Best of our wild blogs: 2 Nov 15

Crimson Sunbird is now the official National Bird of Singapore
Singapore Bird Group

Coney Island and the Forgotten Haw Par Beach Villa
Remember Singapore

Talks for Marine Park Volunteers (Series 2)
The Leafmonkey Workshop and wild shores of singapore

Greenpeace releases dramatic haze photos as Indonesian fire emissions surpass 1.6B tons
Mongabay Environmental News

Domestic Cat (Felis silvestris catus) @ Kranji Dam
Monday Morgue

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When emergencies strike, balance between helping each other and living normally: Ong Ye Kung

In situations like the haze, the Acting Education Minister for Higher and Education Skills says measures will be taken to ensure the safety of Singaporeans, but it is important to live our lives as normally as possible.
Jamie Tan Channel NewsAsia 31 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: On Emergency Preparedness Day at Punggol Community Club on Saturday (Oct 31), Acting Education Minister for Higher Education and Skills Ong Ye Kung urged the public to come together and help one another when the nation is struck by emergencies like haze.

However, he also said that while measures might be taken to ensure the safety of Singaporeans, it is important to live our lives as normally as possible.

Said Mr Ong: "There will always be calls to close down our schools, close down offices, but let’s be more careful because we do need to make sure ... every year the haze may come for a long time, but every year let's be prepared.

"Live life as normally as we can, cope with it, help each other out. Strike a balance between helping each other out and carrying on with our lives as per normal."

Mr Ong was attending a Musical CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) session with almost 100 Bedok Reservoir-Punggol residents. The session taught them how to memorise life-saving skills more easily with the help of musical beats. .

This is the first time it has been rolled out in the Aljunied constituency and comes as Singapore's survival rate for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest cases sits at 12.1 per cent.

Residents also participated in a fire scenario exercise where they learnt to respond to emergencies and fight fires. Educational booths were also set up by organisations like the Singapore Police Force, the National Environment Agency and the Chinese Development Assistance Council for residents to pick up further life-saving skills.

- CNA/hs

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Ecologist says Indonesian haze is endangering the lives of millions

About 20 people have died in Indonesia either from fighting peatland fires or from respiratory problems caused by the haze. Some fires smouldering underground are ticking time bombs as they can resurface any time. Tan Tam Mei looks a the issue

TAN TAM MEI The New Paper 2 Nov 15;

When ecologist Eric Meijaard first trekked through the peatlands of Indonesia in 1997, it was awful, dense and very wet.

Said Dr Meijaard, 48: "It wasn't pleasant at all. We were sometimes up to our necks in water because peatlands are extremely waterlogged.

"But now that many of the peatlands have been drained, it's probably so different."

Dr Meijaard, who is an Indonesia-based associate professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, called this year's haze the biggest environmental crime of the 21st century.

In a recent article for the Jakarta Globe, he said he considered it a crime, and not just a disaster, because endangering the lives of millions of people, destroying protected forests and their wildlife, and threatening the global environment are all criminal acts.

Speaking to The New Paper (TNP) over the phone, Dr Meijaard said: "The (Indonesian) government has been sitting on this problem for almost 20 years. It's time for them to recognise that enough is enough.

"All these fires could have been prevented by solid policies, land-use planning, and law enforcement. None of these were enacted and now people all over the world are suffering the consequences."

Dr Meijaard also said the Indonesian government and companies involved in haze-causing fires need to understand the costs of developing the peatlands.

He said: "They can't just look at the benefits (of development). There are severe costs, such as loss of biodiversity, increased flooding and also droughts. These can translate into tangible costs as well."


Heavy rains across South-east Asia have helped put out at least 50 hotspots in Sumatra, according to Bloomberg, quoting a spokesman at Indonesia's disaster management agency.

But the annual haze problem is far from over.

Experts have also warned that this year's haze situation could be one of the worst to blanket regions in South-east Asia, surpassing similar crises in 1997 and 2013.

While conventional aerial water bombing might put out surface fires, smouldering fires can still burn up to 2m to 3m beneath the surface of the peatlands because water tables will drop two to three times lower during the dry period, said Dr Desmond Lee Wan Aik, 40, a senior engineer with international water consulting and research firm DHI Water & Environment.

"It's like burning a stack of papers that is 3m thick. You can put out the fire on top, but there is still smouldering heat beneath the piles of paper," said Dr Lee, who is a hydrologist by training.

