Vietnam calls for sustainable use of Mekong River water amid crippling drought

Thanh Nien News 18 Mar 16;

Drought-ridden Vietnam is urging its neighbors to use water resources from the Mekong River in a sustainable manner as the country is waiting for discharge from a Chinese hydropower dam to reach its southern farming region.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry’s spokesperson Le Hai Binh on Thursday said regional countries should work together and ensure that upstream hydropower dams on the Mekong do not affect the environment in other countries, especially those in the lowest reaches of the river.

The river begins in the Tibetan plateau and flows through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying into the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea. Stretching 4,900 kilometers (3,045 miles), it is second only to the Amazon in terms of biodiversity.

Via diplomatic channels, Vietnam has reached an agreement with China to have water released from the latter's Jinghong hydropower reservoir into the lower Mekong River to tackle drought and saltwater intrusion.

Binh said Chinese authorities have confirmed that water discharge from the dam is being nearly doubled compared to the mid of March, to about 2,000 cubic meters per second.

Downstream problem

Experts said farmers in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta should not be too hopeful because the water discharged by China will first flow through thirsty areas in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

A strong El Nino has caused rainfall in the region to drop by up to 30 percent and the Mekong's water level to recede by half.

In Vietnam's Mekong Delta, the severe combination of drought and saltwater intrusion has damaged 160,000 hectares of rice fields and more than half a million of people now lack fresh water.

Tran Duc Cuong, spokesperson of the Mekong River Commission’s Vietnam Council, estimated that between 27-54 percent of the water discharged from China’s dam will reach Vietnam.

“It will take two to three weeks before the water reaches Vietnam,” Cuong said.

At the 43rd meeting of the Mekong River Commission from March 15-17 in Can Tho, the Vietnamese delegation said drought and saltwater intrusion have caused negative impacts on many people in the Mekong Delta.

Vietnam also proposed Thailand provide specific information about a project to retain water from Huay Luang, a branch of the Mekong River, for agricultural purposes.

The Thai delegates said that a new project is being studied and information will be announced soon.

The Mekong River Commission Secretariat issued a diplomatic note to call upon Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand to use common water resources effectively and sustainably.

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Best of our wild blogs: 18 Mar 16

Legal Aspects of LTA’s Proposed Site Investigation in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve

Dredging near Raffles Lighthouse Jan-Mar 2016
wild shores of singapore

Earth Hour 2016: Shine a light on forests this Saturday!
Green Drinks Singapore

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More pre-emptive action needed to solve transboundary haze issue: WWF Singapore

The green group hopes that the upcoming Budget will allocate funds for Singapore to fulfil its commitments inked at the climate change conference in Paris last year.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 17 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: One green group in the Republic is calling for more pre-emptive action to tackle the issue of transboundary haze. WWF Singapore said steps also need to be taken to increase awareness among the public, to teach them what they can do to cause minimal impact on the environment.

According to the chairperson of the Government Parliamentary Committee for the Environment and Water Resources, Lee Bee Wah, concrete steps are being taken to combat issues such as transboundary haze.

The Environment and Water Resources Ministry said it is working with industries to adopt sustainable land clearing practices, as well as clamping down on errant businesses.

Last year, the National Environment Agency (NEA) issued preventive notices to six companies in Indonesia, suspected of causing forest fires. The Government has also said it will do more to promote green procurement.

WWF Singapore is already calling for a campaign to encourage Singaporeans to be more responsible consumers.

"The Government wants us all to make the right, sustainable choices,” said Mr Kim Stengert, director of communications at WWF Singapore. “I hope from our end that there would be some place in the Budget to run a great consumer campaign to drive some more awareness around that topic."

"Moving forward, perhaps is to do more education, share with Singaporeans why they have to move in certain directions,” added Ms Lee. “Enforcement is just one aspect. I think if we can get everyone's buy-in, that would be more effective."


However, as the region approaches the traditional dry season, which typically occurs in the second half of the year, Mr Stengert said more pre-emptive action needs to be taken to tackle possible forest fires which can result in transboundary haze, like year-round efforts in engaging with counterparts in Indonesia.

He said: "You need to do that because with three, four months of haze now in Singapore, it actually seems to become a problem that we're facing 40 to 50 per cent of the year."

He also expressed his hope that the upcoming Budget will allocate funds for Singapore to fulfil its commitments inked at the climate change conference (COP21) in Paris last year.

This includes increasing the use of solar energy, promoting the use of public transport and encouraging energy-saving behaviour. This would all be aimed at reducing the country's emissions intensity by 36 per cent from the 2005 levels by 2030.

Ms Lee said: "Building the best home, high-quality living environment, has always been very high on our agenda. We would like to have clean air, we would like to have clean and healthy living environment, and of course, endearing social spaces."

Besides tackling transboundary haze, the ministry said it is also looking at reviewing the Water Master Plan to secure a reliable and sustainable water supply, as well as get Singaporeans to reduce, reuse and recycle as the country works towards becoming a Zero Waste Nation.

- CNA/ek

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Burning smell 'unlikely' due to haze

Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Mar 16;

Scientists say it is unlikely that a return of the haze is to blame for a burning smell noticed by residents across Singapore over the past few days.

Even though there have been land fires in peninsular Malaysia and Indonesia, Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings show that these hot spots are unlikely to be the cause of the acrid stench.

