Embrace social complexities in water policy

EZRA HO Today Online 23 Aug 16;

The way we use water is shaped by social and cultural norms. And if you ask the average person why and how they use water, you will find interesting and varied responses, no doubt.

This is a vital point to consider when Singapore’s policymakers attempt to reduce and manage water consumption. From a historical perspective, the infrastructural landscape of modern societies has always co-evolved with social norms and cultural conventions linked to ways of using natural resources.

For example, taking baths and showers became widespread in the West only after the 19th century, due to socio-political movements that gave cities integrated piping networks. Simultaneously, washing oneself with water gradually became a sign of moral superiority and social status.

In Katherine Ashenburg’s book, The Dirt on Clean, she explains how our obsession with personal hygiene was promoted by various lobbying groups and associations, and those with commercial interests who had much to gain. Likewise, companies in health, personal care and fashion also contribute their share in shaping how people wash and clean themselves.

The proposal that the Government take these social conventions and day-to-day realities of water use into consideration when drafting policy is timely as we are given a look at Singapore’s sustainability credentials and its impressive water success story at the recent Singapore International Water Week.

Despite Singapore being precariously dependent on Malaysia for water, our four national taps and integrated water management have significantly enhanced water security today.

Our emphasis on technological innovation and infrastructural planning ensures an adequate and affordable supply. At the same time, various tax and pricing mechanisms help regulate demand and maintain the water infrastructure.

In this way, Singapore’s water policy reflects the primacy of engineering and economics as key policy tools.

By most measures, this approach to overcome supply scarcity by building a new water plant or increasing taxes has served the country well. However, there is a need to improve policies that manage demand because per-capita water consumption — declining since the 1990s — rose last year.

Yet, insofar as technocratic innovation and management prove effective, their success depends on picking the lowest-hanging fruits.

To substantially reduce water use, we need to look beyond the traditional disciplines and policy tools to get a more refined understanding of why and how people use water. Here are some suggestions.

First, we should see beyond the supply-demand distinction. Segmenting water policy into production (supply) and consumption (demand) may make analytical sense to engineers and economists. However, this false dichotomy between production and consumption ignores how infrastructure can influence and lock people into unsustainable ways of using water.

For instance, the codes and standards of everyday water systems such as our toilets require significant amounts of water to transport our waste away even if water-less alternatives are available.

Similarly, the rubbish chutes originally built into public housing units to maintain hygiene are now hindering recycling efforts.

By separating how water is produced and made available from how it is used, policymakers lose an analytical foothold that could result in a fundamental reorganisation of society. Being overly focused on technical efficiencies and “innovation”, they inevitably reinforce conventional paradigms of using water.

Secondly, social and cultural norms should be recognised. Going by statistics reported in TODAY in 2014, national water agency PUB said that the top three water-consuming activities at home are showers (29 per cent), dishwashing (22 per cent) and laundry (19 per cent). Consumption of water in homes makes up 45 per cent of daily usage, with the non-domestic sector taking up the rest.

Contemporary water policy assumes that people use water in “wrong” ways, so the role of policy is to “correct” such behaviour through education, incentives and moralising. For example, persuading people to take shorter showers, washing the dishes in a filled sink, or using the washing machine at full loads.

However, people behave according to what they believe “makes sense” to them. For instance, even though long showers waste water, people may not see it that way because long showers in the morning are refreshing or provide a form of relaxation after a long day. Or using the washing machine with less than a full load, because there is an unwashed outfit one wants to wear.

Similarly, when I interviewed Singaporeans for my honours thesis on household energy consumption two years ago, there was no such thing as “wrong” reasons to use electricity. Even though one respondent acknowledged that using the air-conditioner had high environmental and financial costs, she still preferred to use it because it provided a comfortable environment for her children to sleep in.

In trying to change people’s behaviour, policymakers have to consider the everyday experiences that guide how water is used, and how these norms were formed. While most policymakers live like everyone else, the assumptions behind the paradigm of “educate, incentivise, moralise” alienate people.

Environmental campaigns will not have a lasting effect because they do not resonate with people. To achieve a more human-centric water policy, planners need to leverage how people understand and use water in qualitative ways.

Japan did this with energy. In 2005, its government launched the Cool Biz campaign to reduce energy demand. By promoting a more casual office dress code for civil servants, offices would save on air-conditioning during the summer.

Not only did the Cabinet appear on television in casual office wear, but fashion companies also had a hand in changing what was culturally acceptable and desirable office wear. In 2012, the campaign helped Japan cut 2.2 million tonnes of carbon emissions.

Here in Singapore, to raise birth rates, the Government recognises that it needs to create conducive social environments that ease the many challenges mothers face. Similarly, recent efforts to promote a “car-lite” culture involve investing in infrastructures that would promote the usage of bicycles, walking and public transport, as well as initiatives to influence public attitudes on car ownership.

Why not do the same with water as well? Or electricity? Or waste, for that matter? To change how people use resources, we need to change what is deemed “normal” and “desirable” given our social, cultural and infrastructural environment rather than chiding or penalising people for acting in ways that “make sense” to them.

