Best of our wild blogs: 14 Oct 15

How Much Food Do You Waste In Singapore?
Zero Waste Singapore

Long-tailed Parakeet picking Alexandra Palm flowers
Bird Ecology Study Group

Jokowi enforcer roasts APP supplier while Kalimantan orangutan charity reels from fires
Mongabay Environmental News

Palm oil company caught destroying primary forest in endangered ecosystem
Mongabay Environmental News

Read more!

Indonesia: 156 hot spots in Sumatra still 13 Oct 15;

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Pekanbaru, Riau, have reported that NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites still detect 156 hot spots in Sumatra, 126 of which are in South Sumatra.

"These hot spots were detected at 7 a.m.," said BMKG Pekanbaru head Sugarin Widayat on Tuesday as quoted by He added that the hot spots had also spread to other regions, such as Jambi, which had 19, Lampung, with 8, and Riau, with 1.

But, compared to several days ago, the number of hot spots in Sumatra has decreased significantly. There was recently up to 725 hot spots on the island.

According to Sugarin, the weather in Riau in general was slightly cloudy in addition to the haze, with a chance of light rain in the northern, western and central parts of the region.

"The maximum forecast temperature is around 33 degrees Celsius," said Sugarin.

Leftover ashes from burned land and forest in Sumatra are still interfering with Riau's air quality, with the Air Pollution Standard Index (ISPU) there still an unhealthy 173. The haze is also still affecting visibility in several regions, limiting it to 1,000 meters in Pekanbaru, 800 m in Rengat, 700 m in Pelalawan and 500 m in Dumai. (kes)(++++)

Coordinating ministry, BNPB to coordinate properly to extinguish fires: President
Antara 13 oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo has urged the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs to coordinate with the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) to tackle the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

"Besides the BNPB, I emphasize that all parties should cooperate to extinguish forest and land fires," Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan said here on Tuesday.

According to Luhut, the Indonesian authorities have spent Rp385 billion to fight forest fires and the consequential haze blanketing most of the region, including Sumatra and Kalimantan.

"There will be an additional budget amounting to Rp700 billion," he said.

The budget has been approved by the House of Representatives and the Minister of Finance.

"The operation is expected to reduce the extent of forest and land fires in the next two weeks," he said.

Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) district in South Sumatra Province has been accorded priority in efforts to put out land and forest fires as it had become the biggest source of haze, compared to other districts in Indonesia, Luhut Pandjaitan had said earlier.

"Visibility in OKI is only about 100 meters. It still remains the worst hit by haze, based on data we have received," he told the press here on Monday.

Luhut said after observing the burnt areas in OKI, he found that the district was the worst region to have been hit by forest and land fires.

"Once these fires were extinguished, they came back due to the winds blowing since the land there is covered by peat, which is very inflammable," the Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister said.

He said efforts to put out the fires through water bombing were also postponed due to low visibility.

"It was also very difficult to induce artificial rain there because the air was foggy and the clouds were still inadequate. We are still waiting for the arrival of a Hercules aircraft which would help support the efforts to produce man-made rain," he said.

The chief security minister also underscored that all related parties have been coordinating well.(*)

Lawmaker proposes special committee on haze issue
Antara 13 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The House of Representatives should set up a special committee on the issue of haze that has been impacting several provinces across Kalimantan and Sumatra.

"A blanket of thick smoke now covers the constituency of Jambi. The haze has disrupted flights and schools in the region," Sutan Adil Hendra, a member of the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party faction, said here on Tuesday.

According to him, the haze problem has not been addressed comprehensively by the government.

The Vice Chairman of Gerindras Board of Trustees said firm legal action should be taken against parties found responsible for these fires.

He also said that the personnel deployed to extinguish forest and land fires were not equipped with sufficient equipment.

"The government must declare forest fires as a national disaster and the House of Representatives should establish a special committee on the problem of haze," he said.

By declaring haze as a national disaster, all stakeholders and community would be able to work jointly to tackle forest and land fires in Indonesia.

"In addition, the budget can be disbursed easily," he said.

He proposed that such a special committee can comprise members from Commission IV, Commission II, Commission I and Commission X.

Earlier, House Speaker Setya Novanto had proposed that Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan be assigned the role of a coordinator in the efforts to fight forest and plantation fires.

"I have conveyed this proposal to the president, urging him to name a coordinator to tackle the haze problem. The right person (for the purpose) is, indeed, Mr Luhut. But we leave the decision to the president," Novanto noted here Tuesday.

He said the government should be serious in dealing with forest fires that have claimed lives, affected a large number of people and inflicted material losses.

Just spraying water would not solve the problem, he emphasized, adding that heavy rains would be immensely beneficial.

"Indeed, there have been some ideas, including, for instance, the one from Mr Prabowo (chairman of Gerindra Party) who suggested that the haze problem should be declared a national disaster," he said.

In the meantime, the problems posed by land fires in Indonesia and the resultant haze, that has also affected neighboring countries, are expected to end soon as teams from foreign countries commenced fire extinguishing operations on Monday.

The fires and haze have affected public health and disturbed daily activities in Indonesia and the neighboring countries.

Teams from Singapore and Malaysia joined the local forest and land fire prevention task force to commence fire extinguishing operations on Monday, focusing on the hotspots in Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) district in South Sumatra.

"Teams from Singapore and Malaysia along with South Sumatras Forest and Land Fires Prevention Task Force have begun aerial and land operations to extinguish the fires in OKI and Musi Banyuasin District," South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin stated on Monday (Oct. 12).(*)

Govt sanctions 4 companies for involvement in lighting fires 13 Oct 15;

The government has revoked the forest concession license of one company and suspended the licenses of three others for their alleged involvement in starting the land and forest fires currently affecting several provinces across Kalimantan and Sumatra.

“The companies cannot operate anymore,” the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s director general of environment and forestry law enforcement Rasio Ridho Sani said as quoted by in Jakarta on Tuesday.

The company sanctioned with a license revocation is plantation company PT Hutani Sola Lestari while the three companies hit with license suspensions are PT Langgam Hibrindo Inti, PT Tempiray Palm Rosources and PT K. Agro Jaya.

Rasio further explained the ministry was still investigating 18 other companies. “We cannot yet publish [their names] as we are still in the process of collecting data,” he said.

Rasio said license suspensions and permit revocations were among the forceful measures the government had planned to take against companies allegedly involved in lighting land and forest fires. It was hoped that the sanctions would serve as a deterrent for the perpetrators, he added.

Rasio further asserted that the ministry would take tough measures against any company, either from Indonesia or abroad, involved in lighting forest fires. “Every fire starter has an equal position before the law,” he said.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry says it has also targeted individual perpetrators of the forest fires. Rasio said the ministry’s investigators were looking into 21 people allegedly involved in the fires. He refused to give details on their identities.

"It's still in the hands of the investigators. Criminal law enforcement is a long process, from the investigation to the prosecution and trial," Rasio said.

Meanwhile, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) chief Willem Rampangilei stated that the government had disbursed Rp 500 billion (US$37.3 million) to solve haze problems in South Sumatra and several other provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan over the past two months.

"Of the six provinces affected by haze during this year’s dry season, South Sumatra is the province absorbing most of the funds," he said. (ami/ebf)(++++)

Two foreign firms blamed for fires, haze
Nani Afrida and Haeril Halim, The Jakarta Post 13 Oct 15;

National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti announced on Monday that the police had named two foreign companies suspects in clearing land by burning in Sumatra and Kalimantan, a practice that has led to thick haze covering the two islands, as well as parts of neighboring countries.

“The two companies are from Malaysia and China,” Badrodin told reporters during a press conference at the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Ministry in Jakarta.

The police, he said, would investigate the two foreign companies’ possible motives for burning land in Indonesia.

“One company from Singapore is still under our investigation for its involvement, too. However, I cannot give anymore information now,” Badrodin said, adding that the companies were all involved in the plantation business.

He refused to give the names or initials of the companies.

“We do not intend to involve foreign police forces in our investigations yet,” Badrodin said.

He added that the investigations would continue and that more suspects might be named in coming days.

Separately, National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Suharsono said that the police had named 16 domestic and multinational companies suspects for their roles in burning land in Sumatra and Kalimantan. The spokesman refused to reveal the names of the suspects.

Suharsono further said that the National Police were currently investigating a total 244 cases with regard to peatland and forest fires in the two islands.

“Some 122 cases are already in the primary investigation phase and another 24 cases are still in the preliminary investigation. Of the 122 cases, 78 involve individuals and 44 involve corporations,” Suharsono told The Jakarta Post on Monday night.

Most of the cases relate to alleged crimes in South Sumatra and West Kalimantan provinces.

The National Police said they had named 16 corporations suspects, while police investigators were still working to collect evidence on another 28 companies, both domestic and foreign-owned, before naming them suspects.

The police will charge the suspects under Law No. 32/2009 Article 108, with any parties found guilty liable to face a 10-year prison sentence and Rp 10 billion in fines.

Badrodin said, however, that the police could not directly blame the landowners.

