrani. Unlike 24-hour PSI readings, however, three-hour PSI readings are not tied to health advisories issued by the Health Ministry.

Ms Indrani also said the NEA will enhance the presentation of data on its myENV app. This is in response to feedback from the public, who have said that the numbers appearing on the app are not very clear due to the colours used, and that they would like to see PM2.5 fluctuations pictorially, instead of the numbers being presented in a table and for only a six-hour period.

“So these are some of the things we’re now looking into, to see how best to present the data. This is work still in progress,” she said, without divulging when the improvements would be rolled out.

The NEA has 22 air monitoring stations islandwide, each costing over S$300,000. Each component of the PSI is measured by analysers that are regularly calibrated. Real-time data from the stations are transmitted to a system that converts the feeds to average values and computes the PSI automatically.

The 24-hour PSI stood at a moderate 70 to 80 at 8pm today, and the one-hour PM2.5 was 35 to 52 microgrammes per cubic metre. Air quality is expected to be in the moderate range tomorrow, said the NEA.

Meanwhile, pharmacy chain Watsons Singapore has confirmed it does not stock the Paseo, NICE and Jolly brands of paper products that are related to Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP). The pharmacy chain is among those sent forms from the Singapore Environment Council and the Consumers Association of Singapore, asking them to declare that they have not procured or used wood, paper and/or pulp materials from the companies accused of causing fires in Indonesia.

Last month, NEA sent preventive measures notices to five Indonesian firms to deploy fire-fighting measures under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act. APP was asked to provide further information, which it acceded to last week.

In a statement today, Watsons Singapore’s chief operating officer Dominic Wong said: “We are working with all our suppliers to run an audit to ensure that their products supplied to us are not directly procured from the six companies accused of contributing to the haze pollution.”

Why it could look hazy even though PSI levels are low
What affects visibility other than air quality? Is rain during the hazy period acidic? Which PSI reading should one refer to? The National Environment Agency answers these questions in an "educational session" at its headquarters.
Justin Ong Channel NewsAsia 8 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: What you see is not what you get when it comes to the haze, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Thursday (Oct 8). This is because visibility can be influenced by factors other than air pollutants, such as humidity and weather.

NEA said it conducted an analysis from Sep 9 to Oct 6, a rainy period when Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) levels appeared "lower" than the thick haze that hung over Singapore. It looked at the correlation between PM2.5 concentration and visibility and its analysis revealed visibility remained poor when the concentration of PM2.5 particles was lowered, so long as conditions were humid.

A PM2.5 concentration of 60µg/m3 under high humidity or rainy conditions also gave the same visibility as a PM2.5 concentration of 250µg/m3 under drier conditions, the agency added. But poor visibility can persist even when the air starts to dry out, and even after humidity readings drop.

Dr Felicia Shaw, director of NEA's risk and resource department, explained why: "Rain can wash out many but not all of the sulphate particles and the situation is complicated when more haze blows in from Indonesia while it's raining."

She also addressed concerns of rain during the hazy season being perceived as acidic in nature: "Sulphur dioxide is released during burning in Indonesia, but it has to travel hundreds of kilometres to Singapore and will become sulphate particles then."

There was also "no change in rainwater PH levels during the haze", confirmed Ms Indrani Rajaram, NEA's chief scientific officer, who added that the acrid smell given off by the haze is due to a combination of gases rather than a particular one.

"Vegetation burning (in Indonesia) gives out a complex mix of gases. You cannot pinpoint which one produces which smell. It also depends on where and what is burning," she said.


During the "educational session" held at the Environment Building, NEA also explained how air quality is measured. While air quality internationally is usually measured by the concentration of six different air pollutants - sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, ozone and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), PM2.5 is the pollutant of concern during hazy periods, said NEA.

In Singapore, there is a network of 22 air monitoring stations with automatic analysers to continuously monitor the six key air pollutants, with one dedicated analyser for each pollutant, the agency added. The analysers are certified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as an equivalent method of measuring air quality.

Real-time data from the station is transmitted to NEA's Data Management Systems (DMS) at regular intervals. The DMS then converts the data to average hourly and daily values, which then computes the Pollutants Standards Index automatically.

NEA also noted that there are smaller, low-cost handheld devices available for particulate matter (PM) monitoring. While they are able to indicate PM levels, these devices are not accurate or certified for PM measurements. For instance, moisture in the air could lead to inflated readings on a handheld device.

The 24-hour PSI is the number to look out for in terms of taking precautions, said NEA, because health studies on effects of exposure to particulate matter have been based on this duration. 3-hour PSI and 1-hour PM2.5 levels are better used for immediate activities such as jogging.

"While raw numbers themselves are a good indication of how bad the haze is, it all also depends on how much time you've been exposed, the type of activity, health status, age etc.," said Ms Rajaram.

- CNA/dl/hs

NEA: No to 1-hour PSI
Mrs Indrani Rajaram with a machine used by NEA to help measure the concentration of PM2.5 in the air. Converting raw pollutant concentration data into one-hour PSI readings is not supported by health studies, she said.
Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Oct 15;

The National Environment Agency (NEA) will not heed calls for it to provide one-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings.

This is because converting raw pollutant concentration data into one-hour PSI readings is not supported by health studies, said project director and chief scientific officer Indrani Rajaram from the NEA's pollution control department yesterday.

The NEA calculates PSI by inputting pollutant concentration data into a formula that takes into account breakpoints - upper and lower concentration limits derived from health studies.

"If tomorrow, there is a very rigorous health study that tells us that (there is a) one-hour PM2.5 concentration that is harmful, we will use that to do a conversion.

"But at the moment, studies out there don't give you a number supported by health studies."

She urged people to use three-hour PSI readings or one-hour concentrations of PM2.5 - the dominant pollutant during periods of haze - as "an indicative measure to make adjustments to daily activities". As a gauge, the maximum concentration of PM2.5 on a regular, non-hazy day is usually between 20 micrograms and 35 micrograms per cubic m. It becomes a serious problem when the numbers hit 100, and dangerous when it exceeds 200.

The haze on Sunday, when it was not as bad as other days. When PSI readings fluctuate and air quality does not always correspond with the smell and look of the air, hourly readings can help people plan their days better.

Mrs Indrani stressed that the three-hour PSI is not a gauge of whether the air quality is good, moderate or hazardous - bands based on only the 24-hour PSI. Many have called for hourly PSI readings to better plan their activities.

The NEA also said it is looking at ways to improve the user interface on its MyENV app and website.

Official one-hour PSI figures, please
Audrey Tan Straits Times 8 Oct 15;

The haze is back with a vengeance, and this year's seasonal episode is well on its way to becoming the worst on record.

Foul-smelling air and health concerns aside, the haze has also cast a pall on the National Environment Agency's (NEA) ability to provide timely air quality readings.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings posted on do not provide up-to-date information which people can use to plan their day, say some individuals, volunteer groups and organisations, which are turning to at least three different alternative sources to judge how hazy it is here at any given moment.

Their issue is this: Amid periods of intense haze, when PSI readings fluctuate and air quality does not always correspond to the smell and look of the air, hourly PSI readings are needed to help people better plan their activities to avoid exposure to air pollution at its worst.

The NEA website provides 24-hour and three-hour PSI readings that measure the average concentration levels of six component pollutants over the given period. These readings are accurate and reliable. But they do not provide information on actual conditions, says Dr Erik Velasco, an air pollution researcher from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.

On top of the consolidated PSI readings, the haze website also provides breakdowns of the concentrations of individual pollutants. It gives hourly concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5 - the main pollutant in transboundary haze. It also provides eight-hour concentrations of carbon monoxide and ozone, and 24-hour concentrations of PM2.5, PM10 and sulphur dioxide.

These readings are complicated - they have different hourly averages and different measurement units, such as milligrams per cubic metre for carbon monoxide and micrograms (mcg) per cubic metre for the others.

Said Mr Kavickumar Muruganathanm, head of eco-certifications and lead environmental engineer from non-government organisation the Singapore Environment Council (SEC): "To the man in the street, he would find it hard to evaluate and interpret these figures.

"A uniform index-based reporting system would be useful for easy understanding of the air quality based on individual pollutants for a layman."

A one-hour PSI reading could do just that.

Now, NEA says that although there have been recent studies on sub-daily or shorter PM2.5 exposure, "the evidence of these studies is not sufficient for the development of one-hour PSI".

This has not stopped volunteer groups, such as the People's Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze), from taking matters into their own hands. The group calculates one-hour PSI readings for north, south, east, west and central Singapore by using the one-hour PM2.5 concentration data and mathematical formula found on NEA's website.

Group president Tan Yi Han said: "The rationale is simply to provide more accurate information of the current pollution level that a person is being exposed to.

"As one-hour PM2.5 concentrations are already being provided for each region, why not display it in the PSI format?"

But, to put things in perspective, on a day when PM2.5 levels hit 100mcg per cubic metre, a person will take in around 1,100mcg of these pollutants if he stays outdoors throughout the day. This is much less than the amount of PM2.5 pollutants a smoker will inhale for every cigarette consumed, which is in the range of 10,000mcg and 40,000mcg.

On a regular, non-hazy day, the maximum concentration of PM2.5 is usually between 20 and 35 mcg per cubic metre, said an expert. They start becoming a serious problem when the numbers hit 100, and dangerous when they exceed 200.

The authorities here also base health advisories on the 24-hour PSI as scientific, and epidemiological studies on the health effects of particulate matter have been based on these measurements.

Experts acknowledge that more studies are needed to investigate the impact of short-term exposure to haze on health. But many point out that one-hour PSI readings should still be provided to help people decide on personal protection measures.

Mr Tan noted that 24-hour PSI readings take 24 hours to reflect changes in air quality, even if PM2.5 levels swing drastically.

