Best of our wild blogs: 19 Nov 15

Sisters Islands Marine Park land access closed 16 Dec 2015 - 1 Apr 2016
Sisters' Island Marine Park

Peat Fires: Consumers key in saving South East Asian Peatlands

RSPO label under fresh scrutiny

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JB downpour fails to raise reservoir level

S'pore may cut water use if Johor reservoir level stays low
Carolyn Khew Straits Times 18 Nov 15;

Monday's two-hour downpour which caused massive floods in parts of Johor Baru has done little to raise historically low water levels in the Linggiu Reservoir - a key cog in Singapore's water supply.

National water agency PUB said it will continue to monitor the situation closely, and Singaporeans will be told early if there is a need to restrict water use here.

"The heavy rain and subsequent floods in JB are in a different catchment area from the Linggiu Reservoir, which is further upstream," a PUB spokesman told The Straits Times yesterday. "While there has been some rain in the Linggiu Reservoir catchment, the water levels remain largely the same, at around 43 per cent."

The water level at the reservoir is at its lowest due to low rainfall and this in turn impacts how much Singapore can draw from the Johor River. Singapore can tap 250 million gallons of water a day from the river, which can meet up to 60 per cent of the country's needs.

PUB said that from January to last month, there were about 100 times when Singapore was temporarily unable to withdraw water from the river .

Last week, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said if the situation does not improve, more may have to be done to conserve water. This includes restricting, for the first time, the use of water for non-essential activities such as washing cars and operating water fountains.

Senior research fellow Cecilia Tortajada, from the Institute of Water Policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said that if the reservoir water levels do not improve by next month despite the north-east monsoon, which is expected to set in then, such restrictions may have to kick in.

"It would send a clear message to the population that there is a limit to how much water is available and that it needs to be conserved, even after the monsoon season starts," she said, pointing out that many cities around the world enforce water restrictions during the dry season.

The reservoir was built in 1994 by Singapore. It keeps sea water out of the Johor River by releasing water into it. This ensures that the river water is not too salty to be treated by the Singapore-run treatment plant there.

PUB has been running desalination and Newater plants at high capacity to keep local reservoir stocks healthy. Currently, Singapore's four Newater plants can meet up to 30 per cent of the nation's water needs. PUB hopes to expand this to 55 per cent by 2060. PUB also aims to build two more desalination plants. Currently, desalination or treated sea water can meet up to 25 per cent of Singapore's needs.

Professor Asit Biswas, distinguished visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said Singapore needs to think seriously about developing a long-term, drought-resistance plan.

With climate change and multi-year droughts in countries like Australia, there is a very high probability that the region may be hit by a prolonged multi-year drought within the next two to four decades, and not just one lasting a few months, he said.

He also added that Singaporeans may have taken a reliable water supply for granted, pointing out that water-rationing last took place here from April 1963 to February 1964.

Prof Biswas said: "More than a generation has now grown up without having faced a serious drought needing water-rationing."

Singapore urged to re-examine its water management strategy
Singapore's water management strategy should take into account drought management as climate change is bringing about extreme weather conditions, says Professor Asit K Biswas from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
Channel NewsAsia 18 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE: The record-low water levels in Johor’s Linggiu Reservoir should act as a "wake-up call" for Singapore to re-examine its water management strategy, according to an expert.

This includes drawing up drought management plans and boosting efforts to reduce water consumption as well as improving conservation.

The Northeast Monsoon is expected to set in around December and it is hoped that more rain may be able to increase the water level in Linggiu Reservoir, which has dropped to a record low of 43 per cent.

The reservoir, run by national water agency PUB, improves the yield of water from the Johor River, from which Johor and Singapore draw water. PUB said it is closely monitoring the situation.

But Professor Asit K Biswas, visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said Singapore needs to re-evaluate its water management strategy to take into account drought management plans.

“In the future, the next 30 to 40 years, with climate change creating extreme conditions, we have to be prepared for drought conditions,” he said. “And future droughts, in my view, will not be a month or two, it might be a year or two. The second would be to look at the possibility of new sources of water - how much can you use, reuse and continuously reuse?"

Currently, Singapore's water demand is around 400 million gallons a day and water supply comes from four sources - also known as the "Four National Taps". They are NEWater, desalinated water, imported water and water from local catchments. NEWater can meet up to 30 per cent of the country's water demand, while desalinated water can serve up to 25 per cent of its needs.