“It is possible that it was not the landowners themselves who burned the land,” he said.

Previously, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has called for heavy punishment for companies responsible for starting forest fires, including prosecutions and revoking their licenses.

Jokowi stressed that the police would not be severe only with low-profile individuals.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has reportedly spent Rp 500 billion to extinguish hot spots. The agency has asked for an additional Rp 750 billion, a request approved by the Finance Ministry.

The hazardous haze has forced the closure of thousands of schools, grounded hundreds of flights and caused transboundary air pollution affecting Indonesia’s neighbors, Malaysia and Singapore.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan acknowledged that it would take some time to extinguish all hot spots in the country.

“I don’t think we will manage [to extinguish] the fires within two weeks. But [the hot spots] will be reduced significantly. I’m holding out hope that heavy rains will come,” Luhut said.

He added that the government would focus on the Ogan Komering Ilir Area of South Sumatra, where much of the haze was coming from.

Luhut insisted that the government was pulling out all the stops to deal with land and forest fires, and that efforts were on the right track.

Meanwhile Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said that more foreign countries were planning to aid efforts to deal with the haze. Japan for instance, is expected to help by providing a chemical substance to extinguish the fires.

Russia, meanwhile, is preparing to send two BE-200 amphibious aircraft, which can carry 12,000 liters of water.

Malaysia, Singapore and Australia have already stepped in with support to help Indonesia to put out the fires and end the haze.

Thailand and China have also expressed their intention to help.

Foreign efforts have, as of Monday, been concentrated in South Sumatra.

Indonesia to Spend Rp 700b to Quell Forest Fires in Fortnight
Basten Gokkon Jakarta Globe 12 Oct 15;

Jakarta. The ongoing Sumatra and Kalimantan haze crisis will be over in a fortnight, President Joko Widodo has promised, but extinguishing all the fires will cost Indonesia at least a total of Rp 1.3 trillion ($97 million).

Joko set a bold target on Saturday to have all fires — often started by people burning land and forest to clear the way for agriculture — under control within two weeks.

Coordinating Minister for Politics, Legal and Security Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan told reporters in Jakarta on Monday that the government is set to spend Rp 700 billion to achieve this, which would bring the total amount spent on quelling forest fires to more than Rp 1.3 trillion.

"The House of Representatives and the Finance Ministry have approved the budget," Luhut told a press conference at his office with the environment and forestry minister, the foreign affairs minister, the health minister and the chief of National Police.

According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), haze mitigation efforts have already cost the state Rp 500 billion, as more than 20,000 police and military personnel and volunteers have been deployed to fight the fires since last month.

An additional 6,000 personnel are expected to be deployed in the coming days, while last Friday Indonesia finally accepted aid from six countries, including Japan, China and Russia.

Asean solidarity

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar — who previously declined Singapore's military assistance in putting out the wildfires — said the government wanted to do all it could before deciding to accept the aid from Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries as regulated under the region's Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

"This is solidarity from the Asean countries,," Siti said. "The amount of burned peatland has reached 580,000 hectares."

The agreement, established in 2002 but only ratified by Indonesia in September 2014, requires all parties to cooperate to mitigate transboundary haze pollution, as well as to respond promptly to "a request for relevant information sought by a state or states that are or may be affected" by such pollution in order to minimize the impacts.

Malaysia and Singapore, who were both forced to close schools, pressured Indonesia to contain the haze crisis which also ended up blanketing the sky over southern Thailand earlier this month.

Previously, the Indonesian government would brush off cries from the neighboring countries while vowing to end slash-and-burn practices, a technique that has been used for decades and is estimated to be five times less costly than the safer method of using heavy machinery.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla has made snide comments, asking the neighbors to be grateful for the 11 months of clean air that Indonesia's forests provide.

Humanitarian aid

On Sunday, the country already employed help from Singapore and Malaysia to extinguish land and forest fires in South Sumatra.

Seven helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft were tasked with a water bombing missions and a Cessna plane assigned to perform cloud seeding operations was deployed by the joint task force to the province, where 65 of 90 hotspots detected across Sumatra can be found, the BNPB said on Monday.

Among the planes is a Malaysia-owned Bombardier 415 MP plane with a six-ton water capacity, which will be on loan to Indonesia until Friday, while Singapore's contribution comes in the form of a Chinook helicopter with a five-ton water capacity that will remain available through Oct. 23.

Meanwhile, Australia is scheduled to send a Hercules L 100 aircraft, capable of carrying 15 tons of water, on Tuesday or Wednesday, which will remain on hand for five days.

Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi said on Monday that all foreign aid would come purely in the form of humanitarian efforts.

"None of the foreign aid is commercialized," she said.

Facing trial

On Monday, the chief of National Police, Gen. Badrodin Haiti, said that 12 plantation companies — including firms from Malaysia and China — have been named as suspects for setting fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan and will face prosecution.

Meanwhile, more than 200 companies, mostly from countries in Southeast Asia, are under still under police investigation.

If found guilty of violating Indonesia's 2009 Law on Forest Conservation and Monitoring, companies will be placed on Indonesia's blacklist, expected to be completed in December, and may have operational permits revoked.

One million face masks

Six provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan — Riau, Jambi, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan — have declared a state of emergency because of the fires and haze.

But the situation escalated as reports of deaths believed to have been caused by the choking smog surfaced, including a 28-day-old baby named Huseun Saputra who died last Wednesday from an acute respiratory ailment.

The Health Ministry has shipped more than one million face masks and 5,200 N95 respirators to all areas hit by haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Carbon emissions

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

Indonesia has vowed a 29 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 — a 3 percent hike from its previous pledge of 26 percent by 2015 — and will likely be in the spotlight at the UN's climate change conference in Paris in December.

This year's haze crisis will likely to cause the country to break its 1997 carbon emissions record, Greenpeace says.

Minister blasts execs of firm that denied burning forest
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Oct 15;

Retired general Luhut Pandjaitan, the most senior Indonesian official in charge of tackling the haze crisis, recalls how he once stuck his head out of a helicopter in midair to survey the damage done by forest fires.

That was decades ago when he was a young army major.

Last Friday, the former Special Forces soldier, now 68, did just that again. This time, over concession land under Bumi Andalas Permai, a supplier to Singapore-based Asia Pulp and Paper. The two companies share the same parent, Indonesia's Sinar Mas.

Mr Luhut, the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, saw fires raging over thousands of hectares in the Ogan Komering Ilir regency. This, even though the firm had denied burning the forest to clear land.

The retired general landed at the office of Bumi Andalas Permai and vented his frustration.

"We flew low and I opened the helicopter door. All the fires I saw were on your concession," he said in a meeting attended by the company executives and military officers who coordinated soldiers deployed to South Sumatra to help douse fires.

"For almost 15 minutes, we hovered above your concession, practically all below was on fire. You are blaming the local farmers. I know it was you who burned the forest," Mr Luhut added.

Mr Sapto Nurlistyo, forestry operations director of Bumi Andalas Permai, said in the meeting - also attended by national police chief Badrodin Haiti and army chief Mulyono - that the company has a fire prevention system in place, with 160 water pumps and one helicopter ready for water-bombing.

The firm has a total of 192,000ha of pulpwood concessions, of which 108,000ha have been planted.

In addition to that, 8m-wide blocked canals line its plantations to help retain moisture.

"We did not expect it would turn out this bad," Mr Sapto responded to Mr Luhut.

"You have only one helicopter and your concession is more than 100,000ha. That is clearly insufficient," said Mr Luhut, again in a raised voice.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar disclosed a range of breaches by companies in terms of fire prevention that the ministry will follow up on, according to the minister's presentation booklet distributed during the Sept 30 ministerial coordination meeting on haze. No company names, however, were mentioned.

A number of firms did not have enough in-house fire control teams and staff had never been trained.

Companies had also failed to prevent fires with ground patrols and should have mapped fire-prone areas within their concessions, according to the minister. Other breaches were with fire control equipment and water storage.

"In January, February, March, you have to report what you have and what you plan to do. I will come back here in February to check," Mr Luhut told the company officials.

Some 1.7 million ha of forest and plantation land have been razed by fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan this year, mostly as a result of firms opting for the cheap slash-and- burn alternative to hiring bulldozers and other machines to clear land. "These soldiers and officers left their families at home to fight fires here because of your greed. If you want to cut costs, do not do it this way (burn to clear land). Find other ways," said Mr Luhut.

Local chiefs urged to revoke burning law
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Oct 15;

Indonesia wants its local chiefs to revoke a law that allows small-time farmers to clear up to 2ha of forested land using fire - this as a multilateral effort to put out hot spots in South Sumatra entered its third day yesterday.

Indonesian Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo called on regency officials to repeal Article 69, which under a 2009 environmental law bans the use of the slash-and-burn method to clear land for cultivation.

The law, however, exempts farmers who may still use the method, provided the land they burn does not exceed 2ha, or the size of four football fields. But these farmers will need to build blocking canals around the area to prevent the fire from spreading.

Slash-and-burn practices have been carried out for decades across Indonesia, which has 35 provinces made up of more than 500 regencies and cities.

