Best of our wild blogs: 31 Oct 15

8 Reasons to Conserve MacRitchie
Love our MacRitchie Forest

Jokowi pledges Indonesia peatland ‘revitalization’ to stop the burning
Mongabay Environmental News

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Whale skeleton to go on display February 2016

One of the biggest challenges during the preservation process has been to deal with the oil in the whale’s bones. Whale bones are especially challenging, as fatty oils slowly seep out over the years.
Dawn Karen Tan, Channel NewsAsia 30 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: The skeleton of a sperm whale that was found off the coast of Jurong Island in July will go on display at end-February next year.

"For months, we have been working to preserve the skeleton and to collect as much data as possible from the carcass and the bones are now in the final stages of degreasing!" the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum said in a post on Facebook on Friday (Oct 30).

A museum spokesperson said dealing with oil in the whale's bones is one of the biggest challenges in the preservation process. "Cleaning and preserving old bones is an intricate task with treatment tailored to individual bones. Whale bones are especially challenging, as fatty oils slowly seep out over the years," the spokesperson added.

Fundraising for the preservation of the whale is still ongoing as the museum is trying to meet its target of S$1 million. The spokesperson said donations have come in from a diverse group including ordinary members of the public and local businesses. Channel NewsAsia understands that plans are also underway for a gala dinner to acknowledge supporters of the project, ahead of the unveiling of the whale in the museum's gallery.

- CNA/xk

Sperm whale exhibit to be ready by end of February
Audrey Tan Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Oct 15;

Singapore's very own sperm whale specimen, nicknamed Jubi Lee, is set to go on display at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum by the end of February.

Museum head Peter Ng was coy about exactly where the 10.6m-long exhibit would go, but he did reveal that the skeleton is likely to be placed at eye level.

"As with all our other exhibits, we want visitors to be able to get up close and personal as far as possible, and hanging the whale high up would defeat this purpose," he told The Straits Times.

The 9-tonne adult female sperm whale was found dead in local waters on July 10. The specimen was affectionately dubbed Jubi Lee - a reference to the museum and the fact that it was found during the nation's Golden Jubilee year.

Museum staff worked around the clock for months to preserve the skeleton and to collect asmuch data as possible from the carcass.

The bones are now in the final stages of degreasing. Museum conservator Kate Pocklington said each bone has to go through about five such cycles. Oil must be completely removed to ensure that the bones do not weaken over time or start to smell.

The hope is that the exhibit can replace the 13m-long baleen whale skeleton displayed at the old National Museum from 1907 to 1974. It was later presented as a gift to Malaysia.

The natural history museum, which opened in April at the National University of Singapore, is rolling out yearly membership passes. Prices start from $37.45 for a year's unlimited admission for an individual cardholder. There are also membership passes for families, corporations and public schools.

For Singaporeans and permanent residents, tickets cost $16 for adults and $9 for children and senior citizens.

Professor Ng said: "The museum is housed in a university, which is after all a teaching and research institution. We are not funded by the Government, so we have to charge for admission, but we also want to encourage more people to visit and learn."

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From exercise to eating, Singaporeans chop and change as smoke gets in their eyes

From health issues to disruptions to daily routine, the prolonged bout of haze has affected everyone here.
LAURA PHILOMIN Today Online 30 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — When the south-west monsoon began blowing smoke from Indonesia’s forest fires towards Singapore in August, many people here simply shrugged and continued with life as usual, convinced that this was an annual episode that would last a few days or weeks before blue skies returned.

Almost three months later, the haze lingers — despite relatively clear skies over the past few days. That may not last. There could still be a shift in wind direction that will send PSI levels headed northwards, while some experts have predicted that Singaporeans have to live with smoke-tinged air until well into the new year.

By all accounts, the haze will have an impact on the economy, sending an already weak outlook further into the doldrums, and businesses, especially those which depend on clear skies and cool nights to survive, such as eateries and other tourist destinations, are counting the costs. Indonesia has estimated that the haze could cost it as much as 475 trillion rupiah (S$47 billion).

Much less observed, however, are how the very lives of Singaporeans have changed. Interviews with dozens of people and a poll of 1,000 respondents, conducted by research consultancy Blackbox over two weeks earlier this month, tell a tale of how lives have been changed, and how anger is growing.

From health issues to disruptions to daily routine, the prolonged bout of haze has affected everyone here, one way or another, including people with medical conditions, families with elderly folk or young children, as well as fitness enthusiasts — or the regular Joe who looks forward to his weekly exercise.

For many parents with young children, it has been an extended period of anxiety that sees them having to face a dilemma: Whether to keep their kids at home at the expense of school or other activities — on an almost daily basis.

Dr Christy Toh has two sons aged eight and five. Since the haze first struck this year, the boys, who enjoy the outdoors, have had to stop playing their favourite sports such as tennis, swimming and rugby — instead, they have been cooped up at home. She has also kept her elder son from attending revision classes at school this month.

“It’s been a great inconvenience … It is also depressing (for the boys) to not be able to go outdoors,” said Dr Toh, adding that she tries to keep the air indoors in her home as clean as possible with mechanical cleaners.

In fact, Dr Toh — who is trained as a doctor and a lawyer — feels so strongly about having more measures in schools to protect children from the extended bout of haze that she has started an online petition, which TODAY reported on earlier. Since the petition started two weeks ago — calling for the Ministry of Education (MOE) to take immediate steps to haze-proof its schools — it has garnered almost 4,500 signatures. MOE has told this newspaper that it is working with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) to review its haze-management measures in schools. MOE, which noted the unusually prolonged haze season, said it will provide further updates when the review is completed.

Reiterating that children are particularly vulnerable given their high metabolic rate and immature respiratory systems, Dr Toh said she is concerned about the long-term side effects caused by breathing in fine particles from vegetation fires that can slip past the nasal passages into the lungs and blood streams. Her concerns prompted her to stop all outdoor activities for her sons, she said.

“Every cumulative exposure is going to contribute to that risk of diseases … If health takes priority, it follows that other things have to rank second,” she said. “It’s not ideal and it’s difficult. Parents are being put in a very difficult situation in deciding over health or education almost on a daily basis.”

Another parent, Madam Jennifer Chan, 42, has also stopped her seven-year-old daughter — who has developed asthmatic bronchitis because of the haze — from going to school. A short walk from a restaurant to the family car, for example, would trigger a two-hour coughing fit for her daughter, said Mdm Chan, who works as a chief financial officer.

Reflecting a common sentiment among parents, Ms Katherine Wee, who is a research analyst and whose daughter’s eczema has been made worse by the haze, added: “As I sit in my air-conditioned office and look at the haze, I feel guilty … I don’t want to (leave the office) during lunchtime, but I let my daughter sit in (a non-air-conditioned classroom) for seven hours.”

The Blackbox survey, which polled a nationally representative sample, was conducted via face-to-face interviews with respondents aged 15 and above. Among other findings, six in 10 of the respondents indicated that they have had to adjust their lifestyle because of the haze, and about a fifth said they have an immediate family member who has had to visit the doctor because of the smog.

In recent weeks, the concentration of PM2.5 — fine particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter — has reached unhealthy levels for sustained periods. In a report published earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said research has shown that PM2.5 particles have adverse impact on health from both short-term and long-term exposure.

The MOH website states that short-term exposure to haze particles can affect the heart and lungs of people with existing conditions such as asthma, while healthy individuals may be susceptible to eye, nose and throat irritation. International studies have also shown that long-term exposure to the particles may increase the risk of heart conditions, reduced lung development and chronic respiratory diseases in children.

