Best of our wild blogs: 25 Oct 15

Male Oriental Pied Hornbill feeding female inside nest
Bird Ecology Study Group

Variable Squirrel licks nectar from jacaranda flowers
Bird Ecology Study Group

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Indonesia: Immediate evacuation ordered

Hans Nicholas Jong and Nani Afrida, The Jakarta Post 24 Oct 15;

The government is gearing up for a massive evacuation of haze victims in Sumatra and Kalimantan following an order from President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who said to prioritize the evacuation of babies, children and people vulnerable to worsening air quality.

During a Cabinet meeting on Friday, Jokowi ordered ministers to immediately evacuate haze victims.

“Add more evacuation areas equipped with air purifiers, especially for children and babies,” Jokowi said on Friday.

Following the instruction, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Panjaitan convened another meeting on Friday to discuss details about the evacuation operation, which is expected to start on Saturday.

“Tomorrow, the team will assess which locations are suitable to set up shelters. We will also prepare air purifiers for schools, hospitals and other public spaces so that people can breathe fresh air inside a closed room.” Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Puan Maharani said after the meeting.

Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa said the government was focusing the evacuation process on seven provinces affected by the haze; Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and East Kalimantan.

“There are some regions that we have decided to turn into evacuation areas based on our assessment,” Khofifah said on Friday.

Besides shelters, the government also planned to use government-owned buildings for evacuation purposes, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Willem Rampangilei said.

“We are working with regional governments to take inventory of buildings or rooms that we can use,” he said.

Also joining the evacuation operation will be the Indonesian Navy, which will deploy two Landing Platform Dock (LPD) type warships that could be used to house haze victims from Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“We will provide the ships as temporary shelters, particularly for children and toddlers, until [the situation] improves,” Indonesian Navy spokesperson Commodore M. Zainuddin said in Jakarta on Friday.

The two warships are KRI Banda Aceh and KRI Dr. Suharso, which also serve as hospital military ships.

KRI Banda Aceh will drop its anchor in Palembang, South Sumatra, while KRI dr Suharso will be deployed in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan.

Zainuddin said that the naval evacuation would start if the air pollution standard index (ISPU) reached a hazardous level and there were no other alternative solutions.

“We will focus more on evacuating children. We will discuss details of the operation with the health and social affairs ministries,” he said.

Other than the evacuation order, Jokowi also instructed Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar to implement a total moratorium on peatland exploitation in Indonesia, as the government believed that the mismanagement of peatland was behind the annual forest fires.

“Immediately restore peatland, review old permits. We have to be strict now. Those [peatland areas] that have not been opened yet cannot be opened,” Jokowi said.

Siti said that her ministry would carry out the instruction immediately given the severity of the problem.

“Of course we will. It’s true. No more permits can be issued and no more peatland areas can be opened,” she said.

The government will also seek more foreign assistance to tackle the haze by inviting France and Canada to discussions on how to extinguish fires on peat land.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir said that Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi had spoken with the Canadian and French ambassadors to Indonesia on the possibility of sending experts to Indonesia to aid in mitigation efforts.

“During a recent coordination meeting at the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister, we discussed seeking out expertise to help us extinguish fires that continue to burn underneath peatland,” Arrmanatha said after an Indonesia-Australia bilateral meeting in Padang, West Sumatra.

Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said that Australia remained committed to assisting mitigation efforts, despite having recalled the Hercules aircraft it dispatched earlier.

“[The Hercules airplane] was here for a week and did about 22 runs dumping about 300,000 liters of water over the affected area, and we also had a plane that carried out a number of reconnaissance flights over the affected area,” Bishop said.

— Tama Salim contributed to this report from Padang

Haze victims get emergency care
Hasyim Widhiarto, Apriadi Gunawan and Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post 25 Oct 15;

In response to the prolonged haze crisis in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the government has pledged to intensify health assistance for haze victims in the country’s worst affected areas while preparing for their evacuation, anticipating worsening air pollution.

Learning from his administration’s unsuccessful attempts to put out extensive forest and peat land fires that have produced haze over the past weeks, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Friday instructed his ministers to prepare for the evacuation of haze victims, particularly infants and children, in a number of the worst hit provinces, including Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a visit to Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan and Pulang Pisau in Central Kalimantan on Saturday, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, however, explained that the evacuation would be implemented in stages, with the relocation of haze victims from home to local health facilities or evacuation shelters as the first and foremost part of the plan.

“We will ask medical schools to assign their newly graduated physicians to community health centers [Puskesmas] or local hospitals to help run emergency services. […] We will also ask the Indonesian Military [TNI] to deploy their village supervisory non-commissioned officers [Babinsa] to help local residents take their sick babies to Puskesmas for immediate medical assistance,” Luhut said.

The government, according to Luhut, will relocate haze victims to another city should the existing shelters and medical facilities no longer be capable of handling the impact of the haze.

“If things get worse, we will move the victims to a safer city. If the situation gets worse, then we will put them in warships or ships,” he said.

Over the past few months, Indonesia has been struggling to deal with the impacts of haze originating from fires in peat land and plantations in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The ongoing haze crisis has also been exacerbated by this year’s prolonged dry season that has been triggered by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Last week the Health Ministry revealed that the haze had caused 425,377 people in six provinces to suffer from acute respiratory infections (ISPA). In Pekanbaru, Riau, at least three people died due to respiratory failure allegedly triggered by the haze that has been blanketing the province for almost two months.

In anticipation of the massive evacuation of haze victims, the government has so far named Banjarmasin as the evacuation city for residents in Central Kalimantan, whose capital of Palangkaraya became the city with the worst air quality in the country last month.

Luhut — who was accompanied by Culture and Education Minister Anies Baswedan, Health Minister Nila F. Moeloek, Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa and Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar during his visit on Saturday to the two neighboring regions — said the government was also ready for the worst.

“There will be warships, passenger ships and hospital ships standing by [in Banjarmasin]. This is to show that we understand the problem and are serious about dealing with it,” he said.

Minister Khofifah said that her ministry would soon distribute 7,000 air purifiers to residents in Central Kalimantan in an attempt to curb the impact of the haze.

“They can be installed at residents’ houses. Hopefully, we won’t need to evacuate the residents after all,” she said.

Acting South Kalimantan Governor Tarmizi Abdul Karim said that his administration had prepared several government buildings in anticipation of incoming evacuees.

“Our biggest evacuation shelter so far is the local haj dormitory, which can accommodate around 700 people,” he said.

In North Sumatra, thickening haze forced the management of Kualanamu International Airport in Deli Serdang regency to temporarily halt the operation of the airport on Saturday morning for safety reasons.

The worsening air quality in the provincial capital of Medan also forced the local administration to close down schools, starting from Saturday until sometime next week.

In Papua, Merauke Regional Military Commander, Brig. Gen. Supartodi said the TNI had deployed 100 military personnel from Timika to Merauke to help extinguish hot spots in the regency, which have triggered haze in surrounding areas over the past several days.

Meteorology Agency Labels Indonesia's Haze Crisis a Crime Against Humanity
Dina Manafe Jakarta Globe 24 Oct 15;

Jakarta. Indonesia's haze crisis continues to worsen, with over 43 million people already breathing in the toxic fumes from forest and peat fires, leading the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) to speak of a "crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions."

The BMKG said on Saturday that satellite images show parts of the Greater Jakarta region are now also affected.

At least ten people have died from exposure to the haze so far in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the hardest-hit parts of the country.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the BMKG, said several people died during efforts to extinguish the flames while others fell gravely ill and died after breathing in the toxic fumes, mostly because they had an existing health condition.

The death toll cited by Sutopo did not include seven hikers who were killed in a forest fire on Mount Lawu in East Java on Oct. 18. Two others from the same group remain in critical condition.

More than 500,000 cases of acute respiratory tract infections due to the haze have been reported in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, and West, Central and South Kalimantan in the period from July 1 until Friday, the BMKG spokesman said.

Sutopo stressed that these were only the recorded cases, so the extent of suffering in these six provinces, where a state of emergency has been declared, is likely much higher.

The spokesman said that "99 percent" of the fires were lit intentionally, meaning that the haze crisis should be considered a man-made disaster.

