No respite for outdoor workers despite sweltering weather

Today Online 22 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE — As an engineer at a shipyard in Tuas, Mr Azrul, 26, spends at least 10 hours a day working outdoors. The conditions are especially tough when he is on the ship’s main deck, fully exposed to the sun. “It’s even worse and more uncomfortable when I’m in the engine room where there’s extra heat produced by the running of the machinery and equipment,” he said.

Adding that he would frequently advise his colleagues to drink more water, he keeps a close watch on the new hires. “Because they are new, they tend to be scared to say when they feel unwell ... If they are unwell, I would have to refer them to the safety department,” he said.

Over at a construction site at Aliwal Street, Mr Govindarasu Suresh, 29, was toiling away despite the harsh weather. “Even if it is too hot, we cannot stop working. If we stop work, we cannot finish the job ... We won’t get paid and that will be a problem if we cannot send money home,” he said.

Mr Azrul and Mr Suresh are among the thousands of workers sweating it out and earning their livelihoods outdoors, even as the temperature here soared to a record high earlier this week. On Tuesday, the Changi climate station recorded the highest ever daily mean temperature of 30.6°C, beating the previous record of 30.2°C, which the station recorded last June. The highest daily maximum temperature recorded on Monday was 36°C at Choa Chu Kang. The long-term mean monthly temperature for April is 28°C.

The high temperatures prompted several Government agencies and ministries to issue a joint advisory on Wednesday to the public to take precautions against heat-induced illnesses.

In particular, employers were advised to schedule heavy, physical work or outdoor work to the cooler parts of the day. There should also be shaded areas for work and rest, and cool drinking water provided at convenient and accessible locations.

However, some workers whom TODAY spoke to yesterday said it was business as usual. An assistant engineer, who wants to be identified only as Mr Lingamm, said: “How many of the contractors do you think let the workers rest?” he asked. Expressing concern for the well-being of construction workers, for example, he said companies should be mandated to let their workers rest when temperatures soar.

Nonetheless, workers also take the initiative to look out for one another. Mr Suresh, who is a safety coordinator for his company’s construction project, said: “We all come from the same village (in India) so if they have any problems; if they need to rest, they can tell me directly.”

Meanwhile, the hot weather has also had an adverse impact on eateries with outdoor seating, particularly during lunchtime.

Mr Darshan Singh, a partner at Nasrin Restaurant, which specialises in Persian cuisine, said business has dropped by about half. “Not a lot of people want to come out for lunchtime and dine alfresco here,” he said.

Ms Siti, a branch manager at I Am... cafe, said: “We hardly have queues during lunchtime. Usually the office workers will come and fill up the space, but now there are tables available at this time,” she said. The eatery’s employees themselves are feeling the discomfort. “Our kitchen and bar staff have ... resorted to bringing their own hand-held fans to help cool themselves down,” Ms Siti added.

Pre-schools that TODAY approached said there have not been major changes to the curriculum as a result of the hot weather since the children are indoors most of the time. Ms Sharizan Osman, principal of Cambridge Preschool, said: “Our curriculum is planned such that outdoor times are between 8.30am to 10.30am. So far not many modifications have been made for the timing except to conduct physical activities indoors when the weather gets too warm during those timings.”

Parents are kept informed of the steps taken to ensure the safety and well-being of their children, she added.

At public schools, teachers were reminded to encourage the students to drink more water. Nevertheless, physical education lessons continued as per normal.

Based on forecasts by the Meteorological Service Singapore, high temperatures can be expected for the rest of the week, although a gradual easing is likely.

Read more!

Water shortage in Malaysia a timely reminder to save resource: Masagos

ALBERT WAI Today Online 21 Apr 16;

JERUSALEM — The severe water shortage in several Malaysian states serves as a timely reminder to Singaporeans about the need to conserve water, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

Commenting on announcements that states such as Johor and Pahang across the Causeway have imposed water-rationing measures, Mr Masagos said: “We hope that this kind of thing (water rationing) does not happen in Singapore, but we must not take it for granted because for the last few years — 2014, 2015 and even in early 2016 — we have had very dry spells in the early part of the year, and this has contributed to lower and lower levels in our Linggiu Reservoir.”

The reservoir in Johor meets half of Singapore’s water supply needs, but because of the drought, water levels have fallen well below 40 per cent.

The Minister was speaking to the Singapore media in Israel, where he was accompanying Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on his first official visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Mr Masagos stressed that with the threat of climate change, it is important for Singaporeans to help save water.

“Our population must be aware that whatever we do, wherever we are, climate change is real and it will attack us in ways we might not be ready for … I think this awareness must be something we put into ourselves and our children to ensure that we do not take whatever we have for granted,” he said, adding that at the same time, the Government is looking at systemic ways on how to reduce water usage in the industries.

“I think more importantly, the public must respond … make sure that as much as we try to make sure the water supply remains constantly flowing and does not disrupt their daily lives … we must look at how we can help save water,” he said/

Singapore is trying to reduce its per capita domestic water consumption from 151 litres per day to 140 litres by 2030, having brought it down from 165 litres per day in 2003.

“In some European cities, they can achieve 100 litres of water (per day),” said Mr Masagos.

“Maybe they are different because of the climate … but we should aspire, we should really make a lot of effort to bring down our water consumption.”

Mr Masagos added that he had learnt a lot about water management during discussions with his Jordanian and Israeli counterparts.

“They have challenges in meeting the supply of water for their population both because of climate change, which has made the challenge very big ... as well as an increase in the population, which they did not foresee due to the rise in the number of refugees from Syria and Iraq,” he said.

“At the same time, Jordan, Israel, Palestine face severe drought. I was told that for the last 10 years, rainfall has fallen by at least 20 per cent, which means that all their water-supply systems are severely strained.

“These are all lessons for us to learn. We always have to make sure we are ready for the worst outcome, particularly from the climate change challenge that Singapore can, and will, face.”

He added that among the issues he had discussed with his counterparts in the Middle East was how new water technologies may be on the horizon to address these problems.

Read more!

Singapore will take law to full extent to tackle haze issue: Masagos

The authorities have issued notices to companies to facilitate information-gathering on burning forests, the Minister for Environment and Water Resources said.
Leong Wai Kit Channel NewsAsia 21 Apr 16;

TEL AVIV: Singapore will take the law to its full extent if anyone violates the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, said Singapore Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Thursday (Apr 21).

The Minister was responding to comments by Indonesia's Minister of the Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya that Singapore should focus on its own role in combating transboundary haze, instead of “making so many comments”.

Mr Masagos, who is on an official visit to the Middle East with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said the Republic's authorities have issued notices to companies to facilitate information-gathering on burning forests.

The Minister cited the example of the foreign company director who entered Singapore and was served with notices under sections 10 and 11 of the Act. This director was asked to provide information regarding how the company has been working to ensure fires can be mitigated in future, he added.

"He has left but he is required to return. Should he not return, he will have violated our law and therefore, among others, we can arrest him upon entry later than the notice on which he is supposed to return as well as be detained in Singapore if he does not provide the information required," Mr Masagos said.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) had sent Preventive Measures Notices under Section 9 of the Act to six companies based in Indonesia following last year's haze episodes, the Minister said during the Budget debates last week.

- CNA/mz

Singapore vows to crack down on firms responsible for haze
ALBERT WAI Today Online 22 Apr 16;

JERUSALEM — Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli has vowed to crack down on companies responsible for transboundary haze using the “full extent” of Singapore’s laws, in his first response to recent comments by an Indonesian minister that Singapore should focus on its own role and not “make so many comments” on the yearly phenomenon that has blighted the region.

“We must not let companies and corporations get away with their most egregious acts… The message to everybody, whether you are Singaporean or foreigner, if you violate our laws and if our laws allow us to act within the ambit of those laws, we will take the law to its full extent,” said Mr Masagos, who was speaking to Singapore reporters covering Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s week-long visit to the Middle East.

He made this point in response to a question from TODAY on his reaction to Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya’s recent comments and whether there is perception that Singapore is doing enough to tackle the problem as well as what other additional measures should be taken.

Mr Masagos pointed out that Singapore has used the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) passed in 2014 to go after companies that started fires or let their concessions burn, and contributed to last year’s haze that blanketed Singapore and part of the region.

The Republic has issued notices to six of these Indonesia-based companies, which have to explain what steps they are taking to put out and prevent fires on their land. He said that two companies have responded to the notice so far.

On the four companies which have not responded to the preventive measure notices, Mr Masagos said that one of the directors of these companies trying to enter Singapore has been served with a notice under Sections 10 and 11 of the THPA to furnish information on how the company is mitigating fires on its land and allow investigators to examine how the company is implementing these measures.

“He (the director) has left but he is required to return. Should he not return, he will have violated our law and therefore, among others, we can arrest him upon entry later than the notice on which he is supposed to return,” said Mr Masagos.

