Best of our wild blogs: 10 Oct 15

White-winged or Whiskered Terns?
Singapore Bird Group

Haze compensation details unclear as help arrives in Sumatra
Mongabay Environmental News

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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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China to help Indonesia extinguish forest fires

Xinhua 9 Oct 15;

BEIJING, Oct. 9 (Xinhua) -- China will try its best to help Indonesia extinguish a forest fire raging across the country, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Friday.

China is communicating closely with Indonesia and the government is preparing to send rescue forces to the country, spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a routine press briefing.

The Indonesian government sought help from China and other countries to extinguish the fires, which have affected the air in Singapore and Malaysia.

The request was made after weeks of failed efforts, which involved 25,000 personnel, including soldiers, and dozens of aircraft, to extinguish the fires across the Sumatra and Borneo islands.

"China is paying close attention to Indonesia's requests," said Hua.

Indonesia has seen frequent forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo since the 1990s due to land being cleared for palm oil plantations. This year, the fires were exacerbated by the effects of the El Nino weather system.

China set to help fight forest fires
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja THE STRAITS TIMES AsiaOne 10 Oct 15;

China has emerged as the latest nation to extend a helping hand to Indonesia, promising to "try its best" to help it put out forest fires raging across Kalimantan and Sumatra.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the country is in talks with Indonesia and is preparing to deploy rescue forces to the affected areas, after the Indonesian government sought its help, the official Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

The news comes after Indonesia announced earlier in the day that it plans to fly drones over fire-prone areas to offer emergency workers real-time alerts on hot spots.

This would help them respond faster to the fires and put them out before they spread to other areas, said Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan yesterday.

For a start, two drones owned by state-owned aircraft manufacturer Dirgantara Indonesia will be deployed to South Sumatra on Monday. The specifications of the drones were not revealed but The Straits Times understands that Indonesia has drones that can operate up to a range of 200km.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who was visiting Jambi province yesterday, said some 1.7 million hectares of land, of which more than a third are on peatland in Sumatra and Kalimantan, have been burned.

"Efforts to tackle these forest fires will take some time because the areas affected by fires are huge due to severe dryness caused by El Nino," said Mr Joko.

South Sumatra is now the focus of firefighting operations, with most of the 25-strong fleet of aircraft - mostly helicopters and planes with water-bombing capabilities - being sent to the province.

A Bombardier water-bomber from Malaysia and a Chinook helicopter from Singapore with a 5,000-litre water bucket, among other assets being offered to Indonesia by its two closest neighbours, are standing by.

A joint Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) response team will be deployed for fire-fighting operations today.

Indonesia has said they will be deployed in Cengal, Ogan Komering Ilir regency and Medak, Musi Banyuasin regency, where the concentration of the hot spots was detected.

A Russian Beriev Be-200, one of the world's largest water-bombers, will be stationed in Pangkal Pinang.

"Don't use just one chopper but use two to three on one fire so it can be put out completely," said Mr Luhut, adding that, with the decision to accept foreign aid, Indonesian will soon have the additional resources to conduct more water-bombings in the coming weeks.

President Joko also said yesterday that Indonesia plans to procure three water-bombers similar to the Russian-made Beriev Be-200. So far, Singapore, Malaysia, Russia and now China have committed to offering assistance to Indonesia.

Mr Luhut said that the Indonesian government has so far deployed about 6,000 men.

Yesterday, he surveyed the damage caused by fires in Ogan Komering Ilir, one of the worst-hit areas in Sumatra. "The conditions are very bad, the intensity of the fires is high, the weather is very dry, the winds are strong," he said.

But he believes that, in three to four weeks, many of the fires should be gone once the joint water-bombing operations begin.

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Singapore team helping Indonesia fight haze-causing forest fires deployed

In a press release on Saturday (Oct 10), the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) says the 34-member SAF team is accompanied by a six-man Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) from the Singapore Civil Defence Force, and a 5,000-litre heli-bucket.
Channel NewsAsia 10 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has deployed a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Chinook helicopter and 34 SAF personnel to help fight the ongoing forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia.

In a press release on Saturday (Oct 10), the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said the SAF team is accompanied by a six-man Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) from the Singapore Civil Defence Force, and a 5,000-litre heli-bucket.

The team took off at about 12.30pm on Saturday afternoon.

Two RSAF C-130 aircraft were also deployed to transport SAF and SCDF personnel, as well as their equipment, MINDEF said. Chief of Air Force Major-General Hoo Cher Mou was at Sembawang Air Base to send off the personnel from the SAF and SCDF, MINDEF added.

This comes after the Indonesian government accepted Singapore's offer to assist with putting out fires causing thick haze in the region.


In a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said Indonesian authorities provided clearance for the Singapore team on Friday night.

"This morning a Chinook and two C-130s took off ferrying men and equipment to fight the fires in Palembang. Our best wishes go with them and we hope that they will return safe and sound," Dr Ng wrote.

Deployment of haze assistance to Indonesia delayed due to poor visibility: MINDEF
Today Online 9 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — Haze assistance by Singapore to Indonesia has been delayed after receiving clearance from the Indonesian authorities “due to deteriorating visibility” in Palembang, said the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF).

In a Facebook post tonight (Oct 9), MINDEF said that the deployment has been rescheduled to tomorrow instead.

A Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said yesterday that Singapore has offered a C-130 aircraft for cloud-seeding operations and a Chinook helicopter with a 5,000-litre heli-bucket under-slung for aerial firefighting and waterbombing efforts. A firefighting assistance team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force will be deployed. Up to two C-130 aircraft are also on standby. In addition, Singapore also offered to provide high-resolution satellite pictures and hotspot coordinates.

Indonesia yesterday 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 — the first time such a large-scale international operation will take place in the region to combat the yearly problem.

Haze assistance to Indonesia deployed
Today Online 10 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — After a delay in the haze assistance yesterday, a Chinook helicopter and 34 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel were deployed at around 12.30pm today (Oct 10) to help fight the ongoing forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, said the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) in a media statement.

They were accompanied by a six-man Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and a 5,000-litre heli-bucket.

Two RSAF C-130 aircraft were also deployed to transport the SAF and SCDF personnel and their equipment.

Chief of Air Force Major-General Hoo Cher Mou was at Sembawang Air Base to send off the personnel from the SAF and SCDF.

Singapore earlier received clearance from the Indonesian authorities “due to deteriorating visibility” there, said the MINDEF yesterday.

“Our best wishes go with them and we hope that they will return safe and sound,” said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen today in a Facebook post.

