Best of our wild blogs: 30 Jun 16

The Southern Expedition: What we found
Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Job Opportunity: Scientific Manager
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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MOH monitoring rising number of salmonella cases

Lim Jia Qi Channel NewsAsia 29 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: When Mdm Chia started having abdominal pain, she thought it was nothing serious. She took some painkillers, thinking that the pain would go away. But instead, she vomited twice and had diarrhoea up to 10 times within a day.

“I have no idea what I ate because Singapore is very clean and I just ate normal food like those at the food court and I didn’t go overseas at all,” said Mdm Chia.

Mdm Chia was admitted to hospital the next day and was diagnosed with salmonella gastroenteritis on May 8. The condition is caused by a food-borne pathogen that can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and fever.

Mdm Chia is one of the 1,042 people infected by salmonella so far this year. According to data published by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on its website, the number of people infected has increased over the years. Since 2012, the cases have risen by about 30 per cent to about 2,000 in 2015. The trend looks set to continue, with the number of cases so far in 2016 exceeding the 779 that were reported between January and Jun 20 last year.

In a statement to Channel NewsAsia, an MOH spokesperson said human salmonellosis is generally associated with the consumption of contaminated poultry, meat and eggs.

The spokesperson added that the ministry is working closely with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the National Environment Agency to monitor the situation and better understand the reasons behind the increase.


Dr Desmond Wai, a gastroenterologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said the bacteria is not airborne but noted that it could be spread via faecal to oral transmission.

“Patients who have salmonella, there will be bacteria in their stools. So if they don’t wash their hands properly; they touch other objects; they prepare food for other people, they can potentially spread the infection to other people,” said Dr Wai.

Dr Wai added that salmonella could be present in raw poultry and eggs and can be spread through person-to-person contact.

“Salmonella can especially go to the ovaries of chickens. So inside the egg yolk, it could have the bacteria. If people just eat the half-boiled egg or raw egg, they can actually get the infection,” said Dr Wai.

“If you are washing a chicken that contains salmonella, our hands or the water splashed onto the sink may have the bacteria,” he explained.

In Singapore, the AVA conducts inspections regularly to ensure imported food is free from contamination. The products also have to comply with local food safety standards and requirements, an AVA spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia.

"Our sampling tests cover a wide range of chemical contaminants and microbiological hazards such as antibiotics and hormones as well as microbial hazards, for example, Salmonella," said the spokesperson, adding that contaminated products will not be allowed for sale and it will be destroyed.

Even as the Government is taking precautionary measures to prevent contaminated food imports from reaching Singapore shores, individuals should still do their part through good hygiene habits, such as washing their hands with soap and water before meals, said Dr Wai.

For Mdm Chia, who is still recovering from a salmonella infection, she has started paying more attention to her hygiene practices.

“Besides washing my hands with soap regularly, I'm also using surgical hand wash before meals,” she said.

- CNA/jq

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Dengue cases rise for second straight week

Today 29 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — The number of new dengue cases in Singapore has risen again, with 215 cases reported in the week ending June 25, according to the latest figures on the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) dengue website.

Nearly 9,000 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since the start of the year.

The authorities had previously said that the number could exceed 30,000 — much higher than the record 22,170 cases in 2013.

Five people have died of the mosquito-borne disease so far this year — the same number as the whole of 2014.

There are now 36 active dengue clusters in Singapore — up from 32 the previous week — including seven that are classified as high-risk.

The biggest cluster is in the area around Geylang and Guillemard Road, where 99 cases have been reported, including one in the past fortnight.

Noting that Singapore is now in the traditional peak season for dengue, the NEA called on the public to continue to be vigilant.

“The majority of mosquito breeding habitats are still being found in homes, such as in domestic containers, flower pot plates and trays,” the NEA said on its website.

Since March 14, the NEA has extended its enforcement regime to all residences found to be breeding mosquitoes — whether they are within or outside dengue clusters — to ensure that all homeowners take immediate steps to remove and prevent mosquito breeding in their premises.

It also encourages the public to help stop the dengue transmission cycle by doing the five-step Mozzie Wipeout on alternate days, such as changing water in vases and bowls and removing water from flower pot plates.

Dengue cases in first half of 2016 twice the number in same period last year: NEA
Channel NewsAsia 30 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: As of last Saturday (Jun 25), 8,900 dengue cases have been reported in the Republic this year, more than twice last year's figure of 4,100 for the same period, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a press release on Thursday.

As Singapore reaches its traditional peak dengue season, the agency added that it is anticipating an upward trend in the number of dengue cases in the coming months.

Last week, 215 dengue cases were reported, 22 more than in the previous week. Five people have died of the disease this year so far – a 47-year-old man who lived in Marsiling Rise, a 67-year-old man who lived in Toa Payoh, a 63-year-old woman who lived in Bedok, a 73-year-old woman who lived in Hougang, and in the latest case, a 79-year-old man who lived in Kaki Bukit.

NEA urged the public to "stay vigilant and continue to work as a community to prevent dengue cases from rising", noting an increase in the Aedes mosquito population and the number of breeding habitats uncovered in the past two months.

"NEA’s Gravitrap data has shown a steady increase in the Aedes aegypti mosquito population in our community in the last two months. Since April, we have observed 50 per cent more Aedes aegypti mosquitoes caught in Gravitraps that have been deployed islandwide," the agency said in its news release.

"The number of Aedes aegypti breeding found in homes during our regular inspections has also seen a 50 per cent increase in the last two months. These indicate an abundance of the mosquito vector in our community."

As a "large proportion" of the population is susceptible to contracting dengue due to the lack of immunity, an increase in the Aedes mosquito population could lead to a surge in dengue cases unless measures are taken to suppress the Aedes mosquito population, NEA said, adding that all stakeholders need to ensure that their premises are free of stagnant water, which could lead to mosquitoes breeding, and step up efforts to stem the transmission of the disease.

The agency said that as of May 31, it had conducted over 544,000 inspections islandwide and destroyed more than 6,800 mosquito breeding sites. Most of the breeding sites were found in homes, especially in domestic containers and flower pots.

"NEA is closely monitoring areas with active transmission of dengue and the transmission patterns. Together with the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force, as well as all town councils, we have been continuing efforts to rid public areas and housing estates of potential mosquito breeding habitats," it said.

The statutory board is focusing its inspections on areas with a higher potential for dengue transmissions, such as construction sites, and detected mosquito breeding in nine per cent of its 2,900 inspections conducted at construction sites, it said. It has issued more than 290 construction site-related notices to attend court and more than 30 stop work orders, it revealed in the press release.

NEA advised residents living in dengue cluster areas to continue with the use of repellent to lower the risk of contracting dengue, and practice the five-step "Do the Mozzie Wipeout" to prevent mosquito breeding.

Dengue patients should continue to protect themselves from mosquito bites by applying repellent regularly, and those showing symptoms suggestive of dengue should see their doctors early to be diagnosed," the agency said, adding that those planning to go overseas for vacation should mosquito-proof their homes before they travel.

- CNA/mz

Number of dengue cases rises for third week in a row
Channel NewsAsia 5 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE: The number of new dengue cases in Singapore has risen for the third week in a row, with 235 cases in the week ending Jul 2 compared to 215 the previous week, according to latest figures on the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) dengue website.

Another 29 cases were reported between Jul 3 and 3pm on Jul 4.

In total, 9,174 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since the start of the year. At least five people have died of the disease so far – a 47-year-old man who lived in Marsiling Rise, a 67-year-old man who lived in Toa Payoh, a 63-year-old woman who lived in Bedok, a 73-year-old woman who lived in Hougang, and in the latest case, a 79-year-old man who lived in Kaki Bukit.

There are now 36 active dengue clusters in Singapore – same as the previous week – including seven classified as high-risk. The biggest cluster is in the area around Admiralty Drive and Sembawang Drive, where 42 cases have been reported, including two in the past fortnight.

In an advisory on its dengue website, NEA called for vigilance from homeowners to prevent mosquito breeding amid the traditional peak season for dengue in Singapore.

Last week, the authority said the number of cases in the first half of the year was more than twice the same period the previous year, adding that it is anticipating an upward trend in the number of dengue cases in the coming months.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and NEA have warned that the number of dengue cases in Singapore may exceed 30,000 this year, higher than the record of 22,170 reported in 2013.

Singapore also reported its first case of the Zika virus in May. The patient, a 48-year-old male Permanent Resident who lives in Bukit Timah’s Watten Estate, had travelled to Sao Paulo in Brazil and developed a fever and rash three days after his return.

Although the patient was discharged from hospital after making a full recovery, MOH and NEA have said there is still a possibility of secondary infection.

- CNA/mz

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Singapore supply more water to Johor

The Star 30 Jun 16;

JOHOR BARU: Singapore’s Public Utilities Board (PUB)has begun supplying an additional six million gallons per day (mgd) of potable water to Johor since early this month in response to the request for assistance from Johor Water Regulatory Body (Bakaj).