Last Saturday, for instance, the one-hour PM2.5 reading at 4pm was 200mcg per cubic metre. At 5pm, it rose to 252mcg per cubic metre. "People who rely on the 24-hour PSI may have been doing strenuous outdoor activities for the whole day and exposing themselves to a very unhealthy dose of pollution," he said.

So, instead of the official website, people are turning to websites such as or for haze updates. This is less than ideal, as it means misinformation can spread easily.

Just a few weeks ago, a rumour claiming the Government had seeded clouds to clear the skies for the Formula One race was circulated. It implied that the resultant rain was harmful.

The information was untrue.

As Dr Velasco put it: "The main goal of the PSI should be to communicate... air quality conditions using a simplified scale with no technicalities. Having an index for each pollutant won't be practical or efficient to communicate with the public."

The NEA took a step in the right direction when it included concentrations of PM2.5, the main pollutant of concern, into PSI calculation last year. Providing one-hour PSI readings should be its next goal.

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Indonesia ‘morally and legally responsible for haze’

KELLY NG Today Online 8 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — Weighing in on why there is no straightforward resolution to the haze problem, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh today (Oct 8) pointed out the “political cost” involved, unlike trade matters that can be referred to international courts.

Speaking at the Law Society’s biennial lecture, Professor Koh was asked by a member of the audience why more resolute measures were not taken to address the situation.

He did not elaborate on what he meant by political cost but he referred to how he had pleaded with the Government to take legal action against Australia when in 2006, it unilaterally imposed a requirement on ships passing through the Torres Strait — which lies between Papua New Guinea and Australia — to be operated by a licensed Australian pilot, unless the vessels fall under an exempted class. Prof Koh said: “But if you were the Prime Minister of Singapore… you have to think, in the totality of my interest with Australia, how much weight do I give to this one irritant?”

He added that diplomats from the United States, too, were willing to “scold the Australians but not take legal action” due to their country’s strategic and military interest. “Life is complicated, my friend,” he said.

On the haze problem, Prof Koh, who also chairs the Governing Board of the National University of Singapore’s Centre for International Law, reiterated that while every country has “a sovereign right to exploit its natural resources, this is not an unlimited right”.

“The international law is very clear... activities that happen within your jurisdiction, (when) it causes harm and damage to another country, you are responsible,” he said, adding that he was upset by “unreasonable statements” made by some Indonesian leaders. “It must be clear to everyone, including our Indonesian brothers and sisters, that they are morally and legally responsible for the haze.”

Prof Koh reiterated that the Republic can play its part to enhance environment sustainability, such as by requiring all financial institutions to join the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil and working with international associations to enhance fire-fighting standards in the region.

He also commended the efforts of non-government groups such as the Singapore Environment Council and the Haze Elimination Action Team to try and tackle the problem. However, he stressed that the ball is in Indonesia’s court. “The bottom line is, the problem does not lie in our territory. We can’t solve it from here.”

Away from the haze, Prof Koh also spoke about the “constant tussle” in diplomacy between friendship and principles.

Among the examples he cited: When Singapore and its Association of South-east Asian Nations neighbours condemned Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in the late 1970s, many other countries applauded the Vietnamese as a “saviour” for overthrowing the Khmer Rouge. “Think about it. Should we approve of a militarily powerful neighbour using its military power to invade and occupy a neighbour and to impose a regime of its choice on the country...I was torn,” said Prof Koh, who was Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) then. He added that he had to persuade the UN to support ASEAN’s position and was “berated” by Western counterparts for being “heartless”.

Another example was when Prof Koh intervened on the Republic’s behalf in the UN Security Council’s debate on the United States’ invasion of Grenada in the 1980s. The Americans saw his action as unfriendly, he said. “Do you put friendship first? Or do you put principle first? It is a constant tussle in diplomacy, and to this day I am not sure whether I made the right judgment call. Maybe my legal training has corrupted me,” he said.

Prof Koh also explained why Singapore is slow to accede to international conventions on human rights. The Republic is relatively cautious in undertaking international obligations and it must first be satisfied that it can live up to them, he said. “Many countries take a very cavalier attitude and just sign up to everything. But it doesn’t mean they internalise and implement these obligations,” he added.

Also, Singapore takes a “collegial” attitude by seeking consensus from agencies here before assenting to any convention. But Prof Koh said this approach frustrates him, as the dissenting agencies often do not have a compelling case. “But it is our collegial culture that we do not proceed on the basis of majority… I think that is a problem. Maybe the PM can review this.”

Seeing Indonesia through the haze
SIMON TAY Today Online 9 Oct 15;

There are reasons to be frustrated and angry about the haze pollution, caused by fires in Indonesian provinces. There are also reasons to question whether real action will be taken and can be effective.

The problem is driven not by natural causes, but by man-made deforestation and land clearance for the expansion of palm oil, and pulp and paper plantations. Addressing the root of the problem is even more problematic because of uncertain land rights, corruption, decentralisation and conflicting rules. Powerful corporations are involved and while some have made pledges for greater transparency and sustainability, others remain opaque and uncommitted. Moreover, rather than consistent priority, there have been periods of inaction and statements by high-ranking Indonesian officials that play down the problem.

It would be easy to be cynical and last week, visiting Jakarta, I felt a sense of deja vu.

Back in 1998, I had gone to see the Indonesian government and their Minister for the Environment. Even after then-President Suharto had accepted moral responsibility, not enough was done. It did not seem to matter that Indonesians had suffered economic costs, estimated at some US$5 billion (S$7.06 billion) in terms of the fire damage, health costs and lost tourism. Today, a “Jakarta only” mindset persists. The fires and haze do not affect the capital where the rich and political elite live. The biggest companies have never faced prosecution. But, my meetings last week give some reasons to be encouraged.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has personally visited the worst affected areas, where the pollution is many times more than what neighbouring states suffer. He sees the problem as an “economic crime” that harms Indonesia and her people. An emergency has been declared and thousands of troops have been sent to help firefighting.

The serious intention shows in the Situation Room in the President’s Palace. The room is fully set up to provide real-time monitoring of the fires in Kalimantan and Riau, the worst-hit provinces. There is a team on hand to analyse the information and to gather reports from officials, as well as the community and NGOs on the ground.

The President’s Chief of Staff, Pak Teten Masduki, assures me that updates are given every day to the President personally, and he is anxious to move ahead. A list of companies has been named for investigation and possible prosecution, and the President has promised to solve the problem.

Is this too good to believe?


Mr Widodo was elected as “the people’s President”, the first person outside the Jakarta elite to take up the top office. He promised to change things to help the vast majority of Indonesian citizens and yet, near the first anniversary of his election, this has proved difficult. Opposition and differing factions within the governing party have slowed progress. A lack of coordination even among some ministers has created uncertainty.

A cabinet reshuffle has followed, with a change of the economic affairs team and in key positions closest to the President, including the chief of staff position that Pak Teten now occupies. The Joko Widodo administration is under pressure to prove it can be effective. In this context, the haze is not only an environmental issue, but a test of government capacity and will.

No one should be naive. The issues and interests behind the fires are complex and will not be resolved just by the word of one person, even the President. A full solution may well take three years, as Mr Widodo has said publicly. Indeed, some analysts reckon that to be a highly ambitious target. Some things can only be achieved in the longer term. One example is Indonesia’s One Map to authoritatively define ownership and approved uses of land concessions. Years of effort have been made, but much more needs to be done.

However, there are steps that can be taken more immediately if, indeed, greater and more focused efforts are being made by the administration.

First, beyond emergency fire-fighting, look to Mr Widodo to publicly set priorities and close any gaps in existing regulations.

For this, a presidential decree can set the agenda, and this can be done by the executive without facing parliamentary opposition.

A second sign is whether the Palace will, indeed, move to speedily investigate and prosecute Indonesian companies, including the larger ones. Such action would be unprecedented. Indonesian authorities should also share information about any Singapore-based companies so that prosecutions can proceed in the Singaporean courts.

Thirdly, Mr Widodo yesterday said that he had asked neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore and even Russia and Japan for help to put out the haze-causing fires, a departure from Indonesia’s past stance of turning down offers for assistance.

This is a good sign and Mr Widodo should take leadership on the transboundary haze issue next month when leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well as major powers of the region will meet.

The problem is complex and has persisted, tragically, and for too long. Fundamentally, the “Jakarta only” mindset must change so that it is understood that the fires and haze, first and foremost, affect Indonesia, her people and her economy.

Much needs to be done and can be. But, much depends on Indonesia and Mr Widodo being willing and able to take the lead, with real action. If concrete steps are taken, all should put aside anger and cynicism — not only to applaud, but to lend full support.


Simon Tay is chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, which is holding a public exhibition on the causes of the fires and haze from October 16 - 18 at NEX shopping mall in Serangoon.

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Jokowi says Indonesia accepts foreign aid to tackle forest fires 8 Oct 15;

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo confirmed on Thursday that Indonesia is open to any foreign assistance to tackle forest fires in several provinces across Kalimantan and Sumatra. Some of the foreign assistance was being processed, he said.

“We have requested assistance from several countries and we have been helped by Singapore. Aid from other countries, namely Japan, Malaysia and Russia, is still being processed,” he said as quoted by The President was speaking while observing the drilling of a mass rapid transit tunnel project in Senayan, Jakarta, on Thursday.

President Jokowi said it was expected that foreign assistance could accelerate efforts to extinguish forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra. Among the assistance Indonesia had received was an aircraft, which was borrowed by the Singaporean government and could carry more than 10 tons of water to extinguish fires, he added.

The aerial fire extinguishing aircraft from Singapore is expected to arrive in Indonesia on Thursday. The government expects that Indonesia’s forest fires will be completely resolved by the end of October.