"This is a crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions," Sutopo said. "But now is not the time to point fingers but to focus on how we can deal with this quickly."

Conservation scientist and Jakarta Globe columnist Erik Meijaard previously described the ongoing disaster as "the biggest environmental crime of the 21st century."

Protests against land, forest fires increase as haze worsens
Apriadi Gunawan and Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 24 Oct 15;

Protests against forest and land fires are increasingly widespread in haze-affected regions as pollution from the fires worsens across Sumatra and Kalimantan.

In Medan, North Sumatra, air pollution in the city is four times more severe than normal.

The thick smog has also continued to disrupt flights at Kualanamu International Airport and other airports in North Sumatra and Aceh as visibility is limited to 1,000 meters.

Kristin Matondang of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Medan branch said the haze blanketing Medan and surrounding regions came from Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra as no hot spots had been detected in North Sumatra.

“At 1 p.m. the concentration of particulate matter [PM10] in Medan was 549.12 µg/m³, much higher than the normal concentration of 150 µg/m³,” Kristin said on Friday.

The conditions moved some community groups to stage protests across Medan.

The Alliance of North Sumatra People Against Haze, for example, staged a rally at Bundaran Majestik by conducting a theatrical performance entitled Burned Forest People.

A similar rally was staged by dozens of activists from Satria Hijau (Green Knights) at Merdeka Square, demanding the government get rid of the haze.

“We have been suffering for months because of the thickening haze,” said Fitri, a protester.

Protests were also widespread in neighboring Riau province as thousands of university students, teachers and lecturers staged a rally at the governor’s office demanding an end to the haze problems.

They urged the government to arrest owners of big companies operating in Riau alleged to be involved in forest and land fires in the region.

“They are big investors that have destroyed forests in Riau. They have caused the haze in Riau,” Hendri Marhadi, a protester, said at the rally.

Meanwhile, some 3,000 teachers in Pekanbaru grouped under the Teachers’ Forum Against Haze urged the government to declare the haze a national disaster as it had claimed lives.

Pekanbaru Education Agency head Zulfadil, who was among the protesters, urged the President to use all available resources to deal with the smoke.

“The paralysis in the education sector is really deplorable. Something must be done to send students back to school and learning with clean air,” Zulfadil said.

Separately in Jambi, residents of Pandan Makmur and Pandan Sejahtera subdistricts in Geragai district, East Tanjungjabung regency, have been trying for two months to extinguish fires in their peatland.

Due to limited facilities and the quick movement of the fires, however, they have not yet extinguished the blaze that has so far burned 100 hectares of peat.

“We only use simple tools to extinguish the fires,” chairman of local farmers’ association, Edi Suwardi, told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

In Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Antara news agency reported that the pollution had forced six toddlers suffering from respiratory problems to be evacuated along with their parents to Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan.

“I am so relieved arriving in Banjarmasin after a few weeks of thick haze in Palangkaraya,” Linda, the mother of one of the toddlers, said in Banjarmasin on Thursday.

Separately, a fire on Mount Lawu that caused a blaze in Cemoro Sewu forest in Magetan, East Java, as of Friday had spread to as far as Cemoro Kandang forest in Karanganyar, Central Java.

— Ganug Nugroho Adi in Surakarta and Jon Afrizal in Jambi also contributed to this story

Haze remains, govt prepares evacuation in Central Kalimantan 24 Oct 15;

The government has prepared seven locations in Central Kalimantan to be evacuated due to smog, according to Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa on Saturday.

“President Joko [Jokowi] Widodo has instructed us to evacuate to locations inside the province,” said Khofifah as quoted by Antara news agency.

According to Khofifah, the locations, including the ministry’s auditorium and halls at Panti Budi Luhur institution, were all air-conditioned and able to accommodate hundreds of people. The ministry also prepared public field kitchens, water tank vehicles and rescue vehicles.

One thousand air purifiers were also set to arrive to be installed in residents’ homes to decrease the number of evacuated victims.

Thick haze was still blanketing several parts of Indonesia on Saturday.

Morning visibility in Kualanamu International Airport in North Sumatra reached between 350 meters and 800 meters, causing planes to be delayed or even canceled.

Low visibility between 100 meters to 300 m still exists in Riau regency, including in Pelalawan, Dumai, Pekanbaru, Rengat, Bengkalis, Siak, Meranti and Indragiri Hili.

According to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), 197 hot spots were detected throughout Sumatra on Saturday morning, with South Sumatra being the major contributor with 180 hot spots.

Beringin Airport in Muara Teweh, Central Kalimantan, was currently closed due to the area’s 150 m visibility. It has not been operational since Sept. 4., affecting flights from Susi Air’s scheduled planes and chartered aircraft from Airfast, Air Born and Hevilift. (kes)(+)

Haze kills 10 people, leaves 503,874 with respiratory ailments 24 Oct 15;

Ten people have died in Sumatra and Kalimantan due to smog from forest and land fires, which include those killed during fire extinguishing operations and victims of acute respiratory infections (ISPA), according to the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) on Saturday.

In addition to these victims, seven climbers were also killed and two others were in a critical condition after being trapped in a forest fires on the slopes of Mount Lawu on the border of East Java and Central Java on Oct. 18.

BNPB also stated that the number of ISPA patients had reached 503,874 in six provinces between July 1 and October 23, with the top six contributors including Jambi with 129,229 patients, South Sumatra with 101,333, South Kalimantan with 97,430, Riau with 80,263 , Central Kalimantan with 52,142 and West Kalimantan with 43,477.

Based on the agency’s analysis, more than 43 million Indonesians have been exposed to smog in Sumatra and Kalimantan alone. Neighboring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines have also experienced a decline in air quality following the haze dilemma.

“The smog disaster due to forest and land fires is a man-made disaster, since 99 percent of the fires are intentional. It is an extraordinary crime against humanity," said BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho in a press release on Saturday.

"[But] this isn’t the time for us to play the blame game; it’s a time to act fast since the scale of the fires is so wide that it will be impossible to extinguish them in the next one or two weeks," added Sutopo. (kes)(+)

BNPB says Haze Heading to Jakarta
Tempo 24 Oct 15;

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) reported that haze that hit Sumatera and Kalimantan was getting widespread, had even reached Java.

“From the monitoring of Himawari satellite, thin haze was covering Java Sea and some were heading to Jakarta,” said Head of BNPB Information Center Sutopo Purwo Nugroho on Saturday (24/10).

Sutopo also said that haze had even reached other countries in South East Asia, such as the Philippines and air quality in the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore has declined.

Furthermore, BNPB reported that at least 503,874 people were affected by respiratory infections (ISPA) and the data was collected from six provinces in Sumatera and Kalimantan.


Haze spreads to Java and halts flights from Bandung 24 Oct 15;

The National Disaster Management Body (BNPB) has explained that the haze disaster that has seriously affected many parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan, disrupting transportation and causing health problems, has started to spread to Java.

“Based on the results of monitoring by Himawari Satellite, the thin haze has started to cover the air above the Java Sea and is heading to Jakarta,” said head of BNPB’s information data center Sutopo Purwo Nugroho on Saturday as reported by

In Bandung, airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II had to delay flights from Husein Sastranegara airport due to declining visibility to 3,000 meters from the safe condition of 3,900 m.

PT Angkasa Pura II spokesman Mabruri said that the airport authority had to delay five flights from Husein Sastranegara airport until 11 a.m., while six planes that were scheduled to land in the airport were redirected to Soekarmo-Hatta Airport in Tengerang, Banten.

“There was another plane that had to fly around in the air while waiting to land,” Mabruri said as reported by on Saturday, adding that the delay had caused hundreds of passengers to crowd the airport, waiting for their flights.

Sutopo said the haze had even been spreading to neighboring countries, making the air quality in the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore worse.

He said that his institution helped by a number of countries, including Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Russia, had been working to extinguish the fire that has been razing forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Meanwhile, the Jakarta sky also looked darker on Saturday morning. Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) officer Tomi Ilham Reza confirmed that the visibility in the Jakarta declined on Saturday morning. He did not, however, explain in detail about the visibility.