For his post-doctoral research, Dr Lee spent three years studying Indonesia's peatlands in Jambi, a region in Central Sumatra, which is one of the worst haze-shrouded regions this year.

He said that smouldering fires can be doused only by heavy downpours and by building dams to raise the water table levels.

But the best solution to the haze and peatlands fires is a political one.

Dr Lee said: "The situation can't be solved unless the Indonesian government makes a strong commitment towards land and people management to deal with peatland development."


Added Dr Lee: "The annual haze is partly due to the dry season and the common practice of draining and burning peatlands for land development or agriculture.

"But this time, it is further exacerbated because of the El Nino weather pattern."

Dr Louis Verchot, a research director of Forests and Environment at the Centre for International Forestry Research based in Bogor, Indonesia, said that development activities in Indonesia have been ongoing more rapidly than before, so there are vast areas of drained peatland that have been feeding the infernos.

The Straits Times reported that the haze crisis could cost the country up to 475 trillion rupiah (S$48 billion).

The haze-related death toll has also risen to 19.

Ms Hafizhah Jamel, 32, co-founder of mask-collection initiative Let's Help Kalimantan, visited the burning peatland forests of Kalimantan in October.

Her group collected more than 17,000 N95 masks for locals there who experienced PSI levels of close to 2,000.

Ms Hafizhah, who works in the education industry, said: "The smell of the burning (peatlands) is bad, it's worse than barbecue smoke. It also smells like something is rotting."

"The conditions were so bad that my friends and I were actually looking forward to returning to Singapore, where the PSI 200 levels were nothing compared with what the people were facing over there."

All these fires could have been prevented by solid policies, land-use planning, and law enforcement... now people all over the world are suffering the consequences.

- Dr Eric Meijaard on Indonesia's peatland fires

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Indonesia: Fire team stays alert over hot spots in West Kalimantan 2 Nov 15;

The commander of the land and forest fire control task force in West Kalimantan, Christiandy Sanjaya, said it would continue to stay on guard to prevent hot spots from springing up again in the province.

“From the results of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s [BMKG] monitoring via NOAA and Modis satellites, no hot spot has been found in West Kalimantan today. However, we will continue to carry out monitoring so that hot spots will not appear again,” said Christiandy, who is also the deputy West Kalimantan governor, as quoted by Antara in Pontianak on Sunday.

The deputy governor said he was grateful that the rain fell evenly in areas across West Kalimantan, reducing the smoky haze that had caused the province’s residents to suffer from respiratory illnesses.

Christiandy admitted that the West Kalimantan administration was overwhelmed with problems caused by the haze disaster in the province. However, he said he was grateful that the problems had been resolved gradually, thanks to the hard work of the task force.

“People from all religious backgrounds had held mass prayers asking for rain and now rain has fallen in West Kalimantan,” he said.

Although the BMKG had reported no more hot spots, Christiandy said the task force has not yet been disbanded and would continue to monitor developments in the field.

He said it was difficult for the task force to tackle fires in West Kalimantan even if it used water bombing, as most of the fires occurred in peat lands and dry peat burned easily.

“After spraying water on the burned land, we’ll see that the fire seems to be fully extinguished. In fact, the embers from the land fires will be absorbed into the soil and they will ignite again once the surface soil dries,” he said.

That was why, Christiandy said, no West Kalimantan residents should carry out any land burning. “They themselves will suffer losses from the fires. Not only their health will be affected, their economic activities will be disrupted as well. We have to learn from what we have experienced,” said Christiandy. (ebf)

Activist Blames Former Forestry Minister for Haze Crisis
Jakarta Globe 1 Nov 15;

Jakarta. A leading anti-haze activist has accused the chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly of allowing corporations to burn forests and causing the haze crisis.

Zulkifli Hasan, former Forestry Minister from 2009 to 2014 under president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration, allegedly granted permission to various corporations to burn over 1.3 million hectares of forest areas to be used for plantations. The finding is based on ministerial data from 2010 to 2013.

“All of the permissions had been signed by Zulkifli Hasan who, at that period of time, was serving as the Forestry Minister in the [Second] United Indonesia Cabinet,” Syahrul Fitra, an activist, said on Saturday, as quoted by

Syahrul, organizer of the #MelawanAsap (#FightHaze) campaign through the online petition platform, has called on law enforcers to investigate and punish all officials allegedly responsible for the months-long disaster.