When policymakers understand how disparate aspects of society relate and influence each other, they will design better policy interventions. As a crucial first step, they need to invest more in acquiring sociological and anthropological knowledge apart from relying on economic and engineering expertise. For a Government that prides itself on long-term, strategic planning, its water policy cannot remain a purely technical affair.


Ezra Ho is a research assistant at the Nanyang Technological University. He graduated from the NUS Environmental Studies programme.

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RWS dolphin 'nibbled' man's toes out of playful curiosity: Trainer

Jalelah Abu Baker MyPaper AsiaOne 23 Aug 16;

PLAYFUL NIBBLE? Dental surgeon Lim said he stayed calm when the dolphin bit the second toe of his right foot.

The last thing dental surgeon Michael Lim expected in a chance to get up close to the dolphins at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) was to be bitten.

Dr Lim, 48, was sitting at the edge of a lagoon at an attraction for the public to interact with the bottlenose dolphins, with his legs in the water, when he was bitten on the second toe of his right foot.

He told The Straits Times yesterday that he was at an "encounter programme" at Dolphin Island, an up-close experience without getting in the water, two weeks ago.

He wanted to cool himself on that hot afternoon, and got permission to dangle his legs in the water from the dolphin trainer.

Shortly after the dolphin did a trick of jumping high into the air, flipping and swimming backwards, he felt a painful bite. Dr Lim, who had gone to RWS with his 22-year-old daughter, said he stayed calm.

"I have had dogs and cats before, so I know that when animals bite, we are not supposed to pull away or scream," he said.

He added that the trainer did not see what had happened until he got her attention.

Twenty minutes later, a nurse came and bandaged the toe. He stayed until the show, for which he paid about $100, ended at 6pm. A doctor gave him a seven-day course of antibiotics.

The bite marks looked like razor cuts and Mr Lim said they measured 13mm and 15mm. Though his wound is healing well, he is now wary.

"We have the idea they are friendly and harmless but they are still wild animals."

Brittney Iverson, the dolphin trainer, described it as an "isolated incident where one of our dolphins nibbled the toes of a guest during an interaction programme".

She said: "We believe the dolphin behaved out of playful curiosity, rather than hostility, as it explores its surroundings."

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Indonesia: MI-8 helicopter deployed in Riau to put out wildfires

Antara 22 Aug 16;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - The National Disaster Mitigation Agency has deployed an MI-8 helicopter in Riau Province to help douse forest, peatland, and plantation fires.

"One MI-8 helicopter landed (in the Roesmin Nurjadin airport in Pekanbaru) yesterday afternoon. Today, we hold a meeting with the forest fire task force to discuss the deployment of the helicopter," Head of the Riau Disaster Mitigation Office Edwar Sanger noted here, Monday.

With this new deployment, the Riau task force currently has three MI-8 helicopters, one MI-171, and two air tractors to fight wildfires.

Several areas have been razed by wildfires in the Riau districts of Rokan Hilir, Dumai, Bengkalis, Pelalawan, and Rokan Hulu.

"With the inclusion of an additional helicopter, we hope to maximally curb the wildfires, while undertaking preventive measures as well," he added.

Riau police name 85 suspects over wildfire cases
Antara 22 Aug 16;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - The Riau Police have named 85 suspects over wildfires during the January-August 2016 period.

The cases are being handled by 11 resort police stations across Riau, Adjunct Senior Commissioner Guntur Aryo Tejo, spokesman of the Riau Police, remarked here, Monday.

The suspects comprise land owners or farmers who used slash and burn methods to clear land for farming or plantation, the policeman noted, adding that no plantation company was involved in the wildfires.

The Riau provincial authorities have extended the emergency status for wildfires from March to November 2016 to optimize the efforts to control the fires.

As the result, Riau, which had been shrouded by haze every year for the past 18 years, is now almost free from it.

Head of the Riau Disaster Mitigation Office Edwar Sanger, however, reported that from January to August 2016, a total of 1,559.9 hectares of forest, peatland, and plantation areas had been razed by fires across the province.

Last Saturday, Indonesias National Institute of Aeronautics and Space reported that the number of hotspots across Sumatra Island had reached 74, seven more than the 67 reported a day earlier.

Of the 74 hotspots, 34 were found in Riau, 15 in South Sumatra, nine in North Sumatra, six in Bangka Belitung, five in West Sumatra, four in Lampung, and one in Aceh.

Riau Police name 85 suspects in land-clearing cases
The Jakarta Post 22 Aug 16;

The Riau Police have named 85 suspects for allegedly clearing land by burning, which resulted in haze problems from January through August, a senior police officer has said.

“The 85 suspects are being handled by 11 police precincts under the Riau Police,” Riau Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Guntur Aryo Tejo said as quoted by Antara news agency in Pekanbaru on Monday.

Guntur said the suspects, who were linked to land-clearing cases on privately owned land, were associated with 67 police reports. Currently, the police have submitted most of the dossiers to the prosecutor’s office for further legal proceedings.

The Riau administration raised the alert status for forest and land fires in the province in March. The status is expected to remain in place until November in anticipation of prolonged haze woes.

Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency head Edwar Sanger said fires had engulfed more than 1,559.9 hectares across the province between January and August. (dmr)

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Malaysia's waterbomber ready for Sumatra mission as haze worsens

Today Online 22 Aug 16;

PETALING JAYA (Malaysia) — As the haze continued to worsen air quality in the Klang Valley, the government said on Sunday (Aug 21) that it was prepared to deploy its firefighting aerial waterbomber to assist Indonesian authorities tackle forest fires there.

“We are prepared to send our Bombardier aircraft to Sumatra to help put out the forest fires that have been responsible for the cross-border haze,” Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Dr Shahidan Kassim said.

He said the National Security Council was in a state of full preparedness to assist in the operation.

“We did the same last year. This year, we are just waiting for the request (from Indonesia),” he said.

Dr Shahidan said the use of the Bombardier aircraft was more efficient as it was able to deliver massive quantities of water to suppress forest fires, and Malaysia was the only country in Asia to have the aircraft.

Deploying the Canadian manufactured firefighting plane would be an added assistance to Indonesian air force aircraft and Bell 412 helicopter presently involved in waterbombing exercises.

Air quality in the Klang Valley deteriorated slightly on Sunday with several areas recording “moderate” Air Pollutant Index (API) levels.

The Department of Environment’s API reading for Shah Alam rose from 71 at noon to 86 at 3pm.

Other areas which showed moderate API readings at 3pm were Cheras and Batu Muda (77), Petaling Jaya (61) and Klang (69).

According to Malaysia's Department of Environment, an API reading of between zero and 50 indicates good air quality; between 51 and 100, moderate; between 101 and 200, unhealthy; between 201 and 300, very unhealthy; and more than 301, hazardous.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department said on its website visibility in Petaling Jaya was 6km at 3pm.

Malacca was worst hit when visibility was recorded at 1km at 8am before improving to 4km at 3pm.

The lower visibility was attributed to forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

According to the Indonesian National Institute of Aerospace, 167 hotspots were detected on Saturday, with 154 in Kalimantan and 13 in Sumatra. THE MALAY MAIL ONLINE

Over 2,000 cases of open burning since January
The Star 22 Aug 16;

PETALING JAYA: There have been more than 2,000 cases of open burning nationwide from January till last Saturday.

Natural Resources and Envi­ron­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said a total of 2,262 cases of open burning had been detected by the Department of Environment (DOE).

Most of the cases, said Dr Wan Junaidi, involved forests (300 cases), bushes (515), construction sites (48), landfill sites (70), industrial areas (15), agricultural land (589) and other small open burning cases (725).

He said the DOE was monitoring the air quality nationwide.

“Hotspots in Sumatra and Kali­mantan, Indonesia, that are still active can cause transboundary haze to reach the west coast of Pe­­ninsular Malaysia and Sarawak,” said Dr Wan Junaidi in a statement yesterday.

The DOE, he said, had increased preventive efforts on open burning activities.

One of the measures taken is activating the Open Burning Prevention Action Plan since Jan 12 that includes land surveillance and enforcement on areas identified, court action and issuance of compounds.

Other measures include monitoring of areas that can catch fire easily and aerial surveillance to prevent burning in forest and rural areas.

Dr Wan Junaidi said the DOE had issued compounds, amounting to RM233,566, for 208 cases from January till August.

As of 5pm yesterday the Air Pollution Index reading in most ci­ties across the country were “healthy” and “moderate”.

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Malaysia: 181 snakes seized from Bangkok-Padang Besar express train

The Star 22 Aug 16;

PADANG BESAR: Like a scene straight out of the Hollywood movie Snakes on a Plane, the Perlis Royal Malaysian Customs Department found itself in a similar predicament.

Except that the 181 serpents were found on board the Bangkok-Padang Besar express train on Monday morning.

Other animals smuggled included two iguanas, 28 Dhab lizards, 10 tortoises, 10 squirrel gliders and 11 rabbits. The 248 exotic animals were worth about RM70,000.

Initial investigations revealed a syndicate attempted to smuggle the animals of various species in four bags when a team of customs enforcement officers unmasked the “ticketless commuters”.

Department director Kamarudin Jaafar said the animals were meant for sale as pets as there was a high demand for them.

He said about 9am, customs officers checked the passenger and cargo coaches, only to stumble on four suspicious-looking bags.

"Two bags were found in the cargo coach and the rest in the toilet. When the bags were put through the scanning machine, movements believed to be made by live animals were detected," he told a press conference here.

Kamarudin said the 248 animals - confiscated under the Customs Act 1967 - were handed over to the Perlis Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) for further action.

He added that the owner of the bags could not be detected.

Perlis Perhilitan director Mohamad Affendi Ibrahim said all the animals were foreign species worth hundreds of ringgit each.

He said the case would be investigated under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716). - Bernama

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Malaysia: Reclamation damaging Penang

AUDREY DERMAWAN New Straits Times 22 Aug 16;

GEORGE TOWN: Penang, the Pearl of the Orient, is sitting on a ticking time bomb.
Coastal reclamation will worsen the island state’s seascape, a marine environment expert has warned.

Dr Zulfigar Yasin, a Universiti Sains Malaysia marine biology professor, said the state’s environment was heading for uncharted waters.

He said coastal reclamation would come back to bite the island famed for its tourist spots.