He declined to reveal the name of the director or his company, but added that the director can also be detained in Singapore if he does not provide the information.
In an interview with an environment news portal over the weekend, Ms Nurbaya had said the Indonesian government has taken “substantial steps” to prevent land and forest fires, and the ensuing haze that envelopes the region every year.

“There is really no need to comment too much on the part Indonesia is currently playing. However, with all due respect to my Singaporean counterpart, what are they doing? And where has it got them?” she asked.

Her remarks followed a speech by Mr Masagos at a sustainability forum in Singapore last Friday where he said agro-forestry companies should take full responsibility for fire prevention and mitigation in their concessions, and that there must not be a repeat of last year’s forest fires which caused the haze.

Thousands of people were afflicted by respiratory illnesses, while tourism, schools and flights were disrupted, as a result of the haze.
In his interview with the media, Mr Masagos noted that Singapore and Indonesia enjoy a good relationship and have worked closely in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“But in the matter of haze, this is a very complex issue that need to be addressed at different levels. I’ve mentioned before that we need to address it both at the bilateral levels together as well as at the regional level,” he said, citing how in ASEAN for example, Singapore has led a peatland management programme to raise awareness of what can be done to manage and restore peatland.

Of 2.6 million hectares of land that was burnt last year in Indonesia, nearly one million was peatland, carbon-rich wetlands that burn easily when drained.

“Indeed, we are very happy that the Indonesians have put up an agency (on peatland restoration) to address these issues particularly,” said Mr Masagos.

At the same time, companies cannot be allowed to get away with irresponsible and illegal behaviour, he said, especially after Singapore’s enactment of the THPA, which allows the government to prosecute companies and individuals that cause severe air pollution in Singapore by burning forests and peatlands in neighbouring countries.

The government also served a notice to Asian Pulp and Paper Company (APP) last year to seek information regarding measures taken by its suppliers to put out fires in their concessions.

“We are now looking at them (APP) to see how we are going to move forward,” said Mr Masagos, adding it is premature to release more information on the case as investigations are ongoing.

Singapore taking action against firms behind fires
Audrey Tan, Zakir Hussain, Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Apr 16;

Singapore is taking action under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act against companies that started fires or let their concessions burn, and contributed to last year's haze, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli has said.

It has given notices to six of these Indonesia-based firms, asking them to explain steps they are taking to put out and prevent fires on their land.

Two have replied.

A director of one of the four firms that have yet to reply has also been served with a notice to give information on his firm's move to mitigate fires on its land and prevent a repeat of last year's haze.

"He has left (Singapore), but is required to return," Mr Masagos told reporters on Tuesday night.

"Should he not return, he would have violated our laws," he said, adding that Singapore can arrest him if he returns later than the date stipulated in the notice.

Mr Masagos declined to disclose the name of the director or his firm, but said he can be detained in Singapore if he fails to give the required information.

"We must not let companies get away with their most egregious acts," Mr Masagos added.

He made these points when asked by Singapore reporters about his Indonesian counterpart's remarks that asked what Singapore had done to combat forest fires.

Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar had told news site last week that her country had been trying to prevent the recurrence of land and forest fires, and consistently enforcing the law.

"My question is - what has the Singaporean Government done? I feel they should focus on their own role," she was quoted as saying.

Singapore experts, like Dr Mustafa Izzuddin of the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, said her comments, made "in that spirit of national pride", seemed directed at her home audience.

Dr Jonatan Lassa, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said that while Indonesia has committed to map hot spots, it needs to build structures like incident command systems on the ground to follow up and take action where needed.

Mr Masagos, in his media interview, also noted Singapore's good ties with Indonesia on many fronts, saying both are working together.

But the haze is a complex issue that has to be tackled not just bilaterally, but also at the ASEAN and regional level.

For instance, Singapore led an ASEAN programme to make people more aware of what they can do to manage and restore peatland, on which most forest fires take place.

The six companies given notice by the National Environment Agency include Singapore-listed Asia Pulp and Paper, which has been asked about steps its subsidiaries and Indonesian suppliers are taking to put out fires in their concessions.

"We are now looking at them to see how we are going to move forward," Mr Masagos said. He declined to say more as investigations are ongoing.

"The message to everybody is: Whether you are Singaporean, whether you are a foreigner, if you violate our laws, we will apply the law to its full extent."

Mr Chris Cheng of volunteer group People's Movement to Stop Haze called on firms to produce or buy palm oil and paper that are verified "haze-free".

He added: "Our financial institutions can also ensure they do not lend to or invest in potential haze-causing companies."

Read more!

Malaysia: Tugboat, barge and eight Indonesians nabbed for smuggling sand


KOTA TINGGI: A tugboat and a barge and their crew of eight Indonesians have been detained by the maritime authorities for smuggling sand in Pengerang waters, here.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said the vessels were spotted during a routine patrol 3.4 nautical miles south of Teluk Ramunia at 10.15am on Wednesday.

The agency's Tanjung Sedili enforcement chief Maritime Capt Amran Daud said the foreign-registered tugboat and barge were carrying about 145 tonnes of sand from Kuantan to Singapore.

“Checks on the Batam-registered tugboat TB Buana Superior and barge Buana Ocean 05 also found eight Indonesian crewmen including the captain aged between 21 and 38.

“The crewmen have been brought to the MMEA's Tanjung Sedili base for further investigations,” he said in a statement here on Thursday.

Capt Amran added that the case would be investigated under the Customs Act 1967 for smuggling taxable goods, which carries a fine of up to 10 times the value of the goods, upon conviction.

Read more!

Malaysia: Unhealthy air quality in Klang Valley

ASHLEY TANG The Star 21 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: The worsening air quality in the Klang Valley is triggered by the hot weather and several fires which include peat fires in Kuala Langat and Sepang, according to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.

“The hot and dry weather also caused air pollutants in the air and worsened the haze situation today and yesterday,” it said in a press statement on Thursday.

The Ministry said that transboundary haze is unlikely to occur as the country is still in the monsoon season, which is expected until mid-May.

As of 3pm, the Air Pollution Index (API) showed an unhealthy reading which exceeded 100 in several areas in the Klang Valley.

The API recorded in Petaling Jaya was 103, Shah Alam (122), and Cheras (131) due to ozone pollution (O3).

“The current hot weather and an increase in nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollutants and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) have contributed to an increase in the API readings.

"Until April 20 (Wednesday), Klang and Kuala Selangor had seen no rain for eight days in a row according to a report by the Malaysian Meteorological Department,” the statement said.

The Ministry also urged the public to refrain from open burning and to be vigilant in not letting the land or premises owned by them to be used by irresponsible people for open burning, whether incidental, or for a particular purpose.

Those guilty will be charged under Section 29(A) Environmental Quality Act 1974.

They will be convicted of carrying out open burning to a fine not exceeding RM500,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or both.

The maximum fine of RM2,000 will be imposed on each offence.

The public is also urged to extinguish small fires and to report cases of open burning to the Fire and Rescue Services Department at 999 and the Department of Environment (DOE) at 1-800-88-2727.

An API of between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 (moderate), 101 to 200 (unhealthy), 201 to 300 (very unhealthy), 301 and above (hazardous).

Haze makes brief comeback in Klang Valley
New Straits Times 21 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The haze seemed to have made a brief comeback in certain areas in the Klang Valley today before dissipating.

At around 2.00pm, the Department of Environment’s Air Pollution Index (API) for Shah Alam and Cheras crept up to 105 and 110, respectively.

An API range of 100-200 is considered “unhealthy.”

At 3.00 pm, the API of Banting, Petaling Jaya, Batu and Putrajaya, all went above 100 while Shah Alam and Cheras increased to 122 and 131 respectively.

However, an hour later at 4.00 pm, API of most places dipped “moderate” level, with the exception of Banting and Cheras.

The haze seemed to have made a brief comeback in certain areas in the Klang Valley today before dissipating.

At around 2.00pm, the Department of Environment’s Air Pollution Index (API) for Shah Alam and Cheras crept up to 105 and 110, respectively Rain experienced in the late afternoon may have helped dissipate the haze, as at around 5.00 pm, levels of all areas were down “moderate.”

The cause of it is still unknown. No one from Department of Environment was available for comment when calls were made by NST.

Read more!

Malaysia: It’s not as hot as it was in Perlis in 1998

The Star 22 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysians may feel like the mercury has risen to record levels this year but that appears not to be the case, accor­ding to the Malaysian Meteorological Department.

A MetMalaysia spokesman said the current daily maximum temperatures had not surpassed the 40.1°C recorded in Chuping, Perlis, on April 1, 1998, during the last El Nino.

MetMalaysia, he added, had also not determined if the current spell was the longest period of dry and hot weather ever experienced by the country.

“We don’t have those records,” he said.

