Best of our wild blogs: 18 Oct 15

Great day at Chek Jawa on a somewhat hazy day
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Night Walk At Venus Drive (16 Oct 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

BES Dronglets Take Flight!
BES Drongos

Pied Imperial-pigeon swallowing Alexandra Palm fruits
Bird Ecology Study Group

Larval Host Plant for Butterflies: Batoko Plum
Butterflies of Singapore

Birdwatching in Bidadari (October 11, 2015)
Rojak Librarian

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Efforts to tackle haze should involve all: Activists

Civil society groups say individuals and governments should also be involved in efforts to tackle transboundary haze, instead of just firms in the pulp and paper, and palm oil industries.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 18 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Efforts to tackle transboundary haze should involve governments and individuals, instead of just companies in the pulp and paper, and palm oil industries.

That was the message at the first public exhibition on haze put up by various civil society groups at Nex shopping mall on Saturday (Oct 17).

The exhibition was for the public to learn more about what causes the haze, how it impacts societies, as well as efforts to tackle the problem.

Representatives from think-tank, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, and groups like the Singapore Environment Council also shared their haze-fighting efforts. The People's Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze), for instance, is working on a haze-free shopping guide – a compilation of products made from sustainable palm oil, pulp and paper.

To start the ball rolling, the group is looking at the Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard released by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). It is an assessment of companies on their efforts to use sustainable palm oil. WWF also has plans to engage in talks with companies to get them to switch to using haze-free palm oil. PM.Haze will then include these brands in their list, according to its president Tan Yi Han.

The Haze Elimination Action Team (HEAT) also reported more interest not only from members of the public, but also companies in its movement to boycott and sue errant companies.

"I think for the boycott, we are seeing some results. I'm not saying that's all due to HEAT, but certainly it's effective to see that the products are being pulled off the shelves. This is getting us publicity not only in Singapore, but also on an international stage. So I think this has some impact certainly, and the companies are not saying Singapore is a small market. Instead, they are trying to respond to that,” said HEAT’s founder, Dr Ang Peng Hwa.

“As for suing, it is a new thing. I think it is certainly worthwhile pursuing because the intent is really to cause the company to be hurt financially, and we want to do that. We will see that, should the government be able to prosecute.”

Later this year, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs will bring together community mapping and geospatial information system experts to discuss ways to verify land ownership in the absence of official maps, as part of its Haze Tracker initiative.

- CNA/xq

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Asia Pulp & Paper says comprehensive solution involving all stakeholders needed to solve crisis

Last month, the National Environment Agency served Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) a notice, seeking information on its subsidiaries in Singapore and Indonesia, as well as measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires in their concessions. This month, FairPrice, Sheng Siong and Prime Supermarket pulled APP products off their shelves. On Thursday, a day after meeting the NEA, Senior APP Executives met journalists from Singapore Press Holdings To give their side of the story.

KENNETH LIM The New Paper 17 Oct 15;

Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and its parent company, Sinar Mas, are on a mission to tell anyone who will listen that they did not start the fires behind the regional haze, and that a comprehensive solution involving all stakeholders is needed to solve the crisis.

The largest pulp and paper company in the region, APP has found itself trying to put out fires for the past few months, both in a literal sense and in the sense of dealing with regulatory and public anger.

At least the metaphorical fires can be fought in the comfort of meeting rooms.

Sinar Mas agribusiness and food chairman and chief executive Franky Widjaja, APP managing director Linda Wijaya and APP sustainability and stakeholder engagement managing director Aida Greenbury met newspaper journalists from Singapore Press Holdings, including The Business Times, on Thursday.

The meeting, which was initiated by the companies, came a day after they met officials from Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA).

"We understand this frustration," Mr Widjaja said. "What we've been discussing with our Indonesian government is not just firefight, what we have today, but how can we really make sure in future there is no occurrence.

"But we also informed them that we need to be very clear in terms of really addressing the issue rather than politicising it."

Mr Widjaja reiterated APP's stance that the company and its suppliers did not start the fires in South Sumatra that have been identified as the chief source of the current haze.

More than 80 per cent of the fires started from outside of concessions held by APP or its suppliers and spread to their property via wind and transmission in peatland.

Fires that started within their concessions can be attributed to existing occupants who are not part of the company or its suppliers, and to illegal logging, Ms Greenbury said.

There is some basis for APP's assertions that some fires were started outside of its concessions. Until recently, Indonesian law allowed small farmers to burn up to two hectares of land, a rule that the Indonesian disaster management agency has said was a source of abuse.

Beyond having little control over the source of the fires, APP's ability to control the fires has also been stretched by El Nino weather patterns that have created unusually hot and dry weather conditions this year, Mr Widjaja said.

The company's immediate priority is to control the fires, he said. The hot and dry weather is spreading north towards Riau, which would make the haze even worse for Singapore, Malaysia and the local Indonesian islands if the fires cannot be controlled by then.

Plantation owners in the region and the government have come up with a plan to jointly fight the fires and there are plans to bring in larger equipment, such as heavier-payload helicopters, Mr Widjaja said.

Over the longer term, Mr Widjaja hopes that cooperatives such as those used by oil palm companies can be used for other agricultural crops, which would give small farmers an alternative to slash and burn.

Business owners are now working on plans to "bring these people to the cooperatives, to become real, good farmers".

