NParks does U-turn on art project to colour trees blue after backlash

NAC, botanist say paint is environmentally safe, but conservationists raise doubts
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 13 Nov 15;

Blue Trees at the Vancouver Biennale, Cananda. Photo: Konstantin Dimopoulos

Trees at Dhoby Ghaut Green. Photo: Daryl Kang

SINGAPORE — In an about-turn, the National Parks Board (NParks) said yesterday that the bark of the trees at Dhoby Ghaut Green cannot be coloured blue, as it withdrew support for a community art project that had been slammed by some members of the public.

The well-travelled installation by Australian artist Konstantin Dimopoulos, called The Blue Trees, aimed to raise awareness of deforestation. It was to have taken place last weekend, with volunteers helping paint the trunks and branches of the trees with a water-based colourant. But the National Arts Council (NAC) postponed it to give the trees time to recover from the recent haze episode, or to find alternative solutions.

NParks initially agreed to support the use of the trees after the NAC’s assurance that the colourant had been used on trees in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Testimonials by overseas tree organisations and arborists said the colourant would not harm the trees.

NParks said it told NAC last Wednesday — a day before NAC announced that the event would be postponed — that it would not be supporting the installation.

“NParks should have been mindful of the sensitivities of the community towards our trees and the potential impact on insect biodiversity,” said Ms Kalthom A Latiff, NParks’ deputy director of arts and heritage parks. “It has therefore reviewed this and has conveyed to NAC that it will not be supporting this project.”

NParks’ permission was needed for the installation as the trees are on park land.

The NAC’s director of arts and community Chua Ai Liang said it respects NParks’ latest position and will discuss it with Mr Dimopoulos.

“We hope we can find a way to collaborate even as the project evolves from its original concept,” said Ms Chua.

Mr Dimopoulos could not be reached for comment by press time.

The art installation had sparked robust debate here, with disapproving comments posted on the event’s ticketing website.

“Trees host whole ecosystems of algae, lichens, fungi, ferns, ants, woodlice, insect larvae, mantis and birds, such as woodpeckers which feed on insects,” wrote Mr Lee Kee Seng. “It’s very bad for nature, very anti-nature.”

Mr Marcus Ng wanted to know how long it would take for the trees to revert to their natural state and the exact composition of the colourant used. Another commenter, planning and urban design strategist Choo Meng Foo, 51, told TODAY he was invited by NParks to a meeting last week with the NAC and Mr Dimopoulos after he made his concerns known. Mr Choo, who considers the colouring of the trees a “violent act against nature”, said it would also encourage participants to disrespect nature and think of nature as being at man’s disposal.

In a list of frequently asked questions put up on the ticketing website, the NAC said the colourant was developed by the artist for the installation and is “biologically and environmentally safe”. The colourant has been used in 14 cities around the world, with tree organisations and certified arborists attesting to its safety for the trees and other living organisms.

The colourant is not paint and consists mostly of water and 100 per cent organic material, “some of which can also be commonly found in children’s face paint”, the NAC said. It can be easily removed with water, the council said. The NAC had also conducted tests with specialists to ensure the health of the trees and other living organisms would not be compromised, said Ms Chua.

The Blue Trees was launched in April 2011 at the Vancouver Biennale and has travelled to countries like the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand. According to a 2012 report by The Seattle Times, the colourant is made from azurite (a blue copper mineral) and water.

Conservationist Tony O’Dempsey said natural pigments are not necessarily harmless. “How do we know (the colourant) won’t harm the fungi, lichens, and insect life that live on and inside the bark of the tree? Our concern is that the colouration materials suspended in the paint (will) clog pores in the bark as well as the breathing pores on the abdomens of insects and spiders,” said Mr O’Dempsey, chairman of the Nature Society Singapore’s Plant Group, who was speaking in a personal capacity.

But Professor Evan DeLucia of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Plant Biology said water-based paint that is diluted will not choke off all the ability of the bark to exchange gas from the atmosphere to the living tissue within, and would have no effect on the tree. The painting of stems has long been used in the horticultural and forestry industry, for purposes such as the reflection of light (by white paint) and to stop frost damage in winter.

Colouring of the bark will damage the insects and spiders that live on it, but “it’s hard to imagine those would not re-establish very quickly after all the paint is washed away”, said Prof DeLucia, who studied forestry and plant physiology. The colourants, however, should not be painted near the tips of the trees’ buds, he said.

Expressing his personal opinion, Prof DeLucia said: “As a global society, we should do everything we can to support artistic expression. And even when it makes us uncomfortable ... we should be very protective of that right to communicate through artistic expression.”

Mr O’Dempsey questioned the need to change trees to an “unnatural” colour to generate discussion about deforestation, when there is already sufficient beauty in natural flora. Evidence is also needed to show the critters will indeed re-establish themselves, he said.

“There are more than enough professionally edited documentaries and media reports regarding deforestation, not to mention scientific information, which should be more than sufficient to evoke meaningful conversations regarding deforestation,” he said.

Blue Trees art canned
NParks withdraws support after tree lovers' protests against artist painting trees
Lea Wee Straits Times 14 Nov 15; and AsiaOne 15 Nov 15;

Nature lovers have embraced the cancellation of an art project that planned to colour trees blue.

The Blue Trees, an installation by Egypt-born artist Konstantin Dimopoulos, was supposed to take place over the weekend of Nov 7 and 8 at Dhoby Ghaut Green.

Volunteers were meant to paint the trunks and branches of about 20 trees with a blue water-based colourant to draw attention to the importance of trees and inspire conversation about deforestation.

Following protests by tree lovers, the National Parks Board withdrew its support and the event was cancelled. As the trees are on park land, NParks' permission was needed for the event to proceed.

Artist and urban design consultant Choo Meng Foo, 51, says he is elated by the news.

"I consider the colouring of the trees a violent act against nature," he says. "It would also encourage participants to disrespect nature and think of nature as being at man's disposal."

He was among the first people to raise his concerns about the project. He wrote two letters, including one to the National Arts Council, the event organiser.

Environmentalist Ria Tan, 54, who runs wildlife website Wildsingapore, also cheered the news of NParks' decision on her Facebook page.

She told Life: "Trees are not something lifeless like furniture that you can go and paint. They are part of a living web of life consisting of birds and other creatures.

"Each tree is home to tiny plants and animals living on and under its bark. Even if the colourant does not harm the tree, how do we ensure that the colourant does not harm other organisms?"

There has been disagreement on exactly how environmentally detrimental the blue paint is.

The National Arts Council said the colourant was developed by the artist for the installation and is "biologically and environmentally safe".

It has been used in 14 cities around the world, and the artist has provided testimonials by overseas tree organisations and certified arborists vouching for the safety of the colourant with regards to the trees, the surroundings and other life forms.

The colourant is not paint and consists mostly of water and 100 per cent organic material, "some of which can also be commonly found in children's face paint" and easily removed with water, the council said.