“The handling of peat fires is different from the way you handle fires in ordinary forests. Three aircraft will arrive today and what we need most is an aircraft that can carry around 12-15 tons of water,” said Jokowi.

Land and forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra have been ongoing for several months, pushing down the air pollution index of areas in the two islands to a dangerous level. The haze disaster has disrupted many public activities. Schools were closed while thick haze led to flight delays and cancellations.

As reported earlier, President Jokowi is scheduled to observe the handling of fires in Jambi on Thursday. (ebf) (++++)

Malaysia deploying assets to help Indonesia put out fires, says Hisham
FIRDAOUS FADZIL The Star 8 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is deploying its assets to help Indonesia put out fires in Palembang and South Sumatra.

Ministry of Defence Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein (pic) made the announcement after attending a meeting on the revamped National Service 2.0 at the ministry here, on Thursday.

He said the decision was made after the president of Indonesia requested our help through the Prime Minister to put out the fire there.

"I have contacted my counterpart Ryamizard Ryacudu and Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi," he said.

"The Malaysian Government will deploy an amphibious plane Bombardier CL415MP for the mission," said Hishammuddin.

He added that the aircraft is able to drop 6,137 litres of water in 12 seconds while flying at the speed of 130kmh (70knots).

The operation, which will be coordinated between Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), will see water dropped at affected areas as determined by the Indonesian authorities.

Indonesia seeks help over fires
RAZAK AHMAD The Star 9 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia, Singapore, Russia and Japan will help Indonesia put out Kalimantan and Sumatra forest fires that are causing the terrible haze in the region.

After initially rejecting all offers of assistance to beat out the flames, Indonesia finally decided to let the other nations help.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforce­ment Agency (MMEA) will be sending a Bombardier CL415MP amphibious aircraft.

Working with the Royal Malaysian Air Force, the MMEA will use the aircraft to douse fires at locations determined by the Indonesian authorities.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said Indonesian President Joko Widodo had, through Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, asked Malaysia for help.

Joko, in a statement yesterday, said he needed aircraft that could carry between 12 and 15 tonnes of water each.

He said he hoped this would help speed up the process of putting out the fires, which are on peat soil, making them harder to extinguish unlike regular forest fires.

Singapore would send three aircraft while Russia would deploy several water bombers, said Joko, who is popularly known as Jokowi.

Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar welcomed Indonesia’s request for assistance.

“This should be regarded as a positive development in regional cooperation,” he said.

He said he made the offer on behalf of Malaysia to help Indonesia about three weeks ago.

In 1997, during the worst transboundary haze incident, Malaysia sent 1,200 firemen to Indonesia for 28 days to help put out fires in various locations there.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman and his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi will discuss cooperative efforts on transboundary haze at a two-day meeting in Kuala Lumpur that starts today.

The 14th Meeting of the Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation between Malaysia and Indonesia will see both ­ministers also discussing a number of bilateral issues.

Dr Wan Junaidi, in another statement yesterday, said the haze situation in Malaysia was expected to improve until Monday, due to more rainfall here following the end of tropical storm Mujigae over north Vietnam.

“However, transboundary haze from Sumatra and Kalimantan will still affect the air quality in the country,” he said.

Indonesia formally accepts help from Singapore to tackle haze
MFA said it is awaiting further details from Indonesian counterparts on the assets under Singapore's haze assistance package which Indonesia will require.
Channel NewsAsia 8 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: The Government of Singapore has received a formal note from Indonesia, stating that Indonesia “welcome(s) the cooperation offered by Singapore to suppress large-scale forest fires in Indonesia”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement on Thursday (Oct 8).

It comes a day after Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he had a good discussion with his Indonesian counterpart on the fires which are causing transboundary haze pollution across Indonesia's neighbours such as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has also requested help from Malaysia, Russia and Japan to battle the fires on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

MFA said it is awaiting further details from Indonesian counterparts, on the assets under Singapore's haze assistance package which Indonesia will require.

"To elaborate on our package, we have offered one C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding operations. However, such operations will ultimately depend on whether cloud conditions are conducive for cloud seeding," an MFA spokesman said.

"One Chinook helicopter with one 5,000 litre heli-bucket under-slung, will also be made available. This Chinook will be used for the aerial fire-fighting and water-bombing efforts. The heli-bucket will be operated by a Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) from the SCDF."

In a Facebook post on Thursday evening, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the Singapore Armed Forces' Chinook "stands ready, and will be able to take off once the Indonesians' approval is given".

Singapore has also offered to share high resolution satellite pictures and hotspot coordinates with Indonesian authorities.

- CNA/ly

Indonesia seeks help from several countries to fight fires
Gayatri Suroyo and Kanupriya Kapoor PlanetArk 9 Oct 15;

Indonesia on Thursday asked several countries including China, Singapore, Russia, and Japan for help to put out fires that have sent choking smoke drifting across the region for weeks.

Indonesia had repeatedly declined offers of outside help to tackle the smoke, which is mostly caused by companies using fire to clear land for palm oil and pulp wood plantations on Sumatra island and its part of Borneo island.

"We have asked for help," President Joko Widodo said in a statement, adding that Indonesia was hoping for at least three aircraft from Singapore and Russia to help douse the fires that often smolder underground for weeks in peat deposits.

"What we need now are planes that can carry 12-15 tonnes of water, not like the 2-3 tonnes we have now," Widodo said.

"We hope this will speed up the process because fires on peat land is different from regular forest fires."

Indonesia was also in talks with Australia and Malaysia about how they might help, said foreign ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir.

"We have been using all our resources but what we see is our progress is not quick enough," Nasir told Reuters, adding that Indonesia was exploring what roles the countries could play and what equipment they could provide.

They aimed to finalize details "as soon as possible", he said.

Indonesian officials did not elaborate on why the government had now decided to seek foreign help. It had faced criticism for turning down offers from Singapore.

The smoke has pushed up pollution to dangerous levels across parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and southern Thailand, disrupted flights and closed schools on bad days.

Tourism operators are fretting and health authorities across the region have warned people to avoid exercise when the smoke is heavy.

Indonesia routinely brushes off complaints while vowing to act to stop the burning. But year after year, the problem flares in the dry season.

It has been exacerbated this year by the El Nino weather phenomenon which has brought unusually dry conditions.

Indonesia's national disaster management agency said last week it was hoping for rain to help douse the fires by early November, when the northeast monsoon usually starts.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi is expected to meet her Malaysian counterpart on Friday to discuss the problem.

Singapore's foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, said on his Facebook page the city-state had offered personnel, aircraft, and satellite imaging.

(Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Robert Birsel)

MFA waiting for details of Indonesia’s needs
Today Online 9 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) today (Oct 8) said it was waiting for Indonesia to provide more details on which of the assets offered under the haze assistance package the latter would require.

“We have received a formal note from Indonesia, stating that Indonesia ‘welcome(d) the cooperation offered by Singapore to suppress large-scale forest fires in Indonesia’,” said an MFA spokesperson.

Earlier today, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that Indonesia was hoping for at least three aircraft from Singapore and Russia to help douse the fires. “What we need now are planes that can carry 12 to 15 tonnes of water, not like the 2 to 3 tonnes we have now,” Mr Widodo said.

As part of the haze assistance package, Singapore has offered one C-130 aircraft for cloud-seeding operations, which will depend on cloud conditions, as well as one Chinook helicopter with one 5,000-litre heli-bucket under-slung.

The Chinook helicopter will be used for the aerial fire-fighting and water-bombing efforts, while the heli-bucket will be operated by a Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

The SCDF’s fire-fighting assistance team, which will not be involved in fighting the flames on the ground, will assist Indonesian authorities in field planning. They will also make recommendations on how best to deploy resources needed for fire-fighting operations. They will be led by a senior SCDF officer who is “experienced in conducting rapid assessment for fire-fighting operations”, the MFA spokesperson said.

Up to two C-130 aircraft will be on standby to provide further support. Singapore has also offered to share its high resolution satellite pictures and hotspot coordinates.

Writing on Facebook, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said he was glad that the Indonesian leaders have stated publicly that they accept Singapore’s help. The Chinook helicopter, which was previously used to put out forest fires in Chiang Mai, will be able to take off “once the Indonesians’ approval is given”, he said. A Super Puma helicopter with a 2,000 litre heli-bucket could also be activated if needed, he added.

Jakarta rejected earlier offers ‘over concerns S’pore would claim credit’
Today Online 8 Oct 15;

JAKARTA — Indonesian Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said that Jakarta had earlier rejected Singapore’s offers of assistance to combat the transboundary haze crisis in the region because it was concerned that the city state would claim credit for solving the problem, even while the officials were worried about the rapidly deteriorating situation.

“The (Indonesian) government is not closing ourselves off to assistance. But if we are assisted, the government does not want them (Singapore) to claim the credit. It is the government that is working hard to resolve (this smog disaster) … So we do not want it to reach the point of them claiming credit for it,” Mr Anung told CNN Indonesia yesterday (Oct 7).

According to Indonesian media reports, President Joko Widodo held an unscheduled closed-door meeting yesterday to discuss the haze problem, which has worsened this week.

Jakarta today asked for help from Singapore, Russia, Malaysia and Japan to put out forest fires that have caused choking smoke to drift across South-east Asia, after having turned down several offers of foreign assistance from other countries, particularly Singapore and Malaysia, which have also been affected by haze since the crisis began last month.

Minister of Forestry and Environment Siti Nurbaya Bakar said yesterday that the government had opened up to the possibility of accepting international assistance as the situation was getting worse.