As of 7pm yesterday, the 24-hour PSI reading stood in the good to moderate range of 49 to 58.

"During the last two weeks, the PSI has been around the low moderate range, which reflects the typical air pollution conditions of Singapore," said Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.

"When haze from wildfires in neighbouring islands starts affecting Singapore, the PSI moves to the high levels of the moderate range, reaching unhealthy levels on some occasions."

Dr Santo Salinas, a senior research scientist at the Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing at the National University of Singapore, added: "The smell could be due to local burning. So far, the hot spots are very few in Malaysia and Riau, Indonesia."

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it has responded to four small bushfires here since last Saturday, the largest of which was only 1.5m by 1.5m in dimension.

All were extinguished with either a hose reel or buckets of water and they are thought to have been too small to be behind the burning smell.

Banker Berlina Lim, 47, noticed the smell at her Hougang home last Saturday and on Tuesday night.

"It was bad enough that both my mum and I thought someone was burning incense downstairs at my block," she said.

"Subsequently, I read on a friend's Facebook account that the haze is back. I would be concerned if it worsens or continues."

The north-east monsoon conditions are expected to weaken over the next two weeks, giving way to the inter-monsoon period.

A spokesman for the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said the period between April and May is typically characterised by prevailing winds that are light and variable in direction.

"During this period, the winds could occasionally blow from the west or south-west, bringing in any haze from Sumatra," he said.

"Whether Singapore is affected by transboundary smoke haze would also depend on other factors, including the location and extent of the fires in Sumatra, and the occurrence of rain."

Singapore suffered from one of its worst bouts of haze last year with the extended El Nino season - a weather phenomenon which causes temperatures in the Pacific Ocean to rise, affecting weather patterns in the region.

The rising temperatures and drier weather in turn make fires harder to put out.

The MSS said it is unlikely that the haze has returned, with the spokesman adding: "Over the past few days, the prevailing winds over our surrounding region were blowing from the north-east and fewer hot spots were detected in Sumatra."

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NEA denies claims that temperature can hit 40°C

WONG PEI TING Today Online 17 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE – Will the weather here soar to 40°C in the coming days? Will this result in a possible heatwave leading to dehydration and sun stroke?

Responding to claims circulating via text messages and on social media, the National Environment Agency (NEA) issued a statement on Thursday (March 17) saying that those claims are not true.

The public should refer to NEA for “official and authoritative” information on weather conditions, the NEA added.

Without stating a named source, the message that has been copied and shared multiple times said the temperature “will fluctuate till 40 degrees Celsius” and advised Singaporeans and Malaysians to stay indoors from 12pm to 3pm daily for the next five days. It also claimed that this is the first time Malaysia and Singapore are facing an “Equinox phenomena” whereby the sun is directly positioned above the equator line, and urged readers not to take the possible heat wave as a joke.

Debunking the circulating message, the NEA said an equinox occurs twice a year in March 20 and September 22, and said that 36°C is the highest that the temperature could reach.

The NEA attributed the warmer temperatures to the continuing influence of the El Nino and the presence of a dry and warm air mass over the region. It also added that the occurrence of the equinox was another factor contributing to high temperatures.

Despite the drier conditions, short-duration thundery showers in the afternoon can still be expected over parts of Singapore on four to six days, due to strong solar heating of land areas and convergence of winds in the surrounding vicinity, the NEA said.

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Malaysia: Cameron Highlands Vegetable Growers Hit By El Nino

Bernama 17 Mar 16;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS, March 17 (Bernama) -- "Less vegetables, the quality is low, and the profit is less," these are among complaints of vegetable growers here who are reeling from the hot weather due to the El Nino phenomenon.

The highlands which is synonymous for cool temperature, has not seen rain for almost a month now and the effects of the El Nino has started to show.

Farmer Kwang Woon Ting, 48, said the change in the weather has affected the vegetable farms and the fruit orchards in the Blue Valley.

"When the weather is hot, the vegetables start having problems. Cauliflower, tomatoes and broccoli cannot thrive in hot weather.

"Demand is high but less vegetables and fruits make them more expensive. This is not good during school holidays when there are many tourists," he told Bernama, here today.


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Malaysia: Planting season delayed due to dry weather


ALOR SETAR: Padi farmers in Kedah and Perlis here have got their plots ready, tilled the land and prepared the soil to begin the planting for the new season. But they are just sitting around.

They cannot plant because the rains are not coming and there is a water shortage. They have been forced to delay their new planting season which is supposed to be between now and April.

Mad Kamal Ismail, 48, from Kampung Tempayan Pecah, Mukim Ayer Hitam said his plot was ready for sowing two weeks ago.

“I am waiting for the water to be released but it’s not been done yet. The problem is even if the water is released, it will flow into the main irrigation canal, which is far from my fields.

“Because the water level is so low now, I’m afraid it may not flow into the sub-canal to reach my plot,” he said, adding that at the moment, the sub canal had dried up.

He said 10 relong (2.8ha) of padi field had dried up because water from the main irrigation canal could not reach the area.

“The water shortage problem has affected most padi farmers in Kedah and Perlis,” he said.

Mad Kamal said the only way to overcome this problem was to flood the fields with water from Pedu, Muda, Beris and Ah Ning dams.

Abdullah Wan Teh, 45, from Hutan Tualang in Ayer Hitam said his padi field had also faced the same problem since January.