Explaining the complexities of the fires to the public has taken on more urgency in the wake of actions taken by regulators and watchdogs.

NEA said that APP had provided more details sought by the agency about information related to APP's subsidiaries and its suppliers at their Wednesday meeting.

NEA has also sought further information, which APP has said it will provide.

The Singapore Environment Council's (SEC) withholding of the Green Label certification for APP products has led retailers in Singapore to pull APP products from their shelves.

Asked about the status of APP's Green Labels, a spokesman for the SEC said that the group is still "sorting out the declaration forms" submitted by APP. The spokesman said that there was no indicative timeline on when the SEC might make a decision on whether to restore the Green Label for APP's products.

- This article, from yesterday's Business Times, has been edited for length

Indonesia launches biggest fire operation ever

On Friday, Indonesia launched its biggest operation ever to combat fires blanketing Southeast Asia in haze, an official said, with dozens of planes and thousands of troops.

32 planes and helicopters - including six aircraft from Singapore, Malaysia and Australia - were dispatched to support the over 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 Indonesian portion of Borneo island.

Scientists have warned that this year's blazes are on track to be the worst ever as an El Nino weather system has created tinder-dry conditions in Indonesia.

This month, Jakarta accepted international help after weeks of failed attempts to douse the blazes infuriated its neighbours. - AFP

- See more at:

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Indonesian Association of Pulp and Paper: Competition suspected behind Singapore`s boycott of Indonesian tissue

Antara 16 Oct 15;

Palembang, S Sumatra (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian Association of Pulp and Paper (APKI) suspected that business competition was behind Singapores boycott of Indonesian products of tissue paper.

APKI said Indonesian products of tissue had been withdrawn from the market in Singapore by the supermarket chain of NTUC Fair Price on recommendation of the Singaporean government and local non governmental organizations, Singapore Environment Council (SEC).

Executive Director of APKI Liana Bratasida said the boycott was on alleged involvement of the tissue makers in forest fires spewing haze of smokes.

Forest and bush fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan have caused great inconvenience disrupting flight schedule, causing breathing difficulty and respiratory disease spread as the neighboring country.

Liana said the boycott was not fair as investigation is still in process and law enforcement against the perpetrators had been taken.

In addition, suspects in the forest fire cases are not only Indonesian but also foreign plantation companies.

"The action by the Singaporean government is discriminating against Indonesian tissue paper producers," Liana said here on Friday.

She said pulp and paper as well as tissue paper producers in Indonesia are known to be strict in their observance of regulation on environmental preservation.

The Indonesian authorities have said that farmers and oil palm plantation companies are the one most responsible for the forest and bush fires and the some of them are foreign companies.

Liana cited one big pulp and paper maker in Indonesia already adopted Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) with commitment not to use timber from natural forest.

Pulp and paper producers in the country are required to have industrial timber estate to feed their factories.

Therefore, the accusation against pulp and paper makers is wrongly addressed, she said.

In addition, Indonesian pulp and paper producers hold the timber legality certificate (SVLK), and the certificate for environmentally friendly products.

"We hope the Indonesian government seriously address this problem. The Singaporean government has shown lack of appreciation of legal process," she said.

She said the government should investigate possibility of business competition motivating the boycott.

"The purpose could be to weaken Indonesian industry and damage investment climate in the industry," she added.

Indonesia is major pulp and paper producers in the world and the industry has great potential to expand with the potential availability of basic material, she said.

Currently Indonesia ranks among nine largest producers of pulp and among six largest in paper production in the world.

The countrys exports of pulp and paper averaged US$5.6 billion a year in value per year.

"Indonesia has the potential to be the worlds largest producer of pulp and paper with the abundant availability of basic material," Liana said.(*)

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Crowdsourcing 'nodders' help spot illegal fires in Indonesia

Jewel Topsfield Sydney Morning Herald 17 Oct 15;

Jakarta: This time Jimmy Liew has a personal reason for being part of an invisible global army of geo-geeks dedicated to … well, saving the world.

During work hours Mr Liew is a freelance project manager. In his own time, he spends countless hours poring over satellite maps, searching for wrongdoers.

From his home in Singapore, Mr Liew has spotted illegal fishing weirs wreaking havoc on the native fish population in the Persian Gulf and identified damaged homes and roads after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal.

But it is his most recent campaign that is particularly close to his heart – documenting the location of illegal fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan that cause the choking haze in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia every year.

The haze is caused by fires, which are often lit to clear land for palm oil and acacia plantations.

Mr Liew is a "nodder", as they call themselves, a volunteer who searches satellite imagery on crowdsourcing website Tomnod and tags information that may be of use in disaster rescue efforts or to prosecute offenders.

In the most recent campaign Mr Liew has been involved in, Indonesia: Illegal burning, for example, nodders are asked to tag every fire and burn scar they see on the geospatial images.

His motivation to nod comes from a basic desire to do good, although he admits the illegal burning campaign in Indonesia is personal.

"I have two young boys and they get respiratory illnesses whenever haze occurs. So it does matter to me."

At last count, he's combed 3.86 kilometres of map areas and spotted 83 "suspected points". "Hopefully by spotting [the fires and burn scars] it might help whoever they are providing the data to, to do something about it."