On Thursday, Indonesia had 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 — the first time such a large-scale international operation will take place in the region to combat the yearly problem.

SAF, SCDF teams head to Indonesia to help fight fires
Francis Chan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 11 Oct 15;

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) deployed three aircraft and a 34- strong team to Indonesia yesterday morning, in aid of the country's battle with forest fires in Sumatra.

They were accompanied by a six-man Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (Dart) from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), said the Ministry of Defence.

Indonesia's current haze crisis has affected millions across the region in recent weeks.

Apart from Singapore, Malaysia, Russia and China have also stepped up to help, with Australia the latest country to say it will send a Lockheed L-100 Hercules to assist in water-bombing operations.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the country is familiar with the devastating effects of the fires and wanted to support Indonesia in this time of need.

"While Australia has experienced a dramatic start to the bushfire season, a lull in severe weather conditions has meant we can assist Indonesia and still maintain national aerial firefighting coverage," she said.

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) aircraft involved in the mission include a CH-47D Chinook helicopter, which will haul a 5,000-litre heli-bucket, and two C-130 transport planes to ferry the SAF and SCDF personnel and their equipment to the area of operations.

The Dart officers will oversee the deployment of the heli-bucket, which will drop water from the air onto fires to put them out.

Indonesia's disaster management agency (BNPB) said a Bombardier amphibious aircraft and its Malaysian crew had arrived on Friday to begin water-bombing efforts in South Sumatra.

"They are currently being briefed by the disaster mitigation chief and the water bombing will start immediately after that," BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told Agence France-Presse yesterday.

The BNPB had said earlier that the team from Singapore is expected to be deployed in South Sumatra's Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin regencies, which are among the worst hit by peatland fires this year.

Chief of Air Force, Major-General Hoo Cher Mou, and SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap were at Sembawang Airbase to send off the team yesterday morning. The group was set to take off for Indonesia on Friday but poor visibility in Palembang delayed its departure.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in the capital city of South Sumatra peaked at 470, which is in the hazardous zone, at 8am yesterday before falling to 198 at 6pm in the evening.

In Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan, where schools were shut for more than three weeks, the PSI was at 1,865, way above hazardous levels.

Most of the firefighting and haze mitigation efforts have been focused on South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan due to the severe conditions in both provinces.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said yesterday that while help from friendly countries has started to arrive, putting out the fires under peatland will still be challenging.

He added in a post on Facebook that 36 per cent of the fires in Kalimantan and 46 per cent in Sumatra are on peatland.

Meanwhile, the Environment and Forestry Ministry said companies and individuals responsible for illegal forest fires could face multiple charges under environment, money-laundering and plantation laws.

"The charges will be multiple to give a deterrent effect," said the ministry's directorate general secretary of law enforcement, Mr Novrizal Bahar.

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Malaysia to help waterbomb Sumatra fires

FAREZZA HANUM RASHID New Straits Times 9 Oct 15;

SUBANG: The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) today sent two aircraft to Indonesia to help with firefighting.

A Bombardier CL 415 MP aircraft and an AS 365 N3 Dauphin helicopter have been sent to Sumatra to assist the Indonesian government in putting out the fires that have caused the haze around the region.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) has also deployed a Hercules C130 to assist in logistics.

The operation was launched today at the RMAF Air Movement by MMEA Deputy Director-General Maritime First Admiral Datuk Che Hassan Jusoh and Air Operation Commander Lt. Gen. Datuk Sri Akcbal Abdul Samad.

"The Indonesian government has requested for our assistance as they are aware of our capabilities with the Bombardier CL 415 MP," Che Hassan told a press conference here.

The Bombardier is capable of scooping 6,137 litres of water in 12 seconds from the sea and using a technique called "water bombing" could put out a fire the size of a football field.

Malaysia is the the only Asian country that owns the aircraft to date.

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Haze in south Thailand easing

THE NATION/ANN AsiaOne 10 Oct 15;

News that the dire haze situation in the South has improved comes as the government launched numerous measures aimed at easing the impact of the problem on people and businesses.

The Royal Thai Air Force has even sprayed water over hard-hit densely populated areas of Songkhla province in a bid to protect the health of people.

The smog has played havoc in the Southern region for many days, as winds brought smoke from Indonesia's bush fires.

"Now, the overall haze problem has eased," Government Spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said yesterday.

He said Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha was worried about the haze's impact on people and had instructed relevant agencies to tackle the problem seriously.

The urgent measures are rainmaking operations, water spraying, the distribution of facial masks, and discussions with Indonesia over the problem.

The amount of particulate matter up to 10 microns in size (PM10), Sansern said, had not exceeded the safe limit of 120 micrograms per cubic metre of air in Surat Thani, Phuket, Songkhla, Yala, Narathiwat, Satun and Pattani as of press time yesterday.

Phuket Governor Chamroen Tipayapongtada said the haze situation in his province had shown signs of improving. He said there had not been any more flight delays because of poor visibility after 24 flights to and from Phuket were delayed between 6am Thursday to 6am yesterday.

Suratin Lianudom, a former mayor of Tambon Rassada Municipality, yesterday lodged an open letter with the Indonesian president via the provincial Phuket authority demanding that Jakarta pay serious attention to preventing the haze problem.

"Smog has affected the normal lives of people," he said in the letter.

Suratin said many tourists had been unable to connect with flights back to their home countries in time because of haze-caused flight delays.

Many children and elderly people in Phuket had developed health problems because of the haze, he said.

Yesterday, haze delayed at least four flights at Krabi International Airport, while Ranong Hospital deputy director Dr Arun Sattayapisan said the number of patients at the hospital had jumped by more than 30 per cent in the past few days because of the smog.

"Ranong doesn't have a station to check air quality. So we really don't know whether the air quality has dropped dangerously," he said.

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Haze brings out kindness and coders

Jasmine Osada, The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Oct 15;

The haze may have cast grey skies over Singapore, but there have been some bright spots amid the gloom.

Singaporeans have been looking out for each other and coming up with creative ways to beat the haze.

Local kindness movement Stand Up For Our Singapore has been raising money to buy air filters for needy households in the past few weeks.

The Facebook community has raised more than $6,000 this year through its I Will Be Your Shelter project, which has so far benefited about 50 families living in Block 8, North Bridge Road.

Mr Wally Tham, 38, the man behind the campaign, said his online group had launched another programme earlier this year pairing 40 art students with elderly residents in Block 8.

"So when the haze struck, we immediately thought of them and how we can help," he said.