Coastal reclamations are going full swing at Gurney Drive and the Queensbay area opposite Pulau Jerejak. A massive reclamation, which will see the creation of three man-made islands, has been proposed in the southern part of the island to fund the RM46 billion Penang Transport Master Plan.

Zulfigar said not only would Penang be more prone to disasters, such as flooding and tsunamis, they could also be worse.

“It is serious enough for the state authorities to know that they are jumping into the unknown. Worse still, Penang’s environment is like a volcano waiting to erupt. We are treading on a ticking time bomb,” he told the New Straits Times.

He said land reclamation in the past was centred on Teluk Bahang to stabilise the coastline, but reclamation these days was to cater for huge development.

“In the last 10 years, things have changed drastically. We see very rapid and huge reclamations for development, especially in the Free Trade Zone, Tanjung Tokong and the proposed southern area.

“Penang’s shape used to be rather jagged, but now, it is more rounded. This means that most of our coastlines, especially in shallow areas, have been reclaimed.

“If such reclamation continues unabated, there will be serious consequences, which will affect people’s livelihood.”

He said although Penang was in a relatively safe sea, the state authorities should not be complacent as it too was affected by the December 2004 tsunami.

He said it was clear that rampant coastal reclamation affected the state’s seawater quality, especially with respect to sedimentation.

He said it would also affect fishery, where fishermen would lose their fishing grounds.

“The impact may not be immediate, but the obvious index is the price of fish. Before, the common folk ate fish, and if you were rich, you ate chicken. These days, it’s the opposite. Everything from the sea is becoming expensive.”

Zulfigar said Penang’s coastal waters were important to the aquaculture industry.

He said the biggest cockle culture sites were in the shallow waters in Penang, Perak and Selangor and, incidentally, these areas were targeted for reclamation.

He said if the state relied on water tourism, it made sense to protect such areas.

“Penang focuses not only on water tourism, but also medical tourism. Hence, it is ironic that the state is promoting health and aesthetic but, at the same time, destroying the environment.”

He said reclamation and overdevelopment would have an impact on the sea habitat, particularly seagrass beds.

“Penang has lost many coral reefs over the last 10 to 20 years. We had beautiful reefs in Pulau Kendi, parts of Teluk Bahang, Pulau Rimau and Pulau Jerejak. Now, we have to go elsewhere to see them.”

He said the decreasing quality of seawater, caused by increased sedimentation and heavy metals due to reclamation, meant that it was not conducive to marine animals.

He said the authorities must come up with a study on the state’s coastline, and look at the impact of reclamation on the environment and related industries to mitigate this problem.

He said the state’s structural plan should be revisited.

“We need a master plan and new guidelines to ensure sustainable development. We don’t want a repeat of Batu Ferringhi. The tourist hotspot was pristine until development set in. We need to learn from mistakes.”

He said many of the existing plans were short term, unsustainable and did not consider long-term impacts.

He said reclamation should be put on hold pending the completion of the study and master plan.

Fishermen fear for their livelihoods, some may call it quits
AUDREY DERMAWAN New Straits Times 22 Aug 16;

GEORGE TOWN: Coastal reclamation off Gurney Drive and the Queensbay area opposite Pulau Jerejak is threatening the livelihood of hundreds of fishermen.

Many have lamented the loss of income, while others are thinking of calling it quits after decades of going to sea.

A visit by the New Straits Times to the site near Queensbay found that reclamation was in full swing with large dredging vessels parked in the sea.

At one spot, sand filled the once crystal-clear water.

Fisherman Mohd Rafie Md Said, 31, said they had been having a hard time putting food on the table since reclamation began two months ago.

“We used to get RM500 worth of catch daily. Now, we are thankful if we can get RM100.

“Life has been difficult. We are plagued with debts. What is going to become of us?”

Shahrul Nizal Md Daud, 30, said there were times when he came home empty-handed.

“I have a family to feed. I also need to pay for the house and car.

“We were given only RM5,000 as compensation. How long can that last us?”

Both fishermen said they had no clue as to the purpose of the reclamation, adding that more than 100 fishermen had been given until the end of the month to move out.

Shahrul said although they were given an alternative site at Seagate, not everyone was given an individual hut to operate from.

“We have protested against the coastal reclamation, but no one seems to hear us.”

He said the sea had turned murky and oily, making it no longer suitable for marine life.

Ismail Saahat, 38, took the developer to task, saying every negotiation was done through a middle man and not directly.
He claimed that the middle man “picked and chose” who would receive compensation.

“How can this be? It is true that some have no licence and are not members of our association, but they have been here much longer than any of us.

“How are they going to feed their family? What is the state government doing to help us? Will we be left to fend for ourselves? What will become of us when the proposed reclamation at the southern zone begin?

A fisherman in Gurney Drive, who wanted to be known only as Tan, said they used to go only 4km out to sea and there would be plenty of fish.

Now, he said, the reclamation projects had forced them to go out between 10km and 15km to sea.

“How can we do that when we have only small boats. What if there are big waves? We will be left for dead.

“We also risk getting caught by the authorities for encroachment.”

Tan said although they were paid between RM10,000 and RM15,000 as compensation, it was not enough as it would not even last them one year.

“We are not complaining for the sake of complaining. We just want adequate compensation.”

He said the developer should pay the fishermen a monthly compensation until the completion of its project.

