Best of our wild blogs: 17 Oct 15

Food Waste Habits of Households in Singapore
Zero Waste Singapore

Indonesian healthcare in focus as haze worsens; NASA data show Papua ablaze
Mongabay Environmental News

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Generally dry, warm weather expected in second half of October: NEA

Towards the end of October, wetter weather conditions can be expected with afternoon thunderstorms on four to six days in the last fortnight of the month.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Generally dry and warm weather can be expected in the second fortnight of October, with the maximum daily temperature forecast to be between 34 and 35‎°Celsius, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Friday (Oct 16).

The agency added that towards the end of the month, wetter weather conditions can be expected with afternoon thunderstorms on four to six days "due to strong daytime heating of land areas coupled with convergence of winds over Singapore and the surrounding region".

However, the rainfall for October is likely to be below normal.

In the first fortnight of October, southwest monsoon conditions prevailed with thunderstorms affecting the island mainly in the late morning and afternoon. Most of the showers fell in the first week of the month with rainfall heaviest on Oct 2, where 84 millimetres of rain was recorded around Tuas.


Hazy conditions can still be expected on Saturday, and the situation could deteriorate, said the NEA in a separate advisory on Friday.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) for the next 24 hours is expected to be “in the low end of the Unhealthy range and may enter the mid-section of the Unhealthy range”, the agency added.

Air quality in Singapore deteriorated on Friday due to prevailing winds blowing in haze from Kalimantan in Indonesia, and the conditions are expected to persist for the rest of the day, said NEA in an advisory.

Seven hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Friday, and some haze from Sumatra and Kalimantan was observed to have spread to the sea areas south of Singapore.

Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, NEA advised the public to reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. The elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise such activity, while those with chronic lung or heart disease should avoid it altogether, NEA added.

- CNA/hs

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Malaysia: Johor water rationing

Liow urges water concessionaire to help ease plight of the public affected
KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 16 Oct 15;

JOHOR BARU: State water concessionaire Syarikat Air Johor (SAJ) has been asked to review its scheduled water rationing to ease the plight of the public affected.

Johor Jaya assemblyman Liow Cai Tung said she decided to request for this after receiving numerous complaints about the matter from those affected in Pasir Gudang over the past three months.

She said SAJ should amend its current schedule for the rationing as many were not happy with it.

Maybe they can consider supplying water at least on alternate days or allow for supply in the mornings or nights, she told reporters during a press conference held outside the SAJ headquarters in Larkin here on Monday. She said SAJ had taken her suggestions into consideration in view of the fact that the water level at the Layang-layang dam was still critical.

“I have also told the concessionaire to ensure additional water supply is given to those with good reasons such as for weddings and funerals.

“I hope that the state government can resolve the problem as soon as possible, as it seems to be taken lightly with no proper solution found to resolve the issue for the past three months, she added.

Pusat Aduan Rakyat Permas zone supervisor Syed Othman Syed Abdullah said that he has also been receiving complaints on the matter for the past three months.

He said businesses such as car wash centres in his area were even more adversely affected as they were forced to buy water from outside the area.

Those living in flats have also been facing difficulties, as they do not have enough space to store sufficient water for two days, he added.

Meanwhile, SAJ corporate communication chief Jamaluddin Jamil said that the schedule for the water rationing was the best solution for the company to help consumers face the problem.

He said the existing schedule was outlined after a detailed study and monitoring was conducted in efforts to alleviate the consumers woes.

Liow’s request may only worsen the situation. After all, the rationing conducted is lesser than the 48-hours schedule, he added.

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Indonesian police investigate two Singapore firms over forest fires reports: PT Palm Lestari Makmur and PT PAN United are under investigation over allegations linked to forest burning in Sumatra island, according to Riau Police.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: Two Singapore companies, PT Palm Lestari Makmur and PT PAN United, are under investigation over allegations linked to forest burning in Sumatra island, according to Riau Police on Friday (Oct 16).

"Both companies are under investigation. A number of managers from those companies are blocked from travelling overseas," said Head of Riau Police Dolly Bambang Hermawan. Palm Lestari Makmur owns 29 hectares of the burnt oil palm area while PAN United owns 200 hectares.

Hermawan added that the local police currently cooperates with the Ministry of Environment and Forest to enforce the law and prosecute companies responsible for the forest fires and haze.

Aside from the two companies, the police are also investigating 16 other firms, both foreign-owned companies and domestic companies.

The 18 companies are:

1. PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo
2. PT Palm Lestari Makmur
3. PT Sumatera Riang Lestari
4. PT Bina Duta Laksana
5. PT Alam Sari Lestari
6. PT Bukti Raya Pelalawan
7. PT Parawira di Pelalawan
8. KUD Bina Jaya Langgam
9. PT Ruas Utama Jaya
10. PT Decter Timber Perkasa Industri
11. PT PAN United
12. PT Wana Subur Sawit Indah
13. PT Suntara Gajapati
14. PT Perawang Sukses Perkasa Industri
15. PT Siak Raya Timber
16. PT Riau Jaya Utama
17. PT Hutani Sola Lestari
18. PT Rimba Lazuardi

Read the original report at here.


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Indonesia: 769 hot spots in Sumatra still 16 Oct 15;

Forest fires have spread in Sumatra with up to 769 hot spots detected by NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites on the island on Friday.

"The hot spots were detected at 7 a.m. South Sumatra is still the biggest contributor with 537 hot spots, an increase on the previous days 487," said head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Pekanbaru, Sugarin Widayat, on Friday as quoted by

In addition to South Sumatra, other provinces with hot spots include Jambi with 97, Bangka Belitung with 64, Lampung with 38, Bengkulu with seven and North Sumatra with three.

Meanwhile, 22 hot spots have been detected in Riau despite the province having zero a few days ago. Affected areas include Indragiri Hilir, Meranti, Siak and Pelalawan.

Sugarin added that weather conditions in Riau were generally cloudy with a thin blanket of haze, resulting in decreased visibility of 10 meters to 600 meters. The lowest visibility can be found in Rengat, the capital city of Indragiri Hulu regency.

"[Fortunately] there is a chance of light rain in the western and northern parts of Riau. The current maximum temperature is between 31 and 33 degrees Celsius," said Sugarin. (kes)(+++)

Govt deploys 32 aircraft to tackle haze in biggest effort yet
Arientha Primanita & Edna Tarigan, 16 Oct 15;

The government is currently conducting its biggest operation yet to tackle the haze emergency, a spokesperson for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said on Friday.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho from the BNPB said that the operation involved masses of equipment, aircraft and personnel and was well supported by other countries. "This is the biggest haze emergency operation conducted by the Indonesian government," he told on Friday.

A total of 32 helicopters and airplanes have been assigned to extinguishing the fires, six units of which are from Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. The figure includes 21 helicopters, seven fixed-wing water bombers and four planes for making artificial rain.

BNPB chief Willem Rampangilei said on Tuesday that the government had disbursed Rp 500 billion in disaster funds to manage the haze across six provinces over the past two months.

He told Antara news agency that South Sumatra had received the biggest portion of the funds as most hotspots were in that province.

Sutopo said that on Thursday the planes carried out water bombing in six provinces: South Sumatra, Jambi, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, West Kalimantan and Riau. The aircraft mainly targeted South Sumatra, which received 334 showers.

Land operations also took place, involving 22,146 joint personnel from the Indonesian Military (TNI), police, local administration officials and volunteers spread across six provinces.

Law enforcement, health services and the latest information was also provided to help mend the impacts of the fires.

"It is not easy to extinguish the massive hotspots, especially in the peatlands that are most likely to reignite after burning under the surface. We’ve also noticed new land fires which make the hotspots go up and down," he said.

Satellite data showed on Friday that of the 769 hotspots in Sumatra, there were:

537 in South Sumatra

97 in Jambi

64 in Bangka Belitung

38 in Lampung

22 in Riau

7 hotspots in Bengkulu

3 in North Sumatra, and

1 in Riau Islands

Of the 159 hotspots in Kalimantan, there were:

134 in Central Kalimantan

19 in West Kalimantan

5 in South Kalimantan, and

1 in East Kalimantan.

Yellow haze also covered Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan on Friday. Based on's observation in the field, the yellow smog arrived in the morning and got thicker in the afternoon. Local people said that the yellow haze came from new land fires within and outside Palangkaraya.