Ms Adelene Koh, a stay-at-home mother, used to have asthma as a child but she has been experiencing asthma attacks recently because of the haze, despite wearing a mask. She said this has made it difficult for her to take her eldest daughter, four, to her pre-school — which is a 10-minute walk away from their home — and fetch her back.

Retiree Mrs Judy Woon, who also has asthma, said she has seen the doctor three times over the past two months. However, she is still having a persistent cough and sore throat. Going out for necessary appointments, such as to the doctor or bank, also leaves her with a tightness in her chest.

Mindful of the health impact of the haze, Mr Ngoh Seh Suan, 36, who works in the insurance industry, has spent about S$650 on air purifiers, filters, a particle counter — an air quality measuring device — and an array of masks including one for industrial use. Mr Ngoh takes the counter with him to the places that he frequents. “The scary part is the effects, if any, don’t appear right away … Why not take a pre-emptive action?” he said.

With clear skies and fresh air less of an occurrence these days, the simple act of putting on running shoes and pounding the pavements can no longer be taken for granted.

Blogger Pris Chew, 27, voiced her frustration at how several outdoor races that she signed up, for such as the Yellow Ribbon Prison 10km competitive run last month and the New Balance 5km race a week ago, turned into non-competitive walking events because of the haze.

“The haze is not only affecting races but also the training. It’s made it impossible to train outdoors,” she said. “When you’re running on the roads and trails, you’re exposed to the elements such as the wind that you would not get on a treadmill, and that helps to acclimatise to running in the heat in Singapore as well.”

Mr Kishen Rengaraj, 24, who plays competitive hockey for the Singapore Cricket Club, said the main hockey league for top-tier teams in Singapore has already had to cancel two games since last month. His team also had to scrap three training sessions so far.

With many Singaporeans staying indoors or minimising their exposure to the smog, some businesses have taken a significant hit and are mulling over ways to deal with the situation. For example, Pasta Fresca said sales at its Boat Quay outlet, which has a large alfresco dining area, have dropped 15 per cent and it is looking at expanding its delivery services.

Mr Kenny Ng, owner of a horticulture farm and open-air restaurant in Kranji, told TODAY that the eatery had to cancel dinner service twice this month out of consideration for his employees’ health.

Mrs Ivy Singh Lim, who runs Bollywood Veggies in Kranji, said business has dropped drastically. “Every week, we do at least S$25,000 to S$30,000 worth of business, especially during this period when there is a lot of holidays. But it dropped to about S$10,000 a week for about a month. We’re doing half what we used to do and some days, 80 per cent of the school events are cancelled,” she said.

Adding that she hopes the Government can step in and provide some financial support for affected businesses, she said: “There’s nothing much (businesses) can do. You can have any kind of campaign, but (prospective customers) won’t come out.”


With Singapore still shrouded in haze each passing day, the frustrations among people here are mounting and some are taking the matter into their own hands by calling for and supporting boycotts of products from companies linked to the forest fires in Indonesia. Various major retailers and supermarket chains here have already taken off the shelves products sourced from Asia Pulp & Paper Group, which has been linked to the forest fires.

While the Blackbox survey found that 71 per cent of the respondents agreed that the Singapore Government is doing everything it can to get Indonesia to tackle the problem, a similar proportion (72 per cent) felt that retailer boycotts are “more effective than political pressure”.

Still, just over half (55 per cent) felt that the boycotts are effective in exerting pressure on companies, with 50 per cent of the respondents saying they will reconsider their shopping behaviour based on the involvement of firms in the haze problem.

TODAY had reported earlier this month that established non-governmental organisations as well as groups that were formed in recent years in response to the haze problem, have come out in full force, urging consumers and businesses to play their part in the fight. Other groups and individuals are also speaking up on social media and calling for boycotts against companies responsible for the forest fires in Indonesia.

Some experts had said it will be a long trudge to end the haze problem via consumer action, but there is optimism that the nascent efforts here will pay off eventually.

While this is the first time in decades that Singapore has been affected by serious haze over a sustained period, Assistant Professor Winston Chow, an urban climatologist at the National University of Singapore’s geography department, said prolonged bouts of smog will not be uncommon in future because of climate change and weather phenomenon such as the El Nino, which is currently causing a dry spell in the region.

“That is not to say it will happen every year from now on, but what I’m trying to suggest is that the possibility of drier conditions (in Indonesia) is increased because of both climate change and changes to these oscillations (such as El Nino),” said Asst Prof Chow.

With experts not counting out the possibility of Singapore having to deal with months of poor air quality in the future, there are calls for the Government to relook some of the contingency plans — which MOE, MOH and NEA are already doing for schools.

As part of MOE’s existing haze management measures developed over the years, all schools have sufficient enclosed spaces to house students when necessary, and are also equipped with air purifiers.

School activities proceed as normal when the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) is below 100. At higher PSI levels, schools will minimise or avoid outdoor activities such as sports activities, and will also place students who are unwell or with pre-existing lung and heart conditions in air-conditioned rooms with air purifiers. If the PSI reaches “hazardous” levels during school hours, schools will scale down lessons and the students will be asked to go to air-conditioned rooms or enclosed indoor spaces with purifiers, such as the library.

MOE will also consider school closure, when the health advisory the next day indicates that the 24-hour PSI is expected to be at the hazardous level, as it did on Sept 25.

Dr Erik Velasco, from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, said there is a need to establish clearer measures to minimise public exposure to the haze. He noted that the Government’s decision to shut schools on Sept 25 was not based on any official regulations and more can be done to protect the health of workers such as those in the construction sector.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infection disease doctor in private practice, pointed out that research has shown that prolonged exposure to the air when the PSI reaches 100 can cause cardiovascular risks. A 24-hour PSI reading of 101 to 200 is categorised as “unhealthy”.

Dr Leong felt that taking precautionary measures when the PSI reaches 200 is too late. “Should we continue the current steps, we may have inadvertently harmed several children for several years until the science is published,” he said.

Members of Parliament TODAY spoke to agreed that there is a need to review and enhance existing measures to mitigate the impact of haze.

Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa said the prolonged bout of haze Singapore is experiencing provides a “good learning opportunity” for the Government.

As for extending help to businesses, Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng felt that this could be tricky, even though he empathised with the affected firms. “It’s coming up with (ways) to help them and in what form … so that whatever crises that hit us in different forms … The approach should be consistent. Otherwise, it will create more challenges going forward,” he said.

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Singapore effort to fight haze ‘almost futile’

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 31 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — By the time Singapore’s fire-fighting team headed to Indonesia this month, “nothing short of an act of God”, like rain, could have stopped the fires altogether, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, as he urged early action so that such efforts do not become “almost a futile exercise”.

Despite dousing 50 hotspots in two weeks in Indonesia, the area covered by the Singapore team recently was “miniscule” compared to the total area that had to be tackled, said Mr Masagos to reporters a day after he returned from meeting his Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) counterparts in Vietnam.

At the meeting, Mr Masagos had pushed for the requesting of international assistance early in the haze season to become standard practice, once an appropriate alert level is reached. The ministers agreed to it.

Earlier this month, after repeated rejections from Indonesia, Singapore’s offer of haze assistance — including a Republic of Singapore Armed Forces Chinook helicopter with a 5,000-litre heli-bucket — was accepted. The Singapore team returned last week after more than 10 days in Palembang.

Asked about Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan reportedly saying that Singapore’s offer of one aircraft to help fight forest fires was “insulting”, Mr Masagos said some nuances in Bahasa Indonesia are lost in translation. He added: “It’s not about how many assets you put there. It’s how effective you can be and how early you can get activated, as well as how many other countries can contribute to make this a regionally sound way of addressing issues like this.”

Mr Masagos said the Malaysians worked out a standard operating procedure with alert levels, trigger points and actions on fire suppression.

