Best of our wild blogs: 29 Oct 15

Savanna Nightjar – Chick development
Bird Ecology Study Group

Talks for Marine Park Volunteers (Series 1)
The Leafmonkey Workshop

What happened at the 1st Asian Songbird Crisis Summit in Singapore

Raja Ampat fires destroy livelihoods; Sumatrans suffer from drought amid haze
Mongabay Environmental News

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Indonesia: Haze Death Toll Climbing -- Minister

Ari Rikin Jakarta Globe 28 Oct 15;

Jakarta. The haze death toll continues to rise as efforts to extinguish the blazes blanketing Sumatra and Kalimantan are hampered by continuing dry conditions, a minister said on Wednesday.

Deaths from haze related respiratory illnesses have reached 19 across Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, Jambi, South Sumatra and Riau, Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa said. All five provinces have declared a state of emergency.

Residents will be continued to be evacuated while efforts to extinguish forest and peat fires carry on, Khofifah said.

"Every half an hour all district and neighborhood heads will get updates on the air quality index of their respective areas so that they can order an evacuation immediately," she said.

The haze crisis has continued to worsen as over 43 million people have been exposed to smoke from the wildfires, with over half a million cases of acute respiratory tract infections recorded.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency has labeled the situation "a crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions."

Protected forest in Balikpapan burned down
N.Adri, 28 Oct 15;

Fires are destroying the Wain River Protected Forest in the northern part of Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, and were approaching Camp Djamaludin, a research station in the center of the primary forest, on Tuesday afternoon, locals have reported.

The HLSW Management Agency and local residents strove to extinguish the fires, which have been burning since Saturday, but fire spots continued to spring up, they said.

“We don’t know where the fires came from, and how many hectares of protected forest have been burned down,” said Nunuk Kasiyanto, a local resident living near Wain River, on Tuesday.

As of Tuesday afternoon, local authorities were still deploying personnel to help extinguish the fires.

Nunuk said around 150 military personnel from the 900 Raiders Battalion and a number of students from conservation groups in Samarinda had been deployed to help fight the fires. A long list of parties was reportedly working together to put out the fires, including HLSW management personnel, local residents and dozens of members of youth organizations, such as Pemuda Pancasila. They all had been involved in the fire extinguishing efforts since Saturday, Nanuk said.

Camp Djamaluddin, the research station in the middle of the 10-million-year-old primary forest, is mainly accessed via a 2-hour walk from an entrance gate near the Wain Dam. The Wain River Protected Forest is part of Karang Joang and Kariangau sub-districts in West Balikpapan district, Balikpapan, East Kalimantan. The protected forest is 9,782 hectares in size.

The western part of the forest borders on the Gulf of Balikpapan while in the east it ends at the Soekarno-Hatta highway, between the 20-kilometer point of the road and the 24 km point.

The Wain River Protected Forest is home to a number of protected animals and plants, such as East Kalimantan orangutans and sun bears, Proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, hundreds of bird species, dozens of Orchid species and tropical pitcher plants.

The protected forest, which was set up during the Dutch colonial era, is also the water catchment area for residents of Balikpapan. (ebf)(+)

Rains reduce the number of hotspots
Antara 28 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Rains in several parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan islands on Tuesday and Wednesday reduced the number of hotspots, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

"As rains fell, the number of hotspots fell, too," Chief of BNPB Data and Information Center and Public Relations Service, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said here on Wednesday.

He made it clear that land and forest fire fighting operations have begun showing significant results.

Cloud seeding operations conducted by sowing salt to create potential clouds have produced rains, he said.

"The rains that fell in many areas were a combination of man-made and natural rains," he said.

He said rains fell in some areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"The community welcomed the rains joyfully, expressing gratitude to God, having been affected by smoke for more than two months," he said.

The rains have also resulted in the smoke thinning out and the visibility improving, he added.

Hotspots have been still detected in some areas in the two islands, he said.

"The number is not as high as before the rains fell," he said.

Based on the result of monitoring by Terra Aqua satellite, nine hotspots were detected in Sumatra and 282 hotspots in Kalimantan as of 04.00 p.m. on Wednesday.

Three of the hotspots in Sumatra were found in Lampung and six in South Sumatra, while 169 of the hotspots in Kalimantan were found in Central Kalimantan, 86 in East Kalimantan and 27 in South Kalimantan.(*)

Air quality in Sampit reportedly improving
Antara 28 Oct 15;

Sampit, C Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - Air quality in Sampit, Central Kalimantan, is reported to be improving after certain areas received rain recently, thinning out the smoke.

"Alhamdulillah (Thank God), the air is fresher although a thin layer of smoke remains, hopefully it will rain more which will completely put out the forest and land fire," said Salbi, a Sampit resident, here on Wednesday.

Weather in Sampit has been fairly clean recently although people still have to see the blue sky lasting from morning until noon. The wind is quite strong and the air, too, is cold. People expect that it will rain again.

According to the data obtained from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Station at the Haji Asan Airport, Sampit on Wednesday morning said there are no hotspots in East Kotawaringin, Katingan and Seruyam district.

Also, the area that was covered by smoke is drastically receding.

Horizontal visibility throughout the morning, and until afternoon, was also recorded as being quite good, between 800 to 1,000 meters. This is much better than the severe conditions seen till now when the visibility was only about 10 to 300 meters.

However, everybody is reminded to remain at standby because potentially, smoke could again return. Peat fires have been noticed up to several meters deep in the ground, so the current rainfall may not extinguish the fire in the ground completely.

"Reports of zero hot spots could be because the satellite may be unable to penetrate into the thick peat layer. The rainfall that occurred in the last couple of days could have extinguished just the fire on the surface. Satellites can only take pictures at the surface level, and underground conditions may not be detected," Head of Haji Asan Sampit Airport weather station, Yulida Warni, said here on Wednesday.

Yulida asked all the people to pray for rain. Moreover, the current joint team is having difficulty in extinguishing the fire as most hotspots were located in very remote areas and were difficult to reach. Also, the fire extinguishing efforts were often hampered due to low visibility.

Although the smoke has already reduced significantly, local authorities have still kept the oxygen house and shelters on standby at several locations.

The local authority is still preparing in anticipation of the smoke plumes becoming denser again.(*)

Thin smoke from Sumatra reaches northern Banten waters
Antara 28 Oct 15;

Tangerang, Banten (ANTARA News) - The smoke arising from land and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan has been spotted over the waters of north Banten.

Climatology Station officer from the Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (BMKG) Yanuar Henry Pribadi stated here on Wednesday that based on monitoring by the Himawari weather satellite, the smoke, which spread on October 27 at 11:30 p.m. local time, was still seen covering parts of the Sumatran region.

The thick smoke has not yet reached Java Island though only a thin layer of smog is now visible at an altitude of about 10 kilometers over the northern Banten waters.

"The smoke had reached North Banten waters but is still relatively thin. There is a high possibility of it reaching Tangerang area and is not likely to settle downwards," Yanuar affirmed.

Yanuar pointed out that the thin layer of smoke was due to the wind blowing in the opposite direction towards Singapore and Malaysia.

"The thick smoke is likely drifting towards Malaysia and Singapore, and there is only a thin layer of smog over Java Island," he reported.