Each regency has its own bylaw detailing how the regulation can be implemented, such as when farmers burn the land and what crops they are allowed to cultivate.

Local farmers as well as plantation companies and their suppliers tend to use the slash-and-burn method because it is cheaper than hiring excavators to clear the land, but also because the ashes from the burnt vegetation provide calcium, which neutralises acidic peatland, making it more fertile.

Burning the land also greatly reduces the risk of the crops being infested by pests.

Fires from peatland, however, have produced a thick haze that has blanketed many parts of the region from Indonesia to Thailand.

That is why Mr Tjahjo wants to put a stop to it.

"Local leaders who have issued bylaws allowing farmers to burn to clear land must review the bylaws," he said yesterday.

Environmental groups, including Greenpeace Indonesia's forest campaigner Teguh Surya, yesterday hailed Mr Tjahjo's call, but warned that a major challenge is patrolling the huge concessions over peatland that the government has already issued.

Mr Tjahjo has also appealed to the regents to review the issued plantation concessions that are located on deep peatland, which catches fire easily during the dry season.

Reviewing and revoking concessions on peatland would promise a better solution to help end the annual haze problem in Indonesia, Mr Teguh said.

However, the focus of the government for now should be to deal with the raging forest fires causing the haze.

Indonesia has been grappling with the transboundary haze crisis for weeks now.

The smoke from the fires, often burning over dry peatland in Kalimantan and Sumatra, has affected millions across Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, as well as people in parts of the Philippines and Thailand in recent weeks.

The Indonesian government has started multilateral firefighting operations involving aircraft from Singapore and Malaysia.

The Indonesian authorities decided last week to deploy the majority of the multilateral resources to South Sumatra province, where conditions were the worst last week.

Water-bombing aircraft from Singapore and Malaysia have been deployed since Sunday.

But firefighting should cover all regions in Indonesia, Mr Teguh told The Straits Times yesterday, adding that the water-bombing drive in South Sumatra has led Kalimantan to be overlooked.

He said: "I'm now in central Kalimantan and the fires are raging wild here and no one is around to deal with them."

Read more!

Malaysia: Water-bombing is ineffective: Fire and Rescue Dept

TEOH PEI YING New Straits Times 13 Oct 15;

SEREMBAN: The Indonesian government’s effort of fighting forest fire that caused transboundary haze using “water-bombing” is ineffective, said Fire and Rescue Department director general Datuk Wira Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim.

Wan Mohd Nor said at the moment, Indonesia was keen on getting expert assistance on how to manage peat land fire as well as requesting for asset, such as airplane from Malaysia to support the operation.

However, he said the best approach to dealing with peat fire (like in Indonesia’s case) is ground troop.

“It is difficult to completely extinguish fire on peat land by using airplane as it only sprays water from above.

“When deal with peat fire, we need to flood the area to douse the fire,” he told reporters at a press conference after the Kualiti Alam Sdb Bhd’s Emergency Response Command Centre (ERCC) opening ceremony at Bandar Seri Sendayan, here.

He said the department is ready to dispatch 1,500 personnel to the different hotspots in the republic to help combat the fire.

“We are ready to deploy and send the manpower to the different hotspots. I believe it is a more effective method.

“However, we still waiting for the instruction,” he added.

1,500 Msian firemen on standby to battle Indonesian blaze
TEOH PEI YING New Straits Times 13 Oct 15;

SEREMBAN: The Fire and Rescue Department is still waiting for the go-ahead from Indonesia to dispatch its firemen to aid in combating forest fires in the republic.
Its director general Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim said at present, Indonesia has only requested for helicopters to conduct ‘water bombing’ runs at the hotspots.

“We are ready to send 1,500 of our firemen to help put out the fires as the method being used now is ineffective to deal with peat fire.

“However, we are waiting for the nod from our Indonesian counterparts,” he said after officiating Pusat Kualiti Alam’s Emergency Response Command Centre at Bandar Seri Sendayan, here, today.

Yesterday, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) entered its second leg of operation to combat raging forest fires in Indonesia.

Its Bombardier CL415 aircraft pilots carried out 13 water bombing runs, dumping a total of 78,000 litres of water onto the blaze in Palembang.

The operation, which took four hours and 40 minutes, was carried out in an area spanning 20sq km, located 80 nautical miles southeast of Palembang.

Haze: MMEA Bombardier Aircraft Carries Out 13 Water Bombings In South Sumatra
Bernama 13 Oct 15;

PUTRAJAYA, Oct 13 (Bernama) -- The Bombardier CL 415 aircraft owned by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), which is involved in a mission to put out the forest fires in South Sumatra, Indonesia, carried out 13 water bombings on the second day of the operation Monday.

MMEA deputy director-general (Operations), Rear Admiral (Maritime) Datuk Che Hassan Jusoh said the mission which lasted four hours and 40 minutes involved the use of 78,000 litres of water.

The operation was conducted over an area of 20 square kilometres about 80 nautical miles southeast of Palembang, he said.

"With the limited visibility of only one kilometre, it presented a challenge to the pilots and the crew to ensure that the firefighting operations in the affected areas could be carried out smoothly and effectively," he said in a statement, here Tuesday.

On Friday, besides the Bombardier aircraft, the MMEA also sent an AS 365 N3 Dauphin helicopter with 29 MMEA officers to help fight the fires which has been causing the prolonged haze that is sweeping across neighbouring countries over the past two months.

The Bombardier aircraft had carried out water scooping 10 times and water bombing 10 times within four hours of assignment on the first day of the operation on Sunday.


Read more!

Indonesia Must Be More Earnest In Its Efforts To Resolve Haze Crisis, Say Malaysian Academics

Norshazlina Nor'azman Bernama 14 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- Indonesia must set out earnestly to eliminate the root causes of the haze as only through its sincere efforts and commitment can the issue be resolved permanently, say academics.

They say the haze will be here to stay if the republic continues to give its neighbours the impression that it lacks the "burning desire" and political will to settle the issue once and for all.

Last week Indonesia, which had earlier insisted that it did not need international help to douse forest fires raging in Sumatera and Kalimantan, finally decided to seek the help of other countries to extinguish the fires, which had caused widespread haze in Southeast Asia.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo had earlier said that his country would need about three years to overcome the haze as it was in the process of building water reserves and canals in the forests to get water to the hotspots, while also making progress to enforce laws against forest-burning.

However, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who met Joko in Jakarta on Sunday, said the three-year wait was "too long" as it would mean that Malaysia would be forced to face the haze for "three more years".

Pointing out that the haze was threatening the interests of Malaysians and disrupting economic, social and educational activities, including leisure and sports events, Najib said Indonesia was prepared to study Malaysia's suggestion that tube wells be used to fight peat soil fires in plantation areas.

Will Indonesia adhere to its promise to make a more concerted effort to wipe out the haze menace?


Where there is a will, there is a way, so says geostrategy expert Asso Prof Dr Azmi Hassan, who is attached to Universiti Teknologi Malaysia's Institute of Geospatial Science and Perdana School of Science, Technology and Innovation Policy.

He said like Indonesia, Malaysia too has an extensive acreage of land under plantations, but open burning was minimal due to its stringent laws and enforcement.

"Compared with Indonesia, our plantations are managed in a more systematic manner," he told Bernama. In the republic, the fires are mainly caused by illegal land-clearing, as well as slash-and-burn, activities in plantations.

He said Indonesia should prove that it was sincere in its intention to put an end to the annual smog that enveloped its neighbours by coming up with a concrete action plan.

"It's entirely in its hands how it plans to go about resolving the issue... it will be pointless to talk about resolving the crisis as long as Indonesia doesn't have a proper plan or effective laws to do so.

"It could have made a firm commitment to tackle the haze issue as far back as 1997 but it didn't do so," he said.


Azmi said the people of Indonesia should put pressure on their government to resolve the smog issue quickly as it was "choking" them as well.

"The Indonesian government may view the matter lightly in the absence of political pressure. But once the people start griping about it, then it may have political implications and when this happens, there's a better chance for their complaints to be heard," he said.

He also said that under the ASEAN pact, member nations could offer to help Indonesia fight the forest fires.

"But Indonesia had in the past rejected their offers, supposedly because the help that they had offered was short term in nature. However, I believe that it (the rejection) has something to do with prestige issues.

"Nevertheless, extending a helping hand each time the haze strikes is not enough to fix the problem... it's Indonesia which has to take the necessary action," he added.

Head of the National Council of Professors' Political, Security and International Affairs Cluster Prof Datuk Dr Mohamed Mustafa Ishak said Indonesia was not amenable to outside assistance earlier probably because it really could cope on its own or it did not like other countries interfering in its affairs.


"Clearly, what they (Indonesia) need is proper regulatory control and more stringent enforcement of the law to prevent the occurrence of open burning.

"Of course, Indonesia doesn't want to be perceived as weak but then, it is not the neighbouring countries' intention to interfere...all they want to do is extend a helping hand as Indonesia's internal problems are causing much difficulty to their own populations," he said.