Starting from the highest floor, 20 volunteers went door to door about two weeks ago giving out the air filters, which cost about $80 each.

They look like fine mesh bags and can be used to cover any fan to turn it into an effective air purifier.

Families with enough fans at home to battle the haze and the heat were given an air filter each, while those who did not have sufficient fans were given a $180 air filter set that includes a filter and a fan unit.

"Some elderly residents refused to take the air filters as they said that they did not feel unwell," said Mr Tham. "It took some convincing to even get the filters in."

But others were more grateful.

"When we first visited the homes at Block 8 prior to giving out the air filters, some residents were coughing and those who had young children at home said their kids were suffering from runny noses," he added.

"But since they received the air filters, they said they have been breathing more easily and their children are feeling better."

With more than 200 households living in Block 8, there is still some way go. Saying he has "mixed feelings" about whether this campaign has been a success, "as we have helped only 50 households so far", Mr Tham added: "But I am very encouraged by all the people who have come forward to help."

Stand Up For Our Singapore hopes to raise another $3,000 to help another 50 homes at the block.

The haze has also prompted some groups to come up with creative ideas to beat the dirty air.

Local media lab Newsplex Asia has teamed up with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, as well as the Online News Association (Singapore) and the Hacks/Hackers Singapore Chapter, to organise a haze-themed hackathon - an event that lets programmers join people in other fields to work on software projects.

The Hyper Haze Hack, which will be held at Google Singapore's auditorium next Tuesday, seeks to pair computer programmers with experts, the media, students and members of the public to come up with IT solutions, such as apps, that can help people during the haze.

Ms Lau Joon-Nie, assistant director of Newsplex Asia, said the media lab organises a hackathon every year, and choosing the haze as the theme for this year's event was both timely and meaningful.

"There are lots of disparate sources of information on the haze," Ms Lau said.

"We thought that it was a good idea to have such an event where we can hopefully develop solutions, such as apps, that can pull together different sources of data so that people can be better informed about what is going on."

Mask effect
Foo Jie Ying THE NEW PAPER AsiaOne 10 Oct 15;

Smoky air, yellow skies and a PSI of 1,500.

That is what non-governmental organisation's (RSG) chief executive Jonathan How and four other Singaporeans have experienced over the last few days.

On Sunday, the team of five flew into the thick of the haze of Palangkaraya, the capital of the Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan.

They were there to distribute N95 masks to the locals and educate them on how to use the masks.

Arriving with them at Palangkaraya's Tjilik Riwut Airport were a whopping 25,111 N95 masks, packed in 86 boxes. The masks were collected by RSG and "Let's Help Kalimantan", a mask collection initiative.

One of the trio behind the initiative, Ms Cheryl Lie, 31, who is in the education industry, was also part of the team of five.

The air freight costs were borne by Indonesian low-cost carrier Lion Air, Mr How, 43, said.

On their first day, with the help of local volunteers, the Singapore team distributed the masks at the University of Palangkaraya in the city centre, and the village of Bereng Bengkel.

The next day, they went to the Kameloh Baru village, as well as the College of Nursing, Midwifery and Nutrition, where they handed over 1,000 masks to health workers.

The health workers will distribute the masks to children and pregnant women at primary care outpatient clinics.

In his two days spent in the thick of the haze, Mr How saw for himself a lack of awareness of wearing N95 masks.


Despite the hazy conditions, most residents went around unprotected.

"We saw kids playing unmasked, totally oblivious to the haze surrounding them. Men were seen playing strenuous sports like basketball and volleyball without masks at all," he told The New Paper.

Mr How acknowledged that mask distribution is a short-term solution, but that will not stop him and his team from such relief efforts.

"While we will continue to raise support for the distribution of masks, we are exploring other possible ways to help mitigate the situation by identifying and supporting longer-term solutions that deal with issues like forest fire-fighting and peatland management," he added.

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Indonesia: Foreign aid to be concentrated in South Sumatra -- President 9 Oct 15;

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said that assistance from several countries to extinguish forest and land fires would be concentrated in South Sumatra.

"Based on our observation, the largest number of hot spots are located in South Sumatra," said Jokowi during a visit to a clinic for haze victims in Kampar regency in Riau on Friday as quoted by Antara news agency.

According to Jokowi, several countries that offered aid for the haze disaster included Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Russia, Australia and China.

"[Assistance from] Singapore has arrived today. [Aid from] other countries will probably start coming on Sunday," said Jokowi.

He added that the support included aircraft that can carry more than 10 tons of water for water bombing.

"We should realize that we are dealing with peat land, which may have no fires above but are raging below," said Jokowi.

He also said that the handling of the disaster was made more difficult by the vast location of fires burning and the prolonged dry season caused by the weather phenomenon El Niño.

According to Kampar regent Jefry Noer, the haze had caused an increasing number of acute respiratory infections in the regency.

"Around 20 people come to the clinic every day, which offers free treatment for 24 hours," said Jefry. (kes)(++++)

Joko Embraces Help of International Community as Haze Crisis Continues
Ezra Sihite Jakarta Globe 9 Oct 15;

Jakarta. Six nations have told President Joko Widodo they are willing to assist in Indonesia's fight against land and forest fires in Sumatara and Kalimantan, the root of the region's haze crisis.

So far, the president said, only fire-fighting equipped aircrafts from Singapore have arrived.

Malaysia, South Korea, China, Australia and Russia have indicated support, a statement from the president's team said on Friday.

“But only [aircraft] from Singapore has arrived. [Aircraft] from other nations will probably only start arriving from Sunday,” Joko said during a visit to the haze-affected Lereng village in Kampar district, Riau, on Friday.

Riau is among several Indonesian provinces hit by the seasonal fire and haze crisis, which has been exacerbated this year by the El Nino phenomenon bringing extremely dry weather to the region.

The Singaporean fire-fighting aircraft will be able to carry between 12,000 and 15,000 liters of water per flight and has a far greater capacity to waterbomb and extinguish fire hotspots than Indonesian planes.

“We need planes that have the capacity to carry 12 tons to 15 tons of water, unlike the aircraft that [Indonesia has], which have a water capacity of two to three tons. They are insufficient,” Joko earlier said on Thursday, as quoted by news portal

Aircraft operations will be focused on South Sumatra where satellite imaging has found the most hotspots.

The Indonesian government has previously rejected offers of assistance from other countries, notably haze-effected Singapore and Malaysia.

Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung earlier said the administration was concerned foreign government would claim credit for ending the crisis.