Singapore's water consumption has decreased over the years, from 165 litres a day in 2003 to 150 litres in 2015. PUB’s target is to lower it to 140 litres by 2030.

However, Prof Biswas said that authorities should further boost efforts to reduce water consumption and improve conservation as water consumption in Singapore is at least 50 per cent more than in major European cities.

"Most people don't even know their water bill. And as a result, Singaporeans are basically taking water for granted,” he said. “This will be a wake-up call for them to realise that water is of strategic importance for Singapore."

Last week, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said that if the water level in the Linggiu Reservoir does not improve, Singapore may restrict water use for non-critical activities, such as the washing of cars.

- CNA/xq

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Smarter flood detection system on trial, marrying CCTV with image analytics

PUB collaborates with A*STAR's Institute for Infocomm Research to deploy a system that uses image analytics technology to scan the former's CCTV footage in real-time and detect images with flood waters.
Channel NewsAsia 18 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE: National water agency PUB on Wednesday (Nov 18) announced it is collaborating with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*STAR) Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R) to explore smarter ways of detecting floods this monsoon season.

The two parties are deploying a trial system that uses image analytics technology to scan PUB's CCTV footage in real-time and detect images with flood waters. This will complement PUB's flood monitoring of about 170 CCTVs and 200 water level sensors, along with weather information in the agency's operations centre, according to the press release.

For instance, when a nearby water level sensor detects rising water levels, the system will start to analyse the corresponding CCTV images. Subsequently, an alert will be triggered through an analytics dashboard to notify PUB officers when the system detects flood waters from the analysis, PUB said.

"The automated detection of floods through the CCTV image analytics technology will aid in speedier alerts and quick response amid increasing volume of data that comes in,” said Mr Ridzuan Ismail, PUB’s Director of Catchment and Waterways, in the press release.

The system will be tested and used to supplement PUB's extensive flood monitoring efforts during the north-east monsoon season this year, the agency added.

According to the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS), the Republic can expect the start of the rainy season with the onset of the monsoon season by early December this year, which is expected to last until the end of January.

- CNA/kk

Smarter flood detection system for monsoon season undergo trials
AsiaOne 19 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE - A smarter system for flood detection during the Northeast Monsoon season is underway, according to a joint statement by Public Utilities Board (PUB), Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) and National Environment Agency (NEA).

PUB and A*Star have collaborated to hold test of the new flood detection system, which utilises image analytics technology to scan real-time PUB CCTV footage and detect images with flood waters.

This will complement PUB's flood monitoring of about 170 CCTVs and 200 water level sensors, along with weather information.

Real-time data from PUB's network of water level sensors will be analysed with corresponding CCTV images and trigger an alert when flood waters are detected.

"We are always on the lookout for ways to enhance our flood monitoring efforts. Over the years, we have expanded our network of water level sensors which send out alerts when water levels in drains and canals hit a certain level. The automated detection of floods through the CCTV image analytics technology will aid in speedier alerts and quick response amidst increasing volume of data that comes in." said Mr Ridzuan Ismail, PUB's Director of Catchment and Waterways.

According to MSS, Singapore can expect the start of the rainy season with the setting in of the Northeast Monsoon by early December 2015.

To obtain the latest weather reports, including heavy rain warnings, the public can tune in to radio traffic watch broadcasts, call MSS' weather forecast hotline at 65427788, visit the MSS website at and access NEA's mobile app MyENV or subscribe to the heavy rain warning SMS alert service provided by the MSS.

During heavy rain events, updates on rising water levels in drains or canals and flash floods can be seen via PUB's Facebook and Twitter, PUB's free mobile app MyWaters, and PUB's website at

The public can also subscribe to a free SMS alert service to keep tabs on the water level in a canal or drain at a designated location via PUB's website.

In addition, the public can access selected CCTV images of road conditions in low-lying areas and hotspots via PUB's website or MyWaters mobile app.

Members of the public can call PUB's 24-hour Call Centre at 1800-CALL PUB (1800-2255 782) to report on any flood situation or NEA's DPC hotline at 1800-6003333 to report on any choked drains.

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Making sustainability profitable in Singapore

Today Online 19 Nov 15;

The Singapore Exchange (SGX) recently announced plans that will make it mandatory for listed companies to publish sustainability reports that disclose their economic, environmental and social impacts. Likely to be introduced in 2017, the move by SGX represents a critical turning point.