This came as the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminis­tration (NOAA) announced that last month was the hottest March in 137 years.

The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for last month was the highest for any March in the 1880-2016 record at 1.22°C above the 20th-century average of 12.7°C.

NOAA’s National Centres for Environmental Information also reported that this surpassed the previous record set in 2015 by 0.32°C.

March 2016 also marked the 11th consecutive month a global tempe­rature record was broken, the longest such streak in NOAA’s 137 years of record-keeping.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry declared school closures for today in Perlis as well as Jerantut and Temerloh districts in Pahang after daily maximum temperatures reached 37°C for three consecutive days.

“The closures are a precau­tionary measure to safeguard the students’ health,” the ministry said in a statement yesterday.

A total of 68 secondary and 191 primary schools will be closed for the day, involving 97,533 students, of whom 5,671 are preschoolers.

School administrative activities will continue as normal, with tea­chers and other staff members expected to perform their routine duties that do not involve students.

In a separate statement, the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry said water rationing had started in Kota Tinggi and Mersing districts in Johor on Monday.

This involved 17,000 account holders who would get water for 24 hours every two days.

The ministry also stated that water treatment plants in five states – Pahang, Kedah, Perlis, Johor and Sabah – have had to reduce the production of raw water due to the current dry and hot spell.

This affected 27,000 account holders in peninsular Malaysia and 1,200 others in Sabah.

Among measures taken by water companies in those states include sending water tankers to affected areas, the placement of static tanks and installation of purified water package plant in Sabah.

Schools in Perlis, Jerantut, Temerloh to close tomorrow due to heat
TASNIM LOKMAN New Straits Times 21 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: All schools in the state of Perlis and districts of Jerantut and Temerloh, Pahang will be closed tomorrow (Friday) due to the extreme hot weather sweeping the country.

The Education Ministry in a statement today said the closure was to safeguard that the health of students.

Temperature readings in those areas recorded readings exceeding 37 degrees Celcius for three days in a row.

The one-day closure involves a total of 259 schools, 68 secondary schools and 191 primary schools.

A total of 97,533 students, of which 91,862 are primary and secondary schools students and 5,671 pre-school pupils, will be affected by the school cancellations.

The ministry added that the classes need not be replaced. School administration operations however, will go on as scheduled.

The ministry said all teachers and school staff must be present at their schools and conduct other tasks that do not involve students.

Read more!

Malaysia: Fire destroys over 135ha of forest in Terengganu

The Star 22 Apr 16;

KEMAMAN: Over 135ha of forest in the state have been scorched by a blaze that firemen are still struggling to put out due to the drought.

The affected areas included 100ha of the 400ha Teluk Kalung peat swamp area, 5ha of the Kampung Batu 7 peat forest in Dungun, 15ha of the Kampung Chabang peat forest in Kerteh, and 15ha of the Kampung Durian Guling forest in Marang.

State Fire and Rescue Department operations assistant director Khairul Ariffin Che Ramli said firemen had been battling for the past three days to douse the fires which were triggered by the ongoing dry spell.

He said the situation was aggravated by the lack of water sources due to drying rivers.

“Most of the small rivers now have little water as they are drying up due to the prolonged heatwave.

“Some of the ponds are also loca­ted far from the fires,” he said.

Khairul Ariffin said the fires could have been set off by poachers and the clearing of farm land.

Since the start of the heatwave in January, some 890 open-burning cases had been reported, he said.

“Ninety-nine per cent of the cases reported were due to human negligence. Many tend to do farm-clearing and leave it unattended,” he said.

Drop in open burning cases in Johor
The Star 22 Apr 16;

JOHOR BARU: The joint efforts between the Fire and Rescue Department and the local authorities have contributed to the drop in open burning cases in Johor despite the current El Nino heatwave.

In the first three months of this year, 610 cases of open burning were recorded compared to the total of 2,721 cases recorded from January to March last year.

Most of the open burning cases recorded so far this year were forest and bush fires which contributed to 421 of the cases followed by burning of rubbish with 85 cases, and 55 cases of open burning at farms.

Last year, there were a total of 1,804 forest and bush fires, 449 cases of open burning at farms followed by 252 cases of rubbish burning in the same corresponding period.

Johor Fire and Rescue Department director Othman Abdullah attributed the drop to the joint operations that began this year, conducted by his department and the local authorities which included the Land Office.

“The enforcement efforts were also to identify repeat offenders where the land owner would be issued with a warning letter if found conducting open burning activities in the same location more than once.

One of the participants trying on the Fire and Rescue Department tool to cut out car windscreen during the Bomba with the Media community course held at the state Fire and Rescue department headquarters here in Johor Baru on April 13, 2016.
A participant being taught how to break the wind - screen of a car in the event of an emergency.
“So far the Land Office has issued four warning letters, including those in Muar, Kempas in Johor Baru as well as Lepau in Pengerang,” he said when opening the “Bomba with the Media” programme at its headquarters here recently.

He said for the whole of 2015, 4,324 cases of open burning were recorded while 5,144 cases were recorded in 2014.

Meanwhile, Othman said the department aims to establish at least 10 Bomba communities for each of its 28 fire stations in the state to enable more members of the public to be qualified as first responders in the event of emergencies.

“The public are the best first responders when there are emergencies such as kitchen fires or accidents as they can react to the situation first, while waiting for the authorities to arrive.

“This can help prevent fires from spreading and the property from suffering further damage,” he said, adding that there were about 85 certified bomba communities in Johor and another 2,000 people undergoing the free training to be certified.

He said that many people did not take the fire and safety drill seriously, and that this could lead to them suffering losses if and when such cases occurred at their homes or other places.

“Our department welcomes the public to take part in the course, where the participants will be given an insight into the dangers as well as taught what to do for their safety as well as that of others,” he said.

He added that one instance where the people could act fast and independently involved fires in the kitchens.

“During the programme, the participants will be taught how to act in such a situation, such as covering the wok with a wet towel instead of pouring water on the flames and making it worse,” he said.

During the special media course, about 44 members of the media were given an opportunity to be part of the demonstration on how to operate firemen’s tools as well as attend a workshop on how to handle emergency cases.

“Participants were also given the chance to operate radiation detector machines, the department’s water hose and others,” he said.

He added that those who had completed the course would be automatically registered as Bomba Community members.

Othman said about 2,000 participants were undergoing the course statewide while 970 have already been registered as members.

Read more!

Malaysian states, federal govt ‘must work together to resolve water supply issues’

Today Online 22 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR — All state governments in Malaysia need to work closely with the federal government to resolve problems with water supply in the coming weeks, said the Malaysian Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry yesterday, as a looming water crisis due to the ongoing drought threaten its northern states.

The ministry said in a statement yesterday that all state governments must put in place measures to ensure water catchment areas are protected from uncontrolled development activities that could threaten raw water supply, and this include any agricultural-related activities.

“The federal government, on the other hand, will explore alternative water sources, intensify water conservation campaigns and introduce a water tariff structure based on the ‘user pays principle’ in order to encourage prudent use of water,” the ministry said.

Malaysia, especially its northern states of Perlis, Kedah, Penang and Perak, has been enveloped in a sweltering heatwave — affecting up to four million people — resulting in the temporary closure of schools, as well as slowing vegetable production, leading to price hikes.

Paddy fields, durian and rubber plantations have also been affected by the severe temperatures, and water levels at dams and water treatment plants have been decreasing.

Cloud seeding was conducted on Tuesday at targeted dam areas in the four states, with limited success.

“The cloud seeding operations in the four states only had limited success as it only rained heavily at the Bukit Merah dam in Perak, while other areas remained dry,” said Malaysian Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Wilfred Madius Tangau.

The drought has forced some states, such as Perlis and Johor, to impose water rationing, but Penang has yet to do so, even though the CEO of the Penang Water Supply Corporation, Jaseni Maidinsa, said on Monday that the Malaysian government needs to come up with an action plan in the next 30 days to deal with the current drought.

The drought has also caused Penang to temporarily suspended all irrigation activities, forcing paddy farmers to defer their planting for at least a month, said its Chief Minister Penang Lim Guan Eng yesterday.

He said priority should be on the needs of domestic users, noting that water shortages mean that the paddy saplings may not survive.

“We had no choice. Water supply for consumers comes first, but even if we let them plant now, there will not be enough water to sustain the paddy and it will die,” he said.

He advised farmers to save their seeds for another time until the situation improves.

“They can still wait until May but this dry weather is expected to last till June,” he added.

In Selangor, State Executive Councillor Elizabeth Wong assured yesterday that the state is well-prepared to handle the prolonged dry spell, after Democratic Action Party Member of Parliament (MP) Charles Santiago warned on Wednesday that the Klang Valley — which includes Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, the country’s administrative capital of Putrajaya and much of Selangor — can face a water crisis in about six weeks as the water reserves in the Sungai Selangor and Sungai Semenyih dams are dropping.