Tomnod, which means "Big Eye" in Mongolian, began as a start-up funded by engineering alumni from the University of California, San Diego, and was originally designed to find the tomb of Genghis Khan in Mongolia. It is best known for its role in the search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370, when 8 million people looked for plane wreckage, rafts and oil slicks.

Last year, the company's parent, DigitalGlobe partnered with Global Forest Watch at the World Resources Institute in Washington, DC, and asked the public to help map fires across Indonesia.

Susan Minnemeyer, who manages World Resources Institute's partnership, said almost 20,000 people participated in the 2014 campaign, with 263,668 burn scars tagged between June and November.

"We didn't really know if it would be successful because cloudiness is such a problem but we caught some very powerful images," Ms Minnemeyer said.

"If you had an analyst trying to tag burn scars and fires themselves they could spend months working on it. If you have thousands [of nodders] you can get [the results] in a week or so."

The website uses a CrowdRank algorithm to determine the reliability of the contributions based on the number of people who tag the same site. The crowdsourced data is then made publicly available on the Global Forest Watch Fires map.

On September 17 this year, as choking haze closed schools, delayed flights and caused thousands of people to report to hospitals with respiratory illnesses across the region, a crowdsourcing campaign started once again.

As of Tuesday, 6468 nodders had participated and 5518 fires and 29,493 burn scars had been tagged. The campaign will remain active for the duration of the fire season, expected to last through November.

Ms Minnemeyer says the data collected from Tomnod will provide valuable evidence to document the location and extent of illegal fires, which are often lit to clear the land for palm oil or acacia plantations. "The campaign to identify land fires in Indonesia will share the word that illegal activity will no longer be tolerated," she said. "Our vision is that in future years, smoke and haze and the ill health that they bring will no longer be an annual occurrence."

Eka Sugiri, a spokesman for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in Indonesia, confirmed satellite imagery as well as on-the-ground teams were used to identify hotspots and assist with police investigations.

Asked if this included crowdsourced data from Tomnod, Mr Sugiri said: "I don't want to mention any companies. But we use satellite imagery from various agencies for several purposes."

Tomnod campaigns in Australia have included mapping rooftop solar panels to gauge the use of residential solar energy, identifying swimming pools to gain insight into the wealth of a community, and pinpointing buildings destroyed by the Sampson Flat bushfires in Adelaide early this year.

"Within 12 hours the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion received information that these were the buildings the crowd has identified as being destroyed," manager Gary Maguire told the ABC. Data was then matched with reports from ground crews to see if any areas had been missed or were inaccessible. "When you add it all up, you can't really employ people for those hours to do the same work," Mr Maguire said.

Mr Liew said the technology made it easy for anyone to "just click and tag".

"It does consume time and the way sometimes you don't get anything out of it can be frustrating. But the key thing is the ease in which people can get involved and seem to do some good, knowing that somehow, it might make a change."

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Out of control: Experts fear emissions from Indonesian fires could have ripple effect on atmosphere of the entire planet

El Niño is a critical factor in exacerbating Indonesian fires, because it tends to deprive the islands of needed rains and drive drought conditions.
The Washington Post South China Morning Post 16 Oct 15;

Experts say that along with dramatic global coral bleaching, thousands of fires across Indonesia represents the next sign of an intensifying global El Niño event. And the consequences, in this case, could affect the entire globe’s atmosphere.

That’s because a large number of Indonesia’s currently raging fires are consuming ancient stores of carbon-rich peat, which is found in wetlands featuring organic layers full of dead and partially decomposed plant life.

This year, the very smoky peat burning has been simply massive – the fires are estimated to have caused US$14 billion in damage so far, and are causing hazardous air conditions in much of the area, including nearby Singapore. Millions of people have been affected, and 120,000 have sought medical treatment for respiratory illnesses, according to Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters.

Indeed, the 2015 Indonesian fire season has so far featured a stunning 94,192 fires. That’s more Indonesian fires than at the same time in 2006, a banner year both for fires and also for their carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

Those emissions are more than large enough to have global consequences. Indeed, according to recent calculations by Guido van der Werf, a researcher at VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands who keeps a database that tracks the global emissions from wildfires, this year’s Indonesian fires had given off an estimated 995 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions as of October 14. That’s just shy of a billion metric tons, or a gigaton.

The number is an estimate, of course, and subject to “substantial uncertainties” – but it’s also based on a well-developed methodology for estimating wildfire emissions to the atmosphere based upon satellite images of the fires themselves and the vegetation they consume.

“Fire emissions are already higher than Germany’s total CO2 emissions, and the fire season is not over yet,” said van der Werf.

This is already a very notable year – and it could get considerably worse. Van der Werf says he thinks that for total Indonesian fire emissions, 2015 may ultimately nestle somewhere between 2006 and the truly catastrophic year of 1997.

During that year, according to scientists who studied its aftermath, fire emissions from Indonesia alone were “equivalent to 13-40 per cent of the mean annual global carbon emissions from fossil fuels”. And while the emissions from wildfires in many parts of the world are at least partially offset as trees and vegetation subsequently grow back and pull carbon back out of the air again, that’s not so much the case in Indonesia.

“In Indonesia, what’s burning is for the large part, peat layers that have been deposited over thousands of years. So this is really a net source of emissions just like fossil fuels are,” said van der Werf.

Thus, peat emissions are, in a sense, similar to Arctic permafrost emissions – built up over vast stretches of time, the carbon contained in thawing permafrost is also a new addition to the atmosphere if emitted.