Tan said his catch dropped from RM2,000 a day to less than RM1,000 since the reclamation started.

“With the situation we are in, there is no need to chase us away. We will be forced to leave eventually.”

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Indonesia: East Nusa Tenggara faces continuous water deficit, drought

Djemi Amnifu The Jakarta Post 22 Aug 16;

Despite a series of infrastructure projects to provide clean water to residents of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), the province continues to suffer from a lack of clean water due to low rainfall in recent years.

With the help of financial assistance from the central government, the province has seen the construction of artesian wells and water reservoirs to supply clean water.

However, the province is still suffering a water deficit of up to 1.5 billion cubic meters per year.

“We currently have artificial lakes, artesian wells and a dam, but they can only accommodate 58 million cubic meters of water. This is certainly not enough to deal with the existing water deficit,” NTT public works agency head Andre Koreh said on Friday.

He said there were periods when rainfall was high across the province, however the rainwater then flowed into the sea due to inefficient water catchment areas.

“This is what has led NTT to see water deficits of up to 1.5 billion cubic meters annually,” Andre said.

He said good water-resource management could help solve the problem, but due to infrastructure challenges, the province would need Rp 4 trillion to fund such initiatives.

Unfortunately, the provincial budget could only allocate Rp 4 billion per year. “This is most surely insufficient for what is needed,” he said.

The central government’s budget allocation for the province increased from Rp 1 trillion in 2014 to over
Rp 3 trillion last year.

“This is inseparable from the President’s Nawacita program of developing Indonesia from the fringes and strengthening border areas. NTT is very strategically positioned to receive larger budget allocations,” he said.

Andre said that to deal with the water problem, particular areas were engineered to become water reservoirs.

According to him, when the provincial administration plans to develop water catchment areas, social issues such as problems with land acquisition emerge because some people do not want dams built on their land.

Andre said that the neighboring province, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), was able to deal with water supply issues because it had 16 artificial lakes. Its eastern neighbor, on the other hand, only has one dam, with two others under construction. In fact, both started developing dams in 2000.

“The Kolhua and Lambo dams up to the present cannot be developed because of land problems. In fact, both should have been developed before the two that are currently under construction,” he said.

Despite the problems, Andre said, the plan to develop seven dams in NTT had been included in the Presidential decree including the Rotiklot and Raknamo dams currently under construction.

The five other dams to developed in the province include Maniking in Kupang regency, Temef in South Timor Tengah (TTS) regency, Napung Gete in Sikka regency, Lambo in Ngada regency and Kolhua in Kupang city.

The seven dams, according to Andre, were among 49 dams to be developed by the central government. He added that the Cipta Karya directorate general said that the number of dams to be developed in NTT could be increased from seven to 12. “But we are facing land problems. People still think that developing infrastructure is the same as eradicating ethnic groups,” he said.

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Indonesia: Special treatment to boost farming output

Arya Dipa The Jakarta Post 22 Aug 16;

Most of the nation’s rice fields require special treatment to boost productivity because the organic content of the soil is below ideal, an official from the Agriculture Ministry has said.

The ministry’s agriculture research and development agency head, Muhammad Syakir, said special treatment or therapy was needed to help increase rice production, as not all existing agriculture areas were fertile.

Speaking at a seminar at Padjadjaran University in Sumedang, West Java, on Friday, Syakir said half the country’s existing agriculture areas, amounting to 8.1 million hectares, was sub-optimal and needed organic fertilizer.

“The organic content is below 2.5 percent, therefore they need special treatment, especially because the production gap is still high,” Syakir said.

He said the fertility of soil could be measured from its organic C content. “Ideally the content should be above 5 percent,” said Syakir.

According to Syakir, the use of organic fertilizers is the most rational way to increase carbon (C organic) content or the content of elements determining soil fertility. Similarly, the ministry’s fertilizer and pesticide director Muhrizal Sarwani said carbon content of less than 2 percent in soil indicated that improvement was needed.

He said the contribution of fertilizers in the growth of crops was between 15 percent and 30 percent. “Our policy is to have balanced fertilizer use,” Muhrizal said.

Quoting ministry data, Muhrizal said most farmers in Indonesia used chemical fertilizers for rice, corn and soybean.

Twelve percent do not use fertilizers at all. Sixty-eight percent of rice farmers use non-organic fertilizers,” he said.

Food science and field resource professor Hidayat Salim of Padjadjaran University said the use of organic fertilizers was important to fix soil, as organic fertilizers improved the soil’s chemical, physical and biological characteristics.

Meanwhile, PT Petrokimia Gresik’s human resources and general affairs director, Rahmat Pribadi, said his side had implemented the use of balanced fertilizers on 650,000 hectares of fields.

“There has been a 15 to 20 percent increase. That equals to between a 1 ton and 1.5 ton per hectare increase,” Rahmat said.

On organic fertilizer production, Rahmat said his company had a production capacity of 2.2 million tons, but until now it had been producing below capacity at 700,000 tons.

House of Representatives lawmaker Herman Khaeron of Commission IV, which is overseeing the matter, said intensification was a strategy for food security, self-sufficiency and sovereignty.

“I believe that [soil] has its limits. This seminar will offer input for us going forward to issue policies,” Khaeron said.