Nonetheless, NParks, which had initially given the green light for the project, decided to withdraw its support, as it wants to be "mindful of the sensitivities of the community towards our trees and the potential impact on insect biodiversity", says Ms Kalthom A. Latiff, deputy director of Arts & Heritage Parks at the agency.

The Blue Trees is a project under the National Arts Council's Arts in the Neighbourhood programme. About 150 people had signed up to be volunteers in the tree-painting sessions.

When contacted yesterday, the art council's director for arts and community Chua Ai Liang says that while it respects NParks' latest position, it will "discuss this with the artist and hope to find a way to collaborate even as the project evolves from its original concept".

The artist, who was in town last week, has since left. His latest post on his Facebook page shows a photograph of the Blue Trees project in Germany.

Attempts to reach him were not successful.

The Blue Trees was launched in April 2011 at the Vancouver Biennale and has travelled to countries such as the United States, Britain and New Zealand.

It was named one of the Top 100 Activism Trends for ideas that changed the world in 2012.

Singapore is not the only place where some members of the public had expressed unhappiness with the installation.

In Squamish, a city in Canada, newspaper editor Christine Endicott wrote in the Squamish Chief in April this year that "Squamish is a unique place, where visitors come to escape to nature... It's baffling that we have a plan to alter (local) nature, based on the vision of an artist who does not live here".

Dr Shawn Lum, a botanist and a lecturer at the Asian School of the Environment at Nanyang Technological University, says painting the branches and trunks of the trees is unlikely to damage the tree as a whole.

Dr Lum, who is also the president of Nature Society Singapore, says: "It will likely hurt or even kill some of the tiny oganisms living on the trees, but these organisms are likely to regenerate or return over time.

"The question we need to ask as a community is whether we want to risk this short-term impact on these micro-ecosystems to make an artistic statement, which may turn out to be a powerful one affecting many people."

Related links
No 'Blue Trees' please. We are Singapore. on the wild shores of singapore blog

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Singapore can play a part in the Arctic: DPM Teo

The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Nov 15;

Though the Arctic is a "seemingly distant region", its developments have a great impact on Singapore, both environmentally and economically, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

But he envisions Singapore playing a part in the development of the Arctic by creating suitable technology for the region and sharing expertise, like managing oil spills, with the eight Arctic nations .

Such engagement between Singapore and the Arctic nations has boosted the industry capabilities of both sides for sustainable resource development in the polar region, he added.

A most recent effort he pinpointed is the collaboration between the National University of Singapore and University of Alaska Fairbanks in areas such as cold regions engineering and oil spill research.

Mr Teo underlined mutual gains from strengthening co-operation when he opened the Arctic Circle Singapore Forum, the first major meeting in Asia on the region's future.

Singapore is hosting the one-day forum, attended by 150 government officials and researchers from countries that include the eight nations which form the Arctic Council, an inter-governmental organisation that sets the rules for the future development of the polar region.

Its members are: United States, Russia, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Singapore is a permanent observer at the council.

In his speech, Mr Teo also underlined the need for Singapore, as a maritime nation, to maintain a keen interest in the Arctic as changes there will "invariably change the future of marine transport". A robust legal and institutional framework is also important as economic activity in the Arctic grows, he added.

"As a small island state that has always depended on sea-borne trade as our economic lifeline, we believe it is in the interest of all states to preserve the freedom of navigation and rights to safe passage through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore and other waters, as provided for by United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," he said.

Environmentally, a warmer Arctic has far-reaching impact globally, both in terms of costs and investment potential.

For Singapore, it has led to shore protection works to guard against erosion, and the raising of the minimum level of newly reclaimed land to pre-empt the projected rise in sea level.

Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, in his opening address at the forum, similarly noted that the Arctic affects every country in the world.

"It is extraordinarily rich in resources which are of great relevance and importance for the economies of the 21st and 22nd century - not just oil and gas but also hydrothermal resources."

He also spoke of the need to create an "environmentally responsible" framework for countries with a financial interest in the region.

Dr Grimsson, whose three-day state visit to Singapore ends today, is leader of the Arctic Circle, which seeks to address issues the Arctic faces because of climate change and melting sea ice.

During forum discussions, participants talked about the best ways to govern northern sea routes, new technologies to meet infrastructure needs, and investment and research opportunities in the region.

Challenges facing Arctic will affect Singapore and the world: DPM Teo
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who was speaking at the Arctic Circle Singapore Forum, says changes in the region could also affect the future of marine transportation and this will impact Singapore, which relies heavily on sea trade.
Faris Mokhtar Channel NewsAsia 12 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE: Environmental and economic developments in the Arctic are of great interest to Singapore, as challenges facing the region will affect the country and the world, according to Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

He was speaking at the Arctic Circle Singapore Forum on Thursday (Nov 12), which discussed issues in the region.

The event was organised by Arctic Circle - a non-profit organisation co-founded by Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson in 2013 - together with the Singapore Maritime Institute. The forum seeks to facilitate dialogue on the the Arctic.

Mr Teo said physical changes in the Arctic are affecting the global climate and will have far-reaching economic impact. He pointed to a study by Cambridge University together with the National Snow and Ice Data Centre, which estimated that rising temperatures from greenhouses gases, released by melting permafrost in the Arctic, could cost the world about US$43 trillion over the next 200 years. That would be partly be due to the need to compensate for agricultural losses.

The Deputy Prime Minister added that changes in the region could also affect the future of marine transportation and this will impact Singapore, which relies heavily on sea trade. For instance, the Northern Sea Route - a new passageway for ships in the Arctic region - bypasses Singapore and reduces travel time between Northeast Asia and Europe by up to two or three weeks.

Mr Teo said Singapore has been striving to be a constructive player in Arctic affairs since it was granted observer status in the Arctic Council in 2013. The council, formed in 1996, is made up of eight countries that have territory in the region, such as Canada, Norway and Russia. It holds a forum every six months, attended by government representatives, to discuss issues pertinent to the region.

Also at the forum was Mr Grimsson, who is in Singapore on a three-day visit. Apart from touching on the points mentioned by Mr Teo, he said Singapore should enhance, and not only continue, its engagement with the Arctic region.

"As a small country, it is in Singapore's interest to remain plugged into the world and to understand how environmental and economic developments, even in a seemingly distant region like the Arctic, can impact Singapore – perhaps not immediately, but 20, 50 or even 100 years later," said Mr Teo.

"The experience and the development of Singapore is of critical importance - how you have made this country a significant location in the global trading system. But also how you have, as a small country, in a sophisticated, non-threatening way, placed yourself in this position. That contribution as well as your diplomatic efforts, your style of thinking and dealing with others are of great importance to the Arctic," said President Grimsson.