In line with this, the Association of Banks in Singapore this month also launched a set of industry guidelines that will underscore the industry’s commitment to advance responsible and sustainable financing through a structured and transparent approach.

What, then, is driving this business mentality shift?

While many acknowledge that the world is changing — for example, with the United Nations adopting the new Sustainable Development Goals to further guide global development — and that sustainability plays a key role in this change, a large percentage of companies do not truly know what to do to keep up.

When done correctly, sustainability reports help organisations to better understand the impacts of their activities, guide their decision-making process and allow them to engage honestly and openly with their stakeholders.

However, Singapore lags behind Asian counterparts such as China, Taiwan and Malaysia in terms of sustainability reporting for listed entities.

Only 27 of 770 companies listed in Singapore — less than 4 per cent — currently produce public sustainability reports, despite the majority of the world’s largest 250 global companies publishing such reports (as of 2013), according to KPMG.

A global glance at specific sectors finds that key industries such as pharmaceuticals, transport, trade and retail are still trailing behind heavy industry and resource-based sectors (such as mining), utilities, and electronics and computers. This international perspective also sheds light on what we are seeing in Singapore.

The lack of acceptance and appreciation for sustainability’s true importance and value may be a result of the common view that sustainability and associated reporting are only an obligation or simply a box that needs to be ticked — an added pressure arising from growing societal demands to be active and transparent, rather than a real opportunity.

When external stresses are placed upon companies, they can feel threatened and react rashly by throwing money at the situation — for example, employing sustainability staff with no decision-making power.

The kind of reporting soon to be expected by SGX, though, will force companies to do more than simply meet a new regulatory requirement. Instead, it will require them to evaluate whether they are paying attention to the real issues of sustainability.

Rather than responding defensively to what they deem external pressure, this important step back can help them truly understand why stakeholders demand strong returns that are achieved with social and environmental integrity.


The first step to instigate change is for organisations to reposition sustainability as a fundamental way to create value.

This can be accelerated and achieved by integrating sustainability into corporate strategy, creating an organisational awareness towards sustainability, and fostering a culture of innovation for sustainability linked with the incentive system of the company. In doing so, “external pressure” can become profitable advantage.

If sustainability has found its way into the company’s DNA, its market position would be strengthened by greater customer attention. Retention and especially recruitment of top talent also become easier, given that a reputation as a good, honest company is considered among the top five drivers of attraction, according to Towers Watson. In short, sustainability adds value.

Businesses are therefore left with two options for the future: Either they continue to progress reluctantly and consider sustainability “pressures” as unwelcome headwinds, or they change course and make them positive tailwinds by reframing sustainability from a constraint into an opportunity.

American clothing company Patagonia is one firm that is integrating long-term sustainability programmes into its key business strategy to create new opportunities. For example, its recycling-centric “worn wear” approach sells its customers higher-quality goods that can be repaired as necessary — with the help of 45 full-time repair technicians and readily-available DIY repair guides — rather than prioritising additional sales through replacement of products with a shorter shelf life.

Furthermore, Patagonia is engaging other players in the market such as retailers, manufacturers, non-government organisations, government and academic experts who in total represent more than a third of the global apparel and footwear market, to form the potentially game-changing Sustainable Apparel Coalition. The coalition works to jointly transform and reduce the social and environmental impact of their industries around the world.

Locally, City Developments Limited and Singtel have been at the forefront of publishing sustainability reports. Both companies have identified the reports as a strategic opportunity that gives them a more holistic view of their business, allowing them to identify and seek new growth opportunities.

Opportunities for innovative sustainable practices are readily available in Singapore and South-east Asia, where local starts-ups looking to expand quickly can integrate such measures into their operations from day one, rather than having to alter entrenched models.


Dr Michael Hensen is the director of the Social Innovation Centre at INSEAD.

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Malaysia: Kuala Selangor declares Level 1 disaster for flood-hit areas

MAZLINDA MAHMOOD New Straits Times 18 Nov 15;

SHAH ALAM: A ‘Level 1 disaster’ has been declared in flood-affected areas in Kuala Selangor today.

The declaration was made by Kuala Selangor district officer Shamsul Shahril Badliza Mohd Noor.