Head of the Environment Agency of Tangerang City Dr Liza Puspadewi stated that thin smoke was visible in the southern city of Tangerang on Sunday morning.

However, the incident was only experienced briefly as the smoke was very thin and later disappeared.

Liza said her institution will soon notify the public to issue an early alert in anticipation of the spread of the smoke.

"Actually, it is not really that alarming as it is still very thin. So, it is still relatively safe," she noted.(*)

Haze victims struggle to remain optimistic
Hasyim Widhiarto and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 28 Oct 15;

Coughing continuously, Akhyar stood at the back of a crowd of people waiting at the registration desk of state-owned Dr. Doris Sylvanus General Hospital (RSUD) in Palangkaraya on Monday afternoon.

The young man, who makes ends meet as a seasonal worker in the neighboring Katingan regency, said he had traveled to the Central Kalimantan provincial capital in the hope of getting treatment for his persistent cough, allegedly triggered by thick haze that has blanketed the province since last month.

Akhyar, however, quickly changed his mind upon seeing the long line of patients with respiratory illnesses at the province’s largest hospital.

“There’s no hope for me to get immediate help here. I will book a flight to Lampung [on Sumatra] today to see my parents and get a medical checkup there,” Akhyar said, adding that he would return to Katingan only when the haze crisis had ended.

Indonesia has been struggling to curb the impacts of air pollution originating from fires in peatland and plantations in Sumatra and Kalimantan for months.

Palangkaraya, home to 250,000 people, has become the city with the worst air quality in the country, as the concentration of particulate matter (PM10) has stood at extremely dangerous levels for weeks.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported on Tuesday that the PM10 concentration in the city stood at 1,696.06 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3), the highest nationwide.

Last week, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) reported that the ongoing haze crisis had claimed 10 lives and caused more than 500,000 people, mostly children, in the six worst-hit provinces to suffer from acute respiratory infections. Of the figure, 52,000 people were from Central Kalimantan.

In Palangkaraya, the huge number of incoming patients has made it difficult for local hospitals and community health centers (Puskesmas) to provide immediate medical assistance for some of the patients.

Last week, RSUD Dr. Doris Sylvanus, which has more than 250 beds, for example, temporarily stopped admitting patients as all of the hospital’s beds were occupied.

In an attempt to avoid hospital issues, local resident Chandra Wijaya said he and his wife had refrained from taking their 6-month-old baby outdoors in recent weeks to prevent the baby from getting sick.

“We leave the air conditioner on in our bedroom to make our baby comfortable,” Chandra told The Jakarta Post.

Central Kalimantan Health Agency head Suprastija Budi said the local authorities would prepare at least three buildings as evacuation shelters for haze victims.

Meanwhile, in Jambi, where fires have burned more than 15,000 hectares of land since August, local authorities are preparing to convert at least eight buildings into evacuation shelters, including Kotabaru Sports Hall and two convention centers.

In Riau, the country’s largest oil-producing region, a local BMKG station reported on Tuesday that haze had reduced visibility in several cities, including Pekanbaru, Dumai and Pelalawan, to below 800 meters.

In neighboring West Sumatra, eight of the province’s 19 regional administrations on Tuesday decided to close down kindergartens and elementary schools after air quality dropped to dangerous levels.

— Jon Afrizal in Jambi, Rizal Harahap in Pekanbaru and N. Adri in Balikpapan also contributed to this article.

Indonesians take fight against haze into their own hands
AFP AsiaOne 28 Oct 15;

PALANGKARAYA, Indonesia - Desperate civilians at the epicentre of Indonesia's haze crisis are taking the fight into the own hands, using whatever meagre resources they have to confront the fires ravaging their communities as they tire of waiting for the government to take action.

Wearing an oversized T-shirt and ill-fitting rubber boots, 13-year-old Yosua Oktavianus assisted his father douse a fire burning outside their hometown in Borneo as acrid smoke belched from the scorched earth.

"I just want to help my dad," he told AFP near Palangkaraya, a city of 240,000 where respiratory illnesses have soared as the smog has worsened in recent weeks.

Communities worst exposed to the toxic smog are becoming increasingly frustrated at authorities in Jakarta, insisting not enough is being done to aid their plight.

The government has launched water-bombing raids dumping water over blazes on Borneo and neighbouring Sumatra but has failed so far to bring thousands of fires under control.

It has also sent warships to Kalimantan -- Indonesia's half of Borneo island -- in case large-scale evacuations are needed, but many on the ground are choosing to fight not flee, using wooden sticks, pails of water and anything else on hand to douse the flames.

'Fed up of waiting'

After watching children and the elderly in his hometown fall sick under the pall of haze -- just some of the estimated half a million people who have suffered respiratory illnesses since the fires started in July -- 20-year-old Fery Auyadi decided enough was enough.

Banding together with his friends, the college students pooled their resources and collected donations for supplies before heading to the fire front.

"My friends and I were fed up of waiting for the government to act," he told AFP, dripping in sweat and mud as he battled a blaze outside Palangkaraya.

"It is now everybody's fight."

Another team in the area responded to reports of new fires and set off in pickup trucks, passing through a ruined, smoking landscape of charred earth and smouldering tree stumps.

The team scrambled to find water, a scarce resource on these tinder-dry peatlands, until a well was found at a nearby construction site.

As the team assembled the water pump, Sayban, who was wearing neither a firesuit or proper mask, stomped the smoking ground.

"At least my boots are heat resistant," the firefighter, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP.

Just as the ten-strong team arrived, reports of another blaze breaking out nearby came in. Working around the clock on a tight budget, and with limited equipment at hand, they know if the fires become too big they can do nothing but stand by and watch it burn.

In Palangkaraya, where many have fled since the smoke blanketing their town turned an eerie yellow, there are calls for those responsible for this environmental catastrophe to be punished, but local authorities are reluctant to point fingers.

Fires are deliberately lit every year by farmers seeking to quickly and cheaply clear their land to plant crops, particularly palm oil and pulp and paper plantations, but this year's blazes are on track to become the worst on record.

A prolonged dry season has seen widespread fires sweep Kalimantan and Sumatra, destroying 1.7 million hectares and killing ten people so far, some of whom died while fighting the blazes and others from the pollution.

Who is to blame?

Indonesia last month revoked the licence of a timber supplier and suspended the operations of three palm oil plantation operators over the fires, which have sent haze as far as Thailand and the Philippines, but catching people on the ground has proved far more difficult.

Angry residents in the heart of the haze crisis have blamed both major corporations and local farmers for the disaster, and want justice served.

"If you want to stop this disaster from happening again, you need to put the culprits in jail for a long time, revoke their license and confiscate their lands," local resident Andi told AFP.

The local government conservation agency in Palangkaraya declined to answer when asked by AFP who was behind the massive blazes, and why more perpetrators weren't being caught.

"It's not the time to point fingers, it's the time to act," agency head Nandang Prihadi said.

But conservation group Borneo Futures said it was unlikely internationally-listed companies were responsible for the fires.

Scientist Erik Meijaard said medium-scale plantation owners trying to expand their land may have asked farmers to burn the land on their behalf.

"So who is to blame? The guy who brings the jerrycan with fuel and a box of matches, the guy paying him to do that, or the company or politicians behind the people who pay?" he told AFP.

"Difficult to see and probably very context dependent."