- CNA/dl

Iceland, Singapore 'have much in common'
Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Nov 15;

Iceland stands in the Northern Atlantic and is blessed with an abundance of natural resources while Singapore, sitting halfway across the globe in South-east Asia at the crossroads of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, can rely only on its people.

But the stark geographical difference between the two island nations belies the many common characteristics they share, especially their views on many issues, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said at a state banquet for visiting Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson.

"For both of us, the sea is a crucial lifeline. Fishing is in Iceland's lifeblood, while Singapore flourishes as a maritime trading port," Dr Tan said, adding that climate change and how oceans are governed are issues close to the heart of both countries.

Dr Grimsson, invited by Dr Tan, is on a three-day state visit here, the first by an Icelandic President.

Economic relations between Singapore and Iceland, with almost 330,000 people, have grown since the European Free Trade Association-Singapore Free Trade Agreement took effect in 2003.

Both also co-operate closely in the Arctic region, said Dr Tan.

At the broader strategic level, Dr Tan said: "Small countries like Singapore and Iceland will have to stay nimble to navigate the waves and currents of the shifting global geopolitics."

Dr Grimsson, in his speech, said: "As island nations, we can both bring important lessons to challenges facing the world."

He added that, for example, pollution and environmental degradation increasingly threaten the future of the ocean.

He also said Singapore's experience, knowledge and developmental insights can help ensure the future success of the Arctic.

For this reason, it was welcomed as a permanent observer nation to the Arctic Council in 2013, he said.

Singapore, he noted, has been an active participant in the grouping of eight Arctic nations comprising the United States, Russia, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Today, it will host the first major meeting in Asia on the future of the Arctic.

"I thank Singapore for its constructive engagement in the Arctic dialogue and co-operation, and I express hope that the evolution of Arctic co-operation will continue to benefit from your country's contributions and involvement," he added.

Dr Grimsson also congratulated the Singapore people on the country's golden jubilee.

"Throughout my life of public service, I have admired the vision and the leadership of Singapore," he said.

Dr Grimsson began his state visit yesterday. He was given a ceremonial welcome at the Istana and called on Dr Tan.

The two leaders reaffirmed the warm and growing ties between their countries, and discussed ways to strengthen bilateral and regional co-operation.

Dr Grimsson also met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. They exchanged views on a variety of issues, including Singapore's interests in the Arctic, climate change, and developments in their respective countries.

Earlier in the day, Dr Grimsson and First Lady Dorrit Moussaieff visited the Botanic Gardens, where an orchid was named after them. He also met officials from regulator Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and port operator PSA Corp.

Dr Tan noted the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve plays host to migratory Arctic birds every winter, and it is one reason that Singapore's flora and fauna are closely connected with the Arctic despite the geographic distance.

There is also a small but highly skilled Icelandic community here, while some Singaporeans have made Iceland their home.

"It is my hope that our officials can continue to traverse the geographical distance and step up mutual engagement, both bilaterally as well as vis-a-vis the Arctic," said Dr Tan.

Iceland President: Important to maintain inclusive dialogue on the Arctic
AsiaOne 12 Nov 15;

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, President of the Republic of Iceland His Excellency Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and Publisher of the Alaskan Dispatch Alice Rogoff, at the opening session of the Arctic Circle Singapore Forum on Nov 12, 2015.

Photo: The Arctic Circle and the Singapore Maritime Institute

SINGAPORE - It is important to maintain an inclusive and dynamic dialogue on Arctic affairs, Iceland President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson said on Thursday.

Delivering the opening address at the Arctic Circle Singapore Forum, he also highlighted the growing global interest in the Arctic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement.

Dr Grimsson was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at the forum, which was jointly organised by the Arctic Circle and the Singapore Maritime Institute with support from the Singapore Government.

Both Dr Grimsson and Mr Teo welcomed the growing co-operation between Singapore and Iceland on the Arctic.

Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, also spoke of Singapore's efforts to deepen its understanding of the Arctic and make relevant contributions.

Dr Grimsson will deliver the closing remarks for the forum, which was attended by over 200 speakers and participants, later this evening.

The first Icelandic President to visit Singapore, he is currently here on a three-day State visit from Wednesday to Friday.

Yesterday, he met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and attended a State banquet hosted by President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

Dr Grimsson and his wife, First Lady Dorrit Moussaieff, also visited the Botanic Gardens earlier in the day, where an orchid was named after them.

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MPA recognises 53 ships under Green Ship Programme

The Green Ship Programme encourages Singapore-flagged ships to reduce carbon dioxide and sulphur oxides emissions. Qualifying companies enjoy a reduction of Initial Registration Fees and a rebate on Annual Tonnage Tax.
Channel NewsAsia 13 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE: The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) recognised 53 ships from companies that qualified for the Green Ship Programme (GSP) on Friday (Nov 13), at the Third Singapore Registry of Ships Forum (SRS Forum).

In a news release issued on Friday, MPA said that these 53 Green Ships are from 41 companies, and they can enjoy a reduction of Initial Registration Fees and a rebate on Annual Tonnage Tax.

The GSP encourages Singapore-flagged ships to reduce carbon dioxide and sulphur oxides emissions. Since the initiative's inception in 2011, 247 Green Ships under the Singapore Flag have joined the programme.

On Friday, ten maritime companies also signed the Maritime Singapore Green Pledge, bringing the total number to 100 companies in the initiative since its inception in 2011.

At the forum, five companies were recognised for contributing up to the 85th million gross tonnage (GT) in the SRS tonnage.

Themed “Quality Shipping”, this year’s SRS Forum focuses on the importance of safe, responsible and sustainable maritime operations.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was also signed between MPA and Du Pont Company (Singapore) to collaborate on services and solutions for the maritime industry.

- CNA/wl

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Locally-harvested salads hit shelves at Singapore supermarkets

AsiaOne 13 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE - Locally-harvested salad mixes from Singapore's first licensed indoor vegetable farm have hit the shelves at selected supermarket chains, Panasonic said in a press release on Thursday (Nov 12).

Currently offered in three combinations, Veggie Life is a result of collaboration with Singapore's Food Innovation and Resource Centre.
Research and development efforts were conducted to ensure that the ingredients of each salad combination provides optimal nutritional benefits to support a healthy lifestyle and complements in taste.

Veggie Life salads are also cultivated in the indoor farm's controlled soil-based, pesticide-free environment with optimum cultivation conditions. This ensures compliance with food safety standards, said Panasonic. The produce is then harvested, packaged on-site and delivered on the same day to maximise freshness.

"Locally-sourced and fresh ingredients are crucial to the farm-to-table experience, and we are pleased to be able to provide that through our Veggie Life salad mixes," said Hideki Baba, Managing Director of Panasonic Factory Solutions Asia Pacific.

38 types of vegetables are currently harvested in Panasonic's indoor farm. The facility has also expanded its annual production capacity from 3.6 to 81 tonnes in the last year, which is on target to contribute five per cent to Singapore's local production by FY2016.