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Indonesian fishermen implicate Australia in Montara oil spill

Djemi Amnifu The Jakarta Post 23 Aug 16;

Indonesian fishermen from East Nusa Tenggara kicked off their legal battle on Monday at an Australian court, demanding justice for an oil spill in the Montara oil field that has destroyed their livelihoods for the past seven years.

The head of Care for West Timor Foundation’s (YPTB) legal team, Ferdi Tanoni, who represents more than 13,000 fishermen in the class action lawsuit filed at the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney, said that other than Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) Australasia, the Australian government should also be held accountable for the accident.

“Australia can’t wash their hands of this case because some eyewitnesses saw an Australian aircraft flying low above the Timor Sea while spraying liquid on top of the oil spill,” he told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

A fisherman, Muhammad Hatta, said he witnessed a red aircraft flying a week after the incident, during which the Montara oil rig, owned by oil and gas exploration firm PTTEP Australasia, exploded some 690 kilometers west of Darwin and 250 kilometers southeast of Rote Island, East Nusa Tenggara.

“We were around Kolbano waters in Timor Tengah Selatan regency, East Nusa Tenggara. We saw the Australian airplane spray liquid on top of the oil spill in Kolbano waters,” he said.

Ferdi said the liquid was used to disperse the oil spill to the bottom of the ocean based on a laboratory analysis done by experts from Australia, the US and Indonesia.

The dispersant is highly toxic and thus could destroy the marine ecosystem, Ferdi said.

It was alleged that the aircraft, caught by satellite photos, was operated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

After the horrific explosion in 2009, gas and oil from the rig gushed into the Timor Sea for more than 70 days.

It is estimated that in excess of 300,000 liters of oil per day contaminated the sea, equivalent to pouring 10 Olympic swimming pools of toxic sludge into the ocean over the months the spill continued.

The oil spill has had a devastating effect on the livelihood of fishermen and coastal communities in East Nusa Tenggara, with fish catches and seaweed harvests continuing to decline in the heavily polluted waters.

Timor Sea Traditional Fishermen Alliance (Antralamor) chairman Mustafa said the fishermen in East Nusa Tenggara earned 70 percent less than what they got before the incident.

“Before the pollution, we could get Rp 20 million [US$1,510]; now it is Rp 5 million,” he said.

More than 13,000 seaweed farmers sued PTTEP for potentially more than A$200 million ($152 million) to cover damages.

Reuters reported that a Darwin-based lawyer, Greg Phelps, has pushed for compensation for Indonesian seaweed farmers whose livelihoods he believes were affected by the oil spill. Funding for the case will come from UK-based Harbour Litigation Funding.

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Australia: Reef tourism operators find less than five per cent of coral dead under ‘extreme’ bleaching

PETER MICHAEL, The Courier-Mail 22 Aug 16;

REEF tourism operators have found less than five per cent of coral has died off — compared to the 50 to 60 per cent estimated by scientists — under “extreme” mass coral bleaching on the northern Great Barrier Reef.

Latest findings exclusively obtained by The Courier-Mail show coral mortality in the outer shelf reefs north of Lizard Island was between one and five per cent with “spectacular” fish life and coral coverage.

Teams of divers in a joint two-week expedition sponsored by Mike Ball Dive and Spirit of Freedom surveyed 28 sites on 24 outer shelf reefs along a 300km section of the hardest-hit part of the reef from Bathurst Head to Raine Island.

Spirit of Freedom owner Chris Eade said reports of 93 per cent bleaching on the 2300km long Great Barrier Reef had made global headlines and damaged the reputation of the $5 billion reef tourism industry.

“Scientists had written off that entire northern section as a complete white-out,’’ Mr Eade said.

“We expected the worst. But it is tremendous condition, most of it is pristine, the rest is in full recovery.

“It shows the resilience of the reef.’’

Mike Ball Dive Expeditions operations manager Craig Stephen, who conducted a similar survey on the remote reefs 20 years ago, said there had been almost no change in two decades despite the latest coral bleaching event.

“It wasn’t until we got underwater that we could get a true picture of what percentage of reef was bleached,’’ Mr Stephen said.

“The discrepancy is phenomenal. It is so wrong. Everywhere we have been we have found healthy reefs.

“There has been a great disservice to the Great Barrier Reef and tourism and it has not been good for our industry.”

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority estimated a mass coral white-out of between 50 to 60 per cent, on average, for reefs off Cape York under the world’s biggest-ever mass coral bleaching event.

Scientists with the Townsville-based ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies reported about 35 per cent mortality but warned “the final death toll” on some reefs may exceed 90 per cent.

In April, aerial and underwater surveys of 522 reefs in the northern sector showed 81 per cent had been severely bleached and one per cent not bleached.

Professor Terry Hughes, convener of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, at the time said “it’s like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once.”

Professor Hughes yesterday welcomed the positive news but had not yet seen the latest survey findings.

“We won’t know the true coral mortality until we can get back up there in October and compare before and after impacts from our March survey,’’ Prof Hughes said.

“Those coral will either survive or more will die.’’

A GBRMPA spokeswoman said they would closely examine the findings of the first independent expedition into the isolated region.