Airport Operator, Airways Hit Hard By Forest Fire Haze
Fardah Antara 29 Oct 15;

Jakarta (Antara News) - The haze emanating from forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan harms not only the locals and the environment, but has also affected the financial performance of airways and state airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II.

PT Angkasa Pura II has suffered an estimated loss of Rp30 billion during the past month due to the haze, PT Angkasa Pura II President Director Budi Karya Sumadi said in Padangpariaman, West Sumatra on October 27.

Some three thousand flights were affected over the same period due to the haze, he stated.

The data on flight cancellations and delays were collected from September 1 to October 10, 2015.

"The worst hit airports are in Jambi and Pekanbaru followed by Pontianak. Other affected airports include Padang and Palembang as well as Kualanamu in Medan," he said.

The operations at Sultan Syarif Kasim (SSK) II International Airport of Pekanbaru, Riau Province, for instance, have frequently been shut down.

On October 19, the visibility dropped to 100 meters in the morning and improved to 400 meters by noon, forcing cancellations of more than 60 flights to and from Pekanbaru.

"From morning till noon today, no aircraft could fly. The airports operations are paralyzed again, after they nearly came to a standstill yesterday," Hasnan Siregar, the SSK II airports duty manager, noted on October 19.

Referring to the crowd of passengers at airports due to delayed and cancelled flights, Sumadi said he would remind the public that the delay and cancellation of flights is a fact and these things do happen in the country.

"We will operate to the maximum capacity the airports which are still active, such as Padang, Palembang, and Kualanamu, by equipping them with better facilities," the PT Angkasa Pura II chief said.

In the long run, the company will conduct research to find out the possibility of planes taking off and landing in areas shrouded by haze, he said.

PT Angkasa Pura II will improve the lighting system and control tower communication at various airports to enable aircraft to land and take off despite the haze reducing visibility to a certain distance.

The company will study whether a plane can take off and land even when the visibility is 1,000 meters, instead of 1,500 meters as required now, he said, citing an example.

In the meantime, Indonesias flag carrier Garuda was forced to cancel some two thousand flights up to September due to the haze, President Director of PT Garuda Indonesia M Arif Wibowo said recently.

Citilink, a subsidiary of Garuda Indonesia, cancelled 600 flights, affecting 120 thousand passengers.

The effect was significant because it caused revenue as well as opportunity losses, he said on the sidelines of a meeting of the Association of Indonesian National Air Carriers (Inaca).

PT Kalstar Aviation has also been significantly affected by the haze disaster because 90 percent of the airlines flight routes are in cities on the Kalimantan Island, the company�s Marketing Manager Mochammad Zainuddin said.

Some one thousand flights were cancelled, impacting nearly 120 thousand passengers, he said.

"The haze has been increasing with visibility dropping to 100 or 200 meters, forcing cancellation of flights," he remarked.

His company suffered losses worth billions of rupiahs because the flight frequency decreased from 70 flights a day to only 20 flights.

"Our flights have been affected by up to 60-70 percent. Our target was to serve 1.5 million passengers until the end of this year, but that has dropped to 1.3 million passengers," he noted.

In September, the Ministry of Transportation reported that some 21 airports in Sumatra and Kalimantan were affected by the haze, including those located in Palembang (South Sumatra), Pekanbaru (Riau), Jambi (Sumatra), Melak and Balikpapan (East Kalimantan), and Banjarmasin (South Kalimantan) in addition to Sampit, Palangkaraya, Pangkalan Bun, and Muara Teweh (Central Kalimantan). The other airports affected were Putusibau, Nangah Pinoh, Pontianak, Sintang, and Ketapang (West Kalimantan), apart from Long Apung (North Kalimantan), North Tapanuli (North Sumatra), and Pangkal Pinang (Bangka Belitung).

In fact, forest fires not only hit Sumatra and Kalimantan, but also parts of Sulawesi, Papua, and Java Islands.

Some airports in Papua and Sulawesi have also been affected by the haze, although it is not as bad as those on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

On the island of Papua, for instance, the airports of Timika in Papua Province and Manokwari in West Papua Province, were recently shut down temporarily due to the smog from the forest fires.

Garuda Indonesia Airways cancelled flights at the two airports as the haze from the forest fires significantly reduced visibility in the areas, Manager of Garuda Indonesias Jayapura office Wahyudi told Antara, on Oct. 18.

The Papua meteorology office recorded 40 hotspots indicating forest fires particularly in the districts of Mappi and Merauke, on that date.

Since October 15, Garuda had cancelled flights in the Moses Kilangin Airport in Timika, he said.

Garuda was also forced to cancel flights in the Rendani Airport in Manokwari on October 18 and 19, according to him.

On Sulawesi Island, North Malukus Babullah Airport was shut down on October 22, due to a thick haze shrouding the airport area.

The haze blanketing the airport had reduced visibility to 800 meters, preventing planes from landing and taking off, the Head of the Babullah Airport, Rasburhany said. ***1***

28-10-2015 21:07:29

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Indonesia Government wrongly predicted extent of El Nino: Minister

The Indonesian weather bureau had predicted the El Nino effect in March but underestimated the extent of the phenomenon, said Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 28 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: The Indonesian Government has wrongly predicted the extent of this year’s El Nino phenomenon, said Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference on Wednesday (Oct 28), Mr Luhut said the Indonesian weather bureau had predicted the El Nino effect in March but it had underestimated the extent of the phenomenon, not realising it would be even worse than in 1997.

El Nino is the warming of sea temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, resulting in drier conditions in Southeast Asia.

"We didn't know, and I have to be honest and say that we didn't know, and the meteorology agency also didn't know that the El Nino now is worse than what it predicted," he said. "I'm not embarrassed to admit that our prediction is wrong, and now this is the outcome, and we are working hard to resolve this."

He also refuted claims the Government was late in responding to the forest fires and haze crisis.

Mr Luhut said he has instructed all Government agencies involved in fighting the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan to make full use of the possibility of rain in the next few days to intensify cloud seeding efforts.

This window of opportunity is now available as parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan have seen light to moderate rain since Tuesday.

He said that with continuous heavy rain and water bombing efforts, the forest fires might be extinguished by the end of next week.

Mr Luhut urged Government agencies to make full use of the window of opportunity, saying even though there has been rain, there are very few clouds present and so the rain could stop at any time.


Mr Luhut also told reporters that President Joko Widodo would be assessing the humanitarian crisis in Sumatra and Kalimantan as soon as he returns from his trip to the United States.

The minister said that more residents affected by the haze - especially infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly - are being evacuated to shelters, as more equipment such as tents and air purifiers from the central Government reach the districts.

Mr Widodo is scheduled to visit Palembang, and Jambi in Sumatra on Thursday to visit the community affected by the haze in the city as well as in the rural villages.

The Indonesian President will make visits to evacuation shelters fitted with air purifiers, which the Government has set up for residents to take refuge from the haze.

On Friday, Mr Widodo will then go to Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan and also South Kalimantan - areas which are badly hit by the haze crisis.

He is also scheduled to visit Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province in Sumatra, to see the progress that has been made to mitigate the humanitarian crisis there.


The Government also gave an update on the number of deaths caused by the haze.

So far, 19 people have died - 5 in Central Kalimantan, 5 in South Sumatra, 5 in Riau, 1 in Jambi and 3 in South Kalimantan.