“We are monitoring haze movements because of air pollution,” Tomi said, adding that dust particles were moving from Banten to Jakarta. He could not, however, confirm that the air pollution was caused by forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“In Banten, the visibility was 5 kilometers, while in Jakarta, the impact was is not so significant,” he added. (bbn)(+)

Garuda chalks up profits in Q3 despite haze woes
The Jakarta Post 24 Oct 15;

National flag carrier Garuda Indonesia maintained a net profit in the first nine months of the year, a rebound from last year’s loss although flight cancellations caused by haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan undermined its financial condition, an executive has said.

“As we were affected in the third quarter [by the haze], the net income is still significant compared with last year,” Garuda Indonesia president director Arif Wibowo said on Friday.

Its net income year-to-date (YTD) stood at US$51.4 million as of September, a significant increase from the $220.1 million loss over the same period last year.

He estimated that the company’s potential losses could reach $8 million, even though it still posted $2.845 billion in total revenue as of September, slightly up from $2.831 billion in the same period last year.

“Our revenue has been hampered by the haze, the volcano [eruption] and other incidents. Our opportunity loss almost hit $8 million, with $6 million being passenger-related. We could have grown [our revenue] by 5 percent,” he said.

Over the past few months, provinces such as Riau, Jambi, North Sumatra, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan have been struggling with smoke from man-made and natural land and forest fires.

The ongoing disaster has hampered a lot of flights as the worst-hit areas experience very limited visibility. In Pontianak, West Kalimantan, visibility stood at 250 meters on Oct. 22, while airport authorities generally need a minimum visibility of 1,500 meters to give aircraft landing or take-off clearance.

He also added that the recent Mount Raung eruption had also negatively impacted the company’s revenue stream.

Garuda chief financial officer Ari Askhara added that so far, the company had spent at least $3 million dollars on compensation for passengers in August and September.

Garuda still banked profits from various measures aimed to reduce operational costs by boosting efficiency and benefiting from a lower fuel price.

The company managed to decrease its total expenses in the first nine months this year to $2.72
billion from $3.08 billion in the same period last year.

“If we have a good network, good flight deployment, crew scheduling, crew rotation, it will minimize costs. We have also done economical refueling, where we detect places with higher fuel prices and try to refuel in places with lower prices,” Arif said.

He also said that the company had optimized planes, to minimize losses from aircraft deployment.

Garuda recorded positive passenger growth, with 17.69 million passengers flying with the airline in the first nine months of the year, compared with 15.56 million passengers in the same period last year.

Its share in the domestic market has also rose to 44 percent in the first nine months compared with 37 percent in the same period last year, while its share in foreign markets reached 28 percent compared with 22 percent last year.

Garuda will also boost its flight frequency for umrah (minor pilgrimage to Mecca), as operating revenue from non-scheduled airlines from umrah, among others, made up 6.20 percent of its total operating revenue.

“We want to increase services to five times a day from current three times daily,” Arif said, adding that the company has also taken advantage of its participation in haj pilgrimage flights. The company also remained upbeat that the fourth-quarter peak season would help it reach its targeted revenue of around $4 billion by the end of the year.

“It’s tough with a rupiah depreciation that has hit 12 percent. But even if revenue is down, if the costs are down, as they are at the moment, we still book a profit,” Ari said. (fsu)

Indonesia readies warships for haze evacuation
The government has decided to send ships to haze affected provinces to evacuate victims, especially children and women, if necessary.
Channel NewsAsia 24 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: Indonesia has put warships on standby to evacuate people affected by acrid haze from forest fires which has killed at least 10 and caused respiratory illnesses in half a million, officials said on Saturday (Oct 24).

For nearly two months, thousands of fires caused by slash-and-burn farming in Indonesia have choked vast expanses of Southeast Asia, forcing schools to close and scores of flights and some international events to be cancelled.

The government has decided to send ships to haze-affected provinces to evacuate victims, especially children and women, if necessary, with two warships deployed to Kalimantan on Friday and another carrying medical workers and health equipment expected Saturday.

Military spokesman Tatang Sulaiman said the warships, which will be standing by in Banjarmasin, the capital of south Kalimantan, could serve as evacuation centres and hospitals for those affected by the haze.

Tatang said there was no immediate plan to bring people onboard but that could change if hospitals on land reach capacity or become overwhelmed.

"The ships are sent just in case children or pregnant women must be relocated from the local health facilities, it does not mean everyone would be put into the ships," Tatang said.

"So far health facilities on the ground in Kalimantan are still trying their best, we are just getting ready by deploying warships," Tatang said. Each warship can carry up to 2000 people and has 344 beds onboard.

"For now the ships will be standing by. We will begin evacuation when there is an instruction from the government," navy spokesman Muhammad Zainuddin told AFP.


The government has deployed around 30 aircraft to fight the fires and for cloud seeding with 22,000 troops on the ground to combat the blazes.

Indonesian disaster mitigation agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the fires had killed 10 people so far, some fighting the blazes while others died of respiratory illnesses or medical conditions exacerbated by the pollution.

"The impact of the forest fires has caused 10 people in Sumatra and Kalimantan to die, directly and indirectly," Nugroho said. The figure did not include seven hikers killed in a wildfire on Java last week.

The agency estimated at least half a million people have suffered from respiratory illness since the fires started in July and 43 million people have been affected in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Nugroho said the figure was likely just the tip of the iceberg because many people did not go to health facilities for treatment.

More than 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) of land has been burned and six provinces severely affected by the haze, according to Indonesia's forestry ministry.

"This is due to human acts because 99 per cent of forest fires were started deliberately. This is an extraordinary crime against humanity," Nugroho said.

Other countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Japan have sent assistance to help Indonesia fighting the forest fires.

With Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Thailand already affected, the Philippines on Friday said the haze had now spread there, disrupting air traffic and prompting warnings for residents to wear face masks.

- AFP/ec

Haze: Indonesian ships on evacuation alert
Carolyn Khew, Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Oct 15;

Indonesia has put a fleet of vessels from the navy and state-owned shipping firm PT Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia on high alert off Sumatra and Kalimantan, for a possible evacuation of babies and children due to the high levels of air pollution.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan said it will be the country's last resort if the two regions are rendered unliveable by the thick smoke from forest fires.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in various areas there has been hovering within the "hazardous" zone for most of this week.

In Singapore, hazy conditions are likely to persist today. The National Environment Agency (NEA) said yesterday that the 24-hour PSI for the next 24 hours is likely to be in the mid to high sections of the unhealthy range.

It may even enter the low end of the very unhealthy range if denser haze is blown in.

Visibility is also likely to be reduced, with the prevailing winds forecast to blow from the east or south-east, said the NEA.

As of 9pm yesterday, the 24-hour PSI was 136-158, in the unhealthy range, while the three- hour PSI was 239.

Ferry services between Batam Centre and Singapore were suspended briefly yesterday afternoon. Singapore River One, the organiser of this weekend's Singapore River Festival, said it will be postponed if the three-hour PSI level is above 300.

Indonesia set to evacuate kids in worst haze hit areas
Francis Chan, Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Oct 15;

A massive operation, both on land and at sea, is under way to prepare for what appears to be an imminent evacuation of thousands of babies and children from their homes in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

This, as forest fires, which produce the toxic haze, continue to burn unabated despite the extensive firefighting resources dedicated to putting them out.

Indonesia yesterday put six navy ships on high alert off the waters of the two regions, which have been the worst hit by thick smoke from forest and peatland fires this year.

Together with a fleet of vessels from state-owned shipping firm PT Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia, they form the last resort in the event that cities need to be evacuated after being rendered unliveable owing to high levels of air pollution.

"We are doing this by way of a military operation for the sake of humanity," said Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.

Air pollution levels continued to soar in Sumatra and Kalimantan, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in various areas in the two regions hovering within the "hazardous" zone for most of this week.

Yesterday, the PSI for Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan jumped off the charts on Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency website, which has a maximum reading of 2,000 PSI. It peaked at 2,251 PSI at 4pm and never went below 1,045 PSI. In Jambi, Central Sumatra, the PSI peaked at 914 but fell to 531 at 6pm.