Indonesia to buy waterbombing aircraft next year: President
Antara 9 Oct 15;

Kampar, Riau (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo said on Friday that Indonesia would buy aircraft, which can be specially used to tackle fires or conduct water bombing, next year.

"Minimally, we will buy three planes that have big capacity or are able to water bomb with up to 12 tons of water," he said while inspecting burned areas in the village of Rombo Panjang in the sub-district of Tambang, Kampar, Riau province in Sumatra.

The President revealed that the budget for the purchase is yet to be discussed with the parliament.

Regarding the current haze problem, President Widodo said he believed it would be settled within the next two weeks or even less than two weeks if possible.

He added that assistance from several foreign countries would be focused on the fires in South Sumatra.

"It will be concentrated in South Sumatra first because based on our checks, most fires have indeed been found in South Sumatra," he said while visiting the health service command post for haze victims in the village of Lereng.

The President also said that several foreign countries had expressed a readiness to extend help to Indonesia to deal with the fire problem, including Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Russia, Australia and China.

"Today, only assistance from Singapore has come, but tomorrow perhaps others would follow," he said.

President Widodo said foreign assistance had been extended in the form of planes that could carry above 10 tons of water.

"We must know what we are dealing with is peat land forests. There is no fire found on the surface, but below it is burning," he stated.

President Widodo also stressed that greater efforts were needed to extinguish the fires because the areas affected were larger and because of the increased impact of the El Nino weather phenomenon.(*)

Indonesia aims to put out fires in two weeks with aid from other countries
Indonesian president Joko Widodo added that next year, the government plans to acquire at least three aircraft to deal with forest fires.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 10 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo said authorities target to put out forest fires burning in parts of the country in two weeks, with the help of other countries.

The fires have sent haze drifting across parts of the region.

"For one week (foreign help) will give priority to South Sumatra. The target is about two weeks from Menkopolhukam (Coordinating Minister for Politics, Legal and Security Affairs), and Head of BNPB (National Disaster Management Agency). But, I hope it will be sooner," said Mr Widodo, quoted by local news agency

Speaking to reporters on Friday (Oct 9) while visiting areas affected by the forest fires in Riau, Mr Widodo said all foreign assistance will arrive in one to two days.

Countries which have offered help include Malaysia, Singapore and China.

Mr Widodo said the priority is in South Sumatra for one week because the haze is coming from there. He added that next year, the government plans to acquire at least three aircraft to deal with the forest fires. These aircraft will have the capacity to carry more than 12 tons of water.

Mr Widodo said for the past 17 years, Indonesia has been fighting forest fires with aircraft that only have the capacity to carry between two and three tons of water, and this has not been too effective.

Presidential communications team member Ari Dwipayana said there are no details yet on what kind of aircraft the government will buy, but they will be used for other purposes as well.

"Besides using them to put out land and forest fires, the aircraft can also be used to transport logistical aid if there is a disaster in certain areas," said Mr Ari, as quoted by

- CNA/dl

RI to receive foreign help in haze crisis
Ina Parlina and Fedina S. Sundaryani, The Jakarta Post 9 Oct 15;

After months of reluctance, the government has said that it was now willing to receive help from foreign countries to extinguish raging forest and peat land fires that have caused thick haze to envelope parts of Southeast Asia.

The government had previously declined repeated offers of assistance made by Singapore on the basis that it had sufficient resources to deal with the fires.

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said she had spoken with her counterparts in Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, China and Australia “to discuss cooperation initiatives to overcome fire hotspots”, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir.

“This has proven quite a challenge for us, so we see it as a necessity to work together with countries that have the available resources to extinguish the fires,” he said on Thursday.

Arrmanatha said foreign ministers from the five countries had indicated that they were ready to help and the next step would be to select the proper mechanisms, such as whether the cooperation would be technical or financial.

While waiting for assistance, the authorities have stepped up their efforts to put out the fires.

“At least 65 million liters of water has been dropped on areas in five provinces and 250 tons of salt has been used to modify weather,” he said. “These efforts have more or less succeeded, but there are still 110 hotspots as of today.”

The government requires an aircraft that was able to store 10,000 liters of water to extinguish the 110 hotspots.

As many as 22,146 military and police personnel, and officers from relevant agencies, have been deployed to put out raging forest fires in six provinces, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

Recently, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on Indonesia to take action against those setting forest fires, which have also affected areas of Malaysia.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo who flew to West Sumatra to observe fire fighting efforts on Thursday said that the foreign assistance would be of great value to accomplish the complex task of putting out the fires.

“We hope [the assistance] can speed up efforts in tackling [the haze],” Jokowi said in a press release distributed by the presidential communication team.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the foreign countries, which were expected to focus on helping extinguish fires in South Sumatra, particularly in Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin regencies, would conduct a joint-operation.

According to Sutopo, Indonesia had experience working with foreign assistance teams. Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, the US, Japan and France joined efforts to extinguish forest fires in 1997.

“As a follow-up, there will be meetings at the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister to discuss details of the assistance, mechanisms and other matters related to the foreign aid,” he added. “Of course what is needed is assistance that can fill gaps in the existing measures.”

On Thursday at 5 p.m. Terra and Aqua satellites had detected 106 hotspots; 97 in South Sumatra, six in Bangka Belitung Islands, two in Lampung and one in Riau; and 21 in Kalimantan; 17 in Central Kalimantan and four in West Kalimantan.

According to the BNPB, Thursday‘s particulate matter (PM10) levels in Palembang, South Sumatra, Jambi and Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan all were recorded at “dangerous” levels. Pontianak, West Kalimantan, recorded a “moderate” level.

— Tama Salim and Nani Afrida contributedto this report

Good that Indonesia's neighbours are involved in fighting fires: Jusuf Kalla
Vice-President Jusuf Kalla says Indonesia's neighbours will understand how difficult it is for Indonesia to solve the problem of haze-causing forest fires when they pitch in to battle the blaze.
aifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 9 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: It is good that neighbouring countries are involved in fighting forest fires in the country, so they understand how difficult it is to solve the problem, said Indonesia's Vice-President Jusuf Kalla.

Local news portal quoted Mr Kalla as saying that by helping out, other countries can "understand the ground, not just to observe from a distance".

Speaking to reporters at the vice-president's office on Friday (Oct 9), Mr Kalla also refuted claims that the government is not doing its best to put out the fires. He said a number of aircraft and troops have been deployed and funds have been used. Mr Kalla explained that it is not easy to put out the fires during this dry season.