In a statement by PUB, it said that Bakaj had requested for additional drinking water supply for a month in view of the current dry weather, which has severely affected water levels in Johor’s Sungai Layang dam.

“PUB has agreed to help, and has been injecting the additional supply of potable water from the Johor River Waterworks,” the statement said.

PUB added that the arrangement was only temporary and subject to regular review, assuring that it will not affect the water supply in Singapore in the short-term.

Over the years, PUB has supplied about 16 million gallons of potable water per day to Johor.

From Aug 14, last year to Jan 8, this year, PUB supplied an additional five to six mgd of potable water to Johor under an arrangement similar to the present one.

This latest request will see Singapore temporarily supplying 22 mgd of potable water to meet Johor’s needs.

PUB said the hot spell has also affected water levels in Linggiu Reservoir, which dipped from 40% to 33% in April this year - an all-time low.

“Linggiu Reservoir, which is operated by PUB, improves the yield of water from the Johor River from which Johor and Singapore draw water,” PUB said, assuring the situation was being monitored closely.

Under the 1962 Water Agreement, PUB is entitled to draw up to 250mgd of raw water from the Johor River daily and in return, Johor is entitled to a daily supply of treated water of up to 2% (or 5mgd) of the raw water supplied to Singapore.

PUB also reassured that it remains committed to working with Bakaj and relevant agencies to ensure a reliable supply of water for both Singapore and Johor.

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Indonesia plans peat monitoring system to curb choking haze

Channel NewsAsia 29 Jun 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia is planning a hi-tech monitoring network to protect peatland at the centre of last year's raging fires that cloaked Southeast Asia in toxic haze, a senior official said on Tuesday (Jun 28).

The fires sent smog billowing across the region in September and October, disrupting the daily lives of tens of millions and fueling anger at Indonesia for its failure to tackle the crisis.

The blazes and resulting haze, caused by illegal slash-and-burn land clearance, are an annual occurrence. But the fires in 2015 were the worst for years as an El Nino weather phenomenon created tinder-dry conditions.

The hardest-hit areas were peatland on Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo, which become highly flammable after being cleared of vegetation and drained to make way for palm oil and pulpwood plantations.

Jakarta in January set up an agency to oversee the restoration of 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) - roughly the size of Rwanda - of peat in the next five years to try to prevent future fires.

It is part of a broader push to stop a repeat of the devastating blazes. President Joko Widodo has introduced other measures to protect peatland and banned the use of new land for palm oil operations.

Restoration of peat involves damming enormous canals built to drain the peat, replanting vegetation and replacing lost water.

Monitoring devices will be installed in the peat to ensure restoration is being properly carried out, said Peatland Restoration Agency head Nazir Foead.

"We are going to install monitoring tools, sensors, that will send us the data real time through the Internet so companies are fully aware that their restoration action is being monitored," he told AFP in an interview on Tuesday.

Roughly half the peat earmarked for restoration is on companies' concession land and they are responsible for carrying out the improvement work, with guidance from the agency.

The agency will restore peat on government- and community-owned land.

The monitoring stations will include an underground sensor and rain gauge to check if peat is retaining water after rainfall, allowing authorities to work out whether drainage canals have been properly closed off.

The sensors will send regular updates to a control centre near Jakarta which is linked to government departments, Foead said. A test monitoring device was installed on Sumatra last month and the agency hopes eventually to have hundreds across the country.

Foead conceded that only "very small steps" had been taken so far in restoring peat, but was optimistic the body would be able to fulfil its task. He said he did not believe 2016 would see a repeat of last year's fires as authorities were better prepared.

- AFP/nc

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Amazon fires: Humans make rainforest more flammable

Victoria Gill BBC News 30 Jun 16;

Human disturbances are making the Amazon rainforest more flammable, according to researchers.

This is one of the conclusions of a two-year study of the Brazilian Amazon, which revealed that even protected forest is degraded by human activity.

This activity includes selective logging and forest fragmentation, which increase the likelihood of wildfires.
The findings are published in the journal Nature.

"Rainforests don't normally burn," said lead researcher Prof Jos Barlow, from the Lancaster Environment Centre. "But human activities are making them much more flammable."

While the Brazilian Amazon is protected from large-scale deforestation, this new study suggests that more effort is needed to safeguard what the scientists called the "hyper-diversity of tropical forests".

This team set out to measure the effects that humans have on the rainforest - no easy feat in a dense landscape of 5.5 million sq km.

They selected 400 plots, on a gradient of forest cover - ranging from pristine to deforested areas.

It took two years to gather data from these sites across the Eastern Amazon - painstakingly measuring population densities of trees, birds and insects.

Crucially, this study examined areas of forest that are protected by the Forest Code - the central policy designed to control deforestation, and requiring landowners in the Amazon to maintain up to 80% forest cover.

"If you can imagine a landscape with 80% forest cover, I think most environmentalists would say that's a very good scenario and you've maintained most of your core habitat there," Prof Barlow told the BBC.

"But what we found was those landscapes only really have 50% of their potential value, because of disturbance in the remaining forest."

Disturbance, he explained, could include selective logging, hunting - "anything that humans do to the forests".

Selective logging, for example, can leave the forest fragmented or punch holes in the canopy, drying out the vegetation below. This, combined with the effects of climate change, is leaving the Amazon much more likely to catch fire.

Another member of the team, Dr Alexander Lees from Cornell University, said that many bird species unique to the Amazon were suffering the most from these effects. These endemic species, he said, "cannot survive in disturbed forests".

"We need to keep focusing on reducing deforestation," said Prof Barlow, "but we need to think about forest disturbance - how we can monitor it, how we can reduce it, and how we can maintain pristine forest in large blocks as well."

"Immediate action is required to combat forest disturbance in tropical nations," said Silvio Ferraz from the University of Sao Paulo, who was also involved in the study. "This is particularly important in Brazil, which holds up to 40% of the world's remaining tropical forests".

Prof Barlow added: "If we're interested in conserving the life that lives with us on this planet today, then we need to conserve these systems."

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Crucial peatlands carbon-sink vulnerable to rising sea levels

University of Exeter Science Daily 29 Jun 16;

Summary: Rising sea-levels linked to global warming could pose a significant threat to the effectiveness of the world's peatland areas as carbon sinks, a new study has shown.

Rising sea-levels linked to global warming could pose a significant threat to the effectiveness of the world's peatland areas as carbon sinks, a new study has shown.

The pioneering new study, carried out by Geographers at the University of Exeter, examined the impact that salt found in sea water has on how successfully peatland ecosystems accumulate carbon from the atmosphere.

The researchers studied an area of blanket bog -- a peat bog that forms in cool regions susceptible to high rainfall -- at Kentra Moss, in Northwest Scotland.

They discovered that the rate at which the peatland area accumulated carbon was significantly impacted as the concentration of salt rose.

The results indicate that rising sea levels, linked to predicted climate change, could pose a serious threat to the future security of the peatlands because they would inundate areas and deposit more salt, further inland.

The findings feature in scientific journal, Scientific Reports.

Dr Angela Gallego-Sala, co-author of the paper and a Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography at Exeter said: "Peatland areas play a crucial role in taking carbon from our atmosphere and storing it."

"We know that rising sea levels through global warming can have catastrophic effects on many areas across the globe, and this study shows just how vulnerable some peatland areas are to the same phenomenon.

"The effects of global warming are already being observed, but the longer we wait to act, the quicker changes to our environment, which would have a devastating impact on many regions around the world, will take place."

Rain-fed peatlands are recognised as being a globally important environmental resource because they absorb and store carbon.

Their unique plant communities and their inherent wetness are known to help control their ability to act as carbon stores. However, this new research shows that there is a threshold concentration of salt above which, the plant communities are less successful at absorbing and storing carbon from the atmosphere.

Blanket bogs, such as the one used for the study, are distinctive peatland ecosystems occupying specific coastal, high-latitude areas, making them vulnerable to sea-level change.

The study, which arose from an undergraduate research project carried out by student Alex Whittle and Dr Gallego-Sala, looked at the age and density of carbon that was stored in core samples taken in three specific areas, starting next to the coastline and moving progressively inland.

The samples showed that as salt levels increased, the vegetation that colonise the bogs altered significantly, resulting in a sharp decline in carbon storage. The research suggests that if sea levels rise and blanket bogs receive more salt-water, so the rate at which carbon can be stored will sharply decline.

Alex Whittle, author of the paper and now a research student in the Department of Geography said: "This study highlights the global scale and geographical distribution of peatlands potentially vulnerable to sea-level change. We hope our work will increase awareness of this risk and thereby stimulate future research on this topic."

Dr Gallego-Sala added: "What started out as an undergraduate project has led to a ground-breaking new study, and produced some startling results. Peatland areas are vital for our ecosystems and hopefully this study will help give us a greater understanding of the threats that they are facing in the future."