Shamsul, in a statement, said the National Security Council’s directive number 20 is now in force and the Flood Operation Control Centre will be opened at Kampung Parit Mahang’s relocation centre.

In Kuala Selangor, two relocation centres have been opened in Kampung Parit Mahang and Bukit Kerayong.

The relocation centre in Kampung Parit Mahang currently houses 106 victims from 31 families including three infants and seven senior citizens.

The Bukit Kerayong relocation centre now houses 59 victims from 13 families.

Intermittent rain has been reported in Kuala Selangor and the water level is reported to be between 0.5m to a metre high in certain areas.

"High intensity rain" identified as cause of Sgor flash flood
MAZLINDA MAHMOOD New Straits Times 18 Nov 15;

SHAH ALAM: “High intensity rain” has been identified as the main cause of the flash floods in Shah Alam and surrounding areas.

Selangor Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) director Hashim Osman said the department's rain stations in Selangor recorded unusually high rainfall due to the high intensity rain on Monday.

"The Batu 3 station recorded a rainfall of 104mm in two hours while the TTDI Jaya station recorded a rainfall of 104mm in three hours," he said in a statement today.

Hashim said DID is always prepared for flash floods during monsoon transition and it had ensured that all rainfall stations, flood warning systems and flood monitoring cameras were in working order.

"DID has also identified and upgraded 74 water retention ponds throughout Selangor, ensured all pump stations and watergates are working and maintained the drainage system," he said.

Commenting on claims by Bandar Puncak Alam residents that the flash flood which hit the area on Sunday and lasted for two days was caused by poor maintenance of the outlet system for the retention pond there, he said the department had identified the problem when flash flood hit the city in August this year.

"DID has identified a 20 acre (8.09ha) water retention pond which needs to be upgraded to mitigate flood. Work on it started in October and the RM2.8 million project is expected to be complete by June next year," he said.

Today, a Fire and Rescue Department spokesperson said almost 400 flood victims were relocated to seven relief centres throughout the state.

On Monday, the flash flood in Batu 3 caused a temporary disruption to the commuter service at the Batu 3 station as the rail line was submerged and several lanes at the Shah Alam toll plaza near TTDI Jaya had to be closed because of the same reason.

Other parts of Shah Alam including in Section 9, Section 13, Section 20, Section U8 and Batu 3, were also affected as many roads were impassable to light vehicles.

On Sunday night, some 150 people from Phase 2B3 Taman Sinar Alam in Bandar Puncak Alam had to be relocated to Surau Taufiqiyah which was turned into a temporary relief centre but they have returned home on Monday.

The struggle to end flood woes
The Star 19 Nov 15;

KOTA BARU: The local governments of several states are trying their best to cope with floods, saying it is not an easy task.

The Kelantan government, for example, said its local authorities were facing financial problems to upgrade drainage and flood control measures in urban areas because they could not generate enough income to end flooding problems.

About 70% of dwellings here are not equipped with good drainage system.

“We need billions of ringgit to build an effective sewerage system and we do not have the capacity,” state executive councillor Datuk Abdul Fatah Mahmood told reporters after attending the state exco meeting here yesterday.

He added that the government had instructed local governments to ensure that new housing estates built proper drainage systems to minimise the impact of floods.

Recently, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said local councils had not provided technical assistance nor supervised construction projects, which contributed to flash floods.

In Kuantan, the president of Kuantan Municipal Council (MPK) Datuk Zulkifli Yaacob said the council had always been strict with town planning to prevent floods.

He added that MPK would use hazard mapping to identify which areas were vulnerable to natural disasters when approving construction projects.

“That includes the drainage system as well. We do all this as a prevention measure for floods.

“In fact, our conditions are very strict. We now require developers to put in drains of 1,200mm depth when previously the minimum requirement was 800mm,” said Zulkifli yesterday.

In Johor Baru, Urban Wellbeing and Local Government Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan said the unpredictable weather caused by climate change had forced the Government to relook into the nationwide drainage system.

“The drainage system that we currently have is about 3m to 6m-wide which I do not think is able to sustain the amount of rainfall,” he said after attending a briefing on the recent flash floods at Johor Baru City Council building yesterday.

