Best of our wild blogs: 21 Feb 16



20 Mar (Sun): Herp Walk @ Treetop Walk (March For MacRitchie)
Herpetological Society of Singapore

Singapore's Long-Tailed Hairstreaks
Butterflies of Singapore

Youth in Singapore are learning how to be idealistic in a pragmatic society
Life in Transition


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Green pleas for MacRitchie

Lea Wee Straits Times 21 Feb 16; and AsiaOne

They have chained themselves to trees, organised petitions to collect signatures and held talks, exhibitions and nature walks. They have written poems, created websites and produced music videos.

These are the new green warriors - comprising students, nature lovers, activists, professors and artists - and they have a common cause: save the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Singapore's largest nature reserve, from being split into two.

The reserve, which occupies more than 2,000ha of forest cover, the size of almost 2,500 football fields, has come under threat because the Government plans to build an MRT tunnel under it. News of the Cross Island Line came in early 2013 and preliminary plans showed it cutting through primary and secondary forests in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir.

The Nature Society (Singapore) came up with a position paper to suggest that the line go around the reserve instead.

The area is home to 413 species of plants, 218 species of birds, 30 mammals, 24 freshwater fish species and 17 species of amphibians.

In June that year, four long-time wildlife activists staged an "eco- protest" by using old bedsheets to "chain" themselves to potted native trees for 24 hours on a stage at Hong Lim Park.

Among them were Dr Vilma D'Rozario, an associate professor in psychological studies at the National Institute of Education, and Ms Teresa Teo Guttensohn, an eco-artist.

Both are co-founders of environmental education group Cicada Tree Eco-Place.

At the event, Ms Guttensohn, 52, also recited a poem that she wrote. She says: "We wanted to show that we are chained to our roots, our natural heritage, our forests."

Although the protest drew only about 75 people over two days, it spurred some into action.

New York-based singer and songwriter Lysa Aya Trenier - who is of Singaporean, Irish and Scottish descent and had fond memories of MacRitchie growing up in Singapore - contacted Ms Guttensohn and Dr D'Rozario after she read about the protest online.

The trio then collaborated on a music video which they posted on YouTube and pressed onto a CD to send to policymakers here.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) later engaged Dr D'Rozario, Ms Guttensohn, representatives from the Nature Society (Singapore) and other experts in a consultation that oversaw the development of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the results of which were recently released.

The results found that with effective mitigating measures, there will be moderate impact on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve when work on preliminary soil tests for the rail line starts in the third quarter of this year.

But green groups are insisting there should be zero impact, given the area's importance.

Two young volunteers from NUS Toddycats! - Ms Chloe Tan, 27, who recently completed a contract as a research assistant in biology, and Mr David Tan, 26, a research assistant in biology at the National University of Singapore (NUS) - were also inspired by the Hong Lim Park protest.

The Toddycats are volunteers from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the university.

The pair set up the website, Love Our MacRitchie Forest, to consolidate all information related to the issue and to coordinate the efforts of the various groups.

Efforts by individuals were also recognised on the website, including those of 25-year-old Chu Hao Pei. His website, Developing MacRitchie, features among other things, an interactive media exhibition he did last year which captured the sights, sounds and smells of MacRitchie forest. He was then a student of Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media.

Also featured on the Love Our MacRitchie website is a blog called Saving MacRitchie, which showcases photos of the forest taken by 15-year-old Singapore American School student Tanvi Dutta Gupta, who is from India.

An online petition was also launched on the website to appeal to the authorities to reroute the proposed line away from the nature reserve. It now has more than 7,200 signatures.

Ms Tan, who visited MacRitchie regularly when she was doing research on small mammals for her final-year project as a life sciences student at NUS, says: "It is definitely my favourite nature area in Singapore to see animals. Every time I go there, I see a new creature."

Mr Tan, who started birdwatching at MacRitchie when he was 12, says: "I love to go up the Jelutong Tower. There's so much to see above the treeline, for instance, forest birds eating fruits."

Encouraged by veterans from groups such as Nature Society (Singapore) and Cicada Tree Eco-Place - which have started guided walks for the public at Venus Loop near Upper Thomson Road - the Toddycats decided to conduct their own.

They trained 45 volunteers, mostly life sciences undergraduates and young working adults in their 20s. They now conduct fortnightly walks for the public at Venus Loop.

The Toddycats have also gone on to train the first batch of volunteers from BES Drongos (the drongo is a forest bird that can be found in MacRitchie), comprising students from Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) at NUS, to run guided walks at Petai Loop, near MacRitchie Reservoir Park.

Today, 35 volunteers from the group do so every fortnight during school term.

Ms Jacqueline Chua, 22, who heads the group, says: "It started as a chance for us to apply what we have studied, but over time, we grew to love the forest and learnt many things from it."

Since then, other green groups have weighed in with their support. Under the March for MacRitchie campaign next month, the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore), part of a global network founded by prominent British primatologist Jane Goodall, and the Herpetological Society of Singapore, a Singapore group of amphibian and reptile enthusiasts, will help raise awareness of the issue during their guided walks at MacRitchie.

The campaign, which comes under the Love Our MacRitichie Forest umbrella, has a series of educational activities, including guided walks, talks and a roadshow, lined up next month.

Mr Sankar Ananthanarayanan, 21, co-founder of the Herpetological Society and a first-year life sciences student at NUS, says: "I was not aware of the sheer amount and diversity of wildlife in Singapore until I visited MacRitchie several years ago.

"It was there that I first saw elusive and endangered animals such as the Blue Malayan Coral Snake, which has an electric blue body and a red head, tail and belly. Those are special moments."


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LTA: Both possible alignments for CRL being studied

Straits Times Forum 21 Feb 16;

We thank all writers who have shared their views on the two possible alignments of the Cross Island MRT Line (CRL).

The Government is studying both underground alignments and no decision has been taken yet.

For the 4km direct alignment, 2km of the tunnel will be below the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR), while the other 2km is located outside it.

The section of the tunnel beneath the CCNR will be about 40m deep, depending on findings from ground investigations. There will not be any construction of infrastructure on the surface.

The skirting alignment, about 9km long, will require longer tunnels and extra ventilation facilities. Besides land and home acquisitions that could affect families, the extra works could incur $2 billion more in expenditure.

The two alignments may have different impacts on various stakeholders - the nature reserve, businesses, home owners, commuters and taxpayers.

The Government has a responsibility to study both thoroughly before making a decision. Ground investigations and engineering feasibility studies of both alignments have to be completed first.

For the upcoming ground investigations, following our extensive consultations with nature groups for the first phase of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), we are reducing the number of 10cm boreholes from 72 to 16, and confining them to public trails and existing clearings.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will complement these with non-intrusive geophysical survey methods and horizontal directional coring that will start from outside the CCNR. Thus, no vegetation will be cleared.

National Parks Board staff will accompany the contractors and consultants during all off-trail works to ensure that the greatest care is taken to protect the CCNR.

In making the decision on the alignment, the Government will have to consider the full range of factors, including the engineering feasibility of both alignments, distance and travel time for commuters, cost to taxpayers, and the impact on the CCNR and on businesses and families who may be affected by land acquisition under the skirting option.