Mr Luhut stressed that the government would take stern action against those responsible for causing the forest fires.

In addition, he said authorities would not hesitate to punish big corporations who do not have a system, and capabilities to put out fires on their concession lands.

Responding to a question on why the Government is reluctant to announce the names of companies suspected of burning their lands, Mr Luhut said there was an economic aspect to be taken into consideration.

He explained the Government did not want to cause any distortion of information that could affect those working in the companies, and have this lead to layoffs.

- CNA/av

Indonesia failed to predict severity of El Nino weather - minister
Reuters AsiaOne 28 Oct 15;

JAKARTA - Indonesia's weather agency failed to predict that the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon this year would be worse than in 1997, a senior mininster said on Wednesday, as the government considers declaring a national emergency due to forest fires.

The fires raging across the archipelago have created a haze that has blanketed much of Southeast Asia in recent months and, according to authorities, have left more than half a million Indonesians suffering from respiratory ailments.

Luhut Panjaitan, the coordinating security minister tasked by President Joko Widodo with overseeing the government's response to the crisis, said the state weather agency BMKG had not forecast the severity of the El Nino effect.

"I must admit there was a mistake in the BMKG forecast that didn't predict El Nino this year would be worse than 1997," Panjaitan told reporters. "Our forecast was wrong."

Nineteen people have died fighting the fires, and the El Nino effects have exacerbated the dry season making it harder to extinguish the fires.

Often deliberately set by plantation companies and smallholders, the fires have been burning for weeks in the forests and carbon-rich peat lands of Sumatra and Kalimantan islands. Recently, they have spread to places like Papua.

The national disaster management agency said it expected the fires to be completely extinguished by the end of November or early December. Haze-hit provinces have begun seeing rainfall, which authorities hope will help government efforts to combat the fires.

Indonesia has deployed warships to evacuate infants and other vulnerable residents of haze-hit areas but the evacuations will be a last resort if authorities are unable to provide care for those suffering from respiratory ailments.

Government Admits to Underestimating Impact of El Niño
Carlos Paath Jakarta Globe 28 Oct 15;

Jakarta. The Indonesian government admits to having underestimated the devastating effects of this year's El Niño weather phenomenon, as forest fires intensify and spread on Sumatra and Kalimantan islands amid an unusually harsh dry season.

In March, the Indonesian government predicted that El Niño would hit the country hard, but it had no idea that the aftermath would be of this gravity, said Luhut Pandjaitan, the chief security minister.

For more than two months, raging forest fires in Sumatra have released toxic haze that has spread across neighboring countries including Malaysia, Singapore, southern Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.

El Niño typically ushers in hot and dry weather for Indonesia, leading to droughts and rising temperatures, causing forest fires, typically set by farmers to clear land, to spread easily.

Fires in Indonesia have been a near annual occurrence, but have been made worse by a prolonged dry season and El Niño weather pattern whose devastating effects are only now starting to be seen.

"We did not expect that El Niño would be even worse than the one we had back in 1997," Luhut said in Jakarta on Wednesday. "Usually in September, rains start to pour down, but not this time. We have made wrong predictions."

The oversight has forced officials to become more transparent in their disaster management efforts, and work closely with the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and regional administrations.

Some of these measures include identifying the forest fire hot spots on a digital map, available to download for free online, according to BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa, with the help of Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, the acting governor of Sumatra's Riau province, has also pledged to broadcast via radio readings of the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) every half-hour through state-owned Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI).

“When the haze gets thicker and yellow in color, [local governments have been instructed to] inform the RRI. All local governments must listen to the broadcast and use the [PSI] information as reference for evacuating people [if necessary],” Khofifah said on Wednesday.

President Joko Widodo has decided to cut short his first official visit to the United States on Monday as the forest fire crisis blazes out of control in Indonesia.

Haze to lessen in November 28 Oct 15;

The forest and land fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan have been estimated to end in November due to rain that started to fall at the end of October.

According to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) head, Andi Eka Sakya, hot spots could still be found in several regions in the country, but the number had decreased.

On Wednesday morning, the Terra and Aqua satellites reportedly detected 10 hot spots in Sumatra, 82 in Kalimantan, 40 in Sulawesi, 37 in Nusa Tenggara and nine in East Java. As for Maluku and Papua, only five hot spots were found.

Andi told that rain was estimated to fall more evenly in several regions in November and thus would continued lessening the thick haze. (kes)(+)

Cloud seeding to stop haze
Marguerite Afra, 28 Oct 15;

Coordinating Minister for politics, law and security Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said on Wednesday that he instructed government agencies to focus on cloud seeding operations for the next four days in order to intensify the downpours to combat forest fires causing the haze disaster.

Luhut urged Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) and Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) to keep collaborating to create artificial downpours every time the correct type of clouds appeared in the sky.

“We should use every chance we have to perform cloud seeding operations. Downpours in hot spots and haze-affected areas are really helpful for our mitigation efforts,” Luhut said during a press conference at National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) on Wednesday.

According to Luhut, if the cloud seeding operations were performed effectively in the next four days, thick haze in the affected regions would be reduced.

While continuing water bombing to extinguish hot spots, Luhut is confident the government could fully tackle the haze disaster in the next few weeks.

Riau’s Governor Annas Ma’amun has confirmed the positive impact brought by downpours in Riau and its surroundings. (dan)(+)

Govt to use REDD+ funds to restore peat lands
Antara 28 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Vice President Jusuf Kalla said here on Wednesday that the government would use funds from the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program to restore the peat lands in the country.

"We will discuss the concept of peat land restoration that complies with the REDD+ program and credits from carbon trading and we will have to use a lot of funds from the national budget," he said.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla met with Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya and special presidential envoy for climate change control, Rachmat Witoelar, to discuss the problem.

He had asked for a review of the financing system of the REDD+ program and carbon trading to see if funds can be diverted for restoring peat lands.

Norway has pledged to extend $1billion for REDD+ and has so far given only $30 million.

Apart from REDD+ and carbon trading, the government would also force companies that have burned lands to take responsibility for the lands under their concession right.

"So, automatically, funds from them will also be available. All (such companies) must be (held) responsible," he said.

Kalla said restoring the functioning of peat lands was a must in view of the impact of the fires on the people.

He said restoration of peat lands would take around five years and cost trillion of rupiahs. (*)

President set to have office in Palembang
Antara 28 Oct 15;

Palembang, S Sumatra (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) is set to have an office in Palembang to monitor the handling of land and forest fires in South Sumatra province.

Speaking to the press in Palembang on Wednesday, South Sumatra Governor H Alex Noerdin confirmed the Presidents plan to visit the province.

Shortly after arriving in Jakarta from his US visit, the President will fly to Palembang, he said.

The President will stay in the South Sumatra provincial capital where he will have an office for a few days, he said.

The governor said the provincial government will prepare the presidential office at the Griya Agung gubernatorial palace in Palembang. The President will have an office there, along with the Provincial Disaster Mitigation Board (BPBD).

The plan may change. However, the South Sumatra provincial government has made preparations, including security arrangements, for the Presidents visit, he said.

Asked about the Presidents plan to inspect hotspots in South Sumatra, the governor said the hotspots were in the districts of Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin.

The President is now on his way home to Jakarta from the US.

He had to cut short his state visit to the US due to the alarming smoke condition resulting from the forest and land fires affecting several of Indonesias main islands.