According to a statement released after the ASEAN environment ministers met to review cooperation under the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, Indonesia was tasked to establish the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control in a “timely” manner. ASEAN ministers suggested that the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management be used, in the meantime, for quick suppression of fires.

“There should be an appropriate level at which any party affected by forest fires should get help. And then together in the region, we can gather assets and put out the fires early so that it becomes an effective way of working together,” said Mr Masagos. “This was not something we achieved in this current haze episode, almost a futile exercise but a discovery, nonetheless, that when help comes too late, it does not help at all.”

He welcomed Indonesian officials agreeing to “jumpstart” discussion of Singapore’s Memorandum of Understanding on haze mitigation in Jambi in December.

Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar did not attend the ministers’ meetings this week but Mr Masagos said he hopes to meet her as soon as possible, and persuade her to share information, such as the identity of directors of relevant companies. Such help from Indonesia would help to broaden the impact of Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

Yesterday (Oct 29), the World Resources Institute said that emissions from this year’s fires have reached 1.62 billion metric tonnes of CO2, bumping Indonesia from the sixth-largest emitter in the world up to the fourth-largest in just six weeks.

Mr Masagos reiterated that Singapore is not interested in taking its friends to task, but is focused on companies with “egregious behaviour”. Despite air quality improving in recent days, consumers should buy from environmentally responsible companies and not let their guard down. With greater attention on them, some companies have become more worried about their reputation and access to capital and markets, Mr Masagos added.

Separately this week, Asia Pulp and Paper – one of the companies from which the Singapore authorities have requested information – provided an update on its fire management in South Sumatra. It is helping Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) by supplying two water-bombing planes with 12,000-litre capacity to South Sumatra, and its suppliers are blocking canals to increase water levels in critical areas of operation.

APP previously announced it would retire 7,000 hectares of plantations in Riau and South Sumatra to protect peatlands — carbon-rich wetlands that burn easily when drained.

APP’s sister company, Singapore-listed palm oil company Golden-Agri Resources also told TODAY that less than 0.5 per cent of its 484,500 hectares of plantations in Kalimantan and Sumatra has been burnt this episode. In Riau province, the proportion is even smaller, at 0.007 per cent, said Mr Agus Purnomo, its managing director, Sustainability and Strategic Stakeholder Engagement. The low percentage of burnt land is because the company is not opening up new land for plantations, instead working with small farmers who want to develop their land without burning.

Fight haze at ASEAN, bilateral and consumer levels: Masagos
Environment Minister Masagos Zulkifli gave updates after attending a meeting on Transboundary Haze Pollution, citing a need to activate regional assets and for Singapore to engage better with Indonesia.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 30 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said that there are three levels of cooperation to tackle the haze, as the region aims to eliminate the issue by 2020.

Mr Masagos attended the 13th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on the Environment (13th AMME) and 11th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (COP-11) in Hanoi on Oct 28 to 29.

On Friday (Oct 30), he held a press conference to update what was discussed there.

At the conference, he said that this year's haze episode is the worst recorded in terms of length and intensity. During the haze, schools were shut when the 24-hour PSI levels hit 322 - the hazardous level - on Sep 25, the first time since the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2003.

At the ASEAN level, Mr Masagos called for the management of peatland, noting that concession maps are crucial. He also lauded Indonesian President Joko Widodo's commitment to the One Map initiative, a comprehensive mapping database that seeks to reduce confusion over land ownership.

He revealed that during the ASEAN meetings in Hanoi, member states agreed to activate regional assets to help douse fires quickly, and to institutionalise the activation of international haze assistance as a standard practice when the dry season begins.

On Singapore's deployment of troops to Palembang earlier this month to fight fires, the minister cited Singapore's forces effectiveness of putting out fires at about 50 hotspots, but added that what they could do was "minuscule" as they were called in "so late".

"But because they were called in so late and the peat fire has spread out so much, this is minuscule, the area they were given is really minuscule to the amount that everybody has to put out," said Mr Masagos. "And nothing short of act of God like rain can really stop this fire altogether."

"And therefore, one of the things we have resolved, (is) there should be an appropriate alert level with which any party which is affected by forest fire should get help, and that, together in the region, we can gather assets to put out the fire early so that it becomes an effective way of working together," he added.

"This was not something we achieved in this current haze episode."

While rain and change in wind directions are expected to provide temporary reprieve from the haze, Mr Masagos said stronger cooperation within the region is key to achieving its vision of clearer skies by 2020.

On a bilateral level, Mr Masagos said that Singapore needs to engage better with Indonesia, so that it is as well as it is working with other neighbours like Malaysia. Indonesia has agreed to jump-start discussions to renew a Memorandum of Understanding with Singapore to monitor hot spots and curb fires in the province of Jambi.

The two-year agreement was signed in 2007.

Mr Masagos also expressed his desire to meet with his Indonesian counterpart Siti Nurbaya Bakar as soon as possible.

He cited the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act that Singapore has implemented, which puts to task errant companies that are starting the fires. So far, seven companies have been served notice. Mr Masagos said he will continue to persuade his counterparts to give more names, but reiterated that Singapore is not targeting any country.

"We have to be clear again that we are not targeting any country. We are not against progress and we are not against economic activity that need to support the livelihood of people around the world, but we as all countries responsible to the environment want these companies to make sure they take care of the environment not just for ourselves but for our children," said Mr Masagos.

Finally, Mr Masagos said that consumers have an important role to play. He urged shoppers to choose products from environmentally responsible companies, and said that they should not let their guard down as the haze lets up.

- CNA/wl

Firms behind forest fires 'must be punished'
Francis Chan, Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Oct 15;

Companies responsible for the illegal forest fires that cause the haze must be taken to task, and Singapore hopes to work with Indonesia to bring the culprits to justice, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli yesterday.

"Hope that all of us can work together to bring these recalcitrant companies to task. These companies have been profiting at the expense of the well-being of others and should not go unpunished," said Mr Masagos on Facebook.

The comments by Mr Masagos, who recently took on the new portfolio, come on the same day that ASEAN environment ministers gathered in Hanoi for the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

In a statement yesterday, the ministers jointly expressed concern over the unprecedented severity of the haze which has affected millions in parts of South-east Asia.

Among other things, they also noted and appreciated the collaborative efforts undertaken by Indonesia, the neighbouring ASEAN countries and the international community to address the forest fires and the associated smoke haze.

"Singapore has passed the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) in 2014, so that we can take action against companies, and not against countries. We have no interest to take friends to task, since they are doing their best," said Mr Masagos.

"I appreciated Indonesia's efforts to bring these companies to task and reiterated our calls for Indonesia to share information on these companies to facilitate our effective enforcement of the THPA."

Mr Masagos added that while he respects Indonesia's sovereignty and understands that details under investigation cannot be shared, he looked forward to receiving information that can be shared, including the names of these companies and their managers, as well as the charges brought against them.

Fight haze at regional, bilateral and national levels: Masagos
AsiaOne 31 Oct 15;

For South-east Asia to be haze-free by 2020, countries in the region need to combat the haze at regional, bilateral and national levels, Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said yesterday.

Giving the Singapore media an update on an ASEAN meeting on environmental issues in Hanoi over the past week, Mr Masagos noted that the current haze situation is the worst on record, surpassing similar crises in 1997 and 2013.

To tackle the issue, countries in the region must "operationalise the three levels at which we can make the co-operation work", he said.

At the ASEAN level, Mr Masagos called for quicker implementation of peatland management strategies, and welcomed Indonesian President Joko Widodo's commitment to roll out the One Map initiative within the next three years.

One Map aims to mark all forest boundaries and concessions clearly on one official map that can be referred to by all parties. This will improve transparency and accountability, and minimise land disputes.

Mr Masagos also said that ASEAN should work towards a haze management system, which could help put out fires faster.