“Today, the Klang MP made all kinds of wild allegations, inaccurate calculations and the news has now gone viral,” she wrote in a message sighted by Malay Mail Online in referring to Mr Santiago.

“Suddenly, the Selangor state government was being badly attacked, even though focus should be given to the states that are really facing huge problems, like Perlis, Penang and Johor,” she said, adding that she had informed several quarters, including Japanese investment consultants, that Selangor is ready to ride out the dry spell.

Despite Ms Lee’s assurances, business owners in the Klang Valley are still worried. Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Foundry and Engineering Industries Association president Fan See Hai said those in the industry would be severely hit as the foundry and engineering industry requires thousands of gallons of water for daily production.

“If, say, there is no water, or if the government decides to implement the ‘two days on and two days off’ water rationing exercise, we will be in trouble,” he told Malay Mail Online.

Read more!

Malaysia: El Nino taking a toll on Bukit Merah despite cloud seeding

CHRISTOPHER TAN The Star 22 Apr 16;

Mini market owner fined RM5,000 for profiteering from Maggi noodles
KERIAN: El Nino has claimed a 4,000ha dam here, which is also part of the tourist spot – the Bukit Merah Laketown Resort – even as planes continue to seed clouds to battle the drought in the northern region.

The Bukit Merah Dam has less than 6m of water at its deepest point and only has 14% left despite having a catchment area of 480 sq km.

More than two-thirds of what was once the lake’s surface is now a desolate landscape of once-sun­ken tree stumps.

“It has been raining most evenings and nights recently from cloud seeding, but it did little to raise the dam level.

“The lake had lost too much water,” said state Energy and Water Committee chairman Datuk Zainol Fadzi Paharudin yesterday.

Rain gauges on Wednesday night, he added, showed only a gain of 2mm.

Stumped: Dead trees that used to be underwater can be seen due to the drying Bukit Merah Dam in Kerian. — ASRI ABDUL GHANI/The Star
Stumped: Dead trees that used to be underwater can be seen due to the drying Bukit Merah Dam in Kerian. — ASRI ABDUL GHANI/The Star
Since April 11, the Royal Malay­sian Air Force and Science, Technology and Innovation Minis­try had sent planes laden with fine salt to stimulate clouds over dams in Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Malacca and Negri Sembilan.

Meanwhile, padi farmers are incurring massive losses because what water was left can no longer reach the dam’s release gates to irrigate their fields.

They are now appealing for financial subsistence from the Federal Government through Perak Farmers Organisation chairman Datuk Seri Dr Raja Ahmad Zainuddin Raja Omar, who said that they had lost at least RM8mil because of the stalled planting season.

Hundreds of arowana fish ponds, visible along the North-South Highway beside Bukit Merah Lake, are now holding their fish stocks worth hundreds of thousands of ringgit per farm in stagnant pools because they hardly have water to refresh their ponds.

Also suffering is Bukit Merah Laketown Resort. Though it is still operating, most of the lake activities have stopped.

Boatman Mohd Yusof Shamsuri, 58, said the Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island had been closed for two weeks.

“Our passenger boats are just sitting on the lake’s bed at the end of the jetty,” he said.

Dam-pened spirits: An aerial view of the dried up lake in Bukit Merah Laketown Resort in Kerian. — Drone photography by Se Vena Networks
Dam-pened spirits: An aerial view of the dried up lake in Bukit Merah Laketown Resort in Kerian. — Drone photography by Se Vena Networks
Sungai Kurau, which pours into the lake from the west and exits again at the east, still manages a weak flow of muddy water.

But life for fishermen in Kampung Selamat, a village of 130 homes in the southern end of the lake, has come to a grinding halt because the water is completely gone.

Villager Shamsudin Mohammad, 66, said that the lake started drying up in December.

“We get a dry season yearly, but this is the worst I have seen since staying here in 1960.

“What used to be a perfect place to catch fish is now no more,” he said.

Besides Bukit Merah dam, also lists two other dams as being in the danger zone.

Bukit Merah Lake in Kerian, Perak, where the Bukit Merah Laketown Resort is located, standing high and dry after most of the lake dried up due to El Nino. - ASRI ABDUL GHANI/The Star
Bukit Merah Lake in Kerian, Perak, where the Bukit Merah Laketown Resort is located, standing high and dry after most of the lake dried up due to El Nino.
Bukit Kwong Dam in Kelantan has only 7.81% of its water left and Labong Dam in Johor has only 11.98% .

But the situation is different in the Klang Valley as the parks mana­gement are not worried about potential water shortage.

Desa Water Park manager David Wan said they had storage tanks to provide enough water for the park to run for at least two to three days during a water crisis.

Sunway Lagoon marketing director Michelle Gregory said there was no threat of water shortage as the park’s water supply came directly from the lake and was not at all dependent on outside sources.

Read more!

Malaysia: NGOs blast Selangor govt for deforestation; demands protection for forest reserves

DAWN CHAN New Straits Times 21 Apr 16;

SHAH ALAM: Six non-governmental organisations in a memorandum have called on the Selangor government to put an immediate halt to any efforts to degazette forest reserves to make way for highway projects in the state.

Referring to the Bukit Sungai Puteh Utara, Bukit Sungai Puteh Selatan, Bukit Cherakah and Sungai Buloh forest reserves which could be potentially degazetted for the projects, the NGOs said development must not come at the expense of nature.

Say No To Suke's Agos Hasan Ashari and five other NGOs said they supported Sultan of Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah's recent call to 'green' Selangor.

"Any effort to 'green' Selangor must begin with an immediate halt to degazetting forest reserves which are very important to the people in the state," he said in a memorandum addressed to Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali today.

The other NGOs who have voiced their disappointment and objection to the Selangor government's degazettement of forest reserves are Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka), Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Malaysian Nature Society, Save Greenlungs and Say No To Dash.

The memorandum also gave several other suggestions to the state government which are that there should be no further degazettement of any forest reserves in Selangor.

They also asked for a face-to-face meeting with Azmin on the degazettement issue to understand the issue and find a solution acceptable to all parties.

The other suggestions are a detailed study to quantify and verify that the actual current total forest reserve areas in Selangor is above 31.56 per cent of the state's land area, and to undertake efforts to increase the current forest reserve areas to 40 per cent of the land area in Selangor, as a start.

The memorandum was handed over by Agos to Azmin's political secretary Mat Shuhaimi Shafiei at the lobby of the state secretariat building.

Peka Malaysia president Puan Seri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil said while they are not against development, the diminishing of forest reserves also meant killing the flora and fauna as well as water catchment areas.

"Where are we going to have water catchment areas if all of the forest reserves are gone? Selangor does not have many forests left and if it keeps wanting development and cutting down forests, we will be in deep trouble soon," she said.

Read more!

Malaysia: What will become of our national emblem if the Malayan tiger becomes extinct?

ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 21 Apr 16;

KUALA TERENGGANU: What will be the significance of Malaysia’s national emblem if the Malayan tiger becomes extinct?

This was the poser raised by the Sultan of Terengganu, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, who shared his concern in a special documentary titled ‘Harimau Selamanya’ to be screened on World Earth Day tomorrow (Friday).

The Sultan made a special appearance in the five-minute documentary that highlights the critically endangered Malayan Tiger.

“Imagine a world without tigers. I think we will experience the loss of a creature made by Allah that is essential to the ecosystem.

“What is the meaning of our national emblem if tigers go extinct? The national spirit will fade if tigers are gone,” said the Sultan.

The ‘Harimau Selamanya’ documentary will be screened to educate Malaysians, especially Muslims, to protect earth, its creatures and to take better care of our planet’s precious biodiversity.

Universiti Malaysia Terengganu’s Kenyir Research Institute and Rimba co-founder Associate Professor Dr. Gopalasamy Reuben Clements said that the documentary would be screened to highlight poaching of the critically-endangered Malayan Tiger.

“This five-minute documentary will highlight the need to protect our environment in the context of Islam, with a special focus on the plight of the Malayan tiger and how we are failing in our collective duty to safeguard it.

“It will include a special appearance by the Sultan of Terengganu, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, along with experts who will impart their knowledge on the responsibility of good Muslims to protect the planet and its creatures,” said Clements.

‘Harimau Selamanya’ is produced by award-winning film-makers Novista Sdn Bhd in collaboration with the the Sultan, the Wildlife and Parks Department and non-profit conservation research group Rimba.

Clements said that the documentary would be available on YouTube and aired by Media Prima on its channels.

“The Malayan tiger is now officially listed as critically-endangered in the International Union of Conservation for Nature (IUCN) ‘Red List of Threatened Species’.

“Evidence indicates that the number of mature tigers in Malaysia may be as low as 250, and they are facing extinction,” he said.