In Indonesia, anything above 350 is deemed hazardous.

The haze, exacerbated by an extended dry spell, has affected millions across South-east Asia.

In Thailand yesterday, air pollutant levels stayed in the unhealthy range although they dipped from the day before, when parts of the south saw the worst haze in years.

As of 3pm, the PM10 reading - which measures particles up to 10 microns in diameter - for Songkhla province was 249 per cubic m, from 369 on Thursday; in Satun, it was 203 from 273; in Yala, 142 from 172; and in Pattani, it was 149 from 216.

In Malaysia, schools were allowed to reopen yesterday except for those in Perlis, Perak and Penang, where pollution continues to worsen.

At least eight airports across the Philippines have grounded planes without instruments that will allow pilots to land and take off in low to near-zero visibility.

As a humanitarian crisis looms in Indonesia, Mr Luhut said measures to alleviate the suffering of people affected by the haze will be prioritised for infants and children.

At least four babies and a young child have died after suffering from lung infections, while more than 450,000 people have suffered from haze-related illnesses.

Mr Luhut said he is requesting more waterbombers to join the multinational assistance team fighting the fires. "We have secured nine (of the initial 15 aircraft planned) and they will be operational in 10 days or earlier," he said.

"We are also approaching Canada, the US and France (for help)."

Top on Indonesia's wishlist is still the Russian-made Beriev Be-200, capable of hauling 12,000 litres of water. "If we can get another five, that would be good," said Mr Luhut.

He was speaking to the press after a meeting with President Joko Widodo at the Presidential Palace to finalise the emergency plans yesterday.

Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture Puan Maharani, who was also at the meeting, added that emergency shelters, complete with air purifiers, are being set up at public buildings across Indonesia to offer refuge for people affected by the haze.

These are meant to be the first gathering sites in the event that conditions worsen, or for people who refuse to evacuate to the ships or cannot make it out to sea, added Mr Luhut.

"We have taken measures, but it is impossible to put out the fires over the next one to three weeks as our efforts should go hand in hand with rain."

Read more!

Philippines: Health officials warn vs. haze in southern Mindanao

CNN Philippines 24 Oct 15;

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Local health officials in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) advised the public on Friday (October 23) to stay indoors as much as possible to avoid suffering from respiratory diseases due to a haze now covering most of southern Mindanao.

"Don't underestimate the ill effects of haze. It's worsening the already compromised quality of air that we breathe imposing health risks to everybody," Dr. Kadil Sinolinding Jr., regional secretary for Department of Health (DOH-ARMM) said.

Sinolinding said the haze, which engulfed most parts of Mindanao and forced cancellation of airline travel to and from major cities to Manila, was made up of fine dusk, smoke, or light vapor — causing lack of transparency in the air.

The haze has been in Mindanao skies since October 17, brought by winds from vast forest fires in Indonesia.

"The haze aggravates the quality of the air that we breathe and some people may experience the following signs and symptoms, namely eye irritation, itchy and runny nose, sneezing, dry throat and coughs," Sinolinding said.

"We advised the people to take adequate amount of water, drink cough preparations if cough is manifested, over-the-counter antihistamines for allergic reaction or upon the advice of a physician."

Meanwhile, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific flights to Cotabato from Manila remained cancelled, according to Charlene Jamero of the weather bureau PAGASA.

Air travel to and from the Cotabato airport had been suspended for a week since the haze.

"The haze is thicker now so we maintain our no-takeoff, no-landing policy," Jamero said.

Cotabato flights resume amid haze
John Unson The Philippine Star 25 Oct 15;

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – All Manila-Cotabato and Cotabato-Manila flights resumed yesterday, ending a six-day suspension due to poor mid-air visibility that may have been caused by the haze from forest fires in Indonesia.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) also clarified that only small aircraft or those that rely on visibility are still prevented from landing or taking off in the early mornings in at least seven airports in the country.

Rodante Joya, CAAP deputy director general for operations, said those equipped with the modern Instrument Landing System (ILS) could fly even in heavy fog or haze.

“Rated pilots and fully equipped aircraft can land and take off anytime during any weather situation because our airports are equipped with the latest navigational instrument,” Joya said, referring to the Subic, Clark, Cebu-Mactan and Ninoy Aquino international airports.

He pointed out though that the airports in Dumaguete, Laguindingan, Zamboanga, Tagbilaran, Tambler and Cotabato are covered by a two- to three-hour flight suspension since Friday, usually starting at 5am.

In Bohol, hundreds of Manila-bound passengers rushed to the neighboring Cebu island as all Manila-Tagbilaran flights were rerouted to the Mactan-Cebu international airport.

Joel Palingcod, Tagbilaran airport tower controller, said no aircraft is given clearance to land or take off from here because of the airport’s lack of ILS.

He added that aircraft landing in the airport operates on visual flight rules, which may no longer be applicable as haze covered landmarks up to a radius of two kilometers. Aircraft flying on visual flight rules would need at least a five-kilometer radius to be able to watch for landmarks.

Palingcod, who communicated with his colleagues on Negros island, said it was worse for the Dumaguete airport, which declared visibility of only one kilometer.

Even given the limited visibility in some areas, CAAP has not issued a Notice to Airmen (Notam), which alerts aircraft pilots of hazards in the flight route or at a specific location.

The Maguindanao Airport, which services the Cotabato flights, was shut down on Oct. 17 after strong winds brought in the haze. Aviation authorities prevented even helicopters from flying over selected areas in Southern Mindanao to avoid accidents. The airport is located in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Maguindanao, about eight kilometers southwest of Cotabato City.

Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) claimed the haze and the danger it brings prevented prospective investors from visiting Basilan by helicopter. The investors reportedly wanted to inspect potential sites for a 4,000-hectare foreign-assisted Cavendish banana farm project.

Kadil Sinolinding Jr., ARMM regional health secretary, also issued an advisory over the weekend to warn the people on the health problems that the haze can cause.

“The haze carries dust particles that can contaminate the air we breathe. It can cause itchy eyes, dry throat and cough, sneezing and allergy. Let’s avoid going around breathing the air in areas where the haze from Indonesia had spread,” he said.

He advised residents to drink plenty of water and take anti-cough medicine under the guidance of physicians once afflicted with cough.

“We are advising people in the autonomous region to stay indoors and avoid exposing themselves to these health hazards,” Sinolinding said.

Charlene Jamero, weather specialist of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), told reporters the poor visibility in Maguindanao is largely due to the haze. – With Angeline Valencia, Rudy Santos

Haze disrupts Zamboanga weather monitoring
Roel Pareño 24 Oct 15;

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - The haze that lingered the southern skies in Mindanao since last week affected the weather monitoring, according to the local weather bureau.

Alan Gelani, local weather observer of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), said the heavy haze was already 5,000 kilometers below the sky.

“The weather monitoring was already affected like the visibility and the observation of the amount of clouds. So due to the obstruction of haze our reports here were limited because the haze is already overcast,” Gelani said.

Based on reports, the haze came from the forest fire in Indonesia.

According to Gelani, the Air Transportation Office (ATO) has started coordinating the visibility problem.

“They were really concern of the low visibility,” Gelani said.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has not reported any cancellation of flights here.

Meanwhile, City Health Officer Dr. Rodelyn Agbulos said residents in the highland villages complained of respiratory problem.

Agbulos said the haze could trigger respiratory illness.

In the Visayas, haze blots view of scenic spots
Leo Udtohan and Doris C. Bongcac Inquirer Visayas 25 Oct 15;

TAGBILARAN CITY, Bohol—Anita Dacaldacal, 46, woke up to haze-filled skies on Saturday.

From her house in Tagbilaran, she could hardly see Panglao Island nearby which used to be like a painting that greets her every morning.

“The air was very smoky. I can’t see Panglao Island,” said Dacaldacal.

Neighboring Cebu Island, which used to be visible from Tagbilaran, was also covered with thick smoke.

The haze did not spare the mountains of Maribojoc town.

Leonardo Samar, officer in charge of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration Bohol station, said the haze in the province came from forest fires in Indonesia.

He said Typhoon “Lando” (international name: Koppu), which recently battered central Luzon, helped bring the haze to the country.