All flights to and from Tjilik Riwut airport in Palangkaraya were cancelled on Friday due to the heavy smog. (rin)(++++)

Indonesia launches biggest operation ever to combat fires
Thirty-two planes and helicopters - including six aircraft from Singapore, Malaysia and Australia - were dispatched on Friday (Oct 16) to back up the more than 22,000 personnel on the ground who have been fighting the fires for weeks.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: Indonesia launched on Friday (Oct 16) its biggest operation ever to combat fires blanketing Southeast Asia in haze, an official said, with dozens of planes and thousands of troops battling the widespread blazes.

Thirty-two planes and helicopters - including six aircraft from Singapore, Malaysia and Australia - were dispatched to back up the more than 22,000 personnel on the ground who have been fighting the fires for weeks.

Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the air teams would conduct water bombing and weather modification efforts across six of the worst-hit provinces in Sumatra and the Indonesian portion of Borneo island.

"This is the biggest haze emergency operation ever carried out by the Indonesian government," the spokesman said.

For weeks, fires illegally started to clear land for plantations have shrouded Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia in acrid smog, worsening air quality, closing schools and forcing the cancellation of outdoor events.

The blazes are an annual occurrence during the dry season, but scientists have warned this year's are on track to be the worst ever as an El Nino weather system has created tinder-dry conditions in Indonesia.

Jakarta earlier this month agreed to accept international help after weeks of failed attempts to douse the blazes infuriated its neighbours.

Japan on Friday joined several other countries contributing to the emergency effort, donating two tonnes of flame retardant to Indonesia.

Nugroho said dry conditions were continuing to hamper efforts, with new fires still popping up. Indonesian satellites as of Friday had detected more than 750 hotspots on Sumatra, mostly in the south of the island.

- AFP/al

Number of detected hotspots in South Sumatra still high
Antara 16 Oct 15;

Palembang, S Sumatra (ANTARA News) - The number of detected hotspots in South Sumatra is still high and is more than any other province in the country.

"According to monitoring data provided by the Terra-Aqua Satellites, 537 hotspots were found in South Sumatra. Meanwhile, 97 hotspots were detected in Jambi, 64 in Bangka Belitung, 38 in Lampung, and only seven in Bengkulu," Indra Purnama, the chief of the Data and Information Department of the Kenten Climatology Station, stated here on Friday.

He explained that the hotspots had spread to five different areas in South Sumatra. In this transition period, from drought to monsoon, several hotspots had not been earlier forecast, but there is a trend that they might increase, he claimed.

"Hotspots that arose in South Sumatra and some neighboring provinces triggered land and forest fires. So, this is far from over for the teams tasked with putting out the fires," he noted.

Chief of Indonesias National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) Willem Rampangilei had earlier stated that an Australian aircraft will be deployed to extinguish fires in the Air Sugihan area, Ogan Komering Ilir District, South Sumatra Province.

"This is being done as the area still has several hotspots," he said after evaluating the efforts to extinguish land and forest fires in Palembang, yesterday (October 15).

Hence, a C-130 Hercules aircraft, with a capacity to carry 15 thousand liters of water, will be used to extinguish fires in the region. By maximizing its use, Rampangilei hoped the smog would soon disappear.

A Malaysian aircraft, with a capacity to carry six thousand liters of water, will be deployed in other areas, such as Cengal, Ogan Komering Ilir District, he noted.

"Besides using aircraft, we are also maximizing the use of a helicopter to extinguish the fires," he affirmed.

The rotary-wing aircraft is also being used to extinguish the remnant fires in Ogan Komering Ilir District, he remarked.

According to Rampangilei, they will also continue to deploy a ground team to put out the fires.

"It is obvious that we will continue with our efforts to extinguish the fires until the smog vanishes," he remarked.(*)

Haze lowers visibility to below 50 meters in Palangka Raya
Antara 16 Oct 15;

Palangka Raya (ANTARA News) - Haze arising from forest and plantation fires in Central Kalimantan Province has drastically reduced visibility to below 50 meters, while the air pollution standard index reached 1889.06 pm.

A total of 1,042 hotspots were recorded in the province in the morning of October 15 and decreased to 45 in the afternoon, Anton of the local meteorology office stated here on Friday.

"Now, on Friday morning, some 59 hotspots were detected," he reported.

Of the 59 hotspots, 19 were detected in Seruyan, nine in Sukamara, eight in Pulang Pisau, five in East Kotawaringin, three in West Kotawaringin, and two in Palangka Raya.

The air quality of Palangka Raya has reached a hazardous level and can impact the health of the public, he pointed out.

Health Minister Nila Djuwita F. Moeloek had earlier noted that the normal air pollution standard index is 0-50 pm, and above 300 pm is considered hazardous to health.

She called on the local inhabitants to stay indoors and wear face masks if they had to engage in outdoor activities.

At least 307,360 people in six Indonesian provinces from June 29 to October 5, 2015, had sought medical treatments for respiratory ailments and other diseases caused by smoke or haze from forest fires originating from Indonesias Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands.

"The number of patients visiting health facilities has increased by 15-20 percent over the last three weeks. The condition will be very worrisome if the smoke problem is not promptly tackled," Health Minister Moeloek informed the press on Oct. 6.

People residing in haze-affected regions have mostly suffered from acute respiratory infections, eye and skin irritations, pneumonia, asthma, and diarrhea.

The health ministrys Health Crisis Mitigation Center has recorded some 45,668 cases of haze-related health problems in Riau, 69,734 in Jambi, some 83,276 in South Sumatra, 43,477 in West Kalimantan, 29,104 in South Kalimantan, and 36,101 in Central Kalimantan.

Worsening haze decreases visibility in North Barito 15 Oct 15;

The haze blanketing North Barito regency in Central Kalimantan reportedly worsened on Thursday morning with visibility down to only 100 meters.

"The haze got thicker this morning, which resulted in very limited visibility and left us short of breath," said a resident of Muara Teweh district in North Barito, Rahman Hidayat, on Thursday as quoted by Antara news agency.

According to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Muara Teweh's spokesperson Sunardi, the region's horizontal visibility on Thursday morning was only 100 meters and its vertical visibility down to 150 feet. Horizontal visibility was still around 200 meters yesterday.

"The weather is hazy with a yellowish color this morning," said Sunardi.

According to the Manggala Agni Muara Teweh firefighting unit spokesperson Aswaludin, hot spots were no longer detected in North Barito by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 18 and the Terra and Aqua satellites as of Wednesday night.

"The haze probably came from other regions. There are still 15 hot spots in South Barito according to the Terra satellite and two others have been discovered in East Barito," said Aswaludin. (ags/kes)

Timika's airport closed following thick haze
Nethy Dharma Somba, 16 Oct 15;

Officials closed Mozes Kilangin airport in Timika for two days following haze coming from the southern part of Papua, officials said on Friday.

John Rettob, transportation and information office chief, said that the visibility in the airport was only 500 meters out of the minimum 1,500 m required by the Transportation Ministry.

"Smog has been seen in Timika since last week but the density kept rising especially over the past two days when the visibility only reached 500 m," he said.

John said that regular flights to Timika of national flag carrier Garuda Indonesia and private carriers Sriwijaya Air and Air Fast could not operate in the airport since Thursday.

"Timika is currently closed because no airplanes can come in or out from here," he said.

The haze also disrupted shipping as boats and ships are banned from getting out of Timika port.

John said that the smog is coming from the southern part of Indonesia's eastern most province.

Sem Padamma, chief of the Jayapura branch of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), said that the hot spots are recorded in two districts, 92 hotspots in Merauke district and 12 in Merauke district.

He explained that as the wind blew from south to north, the haze was sent to Timika even though no hot spots were found there.

Based on BMKG data, the hot spots had started since the beginning of September and were not only in the southern part of Papua but in the neighboring West Papua province as well.

"We did not know whether the source of the haze is forest or land fires. We only found hot spots on our radar," Sem said.

Brig. Gen Supartodi, military resort commander of Anim Ti Waninggap, said that local people burned land during the dry season, which caused the hot spots.

"They expected grass to grow in the burned land during the rainy season for a hunting place," he said adding that he had assigned his personnel to cooperate with the locals to extinguish fires if hot spots were found. (rin)

Indonesia, Japan to cooperate to extinguish forest fires
Antara 17 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia and Japan have agreed to cooperate in the ongoing fire fighting efforts by delivering a special liquid substance to certain areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan where there are still many hotspots.

The Japanese Ambassador to Indonesia, Yasuaki Tanizaki, said here on Friday that the neighboring countries can support Indonesia in handling the forest fires.

The forest and land fires that occurred in several islands, including Sumatra and Kalimantan, have caused haze that has also spread to other neighboring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

"I believe that the ASEAN countries must assist each other. This could be a chance for the ASEAN countries to show their solidarity to mitigate the disaster," Tanizaki said.