Dr Siti Nurbaya explained that as the fires spread and difficulty of putting them out increased, Indonesia would need support from abroad to provide equipment that is capable of providing water capacity and stronger volume pressure. “It seems that there is a need to receive support whether from Singapore, Russia, Austria, and others,” said the minister at the Presidential Palace Complex yesterday. She added that water bombing and artificial rain would be the most effective and in this regard, Indonesia required more aircraft at its disposal

This was despite Dr Siti Nurbaya stating earlier that Indonesia did not require any assistance from Singapore as it has more than enough aircraft.

Mr Anung stressed yesterday that while the government had not yet decided to declare the smog that is blanketing Sumatra and Kalimantan as a national disaster, it was very concerned about the problem. He said Mr Widodo was actively monitoring the situation, especially through social media, including direct view content uploaded by the community.

“Earlier we showed this (information from social media) to the President. The President knows everything, because we want the President to get information that is as complete as possible to the events that happened,” the Cabinet Secretary highlighted.

Mr Widodo planned to go to a number of areas affected by the haze but he has not been able to do so as the air quality and visibility worsened. AGENCIES

SCDF ready to leave for Indonesia to fight fires
Francis Chan, Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Oct 15;

Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) personnel and aircraft from the Singapore Armed Forces are standing by - ready to leave for Indonesia at a moment's notice.

This after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) received a formal note from Indonesia stating that it welcomes the "co-operation offered by Singapore to suppress (the) large-scale forest fires".

"Currently, we are awaiting further details from our Indonesian counterparts on the assets under our haze assistance package which Indonesia will require," an MFA spokesman said in response to queries from The Straits Times.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said yesterday that apart from Singapore, Russia and Malaysia will also help his country tackle the forest and peatland fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra. "We hope efforts to fight fires will be accelerated," he added.

Mr Joko had faced pressure from local politicians who told the government not to turn away foreign offers of help to fight the fires.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a Facebook post last night that he was glad Indonesia accepted the help. Singapore had extended the offer several times but was turned down until now.

MFA said the assistance package includes a Chinook helicopter with a 5,000-litre heli-bucket for use in aerial firefighting and water-bombing operations. The heli-bucket will be operated by the SCDF's elite Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team.

A C-130 Hercules aircraft will be deployed for cloud seeding. When the operation will take place will ultimately depend on cloud conditions, the ministry said.

"A firefighting assistance team from the SCDF will be deployed to provide field assessment and planning assistance... (and) the team will be led by a senior SCDF officer, experienced in the conduct of rapid assessment for firefighting operations," added the MFA. "Up to two C-130 aircraft will be on standby to provide further support."

Singapore has also offered to share its high-resolution satellite pictures and hot-spot coordinates.

Indonesia's disaster management agency (BNPB) said yesterday that foreign assets will be deployed specifically in South Sumatra's Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin regencies, which are among the worst hit by peatland fires this year.

A coordination meeting will be held to discuss in detail such items as the type of assistance needed and the work flow, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

Dr Ng said the Chinook, which was deployed to put out forest fires in Chiang Mai in March, stands ready and will take off once Indonesia gives the green light. He added: "In addition, we can follow up with a Super Puma helicopter with a 2,000-litre heli-bucket as needed."

Jakarta accepts foreign help to fight raging forest fires
Francis Chan, Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, AsiaOne 8 Oct 15;

After weeks of trying to tackle the country's forest fires on its own, Indonesia yesterday welcomed help from abroad, including from Singapore and Russia.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post last night: "Had a good discussion this evening with (Indonesia's) Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi who indicated that Indonesia will now take up our offer. Good for our countries to work together to resolve this as soon as possible."

As for the Russian offer of a Beriev Be-200, which can carry up to 37,200kg of water, it came after earlier talks had stalled.

Indonesia has been facing mounting pressure, both at home and abroad, to resolve the transboundary haze crisis, with Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha the latest leader to demand more collective action. Parts of southern Thailand were shrouded by smoke from forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan that has already affected air quality in Singapore and parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The haze prompted General Prayut to push for ASEAN-level efforts to tackle the decades-old issue. His call on Wednesday follows that by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Tuesday to do more.

Singapore has repeatedly said it stands ready to help but its offer was turned down until last night. Its assistance included a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) land firefighting team, a C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding and a Chinook helicopter equipped with a water bucket for aerial firefighting.

Yesterday, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs extended another SCDF team to provide assessment and planning assistance, high-resolution satellite pictures and hot spot coordinates.

Mr Atmadji Sumarkidjo, a close aide of Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan, said last night Russia has offered a Beriev Be-200.

As to when the Singapore assets will be deployed, he added: "We are trying to find the right timing... The haze is thick now so they won't be effective."

It is widely recognised that President Joko Widodo's administration is already doing more than any previous government to tackle the latest haze crisis. But the high economic and human costs prompted Indonesian politicians to ask the government to do more, including accepting foreign offers of aid.

Democratic Party spokesman Imelda Sari said: "Indonesia must open up. We do not need to be embarrassed to get assistance from the neighbouring countries. This is part of the ASEAN solidarity."

Mr Mochammad Romahurmuziy, a senior leader in the United Development Party, said that "with help from neighbouring countries, we can solve it (crisis) faster".

Read more!

Indonesia: MPR urges govt to declare haze national disaster

Antara 8 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Consultative Assembly (MPR) Hidayat Nur Wahid has urged the government to declare the haze affecting several parts of Indonesia a national disaster.

He said such a declaration will enable professional and effective measures to kick in to address the menace.

"The losses (caused by haze disaster) have reached more than Rp3 trillion. If it is declared a national disaster, full scale efforts can be launched to deal with the situation," he said here on Thursday.

By declaring the haze a national disaster, the people will be able to perceive that the government is committed to cope with the situation, he said.

In addition, the country will be able to direct its budget towards handling this disaster by setting up a smoke emergency operations task force, among other steps, he said.

"With every passing day, (the handling of haze) has been increasingly taking a back seat. People are putting up posters. Doesnt the President see them?" he asked.

It is not late to handle the haze even at this stage since the lives of the people of Indonesia are involved, he said.

The slow handling of the haze will take its own toll and even upset neighboring countries, he said.

"It is not late (to handle the haze at this stage) rather than ignoring it. The disaster will claim lives in the long run," he said.

The haze disaster, which has lasted for more than a month, has now become a serious problem because it has taken its own toll and is threatening the lives of other people, he said.

The President must focus on resolving the haze problem by ensuring that the affected people feel a sense of security and protection, he said.(*)

Joko Postpones Haze-Hit Jambi Trip, Will Visit W. Sumatra Palace Instead
Jakarta Globe 8 Oct 15;

Jakarta. Decreasing visibility levels due to thickening haze in Jambi has forced President Joko Widodo to postpone his trip to the province to Saturday.

The president will instead visit the Bung Hatta Palace in Bukit Tinggi, West Sumatra, said Bey Mahmuddin, head of the state press bureau.

After two previous cancellations, Joko and first lady Iriana Joko Widodo were set to leave for Jambi on Thursday morning, but deteriorating air conditions in the province forced them to change course.

Joko will on Friday fly to Riau, Bey added.

Riau has been the hardest hit by toxic smog since the haze crisis began, with more than 200 forest fires detected across the province.

The provincial capital Pekanbaru reported on Thursday morning that visibility in the area dropped to as low as 50 meters.

"[Joko's] schedule, therefore, is still tentative, depending on the weather," Bey said as quoted by state news agency Antara.

Joko was planning to visit patients suffering from acute respiratory ailments at hospitals in Jambi before observing fire extinguishing efforts in the province on Thursday.

Data from Indonesia's climate agency showed that the air pollution index in Jambi reached 392 as of 11 a.m. Any reading that surpasses 350 is considered hazardous.

Haze delays President Jokowi`s visit to Jambi
Antara 8 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) delayed his visit to Jambi as the haze hindered the landing of the presidential plane at Sultan Taha Airport in Jambi, Thursday.

"It is likely on Saturday if the weather is fine. It is still tentative," Bey Mahmuddin, the head of the presidential press bureau, noted in Padang, West Sumatra, on Thursday.

The president had changed his schedule to visit West Sumatra. On Friday (Oct. 9), Jokowi will visit Kampar District, Riau Province, by car to monitor the efforts to extinguish forest fires.

Earlier, President Jokowi was scheduled to pay a working visit to the provinces of Jambi and Riau, which have been badly affected by the haze from forest and plantation fires.

President Jokowi and First Lady Iriana along with some ministers departed from Halim Perdana Kusuma Air Force base at 10 a.m. local time.

The head of state will supervise efforts to extinguish the forest fires in the two provinces whose inhabitants have been reeling under the impact of the smog that has reached a hazardous level over the past few weeks.

On Saturday, the president will visit Mentawai Island to oversee the progress in development and the condition of the local community on the island devastated by a deadly tsunami in December 2004.

Jokowi will also officiate a groundbreaking ceremony of Mandeh tourism zone in South Pesisir and will visit a cattle ranch in the district of 50 Kuto.

On Sunday, he will inspect the construction work of an airport rail link in Padang and will officially close the Tour de Singkarak cycling competition in West Sumatra.(*)

Smoke worsens in Pekanbaru, again 8 Oct 15;

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Pekanbaru, Riau, said smoke from land and forest fires had worsened again, reducing the visibility in the city to only around 50 meters on Thursday morning.

“Smoke shrouding Pekanbaru this morning was mixed with fog, reducing the visibility to only around 50 meters after it improved to around 1,000 meters on Wednesday morning,” BMKG Pekanbaru head Sugarin said as quoted by Antara news agency.

He further said apart from Pekanbaru, thick smoke from land and forest fires was also detected in several areas in Riau, such as in Rengat, Indragiri Hulu regency, where the visibility stood at only 500 meters.