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Destigmatizing the bad image of the palm-oil industry

Edi Suhardi, Jakarta Post 18 Nov 15;

The national haze calamity is about to end with increased showers and commencement of the rainy season in the hot-spot areas. The magnitude of the catastrophic haze left a number of long-term impacts on public health, community livelihood, socio-economic and environmental dimensions, particularly in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

While experts estimate billions of US dollars in losses on account of the haze, it is the people of Kalimantan and Sumatra who suffered the most with unaccounted health problems and disruptions to their livelihoods. All parties are inevitably affected by the land fires and haze, including palm-oil companies, experiencing the brunt and suffering from both financial losses and reputation damage.

According to the Global Forest Watch, there were 30,742 hot spots in the June to October period, mainly contributed by slash-and-burn practices outside concessions with a total of 18,272 hot spots, of which 7,890 were from pulpwood plantations, 3,189 from oil-palm concessions and 1,391 logging concessions. The data said that slash-and-burn practices and traditional farming were the main causes of the land fires.

Hot spots in oil-palm concessions account for 10 percent of the total this year, far below the 20 percent in 2013. But palm-oil companies remain persistently stigmatized as the culprit of environmental and social denigration. The palm-oil industry has again been blamed for the recent transboundary haze affecting Singapore and Malaysia.

The stigma of palm oil as an environmental villain is deep-rooted, with the industry being the most scrutinized in terms of environmental and social impacts. Currently, total oil-palm plantations in Indonesia stand at 10.5 million hectares, of which 44 percent are owned by smallholders. However, the total acreage is still less than 8 percent of the total land mass of the country.

Why does this stigma persist despite efforts to clear up such misunderstanding? There are few factors to take into account. The first and foremost is a higher degree of transparency within the industry and government commitment in meeting the global market and public expectations. Transparency in the palm-oil industry is a prerequisite of credibility.

With a high level of no confidence, the public will turn away from the government and industry. Instead they will listen to and believe other sources, such as NGOs and international media, which are seen as more trustworthy, to pressure the company to become more transparent. With capability to convey clear environmental and social agendas, such as anti-deforestation or low-carbon development, social equality and injustice, such persistent emotive messages have been effective in creating and maintaining the stigma associated with palm oil.

The distrust in the industry has been adversely affected by the poor governance of natural resources, policy inconsistency, legal uncertainty and lack of law enforcement.

The stigma attached to palm oil is detrimental to the industry as it will directly affect the market and eventually impact the government, which will be seen as ineffective in upholding the law and insensitive to global issues.

Destigmatization can only be done through a two-pronged approach, which is building transparency as prerequisites of green credentials with total commitment to sustainability standards, and ability to enforce laws and regulations.

The government must urge all concessions holders to share concession maps and development plans with the public. The map will enable early detection by satellite monitoring and speed up actions to put off fires or mitigation of potential environmental impacts. It will also hold concession holders accountable in case land fires occur.

On the government side, it is urgent to have a comprehensive map incorporating the existing land use, future development plan and concessions holders. Such a map will allow the identification of fire-prone areas and other environmental threats, as well as social-conflict susceptible areas. Consequently, it will enable the government and stakeholders to develop an emergency mitigation plan and strategy.

Second, the government must take lead in advocating sustainability and embracing globally accepted sustainability standards as a denominator for oil-palm development to compliment self-defined standards. The government needs to reconsider the use of globally accepted standards in sustainability and embrace market-driven multistakeholder forums such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and its most accepted platform as a vehicle to enforce sustainability standards.

The impacts of fires and transboundary haze will also further enhance market awareness on the urgency of environmental stewardship and increase pressure on palm-oil companies to abide by sustainability standards and subscribe to RSPO principles and criteria.

Simultaneously, the government needs to introduce robust environmentally friendly policies, including the revocation of all central and local regulations and policies that allow slash-and-burn practices for land clearing and land development, and issuance of a policy on land clearing and development.

No new development on peat and high-carbon stocks must be introduced for oil palm and other industrial plantations. Such valuable natural assets must be prevented from land-use change or conversion to non-conservation purposes. As for the already established plantations on peatland, strict best management practices on water management is to be implemented

The newly formed Indonesia Estate Crop Fund, which manages the CPO Supporting Fund (CSF), can play the pivotal role of a sustainability champion to align the efforts of the government with multinational agencies and multistakeholder organizations to rebuild the image and understanding of Indonesian palm oil.

The writer is vice president II of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The opinions expressed are his own.