Meanwhile, Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said Indonesia welcomes help from its neighbours as long as it is sincere. reported him as saying: "We just want to remind the Singapore and Malaysian governments as friends in ASEAN, if they want to help Indonesia, do it sincerely. Do not condemn the country, and its people."

He added that it is not the wish for the Indonesian government nor its people to send the haze intentionally to Malaysia or Singapore. Mr Kumolo spoke while he was in Palembang on Friday to attend the civil service police unit jamboree.

- CNA/hs

Six countries to help Indonesia fight forest fires
Indonesia has been offered help from six countries including Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, China, Australia and Russia to end the haze crisis that has affected several countries in Southeast Asia.
Saifulbahri Ismail and Melissa Goh, Malaysia Bureau Chief, Channel NewsAsia 9 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: A total of six countries including Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, China, Australia and Russia have offered to help Indonesia put out the forest fires that have caused thick haze in parts of Southeast Asia, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said Friday (Oct 9) during his visit to Riau in Sumatra.

Singapore has offered to send one Chinook helicopter with a 5,000 litre heli-bucket. According to Singapore's Defence Ministry, the Chinook will be used for "aerial fire-fighting and water-bombing" and the heli-bucket will be operated by a Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

Apart from the helicopter, Singapore is also dispatching one Hercules C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding operations. However, its Defence Ministry said this "will ultimately depend on whether cloud conditions are conducive for cloud seeding".

Aid from other countries may start arriving in Indonesia on Sunday, Antara news agency quoted President Widodo as saying. Their assistance, focusing on the fires in the South Sumatra province, includes water-bombing aircraft with a capacity of more than 10,000 kg.

Malaysia has deployed three aircraft and a 25-member team to help fight fires in South Sumatra.

It will dispatch one Bombadier amphibious aircraft, one Hercules C-130 aircraft and a survey helicopter.

The Bombardier amphibious aircraft uses a "water bombing" technique capable of putting out a fire the size of a football field.

For the next five days, the Bombardier CL 415 from Malaysia's Maritime Enforcement Agency will be operating seven hours a day to put out the fires burning up large swathes of forest in South Sumatra.

Malaysia is the only country in Southeast Asia that has a Bombardier aircraft capable of fetching up to 6,000 liters of water within just 12 seconds.

Meanwhile, the Dauphin helicopter will act as a fire spotter. Another C-130 from Malaysia's Air Force will be ferrying logistics to South Sumatra where the 25-member team will be stationed for a week.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was at the Subang military air base on Friday to send them off.

The week-long operation is expected to cost the Malaysian government up to 1.7 million ringgit or more than US$400,000.

Meanwhile, South Sumatra governor Alex Noerdin apologised for the haze crisis in the area, acknowledging that he is most responsible for the haze situation, local news portal reported. However, he said a change in wind directions contributed to the crisis, as smoke is also blown from Kalimantan to South Sumatra.

He added that authorities in South Sumatra have done all they can to put out the fires, with help from the army, police and the National Disaster Management Agency. He said instead of pointing fingers, all parties involved should work together to extinguish the fires.

- CNA/pp/ms

Indonesia welcomes foreign assistance in battling forest fires
Antara 9 Oct 15;

Banda Aceh, Aceh (ANTARA News) - After taking months to tackling, Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said the government of Indonesia would welcome foreign offer to help battling forest fires in the country which have caused great inconvenience by haze of thick smoke including in neighboring countries.

"The government would welcome any offer from neighboring countries wanting to help," the minister said here on Thursday.

He expressed disappointment over criticism from neighboring countries blaming Indonesia for the smokes blown by strong winds from forest fires in Sumatra or Kalimantahn.

"Please don't put the blame entirely on this sovereign country. If they honestly want to help please do," he said.

Kumolo said the government has done what it can do and has taken firm measure against suspects responsible for the fire tragedy.

He said a number of oil palm plantation companies had been charged with causing the fires and some of the oil palm companies are owned by investors from the neighboring countries.

President Joko Widodo is currently visiting Jambi to inspect the progress made in the attempt to put out the fires.

Meanwhile, Malaysia is reported planning to send an aircraft Bombardier CL415MP to Indonesia, to help in putting out the fires that have spewed thick smokes blown by the winds to that neighboring country including Singapore.

Malaysian Defense Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said the aircraft would be sent in response to request for help from President Joko Widodo to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

"The President of Indonesia has asked for assistance from the Prime Minister to put out forest fires in South Sumatra," Hishammuddin was quoted as saying.

"I have talked with my Indonesian counterpart Ryamizard Ryacudu," he said adding the aircraft could put out fires in wide areas.

Indonesia to utilize foreign assistance to extinguish forest fires
Antara 9 Oct 15;

Kampar, Riau (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) will utilize several offers of assistance from foreign countries to extinguish forest and land fires in Sumatra Island.

"Firstly, we will utilize foreign assistance to fight fires in the South Sumatra area. According to our monitoring, the region still has the most number of hotspots," the president affirmed here on Friday.

Jokowi pointed out that some countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Russia, China, and Australia have offered assistance to extinguish forest fires.

The president said Singapore will start providing assistance on Friday.

"I assumed that assistance from other countries will arrive on next Sunday," Jokowi added.

Foreign countries will deploy several cargo aircraft capable of dropping over 10 tons of water on the hotspots.

The president said the fires that occurred in peatland areas are more difficult to extinguish as the flames continue to burn under the surface of the upper peat.

He added that it will take a long period of time to extinguish fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands as the fires are spread over a wide area of land and also due to the drought induced by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

Additionally, Health Minister Nila Moeloek hoped all people would use masks while venturing outdoors.

"It is very important as the pollutants measure between 10 and 2.5 microns. There are also gas pollutants arising from the burnt peatland areas," Nila emphasized.

Nila stated that the government had already witnessed the impacts of the pollutants. She hoped that by agreeing to utilize foreign assistance, Indonesia will be able to extinguish fires and bring down the level of pollutants in the air.

Chief of Kampar District Jefry Noer noted that the number of patients suffering from acute respiratory infections had increased due to the haze engulfing the region.

He remarked that on a daily basis, 20 people suffering from respiratory infections visited the public health center.

The chief affirmed that the health center is ready to provide free treatment to patients round the clock.(*)

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Haze chokes babies, kills one

Rizal Harahap and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 9 Oct 15;

Nineteen babies have received intensive treatment in Sumatra hospitals after suffering from acute respiratory infections (ISPA).

One 28-day-old baby passed away on Wednesday at Muhammadiyah hospital in Palembang after suffering from an ISPA.