Veggie Life salads are available at the following supermarket chains: Emporium Shokuhin, Isetan supermarkets at Scotts and Westgate, and MEIDI-YA.

Panasonic launches homegrown salad mixes
Today Online 18 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE — It was the first indoor vegetable farm certified by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) when it began commercial operations in 2013. Based in Singapore, Panasonic Factory Solutions Asia Pacific (PFSAP) — yes, it is a subsidiary of Panasonic, the global electronics giant — currently grows 32 varieties of vegetables, from red and green leafy vegetables to mizuna, red chard and white radish, which it supplies to hotels, catering companies and restaurants here.

And now, consumers can grab these freshly harvested crops, packaged on site and delivered the same day for convenience and freshness, directly from 

Retailing under its Veggie Life brand, these pre-packed salads come in a range of three nutrient-dense mixes for consumers on the go.

The Antioxidant Mix, for example, contains vitamin C and a mix of mizuna, mini white radish, baby spinach, and red and yellow chard. The Vibrant Mix, on the other hand, contains zinc and magnesium (the latter is said to help with the absorption and retention of calcium) and features green leafy lettuce, red and white radish, and mizuna. The Nourish Mix of red chard, oba and red leafy lettuce is focused on delivering vitamin A, an antioxidant that is also essential for eye function.

The pre-packed salads are priced at S$6.90 and can be found at selected supermarkets such as those at Emporium Shokuhin, Isetan at Scotts and Westgate, and MEIDI-YA. By the end of the month, consumers can also find Veggie Life salads at Big Box Hypermart and selected FairPrice supermarkets.

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Malaysia: Uncontrolled logging possible cause of Karak landslide - NGO

The Star 12 Nov 15;

KUANTAN: The massive landslide that occurred at KM52.4 of the Karak Highway on Wednesday is believed to be caused by uncontrolled logging at the Lentang Recreational Forest area.

Puan Seri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil, the Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka) president, said she had warned of a possible landslide before when she saw uncontrolled logging activities in the forest area following the construction of the Tenaga Nasional Malaysia Berhad (TNB) passageway from Bentong, Pahang to Lenggeng, Negri Sembilan.

She said several protest letters were sent to the state government, and the problem highlighted in the media, but lax enforcement resulted in the illegal clearing of more forest land.

"It is understood that logging activities started in late October 2013 and the encroachers wantonly cleared more land at the Lentang Recreational Forest in the name of development," Shariffa told Bernama, Wednesday night.

"When we knew about this, Peka sent an official letter to the Pahang state government on Jan 20 last year, expressing our concern over possible adverse effects of the uncontrolled logging activities," she said.

Shariffa said despite this, uncontrolled logging remained rampant, leading to more forest land being stripped of vegetation, leading to the massive mudslide on the Karak Highway.

She said the problem could worsen if illegal clearing of forests in Bukit Tinggi and Lentang Recreational Forest area continued.

She added that the downpour and landslide also caused a one-metre high flood at the Tanah Aina Fareena area, the first such incident to occur at the three-hectare eco-tourism getaway since it opened 12 years ago.

According to her, all the furniture and equipment at the popular eco-resort was damaged.

Shariffa is urging the state government and other relevant authorities to view the problem seriously and take immediate action to stop uncontrolled logging to avoid a worse incident, including the loss of lives. - Bernama

Karak landslide caused by overflow of water catchment area, says Fire and Rescue Dept
QISHIN TARIQ The Star 12 Nov 15;

BENTONG: The Karak landslide was caused by an overflow of a water catchment area, not logging on a nearby hill, said the Fire and Rescue Department.

The Department's deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid said the heavy rain over the last few days had caused the catchment to overflow, picking up sediment and mud which became a landslide.

"The overflow also picked up garbage, logs and large rocks from the hill," he told media, during a briefing at the site.

Soiman said the Department conducted a preliminary aerial inspection to assess the soil structure and water flow.

"I saw an area that had some logging, which appeared quite orderly," he said.

He said there was an area where the trees had been cleared, as well as more water in the catchment area.

"If it rains heavily again, there will be another overflow," he warned.

Asked if the landslide was caused by the logging, Soiman disagreed, saying the primary cause was the overflowing catchment.

He said the department had instructed the Works Ministry and ANIH management to remove the rocks and logs spotted on the hilltop to reduce the damage, should another landslide occur.

As of 2pm, all lanes of the highway remain closed with clearing works at kilometers 52.4 of Karak highway, primarily on the KL-bound lane.

Logging not to blame for Karak mudslide, says Forestry Dept

NOR AIN MOHAMED New Straits Times 12 Nov 15;

KUANTAN: Pahang State Forestry Department director Datuk Mohd Paiz Kamaruzaman today refuted claims that the mudslide which occurred at KM52.4 KL-Karak Highway was caused by excessive logging near the Lentang Forest Reserve.

Paiz when met confirmed that logging activities near the forest reserve had ceased about five months ago, thus the claims were not true.

"The construction of high voltage pylons route by Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) from Bentong to Lenggeng in Negri Sembilan has also been stopped.

"Currently, we are still in discussion with TNB and other relevant agencies due to some issues.

However I can assure you that the mudslide happened not because of logging activities, but perhaps due to slope failures.

"We have to look into details before making any conclusion and I cannot comment further since I have no expertise in this matter," he told reporters after the signing ceremony of MoU between Yayasan Amir Trust School and Yayasan Pahang today.

Also present at the event was Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob.

Paiz also dismissed claims that the trees seen in the mudslide were actually logs from logging activities.

"Logs are usually nicely cut, but in this case you can still see the roots. The trees might have been uprooted following the mudslide.

"We have sent our officers to check on the matter before we can make any conclusions," he said.

Paiz said 25 department staff living at the quarters near the mudslide have also been ordered by the Fire and Rescue Department to move temporarily to a mosque near the area.

Yesterday, one hour of heavy rain caused a major mudslide at KM52.4 of Kuala Lumpur-Karak Highway, cutting off both sides of the highway at 6.30pm.

Land-clearing or natural disaster, authorities debate root of highway mishap
The Star 13 Nov 15;

PETALING JAYA: There is much debate over the cause of the landslide at the 52nd kilometre of the Karak Highway which completely cut off traffic with a torrent of mud and debris.

Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof said that the logs that washed out in the landslide could be a sign of forest clearing.

He however said he would need to speak with the Pahang State Government as they were the caretakers of the Lentang Forest Reserve where the alleged logging occurred.

“I cannot confirm it’s logging,” he said, adding that it was too early to speculate while an incident report was being prepared by highway concessionaire ANIH Bhd.

The Protectors of Natural Treasures Associations (Peka) president Puan Sri Sharifah Sabrina Syed Akil claims that a 20km logging trail they had found, starting from the Lentang district Forestry Office which passes through Bukit Tinggi and Janda Baik, during an expedition last year was an indication of what was behind the landslide.