Indeed, since the gazette of the EIA, home owners have asked to meet LTA and voiced their concerns over possible acquisition of their homes. They urge the Government to be objective, and to also take into account their concerns.

In response to requests from the public, the findings of Phase 1 of the EIA have been made available on the LTA website from last Friday.

We thank the public for sharing their views and will take into account the diverse concerns of different stakeholders.

Chew Men Leong
Chief Executive
Land Transport Authority


Cross Island Line: Govt studying route impact, has not made decision yet
CHEW MEN LEONG, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, LAND TRANSPORT AUTHORITY Today Online 22 Feb 16;

We thank all writers who have shared their views on the two possible alignments of the Cross Island Line (CRL).

The Government is studying both the underground alignments and no decision has been taken yet. For the 4km direct alignment, 2km of the tunnel will be below the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR), while the other 2km is located outside it. The section of the tunnel beneath the CCNR will be about 40m deep, depending on findings from ground investigations. There will not be any construction of infrastructure on the surface.

The skirting alignment, about 9km long, will require longer tunnels and extra ventilation facilities. Besides land and home acquisitions that could affect families, the extra works could incur S$2 billion more in expenditure.

The two alignments may have different impacts on various stakeholders — the nature reserve, businesses, homeowners, commuters and taxpayers. The Government has a responsibility to study both thoroughly before making a decision. Ground investigations and engineering feasibility studies of both alignments have to be completed first.

For the upcoming ground investigations, following our extensive consultations with the nature groups for the first phase of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), we are reducing the number of 10cm-boreholes from 72 to 16, and confining them to public trails and existing clearings. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will complement these with non-intrusive geophysical survey methods and horizontal directional coring that will start from outside the CCNR. As such, no vegetation will be cleared. National Parks Board staff will accompany the contractors and consultants during all off-trail work to ensure that the greatest care is taken to protect the CCNR.

In making the decision on the alignment, the Government will have to consider the full range of factors, including the engineering feasibility of both alignments, distance and travel time for commuters, cost to taxpayers, and the impact on the CCNR and on businesses and families who may be affected by land acquisition under the skirting option. Indeed, since the gazette of the EIA, homeowners had asked to meet the LTA and voiced their concerns over the possible acquisition of their homes. They urged the Government to be objective, and also take into account their concerns.

In response to requests from the public, the findings of Phase 1 of the EIA have been made available on the LTA website from Feb 19. We thank the public for sharing their views and will take into account the diverse concerns of different stakeholders.


Cross Island Line sparks residents' fears
Adrian Lim Straits Times 21 Feb 16; and AsiaOne

Even as green groups lobby for the Cross Island Line (CRL) to be built around Singapore's largest nature reserve instead of cutting through it, residents are worried about the impact this will have on their homes and lives.

The proposed 9km option, which skirts the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, will run beneath a swathe of private homes near Upper Thomson Road, such as Windsor Park and Yew Lian Park. It then turns west under Lornie Roadbefore heading northwards, parallel to the Pan-Island Expressway.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has said that it is studying both alignments for the CRL, a 50km line connecting Changi to Jurong and expected to open in 2030.


It has yet to make a decision.

If the option to go around the nature reserve is accepted, "underground MRT tunnels will go through homes, businesses and buildings, and acquisition may be needed", the authority said.

The media publicity surrounding the CRL project, following the release of an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) two weeks ago, has left residents jittery.

The EIA report was put online on the LTA website on Friday so that the public can access it more easily. It provides an assessment of the environmental impact of site investigation works that will be performed for the two alignments.

For the other alignment skirting the reserve, the impact would mainly be noise disturbance to people, it found.

RESIDENTS' VIEWS

Yew Lian Park Residents' Association, which covers 216 landed homes, is firmly opposed to having the MRT line built through the estate.

Its president, 69-year-old Sangameswaran, who goes by one name, has been living in the area since 1964. "The MRT line's construction will affect us, and not just in terms of noise," he said.

"There is a strong possibility of some of us losing our homes. We'd rather the line go through the reserve," said the manager in a scaffolding company.

Mr Ong Tee Chew, 72, who has lived in a terrace house in Soo Chow Walk for more than 40 years, said he and his neighbours are a tight- knit bunch, like a "big kampung".

"No matter how much money they offer, I still wouldn't want to move," added Mr Ong, who works in construction.

Member of Parliament Chong Kee Hiong, who oversees the Bishan East-Thomson constituency, said the estates which the CRL could tunnel through are between 50 and 60 years old, with residents who have lived there for as long as 40 years.

Besides the emotional attachment some may have to their homes, residents are also worried about the added disruptions that the construction work may bring to the area, with one project coming after another.

Mr Chong said construction of the Thomson-East Coast Line tunnels and the nearby Upper Thomson station is ongoing and will finish only in 2020. Construction of the North-South Expressway, expected to start this year, will also affect the Marymount area. "It's one thing after another for the residents," he said.

The upside of having the CRL run through the Thomson area, Mr Chong said, may be a new MRT station that will boost connectivity.

But some residents feel this would not make much difference.

Mr Tyler Foo, 25, who just finished his undergraduate studies, said Marymount station, on the Circle Line, is a 10-minute walk from his home. The future Upper Thomson MRT station will be five minutes away. "Any added benefit from a new station will be insignificant."

Some residents, however, do not mind moving. Retiree Sim Song Koi, 77, who has lived for more than 40 years in a terrace house in Soo Chow View, said: "At my age, I don't really mind where I live, as my children have already moved out.

"As I will be compensated, I can just move to a new house - I don't need such a big one any more."

MORE CLARITY

What most residents agree on is the need for more clarity on the degree of land acquisition and disturbance.

The second phase of EIA to gauge the potential environmental impacts from the construction and operation of the line on both alignments will be finished this year.

Mr Christopher De Souza, chairman of the Windsor Park Residents' Association, said: "The authorities have not been specific about how much more time the alignment around the reserve will add to travel time, how much more it will cost to build, and how many houses and their location in our area may be acquired."

The association covers 225 terrace houses, semi-detached units and bungalows. The 62-year-old retiree added: "We're in the dark. With no details, everyone is imagining the worst-case scenario where theirs is the house that is taken away."

The LTA said it has been engaging the advisers and grassroots leaders in the area.

A meeting took place on Monday, with more to be held. Engineers believe that some land will have to be acquired, should planners choose to skirt the reserve.

Mr Chong Kee Sen, president of The Institution of Engineers, Singapore, said above-ground ventilation shafts must be built along with the tunnels to remove stale air and allow fresh air to flow underground. On the shorter 1.8km tunnel that cuts through the nature reserve, these may not be needed, but the longer alignment will require them.

Vertical tunnels, from which the tunnel boring machines can be deployed, will also require land to be cleared. If the authorities decide on a new underground station, that will also need land.

MP Chong said: "At the end of the day, not everyone will be convinced, because we have conflicting objectives and needs in the country. But all views should be taken into consideration. The process is as important as the decision. "

•Additional reporting by Ng Keng Gene and Rachel Chia

Related links
Love our MacRitchie Forest: walks, talks and petition. Also on facebook.