The Japanese government has given 100 bottles of a fire extinguisher liquid substance, namely "Miracle Foam a+," to the Indonesian government and it will be delivered gradually to Palembang of South Sumatra from Saturday (Oct 17) to Monday (Oct 19).

Several experts from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will also be sent by the Japanese government to assist the forest fire extinguishing efforts.

"We hoped the emergency assistance can be utilized by the Indonesian government. I hope it helps in easing the haze disaster," Tanizaki said.

The ambassador hoped that the ASEAN countries can handle the menace of haze disaster together, thereby underscoring the close friendship among the nations in South East Asia.

Additionally, several countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Australia, have assisted Indonesia by deploying air planes that can conduct water bombing in several hotspots in Sumatra Island.(*)

M’sia ready to fight forest fires

JOHOR BARU: Malaysia can send between 1,200 and 1,500 personnel to fight the forest fires in Indonesia, responsible for much of the haze now enveloping parts of the region.

Fire and Rescue Department Datuk Wan Mohd Noor Ibrahim said the team could be assembled in stages within 48 hours.

“Now, it’s up to the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia to decide on this matter.

“So far, nothing has been finalised but my personnel have already been put on alert, similar to what was done during our deployment to Indonesia during the 1997 haze,” he told The Star here yesterday.

The deployment, he added, would include vehicles and equipment.

During the last major forest fire in Indonesia in 1997, some 1,200 Malaysian firefighters were sent there to help douse the flames in a mission that lasted for a month.

Compared with 1997, the department was now more prepared to handle forest fires due to better water pumps and other equipment, Wan Mohd said.

Asked why the department had not deployed helicopters to carry out aerial water bombing operations, he said the fires in Indonesia involved burning peat soil, which was metres deep in the ground and difficult to douse from the air.

“We need firemen on the ground to carry out several methods, including flooding the area with water.

“Since 1997, we have invested heavily in equipment to handle forest fires,” he said, adding that any request for assistance would be handled between the Malaysian and Indonesian governments.

So far, Indonesia has asked for help from several countries, including Malaysia, which has sent a Bombardier CL415MP amphibious aircraft.

State Fire Department assistant director (operations) Mohd Rizal Buang said it was prepared to contribute at least six teams of 160 firemen for the operation.

He said the department would also mobilise six fire engines from Johor, adding that the Malaysian teams were still waiting for the green light from Indonesia.

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Haze helps SEC spark a green chain reaction

Jessica Lim, The Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Oct 15;

With a click of the mouse on Sept 30, an electronic form was e-mailed to 17 paper companies carrying the Singapore Environment Council's (SEC) Green Label.

The label signifies that the companies are eco-friendly, and the form was for them to declare that they did not source from alleged haze culprits like Asia Pulp and Paper (APP).

The move by the SEC, a non-governmental organisation, led by a core team of five staff members and a board of 11 directors, triggered a chain reaction.

On Oct 5, it released the names of 10 companies that signed the form. Two days later, it suspended the Green Label of APP's local distributor, Universal Sovereign Trading. By noon on Oct 7, supermarket chain FairPrice began pulling APP products off its shelves. Sheng Siong and Prime Supermarket followed suit.

SEC executive director Edwin Seah said: "When the National Environment Agency named the companies it was investigating, that was the spark. We needed to act fast to protect the credibility of our label. We also wanted to allay consumer fears."

He said the SEC received about a dozen calls from members of the public after the NEA, on Sept 25, said it had served APP a legal notice to supply information about its subsidiaries in Singapore and Indonesia.

"We were surprised at the speed at which things unfolded. After that, we thought, we should keep the momentum going," Mr Seah told The Straits Times.

The SEC went on to send the form to other supermarkets, and to 210 wood-related product makers.

The intensity of the haze, NEA's announcement, and the fact that APP had its green label suspended, gave the SEC an opportunity.

Mr Seah said: "We were at the right place, at the right time. It gave us the chance to push businesses to source more sustainably. Retailers are finally starting to sit up and take notice. We've never got this level of interest before."

The SEC now receives about 10 calls a day from businesses that want to know how to certify their products, up from five previously.

Mr Seah, who joined the SEC in October last year as its communications director, took over as interim executive director in February. He took on his current role in April.

Former SEC chief Jose Raymond stepped down in January to join the Singapore Sports Hub.

By June, Mr Seah and newly appointed members of his core team - assistant executive director Gerard Christopher, head of eco-certification Kavickumar Muruganathan, senior executive for environmental outreach Siti Farhana Mahadi, and director of communications Shirley Chua - had a new focus: consumers and the demand side of sustainability.

Said Mr Seah: "We thought getting consumers involved would trigger the supply side, and manufacturers would become more responsible."

The SEC, funded by corporate sponsorships and income from its certification scheme, will be speaking to each of the businesses that has signed the form - 71, so far - to encourage them to do more.

Mr Seah said the SEC will advocate having green corners or aisles in supermarkets as well as standees to explain sustainability and eco-certification to consumers.

From January, it will also make it compulsory for all its clients with Green Labels - more than 3,000 of them - to print the label on products they sell. Now, only about half do so, for reasons such as costs.

At least one firm, tissue paper supplier Tipex, has asked the SEC to print stickers to paste on its goods.

"They now see the value in it," said Mr Seah, adding that it costs $1,500 to get certified under the Singapore Green Label Scheme, and $1,000 each year to renew it.

The SEC will also start certifying palm oil products soon, and will reach out to firms selling them to come on board. Already, one major chocolate firm here is interested in getting its chocolates certified.

The SEC is also working with the Government on its decision, announced last month, to start buying from more sustainable sources, to influence supply chains.

Mr Seah said the public can expect a more active and engaging SEC in the days to come. However, just as he sees the importance of "striking while the iron is hot", he said change takes time. "It has to come in phases, be long term... We will continue to push on."

Singapore Businesses Try to Choke Off Sources of Haze
Private-sector moves to combat haze are new development for Singapore
JAKE MAXWELL WATTS Wall Street Journal 15 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE—As a swath of Southeast Asia chokes on a cloud of smog caused by forest fires in Indonesia, Singapore businesses have taken matters into their own hands, halting sales of products from companies suspected of contributing to the haze and agreeing to limit their access to credit.

Singapore’s financial sector, which dominates corporate financing in much of Southeast Asia, is the latest to take action. The Association of Banks in Singapore on Oct. 8 published new industry guidelines that local banks said raised the city-state’s responsible-financing regulations in line with international reporting standards.

Meanwhile, several of Singapore’s largest supermarket chains, including NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong Group Ltd., have pulled from their shelves products such as Nice and Paseo toilet paper and tissue sourced from Indonesian company Asia Pulp & Paper Group, one of the world’s largest paper and pulp producers. The moves come after Indonesian officials accused APP of contributing to the haze through its plantations in Indonesia. APP said it has a zero-burn policy on its land and is working with authorities to put out the fires.

Authorities in Singapore and Indonesia have sent notice to several smaller companies, mostly Indonesian, asking for information as part of their investigations.

Since the 1980s, forest fires have been an annual occurrence in Indonesia’s vast agricultural lands, with many caused by landowners looking to burn forests and scrub land to clear way for palm-oil plantations or trees for pulp and paper. This year’s burning, which has been exacerbated by dry weather, could become the worst on record and cost Southeast Asia about $14 billion in economic losses as the resulting haze spreads, according to estimates from the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research.

Hazardous smoke slowly swept across Southeast Asia in recent weeks, as blazes raged in Indonesia's peatlands. The WSJ's Diana Jou explains why this year’s peatland fires are causing longer periods of haze.
These moves from the private sector in Singapore are a new development for the island nation, where citizens have long complained about haze but relied mostly on their government to manage the relationship with Indonesia.

The new banking guidelines, which all three of Singapore’s public banks said they would adhere to, include recommendations that improve transparency and specifically mention deforestation and air pollution as issues that must be considered when providing financing. The measures were part of a broader effort to raise standards in Singapore that went beyond those issues.

The guidelines “basically create a level of awareness, understanding and due diligence that will help to effectively take financing away…from players who do not have proper sustainability practices,” said Jeanne Stampe, Asia finance and commodities specialist at environmental group WWF International.

DBS Bank Ltd., Southeast Asia’s largest lender by assets, said the firm finances some palm-oil companies but conducts assessments about how such companies address such risks. “Of the palm-oil plantation companies we bank, all have zero-burning policies. In the event a client is found to be in breach, we are prepared to re-assess the banking relationship,” a DBS representative said.

Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. and UOB Group, Singapore’s second- and third-largest lenders, respectively, said they too are committed to adhering to the new ABS guidelines. They are “a step in the right direction,” said OCBC’s chief risk officer, Vincent Choo. UOB’s managing director for country and credit risk management, Frankie Phua, said UOB would reassess its relationship with any client found to have breached environmental, social or governance standards and that it expects companies it finances to meet prevailing regulatory standards.

The private sector in Singapore joins a multinational effort aimed at fighting the haze, which has been bolstered this year by a new law in Singapore that allows legislators to prosecute local and foreign companies involved in illegal forest burning. Firefighters, equipment and military personnel have been contributed by Singapore, Malaysia, Russia and Japan, joining thousands of personnel in Indonesia trying to douse the smoldering peat lands.

The Marina Bay Sands resort and Singapore flyer are shrouded by haze, Oct. 13. ENLARGE
The Marina Bay Sands resort and Singapore flyer are shrouded by haze, Oct. 13. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Singapore’s retailers haven’t decided how long their boycott of certain products such as those from APP will last. “We are awaiting further information and investigation by the authorities before resuming our purchase and sales, or considering our next steps,” a Sheng Siong representative said.

When asked about the retailers’ actions, an APP representative said neither the company nor its suppliers use fire to clear land. Because of the current dry conditions in Indonesia, the source of many fires is difficult to determine.

“We will disengage with any supplier that is proven to be doing so,” the APP representative said. “To be clear, there are fires within our suppliers’ concessions, but these are not started by APP or its suppliers.”

Read more!

Over 40,000 get haze subsidies for treatment

Salma Khalik, Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Oct 15;

More than 40,000 people have received haze subsidies for treatment from polyclinics and private GPs for medical conditions excacerbated by the polluted air.

This is already more than double the total number who received such subsidies in 2013 when Singapore experienced its worst haze in recent years.

The subsidy from the Ministry of Health (MOH) is for the treatment of allergic rhinitis, asthma, bronchitis, conjunctivitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and upper respiratory tract infections.

Patients who qualify include children aged 18 years and younger, holders of the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) card and those on public assistance.

They pay $10 for consultation and medicine, with the Ministry of Health (MOH) paying the rest of the bill which would typically range from $20 to $80, depending on the condition and medicine needed.

Singaporeans who earned $1,800 or less a month over the past six months are also entitled to the subsidy by making a self-declaration of their income on an official form which participating clinics have.

In 2013, the previous time Singapore experienced severe haze, more than 17,000 people received the subsidy, costing the MOH about $500,000.

This time, a new group of 450,000 pioneers are entitled to an even higher subsidy, as they need to pay only $5 for treatment and medicine.

A spokesman for MOH said 6,300 have received such subsidies from polyclinics, which have seen a 3.5 per cent increase in patients compared to the pre-haze period. But it was not able to say which conditions were the most common.

GPs have up to a month to submit their claims, so figures from them are not yet available.

But if polyclinics again treat about 15 per cent of patients who are given the subsidies, as they did during the bad haze days in 2013, then about 42,000 people would have benefited from the scheme so far.

Dr Kelvin Goh, medical director of Northeast Medical Group which runs nine clinics in various parts of the country, said many turned up with upper respiratory tract infections, such as asthma or bronchitis.

He added that he sees other haze-related conditions, such as headaches and conjunctival irritation, but these conditions are not covered by the subsidy.

Dr Pauline Neow, whose clinic in Mei Ling Street is getting up to 20 per cent more patients with the current bad haze, said: "Even if they are simple upper respiratory tract infections, their symptoms are often made worse by the haze."

Between five and eight patients a day require the haze subsidy, she said, as most have company health cover.

Singapore was relatively haze- free in the early part of this week, but yesterday was an unhealthy day, with the 24-hour PSI topping 100.

Haze conditions today are expected to remain in the unhealthy range.

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The last Ubinites — a short hop, and a world away

TOH EE MING Today Online 17 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — A short bumboat ride away from Changi Point, Pulau Ubin feels like a world away from the bustling metropolis that Singapore has become.

There are no sleek cars, shopping centres or high-rise buildings. Mobile phones are hardly in sight, and residents spend more time talking to one another than staring at computer screens. Bicycles ply gravelled roads while houses are cobbled together with wood, and their occupants rely on wells for water and diesel generators for electricity.

It’s good here, as compared to living in Housing and Development Board flats, where you’ve got nothing much to do, and nowhere to walk around.

With only 38 people still living on the 10.2 sq km island, the Ubin of today is a far cry from the ‘50s and ‘70s when it had a flourishing population of almost 2,000 people.

The area around the jetty is the main hive of activity, especially on weekends when 2,000 to 3,000 visitors throng the island. Ubin residents call it their “Orchard Road”.

For decades, residents had to live under a cloud, unsure of the fate of the island. To their relief, the authorities have since decided to keep Ubin untouched for as long as possible.

Ubin was recently in the spotlight again, as the subject of a study which found that the remaining residents have developed wide social networks with visitors.

To get a glimpse into the lives of the last Ubinites, TODAY speaks to some long-time residents — a temple guardian, a crab catcher, the “Ah Ma” of the island, the village chief, and a town crier who shares news and happenings on the mainland with the other residents.


For decades, Mdm Ong Siew Fong’s life has been mostly spent in an area about half the size of a football field, attending to the needs of her husband and daughter who are both wheelchair users.

The 72-year-old caretaker of Wei Tuo Temple, which is a few kilometres away from the jetty, hardly ventures beyond the temple’s perimeters, which contains several shrines and a tortoise pond.

Mdm Ong was born in Johor and moved to Ubin after she married her husband, Mr Wong Kee Chong, who worked at the island’s quarries. 
Mr Wong’s family founded the temple. The couple has six children, five of whom have relocated to the mainland. Her daughter, Ms Wong Seow Kian, 47, moves around on a motorised wheelchair, after a spinal injury affected her ability to walk properly. About a decade ago, Mr Wong got a stroke that left him paralysed and unable to speak.

In 2013, the family hired an Indonesian domestic helper. Ms Suny, 48, who hails from Central Java, takes charge of feeding, washing and bathing 
Mr Wong. She has grown so attached to the family that she rushes back on her days off to take care of Mr Wong, whom she refers to as Ah Kong.

With Ms Suny’s help, Mdm Ong brings her husband and daughter to the mainland to see the doctor. But, they can only travel when the tide is high enough for them to be able to wheel 
Mr Wong onto the bumboat. At times, they would have to pay for the use of the boat just for themselves.

Mdm Ong says: “It’s getting harder for them. In Singapore, they can just take a taxi to see the doctor, have access to everything, as compared to now where we have to cross the sea.”

Last year, Mdm Ong tried to apply for a HDB flat, but she was unsuccessful as their monthly family income of S$1,300 was too low. The family had to forfeit the deposit of S$1,000. Ms Wong says: “It’s all our hard-earned savings, gone down the drain.”

East Coast Group Representation Constituency Member of Parliament Maliki Osman is looking to help the family by getting their deposit back, as well as engaging community and government agencies to assist them.

Except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Mdm Ong’s second son — Mr Wong Ming Hua, 50, who is the temple’s religious leader — and his wife make their way from their flat in Tampines to the temple, bringing with them groceries and other daily necessities.

In their hut, the fridge is piled with frozen foodstuff dating months back, which they refuse to throw away.

On a typical day, Mdm Ong wakes up at dawn and has a simple breakfast of bread and kopi, before doing the temple rounds — filling up tea for the deities, lighting up lamps, tending to the plants and tidying the complex. She also manually pumps water from the well. Once a month, she tops up 40 jerry cans of diesel to fill the six generators that power the temple.

In the afternoon, the 80-year-old temple draws regular devotees from the mainland, or curious visitors attracted by the colourful prayer flags flapping in the breeze. At night, the family retreats into their living quarters at the side of the temple, where they have dinner and watch television.

Just before she goes to sleep, Mdm Ong dons rubber boots, arms herself with a wooden stick and flashlight. She then heads out into the dark to switch on a different generator for the night. She wields the stick as she walks, trying to scare off wild boars, or flick away centipedes or snakes.


Every morning, Mr Quek Kim Kiang, or Ah Kiang as he is affectionately known, dons a pair of rubber fishing boots, grabs some steel hooks, hops onto his bike and heads towards the island’s dense mangrove forest.

“If I want to, it’s very easy to lose you in here,” Mr Quek deadpans in Mandarin, as he leads this reporter down a narrow pathway leading into the mangrove forest.

Expertly, he navigates through conical-shaped mounds made by mud lobsters, past spindly roots that threaten to trip unwary visitors, and hacks through leafy branches with a well-worn blade.