They are part of the building of the TNB passageway from Bentong, Pahang to Lenggeng, Negeri Sembilan.

The land-clearing projects, she claimed, caused the soil to loosen, threatening the area with mudslides and landslides.

Sharifah Sabrina said the Karak Highway – the highest motorway in Malaysia – was more prone to landslides.

“If forest-clearing activities do not stop, it will become another Cameron Highlands,” she claimed.

“These people are very smart. They do not cut (trees) in front of the highway.”

“You would not be able to see their activities when you are driving by,” she said, pointing out that the logging was carried out under the shelter of hills.

She said her research revealed that some of the land-clearing projects were contracted by Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB).

According to her, she wrote a letter to TNB in January last year, voicing her concerns and it had agreed to relocate the project.

“I understand the need to build high-tension wires there. However, they (the contractors) were cutting more than what they needed,” she said.

Sharifah Sabrina believes that lumber at the forest reserve, which could be sold at an exorbitant price, was behind what she alleged was rampant logging.

The Pahang State Forestry Department however, denied claims of logging activities in the area.

Its director Datuk Mohd Paiz Kamaruzaman said the TNB project had stopped and it was looking for alternatives on how to proceed.

Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob said the landslide was a natural disaster unrelated to logging activities.

He said there were was no logging at the area, although TNB had done land clearing to make way for high tension cables.

He stressed that the site was some distance away from the disaster area and the project had stopped months ago.

Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid said, heavy rain over the last few days had caused a water catchment to overflow, picking up sediment and mud which became a landslide.

“I saw an area that had some logging, which appeared quite orderly,” he said, referring to an area that had been cleared on the hill.

TNB in an email reply, denied that its projects were the cause of the landslides.

Its senior general manager (corporate affairs and communications) Datuk Mohd Aminuddin Mohd Amin said its two project sites were 780m from where the landslide happened.

The projects were to build a 500kV transmission line from Bentong South to Lenggeng and a 275kV line from Bentong South to Ampang.

“The work to install transmission lines has not started yet,” he said, adding that contracts had only just been awarded.

The landslide occurred around 6.30pm on Wednesday, near Lentang-Bukit Tinggi.

The highway is likely to remain closed till Saturday to facilitate road clearing works and it is possible that the water catchment area could overflow again due to rain.

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Malaysia: Sarawak forests to be monitored using drones

ADIB POVERA New Straits Times 12 Nov 15;

MIRI: The Sarawak Forestry Department will intensify its air surveillance on forests in the state with the use of drones beginning next year.

Its director Sapuan Ahmad said the procurement of the drones was approved by the Federal Government under the 11th Malaysia Plan, which was rolled out for implementation in May this year.

“I am happy to announce that our request to purchase the drones have been approved and this will enable us to conduct greater air surveillance on forests in Sarawak,” said Sapuan in his speech during the department’s Excellence Services Award Ceremony last night.

Present were Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem and State Second Resources Planning and Environment Minister Datuk Awang Tengah Ali Hasan.

Also in attendance was Adenan’s wife Puan Sri Jamilah Anu.

During the dinner, Sapuan explained that air surveillance was among the actions taken by the department to strengthen its enforcement to stamp out illegal logging in the state.

“The flying squad has been most effective for monitoring the forest and detecting illegal logging.

“This year, the department will conduct more patrolling with helicopters, flying all around the corners to detect illegal logging activities.

“To enhance our enforcement capability, we are utilising the advance technology such as Hyperspectral System and Compact Airborne Tactical System,” said Sapuan.

To date, the department had investigated 154 cases involving 37,00 cubic metres of seized logs worth more than RM11 million.

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Indonesia: West Sumatra on tsunami alert

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb and Slamet Susanto, The Jakarta Post 12 Nov 15;

Five years after the deadly Mentawai tsunami, geologists have called on local administrations and residents in West Sumatra to anticipate another possible tsunami following the increasing earthquake intensity on the province’s Siberut Island and the Batu Islands.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, the Indonesian Geologists Association’s (IAGI) West Sumatra branch head Ade Edward said the earthquake intensity had been increasing for the last three years in the Siberut area and for the last two years in the Batu Islands with magnitudes of between 3 and 4 on the Richter scale.

“On average, the small-scale earthquakes measuring below 5 on the Richter scale have occurred nine times in both locations. The magnitude [of the quakes] has also tended to increase,” Ade said.

The latest earthquake measuring 6 on the Richter scale occurred on Sunday in waters off the Batu Islands. Earlier, another earthquake with a 5.5 magnitude also hit Siberut. “We are afraid the magnitude of the upcoming quakes will increase, releasing a huge amount of energy,” Ade said.

There is no technology available to forecast the emergence of an earthquake.

In 2010, a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck the Mentawai Islands, located off the western coast of West Sumatra, killing hundreds of people and displacing thousands of others.

Many international geologists have been studying the earthquake potential of Siberut, the largest and northernmost of the Mentawai Islands. The Mentawai megathrust zone in Siberut, for example, reportedly could have an earthquake with a magnitude of up to 8.9. An earthquake with 8.4 magnitude occurred there in the late 18th century.

The latest research as of June 2015 from a number of experts from the US and Singapore from Mentawai Gap-Tsunami Earthquake Risk Assessment (Mega-Tera) concluded that major earthquakes could threaten areas around Mentawai and Siberut in the next 20 years.

The quakes are also believed to have the potential of causing a tsunami that could hit the West Sumatra capital of Padang in 22 minutes.

Nelia Budi, a Padang resident, said that the local administration had not run any tsunami familiarization programs over the past few years.

“In the past, when a quake was felt, we would quickly move away from the beach. Now, many people just laugh in their yards [when a quake occurs],” Nelia said.

Meanwhile, a 5.7 magnitude quake jolted the southern part of Java on Wednesday.

The epicenter, according to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) was located in the Indian Ocean, 120 kilometers southwest of Bantul regency, at a depth of 93 kilometers.

No casualties or damaged buildings were reported.

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Indonesia: Ministry’s secrecy blamed for deforestation

The Jakarta Post 12 Nov 15;

Green group Forest Watch Indonesia (FWI) has criticized the Environment and Forestry Ministry for being one of the most secretive ministries in the government and has warned that that attitude could contribute to worsening deforestation.

From 2014 to the middle of 2015, the ministry had received 915 information requests from the public, but responded only to 127 of them, FWI researcher Linda Rosalina said on Wednesday.

The requested information mostly concerned permit documents, data on the ministry’s budget, environmental policies and Environmental Impact Analyses (Amdal) — information that has been guaranteed as freely accessible for the public under Law No. 14/2008 on public information.

According to FWI, the ministry often declined to release information to the public, arguing that the information could threaten state security, public order or people’s livelihoods, violate intellectual property rights, expose businesses to unhealthy competition, endanger the country’s natural resources or put relations with other countries at risk.