What the severe Indonesian fire years of 1997, 2006, and 2015 all have in common is that they were El Niño years. El Niño is a critical factor in exacerbating Indonesian fires, because it tends to deprive the islands of needed rains and drive drought conditions.

Indeed, the Indonesian fires are “one of the first severe impacts of the strong El Niño that has been developing over the last year,” according to Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society. And that also means the trouble probably isn’t over yet. A current forecast suggests “a strong likelihood of drier-than-normal conditions over broad areas of northern South America, the Caribbean, Indonesia and the Philippines” through December.

But it’s really the combination of El Niño and certain agricultural practices – characterised as “slash and burn” by Nasa – that is at play here.

According to Susan Minnemeyer, who is the mapping and data manager for Global Forest Watch Fires, a project of the World Resources Institute, the blazes are the result of using fire itself to clear land for agriculture, as well as the draining of peat bogs and swamps – which makes them able to light up once they are dried out.

“The forests in Indonesia are generally not flammable, so these fires are virtually all caused by people, or land clearing,” said Minnemeyer.

She added that there is “little enforcement and little capacity to actually put them out once they’ve started.”

The total Indonesian fire emissions, said van der Werf, will show up in atmospheric measurements of carbon dioxide this year – and may even draw attention at the climate meetings that begin next month in Paris.

After all, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as of 2011 the world only had about 1,000 more gigatons of carbon dioxide to emit to the atmosphere if we want a two-third chance of keeping warming below two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

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Indonesia: Haze crisis expands, disrupts education, air travel

Rizal Harahap and Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post 17 Oct 15;

Despite the government’s pledge to make all-out efforts to end the prolonged haze crisis, smoke from land and forest fires has continued to spread across a number of the country’s major islands, disrupting education and air travel.

In Central Kalimantan, the Palangkaraya municipal administration decided on Friday morning to close down local schools after learning that thick haze had increased the concentration of particulate matter (PM10) in the city to 1889.06 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³).

“In line with the policy issued by the city’s education agency, we have asked our students to return home. Schools will be temporarily shut down until Oct. 17,” Hertiani, a teacher at Palangkaraya Catholic Junior High School, said as quoted by Antara news agency on Friday.

Authorities consider air quality “good” if its PM10 concentration stands below 50 µg/m³, “moderate” when the level stands between 50 and 150 µg/m³, “unhealthy” between 150 and 250 µg/m³, “very unhealthy” between 250 and 3500 µg/m³ and “hazardous” when it surpasses 350 µg/m³.

Data from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reveals the provincial capital of Palangkaraya is one of the worst-hit cities, along with Pekanbaru in Riau, Palembang in South Sumatra and Jambi.

Since last month, the Palangkaraya municipal administration has given local students at least 25 days off from school to minimize the health impacts of the haze.

“To help students catch up with the teaching curriculum, teachers have given them assignments,” Hertiani said.

Over the past few months, many provinces, including Riau, Jambi, North Sumatra, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan, have been struggling to cope with the impacts of smoke from both man-made and natural land and forest fires.

The ongoing disaster has been exacerbated by this year’s long dry season triggered by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

In Riau, haze thickened again on Friday after the intensity had gradually declined over the past several days. Visibility in the provincial capital of Pekanbaru, for example, dropped to 500 meters.

“In Rengat, indeed, the visibility was recorded at only 10 m as a result of the haze and fog,” BMKG Pekanbaru office spokesperson Slamet Riyadi said on Friday.

In Padang, the West Sumatra Disaster Risk Mitigation Forum (F-PRB) urged the central government to declare a national emergency status for haze, arguing that the move was needed to put an end to the crisis.

“The national emergency status will make it easier for related institutions to take action and to formulate budget policy. The country’s resources will be mobilized to deal with the haze,” said the forum’s coordinator, Khalid Saifullah.

The haze crisis has meanwhile spread to the eastern part of the country.

In Papua, local authorities closed down Mozes Kilangin Airport in Timika, Mimika regency, on Thursday as a result of thick haze that has reduced visibility in the area to only 500m.

“Haze has been visible in Timika since last week but it has been thickening over the past couple of days,” Mimika Transportation Agency head John Rettob said on Friday, adding that the haze might have spread from fires in the south of the island.

The airport authority, according to John, needs a minimum visibility of 1,500m to give an aircraft landing or take-off clearance.

BMKG’s Region V Jayapura office head Sem Padamma, meanwhile, said his office had detected 104 hot spots in southern Papua, with 92 spotted in Merauke regency and the remaining 12 in Mappi regency.

In South Sulawesi, fires have reportedly ravaged the Hasanuddin University (Unhas) educational forest in Cenrana district, Maros regency, since Thursday, for the second time this month.

Maros Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Suyuti said the fires had, as of Friday, burned down some 20 hectares of the forest.

Haze sickens half a million in six provinces in Kalimantan, Sumatra
Tama Salim, The Jakarta Post 17 Oct 15;

The number of people falling ill from deteriorating air quality has jumped to almost 500,000 as fires that have ravaged forest and peat lands in Sumatra and Kalimantan over the past two months continue to affect millions of people.

Health Minister Nila Djuwita Anfasa Moeloek said that as of Friday, the haze had caused 425,377 people from all six affected provinces to suffer from acute respiratory infections (ISPA).