Using a hooking method, Mr Quek patiently pries a crab out of a hole where its hiding — all this while planting his feet deep in the mud. He does this over the next four to five hours, as he goes to various spots on the island in search of the crustaceans. It is all in a day’s work for Mr Quek, who sells crabs for S$25 a kilogram. After the day’s catch, the 63-year-old bachelor — who has lived on the island for the past two decades — heads to one of his two homes: A hut located along the main jetty, and another one built on a fishing platform.

On some afternoons, he whiles away time, tossing back a beer or two with friends. On Saturdays, his friends arrive from the mainland to visit him, and they do gardening and exercise together. Possessing a wide knowledge on crabs, Mr Quek willingly dishes out — to anyone who would listen — various tidbits on why these creatures thrive in mangrove forests, how to locate them, and even their breeding patterns.

In fact, he has taken a young “disciple” under his wing - a nine-year-old-boy who was so impressed by his skill in hooking crabs that he asked for his father’s permission to learn from Mr Quek. He has since brought the boy along with him several times, but avoids places where poisonous snakes lurk. Says Mr Quek, with a grin: “He’s still a bit too young, he’s not strong enough yet to go running around in the forests with me … I think give it a few more years.”

For now, Mr Quek nurses hopes of one day leading his own mangrove guided tours. He has even thought of wet weather plans: When it rains, he will invite groups over to his backyard and regale them with tales of the island’s history. “Not many know about mangrove forests … Some visitors may see it as dirty, or feel there’s nothing special about it … But inside, there are many hidden treasures, and every time I go in, I find new things to discover.”


For many visitors to the island, Mdm Wang Xiao San — who is known as Mdm Lai Huat So to the islanders — has become a recognisable face.

Her Ah Ma Drink Stall, housed in a distinctive blue wooden structure, is one of the first stops along the trail at Jalan Jelutong.

Despite her age, the 76-year-old — who lives alone with her three dogs — cuts a sprightly figure. For the past 22 years, she has been running the drink stall every weekend, earning about S$400 to S$500 a month. In her spare time, she chops firewood, and tends to about 100 durian, rambutan and jackfruit trees in her backyard. She also holds the unofficial title of being the only woman motorcyclist on Ubin, zipping around the island on her old red motorcycle. Mdm Wang credits her good health to Ubin’s fresh air and kampung lifestyle. “It’s good here, as compared to living in Housing and Development Board flats, where you’ve got nothing much to do, and nowhere to walk around,” she says in Mandarin.

Born on Ubin, she used to farm vegetables, as well as rear poultry and prawns. Recalling how it was more lively on the island back then, she lamented that her old neighbours had moved out to the mainland after the quarries were shut down.

Mdm Wang takes the bumboat to Singapore every Monday to visit her son at his Bedok flat. She returns to the island on Wednesday. On weekends, her daughter, Mdm Ivy Choo, 52, stays over at her place and runs a mobile drinks stall near the island’s 45-hectare Ketam Mountain Bike Park.

Mdm Wang tells TODAY that her children have been nagging her to move to the mainland. But all this while, she has said no. Her children have to resort to calling her every day on her phone at home to check in on her. But her phone often gets broken, Mdm Wang said.

When that happens, her children will contact her neighbour, Mr Ong Kim Cheng, who drops by frequently at her place and helps her fix things around the house.

Mdm Wang stresses that she has no wish to leave her birthplace. “I’m used to life here, I can just look after the durian trees, or rambutan trees … If I’m able to, I want to stay here as long as I can.”


After being retrenched from her job at a travel agency during the economic recession in 1997, Madam Doreen Lim moved from her flat in MacPherson to a friend’s house on Pulau Ubin.

She has not looked back on city life and its cushy comforts since, except in one aspect.

Mdm Lim, who is in her 50s, is one of the few on the island who owns a smartphone, and uses a Toshiba laptop to get her daily fix of Facebook, games and news, in between tending to her duties as custodian of the Tua Pek Kong Temple. She uses a top-up card for data, and has a broadband stick to connect to the Internet.

“I always try to keep myself updated. Just because I’m here on Ubin, doesn’t mean I should let myself fall behind ... You have to move with the times!” Unsurprisingly, her office at the temple has become an “information kiosk” of sorts, says Mdm Lim.

During the recent General Election, islanders flocked to her to suss out candidates rolled out by the various political parties, or check which constituency they belong to, she recalls.

The ongoing haze episode also sees neighbours prodding her periodically for the latest Pollutant Standards Index levels.

Mimicking the gesture of using a loudhailer, she says: “I’ll report to everyone every few hours ... if the PSI level crosses over 200, I’ll tell everyone to wear masks!”

Apart from her “town crier” role, Mdm Lim also doubles up as a translator for the islanders, since she is one of the few who speak English. She helps Ubin residents with reading letters or filling up forms.

“Every time a resident throws a letter and their IC to me, I already know lah ... they need my help again,” she says, adding that the elderly residents sometimes try to slip her a red packet to show their appreciation.

Mdm Lim spent a lot of time on the island before moving there. She previously ran Pulau Ubin Explorer Services, which organises guided nature walks and team-building activities on the island. Although she still returns to her MacPherson flat occasionally, Mdm Lim has embraced the kampung way of life, saying the peace and quiet is a haven. “Ubin is a beautiful island ... There’s lots of wildlife here, like the white-bellied sea eagle ... You can wake up to the sounds of birds singing, and there’s a nice sea breeze,” she says.

“If you stay in a HDB flat, upstairs flush, downstairs also can hear ... It’s even worse for those living by the road, you always hear cars passing by every night — it’s too noisy.


For decades, whenever islanders needed advice or help in mediating disputes, they would flock to the two-storey house at No. 427 — the respected village headman Lim Chye Joo’s home. Since the 101-year-old passed away in 2006 after a battle with cancer, the role of village chief was informally thrust into the hands of Mr Chu Yok Choon, 70. But these days, no one asks for help anymore, with most people choosing to settle their problems themselves. They only come to him with feedback on issues they face about living on the island, says Mr Chu.

A long-time grassroots volunteer, Mr Chu attends Residents’ Committee meetings at the Changi branch every month, where he relays Pulau Ubin residents’ feedback. One request residents have, for example, is to have the government run ferries that depart on the hour so that it is more convenient for islanders to travel to and from the mainland. “It might provide a good solution, as people know when to show up. They can estimate time accurately, so they don’t waste time,” says Mr Chu.

Currently, the boats run by individuals set off only when there are 12 passengers.

Unless one forks out S$36 to charter the whole boat, it could be a long wait in the early mornings or late in the day. Another suggestion residents have is for a sheltered boardwalk to be built along the main jetty.

Mr Chu, who was won several Long Service Awards for serving his community, also runs one of the oldest bicycle shops on Pulau Ubin at No 45C, which he set up at 17.

Previously a bicycle repair shop for residents, it is now a popular bike rental store with prices ranging from S$5 to S$20 an hour.

Mr Chu would not say how much he earns, but he supplements his income by ferrying construction workers daily, delivering supplies and fetching tourists around the island.

Ubin residents leave deep impression on researchers
TOH EE MING Today Online 16 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — For the past six months, documentary filmmaker Clarice Lee has been chronicling the lives of the Pulau Ubin residents and she is left in awe with the rich knowledge that they possess.

For example, there is this resident who leaves leftover food outside her house for wild boars. Not only can she distinguish between the different birds through the sounds they make, she also has extensive knowledge of the medicinal value of plants. “They have a very humanistic touch to understanding the world. The world is very real to them, it’s not just words on a page,” she observes, adding that this kind of knowledge is different from that attained by someone trawling the Internet - or “Googling”, as she puts it.

This is in stark contrast with life on the mainland where people seem to have lost a sense of wonder and curiosity, and instead coop themselves up indoors, she notes. “They spend so much time staring at their phones, till they forget what it means to look out at the world... It’s a pity because there’s so much to learn by simply looking and observing,” she says.

Ms Lim is part of a cultural mapping project commissioned by the National Heritage Board (NHB). The project, which started in April, has found that the Ubin residents contentedly make a living off fishing and farming, selling their goods to each other and to visitors, and occasionally on the mainland. Special interest groups — from mountain bikers to nature enthusiasts — have also made efforts over the years to preserve the island’s charm.

The study is led by Dr Vivienne Wee, project director of strategic research consultancy Ethnographica. The researchers, who have talked to more than 40 former and current Ubin residents, expect to complete their field work by December or January.

Dr Wee notes that the interactions between the islanders and people from the mainland have “mushroomed organically”. This is something that she finds exciting, she says.