After meeting US President Barack Obama, Jokowi canceled a series of engagements on his agenda in San Francisco and assigned relevant ministers to continue with the state visit as planned.

According to plans, the President and his entourage will fly directly to Palembang, South Sumatra, to review the condition of the hotspots.

The President will be in Palembang for about two days to simultaneously monitor smoke and disaster management efforts.(*)

Jokowi to have his office in Palembang on Thursday: Cabinet secretary 28 Oct 15;

Cabinet secretary Pramono Anung said President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo would arrive in Palembang, South Sumatra, on Thursday, following his decision to shorten his working visit to the US.

President Jokowi would likely have his office either in Sumatra or Kalimantan to make it easier for him to directly monitor efforts to extinguish land and forest fires.

“It is probable that he will have his office in Palembang to monitor the progress of the situation,” said Pramono as quoted by in Jakarta on Wednesday.

The cabinet secretary said President Jokowi would fly home using the same route from Washington, DC, in which his presidential flight would transit twice in Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam. As soon as he arrived in Jakarta, the President and his entourage would directly depart to Palembang and was scheduled to arrive in the city at 8 a.m. local time on Thursday.

Pramono said that once he arrived in Palembang, President Jokowi would hold a meeting with the haze disaster control team, dispatched under the coordination of Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, to discuss progress of the handling of land and forest fires. After the meeting, he further said, Jokowi would depart to Musi Banyuasin to observe conditions in the area by taking a land route for around 4-5 hours.

“He will observe several spots,” said Pramono, adding that the government would focus its attention on the areas affected most by the haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Pramono said Palembang was selected as the location of the President’s temporary office because presidential aircraft Boeing Business Jet 2 could land in the city.

Earlier, Jokowi was scheduled to carry out a state visit in the US for one week. He departed to the US on Saturday, when haze problems from land and forest fires in Indonesia were at their peak. Jokowi’s working visit drew sharp criticism, forcing the President to shorten his trip. He cancelled his plan to visit Silicon Valley, San Francisco, to meet digital economy business players.

Head of the House of Representatives’ Commission IV overseeing agriculture, food, forestry, plantations, fisheries and maritime affairs, Edhy Prabowo, said separately that eight House factions had agreed to establish a Pansus (committee) to inquire into the nation’s handling of smoke from land and forest fires in several areas across Indonesia.

“Eight factions have agreed on the establishment of the committee. Only NasDem and Hanura have not yet made a decision,” said Edhy.

The eight factions are from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Gerindra Party, the National Mandate Party (PAN), the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the Democratic Party, the United Development Party (PPP) and the National Awakening Party (PKB).

Edhy said the Pansus establishment was aimed at primarily pushing the government to immediately resolve the haze problem instead of chasing after the companies deemed responsible for the fires.

House deputy speaker Fadli Zon said he supported the idea of establishing the Pansus due to the government’s slow response and lack of seriousness in handling the problem.

“I think establishing this Pansus is an aspiration so that it must be initiated by 25 people at the least and two factions,” said Fadli.

Commission IV deputy head Viva Yoga Mauladi said the committee was needed to create a regulation on fire prevention as Law No. 32/2009 on environment protection and management still had loopholes for clearing land with fires. (ebf)

President Jokowi raises issue of forest fires at Brookings
Antara 28 Oct 15;

Washington DC (ANTARA News) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) raised the issue of forest fires during his policy speech at the Brookings Institution in here on Tuesday (Oct. 27).

The fires are linked to deforestation and slash-and-burn agricultural practices, and Jokowi has pledged to curb these activities, which contribute to global warming.

The fires have grounded flights and triggered respiratory ailments among thousands of Indonesians, and have been spewing greenhouse gases across the region.

President Jokowi stated that forest fires are a serious problem being faced by Indonesia today.

However, the president reiterated his commitment to solving this problem through utilizing the resources owned by Indonesia and also a likelihood of assistance and cooperation with other countries.

The fires have challenged Jokowis government and brought the issue of climate change to the forefront less than two months before a United Nations conference in Paris intended to conclude an agreement on global warming.

Obama stated on Monday that large nations, such as the United States and Indonesia must work towards achieving the strongest possible emission targets.

The fires, which have spread thick haze over the Asian country, are forcing Jokowi to cut short his trip to the United States that had been focused as much on investment as on the two countries relationship.

Jokowi affirmed that the problem of forest fires, illegal fishing, and emissions are also a matter of concern for the Indonesian government.

Puan not shirking haze responsibilities: health minister 28 Oct 15;

Health Minister Nila F. Moeloek has defended the absence of Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Puan Maharani from the scene of the haze crisis, in response to environmental activists slamming her efforts.

Nila admitted that Puan had not visited haze-affected areas but said that that was due to technical issues.

"It does not mean she is not working just because she has not gone to the scene. We from the specific related ministries have gone to see the situation first hand," Nila told on Tuesday.

Nila recently joined a government visit to Palembang and Jambi led by Coordinating Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan. Also on the trip were: Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya, House speaker Setya Novanto, Army (TNI) chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo, National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti and National Disaster Mitigation Agency chief Willem Rampangilei.

Puan joined President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on his trip to the US on Saturday and is scheduled to return home with the President.

Nila said Puan had maintained contact with the ministries under her coordination.

"Communication has been via limited meetings of the Coordinating Ministry and also over the phone. She just called me earlier," she said.

Nila said that she believed Puan would join Jokowi flying directly to Palembang from the US.

"Insha Allah [God willing], I believe she will come with the President," she added.

Previously, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) slammed Puan's performance in responding to the haze crisis. Abednego Tarigan, executive director of Walhi, questioned Puan's limited role in the crisis that has left millions of Indonesians breathing in toxic smoke.

Puan's ministry coordinates the ministries of religious affairs; education and culture; research, technology and higher education; health; social affairs; villages, disadvantaged regions and transmigration; women’s empowerment and child protection; and youth and sports. (rin)(+)

Indonesia house leaders call for inquiry into handling of fires
Jakarta Post AsiaOne 28 Oct 15;

House of Representatives leaders have called for the establishment of a Pansus (committee) to inquire into the nation's handling of land and forest fires, which have caused serious smoke problems currently affecting areas across Indonesia.

House deputy speaker Agus Hermanto said the Pansus was needed because from the start the government had not been serious in their efforts to handle the land and forest fires.

Agus said the House's Commission IV overseeing agriculture, food, forestry, plantations, fisheries and maritime affairs had established a Panja (working committee) on environment to monitor the handling of land and forest fires. However, only the Forestry and Environment Ministry had taken progressive moves to follow up the committee's recommendations.

Agus said ministries and non-ministry government institutions only started to handle the fires properly after they were mobilized by Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan. Several ministers then moved to areas affected by the smoke disaster.

"It's too late. It should have been handled seriously from the very beginning. With a Pansus, we can better handle land and forest fire problems," said Agus as quoted by at the House complex in Jakarta on Tuesday.

The lawmaker said that compared to a Panja, a Pansus would apply stronger pressure on the government. With a Pansus, he said, the House could summon companies suspected of involvement in land and forest fires. "It's needed to investigate land and forest burning, to help the government to resolve [the issue] and make recommendations to law enforcers," said the Democratic Party lawmaker.