He felt that the measures taken so far by the republic to combat the haze were "not good enough", which gave the impression that Indonesia was not being earnest enough in its efforts to contain the crisis.

While there have been suggestions that Malaysia take legal action against the plantation companies said to be responsible for the fires in Indonesia, there have also been demands for Indonesia to compensate Malaysia for losses it had incurred from the haze.

Mohamed Mustafa said although Malaysia could seek compensation or resort to legal action, "how sure are we that their laws would be favourable to us?"

"We can take legal action but we have to do it in Indonesia and will, therefore, be subject to their laws. Even the Malaysian-owned plantation companies there are subject to their laws.

"Taking legal action will be a complex and complicated affair, more so if the Indonesian authorities don't cooperate," he said, adding that the best platform to raise the matter would be ASEAN, which is chaired by Malaysia this year.


Read more!

Haze hackathon gives rise to ‘fantastic’ app ideas

FRANCIS LAW Today Online 13 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — Health advice based on the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading at one’s location — and personalised according to health status. A “haze alarm” that informs users of the PSI level through sound, for the convenience of people who cannot read PSI updates.

These were some of the ideas for mobile applications that participants of the Hyper Haze Hack came up with in a span of four hours today (Oct 13).

Held at Google’s Singapore headquarters, the hackathon was organised by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and supported by search giant Google and the SPH Professional Development Fund. The event aimed to enhance media reporting and response to haze through the use of data.

The winning app idea, Haze0, provides users with both the PSI at their precise location and personalised health advisories. Users can input their health information into the app, which would then advise them on what they should do to protect themselves from the haze.

Another application, HAZE-lnut, aimed to help consolidate existing data on haze forecasts to provide its users with information on whether they can to continue with their activities for the day.

The team behind the application, which took third place in the competition, comprised renaissance engineering programme students from NTU. They were inspired by the experience of one of their group members, who was told just half an hour before a marathon that the event had been cancelled. With HAZE-lnut, the team hopes users make better decisions and avoid such incidents.

Judges at the event were particularly impressed by the participants’ creative thinking and ability to think outside the box.

“Overall, the collaboration and innovation we saw was fantastic,” said Mr Andrew Purcell, operations manager at Google and one of the judges. “... It was really fantastic to see things we haven’t thought of before.”

He added that predictive analysis was one of the areas brought up during the hackathon that should be developed further, and felt the event was a “great form to bring everybody together in order to push innovation forward”.

Professor Ang Peng Hwa from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information said: “The haze is a major problem facing Singapore and other countries. What NTU tries to do is bring people from all walks of life, students, IT professionals, app developers, and NGOs together at a common platform to tackle the haze.”

He added: “The ideas from this hackathon will spur innovation and encourage more people to work together to come up with solutions to overcome or be better informed about the haze.”

100 participate in hackathon to develop apps on haze-related issues
An app that provides the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading specific to the user's location won the top prize.
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 13 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: About 100 people participated in a hackathon on Tuesday (Oct 13) to develop mobile apps that address haze-related issues.

The hackathon was organised by Nanyang Technological University (NTU), with the support of Google Singapore and the SPH Professional Development Endowment Fund.

Google’s communications manager, Robin Moroney, said: "The haze has basically just been interpreted through data in smartphones. Ever since it began, I don't think there is a single Singaporean who hasn't been checking their smartphones every single day hourly and hourly.

“The window for people's information has shrunk massively, the complexity of the data that is out there is enormous. There is enormous scope to reduce that complexity and make it into measurable actions that people can have."

An app that provides the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading specific to the user's location was among the apps developed. Users can also key in their age and health condition to get customised health advisories.

The app was developed in just six hours by a team of six people from diverse backgrounds. They include students and a business consultant. The team clinched the top prize, which included S$1,000 in cash vouchers.

Participating teams presented their ideas to a panel of judges, which included representatives from the media, and also sought advice to improve their apps.

One of the ideas proposed was an app to predict the PSI levels in the next hour using weather data.

"The health impact of the haze on anyone depends on your health status, the PSI levels, as well as the activities that you wish to do,” said NTU student May Lim, whose team came up with the idea. “All this information can be found online, but usually users have to manually retrieve all this information and judge for (themselves) whether it is safe to go out now to do the activity. So with our application, we actually run an algorithm with all this data that helps to provide an informed decision to the user."

The team bagged an Honourable Mention for Innovation.

Said Professor Ang Peng Hwa from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at NTU: "The haze is a major environmental problem facing Singapore and other countries. What NTU tries to do is to bring people from all walks of life - students, IT professionals, app developers and NGOs - together at a common platform to tackle the haze.

"The ideas from this hackathon will spur innovation and encourage more people to work together to come up with solutions to overcome or be better informed about the haze."

- CNA/ek

Read more!

Sorting out what can be recycled

Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Oct 15;

More residents in Nee Soon will learn how to sort out items that can be recycled, thanks to a new recycling point launched yesterday.

The recycling point will serve as a meeting place where residents can learn from volunteers how to sort out recyclable items such as paper, plastic and metal.

More than 10 volunteers will be stationed at the void deck of Block 868, Yishun Street 81, where the recycling point is, once a month.

Yesterday, more than 100 residents showed up with items such as plastic bottles and old clothing to kick-start the opening of the new recycling point.

Among them was Mr Toh Boon Teck, 62, who said he has learnt about the kind of items that can be recycled and how they should be sorted before being put in recycling bins. "Previously, I didn't know we had to sort out the items before placing them in the bins," said the warehouse assistant. "I (also) think it's important for us to reuse our items as much as we can."

A volunteer at yesterday's event, engineer Michael Toh, 41, said residents were also taught how to separate different kinds of materials for more efficient recycling.

Paper in black and white, for instance, is usually easier to recycle than paper in other colours, and should thus be separated.

Mr Toh added: "It's good to teach people how to recycle. At the end of the day, it's all about cutting down unnecessary usage and saving our resources for the next generation."

The new recycling point adds to another one launched elsewhere in Nee Soon South two years ago.

Said Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah: "While recycling is common these days, many are still unaware of the importance of separating recyclable materials. Our initiative is pro-active... Through the experience, participants can also become ambassadors for the movement."

By 2030, Singapore wants to have an overall recycling rate of 70 per cent. However, its domestic recycling rate has been falling. It fell from about 20 per cent in 2013 to 19 per cent last year.

Read more!

He's got all the green connections

Danson Cheong, The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Oct 15;

When the National Parks Board (NParks) called a tender for the first park connector more than 25 years ago, it did not expect electrical engineers to come forward.

But because of how the term "park connector" was translated in the Chinese newspaper advertisements, many thought it had something to do with electrical connections instead of parks.

"In the 1980s, the concept was so new no one knew what we were talking about," recalled a chuckling Mr Yeo Meng Tong, who spearheaded the project along the Kallang River. "I had to call (the engineers) to explain, sorry but you're not the ones I am looking for."

Now, 25 years later, the Park Connector Network (PCN) has become a "household name", said Mr Yeo, 54, who is director for parks development at NParks.

The PCN has more than 300km of cycling and jogging paths spread over five loops across the island.

The newest, the 36km Central Urban Loop, which links residents in Ang Mo Kio, Hougang and Serangoon, was launched just last month.

Two more loops, the Southern Ridges and Central Nature, are at the planning stage. A Round Island Route, which will circle Singapore and link up the other PCN loops, is in the works too.

Ground support for this public institution - which is set to expand to 360km by 2020 - has been tremendous, said Mr Yeo, but this was not so in the project's early years.

It was conceptualised in 1987 by Japanese landscape architect Junichi Inada, who was then at the Parks and Recreation Department, which later became NParks.

It was a bold plan to link up "fragmented parks and green spaces", so people could walk and cycle between them, said Mr Yeo, Mr Inada's colleague at that time.

Mr Yeo, then a 27-year-old government scholar fresh out of Berlin Technical University, led a team of three to implement the plan.

At the start, the team tussled with the Public Utilities Board (PUB) as Mr Yeo zoomed in on the 6m-wide maintenance strips along drainage canals as the best way to link up parks. "To the layman, this might not seem like much, but think about how many kilometres of canals we have," he said, pointing out that these were now "green veins" connecting the island's parks.

Back then, the PUB was worried about the project affecting the canals' drainage and flood-prevention capabilities, and whether it was safe to have people so close to the canal edge, said Mr Yeo.

"(Preventing) flooding was their main concern, and we needed to make sure that was still being addressed," he added.

It took "a few years" to convince the PUB that canals could also be used for leisure.

"Today, the PUB is the one leading the ABC programme - that's a good thing that has come out of this," said Mr Yeo, referring to the scheme to turn utilitarian drains, canals and reservoirs into clean and beautiful lakes and streams.

Over the years, Mr Yeo has seen the transformation of the PCN. For instance, despite its original recreational purpose, it is now increasingly plied by commuting cyclists.

"When we first completed the Kallang Park Connector in 1992, we noticed that a lot of Bishan estate residents used it as a shortcut to get to the bus stop in Braddell Road," said Mr Yeo, adding that this was one of the first signs that the PCN could be used for more practical purposes.