Haze was also reported to have continued to blanket Pelalawan, in which the visibility was around 200 meters. Haze in Dumai was reported to have declined on Thursday morning, with the visibility reaching 1,000 meters.

Meanwhile, BMKG Pekanbaru said that as of 5 a.m. local time on Thursday, Terra and Aqua satellites detected 202 hot spots in areas across Sumatra.

“Most of the hot spots are still focused in South Sumatra, with 198 hot spots. Bangka Belitung and Lampung have one hot spot each,” said Sugarin. (edn/ebf)(++++)

12 companies named suspects in forest, land fires 8 Oct 15;

Twelve companies have been named suspects by the police in forest and land fire cases. Two of them include foreign investment companies, namely PT Antang Sawit Perkasa (PT ASP) and PT Kayong Agro Lestari (PT KAL).

The National Police's Criminal Investigation Agency (Bareskrim) chief Comr. Gen. Anang Iskandar told on Thursday that the cases involving PT ASP and PT KAL were being handled by the Central Kalimantan Police and West Kalimantan Police, respectively.

In addition to the companies, the police also named 211 individuals as suspects, based on 242 police reports with total burned areas reaching 42,677 hectares.

According to Anang, 24 cases are currently under investigation, while 57 cases have been handed over to the prosecutor's office.

He added that the police would continue to investigate all of the fire-related cases in cooperation with other government institutions as sanctions would be given to companies that are proven to be guilty. (kes)(++++)

Smoke claims new victim, triggers prolonged health crisis
Rizal Harahap and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 8 Oct 15;

The prolonged haze crisis in Sumatra and Kalimantan continues to overwhelm local residents and authorities, as the disaster has created a severe health crisis that has been fatal in the worst-affected areas.

In Riau, thick haze that has blanketed the provincial capital of Pekanbaru for several weeks has claimed the life of local civil servant Muhammad Iqbal Hali, 31, who died earlier this week from suspected respiratory failure.

Iqbal, who worked for the Riau office of the Religious Affairs Ministry, passed away on Monday en route to a local hospital. Iqbal, who suffered from asthma, returned home early that day due to severe breathing problems.

“He could not breathe. His face was pale. I hugged him and he hugged me back. He lay down and then was silent,” Iqbal’s father, Hasan Amal, said as quoted by Antara news agency on Wednesday.

Over the past few months, air pollution from fires on peatland and plantations has severely affected several regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan, particularly Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Sumatra and Central Kalimantan.

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

Last month, a 2-year-old child and a 15-year-old student from Jambi also died after experiencing acute respiratory infections (ISPA).

Data from the Pekanbaru station of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) pointed to 421 hot spots indicating land and forest fires across Sumatra as of Wednesday. Of those, 351 were detected in South Sumatra, 45 in Lampung, 14 in Jambi, seven in Bangka Belitung and four in Bengkulu.

“Despite the absence of hot spots in Riau, the province will remain enveloped by thick haze as long as there is no rain in the southern part of Sumatra and no change in wind direction,” said Slamet Riyadi, the station’s data and information division head.

In West Sumatra, thick smoke blanketed Payakumbuh and Bukittinggi on Wednesday, reducing visibility in the two municipalities to below 800 meters.

Despite the harsh environment, many people were seen outdoors without masks. A number of families were also seen taking their children to visit the Jam Gadang (Big Clock) tower, a landmark building and main tourist attraction in Bukittinggi.

“We could not leave our kids at home. They wanted to come along sightseeing, but it’s difficult to find a suitable mask for a baby,” said Yunita from neighboring Agamn regency, who visited Bukittinggi with her husband and their 5-year-old and 1-year-old daughters.

According to the BMKG, Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan has become the city with the worst air quality in the country after its level of particulate matter (PM10) was measured at an average of 623 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³) on Wednesday morning.

Read more!

Malaysia: Dengue after the haze?

LOH FOON FONG The Star 8 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: Many who are already suffering from the effects of the haze will now have to beware of a dengue fever epidemic in coming months.

A huge spike in such cases is expected following the “most intense El Nino phenomenon emerging in the Pacific in almost 20 years”.

The irregular hot and dry weather is already contributing to the choking haze affecting the country and others in the region as forest fires burn out of control in Indonesia.

An international research team has found that El Nino’s elevated temperatures could create an ideal situation for large-scale dengue epidemics to spread across a wide region.

The study covered Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines.

It is feared that the epidemic could overburden healthcare systems in affected countries if it occurred unexpectedly, the study said.

Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit, a research consultant with Universiti Malaya, said the full impact of El Nino would be felt in the coming year and with that, a huge spike in dengue cases.

“As it is, the number of cases in some states has already doubled,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday, adding that Malaysia needs to be ready for a worst-case scenario.

“Being able to predict and prepare for epidemics will mean more effective disease surveillance and control efforts.”

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said efforts to fight dengue had already been stepped up, long before the El Nino.

He said dengue cases tended to spike at the start and end of each year, although last year, there was also an upsurge in the middle.

World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Arbovirus Reference and Research director Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar said many variables were involved in the increase of dengue cases.

He said the cases had been increasing steadily between 2013 and now, regardless of the El Nino factor.

Universiti Malaya released the results of the study to the press.

The researchers analysed 18 years of dengue surveillance reports, involving a total of 3.5 million cases in 273 provinces, in eight countries in South-East Asia.

They were able to see patterns in dengue transmission across the entire region.

It was found that in 1997 and 1998, dengue transmission was very high, matching high temperatures caused by El Nino that saw mosquitoes reproduce faster and spread the dengue virus more efficiently.

Also, travelling waves of large epidemics were found to emerge from west Thailand, central Laos and the southern Philippines, according to the study.

Read more!

Southeast Asia, Choking on Haze, Struggles for a Solution

JOE COCHRANEOCT New York Times 8 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — Savir Singh’s taxi rolled into downtown Singapore, taking an overpass that provides a stunning view of the popular hotels and tourist attractions around Marina Bay.

The only problem was that he could barely see them. Thick haze from forest fires set in neighboring Indonesia to clear land for agriculture has blanketed this island state for weeks, and has spread to Malaysia and southern Thailand.

While many Singaporeans have sought refuge from the pollution in their homes, offices or shopping malls, Mr. Singh’s only haven is his mobile workplace, and a small bottle of eyedrops lying near his armrest.

“Look at this,” he said, pointing to the partly obscured Singapore Flyer, a 540-foot-tall Ferris wheel. “I wish they had haze in Jakarta. Then the government there would do something about it.”

Mr. Singh’s anger is part and parcel of a near-annual ritual: Fires set in Sumatra and the Indonesian side of Borneo blanket parts of Southeast Asia with smoke for weeks. While this has been going on for decades, an especially long dry season this year coupled with the effects of El Niño, threaten to make it the worst on record, scientists say.

Around the region, flights have been grounded, schools have been closed, and tens of thousands of people have sought medical treatment for respiratory problems, allergies, eczema and other ailments. The first night of an international sports competition, the FINA Swimming World Cup, set for last Saturday and hosted by Singapore, was canceled because of health concerns — as was a marathon in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysia capital, set to be run the next morning.

This year, there have been more vocal complaints from people affected in Singapore, Malaysia and even in Indonesia. There has also been high-profile sniping among government leaders, along with lawsuits, investigations and arrests of accused fire-starters — a familiar replay from 2013, when the region suffered its last major bout of haze.

After the skies cleared in 2013, the issue was once again forgotten — until last month, when the crisis erupted anew.

The consensus this year is the same as it was then: The slash-and-burn techniques used in Indonesia’s palm oil industry are continuing unabated, and there is no magic bullet for ending the practice — or the haze it causes — in the short term.

Finding the long-term solution requires reducing agriculture in Indonesia’s carbon-rich peatland, curtailing slash-and-burn methods for clearing land and halting the conversions of forests to agricultural uses including palm oil, said Peter Holmgren, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research, a global scientific organization with its headquarters in Bogor, Indonesia.

“Fire is the most cost-effective way of clearing, which is why it is done,” he said.

Finding a permanent solution is daunting enough, but more than a month into the crisis, it seems that the region cannot curb the haze in the short term. Indonesia says that its military personnel are battling more than 1,000 forest-fire clusters, while Greenpeace says that figure does not include fires that started aboveground on peatland and are now burning out of control.

Up until Wednesday, Indonesia had rebuffed offers by neighbors to help it battle the blazes and had even admonished Singaporean and Malaysian leaders for daring to complain about the haze.

On Thursday, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia said his government had requested “help and assistance” the day before from Singapore and Malaysia, as well as Russia and Japan, in getting the peatland fires under control, according to a statement released by his cabinet secretariat.

Mr. Joko said his government had specifically requested firefighting aircraft with a water-carrying capacity of 12 to 15 tons, saying that Indonesian planes currently fighting the blazes have carrying capacities of between two and three tons.

The aid request seemed to reflect a new seriousness from the Indonesian government.

Late last month, the country’s outspoken vice president, Jusuf Kalla, repeated a statement he made earlier in the year in which he said that neighboring countries “should be grateful” to Indonesia for the clean air they have the other 11 months of the year.

During the 2013 haze crisis, Agung Laksono, a senior Indonesian cabinet minister at the time, compared Singaporean leaders to a child having a temper tantrum after they complained about the impact that thick haze was having on tourism, which is a major contributor to Singapore’s economy.

“It’s like a blame game,” said Bustar Maitar, global leader of the Indonesia Forest Campaign at Greenpeace.

“Of course all the fires are coming from Indonesia, but Singapore is enjoying the ‘deforestation economy’ of Indonesia as a financial center,” he said, “and there are many Malaysian palm oil companies operating in Indonesia, and Singaporean companies are there as well.”