Vulnerability of the peatland carbon sink to sea-level rise, by Alex Whittle and Angela Gallego-Sala, is published in Scientific Reports.

Journal Reference:

Alex Whittle, Angela V. Gallego-Sala. Vulnerability of the peatland carbon sink to sea-level rise. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 28758 DOI: 10.1038/srep28758

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Jun 16

Dolphin sightings (May - Jun 2016)
wild shores of singapore

Food Waste Training Workshop for Wastebusters (9 Jul)
Zero Waste Singapore

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Malaysia: Highways open doors to poaching

LOH FOON FONG The Star 29 Jun 16;

PETALING JAYA: The building of highways that cut across important habitats of protected animals and plants has opened doors to poa­chers stealing the country’s priceless treasures, said a researcher.

Universiti Malaysia Terengganu’s Kenyir Research Institute Assoc Prof Dr Reuben Clements said that when he did his research on orang asli in Perak, for example, there was evidence of high poaching pressure in forests beside the 203km-long East-West Highway bisecting the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex.

“People can just park their vehicles at the side of the road and go into the jungle and hunt and it is difficult for the authorities to monitor their movement,” he said at a talk on roads, wildlife and orang asli organised by the Centre for Malaysian Indigenous Studies in Universiti Malaya.

Dr Clements, a conservation scientist, said the poachers included Malaysians and foreigners, suspected to be from Vietnam and Cam­bodia.

“The foreign poachers have been stealing highly priced gaharu wood from our forests and selling them at a high price,” he said.

According to Dr Colin Nicholas, coordinator for the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, the price of gaharu will double once it reaches foreign markets such as those in Singapore.

He said the poachers were also competing resources with the orang asli.

Meanwhile, Dr Clements said that poachers also set up snares and traps to catch priced animals, wounding many species.

Dr Clements, who currently conducts his research in Kenyir, Tereng­ganu, said Kenyir was considered an important mammal conservation area as it contained almost all the mammal species documented in peninsular Malaysia but was also divided by state road T156 and provided access to many poachers.

“Recent studies show that Be­­lum and Kenyir are home to endangered species such as pangolins and tigers, which are highly sought after by poachers for traditional medicine and game,” he added.

In view of this, Rimba, which Dr Clements co-founded, recently made a video highlighting the im­­portance of conserving endangered species such as tigers and sam­­bar deer from an Islamic perspective.

The video also featured Tereng­ganu Ruler Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin advocating the conservation of flora and fauna.

“It is important to avoid building more roads in important forests such as Belum and Kenyir,” the sultan said.

Dr Clements said from his re­search involving 144 households from 10 villages in Belum-Temen­gor, most supported the presence of the highway and 65% supported construction of additional roads to their villages even though the use was low (2%-28%).

He said when constructing a road, the authorities should consult the orang asli as those living nearer to it support its building while those living more inland did not.

He said those living in Belum did not want more roads as they bring many visitors and diseases.

To prevent unregulated development along highways which cut through ecological linkages in the Central Forest Spine, they should be gazetted as protected areas, he said.

If a road were to be built in an important wildlife habitat, Environ­mental Impact Assessments should be made mandatory and the Public Works Department should hold consultations with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the local communities, Dr Clements said.

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Malaysia: Huge jump in measles cases

The Star 27 Jun 16;

PETALING JAYA: Children not immunised against measles has led to a 340% leap in the number of in­fections within the first week of this month.

There were 873 cases reported in that week compared to the 197 recorded in the corresponding pe­­riod last year, an increase of 676.

Health Department director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah attributed the increase to the fact that children were not immunised against the disease.

Most of the cases involved private homes (63.6%) followed by institutions (28.8%) and community (7.6%).

“Last year, there were 1,318 cases of measles with two deaths. There has not been any death this year,” he said in a posting on his Facebook page yesterday.

Dr Noor Hisham said 66 outbreaks were reported during the first week of June, a five-fold increase compared to the same period last year.

Immunisation against measles are given to children when they are between nine and 12 months under the national immunisation programme.

Previous reports stated that an increasing number of parents are not immunising their children over fears that the vaccines are not halal.

Kedah has the highest number of rejection cases in the country.

This was despite a declaration by the National Fatwa Council that the vaccines are halal.

On Saturday, Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan said they would discuss with their counterparts in the Health Ministry about mandatory vaccinations for students nationwide.

This was important to protect their health, he said.

His comments came about following the death of a seven-year-old girl who died from diphtheria bacterial infection in Malacca.

In Kedah, a two-year-old toddler has also died, believed to be from the same illness.

Last Wednesday, the Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia said the resurgence of infectious diseases such as diphtheria, which had virtually disappeared in Malay­sia, was due to the reluctance of some parents to vaccinate their children.

“Factors identified for this reluctance to vaccinate include misinformation, untruths and myths found on the Internet and social media,” said association president Prof Datuk Dr Abd Rahim Mohamad.

In his statement, he said that the rejection of vaccination also stem­med from “adopting pseudo-religious arguments about the status of vaccines by a few religious groups and individuals who do not have any expertise in science and the complexities of medicine”.

He urged muftis and religious scholars to provide correct information about immunisation and to “steer away from myths, fiction and conspiracy theories”.

The Malaysian Medical Associa­tion said last week that Malaysia had had good infant immunisation co­verage for infants for the past three decades.

“With regret, we note that immunisation coverage of our infants has been hampered by pockets of population who either refuse immunisation or may have been missed,” said its president Dr John Chew Chee Ming.

‘Failure to vaccinate poses danger to child and community’

PETALING JAYA: Refusing to vaccinate a child is not a personal choice but may put the well-being of the greater society at risk, Health Department director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham says.

In a Facebook post, Dr Noor Hisham said living in a civilised society required certain obligations and not wantonly bringing back vaccine-preventable diseases.

“There’s simply no choice when it comes to saving children’s lives,” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham was responding to a front page article in a Malay vernacular tabloid which reported that many parents in Kedah had admitted being reluctant to vaccinate their children due to concerns over side-effects and halal status of vaccines.

Newspapers are supposed to educate, he said, and not contribute to public confusion.

He pointed out even Saudi Arabia had a national immunisation programme for disease prevention and were considering making it a re­­quirement for those going to Mecca to get vaccinated for meningococcal.

The Star yesterday reported that children not immunised against measles have led to a 340% leap in the number of in­fections within the first week of this month.

There were 873 cases reported in that week compared to 197 in the corresponding pe­­riod last year, an increase of 676 cases.

Last year, there were 1,318 cases of measles with two deaths.

Despite a declaration by the National Fatwa Council that the vaccines are halal, an increasing number of parents, mostly in Kedah, are still not immunising their children.

To-date, a seven-year-old girl died from diphtheria bacterial infection in Malacca, while another death of a two-year-old toddler in Kedah is also believed to have been caused by the same illness.

In Butterworth, state Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin urged anti-vaccine groups not to hamper the need for vaccination to protect children against the diphtheria bacterial infection.

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Indonesia: Hot weather may spark fires in N. Sumatra

Jakarta Post 28 Jun 16;

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported on Monday that temperatures in the eastern part of North Sumatra were rising and may lead to new hot spots in forests.

Mega Sirait, an official at the BMKG office in Kualanamu, said that the rise in temperature was caused by east monsoon winds that carry dry weather from Australia and cause rain in the region.

“The eastern part of North Sumatra is now entering the dry season. Temperatures can reach 36 degrees Celsius during the day, and 26 degrees C at night,” Mega told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Temperatures in the province usually peak between June and July, he went on, and people take the opportunity to burn land and forests to open new plantations. So far this year, however, the agency has discovered no significant hot spots caused by burning.

“We have only detected hot spots in Padang Lawas regency,” Mega revealed.

Medan BMKG office information officer Sunadi urged residents to reduce outdoor activities in order to stay healthy during Ramadhan.

“For those who are fasting, the hot weather is exhausting,” he said.

Sunardi said it was better for residents to remain at home to avoid dehydration and migraines caused by the heat.

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Indonesia: 5 palm oil firms face lawsuit over forest fires

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 28 Jun 16;

The government is gearing up to take some of the alleged perpetrators of last year’s massive forest fires to court for the first time. However, an environmental organization has lamented the limited scope of the action in comparison to the profound damage caused by the fires.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry is in the final stage of filing civil lawsuits against five palm oil companies allegedly responsible for some of the 2015 forest fires, a tragedy that has been called a crime against humanity as it killed 19 people, mostly children, and caused more than US$16 billion in economic losses.

Amid public pressure, the government decided to hand down administrative sanctions to 23 companies suspected of being behind the land and forest fires last year. These companies had their land-clearing licenses either revoked or frozen for their failure to act to prevent the fires, which led to the worst pollution in the region for almost two decades.

While the government has started legal action in response to the fires, it has not taken any cases to court yet.