Indeed, the Urban Redevelopment Authority announced in June that it was studying whether the 10km-long Kallang Park Connector could become a seamless commuting route for cyclists into the city.

The PCN now forms most of the 330km or so of cycling paths under the National Cycling Plan, which is led by the Land Transport Authority and aims to have 700km of cycling paths ready by 2030.

Mr Yeo said the growing number of people commuting by bicycle and other mobility devices is "very encouraging". "It shows a direction where we could depend less on cars - which pollute the air and congest the road," he said.

While Mr Yeo drives to work most days, he walks home once a week from NParks' headquarters in Botanic Gardens to Ang Mo Kio, where he lives in a five-room flat.

The walk can take 12-16km, and two to three hours to complete, and often takes him through the Kallang Park Connector.

"The Kallang (connector) is always close to my heart… It's a nice walk, I listen to the BBC and when I reach home I feel fresh," said Mr Yeo, a father of two.

And while the core purpose of the PCN - connecting parks - would always be there, in future the network could connect places too.

"It can happen," said Mr Yeo.

It is something cyclists are eagerly anticipating.

Mr Francis Chu, co-founder of cycling group Love Cycling SG, said the PCN comprises the backbone of Singapore's cycling network, and as more parts of the network are gradually connected, its practical use would "dramatically improve".

Mr Han Jok Kwang, an avid recreational cyclist, said there should be better integration between the PCN and cycling networks within towns. "With more integration, cycling to work, and first- and last- mile travel on bicycles will increasingly be more attractive," he said.

Read more!

How Singapore companies are going green

With the haze problem persisting in the region year after year, Channel NewsAsia takes a look at what it takes for companies to go green. While there is greater awareness, for small and medium enterprises, it is still about the bottom line.
Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia 13 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Singapore printing company Asiawide Print Holdings’ business model is built on sustainability. Everything in its printing process is eco-friendly - from the soy-based ink it uses, to the printing plates for mass production.

Eco-friendly material costs about 10 to 30 per cent more.

The company said there is greater interest in environmentally-friendly material, but only from multinational firms. Eight in 10 of its customers do not ask for paper products which are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified. FSC is an international certification which promotes responsible management of the world's forests.

"In the end, if the cost matters to our customer, definitely going green may not be one of the considerations,” explained Mr Terrence Hong, chief business officer at Asiawide Print Holdings.

The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) said that on average, it will cost a company about S$5,000 per product line to get it green-certified. The more complex the test requirement, the higher the fee.

Mr Kavickumar M, head of eco-certifications at SEC, said: "There are also more complex product categories, which require, for example, biodegradability testing - that takes a long period and that could easily cost up to about S$5,000 to S$6,000. Different test labs have different price requirements. So it is also a very competitive industry.

“Small and medium-sized enterprises usually tend to feel the pinch because this is a voluntary scheme. How can they compete with the big players who have more funds and capital for this sort of endorsement projects and programmes?"

Mr Hong added: “In Asia, Japan is more green-focused. In other parts of Asia, we are not so well-equipped about this green direction yet.”

Singapore has its own green labelling certification, called the Singapore Green Label, and about 3,000 products have been given this stamp of approval. They cover a range of products, from building material and fittings to cosmetics, appliances and office equipment.

In the wake of air pollution caused by haze, some products which carry the label were taken off the shelves. The products are related to Asia Pulp and Paper Group, which is one of the companies being investigated for causing the forest fires in Indonesia.

Still, SEC is engaging companies to make the switch. It is also lobbying consumers to choose eco-friendly products.

"We will continue to work both with businesses and consumers to drive the demand base. So obviously, if you increase the demand for green products, it will definitely help to bring the cost to almost the same as products which are not sustainably produced,” said Mr Edwin Seah, executive director of SEC.

Mr Kavickumar added that interested SMEs can start small: "This being a voluntary scheme, they can choose not to certify all their products. They can come forward to certify products that they think are more marketable, more saleable in the market and obviously those that have more demand in the market.

"So as and when they feel that the demand changes and they have a new line of product coming in, they can choose not to re-certify these products. So they can choose a selected group and not a whole range of products."

Separately, the SEC and the Consumers Association of Singapore have reached out to more than 3,000 companies, urging them to declare that they procure wood, paper and pulp material only from sustainable sources. These companies include retailers, bookstores, manufacturers, printing companies, as well as distributors of recycled material.

- CNA/xq

Read more!

Sentosa to trial self-driving vehicles from early-2016

The trial will start in January 2016 and the public could get to ride on the driverless vehicles from as early as March or April.
Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia 13 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: From beach trams and buses, to segways and the latest intra-island cable car, there are a myriad of transport options already available for visitors to head to Sentosa Island - and choices are set to grow.

Come January 2016, Sentosa will be testing out self-driving vehicles to provide on-demand point-to-point shuttle services. The project is a collaboration between Sentosa, the Transport Ministry and ST Kinetics.

Visitors will be able to call for the shuttle on their smartphones or at information kiosks around the island. They will then be ferried to their destination of choice on Sentosa.


Visitors welcomed the idea. Said 28-year-old Adrian Buang, a Singaporean visiting the island: "It reminds me of Jurassic Park actually! It's hassle free. Basically anybody can just grab and go."

"People come back to Sentosa even though they have been here before,” said Vyomesh Chandan, 41, visiting from Cambodia. “I'm sure I'd want to come back for that, sounds exciting enough."

"It'll be more convenient for people with children especially, because going up and down from the buses or rails etcetera may not be as convenient as compared to personalised vehicle going in,” said another visitor from Singapore, Samantha Lee, 27.

41-year-old Andrea Liu, living in Singapore with two kids says it will help with long queues.

"Having these trams and buses are great, but sometimes you're in long queues and you want to go to a specific destination. If (driverless cars are) available around the island ... (we'll) have more choice in transporting us around Sentosa," she said.


Sentosa says the trial will be done in three phases. The first could last about three to four months and will take place on service roads with minimal traffic.

Phase 2 will be carried out on service roads near Sentosa's beach areas, which see light human and vehicular traffic. This phase will likely take three to four months as well and is also when the public will start being allowed onboard.

Phase 3 will then take about a year, when the self-driving vehicles will ply actual roads with regular traffic. The trial will also be a time to work out how these vehicles adapt to conditions on the island.

"We see a lot of slopes that are in Sentosa,” said Mr William Ng, Assistant Director of Operations Planning and Development for Sentosa Leisure Management. “So basically based on electric vehicles we will need to test whether they can actually overcome the slope factors, the gradient factors.

“Also the weather, because we are very near to the sea itself, you're talking about heavy rains and strong winds."

There are also plans to boost Wi-Fi coverage along routes plied by the vehicles. This is expected to improve safety by allowing data from the vehicles to be transmitted to the command centre for monitoring.

"The AV (autonomous vehicle) will actually use this Wi-Fi to transmit data to our command centre whereby they can monitor where the AVs are using GPS or they can do data analysis be it live video streaming to see where the AVs are looking at," said Mr Ng.

Sentosa will decide whether the driverless vehicles will become a permanent feature after the trial. It expects there to be productivity gains in the long run.

The entire study at Sentosa is expected to last for two years. The insights will also help authorities evaluate the possibility of deploying similar self-driving shuttle systems for intra-town travel in other parts of Singapore in the future.

- CNA/ek

Driverless vehicles slated for use in four areas
VALERIE KOH Today Online 13 Oct 15;
SINGAPORE — Efforts to get driverless vehicles to hit Singapore’s roads are picking up speed, as the first four areas the Government wants to roll out this technology were unveiled: Fixed mass transport services for intra- and inter-town travel, on-demand shuttle services, freight transport, and utility operations, such as road sweeping.

Three trials of such vehicles were announced today (Oct 12) by the committee tasked with rolling out the technology in Singapore, with the first one starting as soon as December.

From Dec 1 to Dec 14, visitors to Gardens by the Bay can try out the two Auto Riders that can take up to 10 passengers each around a 1.5km loop. The tourist attraction hopes to use these driverless vehicles to ferry visitors from the middle of next year.

The second trial involves freight transport. The Ministry of Transport (MOT) and port operator PSA today inked a memorandum of understanding to develop and test an autonomous truck platooning system, which involves a driver taking the wheel of one cargo truck, leading one or more driverless trucks through wireless communication.

A Request for Proposals will be launched by December and prototypes will be tested along a 10km route along West Coast Highway, between Brani and Pasir Panjang terminals, over three years.

The third trial is for an on-demand transportation service on Sentosa island. Starting from January next year, the MOT, Sentosa Development Corporation and Singapore Technologies Engineering will start looking at ideas to have self-driving shuttles that visitors can call for either through their smartphones or kiosks placed across the island.

Speaking at a press conference today, MOT’s permanent secretary Pang Kin Keong, also the chairman of the Committee on Autonomous Road Transport in Singapore (CARTS), said: “It’s not the replacement of one driven car today by a driverless car of tomorrow that excites us. What we’re much more interested in is the introduction of new mobility and transportation concepts that can enhance commuter mobility, and the overall public transport experience, especially for the first- and last-mile travel.”