This system, he said, will give all ASEAN meteorological stations satellite pictures and early warning on the ground.

He pointed out that when Indonesia finally accepted Singapore's help to fight forest fires, troops from the Republic extinguished some 50 hot spots over two weeks.

"Because they were called in late, and the peat fire spread out so much, this is minuscule," said Mr Masagos.

"Therefore, one thing we have to solve is that there should be an appropriate alert level, (so) that any party affected by forest fires can get help and that, together, the region can gather assets and put out the fire early, so it becomes an effective way of working together."

On the bilateral level, Mr Masagos hoped that neighbouring countries could co-operate better to tackle the crisis. He said he hoped to meet his Indonesian counterpart to discuss how both sides could work together.

Mr Masagos also stressed that every country should have a national action plan in place.

Singapore, for instance, has implemented the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to take rogue companies to task and has served notice on seven such companies so far.

He again urged the Indonesian authorities to share the names of errant companies they are pursuing, as the pressure on these firms could be increased when "multiple countries pursue these companies".

Mr Masagos stressed that the Act did not target any country or any economic activity needed to support the livelihoods of people around the world.

However, like all countries which are environmentally responsible, Singapore wants these companies "to make sure that they take care of the environment, not just for ourselves but for our children too", he said.

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Indonesia: Forest and land fires ravage two million hectares

Antara 30 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Around two million hectares have so far been burnt by forest and land fires in Indonesia, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

"The figures may continue to increase as data collection is still ongoing," BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho stated here on Friday.

He pointed out that several fires in numerous locations had yet to be extinguished and were still to be accounted for.

He revealed that some of the burnt forest and land areas belonged to community members while others belonged to corporations, conservation agencies, national parks, and others.

He noted that until October, 32 percent of the fires were detected in non-commercial forest areas.

"The other twenty percent are in industrial forests, 20 percent in palm oil plantations, 23 percent in areas for other purposes, and five percent in other areas," he remarked.

Based on data from the National Space and Aviation Institute (LAPAN), the biggest forest and land fires were found in Sumatra, reaching 832,999 hectares.

Fires in Kalimantan covered around 806,817 hectares, while 353,191 hectares were detected in Papua.

Nugroho said the government is still making ongoing efforts to put out the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Shelters have also been set up in several regions to accommodate the people affected by haze, he added.(*)

Indonesia’s forest fires take toll on wildlife, big and small
Today Online 31 Oct 15;

JAKARTA — A disoriented, pregnant orangutan, her treetop home in Indonesian Borneo reduced to charred wood, is rushed to a rehabilitation centre by conservationists, who dodged walls of fire and toxic smoke.

Veterinarians care for 16 abandoned baby orangutans already living at the centre. The babies had developed respiratory infections because of haze from the fire, delaying the conservationists’ continuing attempts to teach them how to live on their own in the wild.

Long-awaited heavy rains this week in the Indonesian regions of Sumatra and Kalimantan appeared to be the beginning of the end of the mass forest fires that have raged since late August, Indonesia’s worst such disaster in at least 20 years.

While plenty has been written about the economic costs of the fires and the human suffering they have caused — hundreds of thousands of people sickened by the haze in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, and a regional price tag that one expert estimated at more than US$14 billion (S$19.6 billion) — so far, scientists and environmentalists can only speculate about the extent of the damage to wildlife, including endangered species like the orangutan.

But the early signs are not good.

“We’re still not sure how many might have gotten sick or died,” said Ms Paulina Ela, a spokeswoman for the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, which runs two rescue and rehabilitation centres in the region.

“The impact is not really visible now, but maybe in the next two or three months,” she said.

In the Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan, which lies on Borneo, the organisation has rescued nine endangered orangutans whose habitats were destroyed by fires, Ela said. One was relocated to a safer area, and eight others, including three babies, the pregnant female and a male whose eyes were damaged by burning debris, were taken to the rehabilitation centre for treatment, she said.

The province includes Sebangau National Park, which is home to the world’s largest population of wild orangutans, estimated around 7,000.

But orangutans are far from the only species suffering. Indonesia’s fauna is among the world’s most diverse, and a broad spectrum of wildlife — including elephants, birds, snakes and even insects — has been severely affected by the fires and choking haze, scientists say.

This month, Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry announced that more than 4.2 million acres of forest and open land had been destroyed by the fires. Each year, fires are intentionally set to clear land cheaply — for palm oil plantations, for pulp and paper mill operations, and for other agricultural uses — but they grew out of control this year because of prolonged drought and the effects of El Nio, scientists say.

This week, scientific and conservation organisations reported that endangered species like orangutans, Sumatran tigers and Sumatran elephants, among other wildlife, had fled burning rain forests and moved toward areas settled by humans.

“There will be a huge impact on endangered species because they need a big habitat,” said Mr Yuyun Indradi, a campaign team leader for Greenpeace Indonesia.

“And with this gone, there will be more human-animal conflicts” over land, he said. “Elephants and tigers especially.”

That would worsen a longstanding problem in Indonesia. The western island of Sumatra has had many cases of rural farmers shooting wild elephant herds that moved onto plantations in search of food, or rampaged through farmlands and villages in what had once been their habitat.

Sumatran tigers have been trapped and killed after killing farmers and villagers while hunting at night. Orangutans have also been shot dead in their dwindling habitats in Sumatra and Kalimantan, or captured and sold as pets.

Even the tiniest creatures are being affected by the fires, and that could also have repercussions for people. During Indonesia’s last severe forest fire crisis, in 1997, the haze significantly reduced bee populations, which took three years to recover, said Mr Erik Meijaard, coordinator of Borneo Futures, a conservation project.

That is likely to hurt agricultural production in Indonesia, he said, since bees are crucial to the pollination of apples, melons, onions, potatoes, tomatoes and other crops.

“Your common fruits and vegetables are bee-pollinated, so without them they won’t grow,” Mr Meijaard said.

Scientists and government officials are also waiting anxiously to see the fallout of the crisis on Indonesia’s plant life, including its shrinking rain forests. NEW YORK TIMES

Sumatra and Kalimantan enjoy cleaner air after rain, BNPB says 30 Oct 15;

The thick haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan started to ease on Friday after the rains came sweeping through, said a spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the air quality on Friday morning was better than the past three months.

"The rain over the past three days helped the air quality and visibility get better in Sumatra and Kalimantan," he said as quoted by state news agency Antara.

Sutopo also reported that hot spots had also lessened.

He said the weather in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, was reportedly bright on Friday morning even though the air quality in the city was reportedly unhealthy a day before.

"We hope there will be more [rain] clouds in the areas affected by the haze," he said.

Sutopo said the Terra Aqua satellite detected one hotspot in Kalimantan, which was in South Kalimantan on Thursday afternoon. While there were 148 hotspots detected in Sumatra on Thursday: one in Bengkulu, 30 in Lampung, one in West Sumatra and 109 in South Sumatra.

The visibility in Padang, West Sumatra, was 5,000 meters; 4,000 m in Pekanbaru, Riau; 1,700 m in Jambi; and 2,000 m in Palembang, South Sumatra.

While Kalimantan reportedly had better visibility on Thursday: 1,000 m in Pontianak; 10,000 m in Ketapang, West Kalimantan; 5,000 m in Palangkaraya; and 5,000 m in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan. (rin)(+)

Hotspots continue to drop in Sumatra, Kalimantan, thanks to rain
On Friday morning, there were 156 hotspots in south Sumatra and only four in Kalimantan, compared to the previous Thursday when there were 703 hotspots in South Sumatra and 462 in Kalimantan.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 30 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s National Disaster and Management Agency (BNPB) said on Friday (Oct 30) that the number of hotspots from forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan have continued to decline since rain started falling in the two areas on Tuesday.