“Obviously if they’ve found reefs with a lower than expected mortality rate that is fabulous news,’’ she said.

“Our initial findings noted that the level of bleaching and mortality was expected to be very variable across the entire reef system.’’

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Vietnam: Formosa's toxic disaster -- are fish safe to eat now in central Vietnam?

VnExpress 22 Aug 16;

A long-awaited government report fails to answer the most important question.

The Vietnamese government has remained non-committal about whether it is now safe to catch and eat fish along the country's central coast that bore the brunt of the toxic disaster caused by the Vietnam unit of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group last April.

Instead the authorities concerned have just said broadly that the coast is safe for swimming and aquaculture.

The government has completed its assessment of the environmental damage caused by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel along a 200 kilometer stretch of the country's central coastline.

It called a press conference on Monday, chaired by Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Tran Hong Ha and attended by foreign and local scientists and leaders of affected provinces, to announce the results of the investigation into what Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc described as “the worst environment disaster the country has faced”.

On June 30, Vietnam made an official announcement that Formosa Ha Tinh Steel was to blame for discharging toxins into the ocean in the central province of Ha Tinh, home to Formosa's $10.6 billion plant.

It confirmed that the chemical spill, containing harmful chemicals such as phenol, cyanide and iron hydroxide, was responsible for killing marine life and poisoning fish in the central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien – Hue.

However, it remains unclear whether the quality of water is safe to fish in within 20 nautical miles of the coast.

At the conference, Mai Trong Nhuan, who headed the study on the disaster commissioned by the environment ministry, presented an extensive report on how the marine environment in the disaster zone has recovered from the toxic pollution.

Firstly, according to the report, marine life, including sea water and sea-bed sediment, is generally within Vietnamese safety standards for aquaculture farming, fishing, and tourism activities.

Secondly, the toxic chemicals the steel factory dumped into the sea, including cyanide, phenol and iron hydroxide, have shown signs of diluting.

Thirdly, the marine ecosystem, coral reefs, sea grass and other marine resources, which were seriously damaged in terms of scale and species, has started to make a recovery.

In addition, levels of chemical residue found in seafood caught along the coastline of the four affected provinces have gradually fallen, according to the Health Ministry.

Harmful chemicals in the sea water seem to have dissipated, but some pollutants such as phenol remain at relatively high concentrations, said Trinh Van Tuyen, the director of the Institute of Environment Technology.

But it remains unclear whether the fish in the area are now safe to eat. Friedhelm Schroeder, a German scientist hired to study the consequences of the toxic disaster, said at the conference that fishermen should not go back to work yet. He said the Health Ministry needs to keep a close eye on the situation and give concrete advice about the safety of the fish there.

Environment authorities have set up tracking stations to monitor discharges of harmful waste into the sea.

In early April, local people in Ha Tinh Province, about 400 kilometers south of Hanoi, began noticing an abnormally high number of dead fish washing up on shore. A month later, roughly 100 tons of dead fish had been collected along a 200 kilometer stretch of coastline.

Three months after the fish deaths, the government officially blamed Formosa for the disaster.

Vietnam's government said toxic industrial waste from the Taiwanese-owned steel plant was responsible for the mass fish deaths that have ravaged local fisheries, disrupted people’s lives and hit tourism in the area, destroying the livelihoods of thousands of people in the region.

Formosa took responsibility and promised to pay VND11.5 trillion or $500 million in compensation to treat the pollution and mitigate the consequences.

Vietnamese authorities said the compensation will go towards helping local fishermen in the area find new jobs.

The toxic pollution caused by Formosa has hit at least 200,000 people where it hurts the most: their pockets, the government said last month.

In a report sent to the National Assembly, Vietnam's legislature, the government said that around 41,000 fishermen and over 176,000 people dependent on them have been affected by the incident.

Authorities estimate that seafood catches have fallen 1,600 tons per month, according to the report. 140 tons of fish, 67 tons of oysters and 16 tons of shrimp died as a result of the disaster, it said.

Questions over water safety in central Vietnam
Vietnam Net 23 Aug 16;

While the northern-central coastal region has been described as now being safe for tourism activities since the Formosa environmental disaster, further research will be necessary before seafood from the area are safe, Tran Hong Ha, minister of Natural Resources and Environment said at a press meeting on Monday.

The meeting announced the results of the investigations on the environmental situation in the four central coastal provinces which have been affected by the waste water discharge of the Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company.

"Although the reports have not met the expectations from the public, they have also shown us positive signs in the quality of the seawater," Ha told the meeting, which was attended by foreign and local scientists and leaders of affected provinces.

At the conference, Mai Trong Nhuan, who headed the study on the disaster carried out by the ministry, presented an extensive report on how the marine environment in the disaster zone has recovered from the toxic pollution.

The report said that marine life, including sea water and sea-bed sediment, was generally within Vietnamese safety standards for aquaculture farming, fishing, and tourism activities.

"The toxic chemicals the steel factory dumped into the sea, including cyanide, phenol and iron hydroxide, have shown signs of diluting," the report said. "The marine ecosystem, coral reefs, sea grass and other marine resources, which were seriously damaged in terms of scale and species, has started to make a recovery."