Ultimately, Mr. Maitar said, the cycle will continue until rain forest deforestation is severely curtailed in Indonesia, where it remains rampant, and the Indonesian government bans the draining and clearing of peatland for agricultural use. Currently, Indonesian government policy allows peatland of less than about nine feet deep to be cleared.

“That’s the only long-term way to stop haze,” he said.

Then there is the issue of who is responsible for the fires. As in 2013, this time around, there has been ample finger-pointing: Multinational palm oil companies, pulp and paper companies, the smaller plantations that sell to them, traditional farmers and even day laborers have all been blamed for starting the fires — and they in turn have blamed one another.

On Wednesday, NTUC FairPrice, Singapore’s largest supermarket chain, released a statement saying it had pulled from its shelves toilet paper and other products sourced from Indonesia’s Asia Pulp & Paper, one of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies.

The supermarket said it had made the move “following notification from the Singapore Environment Council that it has instituted a temporary restriction on the use of the ‘Singapore Green Label’ certification for A.P.P. products,” the statement said.

On Monday, the council had released a statement saying that it took action after an Asia Pulp & Paper subsidiary was “one of five companies named by the National Environment Agency (NEA) suspected to be contributing to the haze pollution.”

Aida Greenbury, managing director of sustainability for Asia Pulp & Paper, said in a statement on Thursday that the company was “firmly against” the intentional setting of forest fires and would disengage from any supplier proven guilty of illegally starting one.

“We understand why FairPrice feels the need to take urgent action and we feel the same urgency also in addressing this haze issue, but accuracy is just as important,” she said. “The fire situation is complex, and both the Singapore and Indonesia governments, and authorities are still investigating the situation.”

Ang Peng Hwa, a university professor and founder of an antihaze activist group in Singapore, is promoting an American model for dealing with environmental negligence: suing those responsible, using a law passed by the Singaporean Parliament in 2014.

Mr. Ang noted that under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, Singapore-listed companies involved in illegal land clearance in Indonesia can be sued in civil court for causing financial losses to businesses and individuals.

People have been coming forward to say that they have lost business because of the haze, Mr. Ang said. The prospective plaintiffs include a sporting events company and a sports training academy, though no lawsuits have yet been filed under the new law.

Possible injured parties include upscale hotels that suffer canceled bookings during haze periods and the organizers of the annual F1 Singapore Grand Prix. The F1 race was held on Sept. 20 despite concerns about air quality.

The problem, Mr. Ang said, is that it is very difficult to determine liability because “there are layers that protect ultimate owners of companies.”

Yet, he said, the fact that some people have already come forward asking about financial compensation for haze through Singapore’s courts leads to an inescapable conclusion that should concern governments around the region. “People are getting more angry, more worked up.”

Whether that anger will lead to more lasting change is yet to be seen. Mr. Ang is not optimistic. “They burn for a period, everyone gets upset, and then people forget,” he said of the fires.

Read more!

Indonesia: Firms claim Jakarta hampering efforts to preserve forests

Reuters AsiaOne 8 Oct 15;

JAKARTA - The Indonesian government is asking major palm oil companies to roll back on the historic "no deforestation" pledges they made at last year's United Nations climate change summit, officials and company sources say.

Major palm oil companies invited to a series of meetings at the economics ministry last week were told that their pledges are causing big problems for smaller palm oil firms in their supply chain, the sources told Reuters.

The Deputy Food and Agriculture Minister at the Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs, Ms Musdhalifah Machmud, said the government has asked palm oil firms that signed the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) to exempt smallholders, which are not yet ready to practise the same level of sustainable forest practices as big players. "They need to let smallholders fulfil their trade," she said.

Indonesia is the world's biggest palm oil producer and exporter and its industry employs nearly five million workers. A top official at one of the major palm oil companies, who did not want to be named, said the firms "received guidance notes" from ministry officials.

A representative of an environmental group said the government is urging big palm oil firms to "water their stance down" and to continue to buy palm oil from their suppliers, even if that company is cutting down forests for new plantations. "This would pretty much ruin the whole attempt to create an industry-wide no-deforestation situation to remove the stigma from Indonesian palm oil," the representative from the non-governmental organisation said.

The pressure from the national government comes after local governments began taking away concessions from palm oil companies that tried to convert them into conservation forests, according to several big palm oil companies.

When Golden Agri Resources, one of the IPOP companies, tried to convert an area designated for plantations in Kalimantan into a conservation forest, the local government threatened to revoke the concession, said Mr Agus Purnomo, its director for strategic stakeholders agreement.

"If we are not developing it into plantations, they cancel (the concession)and give it to somebody else - a competitor," he added.

The controversy over the IPOP pledges is arising as Indonesia comes under pressure from its neighbours over the haze from forest fires that has blanketed much of the region in recent weeks.

Plantation firms that use "slash-and-burn" techniques to clear forests - most of them smallholders now - are one of the biggest reasons for the fires.

Home to the world's third-largest tropical forests - and the world's fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases mainly due to their destruction - Indonesia will be one of the countries in the spotlight at the UN climate change conference in Paris in December. The meeting will try to get legally binding commitments from the 190 member nations to slash greenhouse gases.

Over the past 25 years, the spectacular growth of palm oil plantations, now covering 11 million ha in Indonesia, has been a leading cause of deforestation.

The no-deforestation pledges are putting smallholders at risk, said Ms Machmud.

The problem, she said, is that companies like Golden Agri are setting aside forests in their concession area for preservation that the government has already assigned for development. "If you don't like it, no problem," she said. "Another company will come to develop it."

It is a stance that makes environmental groups unhappy.

The biggest palm oil and timber firms in Indonesia have all committed to the "no-deforestation" pledge and now they are losing concessions when they try to preserve forests, said Mr Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace's campaign to save Indonesia's forests.

"This is enough to gain the momentum to tell the government that business as usual has already passed," he said.

Read more!

Southern Thailand suffers from spreading haze

Parts of southern Thailand suffered from elevated haze conditions caused by forest fires in Indonesia, leading to health concerns and causing delayed flights.
Arglit Boonyai and Panu Wongcha-um, Channel NewsAsia 8 Oct 15;

BANGKOK: Parts of southern Thailand suffered from elevated haze conditions on Thursday (Oct 8) caused by forest fires in Indonesia, leading to health concerns and causing delayed flights.

The beach resort destination of Phuket was the worst affected area with particulate matter (PM10) reaching 200 micrograms per cubic metre on Wednesday. Thailand’s Pollution Control Department put acceptable levels at 120 micrograms.

Local media reported that PM10 levels declined in the neighbouring provinces of Surat Thani, Satun, Songkhla, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

Visibility at Phuket Airport was just 200 metres on Thursday morning, according to the Aeronautical Radio of Thailand, and airlines were advised to postpone flights until the afternoon when the weather cleared up.

Five flights to Phuket were affected before 9:30am, while two flights experienced delayed landings including a Sri Lankan Airlines flight from Singapore that was forced to circle the airport for one hour and fifteen minutes. Three separate flights were redirected to Suvarnabhumi and Don Meung airports in Bangkok.

Phuket is currently preparing to hold its annual Vegetarian Festival from Oct 13-21, an event that is popular among Chinese, Malaysian and Singaporean tourists. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) in Phuket said that so far there had not been any significant drop in holiday bookings due to the haze.

However, it admitted that if the situation was prolonged then they expected to see an increase in cancellations. The TAT also expected last-minute bookings to drop while the haze issue continued.

The Pollution Control Department said the situation was expected to improve in the coming days, and in the meantime people in the area were advised to wear a face mask and avoid drinking rain water as it could contain dust particles.

Authorities working with the Public Health Ministry have already distributed more than 140,000 face masks to locals in southern Thailand. A centre has also been set up by the Phuket governor to help locals and tourists.

Holidaymakers in Phuket were assured that they could continue to enjoy their trips as normal, but the TAT issued a warning for all passenger and tourist boats to reduce speeds while visibility at sea remains poor.

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry has invited the Indonesian Ambassador to discuss emergency measures on how to solve the haze problem. The government said it is also looking to start a regional roadmap next year to improve ASEAN cooperation on tackling the haze.

Indonesia has requested Singapore, Malaysia, Russia and Japan to assist with helping put out forest fires.

- CNA/jb

Thai Offers To Help Indonesia On Haze Issue
Bernama 8 Oct 15;

BANGKOK, Oct 8 (Bernama) -- Thailand is ready to help Indonesia end the haze problem, caused by open burning and forest fires in Indonesia.

However, the Thai government would wait for Indonesia to work out details of the assistance required, said Vitavas Srivihok, Thai Deputy Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

The Indonesian side would inform the ASEAN what kind of assistance was needed, he said after a meeting with Indonesian ambassador to Thailand, Lutfi Rauf, here Thursday.

Thailand's Foreign Ministry invited Lufti to meet and discuss the haze problem, which had affected Thailand's southern provinces including Phuket, which recorded an unhealthy air quality index of 131 as at 3pm Thursday.

Vitavas said at the end of this month there will be a meeting of the Natural Resources Ministerial Level meeting among ASEAN members in Hanoi, Vietnam, which could be a good avenue for ASEAN members to discuss the issue and find solutions.

He said that during the half an hour meeting, Lutfi conveyed Indonesia's apology to Thailand and other countries in the region over the haze problem, and also thanked Thailand for the offer to help them.

Lutfi explained that the blaze was due to two reasons, the private companies which set fire and natural reason such as climate change.

He said that Indonesia would take serious legal action against those companies responsible for open burning.