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Youth here lack idealism

Kishore Mahbubani Straits Times 20 Feb 16;

A meeting with a young Dutchman spurs the writer to reflect on the deficit of this quality among Singapore youth.
One of the small privileges of my life is being invited, from time to time, to attend the annual Davos meetings of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Hence, from Jan 19 to 23 this year, I found myself wandering through the corridors of the WEF Congress Centre. I learnt a lot.

I also got an opportunity to shake the hands of many globally renowned individuals, including Mr Kofi Annan, Mr Tony Blair, the Queen of the Netherlands, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr Fareed Zakaria, to name a few.

Yet, the most impressive individual I shook hands with is 21 years old. His name is Boyan Slat, a young Dutchman who has made it his life's mission to rid the oceans of plastic. Over the last 30 to 40 years, millions of tonnes of plastic have polluted the oceans. Most of it comes from land-based sources.

Mr Slat has been working on this life mission since the age of 16.

Initially, he was disappointed. He ran into a wall of rejections. He contacted hundreds of companies for sponsorship. All turned him down. But then, he had a breakthrough in 2013, after his TEDx talk went viral.

Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of people were clicking on his website. He set up a crowdfunding platform. It raised US$80,000 (S$113,000) in 15 days. His Ocean Cleanup project has now designed a V-shaped array of floating barriers that can passively capture plastic.

Mr Slat's idealistic venture has received the support of many powerful people, including Mr Marc Benioff, the head of Salesforce. Indeed, it was in the office of Salesforce where I met him, together with Mr Peter Schwartz, a well-known futurist who is an old friend of Singapore.

Mr Slat wanted to meet me because he also has a plan to clean up the Strait of Malacca. And he wanted me to approach some Singapore companies to support this project. (I plan to approach them after writing this column.)

The big question that came to my mind after meeting Mr Slat was this: Why is a young Dutchman worrying about the Strait of Malacca? Why aren't there any Singaporean teenagers worrying about the dirty and polluted waters around Singapore?

The simple answer - which may be a painful truth for us - is that there is a deficit of idealism among Singapore's youth.

THE IDEALISM PARADOX

A column like this cannot possibly answer why our youth tend to be less idealistic. It could be due to the strong prevailing culture of pragmatism. It could be the overwhelming pressure from Singapore parents on their children to make sensible and practical life decisions, like focusing on good vocational training, whether it be in polytechnics or in practical courses in universities. Singapore parents believe that the best way to help their children is to encourage them to be sensible early.

Yet, one paradox of life is that idealism in youth can pay off handsomely in the long run. A good example of this is provided by Dr Henry Kissinger. I had always assumed that he was a pragmatic soul who was a disciple of Machiavelli and Metternich.

Yet, a distinguished Harvard historian, Professor Niall Ferguson, has produced a weighty volume on Dr Kissinger's early life (1923-1968) which is titled simply The Idealist.

Prof Ferguson challenges all the popular beliefs about Dr Kissinger as being a very cunning and manipulative statesman. Instead, he asserts that what drove Dr Kissinger was a deep sense of idealism. Instead of being inspired by Machiavelli and Metternich, Dr Kissinger was inspired by philosophers like Baruch Spinoza and Immanuel Kant.

Prof Ferguson points out that in an address to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept 24, 1973, just two days after he was confirmed as Secretary of State, Dr Kissinger cited Kant in his address.

He said: "Two centuries ago, the philosopher Kant predicted that perpetual peace would come eventually, either as the creation of man's moral aspirations or as the consequence of physical necessity. What seemed utopian then loomed as tomorrow's reality; soon there will be no alternative."

Most cynics do not speak of "perpetual peace". Idealists do, and Dr Kissinger did so.

IDEALISM PAYS OFF

I have also learnt from my personal life that idealism pays off in the long run. When I enrolled in the National University of Singapore (NUS) in July 1967, I did the sensible and practical thing and studied economics, sociology and philosophy. In my second year, for the first time, NUS allowed second-year Arts and Social Sciences students to do three subjects instead of majoring in one or two. I ended up as the only student to study three subjects, with a sensible allocation of four units to economics and two units each to sociology and philosophy.

Early in my second year, I discovered that the economics courses were taught in a mechanical fashion. Instead of being asked to challenge major concepts, we were asked to memorise them. It was learning by rote. By contrast, in every philosophy class, we were asked to challenge everything.

Hence, each time I attended a philosophy class, I would feel sparks going off, metaphorically speaking, in my brain.

As a result, I did something impractical. I asked NUS for permission to repeat my second year so that I could major only in philosophy and drop economics and sociology.

Fortunately, NUS agreed. My President's Scholarship was suspended for a year. Since my family could not afford to pay my fees, I taught night classes, known as Lembaga, to earn money to pay for one year of studying philosophy.

Did it pay off? It paid off handsomely. Many years later, when I had to defend Singapore's position in hostile fora (like the Non-Aligned Movement), I rediscovered the power of logic.

In one meeting, we fought against the Cuban delegation, which was then defending the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In response, I used simple logic. I said that by arguing in favour of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Cuban delegates supported the principle that a big neighbour could invade and occupy a small neighbour. If the Cuban delegates accepted this principle, they were creating a logical precedent which would justify an American invasion of Cuba.

Needless to say, the Cuban delegates were embarrassed. Logic is irrefutable. Of course, the hundreds of speeches I gave in the UN, as well as the past two decades of active writing (including five books), were also helped by the study of philosophy.

In short, an unwise, impractical and idealistic decision to study philosophy as a teenager proved to be a wise long-term decision.

In the same way, I do believe that if we can increase the idealism quotient of young Singaporeans, the lives of Singaporeans would become much richer. And Singapore as a society will have more than its fair share of great dreamers who will strive to make the world a better place.

Let me conclude with a simple suggestion to improve the idealism quotient of young Singaporeans.

The advantage of living in Singapore is that we live in a stable, well-ordered society.

Paradoxically, the disadvantage of living in Singapore is that we live in a stable, well-ordered society.

As a result, young Singaporeans are rarely exposed to more challenging environments where they have to deal with real challenges, including poverty.

There is an amazingly simple solution. Each class in a Singapore secondary school should be paired with an equivalent class in a poor district in South-east Asia, be it in Myanmar or the Maluku Islands.

Each year, once a year, the Singaporean children should visit the class they are paired with.

Each Singapore child should become a buddy of someone who comes from a really poor family.

I have absolutely no doubt that this simple experience will unleash the inherent moral sensibility of any young Singaporean and make him or her into a far more idealistic Singaporean. A Singapore with a surplus of idealism will end up as a far better society.

Of this, I have no doubt. The paradox of idealism is that it always pays off in the long run.

The writer is dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, and is the author of Can Singapore Survive?


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'It will take time to build up trust again': Asia Pulp and Paper's Jose Raymond

938LIVE reports: Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) Vice President of Corporate Affairs Jose Raymond goes "On the Record" with Bharati Jagdish about how the company, which had its products pulled off the shelves at the height of the haze in Singapore last year, is working to tackle the issue of fires.