In a news conference, the BNPB said that as of 5am Friday, there were 156 hotspots in south Sumatra and only four in Kalimantan, compared to the previous Thursday when there 703 hotspots in South Sumatra and 462 in Kalimantan. Visibility has also improved allowing airports that have been closed to commence flight operations.

In Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, where the air pollution index soared to more than 2,000 at its peak, visibility there is now 1,200 metres.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said more rain can be expected in the next four days, and so it is another “golden time” to continue with cloud seeding and water bombing efforts. Dr Sutopo added that the BNPB has used more than US$36 million in its fire-fighting efforts.

He also said that the forest fires this year were made worse because the local authorities were reluctant to raise the incident to an emergency status. This, he said, was because local elections would be held this year and local heads feared being seen as incapable by the central government.

Dr Sutopo cited data from the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) showing a positive correlation between elections and incidents of forest fires.

He said: “Every election, every five years, there is a positive correlation between the elections and the number of land and forest fires. This is coupled with the fact that in 2015, there will be local direct elections."

At the same news conference, a spokesperson from the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) said that forest fires in Indonesia have so far destroyed more than two million hectares of land – that is about four times the size of Bali. Sumatra and Kalimantan were the worst hit areas with a total of more than 1.6 million hectares of land destroyed.

- CNA/hs

Four Killed Trying to Quell E. Java Forest Fire
Whisnu Bagus Prasetyo Jakarta Globe 30 Oct 15;

Jakarta. Four men have been killed in a forest fire while trying to extinguish the flames in East Java's Ponorogo district on Thursday.

The four killed in the concession of state logging firm Perhutani, in Slahung subdistrict, were identified as Perhutani official Suyitno (43) and three locals Budianto (30), Paijun (25), and Jaimun (44).

The fire, which has consumed some four hectares of the pine forest, broke out on Thursday at 10 a.m., prompting a group of men to head there to extinguish the fire, but suddenly the wind picked up and fanned the deadly flames.

“They all panicked and ran for their lives. However, when they got to a safe distance away from the fire, they realized four were missing,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said in a statement on Thursday.

“The group then went searching for the missing members and at 2 p.m., they found the four men, who had died from [severe] burn injuries,” Sutopo added. "It seems the victims passed out after having been exposed to the thick smoke [prior to their deaths]."

Forest fires throughout Indonesia since July have so far killed at least 24 people: 12 in Sumatra and Kalimantan, eight on Mount Lawu, East Java, and now four in Ponorogo.

Large parts of Indonesia are experiencing extreme drought because of the El Nino weather phenomenon. The fires, often started by people to clear land for agriculture, have also created a massive and ongoing haze crisis.

Air Force to relocate jets from haze regions
The Jakarta Post 30 Oct 15;

The Air Force is planning to redeploy several jet fighters away from haze-affected areas.

Air Force chief of staff Air Chief Marshal Agus Supriyatna said recently that the haze had reduced visibility in several Air Force bases such as in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, and in Pekanbaru, Riau.

“We will relocate the fighter jets so that we can keep exercising and maintaining our pilots’ professionalism,” Agus said, adding that the new locations would be in Madiun, East Java, and Biak, Papua.

Agus said Biak had good weather and was not affected by the haze.

It is reported that Pontianak air base has a squadron of Hawk/100s while Pekanbaru is the base for a squadron of F-16 Fighting Falcons.

Agus said the Air Force had helped to extinguish hotspots by conducting water bombing with helicopters. However, he admitted the capacity of helicopters was too small as each helicopter could transport only 2 tons of water.

“Russia is helping us by using its aircraft, which can accommodate 12 tons of water,” he said.

Indonesia Air Force Chief of Staff, VP Kalla discuss haze prevention efforts
Antara 30 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia Air Force Chief of Staff Marshal Agus Supriatna met Vice President M. Jusuf Kalla here on Friday to discuss ways to prevent haze in numerous regions.

"The vice president asked the Air Force to coordinate with the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) to create artificial rain to prevent the haze when it becomes cloudy," Supriatna stated at the vice presidential office on Friday.

The Air Force chief of staff noted that weather modification to create artificial rain will be carried out using a fleet of three Beriev BE-200 aircraft leased from Russia.

"We have prepared three Beriev BE-200 aircraft to conduct the operation, but we have five Hercules and five CN259 aircraft for evacuation," Supriatna noted.

However, he added that the operations to create artificial rain will not be carried out simultaneously in the haze-affected areas.

Government to buy four Russian Beriev aircraft
Antara 30 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia will buy four Russian Beriev BE-200 aircraft for its armed forces and will also be used to conduct cloud seeding to create artificial rain to extinguish forest or land fires.

"We have submitted the proposal and included it in our strategic plan to buy four aircraft. This would be sufficient," the countrys Air Force Chief of Staff, Marshal Agus Supriatna, stated after meeting Vice President Jusuf Kalla here on Friday.

He noted that the Beriev BE-200 aircraft is ideal for conducting water bombing operations in areas affected by fires.

With additional Beriev aircraft being deployed to conduct cloud seeding operations, we would also be able to complete the operations quickly, he added.

"Many sorties are needed. An aircraft needs 20 to 30 minutes to fetch water from the sea and 15 to 17 seconds to load before flying for 30 minutes to reach a location," he explained.

To extinguish the current fires in Sumatra, the government has leased two Russian amphibious aircraft to conduct cloud seeding operations to create artificial rain.

During the government of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, two BE-200 aircraft had been used to conduct a similar operation for several months and were leased on a contract worth up to US$5.4 million. Indonesia has also been offered the option to buy the aircraft.

The BE-200 aircraft can scoop tons of water without the need to land by just positioning itself above the water level.

Commander of the Palembang Air Base Lieutenant Colonel MRY Fahlefie remarked that the BE-200 aircraft had landed in Palembang to take part in the aerial firefighting operations by using water from the Strait of Malacca.

"Later, the aircraft will fetch water from the Strait of Malacca, and so, it will be deployed at the Pangkal Pinang Airport," he added. (*)

Lawmaker condemns house leaders wearing masks during plenary meeting
Antara 30 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The National Democrat (NasDem) Party lawmaker Johnny G. Plate has voiced his criticism over several leaders of the House of Representatives wearing masks during a plenary meeting.

"Several leaders of the House of Representatives have made a mockery of the haze disaster when thousands of people have been suffering from thick smoke," Plate affirmed here on Friday.

According to Plate, the House leaders have politicized the haze crisis by wearing masks.

"Currently, the government and the society have been struggling to extinguish forest fires. We were highly disappointed with the politicization of the haze problem," he affirmed.

In response to the criticism, House of Representatives deputy speaker Taufik Kurniawan clarified that wearing masks during the meeting was merely a form of an appeal.

"The House leaders had no intention to politicize the haze crisis. As a result, the House leaders removed their masks," he remarked.

Earlier, several leaders of the House of Representatives had worn masks during a plenary meeting on Friday as a show of solidarity with the victims of the haze disaster.

"Let us wear masks as a form of solidarity for the haze victims," Kurniawan stated here on Friday.

In addition, he urged all lawmakers to conduct a prayer for rains after the Friday prayer in a bid to solve the haze crisis in the country.

However, wearing masks during the meeting was criticized by several members of the House of Representatives who urged the House leaders to take them off.

Nevertheless, the House leaders comprising Setya Novanto, Kurniawan, Agus Hermanto, Fahri Hamzah, and Fadli Zon continued to wear their masks.

Meanwhile, the House leaders wore masks while singing the national anthem, Indonesia Raya.

"It is not allowed to sing the national anthem while wearing a mask. We should openly sing Indonesias national anthem," a legislator affirmed.