The province’s health agency head Lesty Nuraini said on Thursday that the baby suffered a lung infection that was most likely caused by inhaling the haze.

However, Lesty said her agency would conduct a thorough investigation to determine the cause of the death of the child of Hendra Saputra and Mursida, a couple from Baten Seberang Ulu, Palembang.

Meanwhile in Kuantan Singigi regency, Riau province, 18 infants were also being treated in the intensive care unit (ICU) of the regency’s general hospital suffering from haze-related illnesses.

Regency health agency official Detri Elvira said the babies were among dozens of children who were being treated at the hospital for respiratory diseases.

“The hospital is currently treating dozens of children and babies affected by land and forest fires,” Detri said as quoted by Antara news agency.

She said the babies should be given the highest standard of care as the haze was more dangerous to babies than adults. She revealed that some of the babies had to be treated in the ICU room as respiratory aid was required.

Besides the infants, Detri said that thousands of other residents had also been recorded as suffering haze-related illnesses and asked for help for the hospital and community health centers in the regency.

The province’s health agency head Andra Sjafril admitted that he had not yet been informed about the increasing number of babies being treated at Kuantan Singingi hospital.

“I have just heard about it [from you],” Andra told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

He said that, so far, his agency had received only general reports from regencies about the number of patients suffering haze-related illnesses, without details about the ages of those people.

However, he guaranteed that the babies and children would receive the highest level of treatment from local medical teams. “They must be treated according to the doctor’s prognosis.”

“There are also assistance teams helping medical personnel in the regencies. It’s not just the teams from the province, the central government has also deployed a rapid assessment team to help victims of haze in Riau,” he added.

He noted that some people, particularly babies, children, pregnant women and asthma sufferers were more susceptible to haze-related health problems.

“The vulnerable groups are strongly advised not to conduct outdoor activities. Even at home, they should wear masks, as haze can still enter their houses,” Andra said.

He said the province could do nothing to disperse the haze as it originated from other provinces.

“We just get the effects. As a preventative measure to deal with the increasing [number of] ISPA cases, we have distributed 6,000 free masks. That amount excludes the thousands of masks donated by companies and organizations in public places.”

Hundreds of thousands of residents in Sumatra and Kalimantan have suffered haze-related illnesses.

According to data from the Health Ministry, as of Thursday, 45,666 people in Riau Islands suffered from illnesses, with four fatalities, 69,734 Jambi residents were sick with one fatality and 83,276 South Sumatra residents suffered from illnesses and two people had died.

Although no deaths were recorded, the ministry noted 43,477 haze patents in West Kalimantan, 29,104 in South Kalimantan and 36,101 in Central Kalimantan.

Besides causing people to fall ill, the haze also affected participants of the Tour de Singkarak international cycling race in West Sumatra.

Two cyclists from Japan were seen wearing masks when starting stage four from the iconic Jam Gadang (Big Clock) in Bukittinggi to race 116 kilometers through haze to Istano Basa Pagaruyung in Batusangkar on Thursday.

Besides the two cities, other cities and regencies in the province have also been blanketed by haze. In Tanah Datar regency, visibility reached 400 meters and air quality was at an unhealthy level, according to Kototabang Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency.

S. Sumatra Governor Apologizes for Haze
Basten Gokkon Jakarta Globe 9 Oct 15;

Jakarta. South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin has apologized for the relentless spread of thick haze caused by wildfires across the province, which has disrupted his region as well as neighboring provinces and countries.

"As the governor, [I am] most responsible [for the haze] in South Sumatra," he said in the provincial capital of Palembang on Friday, as quoted by news portal

The province is among Sumatra's hardest-hit regions by the smog, which has depleted visibility range to as low as 200 meters on Wednesday.

Data from Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) recorded Palembang's air pollution index at 527 as of Friday at 9 a.m., a significant drop from 1,585 on Sept. 24.

Any index reading above 350 is considered hazardous.

The situation in South Sumatra, which has declared a state of emergency along with other haze-hit provinces Riau, Jambi, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan, escalated when a 28-day-old baby named Husien Saputra died on Wednesday from an acute respiratory ailment believed to have been caused by the smog.

Alex also extended his apologies to the governments of neighboring countries Malaysia and Singapore, where dense haze forced schools to shut down for several days.

"We're very sorry. We never had any intention to send the smoke to other areas, but winds carried [the haze] to the north," he said.

"Let's all focus on extinguishing the fires and attend to the haze situation in our region," he added.

The government has deployed over 22,000 soldiers, policemen and firefighting personnel to extinguish the fires, while also sending planes to conduct water-bombing and cloud seeding operations.

More than 6,000 officers are expected to be deployed soon.

Indonesia finally accepted foreign aid on Thursday in the form of water bombing planes from Singapore, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Australia and China.

The Health Ministry has also shipped more than one million face masks and 5,200 N95 respirators to areas worst hit by haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan, where a majority of the fires came from burning peatlands and forests to make way for palm oil plantation.

Indonesian farmers have used the slash-and-burn technique to clear land for decades as it is estimated to cost five times less than the safer method of using heavy machinery.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry has revoked four operating permits of companies found guilty for burning lands, with 30 more logging and palm-oil firms expected to face similar punishments.

The government will also place those companies on its blacklist, which the ministry expects will be completed in December.

Environmental group Greenpeace estimated that the amount of carbon emitted from haze in 2015 might exceed that of 1997, when Indonesia produced between 0.81 and 2.57 gigatons of the pollutant, equivalent to 13-40 percent of the entire world's annual fossil fuel emissions.

Indonesia, which has pledged a 29 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, will likely be in the spotlight at the UN's climate change conference in Paris in December.

Senior minister monitors haze mitigation efforts in South Sumatra
Antara 9 Oct 15;

Palembang, S Sumatra (ANTARA News) - Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan visited South Sumatra province on Friday to monitor the efforts undertaken to handle haze caused by land and forest fires.

Panjaitan accompanied by National Police Chief General Badrodin Haiti, Army Chief of Staff General Mulyono, and South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin aboard a helicopter monitored the handling of haze in Ogan Komering Ilir district, which has witnessed the highest number of hotspots and land fires.

The minister pointed out that the haze disaster must be handled soon as it has far-reaching impacts not only on the peoples economy but also on human health.

He remarked that the existing efforts to cope with the haze disaster in South Sumatra must be stepped up as they have not yielded maximum results as expected.

South Sumatra still has several hotspots. On Friday, 450 hotspots were detected as opposed to 239 a day before.