“The ministry already has all the means to be transparent about public information, because the country has the law, the central information commission [KIP] and documentation and information management officers [PPID],” Linda said. “But the implementation is disappointing so far.”

Linda said if the ministry continued to withhold crucial information, the country could suffer from accelerated deforestation.

FWI data shows that Indonesia lost 4.5 million hectares to deforestation from 2009 to 2013.

“This shows that Indonesia still can’t control deforestation, which is mainly caused by the lack of a transparent management system,” FWI executive director Christian Purba said.

He added that inconsistent forest-related data at several institutions also pointed to the lack of transparency.

Some of the inconsistencies include mismatches in the data from the Environment and Forestry Ministry and other agencies.

Data from the ministry shows that 143.7 million cubic meters of commercial timber came from natural forests between 2003 and 2004.

Meanwhile, data from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for the same period shows that timber production amounted to 772.8 million cubic meters.

Christian said the difference could mean losses of up to Rp 779.3 trillion (US$57.34 billion) in state revenue.

KIP commissioner Yhannu Setiawan said the government needed to amend the public information law.

“It’s a good time to revise it with the participation of civil society,” Yhannu said.

He said the central government also needed to promote transparency, especially at local governments.

“It is going to be a very hard and slow process, but we have to change, and revising the law could be a step in the right direction,” he said. (foy)

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Indonesia's action on haze won't stop burning - palm farmers group


Forest fires in Indonesia that have caused choking smoke across much of Southeast Asia will flare up again next year because government action to tackle the crisis is ineffective, a palm farmers group said.

Indonesia and the wider Southeast Asian region have been suffering for weeks from smoke caused by smouldering forest and peatland fires, largely in Sumatra and Borneo islands that authorities have struggled to contain.

Green groups and palm oil plantation firms say a 2009 law that allows smallholder farmers to use slash-and-burn practices to clear land for agricultural purposes is a key cause of the annual fires when the burning gets out of control.

"Burning will still happen because the government hasn't changed the regulations," Mansuetus Darto, secretariat at the Indonesian Oil Palm Smallholders Union told Reuters on Thursday.

Indonesia, the world's top palm oil producer and home to the world's third-largest tropical forest, has faced increased political pressure from neighbours Singapore and Malaysia to address the crisis as the haze has spiked to unhealthy levels, causing some school closures and flight cancellations.

Jakarta has said it would review laws that allow farmers to burn up to two hectares (five acres), and last week sent letters to plantation firms and provincial governments demanding peatland conversion is immediately halted.

Previously, the government ordered four companies to suspend operations for allegedly causing forest fires and revoked the land licences of three other firms.

Darto, however, said the government needed to implement stricter regulations to stop burning and give smallholders, who account for 40 percent of Indonesian palm oil output, better access to credit so they could afford to clear land using best practices. His group has 48,000 members, mostly in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Using tractors, chainsaws or hand tools is the most environmentally friendly way to clear forest areas approved for development, say forestry groups, but these methods are more expensive and time-consuming than fires.

Before his election last year President Joko Widodo promised to provide easier access to credit for smallholder farmers, but has yet to act on that pledge.

He cut short an official trip to the United States last month to try and deal with the crisis as the fires pushed the country's average daily greenhouse gas emissions above those of the U.S.

Smallholder farmers have also been hit hard by a drop in palm oil benchmark prices, which touched a near six-and-a-half year low earlier this year.

To help, the Indonesian government wants major palm oil companies to row back on their historic "no deforestation" pledges made last year. The government says the pledges hurt smallholder producers who cannot afford to adopt sustainable forestry practices and are blocked from the supply chain.

Darto rejected this and said that the real reason why larger companies were not buying from smallholders was due to weak palm prices, not the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP).

The IPOP pledges made by major firms would in fact limit expansion to help bolster palm prices, while strengthening the relationship between his members and big plantations, he said.

"IPOP will benefit the farmers," Darto added. "Companies won't expand their areas and this means they will instead increase cooperation with farmers to increase productivity."

(Editing by Susan Fenton)

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Indonesia thanks Australia for assistance in handling forest fires

Antara 12 Nov 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesias President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has expressed gratitude to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for lending assistance in handling land and forest fires.

President Jokowi accompanied by First Lady Iriana Joko Widodo received the visiting Australian prime minister and his wife Lucy at the State Palace in Jakarta on Thursday.

"Congratulations on your appointment as the Australian prime minister," Jokowi noted here on Thursday.

The president also lauded the opening of the Consulate General of Australia in Makassar.

On the occasion, Prime Minister Turnbull also said he felt honored to meet President Jokowi in Indonesia.

"Australia and Indonesia have shared a close friendship for the past seven decades," the prime minister pointed out.

According to Turnbull, Australia had provided diplomatic support to Indonesia after it gained independence.

Moreover, the prime minister underlined the Lombok Treaty that symbolizes and formalizes the mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries.

Earlier, the Australian government had intensified its contribution to Indonesias efforts to mitigate the effects and spread of forest and peat fires, which have caused widespread health issues across Indonesia.

Through the Indonesian Red Cross, Australia will help provide vital equipment in Riau, East Kalimantan, and West Kalimantan to provide immediate relief to communities ailing from respiratory and other illnesses as a direct result of the smoke and haze.

"Through the Indonesian Red Cross, we can reach out to the worst-affected communities by providing safe houses, ambulances, medical teams, emergency oxygen, and 30 thousand face masks," Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Paul Grigson said as quoted by the Australian Embassy here on its official website on Wednesday.

According to Indonesian authorities, more than 500 thousand Indonesians are suffering from respiratory ailments caused by the haze. Australias contribution of AUD300 thousand to the Indonesian Red Cross will support its health initiatives in the three provinces over the next three months.

It follows the deployment of two aircraft --- a Lockheed L100 Hercules water tanker "Thor" and a support aircraft --- that joined the international efforts and dropped more than 300 thousand liters of water in South Sumatra last month.


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Indonesia: To minimize flooding residents urged to build wells, biopore holes

Dewanti A. Wardhani, The Jakarta Post 12 Nov 15;

As the rainy season approaches, residents are being urged to take part in efforts to minimize flooding.

Hydro-geologist Fatchy Muhammad of the Indonesian Water Society said many residents were still unaware that rainwater should be managed vertically, not horizontally.

“Most people think flooding occurs because the waterways are not wide enough. Hence, a majority of residents still wait for the city administration to widen the rivers and sewers to prevent flooding. This is a fatal mistake,” Fatchy told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Instead, he said, rainwater should be stored for the dry season. To store rain water, Fatchy said, middle-upper class households could develop absorption wells, while lower-class households could provide biopore holes.

An absorption well is an underground chamber that collects rainwater and allows it to seep into the soil gradually and reduce runoff. By constructing an absorption well, rainwater could be saved as a water reserve to help fill the empty pores underground as a result of groundwater depletion.