“My income has been affected as I depend solely on the padi field,” he said.

Padi farmers Yudoh Kamis, 75, and Hatijah Ahmad Saad, 63, from Kampung Kok Klang in Chuping, Perlis, also could not do any planting.

“Now, I have no income and depend on my son to give me money for my daily expenses,” said Yudoh.

“There are about 100 relong of padi fields in Kok Klang with 300 families. All face the same problem.”

Bernama reported that since the earlier padi crop was harvested in January, replanting should begin in late March or early April but as of now, the Penang Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) has not been able to supply water.

It reported that the Kedah state government was considering cloud seeding or rescheduling padi replanting if the hot weather persists.

The padi fields in Perak may fare better with the Department of Irrigation and Drainage rescheduling the release of water from the Bukir Merah dam.

Director Datuk Ir Abdul Razak Dahalan said the release of water for padi cultivation began on Feb 20 and would go on up to April 10. The original plan was to release water only on March 25.

The Bukit Merah dam supplies water for the whole of the Kerian Irrigation Scheme.

Fish breeders are also worried with about 10,000 carp, snapper and grouper fish fry in Kuala Sangga and Kuala Sepetang near Taiping reported dead due to the weather.

The deaths cost fish farmers hundreds of thousands of ringgit.

Breeder Chuah Thye Guan, 50, said he put thousands of carp fish fry in the cages last week, but was shocked to find them all dead.

“I found the sea water had receded to the bottom of the cages,” he told Bernama.

Sekinchan farmers defy weather to replant fields
The Star 18 Mar 16;

KLANG: Padi farmers in Selangor’s rice bowl Sekinchan are replanting in full force for the new season despite the abnormally hot wea­ther, to prevent a serious shortage of rice.

Samudin Abdullah, 49, who has eight plots in the Sungai Leman area, said he and the other farmers had planted new crops two days ago.

So far, he said, everything had gone on without a glitch although the farmers had to hydrate the plots frequently as opposed to the usual practice of only once when replanting.

“We usually let the water into the plots once for replanting and the water remains throughout the replanting period.

“This time around, the plots dried up and I had to flood my plots at least four times,” said Samudin.

He added that farmers had to also manually pump the water into the plots as there was too little for it to flow into the waterways and into the plots.

This required the farmers to constantly pump water manually from their water catchment ponds into the rice fields.

“The hot weather has also caused rapid growth of weeds and other parasitic plants. We have to keep weeding and buy more pesticide,” he added.

Samudin’s fellow padi farmer Ng Oon Chai, who has seven plots in the same area, said the cost of caring for the seedlings until harvest time had gone up because they had to pay for extra man-hours and pesticide.

“We have to cough up at least RM1,000 more for each plot,” he said.

Ng added that he hoped the yield would be high and of good quality, despite the hot spell.

Drop in local production will force rice imports
The Star 18 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Government is ready to import more rice if local grain production drops as a result of the persisting El Nino phenomenon.

Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman said Malaysia imported 30% of rice for the nation’s consumption while the other 70% came from local growers.

“If production falls, we will increase the import to offset the drop in local supply. Of course, that will be a temporary measure,” he said.

Tajuddin said while the hot weather would definitely affect padi production.

Mardi, in a statement, said a 2°C rise in temperature could lead to a 13% reduction in padi yield while drought – or a 15% decrease in seasonal rainfall - could lead to drop in yield up to 80%. Any rice in temperature above 34°C was also certain to affect yield.

Extreme heat could also cause damage to the rice yield and grain quality besides bringing disease, it said.

Tajudin said the Government was flexible in its import policy despite aiming to achieve full self-sufficiency by 2020.

“We are flexible in our policies because we have to think of food security. We don’t want to see people having problems because rice is our staple food.

“If we have to import, then we will import. The basic policy is that we want to protect our local producers,” he added.

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Malaysia: Crops fail and fires rage in Sabah

The Star 18 Mar 16;

KOTA KINABALU: With El Nino bringing in the dry spell, crops are beginning to fail here.

Sabah Civil Defence Department director Kol Mulliadi Al Hamdi Ladin said they had so far received 36 reports of crop failures in the northern Kota Belud district.

According to the reports, padi crops have failed due to insufficient irrigation while oil palm and rubber trees were damaged in fires.

A meeting of the state Natural Disaster Management Committee was told yesterday that farmers at other districts were also beginning to report problems with their crops.

In southern Keningau, firemen are keeping a close watch on 500 acres (202ha) of private village estates and farms which were destroyed in a plantation fire.

State Fire and Rescue Department director Nordin Pauzi said aerial water bombing on the plantation area was conducted yesterday and the fire, which had been raging for a week, had been brought under control. A firebreak has also been put in place to ensure that it does not spread further.

The weather has also left some 200 villages facing water shortages.

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Malaysia: Mussel-breeding technique to triple harvest


PASIR GUDANG: A new mussel-breeding cluster project using smart lines is expected to produce up to three times more shellfish compared to conventional methods.

Johor Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Committee chairman Ismail Mohamed said the new project worth about RM3.6mil was funded by the Federal Government through the Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia (LKIM).

He said that about 25 smart lines made from high-density polyethylene were set up in the Tebrau Straits to meet demand for the shellfish in Johor.

“Each 110m-long smart line can produce up to 20 metric tonnes of mussels which will be harvested once every six months.