“Our figures point to 425,377 cases of ISPA, although not all of them are being treated [in hospital] for infections,” Nila said after a discussion with leaders of the House of Representatives at the House compound in Central Jakarta, on Friday.

Earlier, respiratory illness as a result of the air pollution claimed the life of one infant while another 19 babies received intensive treatment in Sumatra hospitals.

Additionally, ministry data from last week said that out of a total of 307,358 ISPA cases, there were four fatalities in Riau Islands, one in Jambi and two in South Sumatra.

In response to the emergency, the ministry has prioritized the introduction of preventive methods to curtail the number of patients and those falling sick, such as the distribution of protective masks to prevent people from inhaling soot from the air.

Nila also urged local residents in regions with high levels of air pollution to stay indoors, or to wear masks or other protective gear while outdoors. “It all depends on the level of the ISPU [air pollution standard index]; if it exceeds 300 µg/m³ then it becomes quite bad because there are too many airborne particles. That’s why we urge the public to refrain from leaving [their homes],” Nila said.

Nila also recommended that infants and children, pregnant women and the elderly with a high risk of illness should completely avoid exposure to the air pollution.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported on Friday that a number of major cities in Sumatra and Kalimantan still had highly unhealthy levels of particulate matter (PM10) stemming from the smoke from unremitting fires.

Jambi, Palembang in South Sumatra and Pontianak in West Kalimantan, had the worst air quality in the country after PM10 levels of over 320 µg/m³ were measured in all three cities on Friday afternoon.

According to the government’s guidelines, air quality is considered “healthy” if its PM10 level is below 50 µg/m³, “moderate” when the level is between 50 and 150 µg/m³, “unhealthy” between 150 and 350 µg/m³, “very unhealthy” between 350 and 420 µg/m³ and “dangerous” when it surpasses 420 µg/m³.

Over the past few months, many regions in Indonesia, including Riau, Jambi, North Sumatra, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan, have been struggling to cope with the impact of smoke produced by both man-made and natural land and forest fires.

The ongoing disaster has been exacerbated by this year’s long dry season, triggered by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

The Health Ministry had already introduced various health-related mitigation efforts, such as the distribution of over 30 tons of supplies and disaster relief, comprising masks, rations, medicine and oxygen tanks, to the eight provinces most affected by the smog.

On Friday, in addition to Nila, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut B. Pandjaitan and Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar also briefed lawmakers on the government’s pollution-mitigation efforts.

Responding to the briefing, House speaker Setya Novanto applauded the government’s efforts thus far.

“I hope that there won’t be any more fatalities [from the smog] — all the work currently being done is for the benefit of the people,” Setya said on Friday.

Biggest haze operation yet launched
Hans Nicholas Jong and Tama Salim, The Jakarta Post 17 Oct 15;

The government launched on Friday its biggest multinational effort on forest fire mitigation yet, involving reinforcement from three neighboring countries, as haze continues to blanket much of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said that a total of 32 aircraft had been deployed to put out the fires, consisting of 21 helicopters and seven fixed-wing water bombing and four cloud-seeding airplanes, along with 22,146 personnel from the military, police and other government agencies.

“This is the biggest haze emergency operation that the Indonesian government has ever carried out,” BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Friday.

Of the 32 aircraft, six were from Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. Russia is expected to join the multinational effort by sending two aircraft capable of carrying 12 tons of water.

The Japanese government has also contributed to the mitigation effort.

On Friday, Japanese Ambassador Yasuaki Tanizaki met with Deputy Foreign Minister AM Fachir to discuss details of the joint effort.

“Japan has decided to send around 2 tons of special chemicals for the mitigation of the haze crisis in Indonesia,” Tanizaki said in a statement on Friday.

Japan vowed to ship 100 20-liter bottles of Miracle Foam a+, a flame-retardant chemical, to Palembang, South Sumatra, over the weekend. Tanizaki said that Japan would also send a specialist from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to help with fire-extinguishing efforts.

The multinational operation was launched as the fires continued to worsen in some parts of the country.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said that the number of hot spots had again risen on Friday.

“Today it’s worsening again. The number of hot spots reached 1,005 on Oct. 16 at 7 a.m.,” he said.

Haze was also reported in Papua on Friday. Officials had closed Mozes Kilangin airport in Timika for two days following haze coming from the south of Papua, officials said on Friday.

John Rettob, transportation and information office chief, said that visibility at the airport was 500 meters, while the minimum required by the Transportation Ministry is 1,500 m.

Sutopo said that it would not be an easy task to extinguish fires in such a massive number of hot spots.

“Especially on dry peatland, where fires often smolder underground,” he said.

He attributed the increasing number of hot spots to continued burning practices.

The annual forest fires have drawn ire from neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, which have been forced to shut down schools and airports.

The Indonesian government is taking several measures to ensure that haze does not return next year.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry is currently drafting a document that will serve as a guideline for all stakeholders to implement sustainable land and forestry management and cultivation.

“[The document will be ready] by the end of this month or early November, before the wet season starts,” the ministry’s secretary-general Bambang Hendroyono said on Friday.

The document will consist of guidelines for damage recovery after land and forest fires, managing burning forest areas, identifying damage, managing peatland and restoring ecosystems. To complement the guidelines, the government will focus on increasing the role of local people, described by Bambang as the key to sustainable forest governance.