According to the ministry’s environmental dispute settlement director Jasmin Ragil Utomo, the process of taking last year’s forest fires to court takes a long time because there are numerous steps that the government has to take.

“There is field work, laboratory investigations, calculations and processing the cases through evidence. This takes a long time because the evidence is scattered not only in companies but also in other institutions,” he told The Jakarta Post.

Jasmin refused to name the five companies.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) legal and executive policy manager Muhnur Satyahaprabu said the lawsuits were not comparable to the scale of last year’s fires.

“Five companies is too few. If the names of the companies behind last year’s forest fires were published, the number could be dozens,” he told the Post.

Providing more detail on the cases, Jasmin said the government wanted to implement the concept of strict liability, which was why it took a long time to prepare the lawsuits.

Strict liability is recognized by Article 88 of Law No. 32/2009 on the environment, which stipulates that any person whose actions, business and/or activities use hazardous or toxic waste ( B3 ), produce and/or manage toxic waste and/or cause serious threats to the environment is fully responsible for the damage done, without their liability having to be proven.

Law experts said the article could be used to immediately put responsibility for the fires on the shoulders of the culprits, even though there was no proof that the fires on their concessions had been caused by them or their negligence.

Jasmin said the government would use strict liability in two of the five lawsuits, while it would provide it as an option to judges in the other three.

“So even though the companies did something to prevent the forest fires, as long as there’s pollution and environmental damage, they’re still responsible,” he said.

Each of the five companies allegedly burned between 500 and 2,000 hectares of land in Palembang, South Sumatra, Jambi and South Kalimantan, totalling more than 2.6 million ha of land, or 4.5 times the size of Bali Island.

“We can’t choose the size of the case because when we went to the field, that’s what we found, between 500 ha and 2,000 ha. If we pinpoint a bigger case, then of course we will deal with it,” Jasmin said.

Besides using the strict liability concept, the ministry also plans to strengthen the role of experts in its law enforcement.

The ministry’s law enforcement director general Rasio Ridho Sani said he would build a network of experts who could support the government’s law enforcement in environmental cases.

“We will involve them from the very beginning, especially in cases that are complex and science-based. The support from experts will help judges understand the technicalities of environmental cases,” he said.

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Indonesia: Whale sharks seen in Gorontalo

Antara 28 Jun 16;

Gorontalo (ANTARA News) - At least three whale sharks were seen in the waters near the Saronde Island of Gorontalo Province in the last two days.

The director of PT Gorontalo Alam Bahari, Mia Amalia, said here on Tuesday that the whale sharks were of varying sizes.

"While the whale shark that was seen yesterday was nine meters in length, the two seen earlier were smaller," Amalia said.

She added that some employees in Saronde saw the whale sharks from up close. The creatures were looking for food near the Saronde dock.

Amalia noted the whale sharks hunt the fishes and plankton near the island since the Saronde waters are home to many kinds of small fish.

While locals have been noticing the whale sharks since last month, the creatures were seen closer to the seashore in recent weeks.

Amalia said the whale shark has the potential to attract tourists to the island.

The Saronde Island is a favorite tourism destination in Gorontalo and has a restaurant, cottages and water sports.

The whale sharks were also seen in Botubarani Village of Bone Bolango District in March, 2016, turning it into an incidental tourism site for a week.

The administration noted that at least thousands of tourists visited the area on Sunday.(*)

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Indonesia: Gorontalo locals told to protect turtles

Syamsul Huda M. Suhari The Jakarta Post 28 Jun 16;

Dudepo Island is part of a chain of islets in North Gorontalo regency, Gorontalo province, facing the Sulawesi Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The island, located some 14 kilometers away from Anggrek Seaport, can be reached by boat in around half an hour in fine weather.

It is on this fairly remote island that the Gorontalo Nusa Warna community has been holding a variety of literacy activities for the past three years. They set up a small hut, measuring 12 square meters, called the Dream Room, in which members of the community provide education in remote areas. They teach children in fishing communities how to read papers, and other skills, and guide them in various creative activities.

“We have been focusing on providing environmental awareness lately, especially in turtle conservation, because on the island, inhabited by more than 1,000 people, turtle hunting is extensive, either for consumption or [trade],” said Um Ayman Fikriani, a literacy activist from the Nusa Warna community, on Monday.

Ayman, usually called Aika, was once offered a side dish of turtle meat there. Even recently, she found fishermen bringing home green turtles (Chelonia mydas) from fishing. They were about to sell the turtles, which were still small, at the relatively cheap price of Rp 100,000 (US$7.40) each.

“I asked them to sell me a turtle. They asked me what it was for and I told them I would return it to the sea, so they refused,” she said.

Lately, she found out the turtles were not accidentally caught, but had been ordered specifically by someone in Limboto, Gorontalo regency.

Aika and her community then became more vigorous in campaigning for turtle protection on the remote island, focusing on fishermen’s elementary school-aged children.

The children were told about the important role of turtles in the marine ecosystem. Green turtles, for example, play an important role in spreading nutrients into the sea through their droppings, which become fertilizer or feed for a variety of marine life. Their existence is quite important, keeping in mind the cruising range of turtles which is quite extensive, reaching tens of thousands of kilometers.

Besides that, together with children in coastal communities, the campaign has also held beach clean-up activities. The massive volume of garbage along the coast also endangers turtle survival. Waste, especially styrofoam, can kill hatchling turtles that accidentally eat it.

The Nusa Warna community also distributed flyers to homes urging residents to not kill, consume or trade in turtles, as well as explaining the ecological reasons.

“We know it’s no easy matter, but at least we are making an effort,” said Aika.

Gorontalo is known as a turtle habitat. Of the seven species of sea turtles in the world, Gorontalo has at least four of them, namely the green turtle, the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta).

Gorontalo is home to two turtle conservation areas: Panua natural reserve in Pohuwato regency, located in the Tomini Bay region, and Popaya Mas Raja natural reserve, a Dutch heritage conservation area located in North Gorontalo regency, close to Dudepo Island.

Recently, the police caught a fisherman in waters off Torosiaje village, a floating village of the Bajo ethnic community in Pohuwato, carrying a green turtle on his boat.

“Our members provided counselling for the man and released the turtle back into the sea,” said Gorontalo Police spokesperson Adj. Sr. Comr. Bagus Santoso.

Torosiaje community figure Umar Pasandre said the practice of turtle hunting was taking place due to demand. A turtle can fetch between Rp 100,000 and Rp 300,000 depending on its size.

Some also order them, for a variety of reasons, such as to be served as side dishes at weddings, as a tola-tola snack and as an accompaniment for traditional liquor.

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Indonesia Faces Environmental Time Bomb After Coal Bust

Fergus Jensen Jakarta Globe 29 Jun 16;

Samarinda. Thousands of mines are closing in Indonesia's tropical coal belt as prices languish and seams run dry. But almost none of the companies have paid their share of billions of dollars owed to repair the badly scarred landscape they have left behind.

Abandoned mine pits dot the bare, treeless hillsides in Samarinda, the capital of East Kalimantan province on Indonesia's part of Borneo island. It is ground zero for a coal boom that made Indonesia the world's biggest exporter of the mineral that fuels power plants. Abandoned mining pits have now become death traps for children who swim in them, and their acidic water is killing nearby rice paddies.

Indonesia has tried, mostly in vain, to get mining companies to keep their promises to clean up the ravaged landscape. But it doesn't even have basic data on who holds the many thousands of mining licenses that were handed out during the boom days, officials say.

"Nobody was in control," said Dian Patria, who works on natural resources at the country's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

Patria estimated that 90 percent of the more than 10,000 mining license holders had not paid the reclamation funds they owe by law. One-third are for coal.

Even if they wanted to, many companies now lack the cash. The same large banks that lent billions during the boom have now pulled out of coal, wary of the sector's commercial outlook and contribution to climate change.

The problem is not unique to Indonesia. As mineral prices languish, even major global miners are trying to avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in increasingly hefty closure costs, mostly by selling off pits.

Few question asked

After pro-democracy protesters swept Indonesia's authoritarian president Suharto from power in 1998, the Jakarta government gave towns and districts control of natural resources as part of far-reaching decentralization reforms aimed at preventing the archipelago from fracturing.

Newly empowered local leaders handed out thousands of mining licenses, many of them to small operators, as coal prices leapt from around $40 per tonne in 2005 to nearly $200 at their peak in 2008. In East Kalimantan alone, around half the province was covered in coal mining permits.

Under President Joko Widodo, elected in 2014, Indonesia has promised to turn around its dismal environmental record. The administration has also wrested control over natural resources away from local leaders, giving it to provincial governors instead.

Awang Faroek Ishak, East Kalimantan's governor, has issued a moratorium on new licenses. He is threatening to punish mining companies that have failed to restore the land, he said in an interview. But the data on mining companies and funds for rehabilitation are missing, he said.

"How can we look into this if we don't have the documents," he complained.