“Don't let this disaster continue repeating every year without anyone being responsible for it,” he said, while also urging the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to investigate possible graft related to the granting of permission.

Syahrul's online petition was launched on Friday and has so far attracted 6,355 supporters.

“When I was still at the office, I did not do it. If they want me [legally processed], I will face it,” Zulkifli Hasan, also the National Mandate Party (PAN) chairman, said on Saturday.

Over 2 million hectares of forest area across Indonesia has been reduced to ash in the past five months, according to National Space and Aviation Agency (Lapan) data. The final figure is expected to grow.

Peatland restoration prevents forest fires: VP Kalla
Antara 1 Nov 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesian Vice President M. Jusuf Kalla said peat land restoration in several islands of Indonesia can prevent forest fires that can cause haze disaster.

"The most important thing to prevent haze disaster is peat land restoration. The effort is needed to be done because burnt peat land creates more smokes than perennials forest," Kalla said here on Sunday.

The government will discuss peat land restoration efforts with some experts to achieve a national agreement on peat land management.

He added, Indonesia will also conduct international conference on peat land management as a prevention of haze disaster.

Kalla said Indonesia need to utilize appropriate technology to manage peat land.

"The conference is being prepared by Coordinating Minister of Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan as well as Environment and Forestry Ministry. The conference is important to be held to achieve national agreement on peat land management," Kalla said.

Additionally, Kalla said haze disaster also could potentially trigger long term illnesses.

"The haze inhaled by children can potentially trigger long term illnesses. Thus we want to solve haze disaster through peat land restoration," the Vice President said.

The government have taken various efforts to extinguish forest fires such as by deploying thousands of soldiers to conventionally extinguish fires by spraying waters to the hotspots and create channel partition.

Additionally, the government also conducts weather modification by pouring salts or sodium chloride to some clouds that have water vapor to trigger rain.

Kalla has initiated an Istisqa prayer as an Islamic effort to ask for rain in some areas in Indonesia.

(Reported by Bayu Prasetyo/Uu.H-YH)

Rare clear sunrise for Kalimantan resident
Francis Chan and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Straits Times AsiaOne 1 Nov 15'

Palang karaya resident Haulani Bakri could not believe his eyes when he saw the sun shining over his hometown yesterday morning. It was the first time in almost three months that the 61-year-old caught a sunrise in the capital city of Central Kalimantan.

The haze from forest and peatland fires had shrouded almost all of the island for months, often sending air pollution levels off the charts.

The people in the province have now enjoyed two consecutive days of clear skies after it rained for most of the week.

"The conditions improved after it started to rain," Mr Haulani, who makes and sells aluminium cupboards for a living, told The Sunday Times yesterday. "In the last few months, we sometimes even had to turn on the lights in the afternoon."

The city's Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading, the gauge of air quality, was as low as 75 yesterday but peaked at 220 in the evening.

Still, it was a vast improvement on the four-digit PSI levels most of Central Kalimantan had experienced just days ago.

Kalimantan and Sumatra islands are the worst-hit this year. The two regions saw 19 deaths from haze related illnesses and more than half a million people treated for acute lung infections. Almost 2.1 million ha of land, including forests and peatland, in Indonesia have been ravaged by the fires.

However, the heavy downpour over the two regions, starting from last Tuesday, has managed to provide much-needed relief to residents and emergency workers who have been working day and night either fighting fires or attending to people affected by the haze.

Tjilik Riwut Airportwasfully operational yesterday. Flights to and from the airport in Palangkaraya had been grounded or re-directed due to low visibility since the crisis started in August.

The capital city of Central Kalimantan is the last stop on President Joko Widodo's trip to haze-hit provinces to take stock of the situation.

He has visited different areas in the cities of Palembang and Jambi in Sumatra since his return from his visit to the United States last Thursday with First Lady Iriana.

Yesterday, he arrived in Pahandut, a residential estate in Palangkaraya, to find out how residents have been coping with the crisis.

He also visited a state-run primary school. Most people put on broad smiles for the President as he walked though the town.

He later went to Pulang Pisau, just outside the city, to inspect the blocking-canals he had ordered to be built around plantations to retain moisture and prevent fires from spreading.