Bharati Jagdish, 938LIVE Channel NewsAsia 20 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: When the former chief executive of the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) Jose Raymond joined Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) as Vice President of Corporate Affairs, many had asked if he had joined the “dark side”; just as many would remember APP as a company that was, at the height of the haze in Singapore last year, issued with a legal request for information under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

APP is the largest concession holder in Indonesia, and while NGOs still report hotspots on their land, organisations such as Greenpeace report that APP is taking steps to address the issue. The issue of fires and resultant haze is clearly complex, involving various parties and issues related to land governance. At the height of the haze in 2015, as supermarkets pulled APP products off its shelves, the focus was nonetheless on APP and its practices.

Jose Raymond went "On the Record" with Bharati Jagdish, and started first by talking about reactions to his joining APP, and if he had “sold out”.

Jose Raymond: Well, I had expected that there will be such a response. When I left the media to join public service, already my friends had said: "Why are you joining the dark side?"

But it's all about new experiences, learning something different, seeing how life is from different set of lenses, understanding new perspectives. And, in the process, you learn something and you're able to share that with others, so that's why I took up this role.

Bharati: You talk about seeing things from different perspectives. Now, from the perspective of the ordinary man in the street, this is what it may look like - from being an advocate for the environment, you have now joined a company whose business practices are suspect.

APP may not be conclusively guilty, and there have been some reports that indeed APP has done quite a bit to address the issue, but there have also been reports from NGOs that a lot of the hotspots in Indonesia belong to APP. So, obviously there's a trust issue here. Why would you join a company that is facing trust issues when you are actually an advocate for the environment?

Jose Raymond: I've known APP since the time I was in the Singapore Environment Council. I've known of their policies which had been in place, and they actually have been ahead of the curve. For example, they have had a no-burning policy since 1996, and in 2013, they announced a new forest conservation policy.

Bharati: APP’s sustainability spokeswoman Aida Greenbury said in another media interview that it took some time for the corporate entity to understand the importance of sustainability, but they started to in that period only because of pressure from green groups.


Jose Raymond: I've trusted what they have been trying to do. Sometimes it's very easy to sit on the side and find fault, but if a company has started on a journey, I find it a lot better to help them along, find ways to move them along that journey, because when you help one company get on the journey, a green journey, and then you influence others to follow suit, that's how you have that chain effect.

They were the first company to put their concession maps and suppliers online for public scrutiny. No other company in Indonesia has done that. Why would a company put all its concessions, all its maps online if they had something to hide?

ASKING WHY THERE ARE HOTSPOTS

Bharati: But only recently, in fact, late last year, a coalition of NGOs in Indonesia, "Eyes on the Forest", released a report showing satellite imagery of recent fires in three large APP supplier concessions in South Sumatra, one of the areas worse affected by the fires. And it doesn't make you look good in spite of the fact that you’re saying you’re taking steps to address the problem.

Jose Raymond: No one's denying that there are hotspots. The question is, why are there hotspots? What's happening on the ground? Have there been other issues on the ground? We know that winds have blown fires outside of concessions into our concessions - there are many issues on the ground. I think there's no denying that there were hotspots. The question which we all need to answer is why are there these hotspots?

Bharati: So are you saying that you were not responsible for any of these hotspots?

Jose Raymond: APP has had a no burning policy in place since 1996, and they strictly abide by this policy.

Bharati: It is a policy on paper, but you still need to explain why, on the ground, you’re still having issues. Why are the hotspots on APP concessions? APP supplier concessions?

Jose Raymond: Various issues. One, social conflict. Land clearance by villagers and communities, fires which start outside of the concessions, winds which blow, and peatland is highly combustible. When it becomes too big, too much ... The moment the fire starts, it's very hard to try to put them out; and I think when we saw the extent of the fires last year, across Indonesia, it went on for months. It was just beyond control. Made worse by very, very hot weather.

I think right now the strategy has to be prevention, more than trying to manage. So what we are doing - peat canal blocking - where we hydrate the peatlands, create these canals across our concession to protect our concessions from fires coming inside, and also to have access to water all year round. And so, in the event there are any fires five kilometres within our boundaries, we send a team in and put the fires out very quickly.

So prevention actually is a much better strategy, apart from purchasing new thermal imaging airplanes and water bombing capabilities, and having more professionals on the ground to help our villagers or village firemen to help.

PULLING APP PRODUCTS OFF THE SHELVES: FAIR?

Bharati: The Singapore Environment Council, last year, at the height of the haze, suspended the Green Label Certification, and supermarkets removed APP products from the shelves. You were no longer at the Environment Council at that time. If you had been, I take it you wouldn’t have taken that action?

Jose Raymond: I felt it was unfair. Because there has been no clear understanding of what's happening on the ground.

Bharati: But Singaporeans too feel it is unfair for us to have to deal with the haze year after year. The NEA issued a request for information from APP, so there was a lot of suspicion. You yourself as VP of Finance for the Singapore Swimming Association at that time, said that you intend to sue the companies linked to the haze because it caused you to cancel some vital events, but you didn’t.

Jose Raymond: Wait for hard evidence. There had only been a request for information under section 9 and 10 of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act. Section 9 is about asking companies what they're doing to put out fires in the concessions. Section 10 is about asking information about the company and its subsidiaries. That was actually it.

Bharati: So APP was wrongly accused, wrongly blacklisted?

Jose Raymond: I think there's no denying that there were fires in our concessions. The issue is, why were there fires? Was the boycott of our products unfair? I would say so. I would say it's unfair because I don't think there is a clear understanding of what's happening on the ground, and APP has actually been collaborative and cooperative with our request for information under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

We've been asked for information on what we've done to put out the fires. We've submitted the information. We've been asked questions on our subsidiaries and our suppliers, and we've given that information as well, and I think that's what Minister Masagos (Zulkifli) has said in Parliament in the last sitting.

Bharati: But, there is still a climate of distrust. People don't trust large organisations like APP. What do you have to say to that?

Jose Raymond: I think it'll always be easy to point a finger at the big companies. But you see, it doesn't make sense for a company to have spent millions and millions, and continue to spend millions in fire prevention, and in purchasing equipment, and in greening their supply chain, to want to end up burning their own supplies.

I mean, there was another recent report that said that 26 per cent of APP's supplies are from acacia damaged during the fires. Now why would a company, why would we want to burn our own supplies when it actually affects our yield? And then, in order to make up for this shortage, we'll have to procure them from overseas suppliers. That will not make sense. Why would any company want to do that?

Bharati: Fact is, though, the ordinary man in the street doesn't know really what's going on in Indonesia. Not everyone's going to fly into Indonesia to see what's going on, while you may say the issue is complex and no doubt many environmentalists concede this as well. It’s a complicated issue, but surely you have a responsibility here too that you cannot shirk.