Commission IV speaker Edhy Prabowo said earlier that his commission was preparing a Pansus to inquire into the current smoke disaster. Internally, he said, all Commission IV members had agreed the establishment of the Pansus, which would be soon introduced to other related commissions.

Responding the proposal, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said he was worried that the establishment of a Pansus would consume too much Cabinet-member time, while according to him, ministers already had a lot of tasks to do related to the disaster.

"If [House members] just want to ask about how the government is handling the disaster, they should go ahead. But please don't do it too much because [the ministers] will end up spending all their time answering House questions," Kalla said on Monday.

Forestry and Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya also disagreed with the House's call for a Pansus. She asked all House members to be patient as the government was continuing to tackle the problem.

Elections may be postponed because of haze
Fedina S. Sundaryani and Tama Salim, The Jakarta Post 28 Oct 15;

With the government considering declaring a national emergency over forest fires, Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said local elections may have to be postponed if haze engulfing much of Sumatra and Kalimantan lasts until Dec. 9.

“If some regencies and districts are still affected by severe haze by [Dec. 9], then the elections might be postponed,” Tjahjo said on the sidelines of a discussion at the Institute of Police Science (PTIK) in South Jakarta on Tuesday.

Tjahjo added that the elections would take place soon afterwards and would not have to wait until the next round of local elections in 2017.

Data from the People’s Voter Education Network (JPRR) show that 48 regencies and cities may not be able to conduct the elections on time as a result of the haze, including 14 in Central Kalimantan, seven in South Sumatra, nine in Riau, seven in West Kalimantan and 11 in Jambi.

Meanwhile, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was expected to make a decision on declaring a state of national emergency after returning from the United States.

An aide to the Vice President, Wijayanto Samirin, was quoted by Reuters as saying that elevating the crisis to national emergency status would allow the government to speed up procurement for much-needed foreign firefighting equipment.

But he added there were concerns that businesses could use such a move to declare force majeure on deals in sectors ranging from palm oil to banking.

Kalla said about 40 million people in five provinces had been affected by the haze. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said late on Monday that haze was starting to spread south toward Java, which is home to more than half of the country’s people.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives remains divided over a plan to establish a special committee on haze, as was recently proposed by members of House Commission IV overseeing agriculture, forestry, fisheries and the environment.

Deputy House Speaker Agus Hermanto of the Democratic Party backed the proposal, arguing that the government had not been serious enough in its mitigation efforts from the very beginning.

“The mitigation efforts are a little too late — if only the issue had been tackled seriously early on. Therefore, [the establishment of] a special committee will improve [such efforts],” Agus told reporters at the House complex in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Agus said the House committee would be able to summon firms allegedly responsible for the massive forest and peatland fires to gather information that could be used by law enforcement agencies to launch investigations and eventually lead to prosecutions.

He added that the presence of a special committee would push the government to work harder to resolve the haze issue than the present working committee on environment initiated by the House.

He indicated that the problem rested with the fact that only the Environment and Forestry Ministry had observed the recommendations given, while the rest of the government had only recently shown serious intent under Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut B. Pandjaitan, with ministers starting to travel to the regions affected.

According to House Comission IV deputy chairman Viva Yoga Mauladi, the commission has secured support from 57 lawmakers for the establishment of a special committee on haze.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Setya Novanto balked at the proposal for a special committee, given that both the central and local governments were doing their best to combat the fires.

“I think that the government has done well, so the proposal for a special committee is not really necessary,” Setya said.

Read more!

Malaysia: Asean countries need to improve action plan to curb haze: Wan Junaidi

THARANYA ARUMUGAM New Straits Times 28 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Asean countries have to intensify their action plan and improve enforcement against offenders responsible for causing man-made pollution in a bid to curb the annual occurrences of transboundary haze in the region.

Natural Resources and Environment minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said as transboundary haze pollution remained a major and persistent challenge in the Asean region, the leaders should continue to find concrete solutions and retain their momentum in tackling the perennial problem.

"Malaysia is hopeful that nations affected by transboundary environmental pollution, such as during the recent haze episode, will be able to find a joint solution in the spirit of Asean solidarity and continuously take preventive measures," he said.

Speaking at the 13th Asean Ministerial Meeting on Environment in Hanoi, Vietnam, Wan Junaidi said all Asean nations should strengthen existing cooperation either multilaterally or bilaterally to improve measures to mitigate environmental issues affecting the region.

He said Asean environment leaders should take advantage of the existing strong Asean spirit and work closely in enhancing technical knowledge and develop capacity building to solve the current environmental issues, which were transboundary in nature.

Environmental management, he said, played an important role in the region as Asean representative countries have faced challenging environmental problems in the past decade.

“These environmental issues have caused a significant impact towards our respective country’s economic growth, healthcare sector and the public welfare of our people.

“We, as the leaders of environment in this region, need to have the foresight on environmental issues that occur repeatedly on an annual basis.

“This would allow better mitigation efforts and if needed countries in this region should provide the necessary expertise and knowledge to solve the problem,” he said in his statement.

Wan Junaidi reiterated the country's pledge and commitment to continue supporting fellow Asean countries to undertake preventive measures to prevent any transboundary pollution.

Wan Junaidi meets Indonesian counterpart to discuss haze situation
JOSEPH KAOS JR The Star 27 Oct 15;

PUTRAJAYA: After several postponements, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar finally met his Indonesian counterpart to discuss the regional haze situation.

In the 9pm meeting Tuesday, Dr Wan Junaidi spoke with Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar on the haze problems in Malaysia, a result of forest burning in the republic.

As of press time, the outcome of the meeting could not be obtained, but it is understood that Dr Wan Junaidi had planned to brief Siti Nurbaya on the haze situation in Malaysia.

Siti Nurbaya is expected to be informed of the haze situation in the country, including the number of school closures it caused.

The meeting also discussed what sort of assistance Malaysia can provide to Indonesia to help combat the forest fires, which included sending the country's firemen across the border.

It is learnt that Dr Wan Junaidi also proposed the usage of tube wells in peat soils, which provides moisture to soil and roots, thus reducing the chances of fire.

The tube well system has been used in Malaysian peatlands and has somewhat managed to control the level of forest fires in the country.

The ministerial-level meeting between Dr Wan Junaidi and Siti Nurbaya had been called off three times before this, due to the bad haze situation in Jakarta.

Also part of Dr Wan Junaidi's delegation yesterday was Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor and Malaysian ambassador to Indonesia Datuk Seri Zahrain Hashim.

Besides discussing how to manage the forest fires, the two parties were also supposed to discuss the content of a memorandum of understanding between the two countries on trans-boundary haze.

The MoU, which is to be signed before year's end, will focus on the enforcement of laws, zero-burning practices in Indonesia peat soil management and collaboration between the two countries when fire breaks out.

Dr Wan Junaidi is scheduled to fly to Hanoi in Vietnam Wednesday, to also discuss on trans-boundary haze with the Vietnamese government.

Raging forest fires in the Sumatra and Kalimantan region have caused neighbouring countries in Malaysia and Singapore to be shrouded in haze over the past few months.

The haze has become an annual fixture in this region over the past decade, especially during the dry season.

Read more!

Malaysia: Air quality improves towards end of day

The Star 28 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The air quality in Banting, Selangor, improved from an unhealthy air pollutant index (API) reading of 103 at noon to a moderate 93.