For instance, a company organises learning trips for children to the home of Ubin resident Ahmad Bin Kassim, 80. The children take part in cultural activities such as batik painting or to learn about traditional spices and herbs from Mr Ahmad. This year’s Siglap Day — a community event organised by the constituency — saw more than 1,000 mainlanders visiting the island, engaging in cultural activities.

Says Dr Wee: “So you see, there are all these different streams of activities most people don’t know about….It’s not orchestrated, not top-down, and I think this process should be allowed to develop organically.”

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Sustainability not high up in minds of Singaporean consumers

Today Online 16 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE – Among consumers in Southeast Asia, Singaporeans were the least conscious about sustainability when making purchases, with only 55 per cent saying they will pay more for sustainable products, a recent survey showed.

Instead, consumers here were more concerned about their trust in a brand, followed by the health and wellness benefits in a product, according to a Nielsen poll, which surveyed 30,000 consumers across 60 countries from February to March this year. The survey asked them how much factors such as the environment, packaging, price, marketing, and organic or health and wellness claims affect their decision to buy a product.

In the survey, the Vietnamese showed the greatest commitment to social responsibility, with 86 per cent of respondents stating that they were willing to pay extra for a product or service with a positive social and environment impact. Then came the Filipinos with 83 per cent. The average for the region was 80 per cent.

Globally, consumers in North America were the least socially conscious, with only 44 per cent of respondents saying they would pay more for a sustainable product.

When it comes to sales, consumer goods from brands with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability grew more than four per cent globally over the year. Brands that went without a sustainable outlook grew less than 1 per cent, according to Nielsen’s retail sales analysis which concluded in December last year. WONG PEI TING

S'pore not as keen on buying green as neighbours
Jessica Lim, The Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Oct 15;

Singapore lags behind its South-east Asian neighbours when it comes to "buying green", although it is showing signs of improvement, a new survey suggests.

Asked if they would pay extra for environmentally sustainable products and services, 55 per cent of Singaporeans answered yes - compared to 86 per cent of consumers in Vietnam, 83 per cent in the Philippines, 79 per cent in Thailand, 78 per cent in Indonesia and 69 per cent in Malaysia.

The Republic's figure was also lower than the overall global score of 66 per cent.

Research firm Nielsen polled 30,000 consumers in 60 countries from Feb 23 to March 13.

However, the study found slight improvement here. Last year, only 49 per cent of Singaporeans were willing to pay more for greener products. The survey polled 504 consumers here and asked what influenced their purchasing decisions.

It found that 52 per cent indicated brand trust as the most important consideration, with 47 per cent indicating health and wellness as the second key factor. Only a quarter of Singaporeans surveyed thought that the environment and the community were important factors.

Singapore Polytechnic senior retail lecturer Sarah Lim was not surprised by the results.

"Singaporeans are aware of environmental issues but don't feel the impact," she said. "We don't see deforestation happen, massive floods don't rock our economy. Singaporeans are generally also less exposed to nature compared to people in countries with mountains, rolling hills and nature parks.

"So we find it more difficult to relate to environmental issues. Instead, consumers here are more pragmatic and price-driven."

However, she added that the survey was conducted before the haze hit Singapore this year and before the Government started investigating Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). "Hopefully, there is more awareness now."

Earlier this month, major retailers were asked by the Singapore Environment Council to declare that they do not sell products from APP, which is being investigated for its possible links to the haze-causing forest and peatland fires in Indonesia.

Retailers including FairPrice, Sheng Siong and Prime Supermarket have taken APP products off their shelves.

The saga seemed to have galvanised a movement among consumers here. A Straits Times street poll on Thursday found that many would not buy from companies linked to the haze.

Fitness trainer Georgina Chua, 31, now thinks twice when buying a product and has started recycling more. "The price still matters, but now, if I see a green or eco label, I will choose that item if I can afford it," she said. "The haze has made me more aware."

Read more!

SMU celebrates World Food Day with food recycling project

STACEY LIM Today Online 16 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — To get its students to think twice before wasting food, the Singapore Management University (SMU) launched a pilot project to recycle food waste on campus today (Oct 16).

Unwanted food from its food courts will be collected and taken to a machine at SMU’s bin centre to be converted into bio-fertilisers, which will then be used for its urban farming initiative.

The Bio-Regen Unit, supplied by food waste bio-technology firm VRM Biologik, is able to handle 300kg of food waste a day and requires only half the amount of electricity needed by a household toaster.

Ms Bernadette Toh, director of SMU’s Office of Global Learning said: “The most important thing for us now is to bring about the awareness and consciousness about wanting to be mindful about the food, and wanting to at least put that waste to better use, instead of sending it to an incinerator.”

SMU, whose efforts were in commemoration of World Food Day, did not have an estimate of how much food is wasted on campus daily.

VRM Biologik’s chief executive John Ang, 27, said his firm is testing a larger version of the food conversion machine at Tiong Bahru Market, which generates over a tonne of food waste daily.

The bio-fertilisers generated by the machine at SMU will benefit the plants grown in the university’s urban farm launched in January.

SMU’s International Connections student group, which advocates diversity and the appreciation of different cultures, also planted 12 seedlings, representing different countries including South Korea and Israel, on campus today.

Fourth-year Information Systems student Michelle Teo, 23, chose the tapioca plant to represent Singapore. It is used in local dishes, and nourished Singaporeans in World War Two, she said.

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Bird smuggler jailed for animal cruelty

A Singaporean man has been sentenced to 9 weeks' jail for smuggling live birds into Singapore, as well as 3 weeks' jail for animal cruelty. Both sentences will run concurrently.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: For the act of illegally smuggling nine live birds into the country, a Singaporean man has been sentenced to nine weeks' jail, announced the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) on Saturday (Oct 17).

Leong Kay Cheong, 43, was also sentenced to three weeks' jail for the charge of animal cruelty, as the birds were subjected to unnecessary suffering or pain, said AVA. Both sentences will run concurrently.

The Singaporean man was caught with the birds inside his luggage at Changi Airport on Apr 10, 2015, said the AVA. Leong had arrived on a flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and a routine check by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) uncovered the birds.

The ICA then notified AVA, and examinations revealed a total of nine birds, of which six were identified as Melodious Laughing Thrush birds (Garrulax canorus) and the other three as White-Rumped Shama birds (Copsychus malabaricus).

The Melodious Laughing Thrush bird is a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

AVA found that the birds were individually concealed in customised PVC tubes with perforated holes on both ends, and each tube was wrapped with aluminium foil, with an additional layer of concealment using black trash bags.

There was no food and water provided for the birds, and seven of them were found dead on arrival and the two remaining birds died a few days later, said AVA.


Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act (ESA), CITES permits are required for any import, export and re-export of CITES species, including their parts and products, said AVA. It is also an offence under the ESA if the CITES species or their parts and products are not accompanied by proper CITES permits when they are in transit or being transhipped through Singapore.

Penalties for infringing the Act include fines of up to S$50,000 per scheduled species (not exceeding a maximum aggregate of S$500,000) and/or up to 2 years imprisonment, said AVA.

The authority added that under the Animals and Birds Act, any person who neglects to supply the animals with food and/or water or subject them to unnecessary suffering and distress, shall be guilty of animal cruelty and shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding S$10,000 and/or imprisonment for a term up to 12 months.

“To date, Singapore is one of the few countries in the region to remain free from Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or bird flu. For trade and public health purposes, it is important that the Republic maintains its bird flu-free status through strict import regulations and enforcement, and by working closely with partner enforcement agencies to deter illegal import across borders," said Mr Gerald Neo, Senior Executive Manager, Quarantine & Inspection Group (Wildlife Section), AVA.

"We will not hesitate to take stern enforcement actions against any person flouting our laws,” he added.

The AVA has asked that anyone with information on animal smuggling to contact it at 6805 2992 or via AVA’s online feedback form. All information shared with AVA would be kept strictly confidential, it said.

- CNA/av

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New palm oil council would drop "no deforestation" pledge - Indonesia


Oct 14 A new palm oil producer grouping being set up by Indonesia and Malaysia would replace "no deforestation" pledges made by major palm companies in favour of a joint set of standards proposed by the two countries, an Indonesian minister said late Tuesday.

Indonesia wants big palm oil companies to row back on the historic pledges made at a climate change summit last year, arguing that they are hurting smallholder producers who cannot afford to adopt sustainable forestry practices.

Indonesia is the world's biggest producer and exporter of palm oil producer, a key driver of economic growth, and legions of smallholders account for about 40 percent of its palm output.

"Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to harmonize and combine our two standards," Indonesia's chief natural resources minister Rizal Ramli told parliament.