Indonesia envoy called for meeting as haze chokes Phuket

Haze that has affected seven southern provinces in recent days was at its worst in the island resort province on Thursday with airborne particulate matter measured at 201 microgrammes per cubic metre of air, over 50% above the highest safe level of 120.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said before leaving for China that he hoped authorities meeting with ambassador Lutfi Rauf would work out short and long-term solutions to the annual haze problem, caused by slash-and-burn agriculture on Sumatra island and its part of Borneo island.

Thai officials also raised the issue for discussion in an Asean senior officials' meeting in Kuala Lumpur and would do the same again in the Asean Ministerial Meeting on Environment in Hanoi from Oct 27-29, Mr Don said.

The Pollution Control Department reported that haze continues to linger over Narathiwat, Pattani, Phuket, Satun, Songkhla, Surat Thani, and Yala. Only in Phuket, however, did it breach the unhealthy threshold.

In Malaysia and Singapore, haze has closed schools and prompted the cancellation of public events. On Thursday, Indonesia reversed its earlier stance and agreed to accept international help to combat and agricultural fires, AFP reported.

Vitavas Srivihok, deputy permanent secretary for foreign affairs, quoted the Indonesian ambassador as saying that the forest fires were too serious for Indonesia to handle alone and it needed assistance from other Asean-member states.

He said that Thailand was ready to help and would wait for Indonesia to work out details of the assistance it needed.

He also quoted the ambassador as apologising for the impacts on Thailand and other nearby countries.

In Narathiwat, pollution levels were at 68μg per cu/m, up from 56; 58μg per cu/m in Pattani, down from 69; 61μg per cu/m in Satun, down from 73; 86μg per cu/m in Songkhla, down from 108; 108μg per cu/m in Surat Thani, up from 93; and 47μg per cu/m in Yala, down from 60.

Normal levels in the South come in at below 40μg per cu/m.

Thursday evening pollution levels stood at 67μg per cu/m in Narathiwat, 64μg per cu/m in Pattani, 186μg per cu/m in Phuket, 56μg per cu/m in Satun, 85μg per cu/m in Songkhla, 113μg per cu/m in Surat Thani, and 45μg per cu/m in Yala.

Pollution levels can be monitored online at or via the Air4Thai application.

Haze hits Phuket tourism

THE PROLONGED haze is hitting Phuket's tourism hard, with tourist operators on the island complaining about flight delays and holiday cancellations.

The problem stems from agricultural fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia.

Foreign Affairs Ministry deputy permanent secretary Vitavas Srivihok met with Indonesian Ambassador Lutfi Rauf yesterday to discuss the issue.

Vitavas said Lutfi said he was sorry and explained the Indonesian government was now taking harsh legal action against those behind the fires.

"During the meeting we told the ambassador that Thailand is ready to provide assistance," he said.

Lutfi said the Indonesian government was trying its best to extinguish the fires.

"The Indonesian authorities are applying many measures to put out the fire as our first priority," the ambassador said.

"We have been irrigating water to the burning peatland, making artificial rain and also water bombing the fire from above. More than 8,000 military personnel were called to the fire-extinguish operation."

He said there were 184 fire cases and 223 individuals and companies are involved in them, with 78 suspects detained.

"We are working with international partners especially within the Asean framework to relieve the haze situation," he said.

"We have already received some help from Malaysia and Singapore, but we need to make sure that the help from outside meets the needs on the field, otherwise the help will be useless." He said Thailand offered help Indonesia and asked what help it needed.

The Indonesian government was very appreciate of the offer and he would pass it on to Jakarta.

Lutfi said Indonesian authorities were seeking more and bigger aircraft to carry out the water bombing. The aircraft should be able to carry more than 25 tons of water.

At least three flights from Phuket to Bangkok were delayed yesterday morning due to the thick haze that affected visibility at Phuket International Airport.

All the flights were scheduled to depart Phuket before 8.20am, said an airport officer who joined an emergency meeting chaired by the provincial governor. The affected carriers were Bangkok Airways, Thai AirAsia and Thai Airways International.

The haze also affected a Silk Air international flight and a Jet Star international flight, with both having to circle the airport two extra times before being allowed to land.

Bangkok Airways has advised its passengers to contact its call centre on 1771 to check the status of flights especially those flights departing the South of Thailand and travelling to the South.

At 8am yesterday, an air-quality check showed the amount of particulate matter up to 10 microns in size had reached 210 micrograms in the Phuket city municipal area. The safe limit is 120 micrograms.

Kannapat Wongtikied, who runs the Phuket Sunny Hostel in Muang district, said about 20 per cent of room reservations had been cancelled in the wake of the haze.

"Several guests here have also cancelled their one-day trip-tour package. My business income has been falling by about 60 per cent," she said. She said some guests cut short their stay.

"One couple initially booked seven nights but they left for Myanmar after just two nights because of the haze," Kannapat said.

Auraiwan Phuthong, who runs the Phong Phang restaurant in the same district, said she handed out masks to her employees and her customers to help them cope with the haze.

"The number of customers has significantly dwindled. My income has dropped by about 30 per cent already," she said.

Phuket resident Phongpol Ratchapol said he wore a facial mask when outside, while locals plan to rally in front of the Phuket City Hall today and lodge a protest letter against the Indonesian government.

Suratin Lian-udom, a former mayor of Tambon Rassada Municipality, will reportedly lead the rally.

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Palm oil in your grocery items could be from haze culprits

Jessica Lim, My Paper AsiaOne 8 Oct 15;

PAPER products may just be the tip of the iceberg: Many grocery items here could come from plantations that contribute to the haze.

In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times yesterday, Stefano Savi from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) said that about half of the products on supermarket shelves here contain palm oil - from toothpaste and cosmetics to bread and frozen french fries.

Mr Savi, the global outreach and engagement director of RSPO, a palm oil certification body, added that as much as 80 per cent of global palm oil is uncertified.

"While we are sure about the origins and the sustainability criteria under which 20 per cent of global palm oil is produced, we are not able to claim the same for the other 80 per cent," he said, adding that the 1,400 fires that happened in Indonesia in the whole of last month were within oil palm plantations.

Errant oil palm plantation owners set fire to adjacent forests to open up new land for growing. Some also use this method to clear their plantations after a crop cycle.

Culprits are difficult to trace as supply chain processes are muddied by factors such as a lack of land ownership information in Indonesia and bulk processing, in which fruits from hundreds of small plantations are trucked to a central mill where they are mixed up.

There are 19 firms in Singapore with RSPO certification, including instant noodle maker Tat Hui Foods and consumer products company Procter & Gamble.

RSPO does not track the products of its certified organisations but Mr Savi, who is based in RSPO's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, reckons that only a handful of products here have its mark.

The low take-up rate could be due to several reasons, he said.

Palm oil typically makes up just a small part of the formulation of a product, so few firms think it is necessary to use sustainable supplies. Distributors who want to sell RSPO certified products will also need to get their supplies from RSPO certified mills and growers.

"Also, in certain markets, palm oil is not perceived positively, so companies won't want to emphasise that palm oil is in their products at all," he added. Around a fifth of the world's palm oil is now certified by RSPO.

The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) - which has awarded green labels to over 3,000 products here - does not currently certify palm oil-based products here, but plans to do so by early next year.

"Not many firms here have RSPO certification, so we are looking to move into that sector because palm oil is used in so many products," said SEC's head of eco-certification, Kavickumar Muruganathan.

When contacted, World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore director of communications Kim Stengert said there is not yet a range of certified sustainable palm oil products available here.

"At this stage, if all the non-certified palm oil products were taken off the shelves, we would have very empty supermarkets," he said. "Consumers need to be able to express their preference for sustainable palm oil through their purchasing decisions."

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More firms on board for 'haze-free' declaration

Jessica Lim, The Straits Times AsiaOne 8 Oct 15;

Even as more firms signed a declaration that their products are free of raw materials from companies being investigated for forest fires in Indonesia, many noted that it was hard to pinpoint an item's source.

Tissue paper distributor Tipex and printer paper supplier Mukim Fine Papers signed on Tuesday. FairPrice, Unity Pharmacy and Malaysia Newsprint Industries did so yesterday, bringing to 15 the number of firms that have signed.

Tipex said in a statement to The Straits Times that it does not own plantations and mills, and so does not make paper products itself.

"Rather, these are sourced from various suppliers, internationally," said its spokesman Cindy Lim. "Due to the involvement of many parties in the process, companies may not be privy to one another's internal business and work processes."

Mukim Fine Papers simply stopped ordering from Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) - one of the five firms under probe - altogether.

Said its business development manager Ben Chua: "We cannot trace what is happening at APP so it's best that we just stop selling its products."

On Monday, the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) released a list of firms that had signed the declaration. It has so far sent the form to 23 firms that manufacture or sell wood and paper products.

SEC's plan is to also start working with other industries known to contribute to the haze and deforestation - for instance, palm oil product manufacturers and retailers.

Errant pulpwood plantation owners typically burn land to clear it quickly after logging season, said experts. Many also burn adjacent forests to open up new land to expand their plantations. Wayward oil palm plantation owners are also known to clear land this way.

Culprits are difficult to trace as supply chain processes are muddied by factors such as a lack of land ownership information in Indonesia.

World Wide Fund for Nature Indonesia's Global Forest and Trade Network Coordinator Aditya Bayunanda said that for palm oil, for instance, mills - which extract crude palm oil - are supplied by hundreds of plantations.

Traders, he said, go round to small independently-owned oil palm farms, collect the fruit, then supply it to a main supplier, which trucks it to mills.

This, said Associate Professor Tan Yan Weng, head of SIM University's logistics and supply chain management programme, causes "everything to get mixed up".

There are other complications, said SEC's head of eco-certification Kavickumar Muruganathan. Retailers here typically obtain the rights to sell a product from distributors, which then arrange with overseas manufacturers to import the stock.