Greenpeace activist Kiki Taufik says governors do, however, have the authority to freeze permits and operations while they investigate. "The governors have authority, but they never use this authority."

Patchy oversight

Most of the mining licenses went to small firms, many of which have gone bankrupt or simply abandoned their operations, mining industry officials say.

"For now, it's really difficult not to lose money," said Budi Situmorang, a mining engineer at small coal miner CV Arjuna. "All we can really do is hold on. Looking at the 56 mines in Samarinda, no more than 10 are still active."

The mining companies themselves are supposed to restore the land from money they paid into accounts held at state banks and supervised by local officials.

"That's what you're supposed to do, but in practice very few people do it," except for the major mining firms, the head of Indonesia's Coal Mining Association, Pandu Sjahrir, told Reuters.

The central government has had a list since 2011 of nearly 4,000 licenses that have failed to meet their requirements. It expects to be able to revoke the problematic permits only by January 2017.

Patria's team at the anti-corruption agency is pushing for the national government's Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) to investigate miners - including over unpaid rehabilitation funds estimated in the hundreds of millions.

Even that is only a fraction of the cash that would actually be required, says Merah Johansyah from the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM).

Pressure from campaigners is increasing as mine closures reach a peak by 2020, according to some industry estimates. One set of 2,272 coal permits and contracts, compiled by mining consultancy SMGC and reviewed by Reuters, showed the average expiry date of the permit is October 2017.

Mining without permits

But environmental watchdogs say an end to permits does not mean an end to mining. "In East Kalimantan, even where permits have long been revoked, they're still operating," Syahrul Fitra, a legal researcher at the environmental NGO Auriga told Reuters. "What we found in the field is that no punishments have been applied."

In areas where companies are conducting reclamation activities, it is usually not to replant forests—most mining concessions are being turned into housing developments, agricultural land or other uses, environmentalists and industry officials say.

In the meantime, the run-off water and mud from abandoned pits, numbering around 150 in Samarinda alone, are polluting surrounding rice paddies and rivers.

After his employer closed a small mine in Samarinda, Suyadi, who like many Indonesians uses one name, went back to working the small rice paddy on his family's farm on the edge of the city. The mines, however, have followed him there.

"Like it or not, the tailing flow here," says Suyadi, referring to the stream of chemically treated mining debris that is left after coal is extracted.

"If they continue to leave it like this, where else will that water flow? To the lower areas where there are rice paddies," Suyadi said.

The attractive aqua hue of the water in the abandoned pits conceals a darker story: 24 local children using them as swimming holes have drowned around Samarinda over the past five years.

Govt prepares lawsuits against coal mining firms
Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 30 Jun 16;

The government is seeking to sue more companies blamed for 25 deaths at depleted coal mine pits in East Kalimantan that took place between 2011 and 2016 after years of protracted inaction.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry is currently collecting data and information regarding the deaths in order to build legal cases against the mining companies.

“We will enforce criminal law [on these companies],” the ministry’s law enforcement director-general Rasio Ridho Sani told The Jakarta Post.

So far, the East Kalimantan Police have named suspects in six cases involving deaths. Two cases occurred in Kutai Kartanegara and four in Samarinda.

The police, however, have declined to disclose which companies are responsible for those cases, saying that “those responsible will flee” if their names are revealed to the media.

Besides enforcing the law, the government has also taken some steps so that the depleted coal mine pits do not claim more lives in the future.

“We have taken some steps since the end of 2014,” Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told the Post.

Those steps include ordering two coal companies to halt their operations so that they could close down the pits, according to Rasio.

East Kalimantan Governor Awang Faroek Ishak has also stopped the operations of 11 companies, he added.

“Furthermore, the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, the Presidential Staff Office, the Corruption Eradication Commission [KPK] and the East Kalimantan provincial government have met with 111 mining companies to ensure that they uphold good mining practices to prevent further casualties and environmental devastation,” Rasio said.

Last month, the Presidential Staff Office also promised to coordinate with the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry and the Environment and Forestry Ministry to handle the cases in the near future.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) have decried the government’s protracted inaction in dealing with the deaths, saying that the government had neglected its foremost obligation to monitor mining activities in three regions in the province, including Kutai Kartanegara, North Penajam Paser and Samarinda.

“We have found that the government turned a blind eye toward coal mining companies that did not conduct reclamation after mining activities that led to 25 deaths between 2011 and 2015,” KPAI chairman Asrorun Niam Sholeh said in a letter to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

He added that so far only one case had been brought to trial from the 25 deaths. He said further that the verdict in the trial was too lenient as the prosecutors only demanded two months of jail time.

“This thing really harmed justice because it did not affect the owner and decision makers in the company,” Asrorun said.

Komnas HAM commissioner Roichatul Aswidah said, meanwhile, that both the central government and local administrations had failed to uphold the obligation of companies to restore unused sites after 30 days without any mining activities, as stipulated in a 2010 governmental decree on reclamation and post-mining activity.

The 2010 governmental decree stipulates that a mining company is obliged to pay some amount of money to the government as a guarantee that they will restore their unused mining sites in the future.

“The government is obliged to monitor their activities. As the party responsible for granting mining permits to companies, the government could revoke those permits if they are found to have disregarded their obligations as stipulated by law,” Roichatul said.

According to data from Network for Mining Advocacy (Jatam) made available to the Post, death cases took place in unrestored mining sites owned by 17 private companies.

Three of these companies gained their mining permits from the central government, one obtained its permit from the provincial administration and the rest gained their permits from either the Samarinda Municipality or the Kutai Kartanegara and North Penajam Paser Regency.

Another Komnas HAM commissioner, Siti Noor Laila, said recalcitrant companies had violated a number of human rights, ranging from the right to life and the right to safety to the rights of children.

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Vietnam: Son Tra Nature Reserve biodiversity threatened

Overlapping efforts and poor management among agencies pose serious threats to biodiversity in the Son Tra Nature Reserve, a biologist said during a dialogue on protecting the red-shanked douc langur

VietNamNet Bridge 28 Jun 16;

The Da Nang-based reserve is home to 300 red-shanked douc langurs, which are critically endangered and found only in east-central Laos and Viet Nam. The animals are further threatened by illegal logging and rampant hunting.

Poor management resulted in the illegal logging of 10ha of forest in an area intended for local residents to use for commercial purposes. The case was only discovered when biologists from the Biodiversity Conservation Centre of GreenViet, an NGO in Da Nang, took a field trip to the area.

An effective management board is essential to monitor forest protection and the disaster response measures.

However, the reserve has yet to establish a management board, as other reserves have done nationwide. It is being managed by different agencies, including the Son Tra-Ngu Hanh Son forest protection sub-department; Tho Quang Ward’s administration; Son Tra peninsula’s management board of beaches and tourism; and the Border Guard, Air Defence and Navy.

GreenViet director Tran Huu Vy criticised the fact that each agency only manages one assigned area, and they do not work together to handle common problems and threats. He added that agencies should more closely monitor visitors at the reserve entrance.

“(Both residents and tourists) need to be supervised at the entrance into the reserve,” Vy said. “Loggers or poachers could come to the protected forest easily if they do not have a check-in procedure at the control post.”

Vy, who spent over 10 years researching biodiversity in the Son Tra Nature Reserve, said illegal hunters would use steel wire traps and handmade air guns to kill wild animals for money. A live animal could earn an illegal hunter VND6 million (US$285).

In 2015, five hunters from Nghe An Province were arrested after they were caught with 100 traps, as well as a bag of dried meat and the bones of three red-shanked doucs.

The illegal hunters admitted that they had spent one month in the forest of Son Tra to hunt langurs.

The nature reserve has shrunk from over 4,400ha to 2,500ha to make room for the development of dozens of resorts and hotel projects in the area.

According to GreenViet’s latest survey, over 20 streams in the reserve have dried up – the worst it has seen in 20 years.

Vu Ngoc Thanh, a representative of the US-based Douc Langur Foundation, which operates as an NGO in Viet Nam, said the Son Tra Nature Reserve is a precious treasure of Da Nang that needs a special protection policy.

“You could not find any place like Son Tra Nature Reserve, as visitors can watch the endangered primates at close range any time of the year, even in bad weather conditions,” Thanh said.

He said scientists and biologists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) agreed to list the red-shanked douc langur as critically endangered with unlimited protection status in the world. The IUCN had previously listed the animal as endangered in 2013.

He said Da Nang should choose the red-shanked douc langur as its symbol for promoting the rich biodiversity of the Son Tra Nature Reserve to the rest of the world.

Vy also suggested that the city create a special programme to protect biodiversity in the forest, as well as form an effective and uniform management team to handle illegal hunting and logging.

“It’s an urgent action, or biodiversity in the reserve will soon dwindle,” Vy said. “A checkpoint should be set up to control visitors at three main entrances into the Son Tra reserve, because over 10,000 visitors come to the reserve monthly.”