"This is an example of how to fight for our sovereignty. We are the biggest palm oil producer. Why (should) the consumers from the developed countries set the standard for us as they want?"

Indonesia and Malaysia, which account for 85 percent of the world's palm output, have since late August been discussing the plan to set up an intergovernmental organisation called Council of Palm Oil Producer Countries.

The move comes after major palm oil firms, including Cargill , Golden Agri-Resources and Wilmar International, signed the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) following pressure to adopt better practices.

Indonesia, which is home to the world's third-largest tropical forests, has been criticised by green activists and other Southeast Asian nations on forestry policy and for failing to stop the region's annual "haze" problem from forest-burning.

Ramli said IPOP protected the interests of developed countries' vegetable oil markets, and the new council would set a standard that would also consider the welfare of smallholders.

Top palm buyers India and China would be lobbied to accept the new standard, he said.

IPOP officials could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, a national holiday in Indonesia, but have previously said they are working with smallholder suppliers to help them meet the pledges.

The new Council would also look to promote the image of palm oil, stabilise prices, improve cooperation between top producers, and coordinate on production, stocks, biodiesel mandates and re-planting schemes, industry groups have said.

Further details are expected to be announced from late October. Previous attempts to develop better palm relations between the two countries have had limited success.

"It really depends on the will power of both governments, and I suspect they will come together more when prices are low than when prices are high," said Ivy Ng, analyst at CIMB Investment Bank. (Additional reporting and writing by Michael Taylor; reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Editing by Richard Pullin)

Sustainability Pledge Proves an Obstacle for Government Hungry for More Palm Oil
Basten Gokkon Jakarta Globe 17 Oct 15;

Jakarta. The Indonesian government is taking a major step backward from efforts to develop a sustainable palm oil industry, critics contend, as it sidelines a “zero deforestation” pledge by the country’s five biggest producers of the commodity in favor of economic nationalism.

Indonesia and Malaysia, which together account for 85 percent of all the palm oil produced in the world, signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday to set up a new council to promote the image of palm oil, stabilize prices, improve cooperation between producers, and coordinate on production, stocks, biodiesel mandates and replanting schemes.

The new initiative, to be called the Council of Palm Oil Producer Countries, or CPOP, will essentially replace the industry-initiated Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP), which chief resources minister Rizal Ramli claims infringes on the government’s authority to set standards and may constitute a cartel dominated by foreign interests.

“This is an example of how to fight for our sovereignty,” he said as quoted by Reuters. “We are the biggest palm oil producer. Why [should] the consumers from the developed countries set the standard for us as they want?”

The IPOP was signed in New York during a climate change summit in September 2014 by executives from Indonesia’s top four palm oil producers – Asian Agri, Cargill Indonesia, Golden Agri-Resources and Wilmar International – who initiated a voluntary commitment for sustainable practices in an industry that generates nearly $20 billion a year for the country.

The signing of the pledge was witnessed by then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his chief economics minister, Chairul Tandjung, and came in response to mounting calls for sustainability in the palm oil industry by environmental groups. The entry of Musim Mas into the private-led initiative in March this year meant the five biggest palm oil companies in Indonesia were now committed to sustainable practices.

“The pledge outlines the collective commitments from member companies to maintain economic, social and environmental sustainability throughout the supply chain based on existing individual commitments,” Nurdiana Darus, the executive director of the IPOP, told the Jakarta Globe in an e-mail.

“The pledge does not create new obligations, instead it focuses on creating multi-stakeholder collaboration to transform the palm oil sector of Indonesia and increase its competitiveness.”

More plantations

Among others, the pledge commits the companies to a ban on clearing primary, secondary and peat forests – all regarded as important carbon dioxide sinks – but the government, looking to double crude palm oil output to 40 million metric tons a year by 2020, wants secondary forests taken off that list.

That has put the industry squarely at odds with policy makers.

Environment and Forestry Ministry Siti Nurbaya Bakar says the government “is reviewing clauses in the IPOP that are too restrictive on Indonesian smallholder palm oil producers” who cannot afford to comply with the pledge’s sustainable forestry commitments.

Smallholders account for some 42 percent of Indonesia’s palm oil output.

“[The IPOP management] is proposing their own regulations that don’t fit ours […] They should match our laws, not ours them,” Siti said.

Mansuetus Darto, chairman of the Bogor-based Oil Palm Smallholders Union (SPKS), says the government is only using “the welfare of oil palm farmers” as justification to go against the IPOP, while failing to address the real problems faced by smallholders.

“The government hasn’t actually done its part to empower the farmers. Some regulations are not in the farmers’ favor,” he said, citing the example of a 2006 Agriculture Ministry regulation that prohibits palm oil farmers from obtaining bank loans for their business.

The government has also ceased to train oil palm farmers in methods to boost yields, and to distribute good-quality seeds to the farmers – in direct violation of the 2013 Law on Farmer Protection and Empowerment, according to Darto.

He also noted that the government was conspicuously absent on the issue of tackling the unfair prices imposed by middlemen on independent farmers.

“The real focus should be on how to increase productivity instead of expanding the plantations,” Darto said.

The government could achieve its 40 million ton target by 2020 simply through better landscape and industrial management of existing plantations, according to the World Bank.

Eliminating obstacles

Irwan Gunawan, the director for market transformation at WWF Indonesia, agrees that the current government’s stance toward the palm oil industry is to get rid of anything seen as an obstacle to greater output.

“The government has become overbearing of the palm oil industry because the mining sector hasn’t been contributing as much as it used to toward the country’s GDP,” Irwan told the Globe.

He noted that proposals for new plantations continued to flow into the Agriculture Ministry, especially for Papua and West Papua provinces, which hold some of the country’s largest remaining tracts of virgin forest.

And where the government is absent, the industry appears to be filling in.

The IPOP’s Nurdiana says all five of the group’s members provide their more than 400,000 smallholder partners with capacity enhancement on sustainable agriculture practices, skills, infrastructure and technology, including better fertilizer, seeds, intensification technology and a policy banning slash-and-burn land clearing.

Nurdiana says the IPOP’s programs, currently being drafted by the members, will also focus on fundamental issues for smallholders, such as mapping, land tenure, legal licenses and mandatory sustainable palm oil standards certification, known as ISPO.

“The implementation of these programs is slated to start in early 2016,” she said.

‘Sustainability is the future’

The WWF’s Irwan says the government, if anything, should be supportive of the IPOP’s efforts to adopt more sustainable practices in the palm oil industry.

“Sustainability is the future. The government shouldn’t only be seeing the IPOP as violating its laws. The former administration fully supported it, so why is this one doing the opposite?” he asked.

“The current government should instead prepare enabling policies so that the IPOP can become the mainstream palm oil industry group in Indonesia.”

Darto of the smallholders’ union said he was concerned that the new joint council with Malaysia would end up benefiting the latter, given how extensively Malaysian palm oil companies operate inside Indonesia.

“Half of the plantations in West Kalimantan, for example, are controlled by Malaysians,” Darto said.

Wait and see

Minister Siti says the government will await further details on the CPOP, expected to be revealed toward the end of this month, before deciding on what to do with the IPOP.

Meanwhile, the IPOP management says it is looking forward to aligning its commitments with the government’s efforts to ensure sustainability and competitiveness of the palm oil sector.

“We welcome and will support opportunities to work side by side with the government, civil society and smallholders on concrete actions on the ground that will ultimately increase Indonesia’s palm oil competitiveness in the global market,” Nurdiana said.

She added the new proposed council would strengthen the ISPO certification and help it obtain global recognition, which would mean increased competitiveness for Indonesia palm oil and concrete benefits for producers, exporters and smallholders.

“The IPOP management and member companies are looking forward to coordinating with the government to get a deeper understanding of the coalition [with Malaysia] and the joint standards that are currently being drafted,” Nurdiana said.

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Why India and China are key to ending the haze

Adam Minter Straits Times 16 Oct 15;

The thick haze that has blanketed much of South-east Asia for the last month carries the ashy remains of Indonesian forests and peatlands - burnt in many cases to clear land for producing palm oil, the world's most popular edible oil. It is an annual occurrence dating back decades, and this year it is particularly bad. According to one report, the fires this year have emitted enough greenhouse gases to rival Germany's annual output of carbon dioxide. And they are growing worse.

Many proposals to fix the problem target the palm oil supply chain - from farmers and refiners, to the bankers and politicians who fund and license companies. But to be successful, such efforts have to address demand as well. Unless consumers insist on buying palm oil that has been sourced sustainably - and are willing to pay for it - companies and middlemen will continue to look for the cheapest possible ways to clear land, which means burning.