FOCUSING ON PREVENTION

Jose Raymond: Which is why last year when the fires hit Indonesia, APP went out. Our fire fighters on the ground were trying to put out the fires 24/7. It brought in extra capabilities, a lot more water bombing capabilities. Spent a lot more money to put out the fires. This year, a lot of the emphasis has been about prevention. I think prevention is a much better strategy for any company when it comes to fires in Indonesia. So which is why (there is) canal blocking, which helps to wet the peatlands, the added thermal imaging aircraft, water bombing capabilities.

Firefighters, experts from Canada and South Africa were on the ground to help our local firefighters, as well as the village community firefighters. Prevention would be a much better strategy moving forward.

Bharati: But why are you only doing this now? We’ve had haze issues for decades now. Why only after your products were pulled off the shelves did APP say, "Okay, maybe we should do something about it, or we should make more transparent what we have been doing." Why so reactionary?

Jose Raymond: I think it's unprecedented. Sometimes, we have to go through the worst-case scenarios in order for us to react.

Bharati: It does seem like a very reactionary approach. Couldn’t you have been more proactive?

Jose Raymond: The company went on its journey, a green journey, in 2013, when it announced its forest conservation policies. It takes time to start making a lot of changes. It takes time, you know, to start putting blocks in place. It takes time to bring in experts. And we're not talking about a small plot of land here. We're talking about 2.6 million hectares across Indonesia. And don't forget, in order to green the supply chain, we also work with a lot of independent suppliers, and having them change, it's also a challenge.

Having the villagers and the communities change, and understanding those issues, and that you cannot have business as usual, also takes time.

Because of the complexities of land concession ownership, we can have the best practices in Indonesia, but if everyone around us, around our concessions are still adopting age-old tactics, it's still business as usual.

It's still the same old issue because fires will still continue, and if the wind blows another direction, it will still come to Singapore. But, you see, we alone cannot do it. We need solutions, and the solutions would be a landscape management where everyone around us, whoever owns concessions, governments, NGOs, neighbouring countries. There need to be solutions which help everybody.

Bharati: In a nutshell, what would you then say is the sum total of APP's responsibility here? Are you saying you’re doing nothing wrong?

Jose Raymond: As of now, I can safely say that we've had a no-burning policy in place, and our suppliers, and our supply chain are meant to adhere to that policy strictly.

Bharati: Speaking of your suppliers, we talked about how the Indonesian government has been taking action as well. It has suspended the licenses of some of your suppliers. I understand that entities such as Bumi Mekar Hijau are no longer your suppliers?

Jose Raymond: I think they were disengaged the moment they were ... they were accused. So they have been disengaged but ... if I'm not wrong, the courts in Java -

Bharati: - have thrown out the case.

Jose Raymond: Thrown out the case.

Bharati: How do you feel about court decisions like that? NGOs are up-in-arms about this.

Jose Raymond: I guess for us, we respect the rule of the law and it's hard for us to comment on what the judge decides. And I think we trust, just like in Singapore, we trust the rule of law, we trust that the judges will make the best decision in the interest of the people.

Bharati: While it’s true that Bumi Mekar Hijau has not been proven guilty, you only took action to disengage them after the government suspended their license. Why is it that you don’t seem know what your suppliers are doing on the ground, or maybe you did know, but chose not to take action till the government got involved - some people might think that.

Jose Raymond: We continue to stay engaged with our suppliers on the ground. You know there are meetings, there are visits. We audit them.

Bharati: So why is it that you didn't know that an entity like Bumi Mekar Hijau, for instance, could have been a culprit?

Jose Raymond: The fact is, there were fires in suppliers’ concessions. Question is, why were the fires being started?

Bharati: But the question is how is it that you didn’t even red-flag these suppliers or say too much about them publicly in spite of the fact that they are clearly under suspicion and you didn’t say anything in spite of your audits until the government took action against them.

Jose Raymond: Because we've made a point to inform all our suppliers that there is to be zero burning of our land.

Bharati: But shouldn't you be more proactive about compliance, instead of waiting for the government agencies to tell you that they suspect the supplier of wrongdoing. There seems to be a pattern here of only reactionary action on APP’s part.

Jose Raymond: If we find out that any of our suppliers, for some reason or another, cause any kind of harm to our land, they will be disengaged. But you see, we've got various policies in place. We have audits, we have whistle-blowing policies, to be engaged with the community, the villagers, the ground. If they are told, if we are told, anyone has got access to us. If at all we hear anything from any one of them, we will actually get to action.

Bharati: So why is it that you didn't know about an entity like Bumi Mekar Hijau till the government took some action against them?

Jose Raymond: The investigations are still ongoing, right? So how do we accuse any company or any supplier when there's no, there's no hard evidence in front of us?

Bharati: But what action are you taking to get that hard evidence? It would seem that while you have these policies on paper, they are sometimes just that - policies on paper - but no real perceptible action.

Jose Raymond: The amount of land we're talking about is vast. How do we gather evidence? How much investigation do we have? And how do we actually conclusively, say that you are guilty. So it actually just shows you one thing. It is very complicated.

BEING PROACTIVE

Bharati: So what is your plan to overcome this, to show that these are not merely policies on paper, that you’re not turning a blind eye to suppliers’ transgressions, that you are proactive?

Jose Raymond: Continuous engagement, and to also remind them that they've got to keep their eye out, and they've got a responsibility, and they must adhere to our policies. They must adhere to our policy and that's non-negotiable. I'll share this with you. They can't act unless there's a report of a fire, and the reports are usually made either to the company directly, or to the police, or to the military. And usually we rely on the villagers, we rely on the communities living in those areas, because they are the ones who are going to be affected.

All our concessions and our community engagement teams work with the communities on the ground.

There are also other issues when it comes to fires - illegal encroachment. There are also villagers from outside the concessions coming into our area, slashing trees, using it for firewood.

Sometimes little issues cause fires. It's so hard. It's so hard to ascertain how fires actually start. There are so many possibilities. And how do we take action? How do we find out?

I think we are all about wanting to be proactive, trying to take an errant supplier to task, but again, we need information, and we need to have hard evidence in front of us to actually be able to take action. And in the absence of that, we’ve got to rely on our audits.

Bharati: Maybe you also need to improve your audit process.

Jose Raymond: I think greening a supply chain will take time. Ask any company which has gone on this green journey, they'll tell you that it takes years to build in a culture, not just within one company, but if you have got multiple companies in your supply chain, it takes time to change all that, to green your supply chain.

Bharati: But this problem, as I mentioned earlier, has been going on for decades. There is an understanding that there are factors beyond your control, but you can’t not be proactive because of that.

In addition to the things you’ve mentioned, there are also the small-holders to consider. And since you say you are as proactive as you can be, aren’t you doing anything to help the communities there aside from education, giving them incentives, alternatives to slash and burn agriculture?

Jose Raymond: The social community engagement on the ground, with the villagers and communities, are critical to our success because there is this thing called the “free, prior and informed consent” of all the communities within our concession.

What we've done with many of the communities and the villages within our concessions is to help them, to provide them with new ideas for farming, which help them with their yield. Help them earn a lot more money than whatever they've been doing in the past.