“The designation of customary forests, village forests and community forests will be a solution when areas keep burning,” he said.

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Malaysia: Air quality getting worse in Malacca

The Star 18 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The air quality continues to deteriorate with two more areas in Malacca registering an Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of unhealthy as at 7pm yesterday.

The Department of Environment (DOE) portal reported that Melaka City recorded an API reading of 109 (unhealthy), Bukit Rambai in Malacca (104), Kuching (105) and Samarahan (112) in Sarawak.

Meanwhile, 33 areas recorded an API reading of moderate, including Larkin Lama, Johor (73); Port Klang (84) and Banting (88) in Selangor as well as Putrajaya (83). The API for Batu Muda and Cheras in Kuala Lumpur also rose from 66 at 9am to 73 and 74 respectively.

In 14 other areas, the API reading was good, including Alor Setar, Kedah (43); Kangar, Perlis (38); Kota Kinabalu, Sabah (27); Tanah Merah, Kelantan (21) and Labuan still at 19.

Meanwhile the “KL Heli Tour and Charter” programme, which was launched here for tourists to view the capital city from the air, was cancelled due to the haze.

The 10-minute flight, organised by Hop On Holidays and which was supposed to start at noon from Taman Tasik Titiwangsa to Batu Caves, was not given the green light by the Department of Civil Aviation at the last minute because of the haze.

The programme, which charges between RM588 to RM4,350, had encouraging support from 39 passengers comprising locals who had made their reservations since a month ago.

Hop-On Holidays managing director Roslan Mohd Rashid said those who had made their reservations could fly today if the weather improved.

“The programme which will be held every day from yesterday, offers four ‘KL City Tour’ packages depending on the duration of the ride, varying from 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes and one hour, and depending on the type of helicopter,” he said.

Roslan said the four types of helicopters used were Eurocopter 120B, Augusta 119MK1, Bell 429 VIP and Augusta 350B2.

Haze: Seven areas with unhealthy air
P. DIVAKARAN The Star 18 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: After several days of good air quality, Malaysians in seven areas woke up to the smell of smog as Air Pollutant Index (API) readings breached the unhealthy level at 8am Sunday.

Malacca City recorded an API of 109, followed by Bukit Rambai (102), Banting (106) and Port Klang (107). In Sarawak, the areas with unhealthy API are Tawau (106), Kuching (102) and Samarahan (111).

An API reading of between 101 to 200 is considered unhealthy.

Meanwhile, 32 areas recorded moderate API readings including Port Dickson, Nilai and Putrajaya at 95.

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Philippines warns Typhoon Koppu could linger for days

The typhoon is expected to make landfall early on Sunday and will not leave the archipelago until Tuesday, the government weather station said.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Oct 15;

MANILA: Philippine authorities on Saturday (Oct 17) warned that a powerful typhoon will likely linger over the country for almost three days, bringing prolonged heavy rain, possible floods and sparking storm surges.

Hundreds of people have already been evacuated from the northeastern provinces in the face of the approaching Typhoon Koppu, possibly the second most powerful storm to strike the disaster-prone country this year, civil defence officials said.

The typhoon is expected to make landfall early on Sunday and will not leave the archipelago until Tuesday, the government weather station said.

Weather station director Espie Cayanan said the storm, which has sustained winds of 160 kilometres (100 miles) per hour and gusts of 195 kilometres per hour, could strengthen as it gets closer to the country.

Due to its interaction with another nearby weather disturbance, Typhoon Koppu may move slowly across the northern end of the main Philippine island of Luzon, she warned.

"It may be semi-stationary once it hits," Cayanan told reporters.

The typhoon, moving at 10 kilometres per hour, is expected to make landfall in the northeastern province of Aurora before curving north over Luzon and eventually moving out to sea, she added.

Although the storm will not directly hit the capital, Manila, Cayanan warned that its diameter was so huge that even the southern regions were likely to be affected by strong winds and rain.

Areas hit by the typhoon will suffer "heavy to intense rainfall" with possible tsunami-like storm surges in coastal areas.

Civil defence officials warned that waves as high as 14 metres (46 feet) could occur at sea and banned all vessels from sailing in over half the country. They also warned of possible floods in river basins and urged residents to heed orders to evacuate ahead of any incident.

"If you are told you need to evacuate, then we appeal to you to evacuate," civil defence chief Alexander Pama said. He also urged the public to cancel any travel plans over the weekend.


President Benigno Aquino's spokeswoman Abigail Valte said that government agencies had prepared for the storm, stockpiling relief goods and heavy equipment which may be needed for rescue and repair efforts.

"The government is prepared for this and has undertaken all the necessary measures to ensure that we reach our zero-casualty target," she told reporters.

Nigel Lontoc, the civil defence director in the area covering Aurora province, said there were "ongoing pre-emptive evacuations ... some of the mayors are implementing forced evacuations of families if they do not voluntarily evacuate."

The evacuations are focused in coastal areas that may be hit by storm surges and a mountain area known to be vulnerable to landslides.

He told AFP that the number of people evacuated will likely rise as the storm gets closer.

So far, the area was just experiencing occasional rains and gusts of wind but Lontoc warned, "we can expect more flooding and landslides, very powerful rains."

Special government units are contacting towns that may be vulnerable to the storm to ensure they are prepared, the officials said.