Clements added that besides habitat loss, poaching of tigers was the other main threat to their survival.

“The demand for tiger products such as meat, skins, bones and other body parts is driving the species to extinction,” he said.

The documentary, thus, highlights the tenets of Islam, which forbid Muslims from hunting any species to extinction.

Such acts are declared as ‘haram’ and every follower is duty bound as ‘caliphs’ to protect Allah’s creations.

Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM) representative Rosmidzatul Azila said there were people who sold parts of tigers as amulets and as food.

“This is against Islam. The prophet’s hadith said that when Allah forbids you to eat something, the sale of it is also sinful even if we sell it to a person that is not a Muslim,” she said.

On November 2015, Terengganu became the first state to declare a fatwa prohibiting the illegal hunting of wildlife, especially tigers and their prey such as the sambar deer.

Terengganu mufti Datuk Dr Zulkifly Muda, said that issues about the environment, especially wildlife, had been neglected.

“People have hunted animals as they please, without considering the consequences of hunting, which can deplete animals in the forest and cause an imbalance in the environment,” he said.

Wildlife and National Parks deputy director-general Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim said the sambar deer population was declining due to hunting.

“Malaysians have alternatives now and no longer need to consume deer for food. Let them be in the forest for the sake of conservation and be food for the tigers,” he said.

Read more!

Malaysia: US places Malaysia's shrimps on “import alert” for banned antibiotics

Malaysia seeks info on seafood alert
The Star 22 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia will ask the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for details on its move to place shrimp and prawns from peninsular Malaysia on “import alert” over the alleged presence of banned antibiotics in the seafood.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek said the export of frozen prawns from Malaysia to the United States was arranged on a willing buyer, willing seller basis or what he described as a “private arrangement”.

He said the process did not involve appro­val or monitoring from any authority inclu­ding his ministry, the Ministry of Health (MOH) or Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

Following the incident, Ahmad Shabery said the Government had set up a special committee to control the export of prawns to the US including tightening conditions at processing plants which must be approved by MOH.

He added that his ministry would take control of issuing Certificate of Origin for prawns from the Chamber of Commerce.

On the same issue, Ahmad Shabery’s deputy Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman urged consumers and importers not to panic over the FDA’s alert until the ministry gets to the bottom of the matter.

“We will check the report by the US FDA and if we find it to be true, we will take necessary action to make sure exporters comply with the US government rules and stan­dards,” said Tajuddin.

The FDA on Monday announced that its District Offices might detain without physical examination imports of shrimp and prawns from peninsular Malaysia due to testing that found residues of nitrofurans and chloramphenicol.

The FDA notice said prawns and shrimp from Sabah and Sarawak were exempted from the import alert.

Banned in both Malaysia and the US for use on seafood farm operations, nitrofurans and chloramphenicol are antibiotics that help prevent disease in prawns and shrimps but are harmful for human consumption.

Malaysia is one of the top 10 exporters of prawns and shrimps to the US. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the country imported 8,311 metric tonnes of shrimp from Malaysia last year.

The notice said that from Oct 1, 2014 to Sept 30, 2015, the US FDA tested 138 samples of shrimp and prawns from peninsular Malaysia.

In all, 45 samples or 32% contained residues of both substances, it said.

The notice said companies that process or ship shrimp and prawns from the peninsula would be placed on the import alert.

An aquaculture expert said there were va­rious ways prawn farmers could use to combat diseases in shrimp and prawns but some treatments were more time consuming and not as effective as using nitrofurans and chloramphenicol.

The problem with using the two banned substances is that it is difficult to determine the correct required dosage, which differs according to the extent of the bacterial infection on the prawns, size of the ponds and other factors.

As such, some end up using too much of the two substances, and their residues subsequently turn up in the prawns during testing.

Ministry probing US FDA claims
The Star 22 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: The Health Ministry has started investigating claims that shrimp and prawns from Malaysia contained traces of nitrofurans and chloramphenicol in shipments to the United States, said Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

“We are investigating it,” said Dr Hisham, adding that he did not want to speculate on the details yet.

“The agency has requested that the Malaysian Government investigate the cause of the residue problem and develop a programme of short-term and long-term actions to prevent the export of violative shrimp from Malaysia to the United States,” the FDA said in a statement.

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association secretary-general Datuk Paul Selvaraj has urged the Government to put emphasis on food safety.

“More frequent tests should be conducted by the Government for the safety of the consumers,” he said.

Similar to FDA, Paul believes that the Government should also ban unsafe food for the safety of Malaysian consumers.

Shrimp and prawn farms being monitored by agencies
The Star 22 Apr 16;

KLANG: The shrimp and prawn farming standards and requirements are constantly monitored in the country by multiple government agencies.

Given this, the import alert issued by the US FDA on the shrimp and prawns from Malaysia would be looked into from an inter-departmental approach, said Selangor Fisheries Department director Azlisha Ab Aziz.

“We will collectively find out about the import alert and take the necessary mea­sures,” she said.

An industry source said the import alert was only for shrimp and prawns that were farmed and not those caught from the sea.

She said both nitrofurans and chloramphenicol were antibiotics used to combat various kinds of infections.

“The use of antibiotics in seafood farming is generally not allowed by major markets such as the United States, European Union and Japan,” she said.

But, she added, major shrimp and prawn supplying countries in Asia such as India, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, among others, had to depend on the use of these antibiotics to prevent diseases in farmed seafood.

“When such alert is made and it involves Malaysia, our authorities would generally investigate and find out who the suppliers of the consignments are and take the necessary measures,” she said, adding it could also be a false alarm.

She said the Malaysian authorities also imposed stringent guidelines on what was permissible and what was not.

Shrimps with banned substance came from neighbouring countries
NICHOLAS CHENG The Star 23 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Local prawn farmers are livid, saying shrimp found with traces of banned antibiotics were not coming from their farms.

Rather, they are coming from neighbouring countries that are using illicit exporters and Malaysia’s certificate of origin in order to get into the United States.

Malaysian Shrimp Industry Association (MSIA) Syed Omar Syed Jaafar said that none of the 760 prawn farmers here were rearing them using antibiotics.

“We have our code of practice, we never used antibiotics. What’s happening here is the shrimp the United States is getting are from transhipments from China, Vietnam or India.

“There have been reports that shrimp from there have tested positive for the antibiotics. So recently when they were shipped to Japan they were rejected.

“So they are working together with some irresponsible traders in Malaysia; they bring their shrimp here to get the Malaysian certificate of origin and then re-export them to the US,” Syed Omar said.

This is not the first time allegations of antibiotics residue in Malaysian prawns has been brought up, he said. Farmers had raised the issue of re-exported prawns after the European Union also issued an import alert on the seafood here in 2003.

However, he claimed nothing was done to bring these illicit Malaysian traders to book.

He called on the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industries and the Fisheries Department to take over the COO approval process for seafood here.

No veterinary drugs detected in prawns, shrimp from Malaysia: AVA
Prawns found to contain veterinary drug residues such as nitrofurans and amphenicols would not be allowed to be imported or sold in Singapore, the AVA says.
Channel NewsAsia 22 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE: Veterinary drug residues such as nitrofurans and amphenicols have not been detected in prawns and shrimp imported from Malaysia, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said on Friday (Apr 22).

Its statement comes after the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert on imported prawns and shrimp from Malaysia. The FDA said approximately a third of the imports contained residue of nitrofurans and/or chloramphenicol after testing.

The AVA said veterinary drugs are not permitted in food including prawns and shrimp. Prawns found to contain veterinary drug residues such as nitrofurans and amphenicols would not be allowed to be imported or sold, it said.

A spokesperson added: “As part of AVA’s routine surveillance and inspection programme, imported prawns and shrimps (i.e. fresh or frozen) are monitored and sampled for food safety and compliance with our standards and requirements. Food products that fail our tests will not be allowed for sale.”

Singapore imported 16,400 tonnes of prawns and shrimp in 2015. About 56 per cent, or 91,000 tonnes, were from Malaysia, AVA said. Other sources of prawns and shrimp include Indonesia and Vietnam.

Banned antibiotics not detected in prawns and shrimp imported from Malaysia, says AVA
Today Online 22 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE — The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore said it has not detected banned antibiotics in prawns and shrimp imported from Malaysia even as the US Food and Drug Administration announced that shipments of the seafood to the US from Malaysia had traces of chloramphenicol and/or nitrofurans.

In response to questions from TODAY, the AVA said on Friday (April 22) that veterinary drugs are not permitted in food including prawns and shrimp. “Affected prawns found to contain veterinary drug residues such as nitrofurans and amphenicols would not be allowed to be imported or sold,” said the AVA.

In 2015, 56 per cent of imported live, chilled or frozen prawns and shrimp came from Malaysia, amounting to about 9,100 tonnes.