Around 8 a.m. on Saturday, Samar said the thick haze had spread all over Bohol, which limited visibility to about 7 kilometers instead of the usual 14 km.

Samar said there was nothing to worry about because the haze is still tolerable.

It, however, triggered cancellation of flights on Saturday due to poor visibility.

As of 2 p.m., at least 450 passengers were stranded at the Tagbilaran Airport after Air Philippines/PAL Express, Cebu Pacific and AirAsia canceled their Manila-Tagbilaran and Tagbilaran-Manila flights because of the haze.

“We have canceled our flights today since it was difficult for pilots to land and take off with very poor visibility,” said Karen Batuhinay, Cebu Pacific operations manager.

In Cebu, the air was found to contain “high particulates” that can be risky for those who have heart and respiratory illnesses.

William Cunado, Department of Environment and Natural Resources director of Environment Management Bureau (EMB) in Central Visayas, said the haze covering Metro Cebu is a mixture of smoke from forest fires in Indonesia and local pollutants.

It is expected to linger in the next few days because there is barely any wind to blow it away and because there is no rain, he added.

Results of air quality tests which EMB conducted on Friday showed that haze particulates in Metro Cebu have become a lot denser than last month’s.

EMB employees did the tests in the cities of Talisay, Cebu and Mandaue.

Cunado said Friday’s testing showed that the presence of air particulate already exceeded the normal 150 micrograms per cubic meter standard. Particulate content in the air was only 50 to 60 micrograms per cubic meter last month.

Cunado said while haze does not have lethal contents, its high particulate content is unsafe especially for those with heart and respiratory ailments.

Small particles of less than 10 micrometers in diameter “pose the greatest problems because they can get deep into the lungs, and some may even get into the bloodstream.”

Philippines cancels flights, alerts hospitals over haze
The Philippines has cancelled flights and put hospitals on alert as its southern and central islands are covered by thickening haze from the Indonesian forest fires.
Channel NewsAsia 25 Oct 15;

MANILA: The Philippines cancelled flights and put hospitals on alert on Sunday (Oct 25), as its southern and central islands were covered by thickening haze from the Indonesian forest fires.

Smog from Indonesian slash-and-burn farming has choked vast expanses of Southeast Asia for weeks, killing at least 10 people, forcing events to be shut down and schools to close across the region.

International efforts to douse the blazes have done little to clear the air, and Filipino authorities warned ash levels were becoming increasingly dangerous in the southern islands.

"The department of health is advising those who have breathing problems or respiratory diseases to wear face masks in areas covered by haze," presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma told reporters. Hospitals in the south were ready to receive anyone affected by the haze, he added.

Six flights to central and southern islands were cancelled or delayed on Sunday due to the thickening smog, after thousands were left stranded over the past 10 days.

Pilots flying in the central city of Cebu could only see eight kilometres ahead, said government weather observer John Agbay, adding that visibility was also impaired in the western island of Palawan.

Indonesian forest fires are an annual occurrence, but dry weather has made them particularly bad this year and Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Japan have all sent help to fight the blazes.

While the haze in the Philippines has been mild compared to other parts of Southeast Asia, the smoke has been largely unexpected as the islands affected lie thousands of kilometres away from the fires.

Singapore, one of the worst hit, on Sunday urged fellow ASEAN members to take "firm and decisive action" ahead of a group summit in Malaysia next month. The city-state issued the call after Singaporean troops and firefighters returned from an international assistance mission in Indonesia's Sumatra island.

Experts say Typhoon Koppu, which passed over the northern tip of the Philippines last week, may have contributed to the problem in the archipelago by dragging the smoke across from Indonesia.

- AFP/al

Read more!

Malaysia: Haze forces cancellation of three sporting events

The Star 25 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: At least three sporting events have been cancelled due to the haze.

Among them was the Sultan of Selangor Cup clash between Selangor and Singapore which was scheduled for yesterday at the Shah Alam Stadium.

Organising chairman Tan Sri Abdul Karim Munisar said the cancellation of the 14th edition of the annual tournament was due to Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah’s concern.

“Tuanku instructed the cancellation as he is concerned about the health of the players, the students and the public,” he said.

Abdul Karim added that the organising committee had been working closely with the Selangor State Health Department on monitoring the air quality and the decision was made after Shah Alam recorded an API reading of 138 at 5pm yesterday.

He added that next year’s competition would remain in Selangor and the sponsorship from this year would roll over accordingly.

“Local councils that purchased tickets will receive replacements in the same number for next year’s competition without extra cost.

“Spectators who had bought tickets can choose to get replacements for next year’s competition or a refund,” said Abdul Karim.

Also cancelled was the Department of Environment’s (DOE) MTB Eco-ride at the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park yesterday.

However, 700 cyclists who had registered for the 25km race, carried on.

Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Hamim Samuri, who was supposed to flag off the race, said the ministry and DOE had to cancel the event as they did not want to risk the health of the cyclists.

National women’s mountain bike rider Masziyaton Mohd Radzi said she was disappointed but was glad that everyone continued on.

“For me this is part of my training and I am glad we got to finish it.”

The “2015 Batik Fun Walk” starting at the Malaysia Tourism Centre in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, today has also been cancelled.

The walk has been rescheduled for Dec 13 and all participants of the programme had been informed about the postponement.

The Fun Walk involves a 2.3km walk with the participants dressed in batik.

Smoke gets into our eyes – and mood
CHRISTINA CHIN The Star 25 Oct 15;

Respiratory ailments are the least of our problems as the prolonged haze starts to affect workers’ productivity and mental health.

SINCE the hot and dry season started in June, the country has experienced hazy days, culminating in the recent prolonged spell that some experts claim could last until March.

Besides falling ill, Malaysians have had to put up with cancelled flights and schools closing. Now, as Indonesia’s fires continue to rage on, depression, anxiety and low productivity have set in.

Accountant Sam Yong, 30, hasn’t been out jogging for weeks and the lack of exercise has taken a toll. Not only has her cholesterol spiked, she feels suffocated.

“I just go from home to the office and back every day. No fresh air. My movements are limited and I feel mentally trapped,” she sighs.

Copywriter Shireen Chen, 37, is tired of waking up to grey and polluted skies. Feeling demoralised and unproductive, her creative spark is dimming.

“I just don’t want to get out of bed. When I’m driving to work and see skyscrapers hidden in smog, my heart just sinks. Now I understand what my friend meant when she said she left the UK because of the depressing weather.”

Workers resent having to work when schools are closed as they are also affected by the unhealthy Air Pollutant Index, observes Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan, noting that trade unions have called for unrecorded leave to be allowed on such days.

“Staff seem less active. They’re uncomfortable. The hot and humid weather makes it worse.”

Malaysian Mental Health Association ­deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj says the prolonged hazy skies can certainly cause people to become less productive and even depressed.

Productivity, he says, will decrease, especially among those whose livelihood is jeo­pardised by environmental hazards. The impact of the haze, however, is not only on productivity for the whole nation, he adds.

“Besides great financial implications, there’s the impact on physical and mental health. People suffer from psychological distress because their physical health has been compromised. Those already suffering from anxiety and depression are likely to see their condition worsening.”

Some Malaysians become depressed, similar to what Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) patients in countries with four seasons experience, says Universiti Malaya associate professor and consultant psychiatrist Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin.

He recently treated a patient who was feeling depressed and under the weather because of the prolonged haze.

When the weather or season changes, moods are altered because sleep patterns are disrupted, there’s little sunlight and it’s gloomy outside, he adds.

“It feels like winter but minus the cold. Those vulnerable to mood disorders find it especially tough to cope with the uncertainty of when the hazy veil will lift. One day you read that the haze will go away soon. Then, the next you hear that it’ll linger on till next year. The unpredictability is upsetting and can lead to depression. Even you and I can get depressed in this environment.”

Shedding some light on SAD, Dr Andrew says it’s depression that comes with shortened day light. This usually occurs during winter when there’s less day light, he explains.

Less melatonin, which is linked to depression, is produced. So, this leads to people feeling low, he says, adding that the haze is not known to cause SAD but the gloom brought about by the haze can be a contri­buting factor to low moods, less motivation and increased anxiety.