The Department of Environment’s portal had Larkin Lama and Pasir Gudang in Johor, which had unhealthy API readings yesterday morning, registering moderate readings of 93 and 85 respectively as of 8pm.

Other areas which registered moderate readings included Port Klang (79), Petaling Jaya (64), Bukit Rambai, Port Dickson, Putrajaya and Cheras, Kuala Lumpur (80 each), Malacca (77), Kota Tinggi (63), Nilai (74), Seremban (72) and Muar (63).

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.

Malaysian Meteorological Depart­ment director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said the haze was expected to end next month.

She said the northeast monsoon was expected to commence in the first or second week of November, and would end in the second week of March next year.

“Beginning November, we will experience the northeast monsoon winds. This means the wind from the South China Sea will not bring in the haze from Indonesia, and the country will be free from the haze,” she said.

She said the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry had implemented 29 cloud-seeding operations to reduce the effects of haze since March.

Che Gayah said cloud-seeding operations would be continued in areas which recorded unhealthy API over a period of 72 hours.

“Cloud seeding has successfully produced rainfall in some areas affected by the haze, including the Klang Valley,” she said.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar is scheduled to meet Indonesian officials on the assistance required from Malaysia to fight forest fires in the republic.

He said Malaysia had sent an aircraft to Indonesia to extinguish the forest fires and the Indonesian government said it had helped a bit. — Bernama

Read more!

Philippines now haze-free, says PAGASA

Rosette Adel 28 Oct 15;

Haze wrecked havoc in air traffic in Mindanao over the past week. STAR/Rudy Santos
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) on Wednesday afternoon declared that the Philippines is free from haze originating from the Indonesian forest fires.

“We are clear from haze coming from Indonesia,” PAGASA Officer-In-Charge Espie Cayanan said.

The weather bureau reported that the haze will unlikely return unless a large-scale weather system will develop in the Philippine Area of Responsibility and due to locally induced pollution.

According to PAGASA, the haze was brought to the Philippines by Typhoon Lando.

“Hindi na inaasahang manunumbalik ang haze mula sa Indonesia,” Department of Science and Technology Assistant Secretary Raymund Liboro said.

“If there will be haze, it's from our local activities such as due to pollution from vehicles,” Cayanan said.

Cayanan clarified that the light to moderate haze in Metro Manila did not come from Indonesia. However, areas as far as Cebu were reported to have been affected by the haze from the Southeast Asian neighbor.

The weather bureau assured the public that only northeasterlies and easterlies will affect the country so the haze is unlikely to return.

“Sa kasalukuyan, umiiral ang Amihan. Walang bagong sama ng panahon na nakikita na papasok sa bansa,” Liboro said.

Read more!

Indonesia: WWF Indonesian urges govt to focus on disaster prevention

Marguerite Afra, 28 Oct 15;

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia advises Indonesian government to amend the national regulations to focus more on the prevention than the mitigation of disasters.

“Preventive regulations are of great importance, because in cases like forest fires, mitigation would be harder once fires have spread,” WWF CEO Efransjah told in an event on Wednesday.

As a nature conservancy organization, which also focuses on protecting animals, WWF is concerned with how forest fires have spread into national parks, including Tanjung Puting National Park that includes some of the last remaining habitat for orangutans.

According to Efransjah, if forest fires kept spreading, sooner or later more orangutans would become victims. The haze disaster would probably deliver worse impacts for animals than for humans.

However, WWF could not fully focus on helping animals affected by haze right now as the organization's main concern today focused on evacuating WWF field staffs who are trapped in the haze-affected regions.

“There are more than 50 staffs dispersed in three provinces in Kalimantan. Some have evacuated from Palangkarya to Banjarmasin. We could not send them here due to thick haze,” said Efransjah, adding that some staffs have suffered from acute respiratory infections.

In addition, Efransjah said that after everything had been settled, WWF would conduct a comprehensive study regarding the impact of haze on animals in Indonesia. (dan)

Indonesia urged to invest more in disaster research
Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 28 Oct 15;

Indonesia has been urged to invest more in disaster research as the archipelago is among the most disaster-prone countries in the Asia Pacific region, which is the most vulnerable region in the world.

Surono, a disaster expert at the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry, said disaster research in Indonesia was extremely limited.

“In order to identify problems, we need research. But in Indonesia, there is a severe lack of research on disasters, compared to training for people removing the bodies of disaster victims. So the government’s approach [to disasters] is very much reactive, not preventive,” he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

According to Surono, the field of disaster research lacked much-needed funding, which in turn discouraged students from looking for jobs in the field.

“No one is interested in studying the subject because there are no career prospects. Just imagine, Indonesia, which is very prone to earthquakes, has failed to become a center of excellence on disaster research, unlike Japan or Europe. Why is there no university major on disasters in Indonesia? Because no one’s interested. If you are a graduate of disaster studies here, where do you want to work?” he said.

Indonesia is one of the most disaster-prone nations in the world. “From 2000 to 2011, there were 12 earthquakes in the world with more than 1,000 fatalities. Four of those were in Indonesia. The first one was in Aceh in 2004, then in Nias in 2005, Yogyakarta in 2006 and in Padang in 2009,” Surono said.

“But because there’s not enough research, we were caught by surprise. Indonesians are often surprised when a volcano erupts in the country even though Indonesia has the largest number of volcanoes in the world,” he added.

Between 2006 and 2012, Indonesia increased investment in disaster-risk reduction from about 0.4 percent of the state budget to 0.7 percent.

“Generally, however, investment in disaster management is inadequate and is mostly spent on response and recovery. There has been progress in building institutional capacities for early warning, preparedness and response, but there are still significant gaps,” the latest report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) on disasters said.

The 2015 Asia-Pacific Disaster Report titled “Disasters without borders: regional resilience for sustainable development”, which was launched on Tuesday, analyses the value of multi-hazard early-warning systems and maps out the way to provide the right information to the right people at the right time.

“A fundamental rethink is needed as many governments still follow a short-sighted approach to disasters — with the focus on response, and paying less attention to adaptation, mitigation and preparedness,” said Shamshad Akhtar, UN under-secretary-general and executive secretary of ESCAP.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the agency had in fact allocated 80 percent of its annual budget of Rp 1.2 trillion (US$88 million) for disaster adaptation, mitigation and preparedness.

“The money was spent on educating people, increasing the capacity of local disaster mitigation agencies etc,” he told the Post on Tuesday, adding that the government had allocated a larger budget for disaster mitigation since 2010.

However, Sutopo acknowledged that disaster research in Indonesia was still lacking. “Most of the research is very basic,” he said. “Meanwhile, research is very important because the law on disaster mitigation says disaster management has to be based on science and technology.”

According to Sutopo, the BNPB actually has a budget of Rp 20 billion for research. However, since the agency is not a research institution, the BNPB can only disburse the budget to other government agencies, such as the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), to help them with disaster-related research.

Read more!

Indonesia: El Nino drought poses poverty challenge for Widodo

NICHOLAS OWEN Reuters 28 Oct 15;

On a dry and dusty sports field in central Java, Indonesian men dressed as traditional warriors take turns to battle with wooden staves, while village women crowd around, chanting: "All farmers let us pray that rain comes and washes our sorrow away."