President Aquino previously warned that Typhoon Koppu could be uniquely destructive because it would bring intense rain over a long period of time.

The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms each year, many of them deadly.

- AFP/ec

Koppu hits Philippines north, destroys houses, displaces 10,000 people
Powerful typhoon Koppu ploughed into the northeastern Philippines before dawn on Sunday destroying homes and displacing 10,000 people and whipping up coastal surges four meters (12 feet) high, disaster agency officials said.
Channel NewsAsia 18 Oct 15;

MANILA: Powerful typhoon Koppu ploughed into the northeastern Philippines before dawn on Sunday destroying homes and displacing 10,000 people and whipping up coastal surges four meters (12 feet) high, disaster agency officials said.

There were no reports of casualties after the category four typhoon, with central destructive winds of 175 kph (109 mph), made landfall around 1 a.m. (1700 GMT) near the town of Casiguran in Aurora province.

Koppu dumped heavy rain, causing flooding and damaging roads and bridges, and toppled power and communication lines.

"There are still no reports of casualty, thank God," said Alexander Pama, executive director of National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

"Initially, we are getting many houses were destroyed, power lines toppled and trees blocking major roads," he said, adding 10,000 people had been displaced in northeastern Luzon, the country's main island.

The weather bureau said Koppu will remain over Luzon for three days due to a high pressure in the north and another typhoon in the northwest Pacific.

Casiguran town, where Koppu slammed hit, was isolated, local radio dzBB reported. "We expect some damages on public infrastructure and agriculture," Norma Talosig, regional disaster agency head in rice-producing Cagayan Valley.

Junie Cua, governor of Quirino province, said toppled electric posts and trees were making it hard for emergency workers to reach isolated communities.

Authorities said 30 flights and ferry services in the north were grounded. Some commuter bus suspended services due threats of landslides in mountain areas.

On Friday, President Benigno Aquino appealed on television to people not to panic and to make preparations. The last time Aquino made a televised appeal was in 2013, the day before super typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines, killing more than 6,300 people and leaving millions homeless.

An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year.

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Michael Perry)

- Reuters

Malaysia: Beware of typhoon Koppu
OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 17 Oct 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Koppu typhoon had been detected approximately 1,211 km Northeast of Kudat at about 8pm.

Its exact location was at latitude 15.9 North and Longitude 123.1 East.

Sabah Meteorology department director Abdul Malek Tussin said the phenomena would cause intermittent rain at the coastal areas in the interior, west, Kudat and Sandakan.

"The rain will continue until Monday while string winds to persist until Thursday."

The typhoon with estimated speed of 15 km per hour is moving westward.

Early Saturday morning, two blocks of SK Bangau-Bangau in Semporna were badly damaged in a storm at 4.45am.

Sabah Education director Daruk Jame Alip said early estimation of the damage was about RM500,000.

"The incident will affect 1,152 pupils, 60 teachers and eight administration staffs on Monday.

"However, there was no casualty reported as no one was at the school during the storm."

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2 new books to teach pre-schoolers about keeping environment clean

AsiaOne 17 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE - A new programme aimed at educating pre-school children about keeping the environment clean has been launched by National Environment Agency (NEA) and South East Community Development Council.

The Young Eco Heroes @ South East Programme was launched in partnership with Cedar Girls' Secondary School, and two storybooks written by students from the school have also been produced to accompany it.

The aim of the books is to teach pre-school children the importance of binning litter properly and keeping the environment clean, NEA said in a statement on Saturday.

Under the Young Eco Heroes @ South East Programme, pre-school children will receive complimentary sets of responsibility-themed storybooks through pre-school centres in the South East District.

The children will be encouraged to bring the storybooks home to read with their parents, so that they may influence their parents to also help keep the environment clean.

In addition, a teacher's tool kit, comprising larger-sized storybooks and easy-to-conduct lesson plans, will be used by teachers.

The two storybooks, titled 'Stubborn Stacy' and 'Responsible Roy', were authored by a team of students from Cedar Girls' Secondary School - Alyssa Goh, Natasha Khoo, Jamie Lim and Dorothy Teo.

The four Cedar Girls' Secondary School students also plan to visit pre-schools to conduct storytelling sessions.

Copies of the books will be available for loan at all public libraries.

A two-day South East Clean & Green SG50 is being held at OneKM Mall until Sunday.

New initiative aims to mould next generation of eco-heroes through storytelling
As part of the Young Eco Heroes at South East Programme, two storybooks teaching pre-schoolers to throw litter in bins and keep the environment clean, were unveiled.
Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia 18 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Moulding the next generation of eco-heroes through creative story-telling - that is what a new initiative by the National Environment Agency and the South East Community Development Council hopes to achieve.

The initiative was launched on Saturday (Oct 17) by Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and Mayor of South East District, Dr Maliki Osman.

Two storybooks to teach pre-schoolers to throw litter in bins and keep the environment clean, were unveiled as part of the Young Eco Heroes at South East Programme. The books, titled Stubborn Stacy and Responsible Roy, were written by students from Cedar Girls' Secondary School. They will be made available to kindergartens and pre-schools in the district, as well as libraries and mobile libraries islandwide.