"Manufacturers might own plantations, but some strike deals with landowners on the side to use their land. Some also ask other suppliers to sell the fruit to them on an ad hoc basis if demand spikes," he said, adding that errant firms pay farmers to use their land for oil palm.

On paper, the land is owned by the farmer and the firm is not implicated. There is also no map of land ownership available, making the task of pinpointing the owners of a plantation difficult.

However, Nanyang Technological University's Professor Ang Peng Hwa, who co-founded the Haze Elimination Action Team volunteer group, urged retailers to stop "putting up a smokescreen".

"It is true it can be difficult. But retailers have to ask suppliers to show them certification," said Prof Ang. "Consumers also have a role to play to demand higher standards."

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international organisation, has certified 111 companies here to use its trademarks on products. FSC's Asia-Pacific regional director Alistair Monument said that every player in the supply chain for these products is audited yearly.

Paper mills involved, for instance, have to keep records of inputs and outputs so that the origin of the fibres can be checked.

SPH's newsprint supplies not from companies linked to Indonesia's forest fires
AsiaOne 8 Oct 15;

In response to media queries, Singapore Press Holdings Limited (SPH) confirmed that it does not purchase any of its newsprint supplies from the five companies which are under probe for links to the forest fires in Indonesia. The fires have caused serious haze pollution in Indonesia and its neighbours across the region.

SPH also said that it purchases its newsprint supplies for its newspapers from diversified sources in Europe, North America and the Asia Pacific.

Mr Alan Chan, SPH's Chief Executive Officer, said: "A very high percentage - some 80 per cent - of the newsprint is derived from recycled paper. Only the remaining 20 per cent is from virgin pulp and this comes from certified sustainable sources. None of the virgin pulp is sourced from Indonesia."

The certifications include Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), ISO 14001, Certification by the South Korean Board of National Technology and Quality (GR) and EU Ecolabel.

SPH said that as a leading media organisation in South-east Asia and a responsible corporate citizen, it strongly supports sustainability and aims to remain in the forefront of corporate social responsibility.

Green labels in the spotlight following haze in the region
Companies in Singapore must meet stringent requirements before they are issued such labels, which are an endorsement of a company's environmentally-friendly claims.
Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia 8 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Green labels are now in the spotlight following the haze that is engulfing the region. In Singapore, companies must meet stringent requirements before they are issued such labels, which are an endorsement of a company's environmentally-friendly claims.

The Singapore Environment Council (SEC), which administers the scheme, on Thursday (Oct 8) made this point amid questions over the rigour of the certification process.

Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP), which carries the Singapore Green Label, had its certification temporarily restricted, following investigations into the company's role in starting foreign fires in Indonesia. APP is one of five Indonesian companies that National Environment Agency (NEA) is taking action against over the haze pollution.

There are about 3,000 products sold in Singapore which carry the Singapore Green Label. These include paper products from APP, which have since been taken off the shelves by two major supermarket chains in Singapore.

APP was issued the green label five years ago, and the certification has to be renewed every year.

According to SEC, APP met all the requirements at the point of submitting its green label application. Said SEC's executive director, Mr Edwin Seah: "In the case of paper products, we require them to provide evidence that their raw material has been sourced sustainably, so one of the documentations is they must have a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.

“However beyond that, we also look at their energy usage, the bleaching that they use and the colouring that they use. Included also are third-party accredited test lab reports that they have to submit to us."

Once the green label is issued, the Council conducts quarterly mystery audits and picks random products for tests. There has not been an issue with APP, until recently.

Said Mr Seah: "Given the current haze situation and them being one of the companies named by NEA, we took the step to decide that it might be in the consumer's interest for us to put a temporary restriction on the use of the green label."

It was that move that led to at least two supermarket chains - NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong - pulling out all APP-related products off the shelves. The Indonesian company, which has a branch in Singapore, has cried foul saying the move was premature, since investigations are ongoing.

However, the Council remains firm in its stance. Mr Seah said: "It is not premature because the companies in question have already been identified by the NEA as possibly causing the haze. So, I think it is only right that we, together with CASE (Consumers Association of Singapore) and some of these major retailers, take the necessary actions to protect, not just consumers but Singaporeans in general, from irresponsible manufacturers that in the first place brought about the haze."

The suspension of the green label is temporary, pending the completion of both the Council's and NEA's investigations. Depending on the results, the certification could either be reinstated or revoked.

Earlier this week, SEC reached out to 17 companies which have products certified under the Singapore Green Labelling Scheme. They were asked to declare that they have not procured or used any wood, paper or pulp material from the five companies currently under investigation by the Singapore Government for starting the forest fires in Indonesia.

Now, out of the 17 companies, 14 have sent in their declaration forms. The three that have not have had their Singapore Green Label certification temporarily restricted. The three companies are PT Indah Kiat Pulp and Paper, PT Pabrik Kertas Tjiwi Kimia and Universal Sovereign Trading.

- CNA/xk

Supermarkets pull plug on haze-linked firm's products
Jessica Lim, The Straits Times AsiaOne 8 Oct 15;

Supermarket chains NTUC FairPrice, Sheng Siong and Prime Supermarket have pulled all Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) items off their shelves, including popular brands such as Paseo.

The Dairy Farm group, which operates chains such as Guardian, 7-Eleven, Cold Storage and Giant, has also stopped replenishing APP stock. It will continue to sell existing items till they run out.

FairPrice was the first to make the announcement yesterday morning, followed by the others later in the day.

Their actions came after the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) temporarily suspended the green label of APP's exclusive distributor here, Universal Sovereign Trading.

On Sept 30, the SEC had also asked 17 firms, including FairPrice, to sign a form to declare that they do not carry products from five companies, including APP, which are under probe over their possible link to the haze-causing forest fires. The form also asks firms to state that they have not been convicted in any court in relation to the haze.

Yesterday, the SEC sent the same form to Prime, Dairy Farm, Sheng Siong, Ikea, Unity Pharmacy and Watsons.

Ikea said it does not buy from the firms under probe. Unity signed the form yesterday, while Watsons is still working with its suppliers and will make a decision soon.

FairPrice carries two housebrand goods supplied by APP and 16 other APP-related products including the Paseo, Nice and Jolly brands.

All these items were pulled off the shelves at its over 290 outlets, including Cheers convenience stores, by 5pm yesterday.

Late last month, the National Environment Agency began legal action against APP and four Indonesian firms it believes to be behind the burning. The haze from forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra has spread to Thailand after blanketing the skies and affecting the air quality in parts of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines in recent weeks.

FairPrice chief executive Seah Kian Peng said the chain took some time to decide to pull APP's products and sign the declaration because "as a fair business partner, we reserved taking action pending further information and investigation by the authorities".

The final decision was made after SEC temporarily restricted APP's green label certification. Mr Seah said APP's products would be reinstated if the firm is found to be innocent and gets back its green label.

The move to pull APP's products, he said, cost the chain "millions". "It does hurt us financially... but this goes beyond just the financial impact. I think it is the right thing for us to do, it is the responsible thing for us to do," said Mr Seah.

APP's managing director of sustainability Aida Greenbury said the firm "is firmly against forest fire" and that it deployed 2,900 firefighters and fire suppression helicopters to deal with the situation.

"We understand why FairPrice feels the need to take urgent action... but accuracy is just as important," she said. "The fire situation is complex and both the Singapore and Indonesia governments and authorities are still investigating the situation."

Mr Loh Weiwen, 33, an in-house legal counsel, hailed the supermarkets' move. "It is a very prompt response that is surprising to many shoppers in a good way. I hope other retailers follow suit ."

Many will boycott products from haze-causing firms: Poll
Jalelah Abu Baker and Yuen Sin, The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Oct 15;

Many people will boycott products from companies that are contributing to the ongoing haze, according to a street poll of 50 people by The Straits Times yesterday.

The reasons they gave included wanting to penalise the companies for causing the haze by decreasing demand for their products and to send a message that they are not happy with the companies' actions.

Out of the 50 people surveyed, half said they will not buy products from such companies.

Another 19 believed that boycotting these goods would have no effect, while the rest sat on the fence.

"If they have not taken care in what they are doing, and are affecting the lives of a big part of the region, they should be penalised," said financial planner Daniel Tay.

The 45-year-old said that the haze has become something "out of control" and believes that Singapore has the clout to influence these firms despite being a small country.

Housewife Dawn Wee, 49, said: "They should bear some responsibility for their actions - making profits at the expense of people's health."

Tutor Angeline Tan, 44, said it did not matter even if she were the only one to boycott these companies, adding that "it starts from one".

Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of the Consumers Association of Singapore, echoed her sentiment. "If every one of us plays a part, it will certainly send a strong signal to the companies. If we combine all our efforts, we will be a formidable force," he said.

He added that he has reached out to the regional office of Consumer International in Kuala Lumpur to inform consumer bodies to put pressure on companies to stop slash- and-burn practices that cause the haze.

Last month, the National Environment Agency began legal action against five companies, including Asia Pulp and Paper, which are believed to be behind the burning.

In the poll yesterday, nearly 20 felt that boycotting products from the firms involved will not help.

Mr Neo Heng Wei, 20, a student, said: "It doesn't address the root problem, which is the fact that burning the trees is the fastest method of clearing the forest. Educating these workers is most important."

Others sat on the fence, saying that their decision to boycott the products depended on how essential the products were to them, and whether there were alternatives.

Top 3 reasons to boycott or not


Need to penalise companies economically for causing the haze.

It is a way of decreasing supply of products by decreasing demand.

Sends a message that they are unhappy with the companies' actions.


Does not address the root cause of the haze.

Singapore is too small and lacks the economic clout needed to influence companies' behaviour.

They are not affected by the haze.

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