Those suffering from anxiety disorders or depression are likely to have their symptoms exacerbated.

“There’s also a psychological component linked to certain medical conditions like bronchial asthma and eczema. People with these conditions will be more psychologically distressed as a result of their physical symptoms worsening,” he says.

Even children who may initially be excited with schools closing will face more stress later when their academic performance is compromised, he suggests.

“Those in danger of having their exams postponed will also suffer from performance anxiety as they would have lost the momentum in their studies. The overall poor performance of Malaysian students will limit their competitiveness internationally when they score lower in their university entry qualifications.”

Staff take unplanned leave because of unscheduled lesson disruptions, Shamsuddin laments. As a result, companies experience a drop in productivity.

“More employees, especially working ­parents with kids in kindergartens and primary schools, applied for emergency leave recently. They have to take care of their kids at home.”

Parents shouldn’t cause their children unnecessary anxiety, advises Hospital Penang child and adolescent consultant psychiatrist Dr Lai Fong Hwa.

Kids, he says, observe and behave the same way their ­parents do.

“If the parents are down, moody and worried, the child will also feel and act like them.”

While the negative physical effects of the haze are undeniable, he says a person’s psychology can make it worse.

“While the haze may make you uncomfortable, your mental state can make you feel sicker. You will begin to feel your nose itching, your eyes watering and your throat becoming sore if you constantly think about these haze-related symptoms.”

He tells adults not to worry the kids.

“Taking the necessary precautions to keep the children healthy is fine but don’t fill their minds with negativity.”

The haze, Dr Andrew says, can cause people to display irritability and low tolerance for one another as well as lead to ­behavioural changes.

Feelings of anxiety, low motivation, low mood and uncertainty, can result, he says.

“Poor visibility may make motorists more agitated and this can result in road tantrums.”

Unfortunately, you can’t just snap out of these feelings. You can only minimise or avoid the cause, he points out. Maintaining interaction with family and friends is important, he says, but people should also try to minimise unnecessary exposure to the haze and wear appropriate masks and protection. Keep well hydrated, he offers.

“Those with breathing problems and anxie­ty or depression should be especially careful. Be aware of the possible effect of the haze on your psychological state and avoid stressful events that may have a cumulative effect on such pre-existing conditions,” he says.

Create a happy surrounding indoors by using lights, suggests Dr Amer, advising people with a family history of depression to get checked.

“Stop smoking. Exercise because it raises your endorphins and your spirits!”

Ultimately, Dr Andrew hopes every possibility is explored in the Asean spirit to overcome the problem. Serious, concerted effort from all stakeholders is a must, he stresses.

Schools closed, but lessons go on
The Star 25 Oct 15;

IPOH: Schools might be closed due to the haze, but the learning continues!

SMJK Sam Tet principal Lau Swee Mun said pupils here were receiving homework from their teachers via the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) platform.

“We have been doing this since Thursday – after the prolonged temporary closure of the school.”

Lau said only language-related subjects like English, Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese were sent to the students via the VLE platform.

The VLE platform is under the iBestariNet project of the Education Ministry, planned to provide online learning for pupils.

Despite having no classes, Lau said that the school library was still open for the pupils.

In PETALING JAYA, students are also receiving their homework online.

Parent Edward Neoh Chuan Tat, 50, was glad his 13-year old daughter from SMJK Katholik could retrieve and do her homework even though she was not at school.

Neoh, who is also the adviser of Jia Zong, an association made up of parents from Chinese schools, said his daughter would only need to sign in to the VLE every day at home to check whether teachers had uploaded homework for them.

The best part, he said, was that parents were given their children’s usernames and passwords, allowing them to check if their children’s homework were completed.

“I hope more schools can adopt the platform to reduce the impact of haze on our children’s education,” he added.

24 areas with unhealthy air quality
The Star 24 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Twenty-four areas in the peninsula recorded air quality at the unhealthy level as at 5pm Saturday.

Pasir Gudang in Johor still had the highest Air Pollutant Index (API) reading, at 147, followed by Port Klang (146); Malacca (138); Shah Alam (135); Banting and Larkin Lama, Johor (133).

Other areas with air quality in the unhealthy range were Putrajaya and Bukit Rambai, Melaka (both at 132); Kota Tinggi, Johor (130); Kuala Selangor (129); Muar (128); Port Dickson (127) and Seremban (126) while 24 other areas API readings at the moderate level.

An API reading of 0 to 50 indicates good air quality; 51 to 100, moderate; 101 to 200, unhealthy; 201 to 300, very unhealthy and 300 and above, hazardous.

North-east wind to blow haze away
The Star 25 Oct 15;

SERDANG: The expected onset of the North-east monsoon wind looks set to bring about a gradual decline of haze levels in the country.

Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Hamim Samuri said the change of wind pattern would see the haze in Kalimantan and Sumatera blown to the Indian Ocean.

“Based on satellite images, it seems North-east monsoon winds from South China Sea have returned,” he said.

Hamim added that when that happened the haze was expected to remain for one or two more days, provided there was no more tropical storms, like the ones in the Philippines.

He was referring to tropical storms Koppu and Champi that have drawn winds from Indonesia to Malaysia in the past week.

“Though officials in Indonesia have said it would take three months to put out the fires, the change of wind directions should benefit us.

“We hope the wind from the north-east will continue but we cannot guarantee that there will be no more tropical storms as they are hard to predict,” said Hamim.

Bernama reports that 26 areas recorded unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings with the highest at 152 in Pasir Gudang, Johor, as at 1pm yesterday.

According to the Department of Environment’s (DOE) portal, other areas with unhealthy API readings were Port Kelang (146), Kota Tinggi (144), Shah Alam (139), Larkin Lama, Johor (138), Bandaraya Melaka (134), Putrajaya (132), Banting, Selangor (132), Bukit Ram­bai, Melaka (131), Kuala Selangor (130) and Petaling Jaya (125).

In Seremban the API was 129, Muar (124), Port Dickson (123), Batu Muda (120), Cheras (119), Nilai (118), Tanjung Malim (117), Langkawi (110), Bakar Arang, Alor Setar (109), USM, Penang (107), Kangar (107), Alor Setar (107), Seberang Jaya (106), SMK Tanjung Chat, Kota Baru (105), and Seri Manjung (101).

Only two areas, Labuan and Limbang, Sarawak, registered healthy air quality at 45 and 39, while other areas recorded moderate API readings.

An API reading of 0 to 50 indicates good air quality; 51 to 100 moderate; 101 to 200 unhealthy; 201 to 300 very unhealthy and 300 and above hazardous.

The public can visit the website at to know the current API readings.

Haze: Better API readings around the country
New Straits Times 25 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The air quality in the country continues to improve, with 12 areas recording unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings at 9am today, from 28 areas yesterday.

Pasir Gudang in Johor, which recorded the highest API of 154 yesterday, recorded a turn for the better with a reading of 111 today.

The haze also improved in two other areas in Johor- Kota Tinggi and Larkin, recording a moderate API reading of 84 and 98 respectively, as compared to 147 and 138 yesterday.

Port Klang had the most unhealthy air quality today with a reading of 134, followed by Shah Alam (126), Banting (118), Petaling Jaya (112), Putrajaya (110), Port Dickson (108), Seremban (106), Kuala Selangor (106), Batu Muda in Kuala Lumpur (106), Malacca City (102), and Bukit Rambai in Malacca (102).

Thirty-eight other areas recorded moderate air quality. While, Miri and Limbang entered the blue zone, recording good air quality with a reading of 50 and 44.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department had yesterday told the New Sunday Times that the northeast monsoon winds would be able to push the haze out, bettering the country’s air quality.

Read more!

Call for legal action, boycott to tackle haze

Sarah Oh Yahoo Newsroom 25 Oct 15;

As Singapore and other regional countries remain shrouded by haze due to the raging forest fires in Indonesia, participants at a forum urge consumer boycott and more legal action against parties involved in causing the problem.

The People’s Forum on Haze, which was held on Saturday (24 Oct) at the Singapore Institute of Management, saw representatives from various educational institutions and non-government organisations discuss ways to combat the persistent haze.