"A month ago, when we came here, there was no water,so the peatland caught fire easily, but now the water from these canals will always be here," he said. He added that the blocking-canals run all the way to the nearby Kahayan River, which supplies the water. "We will build these (blocking-canals) in all the regencies in every fire-prone province in Indonesia. We will keep on building them even when it rains."

Although conditions have improved significantly, Indonesia is ramping up efforts to induce rain to fully douse the hot spots.

Many in Palang karaya are trying to pick up the pieces and move on.

Those who run businesses like Mr Haulani, who said sales fell by half during the haze crisis, are hoping that customers will return.

Mr Windu Sukmono, 30, who runs a laundry business, was more fortunate. He said there was steady demand for his service. But he, too, is praying that the clear skies and fresh air are here to stay. "Maybe this time it is for good."

Meanwhile, Singapore continued to enjoy clear skies yesterday, with the 24-hour PSI reading at 9pm at 47 to 56 (good to moderate), and the three-hour PSI reading at 63.

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As Indonesia's Annual Fires Rage, Plenty Of Blame But No Responsibility

Anthony Kuhn NPR 1 Nov 15;

The onset of the rainy season in Indonesia brings hope of extinguishing forest fires that have raged for weeks, spawning both an environmental and political crisis in Southeast Asia's largest economy.

This crisis, which recurs every year to some extent, extends deep into the country's politics and economics — and neither its causes nor symptoms will be easy to cure.

According to the World Resources Institute, the fires are emitting nearly 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a day — more than the entire U.S., whose economy is 20 times the size of Indonesia's.

Nineteen have died from haze-related respiratory illness, haze which can be seen spreading over huge swathes of Indonesia in satellite photos.

Half a million people have suffered acute respiratory infections and 43 million have been exposed to the smoke. Several provinces have already declared emergencies, and Indonesia is considering declaring a national state of emergency in order to deploy resources to fight the fires.

That decision is up to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, who cut short a state visit to the U.S. last week to return home and deal with the fires.

The most serious blazes are on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, and are caused by illegal destruction of forests and carbon-rich peat lands to make way for pulpwood and palm oil plantations. These produce everyday consumer products such as copy paper, cookies and lipstick.

However, some observers are hopeful that the crisis holds seeds of opportunity.

"I really feel this is an opportunity for Jokowi to take control and lead the country in a different direction," says Scott Poynton, executive director of the Forest Trust. "But the country's got to have a long, hard strategic look at the way it develops its land-based industries."

Jokowi is Indonesia's first president with a track record of efficient local governance in running two large cities. Strong action on the haze issue could help fulfill the promise of reform that motivated Indonesian voters to put him in office in October 2014.

The president has deployed thousands of firefighters and accepted international assistance. He has ordered a moratorium on new licenses to use peat land and ordered law enforcers to prosecute people and companies who clear land by burning forests.

"It must be stopped, we mustn't allow our tropical rainforests to disappear because of monoculture plantations like oil palms," Widodo said early in his administration.

The problem of Indonesia's illegal forest fires is so complex that it's very hard to say exactly who is responsible for causing it.

Indonesia's government has blamed both big palm oil companies and small freeholders. Poynton says the culprits are often mid-sized companies with strong ties to local politicians. He describes them as lawless middlemen who pay local farmers to burn forests and plant oil palms, often on other companies' concessions.

"There are these sort of low-level, Mafioso-type guys that basically say, 'You get in there and clear the land, and I'll then finance you to establish a palm oil plantation,' " he says.

The problem is exacerbated by ingrained government corruption, in which politicians grant land use permits for forests and peat lands to agribusiness in exchange for financial and political support.

"The disaster is not in the fires," says independent Jakarta-based commentator Wimar Witoelar. "It's in the way that past Indonesian governments have colluded with big palm oil businesses to make the peat lands a recipe for disaster."

Wimar notes that previous administrations are partly to blame for nearly two decades of annual fires.

One of the biggest fiascoes was a result of the notorious Mega Rice Project, launched in 1996 by military strongman and longtime president Suharto. It destroyed nearly 2,000 square miles of peat forests and led to devastating fires and massive carbon emissions. The purpose was to produce rice — but none was grown.

The haze has also become a regional embarrassment, closing airports and schools in nearby Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Singapore's government has threatened legal action against individuals and companies starting the fires.

But, observers point out, Singapore and Malaysia are complicit in the problem, too. Many palm oil companies are headquartered there — and Singapore banks finance much of the business.

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