We also provide them with training. There’s a community engagement centre in Riau, which I was at two weeks ago, which helped them with fruit-planting, and teaching them how to plant fruits which will help them with their yield.

There are many ways in which we're trying to help on the ground; but ultimately, we're not talking about urbanised societies here. We're talking about people who have been living off the land for decades and decades and years and years and, helping them to get out of their little villages already is a challenge.

And to help them change something, or to change tactics, which their grandfather, and their fathers taught them, is also going to take time. There is no overnight solution. It will take time.

Bharati: How would you convince the average man in the street that you are sincere?

Jose Raymond: It will take time to build up trust again. We'll just need to keep chipping at it, and going at it, and continuing.

THE ROLE OF THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT – AND WHAT NEXT?

Bharati: Much has been said about the challenges Indonesia faces in terms of enforcing its laws on this issue. What role are you going to play here?

Jose Raymond: I have faith in Widodo’s government. Norway just recently announced a US$50 million package to help Indonesia restore the burnt peatland, and one of the prerequisites was that Indonesia have a peatland management agency, which I think the government of Indonesia has committed to.

Now, I think the fact is that the President himself realises that there's an issue which needs to be settled, which needs to be really sorted out and with solutions at the table.

APP will always be there at the table to help, because as the largest concessionaire in Indonesia, I think it's important and imperative for us to be there and to actually help in this entire process. And I think there is conviction, and not just in the company, but I think in Indonesian government as well, that there needs to be change.

Bharati: Why are you so confident that they will change?

Jose Raymond: Because I think there's international pressure. And I think the government of Indonesia knows that they've also got the livelihoods of their own people to look after.

So I think that's important for them, and I think they do recognise it, and when it affects beyond boundaries, beyond borders, it becomes a problem.

Bharati: President Widodo was quoted as saying that this could take two to three years to resolve. What's your assessment?

Jose Raymond: The fact that the President has actually said that two to three years to settle this issue makes us confident that it will happen. As long as there's conviction from the top, it should happen.

But it may probably be slightly longer than that because the extent of the problem is massive and Indonesia is a huge place. And to have every single company, small holders, communities change their practices overnight is not going to happen. Hard to estimate.

Bharati: You talked about the complexity of the issue. What’s next in terms of resolving this problem including the problem of errant companies?

Jose Raymond: A lot of it also depends on laws of the land. And we all know that land governance issues in Indonesia have been very complex, and they still remain complex, and that's what needs to be settled or sorted out.

So a policy or practice which has been in place for 50, 60, 70 years, would obviously need to be changed, and it starts right at the top.

And we've said that before. The current management of land in Indonesia is not sustainable. And I think we're not the only ones who have said it. Academics, NGOs, they've all said it.

I've been bringing a couple of journalists up to Indonesia to have them understand what's happening on the ground.

Secondly, we want to try and explain to the Singaporean public the land complexities, land governance, in as simple a way as possible.

So we're working on graphics to get the message across, reaching out, one-on-one engagement with NGOs. Many of our stakeholders including our buyers, companies which have stopped buying from us as well.

We're reaching out to them, and explaining to them what we're doing, issues on the ground.

And I think also on a very different level, I believe even at a G2G (government to government) level, this issue will probably be discussed at some point - the issue of the boycott - because it does affect trade.

That's one of the reasons why we've been advocating this landscape management approach, where we work with everyone, not just within our concessions, but outside of it, because it's like a huge jigsaw, and the jigsaw needs to fall into place for land governance laws to be properly administered.

So it's not black-and-white, which is why we have to head down to our concessions. We've protected our concessions with canal blocking - that's really a clear demarcation of who owns what.

Bharati: Moving forward, let's just talk about the overall sustainability of this business of making paper products. There’s a big push now towards greener forms of energy. As an environmentalist, how are you reconciling such initiatives with working in a company whose survival and prosperity is dependent on people’s demands for paper products increasing?

Jose Raymond: In emerging economies, as long as there's always a demand for paper … don't forget, there's also tissue. There are some things which are still very cultural. People need tissue for various reasons, for cleanliness, for hygiene. It will never happen overnight, and there's another issue about emerging economies and people who are moving up. And there's going to be added demand there too.

Bharati: But as an environmentalist wouldn’t you say, let's try and make sure that the demand goes down over the years. However, in this particular case, as a person working for such a corporate entity, it wouldn't be in your company’s interest for demand to decrease over the years.

Jose Raymond: It’s about doing the business sustainably, and not clearing new land, only using land which has been used before for plantations, using technology to extract higher yield, using technology to make sure the process is a lot smoother, getting the best out of your wood chips. I think that's sustainability. It's about making sure that the environment is not damaged, making sure that there's no deforestation. And it's about using what's already available.
Bharati: So, you're sort of resigned to the fact that yeah, there is demand, we're supplying it, let's just try and do it the best way we can.

Jose Raymond: And get the highest yield possible from what's available.

Bharati: You sound less idealistic than when I spoke to you when you were chief of the Singapore Environment Council.

Jose Raymond: I still use as little paper as possible. Or if necessary, none. Try not to write on stuff and try not to print. Print double-sided if necessary.

Bharati: But would you still advocate things like that?

Jose Raymond: Of course, I still do.

Bharati: In spite of the fact that you work for a paper company?

Jose Raymond: Yes, still do. But, you know, those are personal choices. If I'm around my friends or my colleagues, I'll tell them, why are you printing so much? There are some harsh realities. Sometimes when you move forward you realise that the world is a far greater place. There are a lot of things which are sometimes beyond your control and where we have got to make the best of it.

I had this interesting conversation with a friend of mine who is still in the NGO space, and she said sometimes, it's better to try and help, because there is a bigger picture.

There's a bigger picture, and what we are doing now as part of a large company, is we help communities. By helping companies see that there's the interest of this community at stake, we're helping them to not just see things from their own perspective, but see through the lenses of various groups, various people.

- 938LIVE/ec


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Bukit Batok gets a green touch with ABC Waters

Featuring four rain gardens, timber seats and greenery along the canal, ABC Waters @ Bukit Batok Canal was officially opened on Saturday (Feb 20).
Channel NewsAsia 20 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: Bukit Batok residents now have a "green corridor" for them to hang out, after a 230-metre-long section of the canal along Bukit Batok West Avenue 2 and 4 was given a facelift.

Officially opened on Saturday (Feb 20), Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) @ Bukit Batok Canal took just over a year to complete. The project, which cost S$400,000 to complete, was part of a programme by PUB to enhance Singapore’s water bodies.

With the facelift, the formerly bare canal now has flowers and plants lining its walls. The canal also features timber seats, as well as four rain gardens that cleanse rainwater runoff before it is discharged into the canal to help improve water quality and enhance biodiversity in the area, said PUB.

“ABC Waters has creatively turned a stretch of the Bukit Batok Canal into a 'mini' green corridor with lush plantings that enhance and add value to our living environment," said Guest-of-Honour Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources & Health, at the opening.

"By tapping on the spaces next to and around the canal, residents can now hang out with their families and neighbours by the waterway, while learning about rainwater runoff, water quality and biodiversity at the rain gardens,” added Dr Khor, who is also adviser to Hong Kah North Grassroots Organisations.