“We hope that the technology which was brought in from Norway will be able meet consumer demand for mussels.

“Johor is the biggest supplier of shellfish and we are projecting 27,842 metric tonnes a year,” he said during a press conference after launching the mussel-breeding cluster project at a Mardi processing centre in Kampung Pasir Gudang Baru here.

Ismail added that the programme would help fishermen increase their mussel production.Their income has been affected due to development projects in the straits.

About 25 fishermen from the Johor Baru South area are involved in the programme.

“By using the conventional method, mussel breeders can only harvest about five metric tonnes from only one string in six months.

“With this new procedures, they can harvest between 12 and 20 metric tonnes,” he said.

Ismail pointed out that the smart line technology could be used for up to 20 years and they had already installed about six smart lines in 2011 as a start.

Mussel breeder Yacob Shahadan, 72, said they are grateful for help in improving their yield.

“This will enable us to increase our monthly income,” he said.

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Malaysia: A Warm Welcome Back to the Natural Heritage of Melaka – Hawksbill Turtles

WWF-Malaysia 17 Mar 16;

17 March 2016, Kuala Lumpur: The nesting season for hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in Melaka has begun this year, with the peak season commencing in May and ending in September.

Melaka is one of the last strongholds in Malaysia for this critically endangered species of sea turtles. Annually, 400 – 450 nestings are recorded in Melaka making this the biggest nesting population in Peninsular Malaysia. Padang Kemunting is known as one of the main landings for hawksbills, with an average annual landing of 100 nests, which contributes to 20-25 % of the total number of nesting in Melaka.

Life at sea for any turtle is never easy. Only 1 out of 1,000 of hatchlings will survive to adulthood due to threats and dangers surrounding them all the time no matter where they are. A sea turtle has to beat all odds in order to continue its life cycle. Hawksbill turtles only reach sexual maturity after approximately 20 years of age, and reproducing has always been tough as their numbers are declining. Female hawksbills that are ready to lay their eggs will make their way back to the same beaches where they were hatched in order to nest. However, in today’s era of rapid development, all too often the beaches are too brightly lit and crowded, or gone to make way for human use.

Why is it important to save sea turtles? Sea turtles have been swimming Earth’s oceans for over 100 million years. They play a key role in maintaining healthy coral reefs. Hawksbill turtles graze on sponges, preventing sponges from outgrowing corals and smothering coral reefs.

Sea turtles also play an important role within the culture of the local communities in Padang Kemunting. The Hawksbill Eco-Club (KEKaL), a local community-based group, was conceived in 2012 in Padang Kemunting. It is the pride of this community group to champion the protection of this species and to raise revenue through turtle ecotourism. Long-term protection of hawksbills will benefit local communities and boost the economy of the state through ecotourism.

According to WWF-Malaysia Melaka Team Leader Lau Min Min, the main threat to nesting hawksbill turtles is unsustainable coastal development, which has boomed in the past three ‎decades. Much of the coastline in Melaka has been transformed into an urban landscape with more beaches becoming unsuitable for nesting. Protection of the remaining prime nesting beaches is urgent and vital towards the survival of this species, and ensures that Melaka continues to welcome them back to its shore.

The Melaka State Government has a sound track record in receiving international accolades including the 3rd ASEAN Environmentally Sustainable Cities Award in 2014 and Melaka City is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The state government has also formalised a vision to transform Melaka into a Green Technology State by 2020.

Making the nesting beaches more suitable through green initiatives and protecting the habitat of hawksbill turtles will add to Melaka’s notable achievements. Conserving the hawksbills –a natural heritage and pride of Melaka – will not only complement the state’s sustainable development efforts but also contribute towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 adopted by world leaders at the United Nations assembly last year.

WWF-Malaysia is actively involved in conserving hawksbill turtles together with local partners. Turtle Guardians, an initiative led by WWF Field Biologists, comprises a group of passionate marine conservation graduates and members of the local communities in patrolling the nesting beaches every night during each nesting season to collect data on nesting females and relocate eggs found to hatcheries to prevent egg poaching and ensure better hatch rates. They also monitor hatchling emergence so that baby turtles get released back to sea as soon as they are hatched.

Turn your personal stance about protecting sea turtles and marine coastal ecosystem into direct action by learning more about simple actions you can take in protecting sea turtles and their habitat. Together we can create a better future and for our precious sea turtles. Visit to learn more.

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Indonesia: Govt to encourage non-slash-and-burn practices

Ina Parlina and Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 18 Mar 16;

As the battle against forest fires continues, the government is considering incentivizing non-slash-and-burn land-clearing practices to prevent future fires.

On Thursday, a number of officials from various government institutions — led by Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan — took part in a meeting to discuss preventive measures against future forest fires. The meeting comes as analysts predict that the number of hot spots will peak in May during the country’s upcoming dry season.

“We must control it by introducing a system that incentivizes non-slash-and-burn land-clearing activities,” Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said after the meeting.

She did not elaborate on what kind of incentives the government was considering, but suggested that they might send equipment to numerous villages so that people could clear land without practicing the slash-and-burn method, a major cause of the annual forest fires that put the lives of millions at risk as well as wreaking havoc on the environment.

Last October, Presidential Chief of Staff Teten Masduki revealed a government plan to apply economic disincentives to move the country away from slash-and-burn practices. One such disincentive includes the banning of those involved in forest fires from obtaining bank loans.