Nguyen Thi Hien, from the city’s Natural Resources and Environment Department, said the city has approved a plan through 2030 on the protection of biodiversity in Son Tra Nature Reserve.

She said the city plans to make the red-shanked douc langur the city’s symbol of biodiversity at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation Summit (APEC) in Da Nang next year.

A series of communication campaigns and education programmes on the protection of the red-shanked douc langur were launched by GreenViet and the Douc Langur Foundation at primary schools in Da Nang.

The Son Tra Nature Reserve, which is 600m above sea level, is known for its rich biodiversity, with 287 animal species and 985 plant species.

Despite an action plan outlined by the city administration, biologists and volunteers from GreenViet and rangers dismantled over 2,000 traps in the reserve, and continued to find traces of illegal hunting and logging in the area.
GreenViet is also co-operating with the Frankfurt Zoological Society of Germany, San Diego Zoo Global in the United States and the IUCN to protect the red-shanked douc langurs through long-term campaigns.

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Rains or not, India faces drinking water crisis

Channel NewsAsia 28 Jun 16;

GANGNAULI: As large swathes of drought-devastated India desperately wait for the monsoon rains to arrive, one village in the dry, hot north is flush with water.

But this farming area's bountiful water supplies are feared contaminated with heavy metals, underscoring the profound challenges facing the world's second most populous nation.

From toxic pollution of rivers and lakes to contamination of groundwater supplies, together with chronic shortages in drought-hit districts, India's water challenges are acute.

In Gangnauli village, residents suspect their groundwater has been polluted by waste from local industries.

"The children complain of stomach pains and skin problems and I fear for their health," Divya Rathi says as she watches her daughter play with buckets of water in her yard in Gangnauli in Uttar Pradesh state.

"We need the government to do something about this," said the 25-year-old, adding she could not afford the expensive water purifiers used by wealthier households.

More than 130 million people live in areas of India where groundwater supplies are contaminated with at least one dangerous pollutant such as arsenic or nitrate, according to the World Resources Institute.

Its analysis shows more than 20 million live in districts where supplies contain at least three pollutants exceeding safe limits.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has pledged billions of dollars to clean up the filthy holy Ganges river, while efforts are also under way to stop raw sewage and industrial waste spewing into India's waterways.

But researcher Sushmita Sengupta warned it could be too late in some areas where groundwater has long been mismanaged.

"Once the groundwater is contaminated it's an almost irreversible process. Once it's destroyed it's lost forever," said Sengupta, of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment.


Parts of India are anxiously waiting for the annual monsoon currently sweeping across the country to provide relief to 330 million farmers and others.

But experts say the torrential rains will not solve India's water problems unless much more is done to manage supplies.

Rajendra Singh, dubbed the Water Man of India, said rains will fail to replenish the water table in many areas because unchecked urbanisation has destroyed wetlands and other natural recharge spots.

"It will just be a flash flood," said Singh, who has called for a ban on groundwater extraction for all purposes other than for drinking to allow aquifers a chance to recover.

"There is not enough drinkable water for the Indian people. Without water security there is nothing," said Singh, who last year won the Stockholm Water Prize for his work to boost supplies in villages in the desert state of Rajasthan.

In Gangnauli, authorities have painted a red stripe on communal handpumps to warn residents after testing found groundwater was contaminated.

India's environment court, the National Green Tribunal, ordered handpumps in the district be sealed, and raised concerns about the health of residents drinking from them.

Many instead draw water from borewells installed in their backyards. But they fear this groundwater is also contaminated by polluted rivers which have seeped into the water table.

"There is poison in the water," said farmer Dhramveer Singh, 50, who blames his son's severe bone deformities on the water.

District magistrate Hriday Shankar Tiwari said the state government has acted to supply villagers with alternate supplies -- including via water tanks and pipelines whose supplies are sourced from clean water deeper underground.

"We have also been sensitising villagers about the hazards of consuming contaminated water," Tiwari told AFP, although he casts doubt on concerns residents are falling ill.

Village head Dharmendra Rathi said up to half of its 5,000 residents now received piped water, a situation he said was "way better than what it used to be".

But he said the pollution remained a problem, with factory waste from neighbouring districts still discharged into the rivers.

- AFP/ec

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Best of our wild blogs: 28 Jun 16

FREE Guided Herp Walk at Pasir Ris Mangrove
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Pesta Ubin 2016 Report
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NEA to introduce new bands and descriptors for 1-hour PM2.5 readings

Linette Lim Channel NewsAsia 27 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: Haze season is around the corner and the likely question on everyone's lips is: "Is it safe for me to go out now?"

To help Singaporeans answer that question, the National Environment Agency (NEA) is introducing bands and descriptors for the one-hour concentration readings for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which it has been publishing hourly since 2014.

This was announced by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Monday (Jun 27), on the sidelines of a visit to the Meteorological Service Singapore’s (MSS) HQ at Changi Airport Terminal 2.

According to Mr Masagos, the new bands and descriptors will help the public better interpret the one-hour PM2.5 concentration readings and plan their activities.

During last year’s haze season, some Singaporeans turned to unofficial sources such as third-party apps and websites that purportedly gave one-hour readings of air quality. Several said NEA’s official three-hour and 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings did not always square with what they observed outdoors in terms of haze visibility and smell. One example is volunteer group the People’s Movement to Stop Haze, which has been publishing one-hour PSI readings for five regions across the island since 2015.

For years, NEA resisted calls to publish one-hour PSI readings, stating that the practice of “converting raw pollutant concentration data into one-hour PSI readings is not supported by health studies”.

From Monday, it hopes the public will rely more on its official one-hour PM2.5 concentration readings, which it said is a "near real-time indicator of the current air quality”.

The PSI was developed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Its computation is based on the 24-hour average of PM10 concentration levels, among other pollutants. PM10 - the measure of particulate matter of 10 microns or smaller - is the dominant pollutant during haze episodes.

PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is smaller than 2.5 microns, and is a subset of PM10.

Unlike the existing 24-hour PSI readings, which carry health advisories on what people should or should not do when readings are banded at certain levels, the four bands and descriptors for the one-hour PM2.5 readings - Normal (<55), Elevated (56-150), High (151-250) and Very High (>250) - will not carry corresponding health advisories. These will only be accompanied by a general guide on how haze particles affect health.

This is because existing studies “do not constitute a sufficient evidence-base” for the development of corresponding health advisories for the various bands, said NEA. The agency will phase out the three-hour PSI before the end of the year on the basis that it will no longer be relevant. It will also revise its microsite and its myENV app to reflect the new bands and descriptors.

- CNA/av

New PM2.5 bandings to help people plan activities better

SINGAPORE — One-hour readings of the fine particulate matter concentration (PM2.5) in the air now come with bands indicating if levels are normal, elevated, high or very high, to help the public to interpret one-hour PM2.5 better, and to plan their immediate activities.

Under the new banding, one-hour PM2.5 concentrations of 55 micrograms per cubic metre and below are “normal”; readings of 56 to 150 are “elevated”; readings of 151 to 250 are “high”; and anything above 250 is “very high”.

But the one-hour readings are not tied to health advisories, which apply only to 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings because studies on sub-daily PM2.5 exposure still do not provide a sufficient evidence base, said the National Environment Agency (NEA), which introduced the banding on Monday (June 27).

The 24-hour PSI forecast will also continue to be used for major decisions such as the closure of schools.

Instead, the one-hour PM2.5 readings now come with a general guide noting that each person’s reaction to pollutants may vary. Hence, the level of physical activity should be according to one’s health status.

Although the PSI includes other pollutants like sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide, PM2.5 is the air pollutant of concern during haze episodes, because their small size mean they can lodge deeply in the lungs.

The highest one-hour PM2.5 recorded in Singapore last year was 471 on Oct 19, when the region was affected by forest and plantation fires raging in Indonesia.

Last year, Singapore’s one-hour PM2.5 readings fell within the “normal” band 88.9 per cent of the time during both haze and non-haze periods. During the haze period, readings were still mostly within the “normal” range (49.6 per cent), followed by the “elevated” (41.6 per cent), “high” (7 per cent), and “very high” (1.8 per cent) bands.

With the introduction of bands for one-hour PM2.5, the NEA will do away with three-hour PSI readings as they will “no longer be relevant”, by the end of the year.

Speaking to reporters about the new banding during a visit to the Meteorological Service Singapore headquarters on Monday, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said: “We want to position this more as an advisory band, rather than something which is medically impacting them.”

On how institutions, such as schools and military camps, should interpret the PM2.5 readings, Mr Masagos said they would still use the 24-hour PSI forecast, and whether they decide to continue with activities based on the one-hour PM2.5 readings would be left to their discretion.

The Ministry of Education said one-hour PM2.5 readings would be used as “an indicative measure to make the necessary adjustments” for more immediate activities. Activities for the next day would be planned using the NEA’s 24-hour PSI forecast and the corresponding MOH health advisory.