- CNA/av/dl


Rain gardens, lush plantings at redeveloped stretch of Bukit Batok Canal
Today Online 20 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE – Rain gardens, timber seats and an array of flowers and plants are now part of a redeveloped stretch of Bukit Batok Canal.

After over a year of redevelopment, the 230m-long section the canal along Bukit Batok West Avenue 2 and 4 was officially opened on Saturday (Feb 20) by Senior Minister of State (Environment and Water Resources) Amy Khor.

Other than flowers and plants along the walls of the canal, the area also has four rain gardens that will help cleanse rainwater runoff before it is discharged into the canal. This will help to improve water quality, enhance aesthetics and enliven biodiversity in the area, said the PUB in a press release on Saturday.

The redevelopment was announced in January last year.

Dr Khor, who is also the adviser to Hong Kah North grassroots organisations, said: “ABC Waters has creatively turned a stretch of the Bukit Batok Canal into a “mini” green corridor with lush plantings that enhance and add value to our living environment. By tapping on the spaces next to and around the canal, residents can now hang out with their families and neighbours by the waterway, while learning about rainwater runoff, water quality and biodiversity at the rain gardens.”

PUB’s Chief Sustainability Officer Tan Nguan Sen added: “As the community gathers at this new community focal point and enjoys the transformed waterscape, we hope they can also value our waters and help keep our waterways free from litter.”

The facelift is part of PUB’s ABC Waters Programme, launched in 2006 to transform Singapore’s water bodies into beautiful and clean streams, rivers and lakes. More than 100 potential locations have been identified for implementation by 2030. To date, 32 ABC Waters projects have been completed.


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Malaysia: Sabah wildlife rangers rescue 25 live pangolins

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 20 Feb 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Wildlife rangers seized 25 live pangolins after they arrested a 55-year-old local man at roadblock in Lahad Datu early Saturday.

The pangolins were found inside a cage placed in a Proton Iswara driven by the suspect at a routine roadblock along the Lahad Datu-Sandakan road, manned by Sabah Wildlife Department personnel with the assistance of WWF Malaysia's honorary wildlife wardens.

Department director William Baya said the suspect, who is believed to be unemployed, would be investigated under section 41(2) of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 for possession of a protected wildlife species without a permit.

He said penalty for the offence is a fine of RM30,000, three years jail or both.

He said that the pangolins were in good health and would be kept under the care of the Department.

Baya urging people to stop trading in endangered wildlife and said more roadblocks would be conducted to curb illegal hunting of wildlife in Sabah.

"All wildlife offences will also be brought to court for prosecution" he added.


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Malaysia: Endless rain triggers Sarawak floods and landslides

The Star 21 Feb 16;

KUCHING: Continuous heavy rain in southern Sarawak since Thursday night has left many areas flooded and triggered at least three landslides.

Roads to some villages near Bau and Puncak Borneo, which borders Kalimantan, Indonesia, have been cut off since yesterday afternoon.

So far, no deaths were reported although according to the Fire and Rescue Department, one vehicle was believed to be buried by a landslide.

State department chief Nor Hisham Mohammad said evacuations were being carried out.

“We told people to evacuate in the morning but they didn’t want to. Now, it's getting bad. We have to move quickly now,” Hisham said here yesterday.

The flood, which began on Friday night, is the second since Chinese New Year, submerging parts of tourist attractions like the Kuching Waterfront in the inner city as well as low-lying areas in the outskirts.

In Kampung Gersik, opposite the central business district, the Sarawak River burst its banks around evening yesterday.

“So many areas are flooded. A few roads are affected. The nearest major flood near a town area is in Batu Kitang while the worst hit are areas in Bau, Puncak Borneo and Serian areas,” said Hisham.

There was widespread traffic congestion at several sections of Jalan Kuching-Serian while part of the Pan Borneo Trunk Road was under water.

As at 2pm, the state Disaster Management Committee put the number of people evacuated at 263. The figure rose to 405 some four hours later. The number is likely to have risen since.

Among the affected villages are Giam, Sinar Budi, Sentah, Skog, Punau, Annah Rais, Landeh, Tebakang, Pangkalan Kuap and Muara Tuang Park.

Social media was swamped with pictures of people and animals being rescued while a photograph of a dead crocodile washed ashore in Pekan Tondong was posted online and shared hundreds of times.

As at 6.30pm, four data stations reported danger levels along Sungai Sarawak Kanan and Sungai Sarawak Kiri. The Lebaan station at Sibu has also been placed on high alert.

Between midnight and 6pm yesterday, the Batu Kitang station recorded a whopping 237mm in rainfall.


Over 2,500 evacuated as floods worsen in Sarawak
The Star 21 Feb 16;

KUCHING: The flood situation in Sarawak has worsened due to intermittent heavy rains in several areas.

The number of evacuees in the Kuching, Samarahan and Serian divisons increased to 2,869 people on Sunday morning from 486 last night.

Sarawak Civil Defence Department public relations officer Siti Huzaimah Ibrahim said 22 relief centres were opened to house the victims from 779 families.

Eight relief centres were opened in Kuching district, nine in Bau, two in Serian, and one in Padawan, she said.

In Samarahan division, two relief centres were opened including one in Darul Ibadah mosque, which houses 68 victims from 13 families. - Bernama


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Indonesia: Farmers struggle as rains stay away

Djemi Amnifu, The Jakarta Post 20 Feb 16;

For the past several weeks, Amos Talan, a resident of Kualin district in South Timor Tengah (TTS) regency, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), has started his day by praying that rain would fall over his village.

The 46-year-old farmer, who makes a living by growing corn on his one-hectare farm, normally starts planting in December, but the absence of rain over the past couple of months has prevented him from doing so.

“Some villagers started planting in late December but their crop soon died because there was no rain,” he told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

Amos’ village, located some 120 kilometers east of the provincial capital of Kupang, however, is not the only place in NTT where farmers are struggling to make ends meet due to the prolonged dry season.

While many parts of the archipelago saw the arrival of the rainy season in December, hundreds of villages in NTT have not seen rain over the past several months, forcing farmers in one of the country’s poorest provinces to miss their planting season this year.

In TTS alone, at least 115 villages in 15 districts have been struggling with drought, regent Paul Mella said.

Among the affected districts are Bena, Kualin, Tuapakas, Kot’olin, Kolbano, Se’i and South Amanuban.

“Based on reports from district heads, rain only fell once in December with very low intensity. After that, the dry weather continued,” Paul said, blaming the situation on the El NiƱo weather phenomenon.

The latest data also showed that some 40 percent of the regency’s 78,000 ha of cornfield had experienced severe drought, making it impossible for farmers to grow anything in the near future.

Although some farmers have seen low-intensity rainfall and have planted their crops, their chance of experiencing harvest failure is still very high, Paul said.

“Harvest yields in many cornfields have recently dropped by 50 percent compared to yields in normal conditions,” he said.

Corn requires between 60 and 100 days before it can be harvested depending on the variety of the corn. It is one of main staple foods in NTT and serves as an alternative to rice.