Separately, an official at the Environment and Forestry Ministry said the government had shut down a discussion on its plan to issue a regulation that would reconsider the ban on the slash-and-burn method. The existing Environmental Law allows people to clear land by burning up to 2 hectares based on local practices.

This part of the law is believed to be abused by local farmers and big firms engaged in slash-and-burn practices.

“The law basically allows everyone to burn up to 2 hectares. There is a legal opportunity to burn much more than you actually need to develop your own garden, grow vegetables and so on. There can be a lot of burning under the guise of traditional land management,” said Erik Meijaard, a conservation scientist working with the Borneo Futures initiative.

Contrary to popular belief, local people do not burn peatland for plantation purposes, claimed Hadi Daryanto, the ministry’s forestry director general. “I have called experts and they said indigenous people did not burn peatland in Kalimantan because they lived in highland areas,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the International Conference on Oil Palm and the Environment in Bali.

“The indigenous people in Sumatra do not burn peatland to grow palm oil trees because they prefer to plant rubber trees,” Hadi added.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has said that banning slash-and-burn methods without providing a practical alternative would be futile because there were deep economic reasons behind the practice.

“That’s why we have to be careful [in banning slash-and-burn practices]. We have to study everything first,” said Hadi.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia deputy director Irwan Gunawan agreed with the government’s decision, saying that it was important to study the complexity of local cultures first.

“There needs to be further investigation of the slash-and-burn practice in the field. We can’t generalize about all local people. Everyone wants to hide behind local people, whether to blame them or to support them. The problem is that we are talking about local people with very complex social structures,” he said.

According to Irwan, while there are local people who have been practicing slash-and-burn techniques for decades to grow crops, there are also those who are paid by big companies to burn land in order for the companies to save costs on clearing land.

Govt developing forest fire control system: Minister
Antara 17 Mar 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The government is developing a system for handling land and forest fires quickly, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said.

Speaking to the press after attending a coordination meeting on land and forest fire control here on Thursday, she said the government can no longer rely on the existing system and that it must have a strong system to handle land and forest fires.

Compared with the previous years, land and forest fire fights which involved the National Natural Disaster Mitigation Board (BNPB), the Indonesian Military (TNI), the National Police (Polri), and regional governments had shown good results, with the number of hotspots declining significantly, she said.

"This indicates that operational management in the field ran properly. But we will find it difficult if we maintain the current system. Therefore, we have no other choice but to develop a new system," she said.

The monitoring of hotspots has so far been quite good because it directly involves the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) and the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

But the monitoring of hotspots is only limited to the indication of forest fires without any efforts to handle them optimally, Siti said.

The government is considering whether it should set up command posts to handle land and forest fires at the sub-district or district level. In addition, it is also considering providing incentives to villages to encourage land and forest fire control initiatives.(*)

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Indonesia: Bandung floods considered worst in 10 years

Fardah Antara 17 Mar 16;

South Bandung area again hit by flooding due to overflowing Citarum River and intensity of heavy rainfall. (FOTO ANTARA / Novrian Arbi) ()
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Floods have spread to wider areas across Indonesian provinces in the last few weeks, with the worst flood striking early this week in Bandung District, West Java Province.

The Bandung floods have left two dead and three missing, as the Citarum River overflowed following incessantly heavy rains, which began March 8.

The downpours caused flooding in 15 regions in Bandung District, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said in a statement on March 13.

Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa and West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan visited flood victims on March 14. The minister inspected a public kitchen set up to feed the victims, to ensure that it had adequate supplies.

The flood-affected regions include Cicalengka, Rancaekek, Cileunyi, Solokan Jeruk, Majalaya, Ciparay, Baleendah, Dayeuhkolot, Bojongsoang, Pameungpeuk, Banjaran, Arjasri, Cangkuang, Katapang and Kutawaringin.

The flooding forced more than 8,000 people to evacuate to higher grounds, while submerging over 35,000 homes, and affected some 5,900 families, comprising 24,000 people.

The floodwaters reached a height of between 80 cm to three meters, particularly in villages near the river bank.

The dead victims included a 13-year-old teenager and a mother aged 40 years old, whose husband and two daughters were reported missing after being swept away by the flash flood.

The downpours also triggered a landslide that seriously damaged a house in the Lemburkebon area, Padasuka village, Kutawaringin Sub-district, Bandung.

Further, the major floods that ravaged Bandung have caused large losses to industries.

The current flooding was the worst to have occurred over the past few years and have caused larger losses than earlier floods, Chairman of the Indonesian Businessman Association (Apindo) of the West Java chapter Deddy Wijaya stated on March 15.

Several factories located in Dayeuhkolot and Banjaran were flooded and remain closed.

The flooding also prevented workers from reaching the factories, he noted.

Floods also submerged machinery and raw materials kept in factories.

"In view of the latest condition, material losses could reach billions of rupiah per day," he stated.

Additionally, flooding caused losses to shop owners and the banking business.

"This flooding is the worst over the past 10 years. The floodwaters have reached a height of up to 3.3 meters," Coordinator of Bandungs Disaster-Alert Youth said on the phone recently.

The office of Dayeuhkolot Sub-district administration, which has not been flooded in 20 years, was inundated to a height of 35 cm this year, he said.