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said that apart from guidelines for the conduct of training in haze conditions, which use the 24-hour PSI, its commanders on the ground conduct a risk assessment before each outdoor or training activity, taking into account factors such as weather.

Commanders, Mindef said, could use the new PM2.5 bands as “one of the factors when making their risk assessments”.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) noted there is “insufficient evidence base” to develop workplace safety and health advisories for the one-hour PM2.5 readings. The readings, the MOM added, could also fluctuate over the course of a day.

Dr Madeleine Chew, a family physician at MW Medical Centre, said at the “elevated” band, patients with respiratory disorders, heart disease and lung cancer should avoid outdoor activities, while healthy adults should reduce their participation in such activities. The “high and “very high” bands should see only indoor activities, she said.

Killiney Family and Wellness Clinic’s Dr Clarence Yeo said the hourly readings would be “quite useful” as they provide more up-to-date information. But in advising patients, he would still use it “more as a guide (such as) whether you should go out and do a run.”

Meanwhile, a workplace safety and health coordinator in a construction firm, who wanted to be known only as Mr Khoo, said he was unlikely to refer to the bandings as they are only guidelines, adding the air quality here is generally good.

Associate Professor Matthias Roth, deputy head of the National University of Singapore’s geography department, noted that in cleaner cities, what would be considered “normal” here could be considered high elsewhere, such a city with less emissions from industries and vehicular traffic.

Also, readings in the “normal” range do not necessarily mean there are no health effects, he added.

Hourly PM2.5 haze readings now graded to indicate pollution level
NEA's enhanced PM2.5 readings will come with banding and descriptors.
Chen Jingwen AsiaOne 27 Jun 16;

The National Environment Agency is phasing out 3-hour PSI updates following the enhancement of its hourly PM2.5 readings with banding to reflect current levels of haze pollution.

Unsure of what PM2.5 readings in haze updates actually mean? Don't worry, now you would be better informed by the government's system monitoring harmful fine particles during a haze.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has enhanced its hourly PM2.5 readings with four bands to indicate the current level of pollution by fine particles to accompany the figures, the agency said in a statement today.

This would serve as a guide for people who need to adjust their plan for an immediate activity, it said.

The four ranges, which come with band numbers and descriptors, are:

I Normal - 0 to 55 ug/m3 or micrograms per cubic metre
II Elevated - 56 to 150 ug/m3
III High - 151 to 250 ug/m3
IV Very High - 251 ug/m3 and above

With the enhancements, the updates now serve as a clearer indicator of the prevailing air quality and as a result, the 3-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) will be phased out, said the agency.

In Singapore, the main air pollutant during a haze situation is fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

NEA started publishing PM2.5 figures in 2014 as they are said to be a better indicator of air quality.

They are based on near real-time readings whereas the 24-hour PSI and 3-hour PSI that the agency has been providing are rolling averages of readings taken during longer periods.

But still, many people did not understand what the PM2.5 numbers meant and how they should respond to them when overwhelmed by haze created largely by forest and peatland fires in Indonesia. The readings just provided numbers, with no classification or explanation.

Now, the updates will also be accompanied by a general health guide which Government agencies have issued to the public during periods of haze. (See below).

There will be no health advisory based on the one-hour updates because the results of recent studies on shorter-period PM2.5 exposure could not provide conclusive evidence to justify any medical advisory, said NEA. Also, one-hour readings can be volatile, tending to fluctuate throughout the day.

So the agency does not advise specifically what people should do when the haze moves into the 'Elevated' band, for instance. But common sense would tell those at risk to start taking precautions and refer to the health guide if the level persists for hours or jumps to the 'High' band.

Use 24-hour PSI when making plans for the next day

With the enhancement of PM2.5 updates, the 3-hour PSI will no longer be relevant. It will be phased out by the end of the year.

The 24-hour PSI daily forecast will continue to play its more important role as it helps in the formulation of health advisories and enables government agencies to make major decisions, such as the cancellation of school classes or outdoor events.

This integrated index incorporates PM2.5 as well as other key pollutants of concern - sulphur dioxide (SO2), coarser particulate matter (PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and ozone (O3).

The public is advised to use the 24-hour forecast when making plans for the next day, like going to school or work.

Each reading will continue to be accompanied by its respective health advisory for the various classifications of people - healthy persons, elderly, children and pregnant women.

For instance, people from all age and health groups can continue with normal activities when the PSI is rated 'Good' or 'Moderate'. (See below for the full guide)

The changes in NEA's haze readings will be reflected on its Haze microsite ( and myENV app. The round-the-clock PSI Forecast will be featured prominently to encourage more people to use it.

The dreaded haze period is nearly here

The start of the dry season in Indonesia usually spells the start of hazy conditions in the region.

The period from June to October every year has seen unmanageable forest and peatland fires allegedly connected with palm oil, pulp and paper industries.

Last year's haze saw a bigger crisis as the fires raged on with intensity and length, exacerbated by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

Enveloping Indonesia and its neighbours like Singapore and Malaysia, the haze caused deaths, widespread illnesses, flights to be grounded and schools to be closed.

In Singapore, the one-hour PM2.5 reading hit an alarming high of 471 micrograms per cubic metre last October.

However, experts believe that any impending haze hitting Singapore this year might not be as severe as last year because of the subsiding El Nino phenomenon, which was believed to have ended recently. Quickly taking over is another weather system, La Nina, which has drenched the region with heavy rains in recent weeks.

Better haze, hotspot detection with new satellite
Chew Hui Yan Channel NewsAsia 27 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: The Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) is making use of a Japanese satellite which allows for more frequent monitoring and improved detection of weather systems and hotspots or haze in the region, the agency announced on Monday (Jun 27).

The satellite, Japan Meteorological Agency's Next Generation Himawari-8 geostationary meteorological satellite, replaced the MTSAT-2 that ceased direct transmission in December. The Himawari-8 was operationalised in July 2015, and MSS has been making use of its imagery since then.

The Himawari-8 has a 10min frequency of updates - compared to hourly updates for the MTSAT-2, allowing for enhanced monitoring of haze and weather systems, said MSS. The Japanese satellite also has more than three times the spectral bands - 16 compared to five - to improve the range of detection, as well as higher spatial resolution, resulting in more detail in the satellite image.

MSS said that it primarily makes use of data from polar-orbitting satellites operated by the US' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Aeronautics and Space Administration to monitor hotspots and smoke haze in the region. These satellites normally make one day-time pass over the region each day.


To extend the observation network of real-time weather monitoring systems, the MSS has also installed an aerosol LIDAR – which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, a remote sensing method that uses light from a laser to measure ranges to Earth.

The detection system was installed on Jurong Island to measure the local distribution of particulate matter in the atmosphere, as well as a wind LIDAR.

This adds to the more than 60 automatic weather stations, a lightning detection system, weather radar and wind profiler in the network.

The aerosol LIDAR can measure the vertical extent of particulate matter to heights of about 12km, and provide an indication of upper level transboundary haze drifting into Singapore, MSS said. While it cannot differentiate particle size, it can also detect ash from volcanic eruptions in the region.

The wind LIDAR measures the vertical profile of wind speed and direction up to 12km above the ground level, and will complement MSS' existing wind profiler and enhance the real-time monitoring of upper-level winds, which affect the movement of weather systems and haze over Singapore.

"These new instruments can tell us not just the concentration of PM2.5 in the air but at different levels of the atmosphere and how they move according to wind conditions and atmospheric conditions," said Minister of Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, who was briefed on the usage of the new technologies on Monday.

"We are still studying it but in the future I'm quite sure these can be used for even finer forecasts by the hour, making it more predictable for the public," he added.

- CNA/av

Rainier weather this year may help ease haze episodes: Masagos
Linette Lim Channel NewsAsia 27 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: More rain is expected around the last quarter of the year, and this means the forest fires that cause the annual transboundary haze are more likely to be put out, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Monday (Jun 27).

"Therefore we hope that with more rain, there will be less haze episodes that come to us," said Mr Masagos, speaking on the sidelines of a visit to the Meteorological Service Singapore’s (MSS) HQ at Changi Airport Terminal 2.

However, he added: "But we cannot be sure – this is the weather, it is most unpredictable, and there can therefore be dry spells. Dry spells take its toll over a longer period, and forests continue to be burned, particularly peat and forests, then we will particularly be affected by this.”

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), weather conditions this year are "expected to be less conducive for hotspot activities as compared to 2015".

Responding to queries from Channel NewsAsia, NEA explained that based on assessments of model outlooks from international climate centres, there is a possibility of La Nina developing in the third quarter of 2016.

"Rainfall is expected to be normal to above normal from June to September," it said.

"However, as there could still be extended periods of drier weather, escalation of hotspot activities can occur which may lead to transboundary haze, and Singapore could be affected if the winds blow the haze towards Singapore."