For several years now, campaigns promoting sustainable palm oil- oil produced with as little impact as possible on the surrounding environment - have been gaining momentum in Europe. The Netherlands has committed to using only sustainable palm oil by the end of this year. Indeed, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) - an industry group founded in 2004 - says that all of the palm oil used in the European Union will be certified sustainable by 2020. Public education, advocacy and consumer pressure have all had an impact.

The problem is that the EU represents only around 11 per cent of the market for palm oil. The world's biggest consumer is India, which accounts for 15.6 per cent of palm oil consumption globally, and 21 per cent of all imports. China is the world's third-largest importer, after the EU, and fourth-largest consumer. Together, India, China, Pakistan, Egypt, Bangladesh and Myanmar account for nearly half of global palm oil imports.

The problem is that the EU represents only around 11 per cent of the market for palm oil. The world's biggest consumer is India... China is the world's third-largest importer, after the EU, and fourth-largest consumer.
The RSPO's efforts have barely made a dent in these emerging markets, admits Mr Stefano Savi, the group's global outreach and engagement director in Kuala Lumpur. Fewer than 100 of the RSPO's more than 2,000 members are based in India and China. Mr Savi says he expects around 30 per cent of India's palm oil to be certified by 2020, and only 10 per cent of China's.

Price remains a key hurdle. Across Asia, palm oil's main selling point is its reputation as the "poor man's oil". In August, crude palm oil imported into India was more than 37 per cent cheaper than imported sunflower oil, and 19 per cent cheaper than imported soya bean oil. Properly sourced, sustainable palm oil can cost as much as 17 per cent more than regular oil. For many Indians, whose per capita income was US$1,595 (S$2,210) last year (compared with US$51,590 in the Netherlands), that's a stiff premium.

However, there's no reason for activists to lose hope. Asia's burgeoning, brand-conscious middle class has shown that it cares about the environment. In China, for instance, consumption of shark's fin is declining, largely because of a years-long public education campaign fronted by basketball star Yao Ming (The process has been helped along by President Xi Jinping's crackdown on official banquets and other extravagances). International companies that have committed to using sustainable oil - such as McDonald's, Post and Mondelez - could use those policies to burnish their brands in emerging markets.

Ultimately, though, the only way to change behaviour in India and China will be to reduce costs. Currently, only half of the roughly 5.3 million tonnes of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil is sold at a premium, though the proportion is increasing steadily, according to the RSPO's Mr Savi. The rest is sold as conventional palm oil to manufacturers and retailers who - for now - don't see any commercial advantage in sustainability.

Whatever losses producers accrue are partially covered by a trading scheme whereby they can sell certificates - akin to carbon trading credits - to companies that want to support sustainable production. However, current market prices for those certificates are well under $1 per tonne, underlining weak demand.

Europe may be able to lend a hand. In search of carbon savings, the EU is keen to expand the use of sustainable biofuels. The dregs of palm oil refining could be one source. According to an industry report last year, India already has the capacity to produce 435,000 tonnes of palm oil-based biodiesel a year.

Industry, governments and non-governmental organisations could cooperate to channel sustainably produced palm oil into that supply chain. Doing so would open new markets to Indonesian farmers, while giving them a profitable reason not to burn land to make a living. These are all long-term solutions, of course. But they're critical if the skies over South-east Asia are to be cleared for good.

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The rainforests hold the key to taming El Niño's destruction

Healthy forests protect our climate and moderate our weather. As the ‘Godzilla’ El Niño builds in the weeks ahead of Paris talks, it is a timely warning that deforestation is partly to blame for its impacts
Deborah Lawrence The Guardian 17 Oct 15;

Indonesia is smouldering and Godzilla is to blame. But even though this is reality, not a monster movie, there is still a hero: the tropical rainforest.

This year’s El Niño, the ocean-traveling climate cycle notorious for throwing the weather off kilter, is nicknamed “Godzilla”. While it is projected to deliver plenty of rain to some parts of the world, including drought-parched California, it is already causing dangerously dry conditions in the tropics. Papua New Guinea, for example, is experiencing its worst drought in decades, which spells doom for coffee and food crops.

The last time El Niño was this intense, in 1997, five million hectares of rainforest went up in smoke in Indonesia at a time when rain usually falls in sheets. The forest fires generated gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 13-40% of the world’s fossil fuel emissions at the time. The resulting haze, which spanned an area from northern Australia to the Philippines to Sri Lanka, caused widespread health problems and grounded airplanes.

With six of Indonesia’s provinces on high alert and fires raging, this year could be just as bad. Already, over 25 million Indonesians have suffered from the fires.

Standing, healthy forests, the Earth’s “sweat glands”, pump moisture into the atmosphere, providing the globe with its greatest defense against droughts, forest fires and other weather-related disasters. Without this buffer, we’re more exposed and vulnerable to the whims of extreme weather.

To maintain an effective buffer, it is imperative that global efforts to protect forests are accelerated. Tropical forests are important climate bulwarks, and the impact of cutting them down packs a wallop beyond the release of the vast stores of carbon they hold. Tearing down forests also changes the earth’s surface, triggering major shifts in rainfall and increases in temperature worldwide that can be just as disruptive to the climate and weather as those caused by carbon pollution.

One of the most ambitious forest commitments to date, last year’s New York Declaration on Forests, recognizes the “double whammy” impact of deforestation on the climate and weather. This agreement among corporations, governments, NGOs and indigenous groups to end deforestation by 2030 includes a call to restore and regrow forests in addition to protecting already-standing forests.

Planting forests eventually stores carbon. But it takes an agonizingly slow 50-100 years or more for new forests to absorb the amount of carbon released when a tropical forest is cleared and burned. It is far more effective to prevent the forests from falling in the first place. But planted forests can provide a different, underappreciated benefit to the world’s climate and weather – and they do so more quickly than they recover carbon or the plant and animal life they once held.

Within a decade, most planted forests in tropical regions develop a closed canopy, as branches from one tree touch those of the next. At this stage of growth, they transform substantial amounts of water in the soil – which they reach via roots far deeper than found in crops or grasses – into moisture in the air, which cools the atmosphere above and the area around them. This process also generates moist conditions and rainfall locally and in the surrounding region.

It also generates the mass movement of air and conditions in the upper atmosphere that ultimately influence rainfall and temperature, both close by and far away. When forests are standing, they give us our climate and they can help protect us against a changing climate.

But when forests are cut down, these systems are disrupted. Changes in circulation due to tropical deforestation ultimately hit the upper atmosphere, where they cause ripples, or teleconnections, that flow outward in various directions, similar to the way in which an underwater earthquake can create a tsunami. The atmosphere connects climate in one place to climate in the rest of the world.

Deforestation across the tropics, therefore, might alter growing conditions in agricultural areas in south-east Asia, South America and Africa, and as far away as the US Midwest, Europe and China. This means that cutting down forests could imperil the world’s breadbaskets, even those thousands of miles away from the tropical forest belt – with dire implications for the ever-increasing demands on the world’s food supply.

As the Godzilla El Niño bears down and the climate talks in Paris heat up, remember that deforestation is partly to blame for its impacts. Deforestation worsens droughts, making El Niño more damaging than it would otherwise be. Healthy forests protect our climate and moderate our weather.

The international community assembling in Paris in December cannot keep global warming below 2C without both protecting the world’s remaining tropical forests and restoring vast areas of tropical forest that have already been lost. If we do not ensure the future of our forests, this year’s Godzilla El Niño may prove to be a puny harbinger of the monsters to come.

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Malaysia: Sabah group calls for shark fishing law

The Star 17 Oct 15;

KOTA KINABALU: A shark conservation group here said a law banning shark fishing is just as important as a proposed sanctuary for them in waters off Sabah.

Sabah Shark Protection Assoc­ia­tion pro-tem chairman Aderick Chong said they were hoping to meet with Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek to explain the need for such a legislation.

But Ahmad Shabery said the Sabah government’s request for a ban on shark hunting and finning in Sabah was unnecessary.

He said sharks, unlike tuna, were accidentally caught by fishermen in Malaysian waters, which indicated that shark hunting and the finning industry did not exist in Malaysia.

Conservation organisation Traffic had reported that more than 231 tonnes of sharks were caught in Malaysia from 2002 to 2011, accounting for 2.9% of the total global shark catch reported during that period.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Mas­i­di Manjun said that the Sabah go­­vern­ment accepted and respected the Federal Government’s decision not to amend the Fisheries Act and ban shark hunting and finning.

He added that it would proceed with plans to set up shark protection areas at certain locations in the state.

The protection would mean that shark fishing would only be banned in certain areas and it would not be illegal to fish sharks in the state.

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