He affirmed that the forest fire control task force in the province had done a good job. However, they still have to work harder to overcome the haze disaster immediately.

To handle the haze disaster in South Sumatra and several parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan, the central government will deploy more personnel and equipment, he emphasized.

"I urge all personnel involved in the haze disaster control efforts, both from the regional government and the Indonesian military and police, to take care of their health," he added.(*)

Johannes Nugroho: Don't Forget the Long-Term Effects of Haze on Health
Large parts of the country have been covered in thick haze for months now. (Antara Photo/Wahdi Septiawan)
Johannes Nugroho Jakarta Globe 10 Oct 15;

The last few years have seen forest-fire-induced haze episodes in Southeast Asia turn into an annual, albeit unwelcome, event during the dry season, with 2013 and 2015 arguably being the two particularly bad years.

As the haze is produced by forest fires in both Sumatra and Kalimantan, Jakarta is under intense pressure to do something about it. There’s growing evidence that the incidence of forest fires in Indonesia is becoming more frequent and unmanageable, with failure to act on the problem posing even greater costs and risks in the future, especially in the health sector.

Forest fires are nothing new in Southeast Asia, at least in the last 30 years, since vast tracts of land started to be cleared for cash crop growing. The combustibility of vegetation is further abetted by the dry season lasting longer as part of global warning as well as irresponsible slash and burn farming practices.

Throughout the 1990s, for the first time the Southeast Asian haze became a regular menace, with episodes occurring in 1990, 1991, 1994, 1997 and 1998. The first three mostly affected the Borneo side of Malaysia while the subsequent episodes saw the problem spread to encompass parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore.

The 1997 fires which occurred in Sumatra and Kalimantan were of sufficient gravity to attract international attention for the first time.

Material losses aside, the increased frequency of haze episodes will almost certainly have both short term and long term health consequences on the region’s population. Greenpeace has released its estimate of 110,000 deaths occurring annually due to haze-related health problems in Southeast Asia, not to mention the climate-changing greenhouse gases unleashed into the atmosphere by the forest fires, estimated by the Global Fire Emissions Database to be 600,000 tons.

The Singapore Straits Times reported in mid-September that between 10,000 and 30,000 Indonesians were having health problems, particularly respiratory diseases, as a direct result from coming into contact with the haze. While no definite study has been carried out to measure the long term effects of regular exposure to forest fire smoke, it’s difficult to believe there won’t be any.

Wood smoke, though one of the oldest types of smoke encountered by human beings, is no more benign than, say, cigarette smoke. Typical wood smoke contains inorganic gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide which both irritate and asphyxiate the human respiratory system. It is also filled with hydrocarbons such as butadiene, benzene and styrene, which are toxic and potentially cancer-causing. Contained in wood smoke is also a host of free radicals and organic compounds such as methylene chloride, acrolein and formaldehyde which are allergenic as well as carcinogenic.

In a study conducted in 2000 on the military recruits who helped quell the California forest fire, it was found that their bone marrow entered a hyperstimulated phase, producing immature polymorphonuclear leukocytes during exposure to forest fire smoke; an automatic immune response to inflammation. During the Southeast Asian haze of 1998, a Malaysian medical study revealed that children experienced decreased lung function compared to the pre-haze period.

Although no definite link has been established between the inhalation of wood smoke and lung cancer, no study is conclusive enough to refute it. A 1998 study from China and a more recent one from the US in 2006 both found that exposure to low concentrations of wood smoke failed to significantly increase the risk of lung cancer in mice. However, a study in 2000 revealed that wood smoke can precipitate permanent damage to the cells and DNA of mice. The latter observation suggests that the poisoning of our DNA by the free radicals in wood smoke can trigger genetic mutation which can be passed on to the next generations.

The inundation of hospitals, health clinics and other facilities following the outbreak of haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan is proof enough of the pernicious short term health hazards. Yet it is the unknown long term effects that may present us with acute future health challenges.

This is especially pertinent as Indonesia, under its health insurance (BPJS) and health card (KIS) schemes, is attempting to move towards universal health coverage for its citizens. While it is still a far cry from the free health care systems provided in many developed European countries, there’s every reason to believe free or at least affordable health care will be an important issue with the country’s electorate in the years to come.

In 2012, Britain’s National Health System had to foot a bill of around $1.8 billion for the treatment of lung cancer patients. Given Indonesia’s larger population -- with the vast majority of men also regularly smoking tobacco -- we may end up with a formidably more sizeable bill, even without the possible effects of the haze.

If the government wants an omen about the gravity of the problem, it has to look no further than Palangkaraya, sometimes touted as our future capital city, which was blanketed recently in haze recording 1,986 on the pollution index -- when anything above 350 is hazardous.

Johannes Nugroho is a writer from Surabaya. He can be contacted at

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Indonesia: Harvests, festival miss targets amid drought

Jon Afrizal and Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post 9 Oct 15;

The prolonged dry season has left local farmers and authorities in some of the country’s worst-hit regions unable to achieve their targets in the farming and tourism sectors due to the absence of proper irrigation and lack of water supplies to support major tourist events.

In Jambi, the Bungo regional administration on Thursday reported that at least 600 hectares of the regency’s 3,000 ha of paddies had experienced harvest failure due to drought that first hit the area earlier this year.

“Although the remaining 2,400 ha of paddies still managed to produce rice, their level of productivity was significantly lower than that during normal weather,” Bungo Food Security Agency head Ali Abdullah said.

Ali said three districts had become Bungo’s largest rice-producing areas: Jujuhan, Tanah Sepenggal and Tanah Tumbuh. Unfortunately, many rice fields in the three districts have dried up over the past few months because of the lack of irrigation.

Based on the conditions, Ali said he was pessimistic about seeing the regency fulfill its target to produce 34,000 tons of rice this year for local consumption.

“In this year’s first [harvest] period, we managed to meet 52 percent of the target. Looking at the prolonged dry season, it will be very difficult for us to meet the remaining 48 percent target during the second [and final] harvest period,” he said.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has warned that the dry season this year could last longer than in previous years due to the El Niño weather phenomenon, which affects temperatures and rainfall patterns.

The BMKG predicts that the El Niño effect will extend Indonesia’s dry season, which normally takes place between April and September, until November, and affect 18 of the country’s 34 provinces, including Jambi, West Java, Central Java, East Java, West Nusa Tenggara, East Nusa Tenggara and Papua.