As part of AVA’s routine surveillance and inspection programme, imported prawns and shrimp are monitored and sampled for food safety and compliance with Singapore’s standards and requirements. “Food products that fail our tests will not be allowed for sale,” said the statement.

On April 18, the FDA issued an import alert on prawns and shrimp from peninsular Malaysia due to “testing that found that approximately one-third of imports from peninsular Malaysia contained residues of nitrofurans and/or chloramphenicol.” Once an import alert is issued, shipments may be detained without physical examination at the port of entry.

According to the FDA statement, from Oct 1, 2014 to Sep 30, 2015, the FDA tested 138 samples of shrimp and prawns from peninsular Malaysia and found that 45 samples (32 percent) contained residues of the banned antibiotics.

The agency has requested that the Malaysian government investigate the cause of the residue problem and develop a programme of short-term and long-term actions to prevent the export of this shrimp from Malaysia to the United States, said the statement.

The Star newspaper reported that Malaysia’s Health Ministry has started investigating the FDA’s claims.

Read more!

Indonesia`s planned moratorium on oil palm concessions lauded

Fardah Antara 21 Apr 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodos announcement last week about a plan to impose a moratorium on new permits for oil palm plantations has been lauded by some parties, particularly NGOs.

The moratorium policy is aimed at preserving Indonesias tropical rain forest, the worlds third largest after forests in Amazon and Congo.

The deforestation rate in the country, however, is very fast since land is being converted, particularly for plantation, and also due to forest fires.

"There will be a moratorium on oil palm and mining," the head of state, popularly known as Jokowi, stated at the launch of a National Movement for Plants and Wild Animals protection in conjunction with the World Forest Day, in Karya Island of Thousand Islands, Jakarta, on April 14.

The president said entrepreneurs and small business holders will not be allowed to expand land for oil palm concessions.

According to the President, the government is also planning to declare a moratorium on mining areas.

"Let there be no more clashes related to mining concessions with forest conservation. There should be no more of such things," said President Jokowi.

The existing oil palm plantations need to increase their productivity by using high quality seeds and maximizing the potential, he said.

Indonesia is the worlds largest crude palm oil producer with 31.5 million ton production in 2015. The sector provides jobs for six million people.

The countrys oil palm industry contributed at least US$19 billion in 2015, compared to oil and gas sectors US$12 billion contribution, according to Tofan Mahdi, spokesman of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI).

Smallholders account for about 40 percent of Indonesias 32 million palm oil output last year.

Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has welcomed the announcement of a moratorium on oil palm and mining permits by President Jokowi.

"The announcement of a moratorium on palm oil and mining permits by the Indonesian President Joko Widodo is a welcome development," Gemma Tillack of Rainforest Action Network wrote on the NGOs website, on April 18.

This announcement, in the run up to the signing of the Paris Agreement in New York City where delegates will discuss the urgency of taking action to mitigate climate change, is a sign that Indonesia recognizes the importance of keeping its remaining forests and peatlands intact, the NGO said.

"If enforced and extended to forests within existing palm oil concessions, this effort to halt the destruction of forests and peatlands, and to stop the forest fires set intentionally to aid the expansion of industrial palm oil development, will reduce Indonesias carbon footprint, the severity of the annual haze crisis and will also secure the lives and livelihoods of countless communities," Tillack remarked.

Besides, the Indonesian palm oil industry has the opportunity to secure its place as a major global supplier of palm oil by improving the practices of all actors in the palm oil sector and protecting its globally important ecological treasures, including the Leuser Ecosystem, according to RAN.

Leading environmental NGO Greenpeace has lauded the moratorium plan and hoped that the policy will be urgently implemented via a legally binding presidential regulation.

The move to end the expansion of palm oil plantations should protect all remaining forests, including those within concession areas, Greenpeaces Global Head of Indonesia Forest Campaign, Kiki Taufik, noted in a statement.

"The president said yesterday that the increase in productivity implied that no new land would be needed for palm oil plantations. He is absolutely correct. Instead of expanding into forests, palm oil companies and their customers must share their expertise and provide assistance to small farmers to increase their palm oil yield and ensure a sustainable livelihood for the Indonesian farming communities," Kiki explained.

Greenpeace Indonesia country director Longgena Ginting said Indonesias rapidly vanishing forests are in dire need of urgent protection, a fact that the President recognized with his very welcome moratorium announcement.

Improving transparency in forest data including mining, palm oil and pulpwood concessions, is a crucial prerequisite for implementing and monitoring the presidents plan, he said in a statement on April 15.

Greenpeace looks forward to the publication of this data which has been kept secret from the public for too long, he said.

"A ban on further mining and oil palm plantation concessions is a welcome pledge. However, Greenpeace calculates there are 10 million of hectares of forests currently facing clearance in existing oil palm, pulp and mining concessions. The president needs to urgently take measures to permanently protect forests and peatlands, wherever they are," he said.

From among the business circles, response came from the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) Management and IPOP signatories which applauded President Jokowis moratorium plan.

"We hope this moratorium will be an initial step to synergies efforts to empower all stakeholders to achieve sustainable palm oil production in Indonesia. We should indeed be focused on intensifying our palm oil production and maintain competitiveness of this sector," Nurdiana Darus, Executive Director IPOP Management, stated in the press release dated April 15.

The Indonesia Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) was signed at the UN Climate Summit by Wilmar, GAR, Cargill and Asian Agri. Musim Mas Mas also made its commitment to the Pledge in March 2015.

The moratorium is expected to come into effect this year.(*)

Mining moratorium contravenes govt’s own policies: Activists
Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 21 Apr 16;

Environmental activists are skeptical about the government’s recent pledges to halt new mining permit issuances as its commitment might contradict with reality.

Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) coordinator Hendrik Siregar said the planned moratorium contradicted the government’s ambitious plan to increase the nation’s electricity generating capacity until 2019.

“With the plan to produce 20 GW of electricity from coal, it will need at least 70 million tons of coal. This amount of coal will need lots of land and thus the moratorium will not be effective,” he said.

In mid-2015, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced an ambitious capacity target to install 35 GW through 2019 as electricity demand is predicted to reach 7,000 MW per year. About 20 GW of the target will be met from coal-fired sources, with 13 GW from natural gas-fired plants and 3.7 GW from renewable sources (primarily hydroelectricity and geothermal resources).

“Jokowi’s program of increasing electricity means opening up land [for mining],” Hendrik said.

Despite the ambitious plan, Jokowi last week announced his plan to impose a moratorium on new mining permits as well as palm oil permits. He framed the licensing freeze as a continuation of the 2011 forestry moratorium, which banned new permits to develop on primary forests and peatlands.

“We will not allow the overlapping of mining concessions and forest conservation areas to happen again,” he said.

Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) energy campaigner Pius Ginting said the planned moratorium was not in line with the government’s policy to exploit coal as the country’s main source of energy.

“The government should have been consistent in its moratorium policy by canceling infrastructure plans that support the mining sector. Right now there are two such infrastructure plans: a double railway project for transporting coal in South Sumatra and a similar project in Central and East Kalimantan,” he said.

According to Pius, the development of the railways will increase the exploitation of coal in the two provinces.

“Forests in South Sumatra and East Kalimantan are still pristine and they will be threatened by mining expansion that will surely happen once the railway is operating there,” he said.

“Therefore, it’s not too late for the government to stop the development of the two railways because the one in South Sumatra is still in construction while the one in Kalimantan is still at an early planning stage.”

With contradicting policies, Hendrik urged the government to review its policies related to the mining sector that might hamper the moratorium’s planned implementation.

“The government should have reviewed the existing mining areas [WP] across the archipelago as the basis of the moratorium,” he said.

In 2014, the government determined seven WP corridors: Sumatra, Sulawesi, Kalimantan, Maluku, Papua, Java and Bali, and Nusa Tenggara. WPs comprise mining business areas (WUP), traditional mining zones (WPR) and state reserve areas (WPN).

Local administrations will be able to issue mining business permits (IUPs) according to locations that have been determined in WUPs.

“The government should have conducted a thorough study to change the WPs [to match the planned moratorium],” Hendrik said.

He added that Jokowi should make sure that the legal basis of the moratorium was stronger than other existing laws.

Review moratorium on oil palm plantations
Edi Suhardi Jakarta Post 21 Apr 16;

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo plans to issue a decree on the suspension of issuances of new oil palm plantation development in the country. His decision is a commitment to protect the country’s remaining tropical forests and demonstrate his determination for the country’s environmental stewardship.

The President believes that palm oil production can be doubled on existing land through improved agronomy and plantation management.

Although the decision is well justifiable, the President fails to understand that his decision falls short in looking at broader and more comprehensive aspects.