A representative from the Health Ministry said that levels of chemical residue found in seafood caught along the coastline of the four affected provinces have gradually fallen.

Harmful chemicals in the sea water seem to have dissipated, but some pollutants such as phenol remain at relatively high concentrations, said Trinh Van Tuyen, the director of the Institute of Environment Technology.

But it remains unclear whether the fish in the area are now safe to eat.

Many fishing boats are still lying idle in the four central coastal provinces.

Friedhelm Schroeder, a German scientist hired to study the consequences of the toxic disaster, said at the conference that fishermen should not return to work yet.

"The Ministry of Health needs to keep a close eye on the situation and give concrete advice about the safety of the fish there," he said.

Environment minister swims at Quang Tri beach

Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Tran Hong Ha, representatives of agencies and leaders of the central Quang Tri Province yesterday went swimming at the province's Cua Viet Resort.

The minister decided to go for a swim after attending the meeting to announce the results of the investigations into the environment in the four central coastal provinces following the Formosa disaster.

"Scientists have announced that sea in the four central coasts are now safe for swimming, why not go for a swim?" Ha said

Ha was joined by his deputy Vo Tuan Nhan, Quang Tri Province Party Secretary, Nguyen Van Hung, and some of the province's vice chairmen.

At the meeting yesterday, Ha said that although the reports have not met public expectations, they have also shown positive changes in terms of the quality of the seawater.

A report by the ministry based on analysis of 1,080 seawater samples in the area taken in May, 331 samples in June and 68 samples in August, showed that marine life, including sea water and seabed sediment, was generally within Vietnamese safety standards for aquaculture farming, fishing, and tourism activities.

Authorities shirk responsibilities over mass fish deaths

Officials in Ha Tinh Province are trying to avoid punishments after the mass fish deaths in coastal provinces with only one official receiving a reprimand.

Ha Tinh People's Committee has asked the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, environmental police and the management board of provincial economic zones along with the Department of Industry and Trade to review and submit the results about the incident by August 15.

However, only the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, which must take the most responsibility, carried out a review of their employees and only Dang Ba Luc, head of the Environmental Protection Agency was reprimanded.

Even though many people suggest that Vo Ta Dinh, the department's director, must be the first to be blamed, he said he would “learn from the experience”.

Pham Quang De, inspector at the provincial Department of Internal Affairs said, "I said that Dinh should be at least reprimanded. But he said his two vice directors hadn't taken responsibility so he must think about it first. This was a serious disaster and the leaders only promised to learn from experiences is just wrong and a reprimand is too light. We have demanded them to review their responsibilities again."

After receiving all reports about individual responsibilities, the Department of Internal Affairs will report to the provincial people's committee and decide on the punishments.

"Depending on positions and regulations, we'll see if the suggested punishments are good enough and may demand they rethink their punishments," De said.

On June 30, the Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Limited Company admitted responsibility for the mass fish deaths in four central coastal provinces. The government also asked local authorities to review individual responsibilities but the process has been slow.

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South Korea: Red tide threatens fish farms in southern seas

Damage will add to losses already caused by ongoing heat wave
Korea Joongang Daily 23 Aug 16;

Seon Chang-bo cannot sleep at night.

The 42-year-old owns a 1.1-hectare (2.7-acre) fish farm near Tongyeong in South Gyeongsang where he used to have about 800,000 rockfish, but earlier this month his fish began to die off due to high water temperatures.

Making matters worse, there is a warning that a red tide is coming to the sea in Tongyeong.

“Sixty percent of my rockfish died due to high water temperatures,” said Seon. “Seeing that there’s a red tide coming, I’m really worried that the other 40 percent of my fish will die out.”

According to governments of different regions, including South Gyeongsang, about 1.5 million fish from 38 fish farms on both land and sea died this month due to high temperatures. This amounts to about 1.9 billion won ($1.6 million) in losses.

For the first time this year, a red tide appeared Aug. 16 in seas near South Jeolla. A red tide warning was subsequently issued within 24 hours in various shores surrounding the region. When a red tide appeared in South Jeolla last year, it only took about a week for it to expand to other waters near South Gyeongsang. This means that this year’s red tide could reach the waters of South Gyeongsang soon.

Currently, the South Gyeongsang provincial government is monitoring 33 places that are likely to be affected by the red tide. As of Monday, the algal bloom did not exceed 10 individual protists per milliliter, which is the level required for issuing a red tide warning. But fishermen and fish farmers are on edge after a report of a red tide sighted in the sea near Yeosu, South Jeolla.

“After an inspection, there were no signs of red tide yet,” said an official from the South Gyeongsang provincial government. “However, there is still a high possibility of red tide coming to this area, so we are going to monitor the waters more closely.”

The South Gyeongsang government plans to combat the red tide early when it is detected in Namhae County to prevent its spread to other waters in the region. The government has prepared 360,000 tons of red clay, 18 pieces of equipment used for scattering the clay and 1,300 water purification boats along the channel where the red tide is likely to flow.

Fishermen are on an alert, as well.

“We can’t stop the damage from the red tide,” said an official from a federation that manages Tongyeong’s fish farms, “but we are doing everything we can to prepare for and minimize the damage that it normally causes.”

BY WE SUNG-WOOK [lee.soowhan@joongang.co.kr]

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