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Indonesia: Govt to restore damaged peatlands

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 18 Nov 15;

The government is gearing up to restore as many as 2 million hectares of peatlands destroyed through decades of mismanaged oil palm plantations.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry said on Tuesday that the government had finished mapping the entire peatland ecosystem in Indonesia, which would serve as the base map of the five-year peatland restoration project.

“If we look at Sumatra, we want to look at where the peatland area is. What are their sizes? It’s all here. But this is still an indicative map, we still need to do ground checks first to see whether the sizes of the mapped peatland have altered,” the ministry’s environmental pollution and damage control director general, Karliansyah, told reporters.

Besides ground checks, the ministry plans to boost the resolution of the map from the current scale of 1:250,000 to 1:5,000 in order to determine the category of individual peatland areas, separating them into either protected or cultivated.

“The environment and forestry minister [Siti Nurbaya Bakar] will determine the area in accordance with Government Regulation No. 71/2014 on peatland ecosystem protection and management,” Karliansyah said. “The restoration attempt will be focused on protected peatland areas. The peatland areas that are small in size and scattered, we will just let them recover on their own.”

The government plans to restore damaged protected-category peatlands by pumping in sufficient water to restore adequate dampness. If a peatland area has been taken over by oil palm trees, the government plans to begin the restoration process by blocking the canals that are built by palm oil producers to drain all the water out from the peatland.

“If the peatland is critically damaged, we will rehabilitate the area using a paludiculture method, as suggested by our friends from Wetlands International,” said Karliansyah.

Paludiculture is a process whereby peatlands are cultivated with crops adapted to wet soil conditions, as opposed to oil palm plantations, which need dry soil in order to be cultivated.

“There are lots of native crops that have prospects for cultivation in peatland. We don’t have to force crops [that are not suitable]. From now, industry should seek local crop alternatives, native crops that do not need drainage,” Wetlands International senior forestry and rehabilitation specialist Yoyok Wibisono said on Tuesday.

He also urged the government to make sure that the sizable rehabilitation and restoration project would be sustainable long-term.

“In past rehabilitation attempts, the government approach viewed them as mere projects and the measurement of success was based on the number of trees planted. In fact, that is just the starting point. What we want to see is how many plants are alive [after being planted],” Yoyok said.

Last Friday, Vice President Jusuf Kalla confirmed the plan would restore at least 2 million hectares of peatlands in the next five years. Kalla also admitted that the peatland areas had been abused by previous administrations who gave permits to palm oil firms to cultivate peatlands.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti said that the government would start the restoration project in three peatland areas severely damaged by this year’s forest fires: Pulang Pisau Regency in Central Kalimantan, Ogan Komering Ilir Regency and Musi Banyuasin Regency, both in South Sumatra.

“The total size of the three areas is around 460,000 hectares,” she said on Tuesday. “This project will involve multiple ministries. In terms of construction, it will involve the Public Works and Public Housing Minister. I have talked to him.”

Currently the government is still finishing the grand design of the project under the coordination of the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) and the Coordinating Economic Ministry.

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Indonesia: Floods engulf hundreds of homes in Riau, Gorontalo after drought

Rizal Harahap and Syamsul Huda M. Suhari, The Jakarta Post 18 Nov 15;

After suffering from prolonged drought and haze for months, hundreds of houses in Riau and Gorontalo provinces were hit on Tuesday by floods marking the beginning of the rainy season.

Floodwater engulfed four districts in Rokan Hulu regency after high rainfall over the Bukit Barisan mountain range in the past week prompted a number of rivers to overflow and inundate homes.

“The data is still being recapitulated. We estimate the number of engulfed homes could reach the thousands,” said Rokan Hulu Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Aceng Herdiana.

Aceng said heavy rains in upstream areas had also caused the Aliantan, Tapung and Rokan rivers to burst their banks and engulf a number of villages in Rokan IV Koto, Kabun and Tandun districts.

In Rambah district, floods caused the Batang Lubuh and Pawan rivers to overflow, with the water level reportedly starting to rise at 6 a.m. local time before deluging homes with waist-high water by 9 a.m.

The floods also inundated a stretch of the Trans-Sumatra highway between Riau and North Sumatra, which passes through Pasir Pangaraian, the capital of Rokan Hulu.

According to Aceng, the affected villages were in upstream areas.