The rate of palm oil expansion in Indonesia has fallen sharply from more than half a million hectares per annum in the period of 2007-2013. Currently, there are more than 11 million hectares of oil palm plantations. Under current trends it shows that palm oil plantations will only reach a maximum of 12 million hectares by 2020.

There are two key factors contributing to the organic decline of new palm oil plantation expansions. The first is its falling price. The most extensive new development took place in the period of 2007 to 2014 when the crude palm oil (CPO) prices ranged from US$600 to $1,200.

The second impediment is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) stringent standards for its members on developing new plantations. RSPO members from Indonesian palm oil growers control the largest concessions and operations on plantations.

The high pace of new plantation development has fallen sharply due to the introduction of strict and stringent RSPO standards preventing plantation development on high carbon stock (HCS) areas and high conservation-value (HCV) areas and implementation of free, prior and informed consent, which became effective as of 2014.

The sustainability standards, which RSPO members have fulfilled, have created an earnest impact to new plantation development in Indonesia toward an environmentally friendly and socially-sensitive commodity. All primary forest and peatland areas over HCS and HCV areas will be left intact.

But there are hundreds of palm oil companies who have yet to abide by such sustainability standards and still aim to develop on HCS or HCV areas.

This is where the government has to act to change the way these companies operate and to enforce such sustainability standards in operations, particularly in new expansions.

Introducing an indiscriminate moratorium will bring about unprecedented opportunity losses for economic development and the vanishing means for poverty alleviation, mainly for underdeveloped regions. Palm oil plantations are known to be one of the most effective development sectors, which can open up accessibility to the remote interior of the archipelago, providing employment and business opportunities and help close socio-economic gaps. At present, smallholder farmers control 4.6 million hectares or 42 percent out of 11 million palm oil plantations in Indonesia.

The moratorium will curtail smallholder development as it grows on par with the development of concession-managed plantations under the PLASMA scheme or company-smallholders partnership.

Another drawback of the planned moratorium policy is that the government seems to bow down to pressures on putting environmental considerations ahead of the development needs of people and regional areas. While globally, a sustainable development has been generally accepted as the common denominator to reconcile and align the interests of both environmental and development. The concept of sustainable development in palm oil has been well articulated in the RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil standard.

All growers and actors in the palm oil industry agree that intensifying the agronomy and use of high-yield seeds is the best way to increase productivity, rather than expansion.

Productivity improvement of palm oil is easier said than done, however, as it needs to replace existing palm trees through replanting and introduce modern agronomy in which smallholders would find difficult to adopt.

The President revisiting the plan on the moratorium would be a smart and wise decision. Rather than introducing the moratorium for new palm oil development permits, it is more reasonable and less controversial for the government to introduce a more stringent policy on the adoption of sustainability standards, acceptable to all stakeholders globally.

The policy should focus on strict criteria for new expansion or development of palm oil plantations. It should regulate the need for detailed assessment of land to identify the area for development and preservation areas, such as peatlands, primary forests and high biodiversity areas prior to land development. Also, the concessions must outline a management plan to ensure the long term existence of high carbon stock and high conservation areas.

Finally, the government needs to strengthen law enforcement to ensure the palm oil industry, especially oil palm plantation development, abides by the strict standards and criteria of sustainable palm oil.

The writer is the vice president of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The views expressed are his own.

Palm Oil Industry Fumes as Indonesia Gets Tough on Forest Fires
Bernadette Christina Munthe and Fergus Jensen Jakarta Globe 22 Apr 16;

Jakarta. Palm oil firms have slammed Indonesia's move to prohibit the use of new land to boost production, saying President Joko Widodo's latest effort to tackle forest fires could slash jobs and cripple output in the world's top producer of the commodity.

Palm oil is a major growth driver for Indonesia, but the industry is facing criticism for deforestation and its slash-and-burn forest-clearing techniques that send vast plumes of smoke across Southeast Asia every year, described by climate officials as a "crime against humanity".

Joko has pledged to tackle these fires and last week said palm oil firms must raise yields of existing plantations instead of clearing forests to increase acreage and output. The land already given to growers could be more than twice as productive "provided they use the right seeds", he said.

While green groups welcomed the moratorium, palm firms have questioned its effectiveness and cautioned it could hurt Indonesia's top-producer position.

"The president's suggestion of doubling Indonesian palm growers' productivity is easier said than done," said Togar Sitanggang, corporate affairs manager at Musim Mas, one of Indonesia's biggest palm oil producers.

"The problem with productivity has been there for years," he said, adding it was also unclear who would pay for the right seeds. "There is no budget for this."

Big players, such as Sinar Mas Agro Resources, Astra Agro Lestari, Wilmar International, may be able to raise output on their current holdings, but it will be tough for smallholders to do so, industry sources said.

That could lead to layoffs as the harder-hit smallholders, which account for 40 percent of Indonesia's output, are forced to sell land to bigger firms looking to expand, they said.

"Our reputation as the biggest palm oil producer will be history," said Eddy Martono, an official at the Indonesian Palm Oil Association.

The country churned out 32.5 million tonnes of the edible oil in 2015, two-thirds more than No.2 producer Malaysia. Indonesia's overseas palm oil sales raked in $19 billion over the period, or 13 percent of its overall exports.

Indonesia's palm oil industry and plantations are big enough already and "all that's left is how to increase production and (improve) efficiency in terms of land used for oil palm," presidential spokesman Johan Budi said.

A regulation on the moratorium is expected "this year, (but) when exactly I don't know", he told Reuters via a text message.

Still Hazy?

The moratorium is seen as a step in the right direction for Indonesia's reputation among consumers seeking sustainable farming practices. Palm oil is used extensively in food, cosmetics and biofuels.

Earlier this year, consumer goods giant Unilever dropped its deal with Malaysian palm firm IOI Group due to deforestation in the latter's plantations in Indonesia.

Joko, however, has stepped up the fight to strengthen environmental protection and has earned praise for steps taken after last year's forest fires, which were particularly bad due to a dryness linked to an El Nino weather event and which pushed the country's average daily greenhouse gas emissions above those of the United States.

Several palm oil companies have faced penalties for letting their concessions burn and the government has set up a new anti-fire agency to irrigate dry peatlands, where nearly half the blazes occurred last year. Joko also cut short a trip to the United States in 2015 to deal with the fires.

But huge challenges remain for Joko, including corruption in granting concessions and coordinating policy within a decentralised government.

Palm oil areas rose 9 percent from 2013 to around 11.44 million hectares (28 million acres) last year, despite an existing moratorium on clearing primary forest and peat-land.

"We have learned from weak enforcement of the moratorium on clearing primary forests and peatland that (such a ban) lacks teeth ... and must take the form of a binding presidential regulation," said Kiki Taufik of Greenpeace Indonesia.

Kiki said other government ministries need to be included in the drafting of the latest moratorium for it to be effective.

"We need to push the government to release a real regulation - not just a commitment."

Read more!

Vietnam investigates mass fish deaths

Tonnes of fish, including rare species which live far offshore and in the deep, have been discovered on beaches along the country's central coastal provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Tri, Quang Binh and Hue.
Channel NewsAsia 21 Apr 16;

HANOI: Vietnam on Thursday (Apr 21) said it was investigating whether pollution is to blame for a spate of mysterious mass fish deaths along the country's central coast after huge amounts of marine life washed ashore in recent days.

Tonnes of fish, including rare species which live far offshore and in the deep, have been discovered on beaches along the country's central coastal provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Tri, Quang Binh and Hue.

"We have never seen anything like it," aquaculture official Nhu Van Can told AFP on Thursday.

The strange situation first came to light when farmed fish in the area began dying in great numbers, he said, with locals later discovering huge numbers of dead fish on beaches.

Local fishermen told state-run media that they are burying hundreds of kilogrammes of fish everyday. "If you sail just three miles offshore, you can see dead fish all over the ocean floor," the state-run Tuoi Tre quoted local fishermen as saying.

Signs point to the fish having been poisoned by "unidentified substances," Tran Dinh Du, deputy director of agriculture in Quang Binh province, said, according to the report. "We have asked people not to eat the fish and not use the fish as food for their livestock," Du added.

State news outlet Thanh Nien quoted worried locals saying they dared not eat any of the washed up fish, adding in their report that "all signs (are) pointing to an environmental disaster."

Central Ha Tinh province is home to a sprawling economic zone which houses numerous industrial plants, including a multi-billion dollar steel plant run by Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa.

Hanoi has dispatched teams of environmental experts and officials to investigate the phenomenon, the Ministry of Environment said in a statement posted online.

"We must quickly establish whether the fish have died because of environmental pollution," Environment Minister Tran Hong Ha said in the report.

Vietnam has a long coastline and much of the country's export income depends on seafood, including farmed shrimp, catfish and wild-caught tuna.

Last year, the country earned 6.6 billion dollars from seafood exports.