As in many parts of Java, Indonesia's main rice-growing island, seasonal rains are late coming to Karang Jati. A drought caused by the El Nino weather pattern, which scientists say could be the worst on record, means fields are fallow weeks after they would normally be sown. So the villagers have turned to a rain-making ritual to hasten the planting season.

Crop failures caused by an El Nino drought presage more pain for Southeast Asia's largest economy, which is already growing at its slowest pace in six years, by squeezing incomes, fanning inflation and pushing more people into poverty.

All this piles pressure on Joko Widodo, Indonesia's first president from humble origins, who made poverty reduction a priority but has seen it swell across this archipelago of 250 million people since he took office a year ago.

The number of people officially classed as poor actually rose in the first six months of his presidency to 28.6 million in March from 27.7 million in September 2014.

Twenty of Indonesia's 34 provinces are currently stricken by severe drought, according to the meteorology agency.

The World Bank says that if there is a severe El Nino this year, rice production will fall by 2.1 million tonnes, or 2.9 percent, and rice prices will rise by 10.2 percent.

That price rise will hit the poor hardest because they spend more of their income on food than the well off.

"Reduced agricultural incomes and higher prices could be devastating for poor households," the Bank said in a report, adding that rice imports may be needed if El Nino intensifies.


Widodo has provided more funds for cash transfers and social schemes, but so far has refused to sanction rice imports, keen that Indonesia should be self-sufficient in food.

"We are not talking about imports," Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro told Reuters in a recent interview. "We are trying to make sure the domestic stocks are available and accessible."

Other countries at risk of an El Nino drought, such as the Philippines, have taken advantage of low global rice prices to boost stocks with foreign imports.

Such measures at least cap inflation if crops fail, though they mostly benefit people in towns who consume rice, rather than the farmers who produce it - all they can do is pray for the weather to change.

"Our paddy fields depend on rainwater, so if there is no rain we suffer," said Darijan, a 60-year-old farmer in central Java who has started selling his soil to brick-makers to make ends meet.

Agriculture accounts for nearly 14 percent of Indonesia's gross domestic product, the highest among Southeast Asia's five main economies. One-third of the labor force works in farming, and more than half of poor households live off the land.

"What is very important ... to the poverty numbers is rice production and rice prices," Steven Tabor, the Asian Development Bank's head in Indonesia, told a recent conference. "And the beginnings of El Nino seem to suggest that we may be in for rising poverty toward the end of the year."

As the drought drags on, Karang Jati's farmers such as 70-year-old Rohadi Rustam are anxious.

"If there's no rain, we have no money," he said, sitting by his sun-cracked fields. "That's how we farmers live."

(Additional reporting by Heru Asprihanto, Quincy de Neve and Arzia Tivany Wargadiredja in JAKARTA; Editing by John Chalmers and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Residents leave drought-hit villages in Banjarnegara
Agus Maryono, 28 Oct 15;

Hundreds of residents from several villages in Banjarnegara regency, Central Java, have abandoned their villages due to their livelihoods having been lost to drought.

Village officials said that many villagers from across Kalibening district, mainly from Majatengah, Kaligombang and Sembawa villages, had moved to provinces outside Java.

“Most of them moved to Kalimantan to work on palm-oil plantations. Many of them took their families as it would have been difficult for them to provide for their basic needs [remotely],” Sembawa village head Slamet told journalists on Tuesday.

Slamet said the majority of Sembawa villagers were farmers who heavily depended on their farms. Many of them have now left their farm land, which have gone dry after several months of drought. “Economic difficulties drove them from their homes. There are only children and the elderly currently staying in the villages,” said Slamet, adding that the villagers had left to earn the capital needed to cultivate their land from scratch again.

Tukiran, 45, a Sembawa villager, said that since the beginning of September many farmers had begun to leave their farm land. “The paddy fields went dry while corn fields and salak [snake fruit] plants were destroyed by wild boars. [...] They then decided to temporarily leave their home areas to make their way in life,” said Tukiran. He added that farmers also lost their livestock to the drought as all the grasses needed to feed animals had gone dry.

Similarly, Daryono, 37, a Majatengah villager, said the drought afflicting Banjarnegara had brought misery to villagers in the regency. Many residents, who heavily relied on palawija, or crops planted as second crops during dry season, such as corn and cassava, became desperate after combination of the drought and wild-boar attacks.

Daryono said many wild boars had attacked farmers’ plants due to the depletion of their usual food sources. “Only rubber farmers are still holding out in Majatengah. The others have moved to big cities,” he said.

Banjarnegara is one of 35 regencies and municipalities in Central Java. It is home to around 900,000 people and 70 percent of those live in villages with food-crop farming as their main livelihood.

Banjarnegara borders with Wonosobo regency to the east and Banyumas regency to the west. Salak is a prime commodity of Banjarnegara, one of the poorest regencies in Central Java, and its growth depends on rainfall. (ebf)(+)

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Malaysia: World’s first wired mangroves launched

ALIZA SHAH New Straits Times 28 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR : Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak today launched the world’s first "Connected Mangroves" initiative.

The project would enable mangrove plantation areas to be monitored in real-time through sensors which would be planted around the mangrove saplings.

Salleh said the system could provide critical information such as soil and weather conditions, fire and water levels, has the potential to be expended to other areas.

"As it provides crucial information in real time it will allow local authorities or national governments to use the information for early warning systems such as for flooding, tsunamis and even plantation burning so that they can respond in a clearer manner," he said.

Information compiled through the sensors will be sent directly to a cloud system which stakeholders - including the farmers, analysts, NGOs and local authorities can access.

The project by Ericsson Malaysia, with partners Global Environment Centre and Luimewah (M) Sdn Bhd, was launched in Sabak Bernam, Selangor and is expected to rehabilitate up to 10,000 mangrove seedlings by 2020.

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Indonesia: Stop reclamation of two isles in Thousand islands, Environment office 28 Oct 15;

Thousand Islands regency’s Environment Office has ordered the developers of reclamation projects in Pulau Tengah and Pulau Kali Age to stop their activities because the projects were not equipped with complete documents.

Office head Tiur Maeda Hutapea has said that for the reclamation in Pulau Tengah the developers only held an ecological assessment document for the isle, not a complete environmental impact analysis (Amdal) document, as was needed.

“It is clearly a violation against existing regulations,” Tiur said as reported by on Wednesday.

According to Tiur, the permits for the reclamation of Pulau Tengah should be issued by the provincial administration. “The permits for reclamation projects on five to 15 hectares of land should be issued by the provincial administration. I urge the administration to stop it,” Tiur added.

According to Tiur, there is a clear negative impact coming from the reclamation; as an example, the reclamation process has killed seaweeds in Pulau Pari and Pulau Lancang.

She stressed that the law should be upheld, even though a lot of money could be made from the development of the luxury houses in the reclaimed areas; the city stands to collect a large amount of tax and the developers also promised to develop a Sea Water Reserve Osmosis (SWRO) as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) component to the project.

Meanwhile, speaking about the reclamation process in Pulau Kali Age, Tiur said it also seriously affected the environment in surrounding areas. “We have demanded that the developer stop its activities. I also call on it to obtain permits,” he said.

Tiur said that his office had monitored the illegal reclamation activities in the regency in an attempt to stop further environmental damage. (bbn)

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