Benjamin Tay, a PhD student at the National University of Singapore who conceived the forum, said Singaporeans must play an active role in tackling the haze instead of merely accepting the status quo.

“Singapore’s social and political culture is pretty conservative, so we need to initiate an engagement with the government for the sake of our future generations” and help eradicate the haze problem, he said.

Greater involvement of the citizenry would give more bite to recent measures by government agencies and industry players in Singapore to bring companies to task for being involved in starting the fires in Indonesia.

The National Environment Agency began legal action under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) last month against Singapore-listed Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP) and four other Indonesian firms that were reportedly behind the burning.

In a significant step taken by Singapore businesses against an errant company linked to the haze, supermarket chains NTUC, Sheng Siong and Prime removed APP’s products from their shelves earlier this month.

Beyond these actions, Professor Ang Peng Hwa, co-founder of Haze Elimination Action Team (HEAT), said consumer boycotts can also have the powerful effect of punishing entities that do not abide by acceptable environmental standards.

“We have a role to ensure these people are motivated to comply,” he said.

HEAT is a group that seeks to find viable solutions for the haze problem, including suing errant companies under the THPA. It hopes to discuss with the relevant authorities to initiate legal suits against such companies.

Louise Wood from World Wildlife Fund Singapore, however, proposed more corporate transparency and sustainability-based consumerism. The communications manager at the wildlife conservation group cited the example of Swedish furniture giant IKEA, which buys only timber and palm oil from sustainable sources.

With the haze having reached as far as Thailand and the Philippines in recent weeks, and projected to last until early next year, the call by the participants at the forum for more action by Singaporeans to tackle the environmental conundrum assumes greater urgency.

Read more!

More firms sign on to declare products free from APP link

Jessica Lim, The Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Oct 15;

More companies in Singapore are coming forth to distance themselves from Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), currently under investigation for its possible links to the haze.

As of yesterday, 98 companies - from major retail chains such as NTUC FairPrice and Watsons Personal Care Stores to specialist paper supplier Mukim Fine Papers and flooring installation firm JPL Builders - have signed the Singapore Environment Council's (SEC) declaration form.

Two companies, which declined to be named, even came forth to do so voluntarily.

The online form, which requires companies to declare their products free of raw materials from APP - Indonesia's largest pulp and paper firm - has been sent to a total of 233 companies so far.

The Ministry of Finance has also sent a memo to all government agencies advising them "not to procure paper brands associated with APP" while investigations are under way.

Singapore's National Environment Agency had served APP a notice late last month under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to provide information on its subsidiaries and measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires in their concession lands.

This sparked a chain reaction, with the SEC suspending the use of its green label on APP products, and supermarkets such as FairPrice and Giant subsequently pulling APP products off their shelves. Online grocer Redmart did the same on Monday.

Local company Tipex, a major distributor of tissue paper products here, including popular brands such as Beautex, signed the form early this month after suspending the sale of the APP items it distributes.

"Our company supports the SEC's movement for companies to procure from sustainable sources that do not contribute to the haze and has since signed on the declaration form," said its vice-president, Mr Richard Sim.

The owner of wallpaper company Goodrich Global, Mr Chan Chong Beng, who signed the form on Oct 15, said he did it to show support for the movement.

"Environmental issues are a serious problem and we are all affected by this ongoing haze. We want to help create awareness about the importance of green consumerism," said Mr Chan, adding that he does not sell APP products. "We also want to assure our customers that we have nothing to do with the forest fires in Indonesia."

A global body representing consumers has also stepped into the fray. On Wednesday, Consumers International, a not-for-profit company based in Britain, called for consumers to stop buying items produced by firms involved in producing the haze-causing forest fires in Indonesia.

The body, which has 240 member organisations in 120 countries, including the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), said: "Consumers should send a strong signal to the errant companies through their purchasing power and refuse to support companies which are contributing to this environmental disaster by their irresponsible practices."

APP, which has placed several advertisements in newspapers in Singapore to inform consumers of its no-burning policy, told The Straits Times that there are indeed fires on its suppliers' concession lands.

However, it said: "The location of the fires is not determinative of who is responsible for starting the fires. Data collated from the Global Forest Watch website shows that most of the fires were started outside our suppliers' concessions."

Consumer Ricky Chan, 53, said the ongoing haze has prompted him to be more conscious about his purchases.

"If there is a green label or certification, I will try my best to buy it if the price difference is not too great," said the businessman. "But it would be good if there was more information about which companies are actually to blame. This will help us make the right choices."

Read more!

Several events cancelled on Saturday due to haze

The air quality in Singapore had been in the Very Unhealthy range since 4am. NEA said the current conditions are expected to continue for the rest of the day.
Abhishek Ravikrishnan Channel NewsAsia 25 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Due to the haze on Saturday (Oct 24), several events in Singapore had to be cancelled or postponed. The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading peaked at 229 in the south at 10am.

Among the events cancelled were the WTA Future Stars youth competition, the Singapore Athletics Inter Club Championships and the Healthy Lifestyle Festival SG roadshow at Hougang Central Hub.

In an advisory, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said a total of 328 hotspots were detected in Sumatra and Kalimantan on Saturday. The air quality in Singapore had been in the Very Unhealthy range since 4am. NEA said the current conditions are expected to continue for the rest of the day.

A total of four hotspots were detected in Sumatra. NEA says this is due to “partial satellite pass”, as parts of central and southern Sumatra continue to be affected by moderate to dense haze. Widespread haze was observed over Kalimantan and “some of the haze continues to spread to our surrounding sea areas”, said NEA.

Hazy and reduced visibility conditions are expected to persist on Sunday with the 24-hour PSI expected to be in the mid-section of the Unhealthy range to the low end of the Very Unhealthy range. It may enter the mid-section of the Very Unhealthy range if denser haze in blown in.

- CNA/ek

Singapore River Festival opens amid hazy skies
Organisers says they are monitoring the Pollutant Standards Index every hour, and if it hits 300, they may decide to cancel the performances.
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 24 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Despite the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) being at unhealthy levels, crowds gathered at Clarke Quay Friday (Oct 23), for the opening night of the inaugural Singapore River Festival, which celebrates the role of the river in the nation’s development.

The festival boasts a line-up of artworks and performances by local and international artists over the weekend. Organisers said they are monitoring the PSI every hour, and if it hits 300, they may decide to cancel the performances. They also emphasised that the safety and health of the performers and spectators are of utmost concern, and that they had some masks on standby.

The festival's headline act is an aerial acrobatic performance by Spanish theatrical group, La Fura dels Baus. It features 42 people forming a “human net”. They will be lifted by a 220-tonne crane, to 30 metres above the river - almost 10 storeys high. The show takes places on Friday and Saturday at 8pm and 10pm.

In line with the festival’s theme of “Celebrating Singapore River stories”, there will also be activities taking place across Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. These include a ten-day public art exhibition along the alleyways of Circular Road at Boat Quay. Curated by multi-disciplinary group Kult, it features larger-than-life installations by over 30 local and international artists based in Singapore.

There will also be puppet and storytelling shows at the river promenade outside UOB at Boat Quay. These take place on Oct 23 and 24 at 7.30pm and 9pm.


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Singapore troops return home after fighting haze-causing fires in Indonesia

The Singapore team had been fighting forest fires, causing transboundary haze, in Indonesia’s Palembang for more than 10 days.
Channel NewsAsia 24 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore team helping to fight haze-causing fires in Indonesia returned Saturday afternoon (Oct 24) after more than 10 days in Palembang.

The return marks the completion of the Republic of Singapore Armed Force's two-week deployment, as requested by Indonesian authorities.

A total of 40 RSAF and Singapore Civil Defence Force troops were deployed on Oct 10. A Chinook helicopter with a 5,000-litre heli-bucket was also deployed. Over the two weeks, it had discharged more than 400,000 litres of water and extinguished more than 50 hotspots in Sumatra.

Said Deputy Head of the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB) Mr Harmensyah at a farewell event in Palembang on Friday: “On behalf of the Government of Indonesia, and representing the Head of BNPB, I would like to express my sincere gratitude and deep appreciation for the contribution and hard work of the team and crew from Singapore who have worked hard for these last two weeks of the fire-fighting.”