Some 529,527 people have suffered from upper respiratory tract infections due to the forest- and land fire-triggered haze that has plagued the country since several months, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

"The haze plaguing the country has caused upper respiratory tract infections in 529,527 people," Head of Data Information and Public Relations of the BNPB Sutopo Purwo Nugroho noted on Friday morning.

The victims were from Sumatra and Kalimantan, particularly 60,225 from Central Kalimantan; 79,888 from Riau; 129,229 from Jambi; 115,484 from South Sumatra; 46,672 from West Kalimantan; and 98,029 from South Kalimantan.

"The haze victims totaled 529,527 people," he reported.

The data is based on the report received by the BNPB on October 29, 2016, Sutopo remarked.

However, there is a possibility that the actual count could be higher, he affirmed.

This is because some people ailing from diseases did not visit the doctors at the Community Health Care Centers (Puskesma) or the hospitals.

"They perhaps consulted the doctors independently, and so, they were not registered," he pointed out.(*)

House leaders criticized for wearing face masks during plenary session
Marguerite Afra Sapiie, 30 Oct 15;

Leaders of the House of Representatives were criticized for wearing face masks while they were presiding over a plenary session on Friday to express their concern over the haze disaster due to the prolonged forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

House speaker Setya Novanto and three deputy speakers were accused of politicizing the haze disaster that had caused misery to millions of people by wearing face masks during the plenary session.

“Our people in Kalimantan and Sumatra need real action. Yes the government should improve health facilities and programs to help them. But don’t use this disaster as a tool for 'image building',” said Rahmat Hamka, a House member from Central Kalimantan.

In response to the criticism, Setya Novanto said that the move to wear face masks was to show empathy for the millions of people who suffered from the haze.

“These face masks show our empathy. We, the House leaders, want to remind to the House members about the seriousness of the disaster,” said Setya.

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) legislator Henry Yosodiningrat said wearing face masks was not a proper thing to do even though it was intended to show empathy toward haze victims.

Instead, he added, the House has to demand the government allocate adequate funds for disaster mitigation because Indonesia is susceptible to natural disasters such as floods and fires. “The Public wants us to allocate more money to handling natural disasters,” said Henry.

Henry even considered that such an action was done in contempt of parliament.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party lawmaker Nuryati Ali Assegaf criticized the government for their lack of commitment in tackling haze, comparing to their efforts the efforts during the Air Asia QZ8501 crisis, when the government spent Rp 1 trillion (US$73 million) to search for victims' bodies. (bbn)(+)

Indonesia now looks at land-burning laws in effort to halt haze
Indonesia is reviewing laws that allow farmers to burn up to two hectares (five acres), forestry officials said, the latest in so-far unsuccessful efforts to halt fires that have sent choking smoke across much of Southeast Asia.
Channel NewsAsia 30 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: Indonesia is reviewing laws that allow farmers to burn up to two hectares (five acres), forestry officials said, the latest in so-far unsuccessful efforts to halt fires that have sent choking smoke across much of Southeast Asia.

Indonesia is also considering declaring a national emergency over the fires, which this week caused President Joko Widodo to cut short an official trip to the United States and pushed the country's greenhouse gas emissions above the daily average from all economic activity in the U.S.

A 2009 law allows smallholder farmers to use slash-and-burn practices to clear land for agricultural purposes, and has been cited by green groups and plantation firms as a key cause of the annual fires when the burning gets out of control.

"The problem is that some people take advantage of this exception," Indonesia's environment and forestry minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, told reporters when asked about the law.

"In our last cabinet meeting, the president assigned us to review a regulation that allows land burning for two hectares."

Revising the law may need parliamentary support which could delay changes until 2016, said Bakar, adding that the government was therefore considering an emergency regulation.

Forestry experts say the best way to clear forested areas is by tractors, chainsaws or hand tools. These methods are more expensive and time-consuming than fires.

The haze has caused pollution levels across the region to spike to unhealthy levels, and forced school closures and flight cancellations.

Warships are on standby to evacuate infants and other vulnerable residents of haze-hit areas, while other countries have been asked for help to tackle the fires.

The fires, often deliberately set by plantation companies and smallholders, have been burning for weeks in the forests and carbon-rich peat lands of Sumatra and Kalimantan islands.

"We support our government's initiative to revise the provisional laws that allow small-holder farmers to clear up to two hectares of forested land by burning," said Aida Greenbury, managing director of sustainability at Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). "But a multi-stakeholder initiative to support the local farmer and community must be initiated in parallel.

"The key here is to assist the farmers and the community in developing their land responsibly without burning."

Indonesia usually enters its wet season in October and November, and despite the El Nino dry conditions, rain has been reported in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan this week.

(Reporting by Bernadette Christina and Michael Taylor; writing by Michael Taylor; Editing by Nick Macfie)

- Reuters

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Indonesia: Food estate project may turn Papua into forest fire hotbed

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 30 Oct 15;

While the annual land and forest fires usually occurr in Sumatra and Kalimantan, a large agricultural project in Merauke, Papua, could turn the eastern part of Indonesia into a new hotbed of fires in the archipelago.

The prediction was based on a latest finding by Greenpeace Southeast Asia, which monitored 112,000 hot spots from Aug. 1 to Oct. 26.

“One of the most worrying things is the fact that 10 percent of the hot spots were found in Papua, the newest agriculture industry development. Fires of such a scale had not happened before in Papua,” Greenpeace Indonesia forest political campaigner Teguh Surya said during the launching of the finding on Thursday.

The largest number of hotspots during that period, 25 percent, was detected in Central Kalimantan with 28,368, followed by South Sumatra with 24,406 or 22 percent. Papua came in third with 11,590 or 10 percent.

Papua usually does not suffer from forest fires as the operation of palm oil concessions is still limited in the province.

However, this year marks a turning point of the annual forest fires in Indonesia, with the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) starting to detect hot spots in southern areas of Papua, with 92 spotted in Merauke regency and the remaining 12 in Mappi regency in mid-October.

Flights in several parts of West Papua and Papua provinces, including in Jayapura, Manokwari and Timika, were canceled after visibility dropped to as little as 150 meters in places. Almost 80 percent of the smog in Manokwari is coming from fires in Merauke. The light haze even reached as far as Micronesia.

With the hot spots in Papua concentrated in Merauke, it is easy to see the correlation between the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) program in Papua and the sudden appearance of hot spots in the province, according to another Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner, Yuyun Indradi.

“The connection is clear. If you look at the map, the concentration of the hot spots in Merauke is in the MIFEE area,” he said on Thursday.

The number of hot spots in Papua was even bigger than the 2,423 hot spots detected in Riau, which usually held the dishonorable distinction of being the province with the highest number of hot spots in previous years.

While Greenpeace believed that the forest fires in Papua were caused by the project, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said that the fires might be caused by nomadic people.

“If the forests are burned and rain falls after that, grass will grow back and become green and animals will come. It will become hunting ground for nomadic groups. These aspects are being investigated by us,” she recently said.

The MIFEE project is expected to cover a 1.2 million hectare area, or a quarter of Merauke. The idea of the MIFEE program was started when Merauke Regent John Gluba Gebze initiated the establishment of the Merauke Integrated Rice Estate (MIRE) in 2007 after former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited and made an appeal to make Merauke a national rice barn.

The program allows up to 49 percent foreign investment in local plantations, but has no requirement for securing a certain amount of the crop for local needs.

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Indonesia's Silent Tragedy in a Connected World -- Erik Meijaard

Erik Meijaard Jakarta Globe 30 Oct 15;

There may finally be some positive developments regarding Indonesia’s fire and haze crisis, with rains in Sumatra and Kalimantan starting to reduce fires. But this isn’t over. If previous El NiƱo fire events are anything to go by, the fire problem with now shift to the eastern part of Borneo and Papua, and could continue well into 2016.