“Tomorrow, the floods will shift to downstream areas. Based on the annual pattern, the next areas that will be hit by floods are Rambah Hilir, Kepenuhan Hulu and Kepenuhan villages, and eventually Bonai and Kunto Darussalam villages,” he said.

Based on preliminary data from the Rambah district office, at least 174 homes in Rambah Tengah Hulu village were engulfed by floods. In Pematang Berangan village, 79 homes were reportedly deluged, while in Tanjung Belit, the floods affected 30 homes.

“The government has begun distributing relief aid such as food packages to flood victims in Rambah Tengah Hulu village,” said Rambah district chief Arie Gunadi.

Apart from Rambah district, aid has also been distributed to victims in Kabun and Tandun districts. Relief for victims in other villages will be jointly coordinated with the Rokan Hulu Social Office.

“This morning, thousands of rice packages have been distributed to flood victims. At noon, a public kitchen was set up at the joint post in front of the Indonesian Red Cross headquarters in Pasir Pangaraian, where up to 3,000 packages of rice will be distributed to victims,” said Aceng.

“Fortunately, there were no reports of casualties or injuries,” he said, adding that the value of damage caused had yet to be estimated.

Apart from the decreasing number of upstream catchment areas, he said the annual floods in Rokan Hulu were caused by badly silted rivers and accumulated garbage.

Meanwhile, after suffering from drought for almost five months, floods hit hundreds of houses in three villages in West Limboto, Gorontalo.

At least 115 homes in Padenengo village, 45 houses in Yosonegoro and 90 in Haya were flooded. The water level reached more than 1 meter.

Gorontalo BPBD’s emergency division head Asna Datau said residents were staying in their houses.

“We are still monitoring the situation as there is still heavy rain in the area,” Asna said.

Riau Panned for Spending More on Student Congress Than Fighting Forest Fires
Jakarta Globe 18 Nov 15;

Jakarta. Critics have torn into the Riau provincial administration for spending Rp 3 billion ($217,300) to host an Islamic students’ congress – more than double the amount it allocated to fight fires that razed tens of thousands of hectares of forest and sickened thousands of residents with a choking haze.

“This is money that will be used to fund a student group’s event. The sum is irrational,” Usman, from the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency, or Fitra, told Tempo on Wednesday.

He noted that the beneficiary of the money, the Islamic Students Association, or HMI, was not a government organization and thus was not obliged to receive funding from the provincial administration.

Saiman Pakpahan, a public policy expert at Riau University, said separately that the use of the money was highly inappropriate in light of the paucity of funding that the administration allotted to put out forest fires.

“It’s like the [Riau] government doesn’t want to use the provincial budget in the interests of the people and instead gives it to this certain group,” he said. “During the haze crisis over the past three months, the government only allocated Rp 1.4 billion, while for this HMI congress it’s giving Rp 3 billion.

“The congress is the association’s own internal business and thus it shouldn’t receive public funding. If the HMI doesn’t have enough money for its own event, it still doesn’t have the right to impose on the local government to ask for funding from the regional budget,” Saiman added.

He also argued that the decision set a bad precedent, and warned that other groups could also demand funding from the provincial administration.

“Is the government ready to allocate more funds to other groups? Remember, all organizations will want to be treated equally,” he said.

Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, the interim governor, said however that the HMI congress would benefit the province in many ways.

“It is a national event, so many important guests throughout Indonesia will be invited,” he said as quoted by “There will be about 5,000 guests in attendance, and they’ll spend money on hotel rooms, food, even sightseeing and souvenirs.

Disaster preparedness increased as rainy season begins
Andi Hajramurni, The Jakarta Post 19 Nov 15;

Entering the rainy season, the South Sulawesi Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) is preparing to deal with seasonal natural disasters, including floods and landslides.

Agency head Syamsibar said he had conducted a coordination meeting with all BPBD on the regency and city level across the province for the same disaster preparedness.

Coordination with other relevant agencies, such as social affairs agencies, health agencies and the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), had also been made, he said.

“Every year during the rainy season floods and landslides always occur in a number of regions in South Sulawesi. We need to get prepared for that earlier,” said Syamsibar, who is currently acting regent of Selayar.

Among the efforts made, he said, included the dissemination of information on disaster preparedness, such as to not panic in time of disaster, to prioritize self and family safety, to prepare evacuation tools and tents, as well as health, social and supply posts.