Officers who spoke of the challenges faced in their mission said the situation in Palembang was quite bad.

"Upon landing, we could already feel the whole Palembang Airbase was already quite hazy," said Lt-Col Vincent Tan, the mission commander. "Understood that earlier that day then, it was above 1,000 the air quality index, AQI."

Added 2WO Vijaykumar, one of the aircrew specialists: "The underground heat was quite intense at times. We could actually feel the heat while we were setting up the bucket together with the SCDF and the rigging team."

In a Facebook post, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen thanked “our men and women who overcame difficult conditions on this mission to put out hotspots and help the surrounding villages”.

The Singapore deployment and a Chinook helicopter equipped with a heli-bucket sent to Palembang to fight forest fires. (Photo: Ng Eng Hen's Facebook page)

“The industrial scale of this disaster – millions of hectares burning – requires a systemic, deliberate and multi-prong response to be effective. There is no shortage of expertise, both regional and international – that can be brought to bear on how to prevent or put out such fires, if requested,” said Dr Ng. “Indonesian leaders have realised that what is key in preventing this environmental disaster from recurring is prevention and enforcement.

“Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs General (GEN) (Rtd) Luhut Pandjaitan had related to me how Indonesian President Joko Widodo stood at ground zero and saw for himself the flames bursting from the peatlands below. Once it started, the burning rapidly spread, fuelled by the highly combustible peat below.

“Defence Minister GEN Ryamizard Ryacudu shared how, many years ago as a ground commander in TNI, he had asked for high pressure water jets to soak the peatlands when his unit was tasked to help put out fires. President Jokowi has suggested pre-constructed irrigation tunnels that can flood the peatlands when needed. I applaud the President’s ideas and initiatives.”

Dr Ng added that the “commercial entities that own or use the land” must take responsibility.

“The commercial entities that benefit from the burning must be pressured to change, by law and penalties. These companies must put in place measures to prevent fires from starting, and if that fails, infrastructure to limit the burning,” said Dr Ng.

“The strongest motivation to deal with the haze for Indonesia must be a moral one – the health of hundreds of thousands of their own citizens are affected by this man-made disaster as they breathe in high levels of pollutants. These are strong reasons to act decisively.”

Australian and Malaysian troops had left Palembang on Oct 19 and 20 respectively.

- CNA/ek

Moral need to act decisively on haze, says Eng Hen
Francis Chan, Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Oct 15;

The strongest motivation to resolve this year's transboundary haze crisis - statistically proven to be the worst in a decade - must be a moral one, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has said.

And those who own or use the land for commercial purposes must bear responsibility for the fires raging over them, Dr Ng added yesterday, as he welcomed the Singapore firefighting assistance team that returned home after a two-week mission to Indonesia.

"The haze has impacted the lives of millions of residents in our region in many ways. Schools have closed and the volume of business has dropped. Tourist arrivals will plummet if this becomes a chronic issue," Dr Ng wrote in a Facebook post.

"But to me, the strongest motivation to deal with the haze for Indonesia must be a moral one - the health of hundreds of thousands of their own citizens are affected by this man-made disaster as they breathe in high levels of pollutants. These are strong reasons to act decisively."

Yesterday, Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan told The Sunday Times that the government plans to claw back concessions in peatlands that have not been cultivated, to prevent companies from using the slash-and-burn method to clear land.

The move is seen as a strong indication that Indonesia believes peatland restoration must be the focus of any efforts to end the haze crisis.

Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency estimates that more than 43 million people in the country are breathing in the toxic fumes from the fires.

The haze has also hit Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, forcing airports to delay or ground flights and schools to close as well.

The human costs, however, are the highest in Indonesia, where there have been unverified reports of more than 10 deaths, including babies, from lung infections.

Dr Ng said Indonesian leaders, including President Joko Widodo, have realised that what is key in preventing this environmental disaster from recurring is prevention and enforcement.

"I applaud the President's ideas and initiatives. The industrial scale of this disaster - millions of hectares burning - requires a systemic, deliberate and multi-prong response to be effective."

He added that there is no shortage of international expertise to help in the crisis.

On Oct 10, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) deployed three aircraft and a 34-strong team to Sumatra after Indonesia accepted Singapore's offer.

The SAF team was accompanied by a six-man Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

"The Indonesian authorities accepted help from various countries, including Singapore, to deal with the haze for an initial two-week period," said Dr Ng.

"With the two-week period concluded, our SAF and SCDF personnel returned home today.

"This is the worst haze situation to affect this region in a decade. Our deepest thanks to our men and women who overcame difficult conditions on this mission to put out hot spots and help the surrounding villages."

Singapore team returns from fighting haze-causing fires in Indonesia
AsiaOne 24 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE - The Singapore team deployed to help put out forest fires in Sumatra has returned after a two-week operation, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said in a statement today.

They were received at Paya Lebar Air Base at about 3.30pm by SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap.

The team, comprising personnel from the SCDF and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), left for Palembang on Oct 10. The SAF sent a Chinook equipped with a 5,000-litre heli bucket and two C-130 transport planes.

"The team operated under challenging conditions, with thick smoke and poor visibility. This deployment has validated the SCDF's operational readiness and preparedness. The experience gained will be invaluable for any future operations," the SCDF said.

Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen posted a note of appreciation for the team on his Facebook page today.

"This is the worst haze situation to affect this region in a decade. Our deepest thanks to our men and women who overcame difficult conditions on this mission to put out hotspots and help the surrounding villages," he wrote.

He added that the Indonesian leaders have realised that prevention and enforcement are key in preventing this "environmental disaster" from recurring.

He also applauded the ideas and initiatives by Indonesian president Joko Widodo, who suggested pre-constructed irrigation tunnels that can flood the peatlands when needed.

"The industrial scale of this disaster - millions of hectares burning - requires a systemic, deliberate and multi-prong response to be effective. There is no shortage of expertise, both regional and international - that can be brought to bear on how to prevent or put out such fires, if requested," Dr Ng wrote.

Apart from Singapore, Australia, China, Malaysia, and Russia have stepped up to help Indonesia douse the fires responsible for the choking haze across the region. Yesterday, the haze spread to southern and central Philippines, about a week after it reached the country.

In Singapore, the 24-hour Pollutants Standard Index (PSI) remained in the very unhealthy range for most of today since 4am. At 9pm, the 24-hour PSI dropped to the unhealthy range at 159-198, down from the 8pm reading of 163-203. The three-hour PSI as of 9pm was 127.

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Malaysia: All religions agree ‘environs must be safeguarded’

HANIS ZAINAL The Star 25 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: When it comes to the environment, the common theme in all religions is, humans have to care for it.

This was one of the conclusions reached by panellists at yesterday’s Interfaith Dialogue on the Religious Views of the Environmental Crisis.

Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia director Prof Datin Dr Azizan Baharuddin said in Islam, the earth is regarded as a source of knowledge, which is full of bounties.

“For Muslims, the earth is a gift from Allah so we should be grateful for it,” she said, adding that it was seen as dosa (sin) to destroy the environment.

Malaysia Hindu Sangam deputy president V. Kandasamy said Hindus shared the same view that the earth is a valuable gift.

“All of God’s creations must be respected,” he said, adding that the earth should not be polluted.

Dignity for Children chairman Rev. Elisha Satvinder Singh said the haze was an example of humans’ failure to appreciate the planet.

“The haze is caused by greed and negligence. The actions of people has led to the destruction of the environment,” he added.

International Network of Engaged Budhhist (INEB) executive committee member Vidyananda K.V. Soon said people needed to practise moderation and sustainable living to tackle the environmental crisis.

“What we do will affect someone else,” he said.

“There are the 3 Rs – reuse, reduce and recycle – but from a religious standpoint, we should also add refuse and reject,” said Soon, adding that people needed to eliminate “over-consumption”.

He said the haze was a result of over-consumption, and greed among corporations.

The interfaith dialogue was moderated by University Putra Malaysia’s Faculty of Human Ecology dean Prof Dr Zaid Ahmad and was held at the Islamic Centre here.

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