The initiative was launched at the district's Clean and Green SG50 Carnival, where kids were taught to make toys from recyclables such as milk cartons. At the event, Mr Tan also urged more people to take ownership for the cleanliness of public spaces. He invited them to take part in the Bright Spots Challenge, to "adopt" common areas and keep them clean.

"The target was 500 by the end of this year. We already have 470 and it's increasing and we'll be more than happy for it to increase beyond 500," said Mr Tan. "I commend all partners for their initiatives and strongly encourage more people to come forward to participate in this Bright Spots activity."

- CNA/hs

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Malaysia: El Nino not dry enough to prevent floods in parts of peninsula

RAZAK AHMAD The Star 18 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: Despite the forecast of the dry El Nino weather phenomenon, parts of Pahang, Johor and Sarawak are expected to be hit by floods soon.

The north-east monsoon season, which begins at the end of this month, is set to bring heavy rains over these states.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department said although El Nino would cause relatively drier conditions over the next few months in the peninsula, it would not be enough to stop the year-end floods from taking place in December.

El Nino is also expected to cause more rain in the western part of Sara­wak, raising the likelihood of floods in the area sometime between January and March (see graphic on Page 3).

“We don’t expect any extreme level of rainfall in the states on the east coast of the peninsula due to El Nino but we can still expect floods, though not as severe as last year.

“The western part of Sarawak will usually get more rain during El Nino, so the possibility of floods in that area is high from January to March,” said department spokesman Dr Hisham Mohd Anip.

El Nino is an irregular weather phenomenon which causes sea temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean to rise, leading to unusually heavy rains in some parts of the world and drought elsewhere.

The last extreme El Nino took place in 1997-98, causing the hottest year on record as well as floods, cyclones, droughts and huge damage to food production.

In December last year, several states including Perlis, Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang were hit by one of the worst floods on record due to the north-east monsoon.

Hisham said the monsoon usually starts in early November but due to El Nino, it was expected to arrive earlier this year, possibly at the end of this month.

The north-east monsoon will bring rain to Peninsular Malaysia before moving to the western part of Sarawak.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim said the various government agencies were preparing relief centres for evacuees.

He said taking a cue from lessons learnt last year, several measures had been put in place to better serve the victims.

These include installing up to 2,000 portable toilets and showers at the evacuation centres.

Instead of storing food supplies for evacuees in centralised locations in districts, food depots would be set up in each of the communities likely to be affected, in places such as schools and mosques.

“Decentralising food storage will allow supplies to reach evacuees faster,” said Shahidan.

“Supplies would be stored as late as possible based on the department’s reports to ensure that there is no theft or spoilage of food items.”

He said the authorities were now in the process of contacting non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government-linked companies and the private sector interested in helping out during the expected floods.

“We have already reached out to 83 NGOs and by Thursday we hope to complete the entire process,” said Shahidan.

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Malaysia: NGOs form coalition to lobby against rampant bauxite mining


KUANTAN: A group of over 20 NGOs have formed a coalition to lobby against rampant bauxite mining in the state.

The initiative, lead by Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh, consisted of civil and environmental groups such as the Pahang Bar Committee, Malaysian Nature Society, and Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam (Peka).

Several groups like Sahabat Alam Malaysia and Himpunan Hijau, had been active in protesting against other mining issues like Lynas and the Raub goldmine controversy.

"Individual action so far has not been productive, which is why groups need to work together," said Fuziah, during a meeting with the groups on Friday night.

Indera Mahkota MP Datuk Fauzi Abdul Rahman, who also attended, said they needed a singular entity to voice the complaints, as individuals would get little traction.

The coalition aimed to engage the public and create awareness on the impact of bauxite pollution while directing the sentiment towards a more productive approach.

It also planned to file a petition in Parliament, through the two MPs, to call for a stop to bauxite exportation until proper mining regulations are implemented.

Fuziah said other measures like revoking licenses and fining irresponsible mining companies had little impact.

"When there is no demand, there will be no supply. A ban on bauxite exportation will kill all our problems," she said.

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Malaysia: Johor plans Thai-style floating markets to boost tourism

ZAZALI MUSA The Star 18 Oct 15;

PASIR GUDANG: Thailand’s floating markets, immortalised in movie scenes and postcards, will be “recreated” here with Sungai Masai and Sungai Johor as the main rivers.

Mentri Besar Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin said it would be one of the main components of the eco-tourism push involving the two traditional villages.

The villages are Kampung Kuala Masai, which has about 700 residents, and its neighbouring Kampung Pasir Gudang Baru, which has 1,000 villagers who are mostly fishermen.

Sungai Masai is the tributary of Sungai Johor which separates the two settlements.

Many fishing villages can be found along both rivers.

Apart from a floating market where villagers could sell their products to visitors, there would also be seafood restaurants along the riverbanks, he said at the launch of the Pusat Komuniti Sihat Perkasa Negara (Kospen) in Kampung Kuala Masai yesterday.

Mohamed Khaled said the state government and the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (Irda) were now drafting the master plan for eco-tourism for the two villages.

The master plan, he said, was expected to be ready in four months.

Mohamed Khaled said the identity of traditional villages should be preserved as the state government did not want only skyscrapers in Iskandar Malaysia.

He said the state authorities and Irda would engage the villagers to manage the eco-tourism activities.

“This is a pioneer project in Iskandar Malaysia.

“We are planning to involve other villages in the economic region in tourism-related businesses,” he said.

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