Politicians, pay attention. “We didn’t know,” just doesn’t cut it. Why has it taken you so long to realize the severity of this crisis, and are you ready now for the next phase?

A week ago I suggested that Indonesia’s 2015 fire and haze problems were “the biggest man-made environmental disaster of the 21st century.” I concluded that after comparing government data on economic, human and environmental impacts from the fires with previous environmental disasters. And I couldn’t find a bigger catastrophe. But even for a conservation scientist like me, it took a few months of burning to realize how exceptionally bad things were.
Once the major impacts of the fires became clear, public attention rapidly increased. Newspaper articles and programs by television networks like Al Jazeera, BBC, ABC and Channel News Asia powerfully reported what was happening. The social media wave that followed indicated that many people were very concerned. Some in the Indonesian government concurred. The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) referred to the fire and haze as a "crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions."

But many other members of Indonesia’s government considered all this talk about fire disasters and crime rather hyperbolic. The Indonesian minister of home affairs said in early September that the fires in Indonesia were not yet a national disaster, “because only Sumatra, Banten and some areas in Kalimantan” were burning. More recently, the environment and forestry minister suggested that her ministry was in control of the situation, and that “to label this a [national] disaster, we still need to study everything.”

It’s good to get these calming insights from the people who really know what is going on, but why was the government downplaying the severity of the crisis at a time when the public was very much aware of it? I surely cannot read the intricate power networks within the government and would not claim to understand the full implications of calling Indonesia’s fires a national emergency. I also realize there are financial complications to calling such a national emergency.

But still, if the government thinks that dozens of haze-related deaths, thousands of sick people, thousands of predicted pre-mature deaths, massive environmental pollution, a global carbon emission crisis, and billions of dollars of economic costs to Indonesia, do not make a disaster, then what will?

My conclusion about the lack of attention to the severity of the Southeast Asian haze crisis is that it is a Silent Tragedy.

Speaking to a radio reporter, her comment that in the eye of the public, Indonesia’s annual fires were “boring” emphasized the silent nature of this tragedy. Fires and haze occur every year in Indonesia. But even after there were catastrophically bad fire episodes, like those in 1982-83, 1988-89, 1997-98, and 2004, there was never any real change in political and societal attitudes towards the use of fire in land clearing.

Unlike other environmental tragedies or natural disasters, Bhopal, Chernobyl, the Nepal Earthquake, or Indian Ocean Tsunami, the Southeast Asian fire and haze disaster did not come in one big bang. Instead the disaster happened over months, affecting people over large geographies, and killing people over time and rarely on the spot. It’s silent, but deadly.

But there might be more to this silence. Maybe, Indonesia, as a land of puppet masters and shadow play, stands out in its ability to keep things quiet and obscure. Talking to an Indonesian journalist who had interviewed university students in Jakarta about the haze, one comment that stuck with me was that “the fires and politics around it were just too sad to contemplate, and no action could possibly help to create change.”

Is there a certain attitude here of acceptance towards calamity and helplessness in the face of political apathy? Is there a head-in-the-sand attitude to accepting major problems: Act like the problem doesn’t exist and with some luck and prayer it will go away? Is there a more general tendency here not to acknowledge mistakes, not to lose face, keep up a brave smile, and move on?

I don’t know. But what I do know is that hiding problems is increasingly difficult in a world that is globally connected. Indonesia is not an isolated island in the world, but connected through trade, travel, cultural affinities and through its skies. A national attitude that primarily focuses inward and acts like neighbors don’t exist is not going to benefit this country. Indonesia can only prosper more if its international reputation is good.

So, the first step has been taken. Indonesia acknowledges the problem. Now it needs to solve it. This can be done, because I have seen it done before. When illegal logging was rampant in the early 2000s, and everyone was saying that the problem could never be solved, the government stepped in, and largely got rid of organized illegal logging through a boots-on-the-ground and enforcement approach.

Again, Indonesian boots are needed on the ground to fight fires and do everything possible to prevent new ones, especially on peat lands where fire has become an effective weapon in land speculation. Longer-term solutions have been spelled out by others. But the success of effectively addressing this annual problem will start with the government bravely acknowledging the challenge and facing up to it.

Unity in national government under an increasingly concerned president is a first step. Getting local governments to comply is a challenging second. Maybe the national government should actually suspend the provincial administrations of the serial-offending provinces, or cut their provincial and district budgets, especially if there are indications that members of local governments personally benefited from fires and related land speculation.

Whatever the chosen solution, I really hope 2016 will be the year a breath of fresh air starts blowing through Indonesia’s environmental governance, with government officials realizing that every decision they take on development has a social and environmental cost attached to it. These are costs that Indonesia cannot afford to ignore if it wants to be friends with a connected world and its own people.

Erik Meijaard is a conservation scientist coordinating the Borneo Futures initiative. Follow @emeijaard

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Malaysia: Pahang to get heaviest rainfall

SIM BAK HENG New Straits Times 30 Oct 15;

KUALA TERENGGANU: Pahang is expected to receive the highest rainfall this monsoon season, followed by Terengganu and Kelantan.

Meteorological Department’s director general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said heavy rainfall forecast was expected to hit the country from as early as next week.

This would consequently bring flood to the east coast from November to January, followed by Sabah and Sarawak in January and February.

“There will be four episodes of heavy rains this monsoon season, each ranging from three to five days,” she said, adding that each episode would bring floods, especially during high tide.

Kuantan, Pekan and Rompin will receive the most rainfall, with precipitation level ranging between 780mm and 920mm in December.

Heavy rainfall is expected to hit Terengganu next month, with precipitation level expected to be between 560mm and 850mm in November. However, the volume would drop to between 430mm and 650mm in December, and between 80mm and 110mm in January.

Gayah said next month would be a wet month for Kelantan, with Tumpat, Bachok, Kota Baru, Pasir Putih and Machang expected to be hit with heavy rain, with precipitation levels ranging from 530mm to 790mm.

The precipitation level would see an improvement in the following months, from between 450mm and 670mm in December, and between 80mm and 110mm in January.
Rainfall volume in other parts of the state was expected to be normal, said Gayah.

She advised those living in coastal and low-lying areas in the interior to take precautionary measures in preparation for the monsoon season.

Gayah also said the El Nino weather phenomenon might cushion the impact of this year’s monsoon season.

The start of the monsoon season, she said, could bring an end to the transboundary haze.

“The change in the wind direction will push away the haze from reaching our shores.”

Monsoon season is putting fishermen out of work

KUALA TERENGGANU: The monsoon season, marked by continuous rain and thunderstorms, has kept thousands of coastal fishermen idle due to weather warnings and rough sea conditions.

North Kuala Terengganu Fishermen Association chairman Jaafar @ A. Rahman Abu Bakar said fishermen were not able to go to sea since the start of the monsoon season because the waves were big and dangerous.

“The monsoon season is already here with heavy rain and thunderstorms. It will be too dangerous for the fishermen to go to sea.

“Most of the coastal fishermen’s boats are not equipped with compass or navigation systems to guide them home.

“To avoid any untoward incident, they will spend this time mending their nets, fixing and oiling their boats, repairing their homes and tending to jobs they often ignore during the other months,” he said.

Out of work: A fisherman walking between rows of boats anchored at the fisherman’s jetty in Cendering during heavy rain.
Out of work: A fisherman walking between rows of boats anchored at the fisherman's jetty in Cendering during heavy rain.
There are about 1,000 fishing boats belonging to coastal fishermen in North Kuala Terengganu, while there are a total of more than 10,000 fishermen in the state, with 8,000 registered with the state Fisheries Department.