NEA added that the region is currently seeing neutral conditions - neither El Nino nor La Nina - after a strong El Nino event which resulted in prolonged periods of dry weather in the second half of the year.

- CNA/av

Haze less likely as more rain seen in Q4, says Masagos
KENNETH CHENG Today Online 28 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — With more rain forecast for the latter part of 2016, the risk of haze blanketing the Republic could be lower this year, as forest fires will likely be put out faster, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said on Monday (June 27).

Speaking to reporters during a visit to the Meteorological Service Singapore’s (MSS) headquarters at Changi Airport Terminal 2, Mr Masagos said more rain was predicted towards the last quarter of the year. “Therefore, we hope that with more rain, there will be less haze episodes that come to us,” Mr Masagos said.

But he stressed that the Government could not be sure of this, given the unpredictable nature of the weather. There is the possibility of dry spells taking its toll over extended periods, and forests, particularly peatland, being set on fire. This may result in the Republic being besieged by haze.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the strong El Nino event that triggered a protracted dry spell in the second half of last year has ended. The El Nino phenomenon is the warm phase of a temperature cycle in the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean.

While neutral conditions are prevailing over the region now, the NEA said the La Nina, which causes higher-than-normal rainfall, could develop in the third quarter of the year, based on model outlooks from international climate centres.

And with rainfall expected to be “normal to above normal” from June to September, weather conditions are forecast to be less conducive to hot spot activities than they were last year.

“However, as there could still be extended periods of drier weather, escalation of hot spot activities can occur, which may lead to transboundary haze, and Singapore could be affected if the winds blow the haze towards Singapore,” the NEA said.

Earlier in the day, Mr Masagos was briefed on the MSS’ new capabilities and technologies that support the national weather forecaster’s monitoring of the weather and haze.

Among them is imagery from the Himawari-8 geostationary meteorological satellite. The satellite provides more frequent updates, higher spatial resolution and more spectral bands than its predecessor, the MTSAT-2 satellite.

The Himawari-8, operated by the Japan Meteorological Agency, provides updates every 10 minutes, compared with hourly updates by the MTSAT-2, which stopped direct transmission last December. Its higher spatial resolution also means improved visible bands of between 0.5km and 1km compared with the MTSAT-2’s 1km, which means sharper details in satellite images.

In May, the MSS also installed an aerosol Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) system on Jurong Island and a wind Lidar system in the south of Singapore.

Depending on atmospheric conditions, the aerosol Lidar can, among other things, measure the vertical extent of particulate matter to heights of about 12km. It can also offer an indication of upper-level transboundary haze wafting into the Republic.

The wind Lidar, which can measure the vertical profile of wind speed and direction up to about 12km above ground level, will complement the MSS’ existing wind profiler. This will improve the real-time tracking of upper-level winds, which affect the movement of weather systems and haze over Singapore.

The authorities are still studying the new capabilities, Mr Masagos said. “But for the future, I’m quite sure these can be used to give even finer forecasts for the hour … (which will be) more useful and predictable for the public.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NEO CHAI CHIN

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Corporate alliance aims to deliver ‘haze-free’ products

REGINA MARIE LEE Today Online 27 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — In a bid to tackle transboundary haze at its source, several companies, including Unilever and Danone, have joined forces to advocate the use of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO).

The Singapore Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil, launched on Monday (June 27), is hoping other companies will join in to make the use of CSPO the norm, through raising awareness of the link between haze and unsustainable palm oil, and sharing information on how to source sustainably.

For example, IKEA, which already sources CSPO for all home furnishing products such as candles and for in-house food production, wants to get its 40 suppliers in Singapore for food-related products to switch to using CSPO by the end of the year. It will help by absorbing half the cost of the switch, and encouraging suppliers to be more informed, such as by joining the alliance.

CSPO comes from plantations that minimise the use of slash-and-burn practices, which contribute to regional haze. It is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a non-profit that works with third parties to audit plantations for sustainable oil production, inspecting facilities every year, said chief executive Darrel Webber. The alliance was founded after the public outcry over the prolonged haze pollution last year, by Unilever, Ayam Brand, Danone, IKEA and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, led by the World Wildlife Fund Singapore.

Danone and Ayam Brand use only CSPO. Unilever, which uses about 3 per cent of the world palm oil production, aims to use only physically certified sustainable palm oil by 2019.

According to IKEA, CSPO costs six per cent more than the oil it previously used. Mr Christian Uhlig, head of food at IKEA for Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand said suppliers become open to making the change when they learn about the link between the haze and unsustainable palm oil.

Ayam Brand group marketing director Herve Simon said his firm hopes to encourage companies that may not be major consumers of palm oil to join the alliance.

The company was at first hesitant to make the shift to CSPO, because it felt it used a negligible amount of palm oil in its production. But it later found out that 90 per cent of palm oil orders are small orders. “Everybody has to do his part,” said Mr Simon.

The alliance hopes to have eight to 10 members by the end of the year.

Companies form alliance to tackle haze, deforestation
Chan Luo Er, Channel NewsAsia 27 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: Ahead of the haze season, five companies have banded together to encourage more companies to switch to sustainably produced palm oil.

Named the Singapore Alliance on Sustainable Palm Oil, the group said in a panel discussion on Monday (Jun 27) that it hopes their efforts will reduce the slash-and-burn practices used in the production of palm oil, which results in haze pollution.

Certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) is palm oil grown on a plantation that does not cause harm to the environment or society. Issued by non-profit organisation Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the certification assures consumers, mostly through labels on products, that the standard of production is sustainable.

The five companies in the alliance, Unilever, Ayam Brand, Danone, IKEA, and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, have already been certified or are in the process of doing so.

The alliance is supported by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore, which will be actively recruiting more companies to join them in this effort.

“The Alliance sends a clear signal to consumers about which companies are committed to sustainability and which are not,” said CEO of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore Elaine Tan. “This is a timely opportunity for NGOs and businesses to work together towards transforming the palm oil industry.”

In 2015, Singapore was most affected by one of the worst haze situations in recent years, with prolonged hazy conditions of over a month and a half, and schools closed due to air quality for the first time.

That was also the year WWF Singapore launched the successful 'We Breathe What We Buy' campaign, which reached more than 20 million people globally. The organisation said that it believes that consumer pressure can persuade companies to change their practices and use sustainably produced palm oil.

"Together with its partners and peers in the industry, Unilever is committed to achieving zero deforestation with a long-term goal to source 100 per cent of our palm oil sustainably,” said Unilever Chief Procurement Officer Dhaval Buch. “Companies are encouraged to make a commitment and enable change by being a part of this National Alliance.”

Unilever is one of the largest consumers of palm oil in the world. The organisation consumes close to 1.5 million tonnes of palm oil a year, or 3 per cent of all palm oil produced in the world.

- CNA/ww

Top firms in Singapore join new alliance to meet consumer demand for haze-free products
WWF 27 Jun 16;

Singapore, 27 June 2016 – Today marks the formation of a new Singapore-based alliance between players in the palm oil industry, retailers and manufacturers, to tackle deforestation, haze pollution and ultimately deliver haze­-free products to consumers.

The primary goal of the Singapore Alliance on Sustainable Palm Oil announced today, is to increase the uptake of certified sustainable palm oil by manufacturers and retailers and offer consumers an environmentally-conscious option for the many products which contain palm oil.

The formation of the Singapore Alliance on Sustainable Palm Oil was prompted by the public outcry over 2015’s prolonged haze pollution that caused suffering in communities and natural areas throughout Southeast Asia. Through the “We Breathe What We Buy” campaign, which reached over 20 million people globally, WWF-­Singapore was able to raise awareness of the link between the slash and burn practices used in the production of palm oil and haze pollution, and enlist public support for a switch to sustainable palm oil.

“The alliance sends a clear signal to consumers about which companies are committed to sustainability and which are not”, said Elaine Tan, CEO, WWF­-Singapore. “This is a timely opportunity for NGOs and businesses to work together towards transforming the palm oil industry.”

The founding members of the alliance believe that companies can make an impact in ending transboundary haze in Southeast Asia and are calling for like­-minded organisations to join them. By consciously choosing how their products are produced and marketed, manufacturers and retailers are empowering consumers with knowledge and values to change their purchasing habits and echo this belief.

The current founding members of the Singapore Alliance on Sustainable Palm Oil include consumer goods giant Unilever, established Singapore manufacturer Ayam Brand, food and beverage specialist Danone, home furnishing retailer IKEA and Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Dhaval Buch, Chief Procurement officer for Unilever says, “Together with its partners and peers in the industry, Unilever is committed to achieving zero deforestation with a long-­term goal to source 100 per cent of our palm oil sustainably. Unilever is proud to be part of this alliance to advocate the production, trade and usage of sustainable palm oil. Companies are encouraged to make a commitment and enable change by being a part of this national alliance.”

By joining the alliance, companies with a shared commitment can help to make the use of sustainable palm oil a norm.

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