In late July, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) revealed that 25,000 ha of crop fields across the archipelago had experienced harvest failure due to El Niño.

This year’s extended dry season has also hampered the government’s efforts to put out extensive land and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, which have produced thick haze that has severely deteriorated air quality in many regions over the past several weeks.

Meanwhile, in Papua, the prolonged drought has also forced the Asmat regional administration to postpone the annual Asmat Cultural Festival from October to January next year, the first time the event has ever been postponed since it began in 1984.

“The 31st Asmat Cultural Festival should have been started today [Thursday] until Oct. 13. We, however, have decided to postpone it until January next year due to the prolonged drought,” Asmat Tourism Agency head Simon Junumpit told The Jakarta Post over the phone.

Located some 400 kilometers southwest of the provincial capital of Jayapura, Asmat is known for its sculpture and carving.

Since 1984, people from the regency’s 19 districts have gathered at the festival to showcase their respective cultures, including dances and carvings, to domestic and foreign tourists.

Simon said Asmat had seen no rain for the past six months. To fulfill local people’s water needs, the administration, according to Simon, had been transporting clean water from outside the regency, on board a ship every three days.

“The water is distributed to local residents for free,” said Simon, adding that the lack of clean water was discouraging tourists from visiting the regency.

Responding to the postponement, Iwanta Peranginangin, the owner of local tour operator Papua Adventure, said he could accept the decision, arguing that forcing the festival to carry on could lead to another major problem.

“With no adequate clean water supply, thousands of people who visited the regency could easily get sick,” he said.

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Indonesia loses up to $9 bln from timber clearing - anti-graft body

* Indonesia losing nearly $1 bln a year in timber royalties
* Report highlights ineffective law enforcement, poor auditing
* Points to rise in mining, palm oil, pulp and paper output
Michael Taylor Reuters 9 Oct 15;

JAKARTA, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Unreported forest clearing cost Indonesia up to $9 billion between 2003 and 2014 in lost timber royalties - about three times the royalties it actually received, an investigation by the country's main anti-graft agency showed on Friday.

An eight-month investigation by the country's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) estimated the value of the lost timber at up to $81 billion, with the cleared land often used for growing crops or mining.

A copy of its report, seen by Reuters and due to be handed to government ministers on Friday, will put further pressure on President Joko Widodo who has been criticised by green groups and other Southeast Asian nations on forestry policy and for failing to stop the annual "haze" problem from forest-burning.

"Where does the money go - it goes to the corrupters," Dian Patria, group head of corruption prevention for natural resources at the KPK told Reuters. "It could be $9 billion, it could be more, because these are quite conservative figures.

"This is not only a corruption issue, it's also about the long-term environmental impact."

Home to the world's third-largest tropical forests and a major palm oil and pulp and paper producer, Indonesia will be in the spotlight at the U.N.'s climate change conference in Paris in December.

Unregulated land clearing has long been a problem in the country, which lost 1.5 million hectares of tree cover last year, up from 1.1 million hectares in 2013.

The KPK report cited ineffective law enforcement, inaccurate production data and auditing by timber plantations, a lack of transparency on royalties data within government ministries, and poor coordination between central and regional governments as causes for the lost timber revenue.

Over the 12 years to 2014, Indonesia earned just $3.2 billion from timber royalties, said the report, which comes as Widodo's government battles sluggish economic growth.

Late last month, Indonesia announced it would borrow $4.2 billion from international agencies to cover a widening budget deficit.

The report, which did not name any companies or individuals, highlighted rising timber prices and land clearing for the rapid expansion of palm oil and pulp and paper production, as well as mining.

The worst year for state losses was in 2012, it showed, one year after the government signed off on its ban on primary forest clearing.

The KPK will hand its report to the forestry and finance ministries and the country's audit agency, and will monitor the development of action plans to correct problem areas, Patria said.

If no action was taken within 12 months it could hand its findings to its corruption investigations arm, he added. (Reporting by Michael Taylor; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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Sea turtles face plastic pollution peril

Study warns that all seven species of marine turtle can ingest or become entangled in discarded plastic debris
University of Exeter Science Daily 9 Oct 15;

Summary: A new global review that set out to investigate the hazards of marine plastic pollution has warned that all seven species of marine turtles can ingest or become entangled in the discarded debris that currently litters the oceans.

A new global review led by the University of Exeter that set out to investigate the hazards of marine plastic pollution has warned that all seven species of marine turtles can ingest or become entangled in the discarded debris that currently litters the oceans.

The research, which was carried out in collaboration with Plymouth Marine Laboratory, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina State University, Duke University Marine Lab and James Cook University, is published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science and reveals serious knowledge gaps in the diverse and complex pathways in which plastic pollution can harm marine life.

Joint lead author Sarah Nelms, from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter's Penryn campus said: "I was shocked at how little is known about the impacts of plastic on marine turtles."

"We know that discarded plastic poses a serious threat to wildlife, but this study shows that more research is urgently needed if we are to understand the scale of the problem."

Annual global plastic production has grown from 1.5 million tonnes to 299 million tonnes in the last 65 years and as a result plastic pollution is increasing, both on land and at sea.

Prof Brendan Godley, who led the team said: "When turtles ingest plastic, they can suffer intestinal blockage that can result in malnutrition which can in turn lead to poor health, reduced growth rates, lower reproductive output and even death."

"It is sobering to think that almost every piece of plastic that ever entered the sea is still there; breaking down and forming a vast soup of microplastics that could have frightening long-term repercussions."

Entanglement in plastic debris, such as lost fishing gear or discarded packaging, can cause lacerations and increased drag when swimming, which may result in drowning or death by starvation.

Beach litter may also entangle nesting females or trap emerging hatchlings, while potentially affecting turtle nests by altering temperature and changing the permeability of the sediment on nesting beaches.

The study demonstrates that urgent action is required to better understand this issue and its effects on marine turtles, so that appropriate and effective mitigation policies can be developed.

The researchers are calling for further work to investigate the sub-lethal effects of plastic ingestion and the associated contamination from chemicals relating to the plastic particles.

Other work will include mapping likely ingestion and entanglement hotspots and identifying the species and age-classes that are most at risk.

Journal Reference:

Sarah E. Nelms, Emily M. Duncan, Annette C. Broderick, Tamara S. Galloway, Matthew H. Godfrey, Mark Hamann, Penelope K. Lindeque, and Brendan J. Godley. Plastic and marine turtles: a review and call for research. ICES J. Mar. Sci., October 9, 2015 DOI: 10.1093/icesjms/fsv165

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