Meanwhile, a biopore hole not only helps to absorb rainwater, but also functions as a waste management system for organic waste. A biopore can be made easily using a manual drill, a pipe and a manipulatable metal stick.

“It’s time that we make use of rainwater. We need to change the mind-set that rainwater needs to be got rid off,” Fatchy said.

Architect Susiadi Wibowo said absorption wells could greatly help the cycle of hydrology, which had been disturbed due to a lack of soil surface. He added that existing sewers, canals and rivers could not accommodate the volume of water, causing overflow.

He said that every type of soil was different, therefore each warranted wells of different sizes.

“For example, saturated soil only needs a small well or none at all. For conservation, one can use a bucket to store water. Meanwhile, soil of low water seepage quality needs a deep well,” Susiadi said.

Separately, Jakarta Water Management Agency head Tri Djoko Sri Margianto said that if developing absorption wells and biopore holes was too difficult or costly, residents could simply stop littering.

“Absorption wells and biopore holes greatly help reduce water loads produced by the rain on our waterways. This will also reduce the possibility of overflowing waterways and can minimize flooding. These systems are affordable for the middle class,” Tri told the Post on Wednesday.

He pointed out that garbage often clogged up waterways and jammed pumps, which could result in flooding similar to that seen at Central Jakarta’s Dukuh Atas underpass last weekend.

“Disposing of waste in the right place is a small step that goes a long way,” Tri said.

He also revealed that the city administration starting next year would carry out a citywide zero-runoff program starting in public schools, especially in South Jakarta. Further, Tri said, all developers seeking to construct a building had to have a zero-runoff design starting next year.

Although building owners are mandated to develop absorption wells to equip all buildings as stipulated in Gubernatorial Regulation No. 68/2005, Tri acknowledged that many still did not comply with the regulation, while others provided such infrastructure as a formality, without ensuring it actually worked.

Government to build two dams to control floods in Jakarta
Antara 13 Nov 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The government will build two dams in West Java as part of its efforts to control floods in Jakarta, Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono stated.

"The two dams called Sukamahi and Ciawi will be built in 2016," the minister stated during a coordination meeting with stakeholders in Jakarta on Thursday.

Also present at the meeting were members of the Regional Representative Council (DPD) of Jakarta province, including A.M. Fatwa, Fahira Idris, Dailami Firdaus, and Abdul Azis Khafia.

Chairman of the Jakarta Provincial Legislative Council (DPRD) Prasetyo Edi Marsudi, Secretary of the Jakarta Provincial Government Saefullah, and Deputy Governor for Demographic Control and Resettlement Syahrul Effendi also attended the meeting.

The government is in the process of clearing land to build the dams, Basuki revealed.

Flooding is a problem that recurs every rainy season, he pointed out.

"The central government is striving to overcome floods in the capital by building dams in the upper reaches of the rivers, which flow into Jakarta," he remarked.

If the dams are built in the upper reaches of the rivers, the flow of water can be diverted to the dams during the rainy season, and the water will not entirely flow into Jakarta, he explained.

The minister further stated that the government will also build low-cost flats in Pasar Minggu and Pasar Rumput, South Jakarta, to meet the demands of the people belonging to the low-income group, he added.(*)

Authorities, residents gear up for floods, landslides
Slamet Susanto and Agus Maryono, The Jakarta Post 13 Nov 15;

Local authorities in landslide-prone regions of the country are bracing themselves for the beginning of the rainy season by installing early warning systems (EWS) and conducting campaigns to improve residents’ awareness.

In Yogyakarta, the provincial administration has installed hundreds of EWS units in areas considered at risk of landslides as well as those prone to cold lava floods from Mount Merapi.

“We have installed some 300 EWS units to help anticipate [catastrophes] and to minimize casualties,” Yogyakarta Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) emergency section head Danang Samsu said on Thursday.

Danang said landslides posed serious threats during the rainy season, as there were many landslide-prone hills in the province, especially in Kulonprogo regency.

Some 200 of the 300 installed EWS units were stationed in Kulonprogo, he added.

Separately, Yogyakarta Geological Disaster Technology Research and Development Center (BPPTKG) head I Gusti Made Agung Nandaka said the rainy season could trigger cold lava flows from the slopes of Mt. Merapi, one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

After its latest eruption in 2010, Mt. Merapi, according to Nandaka, still has over 40 million cubic meters of volcanic material scattered on its slopes.

“Most of it is located on the southern and western slopes of Merapi,” Gusti said.

Lahar floods from Merapi had previously damaged hundreds of houses in Sleman regency, Yogyakarta, and Klaten and Magelang regencies in the neighboring Central Java province.

After a prolonged dry season triggered by the El Niño wheather phenomenon, a number of regions in Indonesia entered the rainy season this month.

Earlier this week, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), warned that several parts of the country, including North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Bengkulu, Jambi and South Sumatra, would be prone to floods due to a series of heavy downpours in the regions.

Meanwhile, some other regions, including Bengkulu, Aceh, southern parts of West Java, parts of Central Java and West Nusa Tenggara, were prone to landslides.

To follow up the warning, the Banjarnegara regional administration in Central Java has established so-called disaster resilient community groups in 13 of its 20 districts. Among the 13 districts considered prone to landslides are Punggelan, Sigaluh, Pagedangan, Madukara and Klampok.

Banjarnegara Regent Sutedjo Slamet Utomo said the groups had been tasked with mapping the landslide-prone areas in their respective region and detailing action needed to prevent landslides.

“All the landslide-prone districts in the regency, for example, need gabions to buttress steep slopes in anticipation of landslides,” Sutedjo said, adding that his administration had distributed gabions to the areas in need.

Some 70 percent of Banjarnegara lies on hilly terrain, making it prone to landslides, particularly during the rainy season.

The latest deadly landslide in the regency took place in December last year in Jemblung village, Karangkobar district, burying 108 people along with their houses.

Meanwhile in West Sumatra, heavy rain in South Pesisir regency on Wednesday triggered a landslide that blocked the access road to Taratak Tampatih village in Batang Kapas district, leaving more than 800 residents isolated.

“The traffic to the village is still cut off,” Zaimal Yunis of Taratak Tempatih told the Antara news agency on Thursday.

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Indonesia: Jakarta vows to save endemic animals, plants of Ciliwung River

The Jakarta Post 12 Nov 15;

The Jakarta Administration has promised to save the Ciliwung River from environmental degradation to protect endangered endemic animals and plants living in and around the river during the commemoration of Ciliwung Day on Wednesday.

Jakarta Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat said on Wednesday that there was no other way to prevent the animals and plants from going into extinction except by keeping the river as clean as possible, including by prohibiting people from dumping trash into it.