Ideally, this would reduce the reliance on private vehicles, and allow the saved road space to be used for other purposes, he added. Driverless technology can also relieve road congestion and alleviate manpower constraints, said Mr Pang, adding that widespread public use of such vehicles here is possible in the next 10 to 15 years.

The PSA, for instance, said driverless vehicles would reduce its manpower costs, increase productivity and ease traffic flow, as transportation is shifted to off-peak hours.

Mr Pang urged organisations with large campuses or with “transportation or mobility responsibilities” to start studying driverless technology to enhance their efficiency and productivity.

“Self-driving and new mobility concepts can also allow us to dream and imagine a very different new town of the future, with a vastly different, vastly improved living environment ... where the surface is no longer dominated by roads and carparks, by the noise and pollution of cars. Instead, it’s dominated by greenery, pedestrians, cyclists, and clean, quiet, slow-moving and self-driving pods for intra-town and first-last mile commute,” said Mr Pang.

Many countries are studying such technology, said Mr Pang. “But for Singapore, we are driven by the fact that it is an imperative for us,” he added, citing land and manpower constraints.

While the technology is “almost there”, there are still some gaps. These include the ability to navigate in adverse weather conditions and the cost factor. “Because this is fledging technology, a lot of it is quite expensive still. For there to be public widespread deployment, cost needs to come down,” said Mr Pang. Questions had also been raised about liability issues in the event of an accident involving driverless vehicles. Mr Pang said CARTS is looking at a comprehensive liability and regulatory framework for the day-to-day use of driverless vehicles.

The Land Transport Authority’s Chief Executive Chew Men Leong noted that autonomous vehicles are far safer than human-driven cars, given the sensors mounted. “The idea is that using all these sources of information achieves a much higher level of awareness than a normal driver would have,” he said.

Experts interviewed agreed that driverless vehicles are safe.

Dr Walter Theseira, a senior lecturer at UniSIM, said: “This is unlikely to be more dangerous than a person driving it, especially given its faster response time.”

While accidents involving driverless heavy vehicles potentially present more danger, Dr Theseira said “it makes perfect sense to trial the trucks because one of the big usage applications is cargo vehicle movement”.

He added: “These are areas where the vehicles are used all the day and the initial high cost of the autonomous vehicle will be quickly paid for, and by the fact that you don’t have to hire a person to drive it anymore.”

The adoption of autonomous vehicles in the United States have caused a stir because of the drivers that were put out of jobs. Singapore, on the other hand, faces challenges in attracting truck drivers.

Dr Park Byung Joon, a UniSIM adjunct associate professor, said: “If driverless vehicles become a thing for everyone, drivers are going to become a thing of the past. There aren’t going to be taxis and buses. We’re not going to have such jobs in future.

“But we’re still far away from seeing these on the roads. It’ll happen but not so soon. It’s not something we should worry about now,” he added.

Gardens by the Bay’s director of operations Ng Boon Gee said its existing tram drivers can be trained to become visitor guides on the Auto Riders.

Around the world, at least 25 companies have ventured into autonomous vehicle technology. Google has been running trials in Texas and California, while Uber will be partnering the University of Arizona for research. In trials closer to home, robot taxis will start ferrying passengers from their homes to supermarkets in Japan from next March.

In Singapore, A*STAR and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) started running autonomous vehicle trials at one-north since August and October respectively.

A Request for Information relating to autonomous vehicles being used for on-demand transport services and bus services was issued previously. So far, eight proposals from companies such as BMW and Uber have been submitted and trials will start at one-north in the second half of next year.

Driverless vehicles hit the road in trials around Singapore
Christopher Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Oct 15;

From as early as December, visitors to Gardens by the Bay will be able to hop on to driverless shuttles that will take them around the sprawling grounds.

The two Auto Riders can each accommodate 10 people and are wheelchair-accessible, with a motorised ramp that deploys and retracts at the touch of a button. The vehicles, which have been tested in Switzerland, are making their Asian debut here as part of a multi-agency autonomous vehicle trial.

Yesterday, the Transport Ministry signed two memoranda of understanding (MOU).

One MOU is with port operator PSA to jointly develop autonomous truck platooning technology for cargo transport between terminals. In truck platooning, several trucks move together like a train, with only a controller in the first to improve productivity. The other MOU is with Sentosa Development Corp and ST Engineering to test self-driving shuttles across Sentosa.

Meanwhile, A*Star's Institute for Infocomm Research and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology have started driverless trials in one-north, while the Nanyang Technological University has been doing the same on its campus.

Permanent Secretary for Transport Pang Kin Keong said yesterday: "Self-driving vehicles can radically transform land transportation in Singapore to address our two key constraints - land and manpower.

"The trials will help us shape the mobility concepts which can meet Singapore's needs, and also gain valuable insights into how we can design our towns of the future to take advantage of this technology."

Unlike autonomous vehicle trials elsewhere, Singapore is focusing on applying the technology to public buses, freight carriers, autonomous taxis and utility operations such as road sweepers.

In buses, the technology will solve Singapore's perennial bus driver shortage. In taxis, the technology allows for many more journeys with a smaller fleet. Such vehicles are far costlier though, but experts believe that the initial outlay will be offset by manpower savings.

A*Star executive director Lee Shiang Long said: "I'm quite confident that Singapore will be the first city to implement this new technology. This is because unlike trials in other countries, which are left pretty much to the private sector, the Government is behind the efforts here."

A*Star converted a Toyota Alphard Hybrid to run autonomously, equipping it with laser sensors that cost as much as a luxury car.

Elsewhere, the Land Transport Authority has received responses from eight firms to a request for information to carry out its own trial in one-north. It will evaluate the proposals, and expects to begin trials by the second half of next year.

When asked how much the Government is investing in all these efforts, Mr Pang would only say "quite a fair bit". But given Singapore's land and labour constraints, going autonomous is "a strong imperative".

European, Japanese, US and Chinese companies - including big names like Google, Bosch and Toyota - are researching in this field.

Some, like Daimler and Tesla, are expected to launch autonomous models in the next five years.

SIM University's adjunct associate professor, Dr Park Byung Joon, said: "I think what Singapore should do is to provide a test bed to attract researchers to come here.

"If not, we might be trying to re-invent the wheel."

Read more!

Energy management important to Singapore's economic strategy: S Iswaran

In an interview with Channel NewsAsia, the Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) also talks about how Singapore's energy landscape has evolved.
Nicole Tan Channel NewsAsia 14 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Ahead of the upcoming Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW), Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran said energy management is an indispensable part of Singapore's economic strategy.

In an interview with Channel NewsAsia on Tuesday (Oct 13), he also talked about how Singapore's energy landscape had evolved in the last 50 years.

Mr Iswaran: The key change over the years has really been first ensuring greater resilience in our energy sector. This is really to ensure Singapore has got, as far as possible, diversified sources of energy, in order to ensure the resilience of energy supply to Singapore.

The second thing we've been focusing on is greater competition in the energy market, whether in terms of generation, retail, and sales to the end consumer, households or businesses alike. In this area, we've progressively been enhancing retail contestability, lowering the threshold and therefore allowing more consumers to have choices.

Ultimately, we want to move towards full retail contestability, which means every household and energy consumer will have a choice in terms of who they buy energy from and the kind of package, not unlike what you might do for telecoms. That’s something the Energy Market Authority (EMA) is working on, and I think we’ve been making good progress and we hope to do more in the coming years.

Q: Why is energy management so important for Singapore, given the context that we are a small country with no natural resources?

Mr Iswaran: If you take economic activity, energy is a key input. If you take wafer fabrication industry for example, the slightest disruption in energy supply will result in significant losses for them; even if it's just for a few minutes, it'll disrupt their operations and cause them significant losses.

So it's a key parameter when investors make their decisions, it's a key determinant of economic competitiveness and sustainability of economic competitiveness in the long term. That's one of the main reasons we emphasise energy policy, and in particular the resilience of our energy supply. As a small city-state relying almost entirely on imported energy, it's an indispensable part of our economic strategy.

Q: What are the Government's top priorities in the energy sector, particularly as Singapore functions as a major trading hub for commodities and energy?

Mr Iswaran: These are the three elements - economic competitiveness, energy security and environment sustainability, which we take into account when thinking through the issues and formulating our policies for the present, but also for the future in terms of energy for Singapore.

One of the areas we'll be focusing on is retail contestability, broadening the options for consumers and ensuring that there is a way for people to choose, whether it’s households or small businesses. Choice between suppliers of electricity - this is an important part of ensuring we have a vibrant electricity market and one that will continue to provide value and choice and quality service for consumers.

The other area is diversifying our sources. Beyond carbon-based sources, development of alternative energy sources is another aspect. We're quite limited, alternative energy disadvantaged, we have limited options, by virtue of size and built up environment. One area where there's been considerable work being done is the solar aspect, because we think it's an area where there is potential for solar energy to be an important part of the energy mix in Singapore.