NTT farmers can grow corn at least twice a year during the wet season, which normally falls from October to March in Indonesia.

Last month, East Flores regent Yoseph Lagadoni Herin also shared similar anxieties.

Yoseph said only 10 out of 250 villages in the regency still had the chance to deliver a proper harvest due to the long absence of rain in his region.

“I have visited a number of villages over the past few weeks,” he said as quoted by Antara news agency.

“Crops are not growing properly and the corn has also turned yellowish due to extremely low rainfall.”

NTT, home to 5.3 million people, requires approximately 300,000 tons of rice per year for local consumption.

Last month, the NTT branch of the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) claimed that they had 46,000 tons of rice in storage.

In anticipation of a food crisis, Paul said his administration would distribute logistical aid to help farmers who experienced harvest failure.

“We have also been distributing seeds of drought-resistant plants, like tubers and palawija [secondary crops],” he said.


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Indonesia: Banda Aceh City government should focus on dengue prevention

Antara 20 Feb 16;

Banda Aceh (ANTARA News) - Regional Legislative Assembly (DPRD) spokesman Farid Nyak Umar has asked the Banda Aceh city government to focus on the prevention of dengue fever.

"We have asked the city government, in this case the city health office, to maximize the prevention of dengue fever," Umar remarked here Saturday.

In spite of the fact that the dengue fever in Banda Aceh has not been categorized as an extraordinary event, its prevention remains a priority, the politician of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) noted.

"It is better to prevent than cure. To that end, the city government should be focusing its efforts on the prevention of dengue fever," Umar explained.

The office has been trying to anticipate the threat of dengue fever in the capital of Aceh province, Banda Aceh Health Office Chief Media Yulizar said earlier.

"We have instructed our staff go straight to the field to anticipate the onset of scarlet fever. Anticipatory measure is more important than the case," Yulizar said.

There is always the threat of dengue fever, and prevention is more focused on the eradication of the nest and larvae of mosquitoes, so the source of the disease does not develop, according to him.
(Uu.O001/INE/KR-BSR)


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Indonesia: Way Kambas to be leading tourist destination

Otniel Tamindael Antara 20 Feb 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The East Lampung district government in Lampung province is making every effort to turn Way Kambas National Park (WKNP or TNWK) into an international tourist destination.

Providing an excellent bird-watching location with the presence of the rare white-winged wood duck, the WKNP is home to critically endangered species such as Sumatran tigers, Sumatran elephants, and Sumatran rhinoceroses.

With swamp forest, lowland rainforest, mangrove forest, and dry beach forest, along with expanses of grassland, this national park is an ideal habitat for thousands of different species and offers exciting opportunities for visitors to experience some of Indonesias most diverse wildlife.

"That is why we are making efforts to develop Way Kambas and turn it into a national and international tourist destination," East Lampung District Head Chusnunia Chalim remarked Friday.

The Way Kambas National Park is an icon of East Lampung district, and has been visited and known by the people both nationally and internationally, Nunik, as she is familiarly called, noted.

East Lampung district is as a rich, beautiful, and interesting area with friendly people and a lot of tourist attractions, she asserted.

The Great Hall of the Way Kambas National Park is also drafting a strategy for the utilization of trained domesticated elephants in the Elephant Conservation Center as a tourist attraction, according to her.

In the meantime, TNWK Great Hall Public Relations Chief Sukatmoko said he was waiting for the rules of the government regarding the use of Elephant Conservation Center as a tourist destination.

"We are still waiting for the rules of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry on the utilization of the elephant, so it can be enjoyed more by the visitors," Sukatmoko remarked.

He stated that the WKNP Great Hall is currently designing the development of an ecotourism village as a secondary destination for visitors.

He noted that tourists visiting the ecotourism village in the WKNP will be able to experience the extensive flora and fauna and have the opportunity to witness and learn about the endangered Sumatran elephant, rhinoceros, and tiger along with a vast array of other exotic animals, such as monkeys, tapirs, leopards, and birds.

"The development of ecotourism aims to increase the number of tourist visits to the WKNP in addition to boosting the economy of the local community," Sukatmono noted.

He further explained that the ecotourism village also offers homestays, various handicrafts of the local village, and a variety of cuisines typical to the region for the visitors.

According to Sukatmono, the Great Hall of WKNP is collaborating with local NGOs to develop and manage the ecotourism village.

Given its numerous tourist attractions, the Indonesian province of Lampung has been encouraged to develop its tourism sector as an important source of foreign exchange and employment.

The rapid expansion of the tourism sector in Lampung province is expected to provide viable opportunities for sustainable development and poverty reduction.

Accordingly, the Coordinating Minister for Maritime and Environment, Dwisuryo Indroyono Susilo, has urged the Lampung provincial administration to intensively develop and promote its tourism sector.

During a visit to the Lampung Museum in the provincial capital of Tanjungkarang some time ago, the minister expressed optimism about the fact that the museum can serve as a historical tourism asset that would attract both domestic and foreign tourists.

"I just wanted to see how good the museum is. Its collection is very interesting and significant for our historical heritage," Susilo remarked.

He noted that Lampung is very famous across the world because of the Krakatau island volcano, one of the most fascinating sites globally; and for agricultural commodities, such as pepper and coffee.

Given its central location, the Krakatau islands are accessible both from Jakarta through the province of Banten, and from Bandarlampung, the capital of the Lampung province.

The Krakatau islands are comprised of three small and beautiful islands: Rakata, Panjang, and Serdang.

The minister remarked that besides Krakatau, Lampung also has many other tourist attractions that have to be developed properly in order to draw domestic and foreign tourists.

In an effort to boost the number of tourist visits, the minister said the government will allow international cruise ships to pass through Lampung and anchor near the tourist attractions in the province.

"The government will allow the cruise ships to make a port call at Lampung for three or four days to enable the tourists to see as many tourist attractions as possible in the province," he remarked.

Susilo also noted that infrastructure and other supporting facilities on the islands should be improved in order to facilitate tourists journey to their desired destinations in Lampung.

"Good roads and transportation, electricity, and security must be improved so that the tourists visiting these spots can enjoy the experience and feel at home," the minister stated.

He also encouraged the Lampung provincial administration to make every effort to step up its international tourism potential to boost foreign tourist arrivals.

The provincial culture and tourism departments investment promotion agency spokesman Gatot Hudi Utomo said numerous private parties will be involved in the effort to ramp up the international tourism potential of the province.

Utomo pointed out that Lampung province has more than 150 tourist sites, but most of them are yet to be optimally managed.

"We will work towards optimizing the international tourism potential of the province," Utomo said, adding that the coastal areas in Lampungs Barat district offer good surfing opportunities for tourists and that infrastructure facilities in the province need to be improved accordingly.

"Besides, the tourism promotion agency should play a greater role in drawing as many foreign tourists as possible to Lampung," he stated.

With its white sandy beaches, pristine waterfalls, and lush nature preserves, Lampung is one of the many provinces in Indonesia that holds great appeal for international tourists.
(Uu.O001/INE/KR-BSR)


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