The state is currently experiencing continuous rain and thunderstorms, with the Meteorology Department warning of strong winds of up to 50kph and waves as high as 3.5m.

The weather is not much different in South Kuala Terengganu.

According to its fishermen’s association chairman, Hasan Ismail, some 1,200 coastal fishermen had stopped going to sea as the weather has turned for the worse.

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Malaysia: Flaming balloon hurts child

ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 30 Oct 15;

KUALA TERENGGANU: It was the second bizzare case in a fortnight of a helium gas inflated balloon bursting into flames in the face of a child, causing serious injuries.

Nuur Aini Syakila Abdul Kadir, three, was badly burnt on her face and head after a balloon she was playing with burst into flames at her home in Kampung Bukit Merah, Dungun.

Relating the 8.45pm incident, her mother Mariah Mat Midin, 29, said she had just returned home after buying fried chicken and the balloon at a pasar malam nearby.

“I went over to the kitchen to prepare a meal for the family and was washing my hands in the sink. Just then, Nuur Aini Syakila appeared in the kitchen complaining that the balloon had sprung a leak.

“Before I could react, my younger child grabbed the balloon, and ran towards the burning stove. That was when an explosion took place and Nuur Aini Syakila, who was closest to the balloon, suffered the burns,” said Mariah.

She added that she panicked upon seeing Nuur Aini Syakila’s face and hair on fire and quickly smothered the flames with her bare hands.

Mariah then summoned the help of neighbours to send her daughter to Dungun Hospital before the victim was transferred to a ward at the Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital in Kuala Terengganu.

Just a fortnight ago on Oct 14, Nurul Atirah Ibrahim, 10, suffered burns to her face and hands following the explosion of a gas filled balloon at Pekan Budaya Pantai Teluk Mak Nik, Kemaman,

In the 12.20pm incident, Nurul Atirah said she was playing with dozens of balloons on stage at a sports carnival, when a man approached her.

She said the man had given her a lighter to detach the balloons strung in a bunch.

“I did not realise the danger until the balloons got ignited and burst, sending people scurrying for cover.

“I and my friend Nur Dhiya Safiyah, 11, and three others failed to escape and were burnt,” said Nurul Atirah who was the most affected.

The victims were admitted to the Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital for treatment.

PIX – A heavily bandaged Nuur Aini Syakila Abdul Kadir recuperating at the Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital.

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Indonesia: 30 elephants occupy Aceh villages

The Jakarta Post 30 Oct 15;

Thirty elephants have reportedly occupied hamlets in Pintu Rime Gayo district, Central Aceh regency, Aceh province, forcing 45 families, or 145 people, to abandon their homes.

“All the residents have been evacuated and given shelter in the district hall,” district chief Mukhtar said on Thursday.

Mukhtar said the elephants had been sighted in the vicinity over the past three weeks and entered the hamlets on Tuesday.

The elephants also destroyed farmland belonging to the villagers, he added.

He said his office used several vehicles to take the residents from the hamlets, located 20 kilometers, to the district hall.

Conflict between elephants and villagers is common in the area.

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Indonesia sinks 106 foreign fishing boats

Ayomi Amindoni, 30 Oct 15;

In her first year of leadership, Marine Affairs and Fisheries Minister (KKP) Susi Pudjiastuti has ordered the sinking of 106 foreign boats that were fishing illegally in Indonesian waters.

Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said on Friday that the sinking of the illegal boats is proof that the government is serious about eradicating illegal fishing and boosting the country’s sea security.

Susi admitted that lack of law enforcement in fisheries was one of Indonesia's problems for investors, adding that she was committed to cracking down on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF).

"IUUF is a global crime, not merely illegal fishing but also slavery, human trafficking, animal smuggling and drugs," she said.

KKP director general of Marine and Fisheries Resources Asep Burhanuddin said the ministry would sink six more boats tomorrow.

"The sea and air police along with the Navy have sunk more than a hundred boats in the first year,” Asep said in a presentation at the KKP office in Jakarta.

In the presentation that was attended by the minister, Asep said that the minister planned to tighten punishments for illegal fishing.

Asep requested the minister equip the supervisor boat with weapons to protect Indonesian marine resources.

"The important thing is that we save our marine resources," he added.

The KKP Directorate General's data show that the illegal fishing boats that were sunk in the first year of Susi's leadership were from the Philippines (34), Vietnam (33), Thailand (21), Malaysia (6), Papua New Guinea (2) and China (1). (dan)(+)

Govt to launch Global Fishing Watch
Antara 30 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia will launch a campaign, called Global Fishing Watch, in 2016 to monitor the movement of fishing boats in the countrys waters.

"Once the Global Fishing Watch kicks in, no fishing boat will be able to hide," Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Susi Pudjiastuti said at a ceremony to celebrate the ministrys performance over the past one year.

She said the system was being put in place in cooperation with a number of companies, including Google, the most used search engine in the cyber world.

The device that will help in monitoring boats movements was the result of her recent visit to the US, she said, adding that common people would be later also able to monitor the movement of fishing boats in the Indonesian waters.

The Association of Indonesian Traditional Fishermen (KNTI) had recently stated that Indonesia needs to stop issuing permits for foreign ships to operate in the countrys waters to end the practice of poaching of national fish resource.

"Indonesia need not be afraid of protests or harassment by other countries for such an action," KNTI head of legal development, Marthin Hadiwinata, said here on Tuesday.

He said it was possible to ban foreign fishing ships from operating in the country and such a move would also possibly be supported by international regimes based on three conditions.

The conditions are that fish resource in the country are finite, , the availability of national resources supports for utilization of national sea resources sustainably and fairly as well as the availability of national regulations that support a ban on fishing by foreign boats with regard to achieving sustainable fishery management.

Marthin said the challenge was to improve and update the data on national fishery conditions to assure that fish availability data is accurate and fishing permits could be allocated after a moratorium.

He said a friendly and responsible fishery policy with regard to licensing, manpower, procurement, capital and supervision was also needed to support mobilization of national fishing fleets to operate in the national waters.

"Revise and harmonize national laws such as the fishery law and the presidential regulation on negative investment list that still leaves an opportunity for foreign parties to makes it legally possible for them to obtain a license to catch fish in the countrys waters and in the exclusive economic zone using ships weighing more than 100 GT," he said.

Without the revision, he said, a fishing license for foreign ships could potentially be procured illicitly.(*)

Indonesia to Fight Illegal Fishing With New Google App
Tri Listyarini Jakarta Globe 30 Oct 15;

Jakarta. The Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Ministry, in cooperation with Global Fishing Watch, will launch an application called “Google Global Fishing Watch” to help Indonesia ward off poachers.

The GGFW will allow the country to thoroughly monitor its waters as reportedly no vessels can escape the high-tech program's radar, so there is no way for fish poachers to evade authorities.

“The illegal, unreported and unregulated [IUU] fishing practices are categorized as global crimes. To put an end to these, we have to use everything we have to make sure that we can track all the fishing activities in our waters,” Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said in Jakarta on Friday.

In addition to monitoring the fishing activities in Indonesian waters, the GGFW application will be monitoring fishing operations around the globe — allowing all fishery-related stakeholders to keep track.

Global Fishing Watch — a partnership of SkyTruth, Oceana and Google — says that Indonesia would be the first country in the world that cooperates with the partnership to analyze national fisheries activities and make the data available to the public by using this app.

“This cooperation will help Indonesia end illegal fishing operations, so the country can protect both the fish and the local fishermen,” said Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana's vice president.

The administration of President Joko Widodo has put illegal fishing how on its priority list, leading to regular seizures of foreign vessels caught trying to poach in Indonesian waters.

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