BNPB Chief Willem Rampangilei supervised the evacuation of the natural disasters victims. They were housed in local government offices, schools and mosques.

Earlier, on March 2, The BNPB chief told the media that floods and landslides had struck 260 districts and municipalities in the country from January 1 to February 25, leaving 46 people dead and 16 others injured.

The natural disasters also forced the evacuation of 1,083.104 people, Willem Rampangilei said at the press conference.

The government has made efforts to minimize damage from floods and landslides by holding coordination meetings, familiarizing the public with potential natural disasters, developing contingency plans, strengthening logistics, declaring alert status, and providing relief aid, he said.

"When a flood happens, we must first focus on searching and rescuing victims, evacuating refugees and meeting their needs," he said.

To support emergency rescue operations, meet emergency needs and finance emergency repairs of damaged facilities, the government has set aside Rp3 billion in funds.

"The funds have been distributed among the districts of Aceh Utara, Solok Selatan, Solok, 50 Kota, Kampar, Rokan Hulu, Medan, Binjai, Merangin, Bungo, Indramayu, and the province of Bangka Belitung. Each of the regions received Rp250 million," Willem said.

In addition to Bandung, floods have recently struck three sub-districts in Sukabumi District, as well as in West Java, leaving a number of buildings damaged.

In Ketapang District, West Kalimantan Province, three sub-districts -Nanga Tayap, Sandai and Sungai Laur- were also inundated beginning March 10. The flooding is believed to be as bad as in 2010, has affected thousands of local inhabitants.

Floods also inundated thousands of houses in ten villages in Tangerang District of Banten Province on March 13.

The high intensity rain caused the local Cimanceuri River to overflow its banks and sent floods throughout the region, Head of Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency of Tangerang Teteng Jumara said.

In Sampang, Madura Island, East Java Province, floods submerged 12 villages, as the Kalikemuning River spilled over its bank last week.

"The present flooding is the worst," Head of the Sampang Disaster Mitigation Agency Wisno Hatono said recently.

Additionally, harvest failures were feared over 1,083 hectares of rice fields in Sampang.

Floods inundated 7,199 hectares of paddy fields in Riau and over 1,000 hectares in Jambi on Sumatra Island.

In the capital city, despite the Jakarta administration�s efforts to normalize sewage systems, floods reaching a height of up to 120 cm and inundated 20 neighborhoods in early February this year.

Following a recent finding of a large amount of cable jackets in waterways on Merdeka Selatan Road, Central Jakarta, Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) voiced his suspicion about sabotage.

Ahok suggested recently that it demonstrated an attempt by unknown persons to engineer floods and he reported the case to police, the Jakarta Post reported.

Jakarta Police Chief Insp. Gen. Tito Karnavian said the police had yet to conclude that the cable jackets were a form of sabotage.

On March 11, Tito announced that six scavengers were detained for allegedly stealing copper and tin inside the cables, believed to have belonged to the State Electricity Company (PLN) , and they left the cable jackets inside the sewers, reported.(*)

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Indonesia: Coral reefs in Bulukumba threatened by sea temperature

Andi Hajramurni, 17 Mar 16;

The increase in sea temperature over the last two weeks has bleached the coral reef in waters around Bulukumba regency in South Sulawesi, threatening a massive reef decline.

“Currently, more than 50 percent of the coral located in Bulukumba waters have turned white,” said Nirwan Dessibali, team coordinator of the Marine Science Diving Club at the University of Hasanuddin (MSDC Unhas) Makassar in South Sulawesi.

Nirwan said a team of five students from the Unhas School of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries discovered the bleached coral during a surveillance operation in waters around Tanjung Bira and Liukang Loe Island, Bulukumba, last week. They monitored the temperature of the water for four days, a process which had involved team members diving to depths of between three to 10 meters.

Nirwan said that during the monitoring, the sea surface temperature had reached 30’C, higher than the average temperature of 27’C.

He said MSDC Unhas carried out the monitoring activities as a response to information released by the National Ocean Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which announced that the sea temperature across half of the archipelago would continue to increase, surpassing the average temperature levels starting from the middle of this year. The Makassar Strait was said to be among areas that would be affected by the increase to sea temperature, in which the highest rise is predicted to be in the waters around Raja Ampat in Papua.

Apart from Bulukumba, MSDC Unhas had also monitored waters around the Spermonde group of islands near Makassar, such as the Samalona and Baranglompo islands. Coral in several areas around the islands had turned white.

Nirwan said the coral reef had turned white because their coral polyps had lost its zooxanthellae algae symbiotic due to the increase in the sea temperature.

He said the increases of sea temperature would continue to occur through the middle of this year and emphasized that those coral reefs which had turned white might die.

“The massive die off will threaten the sustainability of the ecosystem in the coral reefs, especially the sea biota. They will lose homes they need to cultivate,” said Nirwan.

A coral reef expert from the Unhas School of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Chair Rani, said that a massive die off would occur if the high sea temperatures continued over the next two weeks.

“We hope that the increase in sea temperature, influenced by trans-Pacific currents, will not continue for much longer,” said Chair.