Q: You have talked about how Singapore is a player in an international arena. What is the importance of international engagement?

Mr Iswaran: Energy policy to a considerable extent is domestic-focused. Every country has its own energy policy. We also need engagement across economies and across countries, because there are areas for collaboration which can reinforce each other’s strategy, and indeed a regional approach could yield significant benefits for all countries.

In ASEAN, there are discussions on a trans-ASEAN gas pipeline, which if it were to eventuate, even if in limited form, it means therefore there’s greater resilience in gas supply network within ASEAN, which will be to the benefit for member states. At the same time, Singapore also has established itself as a thought leader through our Government agencies and also range of international organisations and private sector organisations in the space of energy.

Thinking about issues pertaining to future of gas, future of alternative energy, policies that will facilitate evolution of alternative energy, as part of national energy mix - these are areas where our agencies and many other players in Singapore have been involved in. Singapore becomes a good platform and SIEW in particular is a forum where I've seen considerable discussion take place in that regard.

- CNA/xq

Read more!

Malaysia: Dam-aging effects

DR. ZAKI ZAINUDIN New Straits Times 13 Oct 15;

THE worsening haze reminds us about the consequence of environmental exploits. There is a lesson to be learnt here; there can be no action without ramifications. As more and more of the planet’s resources are destroyed, environmental stability and ultimately human habitation are also affected.

Actually, humans have used the planet’s resources since the beginning of civilisation. However, the magnitude of exploitation was not as gargantuan back then as it is now.

The environment was able to cope and reach a kind of stability or equilibrium with its human inhabitants. Things now, however, are shifting in one direction as global population soars to numbers never seen before. Demands for resources for example, food, water and energy, are at unprecedented levels. To satisfy the demand, more and more environmental resources are exploited.

In Malaysia, dams are constructed to store water for supply, generate electricity, mitigate floods, or a combination of one of these functions.
In Klang Valley, for example, the water level at the Sungai Selangor Dam usually comes under close scrutiny during dry spells as water service providers struggle to avoid disruption and meet consumer demand.

I remember when I was growing up, I was taught that hydroelectric dams were an environmentally friendly source of energy. Hydro dams, after all, produce electricity without the need to burn fossil fuels such as coal or gas. There is no emission of air pollutants such as smoke, NOx or SOx. The flowing water is used to turn giant turbines to generate electricity.

Notable hydro dams in Malaysia include the Kenyir Dam in Terengganu, Pergau Dam in Kelantan and Bakun Dam in Sarawak. Malaysia has more than 15 hydro dams of various sizes. The Kenyir, Pergau and Bakun dams are anticipated to produce more than 3,000MW of electricity between them.

The reservoir for the Bakun Dam is said to be the size of Singapore. And there are more on the way.

Not all dams are environmentally friendly. On the contrary, certain dams, depending on size and location, can harm the environment. Dams are erected on mountainous river valleys because a barrier needs to be created to block the natural flow of a river. When the flow is blocked, water is displaced from the bank and fills the surrounding area.

The water quality at these locations is usually pristine; the bottom of the river visible from the riverbank. You can see fish swimming in the water.

This is where the famous Kelah fish dwells and where elephants, yes, wild elephants, roam free. Mother Nature retains all its splendour here, rich in flora and fauna. The water quality is comparable to Class I of the National Water Quality Standards, the best water quality.

Yes, such places exist in Malaysia, but perhaps not for long, as more and more large-scale dams are built. As with most projects, land clearing is inevitable during dam construction. This incurs erosion, sediment transport and siltation.

The amount of erosion that happens is dependent on the scale of the project; essentially, the larger the project, the more the erosion. This causes the teh susu phenomena, inherent to many rivers in Malaysia.

It is true there are measures to reduce this kind of pollution, however, even slight deterioration is easily visible, since the water quality was pristine to begin with. Aquatic creatures will die because of this, especially the more sensitive ones, like kelah.

Besides the murky appearance, sediment will also settle at the bottom of the river, blanketing river rocks. Aquatic habitats are destroyed and fish lose their breeding sites. A fact that may not be known to many: fish need river pebbles to lay their eggs for insemination.

Then there is the logging impact. What has logging got to do with dams? Well, Malaysian forests are rich with timber and since the area behind the dam is going to be underwater anyway, (for some) it only makes sense to reap the benefit of this resource for commercial gains.

Trees would be felled and exported out of the dam site before and during construction. The destruction of their habitat means forest animals, including elephants, will have to look to other areas for sustenance.

Besides forest creatures, Orang Asli may also need to relocate. To them, losing the forest means losing their source for supplies and maybe even income. Orang Asli folk sell forest items, such as petai hutan, a favourite among enthusiasts, including myself.

Loss of the forest means the loss of a carbon sequestration zone. As it is widely known, trees capture carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

Hence, this process not only produces oxygen, but also regulates temperature. This is why in areas where there are fewer trees, the temperature would inevitably be hotter. So, in the case of Bakun, a carbon sequestration zone the size of Singapore is lost.

Once a dam’s construction is completed, the reservoir behind the dam starts filling with water. To avoid drowning, remaining animals will have to make for higher ground or re-locate to other areas outside the valley. During this time, some water may be released to maintain the flow of the downstream river segments. The volume of water released is dubbed “environmental flow”.

Unfortunately, while there may be guidelines relating to amount of water that should be released, the matter is a subject of contention. Ideally, the amount should be sufficient to sustain aquatic life downstream.

However, dam operators are pressed for time and releasing more water means it will take a longer time to fill the reservoir, delaying its operations. Releasing too little water, on the other hand, means environmental disaster.

After the dam is filled, it can commence operations. Typically, during this stage, lesser environmental impact is incurred as more water can be released into the river. The reservoir (or lake) and river ecosystems now begin the long journey to recovery, if they recover at all.

It is obvious that environmental impacts are incurred between the dam construction and operation. Entire river-catchment systems are altered, including aquatic as well as terrestrial flora and fauna.

Because the scale of alteration is so big, mitigation measures cannot address all issues. While it is understandable Malaysia needs to equip itself with power and water, and while it is also true the country cannot continue relying on fossil fuel, this does not mean we need to revert to a solution that has devastating effects.

As of the moment, the environmental emphasis, assessment and mitigation relating to dam construction in Malaysia is done at the end of the project spectrum, long after project inception, but before actual construction.

However, by then, the matter has snowballed into something big with little chance of going back. Thus, it is necessary to place a greater emphasis on the environmental impact of dam projects since the inception stage.

The writer is associate professor of Water Quality and Water Quality Modelling at International Islamic University

Read more!

Indonesia, Singapore, Swiss scientists believe another Ciliwung river is possible

Corry Elyda, The Jakarta Post 13 Oct 15;

More than a dozen scientists from institutions in Switzerland, Singapore and Indonesia have collaborated for years to create several models figuring rehabilitation of the Ciliwung River, providing future scenarios that “balance concerns over flooding, water quality and ecology with the reality that a rapidly growing megacity is not a utopia”.

The group’s report was recently issued amid criticism from a school of thought that believes the current Ciliwung “normalization” project carried out by the Public Works and Public Housing Ministry’s Ciliwung-Cisadane Flood Control Office (BBWSCC) is a “traditional and old-fashioned engineering approach”.

The ongoing BBWSCC project is widening the river, constructing concrete embankments and creating a meander cut-off at Kampung Pulo in East Jakarta.

Singapore-based research program Future Cities Laboratory, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) and Indonesian universities including the University of Indonesia (UI), Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and Bogor Agricultural University (IPB) have suggested that other, greener and more innovative, models of Ciliwung rehabilitation are possible.

“Jakarta needs a strong vision for the Ciliwung River as the first public green corridor of cities and regions in its watershed,” the research report said.

Paolo Burlando, the chair of hydrology and water resource management at ETH Zurich, said that the study, which brought together disciplines from engineering, hydrology, landscape architecture and ecology to social sciences, explored how various approaches delivered alternative future scenarios, while taking into account flood mitigation and environmental concerns.

“The project is as much about the reinvention of the river as a brand for Jakarta and West Java — a brand capable of projecting a strong and positive environmental image with sustainable goals, as it is about solving immediate engineering challenges to better manage risk,” he said.

Ciliwung, starting from Mount Gede, meanders 119 kilometers from Bogor through Depok and Jakarta before emptying into the Java Sea.

According to the study, approximately 5 million people reside within the river’s 384 square km catchment.

The study, Burlando said, had reached no definitive conclusion, but offered hypothetical scenarios demonstrating the existence of alternative scenarios to the current project, in which the river is essentially channelized by removing all natural landscape.

“We believe that it is possible to still have a relatively natural river landscape that does not increase the flood risk but eventually reduces [it],” Burlando said on the sidelines of a symposium on the study at Tarumanagara University (Untar).

He added that the BBWSCC’s formula would “only transfer the problem downstream”.

“Closer to the sea, you will have more problems,” he said.