“We have a strong commitment to save the Ciliwung River. I have a dream that one day tourists will come here to Ciliwung to see local animals and to eat local fruits,” he said at a river bank Ciliwung Day event in Kramat Jati, East Jakarta.

The Ciliwung River, which flows 120 kilometers from Bogor in West Java to the ocean, is one of the biggest rivers that flow through Jakarta. Like other rivers, the Ciliwung has been heavily polluted by wastewater from millions of households and industries in Jakarta, Depok and Bogor.

Djarot mentioned the soft shell turtle called bulus senggawangan as an example of an animal that was hard to find in the river today.

“Why do we hurt them [bulus senggawangan]? We are often so greedy that we destroy everything in the river just to get a material benefit,” he said.

He also mentioned the salak [snakefruit] Condet fruit as a fruit that needs protection.

“If we do not act to protect the fruit from now on, in five or six years we might be importing this fruit from Thailand as they grow it there. Why should we import our own local fruit from Thailand?” he said.

He further said that protecting the Ciliwung River did not only mean protecting animals and plants, but also Jakartan culture and tradition that was a result of the interaction between the city and the river.

“The Ciliwung was once the source of livelihood and civilization for society here. We will lose that culture if we do not protect the river,” he said.

Local community Ciliwung Condet member Isto Hari separately explained that in the past many people prayed and held rituals near the river when they wished for good fortune, such as a good harvest.

“Now, we hardly find such rituals performed near the river because it is already damaged,” he told The Jakarta Post. “It is a tradition that has been practiced for a long time.”

Djarot said that protecting the river could start with prohibiting people from dumping trash into it.

“I have previously suggested that the administration should form a trash squad. Litterbugs should be arrested and frowned upon,” he said. “Until now, we can still find mattresses, pillows, clothes, towels and even chicken corpses in the river.”

Meanwhile, Ciliwung Condet’s Isto criticized the administration’s approach to protecting the river. He said protecting the river would not work by just prohibiting people from dumping trash into it.

“Prohibiting people from dumping trash into the river is a good move, but the administration should do more than that. The government should free the banks of the river from any buildings or houses to give the river space,” he explained, adding that the space would absorb water so that not all rainwater would flow into the river.

He said the administration should begin from upstream to down. “The administration could plant bamboo and other trees on the space to maximize water absorption and reduce the river’s water volume during the rainy season.”

Isto also said that the administration’s plan to line the river’s banks with concrete would not help to prevent flooding because the real cause of the flooding was that the banks of the river were not able to sufficiently absorb water.

“The administration should have used the money to free the river banks from houses and buildings,” he said. (saf)

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Indonesia scrambles for rice as supplies run low

Prima Wirayani, The Jakarta Post 12 Nov 15;

Against a backdrop of prolonged drought due to the El Niño weather phenomenon, Indonesia is running out of rice supplies, leaving it with no option but to hunt for more stocks after failing to secure some of its targeted imports from Thailand and Vietnam.

Trade Minister Thomas Trikasih Lembong said Wednesday that the government had secured only 1 million tons of rice from a year-end reserves target of 1.5 million tons.

“We got only a small amount of rice at soaring prices,” he told reporters, addressing a delay in making a decision on imports that cost the country not only in terms of stock availability but also price.

He said that Indonesia was overtaken by the Philippines, which entered the market early to rake in 1.5 million tons, higher than its normal purchase of around 500,000 to 700,000 tons annually.

Indonesia secured imports at over US$400 per ton, higher than the price of around $340 in the second quarter of this year when the government floated the import plan for the first time.

Initially, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo insisted that stocks, though running low, remained adequate, Jokowi made it a priority for Indonesia to be self sufficient in key commodities such as rice, corn, soybeans and sugar. However, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the government would import 1.5 million tons of rice and that it was purchasing stocks from Thailand and Vietnam.

Jokowi eventually agreed to the import plan late last month, saying the decision was made by his government to maintain sufficient stocks in anticipation of failed harvests due to prolonged drought.

Thomas said that the government was assessing the possibility of buying rice from Pakistan or even Brazil to fill the gap as the ASEAN region had also faced a rice scarcity.

“We have to get ready for next year too,” he said, adding that the prolonged dry season could delay harvests.

Citing Coordinating Economic Minister Darmin Nasution, Thomas said that for every one month of harvest delay, the government would need to provide a rice cap of 2.5 million tons.

The State Logistics Agency (Bulog) said previously that the amount of rice reserves reached between 1.3 and 1.4 million tons as of Oct. 25. It estimated that the amount would meet half a month of consumption as the country consumed an average 2.5 million tons of rice monthly.

To secure the stocks, the government was preparing a conversion of premium rice to public service obligation (PSO) or medium-grade rice, Thomas said. It was carrying out procedures to add subsidies to fill in the price gap between the premium and medium rice.

However, he refused to reveal if his ministry would hold any market operations to stabilize rice prices, despite acknowledging the increasing prices.

Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (Indef) executive director Enny Sri Hartati said the core of the rice fiasco was that there was no validated data available to calculate consumption and production, so the latter was often overestimated.

“The government always says the stocks are enough but prices keep soaring,” she said on Wednesday.

She said that valid and consolidated data among ministries and agencies was required given the sensitivity of the commodity, the price of which could rise sharply in the case of a shortage.

Decisions on imports would be simple if data could validly show the gap between consumption and production, she said.

Rice is a politically sensitive commodity in the world’s fourth most populous nation, both because it is the main food staple of the over 250 million people living across the archipelago, and because it is the main crop of farmers.

Enny said the government needed to make a firm and unified decision to secure stocks and prevent any social unrest.

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UN grants $12.5m to bolster biodiversity in Vietnam

VietnamNet 12 Nov 15;

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has passed a project that ensures equitable sharing of benefits from genetic resources and targets conservation work and sustainable use of biodiversity in Viet Nam.

The project is titled, "Capacity building for the ratification and implementation of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits in Viet Nam".

The project uses a non-refundable aid of US$12.5 million from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) via the Global Environmental Fund (GEF).

It will be implemented in Ha Noi and northern Lao Cai Province in four years.

The project's target is to contribute to the conservation work and sustainable use of biodiversity in Viet Nam by increasing the nation's competency in implementing the protocol and ensuring equitable sharing of benefits from genetic resources.

Major results gained from the project include establishment and improvement of a policy system related to management of and access to genetic resources and sharing of benefits, assistance in building a genetic resource access mechanism, increase in awareness of genetic access and sharing of benefit, and implementation of private-public partnership model in genetic access.

Viet Nam is scheduled to issue sufficient legal frameworks for accessing genetic resources and fairly and equitably sharing benefits arising from their utilisation (ABS) by 2017, establish an ABS model in 2018, and complete a national data system on genetic resources in 2020.

In recent years, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has focussed on information summation and international co-operation exchanges on the matter.

Viet Nam issued the Law on Bio-Diversity in 2008 and a relevant guidance decree in 2010.

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