Studies show that 40 percent of coral reefs in Bulukumba have suffered serious damage, while in South Sulawesi, the damage level has reached 40-70 percent. Illegal fishing practices using home-made bombs, anesthetic agents and trawls as well as sea pollution are among the major causes behind the damage to the coral reefs in the area. (ebf)

Bulukumba coral reefs threatened with extinction
Andi Hajramurni, The Jakarta Post 18 Mar 16;

Coral reefs in the waters off Bulukumba, South Sulawesi are at great risk of dying off as more than half have been affected by coral bleaching caused by rising seawater temperatures.

“Based on a four-day monitoring, we found coral reef bleaching on a massive scale, at around 50 percent,” Nirwan Dessibali, coordinator of the Marine Science Diving Club of Makassar-based state-run Hasanuddin University told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Nirwan conducted the monitoring with four colleagues who are students of the university’s Maritime and Fishery School off Tanjung Bira and Liukang Island in Bulukumba regency, diving at a depth of between 3 and 10 meters.

The observation was conducted as a follow up to a release by the National Ocean Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which showed seawater temperatures in some parts of Indonesia, including the Makassar Strait, would continue rising this year.

“According to residents in the region, seawater temperatures have risen since a week before we arrived. When we conducted the observation, the seawater temperature reached 30 degrees Celsius, compared to an average of 27 degrees during normal conditions,” Nirwan said.

Besides Bulukumba, the diving club has also conducted surveys in the Spermonde archipelago in Makassar. Several of the reefs there have also been bleached, but not as extensively as in Bulukumba.

Nirwan said the bleaching of the coral was attributed to the loss of symbiotic zooxantela algae in the coral polyps due to rising seawater temperatures.

The university’s Marine and Fishery School coral reef studies professor Chair Rani separately confirmed on Wednesday that if seawater temperatures kept rising in the next three weeks, the bleached coral reefs were highly likely to die as the zooxantela algae could not survive.

“The condition of coral reefs in Bulukumba is dangerous now. If seawater temperatures remain high, or above tolerable levels, the bleached coral reefs will die in a massive way. The marine biota will also be threatened,” said Chair.

The situation could lead to worse coral reef destruction in the region. Now, more than 40 percent of coral reefs in Bulukumba waters are damaged, while in South Sulawesi, the damage amounts to between 40 and 70 percent.

Besides the rising temperatures, the damage is also due to illegal fishing using explosives, poison and trawl nets, as well as sea pollution and poorly managed marine tourism.

Chair said that as well as Bulukumba, several other regions in South Sulawesi were also at risk, especially the Makassar Strait, such as the Spermonde archipelago encompassing several regencies and cities, including Makassar city, Pangkajene Islands and Selayar regencies, where the world’s largest atoll, the Taka Bonerate Marine National Park, is located.

“South Sulawesi is traversed by high-temperature sea currents, but Raja Ampat in Papua is at greater risk because the area initially experienced high seawater temperatures,” he said.

Areas in Indonesia categorized in the first and second alert levels for coral bleaching include Raja Ampat.

The situation is expected to continue until the middle of this year. The seawater temperatures will reach their peak between March and April.

Chair added that if the bleached coral reefs failed to recover restoring them would take over five years due to very slow rate of coral reef growth, growing at only about 14 centimeters annually.

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French assembly approves extra tax on non-sustainable palm oil

* New tax exempts environment-friendly palm oil
* Minister says in line with international trade rules
* Tax still needs to be reviewed by upper house
Sybille de La Hamaide Reuters 17 Mar 16;

PARIS, March 17 France's plans to impose an additional tax on palm oil used in food from 2017 moved a step closer on Thursday as the National Assembly approved the levy, which has been vehemently opposed by top producers Indonesia and Malaysia.

The extra tax has been sharply reduced to 90 euros ($102) per tonne, from an initial proposal in January of 300 euros, but would still nearly double a current tax on the vegetable oil of 104 euros.

The levy, part of a wider biodiversity bill expected to be adopted on Friday, is aimed at encouraging the sector to reduce the environmental damage palm oil plantations can cause.

The French government now backs the tax, originally proposed by a senator, since it has been reduced and excludes oils if producers prove they were produced in a sustainable way.

It still needs to be reviewed in the upper house, likely in May or June.

"The introduction into France's fiscal legislation of a tax on products whose impact on deforestation is recognised worldwide, gives a strong signal by France in terms of environmental protection," Barbara Pompili, Junior Minister for the environment in charge of biodiversity, told the National Assembly.

Indonesia and Malaysia have said the tax is discriminatory and Indonesia raised the issue at the World Trade Organisation earlier this month when the level of the new levy was still at 300 euros a tonne for all palm oil used in food.

Pompili said that the fact that it had been lowered and that so-called sustainable palm oil was excluded should make it acceptable.

"This tax clearly respects the Treaty of the World Trade Organisation because it only targets palm and copra oil that do not meet sustainable environmental criteria," she said.

But Malaysian producers did not agree.

"The 'differential' tax proposal is a clear violation of both WTO and EU rules," Yusof Basiron head of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) said in a statement, calling the tax discriminatory and disproportionate.

The French government had backed an amendment making the tax progressive, starting at 30 euros next year to rise to 90 euros in 2020 to allow a softer transition, but it could not be submitted to vote because the authors were away, a parliament source said, leaving the tax at a flat rate of 90 euros.

Copra (coconut) and palm kernel oil, also subject to the tax, are commonly used in commercial cooking. They are currently taxed at 113 euros a tonne.

It would not affect cosmetics and biofuels - two sectors in which vegetable oils are widely used.