In South Sulawesi, according to Syamsibar, there were 18 regencies and cities considered prone to floods. They included Makassar, Maros, the Pangkajene Islands, Barru, Wajo, Sinjai, Bulukumba, Palopo, Luwu and North Luwu.

Three other regencies, namely Tana Toraja, North Toraja and Gowa, were prone to landslides, he added.

The head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Region IV Makassar, Sujarwo, said the region was currently still in a transitional period from dry to rainy seasons.

He said rains had occasionally started to pour over some regions, such as Makassar that has had a rainfall of only 50 millimeters. He said the rainy season in the province was predicted to start by the end of this month or the beginning of next month.

He warned people to be cautious because during the transitional period rain normally came along with strong winds and lightning and tornados could possibly come at any time to sweep away people’s houses.

“We have to be alert starting from now,” Sujarwo said.

Meanwhile, floods inundated Muara Teweh in North Barito regency, Central Kalimantan because of the overflowing Bengaris River, a tributary of the Barito River, following heavy rain in the area from Tuesday night until early Wednesday morning.

“The floods have inundated the houses since Wednesday morning, but started to subside at about 11:30 a.m.,” Tedy Sambas of Jl. Ronggolawe, Muara Teweh, said on Wednesday, adding that the floods left mud behind.

Other areas submerged by floods included Jl. Simpang Pramuka II, Jl. Wira Praja and the Mekar Indah residential complex, Antara reported.

Tedy said that the floods only inundated the housing areas for five to six hours, but they could last longer if the Barito River overflows.

“If the water level of the Barito increases, the flood would surely last longer because the Bengaris’ water could not flow out,” he said.

The head of BMKG Muara Teweh’s technical personnel group, Sunardi, said the heavy rain that caused flooding in the regency totalled 134 millimeters.

“The BMKG recorded that the rain only fell for about two hours, but it was really heavy,” he said.

On Tuesday, hundreds of houses in Rokan Hulu regency in Riau and Gorontalo were hit by floods.

The high rainfall in the regency prompted a number of rivers to overflow and engulf the buildings.

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Malaysia: Baram dam project shelved, says Sarawak Chief Minister

ADIB POVERA New Straits Times 18 Nov 15;

KUCHING: Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem today announced that the proposed construction of the Baram Hydroelectric Dam Project (HEP) has been shelved.

Met after the state-level Public Service Day event held at the Borneo Convention Centre here, Adenan said the construction of dam has been called off "until further notice".

"In the meantime, it (the project) will not proceed," said Adenan.

Earlier in his speech during the event, Adenan said those who had opposed the construction of the dam should also be aware of what the fallout would be.

“We respect their decision for opposing the project.

We also hope they understand the impact of refusing it as they will miss out on related project which are beneficial to them, such as roads and other necessities,” he said.

The HEP had come under heavy criticism from anti-dam campaigners, who had opposed its construction.

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Indonesia: Police Arrest Six, Seize Protected Wildlife, in Trafficking Bust

Bayu Marhaenjati Jakarta Globe 18 Nov 15;

Jakarta. Police in Jakarta have arrested six people, including a Libyan national and an airport quarantine officer, for the illegal trade in wildlife.

Officers also seized several live animals from the suspects, including a clouded leopard, a sun bear, four birds of paradise, and a siamang, a species of gibbon. All the animals are protected under Indonesian law from being traded.

Sr. Comr. Mujiyono, the Jakarta Police’s director of special crimes, said on Wednesday that the arrests and seizures took place over a period of 11 days, with the police working with wildlife conservation groups to uncover the trafficking network.

He said the animals were destined for the exotic pet trade in the Middle East, with the Libyan man acting as the buyer for clients in Dubai and Kuwait.

The other suspects, none of whom were named, are all Indonesians and served various roles in the trafficking network, including one suspect who worked as a quarantine officer at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, whose job it was to ensure that the animals could be smuggled out of the country undetected.

Mujiyono said the syndicate was known to have smuggled several animals abroad, including a sun bear to Dubai and two orangutans to Kuwait.

“Their operation was quite sophisticated. They used social media [to advertise the animals], so their reach was quite wide. It was a cross-border operation,” he said.

The suspects face wildlife trafficking charges under the 1990 Natural Resources Conservation Law, which carry a minimum prison sentence of five years.

The seized animals, meanwhile, are being cared for at Jakarta’s Ragunan Zoo.

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