The river’s main challenges include flooding that occurs every rainy season and heavy pollution; Jakarta does not have a wastewater management system and shallow groundwater risks contamination.

According to Burlando, the study shows that while land-use management alone cannot remove the flood risk, maintaining a good forested upper catchment area would help reduce frequency of floods.

The BBWSCC, in collaboration with the Jakarta administration, has evicted 1,040 families in Kampung Pulo and plans to evict more in Bidaracina in East Jakarta and Bukit Duri in South Jakarta to make way for widening and river inspection roads.

Responding to the alternative proposals, Jakarta Water Management Agency head Tri Djoko Sri Margianto said that it was hard to use “green” approaches to flood mitigation.

“River banks are densely populated areas. We need a wider river if the wall is to be natural, which will be difficult for the city administration, as it means we will need to relocate more people,” Tri said.

Another collaboration of architects, planners and hydrologists has proposed creating a kampung susun (elevated village) at Kampung Pulo, in which residents could remain near the meander and take care of the river’s natural embankments.

Read more!

Indonesia: Relaxing timber rules raises fears for forest governance

Ayomi Amindoni, 13 Oct 15;

The government’s plan to relax certification requirements for downstream timber products has raised concern from environmental groups.

Eyes on the Forest (EoF) activist Ian Hilman said a relaxed certification policy would worsen illegal logging activities and aggravate forest governance in Indonesia.

"Illegal [logging] still occurs in the upstream timber industry. It is possible that a relaxed certification regulation will open the possibility of illegal activity in the downstream industry,” he said at a discussion in Jakarta on Monday.

The environmental activist was speaking in response to the government’s plan to revise Trade Ministerial Regulation (Permen) No.66/2015, which replaced Permen No.97/2014 on the export of industrial forestry products.

Through Permen 66, the government removed an export declaration (DE) requirement, which will come into effect on Dec. 31, 2015.

The Trade Ministry said Permen 66 still needed to be revised to ease the timber exporting process for small and medium enterprises. The ministry and several timber associations started to discuss the revision of Permen 66 in a meeting last week. During the meeting, they agreed that small and medium enterprises should be allowed to export their timber products without meeting the criteria of the timber legality verification system (SVLK).

SVLK is applied to reduce illegal logging and timber trading and to improve management of industrial timber products and allow better timber legality assurance.

Ian said the government’s plan to relax the certification policy had forgotten a long history of illegal logging in Indonesia and only accommodated the interests of certain parties.

"It will also open up the chance of illegal logging and weaken forest governance efforts," he said.

Zainuri Hasyim of the Indonesian Independent Forest Monitoring Network (JPIK) said that if they relaxed the certification process, all forest governance efforts that had been conducted recently would come to nothing.

"The SVLK should be maintained as it is an attempt to improve forest governance," he said.

Earlier, the Trade Ministry’s director for agriculture and forestry exports, Nurlaila Nur Muhammad, said that several ministries and timber-related business associations had agreed

to the ministry’s proposal for the revision of timber export requirements.

Nurlaila said parties in the meeting had agreed to simplify procedures on ironwood exports and revoke SVLK requirements on 15 downstream timber products, including furniture. The revision was aimed at helping local timber producers export their products, she said. (ebf)(++++)

Read more!

Australia says strong Indian Ocean Dipole reinforcing El Nino

Lincoln Feast PlanetArk 14 Oct 15;

Climatic conditions in the Indian Ocean are reinforcing the current powerful El Nino weather pattern, Australia's weather bureau said on Tuesday, meaning drier conditions are likely for the country's east.

The positive Indian Ocean Dipole, the Indian Ocean's equivalent of the Pacific Ocean-based El Nino, is at its strongest since 2006, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said in a weekly update.

This year's El Nino is the strongest in almost 20 years, forecasters have warned.

"El Nino is usually associated with below-average spring rainfall over eastern Australia, and increased spring and summer daytime temperatures in Australia south of the tropics," the bureau said. "A positive IOD typically reinforces the drying pattern, particularly in the southeast."

(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

Read more!

Enforcing a global climate deal: speak loudly, carry no stick

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 13 Oct 15;

Negotiators have several terms for the way they plan to enforce any deal reached at global climate talks in Paris this December. "Peer pressure" and "cooperation" are a couple. "Race to the top" is the American buzzword.

What you won't hear mentioned is the word "sanctions". Or "punishment".

For all their efforts to get 200 governments to commit to the toughest possible cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, climate negotiators have all but given up on creating a way to penalize those who fall short.

The overwhelming view of member states, says Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, is that any agreement "has to be much more collaborative than punitive", if it is to happen at all.
"Even if you do have a punitive system, that doesn't guarantee that it is going to be imposed or would lead to any better action," Figueres said.

To critics, the absence of a legal stick to enforce compliance is a deep - if not fatal - flaw in the Paris process, especially after all countries agreed in 2011 that an agreement would have some form of "legal force".

They warn that a deal already built upon sometimes vague promises from member states could end up as a toothless addition to the stack of more than 500 global and regional environmental treaties, while the rise in global temperatures mounts inexorably past a U.N. ceiling of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), with the prospect of ever more floods, droughts and heatwaves.


That fear finds its sharpest expression in a proposal from Bolivia's socialist government for an International Climate Justice Tribunal with powers to penalize countries that break commitments.

Diego Pacheco, Bolivia's chief negotiator, said anything less would be "dangerous to Mother Earth".

But the idea is a non-starter with almost every other country going to the Paris talks, from Nov. 30-Dec. 11.

Even the European Union, which has long argued for a strong, legally binding deal, is increasingly talking about a "pledge and review" system under which national commitments would be re-assessed every five years against a goal of halving world emissions by 2050.

Elina Bardram, head of the European Commission delegation, insisted that strong compliance mechanisms were vital. "Weak rules would undermine the whole structure," she said.

However, many developing nations oppose reviews of their goals, wanting oversight to be limited to the rich.

Nick Mabey, chief executive of the E3G think-tank in London, says a Paris deal is likely to be more like international agreements limiting nuclear weapons than accords under the World Trade Organization, which can impose sanctions.

A watchword of nuclear non-proliferation - "trust but verify" - could be the basis, he said.

Yvo de Boer, the United Nations' former top climate official, said he remembers the moment when he realized that the principle of sanctioning countries for non-compliance was dead.

In 2001, as a senior member of the Dutch delegation, de Boer attended a closed-door meeting of environment ministers in Bonn, Germany, that was designing rules to enforce the U.N.'s 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which obliged about 40 rich nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.


He recalled being struck by the strength of objections, even from once-supportive countries such as Australia and Japan, to any attempt to punish those who fell short of emissions commitments.

"The agreement was to be legally binding, but it became very clear that a lot of countries didn't want sanctions," he said.

Despite the opposition, a sanctions regime was agreed later in 2001. It required any developed country that missed its greenhouse gas targets between 2008 and 2012 to make even deeper cuts in the future.

But even those sanctions were an empty act of bravado by rich nations angered by U.S. President George W. Bush's decision in March 2001 to stay out of Kyoto, said Jan Pronk, a former Dutch environment minister who chaired the Bonn meeting.

"There was a political feeling that the United States cannot just kill something that is so important internationally," Pronk recalled. But now that even the flawed Kyoto agreement had expired, he added, "sanctions don't mean anything any more".

He noted that Japan, Russia and Canada - which was set to break its pledge - have simply abandoned Kyoto in recent years, without suffering sanctions.

"Kyoto was the high-water mark for the idea of sanctions in climate agreements," said Alex Hanafi of the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund.


Both China and the United States, the two top carbon emitters crucial to any effective agreement, made clear from the start of the current negotiations they would not agree to any form of international oversight. The U.S. position instead speaks of a collective "race to the top", in which countries push each other to see who can be the greenest.

Nor do the loose commitments being made by countries lend themselves to easy enforcement. Russia's pledge, for example, says only that limiting emissions to somewhere between 70 and 75 percent of 1990 levels by 2030 "might be a long-term indicator".

All countries agree that that the emissions curbs pledged so far are too small to get the world on track to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

That means a strong mechanism will be needed for ratcheting up pledges after Paris.

Critics say that simply shaming outliers will not ensure compliance and that, unless there are costs for non-compliance, any country can share in the global benefits of reduced temperature rises while leaving the hard work of emissions cuts to others.

But Figueres, the U.N. climate chief, believes that cuts in greenhouse gases can serve countries' economic self-interests. China, for instance, can improve the health of millions by shifting from coal-fired power plants that cause air pollution.

And sharp falls in the costs of solar and wind power also mean that greener technologies can help, rather than hinder, economic growth, benefits that were not so evident under Kyoto, she said.

The Paris accord also holds out carrots for participation by developing nations, including a new mechanism to fund loss and damage from hurricanes, droughts or rising sea levels.

De Boer, who now works for the Global Green Growth Institute in South Korea, said that ditching sanctions was, ultimately, part of the price of getting a broad, global agreement.

"The sting has been taken out of the process ... That means the chances of a deal are much better."

(Editing by Bruce Wallace and Kevin Liffey)

Read more!