- AFP/ec

No link between Vietnam fish deaths and steel plant: Environment Ministry
Vietnamese authorities say they find no conclusive link between Taiwan’s Formosa steel plant and mass fish deaths along Vietnam’s central coast.
Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 27 Apr 16;

HANOI: Vietnamese authorities say they find no conclusive link between Taiwan’s Formosa steel plant and mass fish deaths along Vietnam’s central coast.

Preliminary findings point to two possible causes - "toxic discharge from human activities" and an algal bloom or red tide, deputy environment minister Vo Tuan Nhan told reporters at a media conference late on Wednesday night (Apr 27).

“Until now, after our investigation and evidence gathering, we have not found any proof to conclude that there is a link between Formosa, other factories, and the mass fish deaths,” he said in Vietnamese.

Reading a prepared statement, Nhan said investigators also did not find any indicator in the seawater exceeding Vietnam’s environmental safety standards. The deputy minister did not take questions from the media and left after delivering the statement.

Reporters had waited six hours for the 10-minute media conference, which took place after an inter-agency meeting at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Hanoi.

In recent weeks, tonnes of dead fish, including deep-sea species, have washed up on the shores of four provinces along Vietnam’s central coast - Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue - affecting the livelihoods of fishermen and businesses dependent on the region’s seafood industry.

Local media reports had pointed to toxic discharge from a multi-billion dollar steel plant in Ha Tinh belonging to Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group, riling public anger against the foreign investor. Local authorities have also been blamed for being slow to respond.

A Taiwanese director of the steel plant Chou Chun Fan was fired earlier on Wednesday after he was filmed telling local TV station VTC14 that Vietnam had to choose between catching fish and shrimp and having a modern steel plant. “You cannot have both,” Chou had said in Vietnamese.

The Formosa Ha Tinh steel plant was an accidental target of anti-China riots across Vietnam in 2014, after China moved an oil rig into waters Vietnam also claims. Protesters had attacked the plant believing it was a Chinese firm.

- CNA/ec

Vietnam TV says 'reactionary forces' at work in environmental protest
Vietnam's state television issued a warning to the public on Sunday to shun calls by "reactionary forces" to join protests over an environmental disaster it said was being exploited to try to overthrow the government.
Channel NewsAsia 15 May 16;

HANOI: Vietnam's state television issued a warning to the public on Sunday to shun calls by "reactionary forces" to join protests over an environmental disaster it said was being exploited to try to overthrow the government.

An 11-minute prime-time report on Vietnam Television (VTV) disclosed names and images of well-known dissidents and bloggers it said were trying to dupe the public and violently undermine the government, with support and funding from overseas groups.

Although communist Vietnam has long sought to silence and discredit its critics the warning by the country's biggest broadcaster of possible seditious activity was highly detailed and of an unusually long duration. It was carried by several other major state-run channels.

"Their intention to abuse and disturb was revealed when many subjects called for using knives and petrol bombs to attack the functional forces and to overthrow the authorities," the narrator of the VTV report said.

"Many people may ask what kind of peaceful marches are they ... Is this possibly a preparation for a riot and overthrow?" the voice-over asked.

The warning came as protesters had tried to rally for a third successive Sunday to vent their anger at the government and a unit of Taiwan's Formosa Plastics, a firm they blame for causing an environmental disaster and the death of large numbers of fish in central coast provinces in April.

Tight security in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City prevented major rallies taking place, however, although some social media postings showed small groups of demonstrators gathering.

A government investigation into the fish deaths is underway but its preliminary probe found no links to Formosa's US$10.6 billion coastal steel plant in Ha Tinh province.

Experts said either a "red tide", when algae blooms and produces toxins, or a release of dangerous chemicals by humans, could have been to blame.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has promised a thorough investigation and to bring to justice those found to be responsible.

(Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

- Reuters

Read more!

More than 100 feared dead in India heat wave

More than 100 people are feared dead in India in an early-summer heat wave which forced schools to close and halted outdoor work like construction, government officials said on Thursday.
Channel NewsAsia 21 Apr 16;

BHUBANESWAR, India/KARACHI, Pakistan: More than 100 people are feared dead in India in an early-summer heat wave which forced schools to close and halted outdoor work like construction, government officials said on Thursday.

Neighbouring Pakistan, which suffered its hottest spell in decades last year, plans to open 500 response centres to provide shelter and cold water to people if a heat-wave warning is issued, a government official said. No heat deaths have yet been reported.

India's hottest months are May and June, but some states have already registered temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), forcing authorities to take emergency steps.

In the southern Indian state of Telangana, 45 people have died from heat exposure, and another 17 in Andhra Pradesh, officials said. Some 43 were believed to have died in neighbouring Odisha, although an official there said each of the deaths was being investigated.

Y.K. Reddy, a director at the Indian Meteorological Department, said Telangana has recorded its highest April temperatures since at least 2006.

Reddy said there were worries the death toll in Telangana could rise and his department was issuing heat-wave warnings to advise people to stay indoors.

Schools in Telangana were shut last week two weeks ahead of their summer holidays. As an emergency measure, Odisha has ordered schools to remain closed until April 26 and banned construction work during the hottest times of day.

Some small-scale businesses were already suffering.

"I am closing my shop before noon because it is too hot," said Tulu Sahu, a small grocery seller in Bhubaneshwar city in Odisha. "You cannot stay in the shop."

Pakistan, where extreme heat killed more than 1,000 people during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan last year, has started gearing up to tackle any sudden rise of patients who report heat-related illnesses.

"We have enough supplies and staff to meet the possible situation," said Seemin Jamali, head of the accident and emergency department at Karachi's Jinnah Hospital.

(Additional reporting and writing by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Douglas Busvine and Nick Macfie)

- Reuters

Read more!

Study reveals greater climate impacts of 2C temperature rise

Analysis of difference between 1.5C and 2C of warming finds extra 0.5C would mean longer heatwaves, greater droughts and threats to crops and coral reefs
Damian Carrington The Guardian 21 Apr 16;

A difference of half a degree centigrade may be barely noticeable day to day, but the difference between 1.5C and 2C of global warming is a shift into a new, more dangerous climate regime, according to the first comprehensive analysis of the issue.

The scientists found the additional 0.5C would lead to longer heatwaves, greater droughts and, in the tropics, reduced crop yield and all coral reefs being put in grave danger.

The global climate change deal agreed in Paris in December pledged to “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C.” Vulnerable countries, such as low-lying islands, have warned that 2C of climate change would wipe their nations from the map.

Understanding the different impacts from 1.5C or 2C of warming has been made more urgent by the recent run of record temperatures, with 2014 and 2015 breaking long-term records and recent months smashing previous highs. In February, the global temperature was 1.34C above the average from 1951-1980, according to Nasa data.

The new research was published in the journal Earth System Dynamics, and lead author Carl Schleussner, a scientific adviser at Climate Analytics in Germany, said: “We analysed the climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [and] considered 11 different indicators including extreme weather events, water availability, crop yields, coral reef degradation and sea-level rise. We found significant differences [between 1.5C and 2C] for all the impacts we considered.”

The researchers found: “For heat-related extremes, the additional 0.5C marks the difference between events at the upper limit of present-day natural variability and a new climate regime, particularly in tropical regions.”

The analysis found that regional dry spells increased by 7% with 1.5C of warming but by 11% with 2C, while sea level rises by 10cm more in the hotter scenario. Some regions would be more affected than others with, for example, water availability in the Mediterranean falling by 9% under 1.5C of warming but 17% under 2C.

The research found crop yields might rise in some high-latitude regions, but “tropical regions like west Africa, south-east Asia, as well as central and northern South America are projected to face substantial local yield reductions, particularly for wheat and maize.”

Coral reefs, which provide vital nurseries for many fish on which people rely on for food, would be particularly affected by an additional 0.5C of warming. “In a [2C] scenario, virtually all tropical coral reefs are projected to be at risk of severe degradation due to temperature-induced bleaching from 2050 onwards.” This is reduced to 70% by 2100 for the 1.5C scenario, the scientists found.

Jacob Schewe, one of the research team and at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said: “Some researchers have argued that there is little difference in climate change impacts between 1.5C and 2C. Indeed, it is necessary to account for natural variability, model uncertainties, and other factors that can obscure the picture. We did that in our study, and by focusing on key indicators at the regional level, we clearly show that there are significant differences in impacts.”

Prof Nigel Arnell, at the University of Reading, UK, who was not involved in the research, welcomed the new study: “This study demonstrates that the impacts in 2100 are lower under a 1.5C world than under a 2C world and that the difference is greater for some sectors than for others. Impacts on heat extremes are most affected.

“The study also shows that the rate of change over time is really important for future impacts, so in order to really understand the differences between a 1.5C and a 2C world we need to run more comprehensive global climate models with lower rates of [warming] than used so far to see how the climate system responds.”

Read more!