France imports about 100,000 tonnes of Indonesian palm oil per year and 11,000 tonnes of Malaysian palm oil last year.

Palm oil producers expressed concern ahead of the vote that even if French imports were not big, the new tax may have repercussions in other countries.

This is not the first attempt in France to impose a special tax on palm oil, which campaigners say contributes to deforestation and impacts biodiversity. All had failed, mainly due to strong lobbying from producing countries.

Past proposals were dubbed the "Nutella tax" by the French media because the popular chocolate-hazelnut paste contains about 20 percent palm oil.

However, since 2013, Nutella sold in France has been made exclusively with palm oil from sustainable supplies, the maker, privately owned Ferrero, says. That would make Nutella exempt under the terms of the current proposal - the first to differentiate on that basis.

Strong public opposition against palm oil in France, also amid fears that its high level of saturated fat could be harmful to human health, has prompted several supermarkets in the country to commit to ban the use of palm oil in their own-brand products by the end of the decade.

($1 = 0.8829 euros) (Additional reporting by Emile Picy, editing by Bate Felix and Susan Fenton)

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Vietnam's southern delta faces worst drought in history

Associated Press Yahoo News 17 Mar 16;

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam's southern Mekong Delta, the country's main rice growing region, is experiencing the worst drought and saline intrusion in recent history that has affected more than half a million people, officials said Thursday.

The drought could result in the loss of up to 1 million tons of rice, but is not expected to affect Vietnam's status as the world's third largest exporter of grain, said Ma Quang Trung, a department director at the Agriculture Ministry.

Vietnam exports an average 7 million tons a year, behind Thailand and India. Thailand too has been hit hard by the drought.

The water shortage could drive many farmers into poverty, especially if there are no rains between now and the peak of the dry season in late April, Trung said.

He blamed the drought on the El Nino weather phenomenon and excessive construction of more than 10 hydropower dams on the upper stream of the river.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh told reporters that neighboring China has doubled the amount of water discharged from a dam to help alleviate the crisis.

Binh also said the ministry was working with China and other Mekong River countries toward sustainable use of the river's resources.

The level of inland saline intrusion was unprecedented, resulting in damage to some 180,000 hectares (444,780 acres) of paddy fields, Trung said.

The government has provided some $1.5 million in aid to farmers in three most affected provinces in the delta, according to state media.

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Beyond Record Hot, February Was 'Astronomical' and 'Strange'


Earth got so hot last month that federal scientists struggled to find words, describing temperatures as "astronomical," ''staggering" and "strange." They warned that the climate may have moved into a new and hotter neighborhood.

This was not just another of the drumbeat of 10 straight broken monthly global heat records, triggered by a super El Nino and man-made global warming. February 2016 obliterated old marks by such a margin that it was the most above-normal month since meteorologists started keeping track in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The old record was set just last December and the last three months have been the most above-normal months on record, said NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden. And it's not just NOAA. NASA, which uses different statistical techniques, as well as a University of Alabama Huntsville team and the private Remote Sensing System team, which measure using satellites, also said February 2016 had the biggest departure from normal on record.

NOAA said Earth averaged 56.08 degrees (13.38 degrees Celsius) in February, 2.18 degrees (1.21 degrees Celsius) above average, beating the old record for February set in 2015 by nearly six-tenths of a degree (one-third of a degree Celsius). These were figures that had federal scientists grasping for superlatives.

"The departures are what we would consider astronomical," Blunden said. "It's on land. It's in the oceans. It's in the upper atmosphere. It's in the lower atmosphere. The Arctic had record low sea ice."

"Everything everywhere is a record this month, except Antarctica," Blunden said. "It's insane."

In the Arctic, where sea ice reached a record low for February, land temperatures averaged 8 degrees above normal (4.5 degrees Celsius), Blunden said. That's after January, when Arctic land temperatures were 10.4 degrees above normal (5.8 degrees Celsius).

Worldwide, February 2016 was warmer than about 125 of the last 136 Marches.

It was also the warmest winter — December through February — on record, beating the previous year's record by more than half a degree (0.29 degrees Celsius).

Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb said she normally doesn't concern herself much with the new high temperature records that are broken regularly.

"However," she added in a Thursday email," when I look at the new February 2016 temperatures, I feel like I'm looking at something out of a sci-fi movie. In a way we are: it's like someone plucked a value off a graph from 2030 and stuck it on a graph of present temperatures. It is a portent of things to come, and it is sobering that such temperature extremes are already on our doorstep."

Scientists at NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina, were astonished by the "staggering" numbers, said Deke Arndt, the centers' global monitoring chief.

"Usually these are monthly reminders that things are changing," Arndt said. "The last six months have been more than a reminder, it's been like a punch in the nose."

NASA's chief climate scientist Gavin Schmidt usually discounts the importance of individual record hot months, but said this month was different, calling it "obviously strange."

This was due to the long-term warming from heat-trapping gases and the powerful El Nino, so these types of records will continue for a few more months, but probably will not be a permanent situation, Schmidt said in an email.

But other were not so sure, including Arndt, who compared it to moving into a new hotter neighborhood.

"We are in a new era," Arndt said. "We have started a new piece of modern history for this climate."

Jason Furtado, a meteorology professor at the University of Oklahoma who wasn't part of any of the government teams, simply wrote in an email: "Welcome to the new normal."

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