Best of our wild blogs: 27 Aug 16

the wisdom of others & pokemon birds
Winging It

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Plans underway for freshwater forest wetlands in the city

Loh Chuan Junn, Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: There will soon be more opportunities for the public to enjoy nature, with plans underway to restore the forest wetlands in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The National Parks Board (NParks) and Keppel Corp on Saturday (Aug 27) unveiled plans to restore the freshwater forest wetland ecosystem historically found in the vicinity of the Botanic Gardens.

Located in the coming Learning Forest extension of the Botanic Gardens, the restored forest will span 1.8 hectares. The project, named the Keppel Discovery Wetlands, is supported by Keppel Corp, which has committed S$2.08 million to the cause.

Speaking at the unveiling event, National Development and Second Finance Minister Lawrence Wong highlighted the importance of conserving the fauna and flora of Singapore.

"This rainforest is very precious to us – it's one of the oldest remnants of forest in Singapore. Some of the trees have been around for almost 200 years," he said.

When completed, the wetlands will be made up of a variety of thematic freshwater forest wetland habitats connected by trails and boardwalks.

Some of the key features include Pulai Marsh, an area identified as the original location of a stream that ran through the forest from as far back as the 1860s. Today, the area still has populations of wetland plants growing. The wetlands project aims to enable such native species to flourish and thrive.

Another feature is a 50m-long boardwalk that runs through the marsh, which would allow visitors easy access to the wetland habitat, and an Orchid Islands featuring a large variety of native orchids in bloom.

A "Flora in Singapore" project was also launched on Saturday. The decade-long project aims to catalogue all the plant species found in Singapore, and will be published in 14 volumes when completed.

The Keppel Discovery Wetlands will be open to the public in early 2017.

- CNA/cy

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Fewer hotspots in Indonesia but haze still an issue for Singapore: Masagos

Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: There are fewer hotspots in Indonesia this year compared to last year, but more efforts are needed to completely eliminate the haze problem, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said on Saturday (Aug 27).

Speaking on the sidelines of a community environment event in Tampines, Mr Masagos said Singapore is happy that Indonesian authorities are stepping up efforts to rein in the haze and reduce hotspots. But what is needed is the total prevention of hotspots, he said.

On Friday, air quality in Singapore hit unhealthy levels for the first time this year, as westerly winds brought smoke from forest fires in Sumatra to Singapore.

“To their credit, the number of hotspots this year is far less than what it was the year before,” said Mr Masagos.”But we can see that even with so few hotspots, with the right amount of wind and enough haze smoke produced, it can give us very bad air for a sustained period.”

In an unprecedented move, Indonesia punished 20 firms last December for their actions in relation to the haze, shuttering operations and revoking licenses.

Mr Masagos said a haze-free situation should be the focus, and that ASEAN is working together to achieve its goal of becoming haze-free by 2020.

“What we need is not reduced hotspots. What we need is no hotspots. That means sustainable production of agricultural products without clearing it by fire,” said Mr Masagos. He added that this problem was not only being tackled regionally and internationally, but also among Singaporeans and companies.

If Singaporeans do not want the haze to come, they must ensure that they do not buy and support companies that produce their products in an unsustainable way, he said. “We must send a clear signal to everyone who produces their product unsustainably that it is just not supportable and unsustainable.

Asked whether Singapore will be sending Indonesia aid to combat the fires – a move Malaysia announced on Friday – Mr Masagos said the mechanism is in place to do so, and that Singapore will step in if called upon to.

“We’ve earlier offered the package. It is up to the Indonesians to activate it. When the level requires it, we will go there to help,” he said.

- CNA/cy

Fewer hotspots, but haze an 'ongoing issue' for Singaporeans: Masagos
AMANDA LEE Today Online 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — There are fewer hotspots in Indonesia this month compared to the same time last year, but the haze situation should be an ongoing issue embedded in people's minds, and consumers should not support companies whose practices contribute to the haze situation, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Saturday (Aug 27).

Yesterday, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) entered the unhealthy range for the first time this year, as westerly winds blew haze from Sumatra to Singapore. Eleven hotspots were detected in Sumatra.

Between Aug 17 and Aug 31 last year, there were 1,237 hotspots in Sumatra.

Continuing to ensure that the issue of haze is not something Singaporeans "forget and then only bring it up periodically" has been something he sought to do since he took over at the ministry last year, said Mr Masagos, who was speaking to reporters at a community event in Tampines. "So we have been attacking this on many fronts-- internationally, regionally and also to raise the awareness among our own country and citizens."

Singaporeans, he said, "do not want the haze to come", but on the other hand, they should not be buying and support companies that produce products in an unsustainable way.

Yesterday, the chief executive officer of the National Environment Agency (NEA) wrote to his Indonesian counterpart to register Singapore's concerns over additional episodes of deterioration in air quality in Singapore, should fires continue.

Asked about this, Mr Masagos said the Government is still waiting for the Indonesian side to respond. "Like I said, we are very happy they are taking up steps to try and remove the hotspots but what we like to see is no hotspots and therefore no haze," he added.

Asked whether Singapore will be sending any aid to fight fires in Indonesia, Mr Masagos said there is a mechanism for aid to be given. "We are always standing ready... it is up to the Indonesians to activate it, when the (level) requires it, we will be there to help," he added.

The latest 24-hour PSI reading as of 3pm was between 74 and 129.

In an advisory issued at 11am, the NEA said conditions have improved this morning, but hazy conditions will remain today.

The latest satellite image showed that hotspots with haze are still persisting in central Sumatra. "The prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the southwest in the evening which could then bring an improvement to the haze situation," the NEA said.

The 1-hour PM2.5 concentration over the next 12 hours is expected to fluctuate between Band I (Normal) and Band II (Elevated). Overall, the PSI reading for the next 12 hours is forecast to be in the high end of the Moderate range or low end of the Unhealthy range, the NEA said.

The New Paper 28 Aug 16;

While there are fewer hot spots in Indonesia this year, Singapore is still pushing for a "no-haze" situation, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said on Saturday (Aug 27).

"We can see that even with so few hot spots, the right amount of wind... can give us very bad air," Mr Masagos said on the sidelines of a community event.

Figures from the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre show there have been 401 hot spots in Sumatra so far this year, compared with 7,188 during the whole of last year, The Straits Times reported.

Still, Mr Masagos emphasised that Asean is trying to work together to be haze-free by 2020.

"What we need is not reduced hot spots, what we need is no hot spots," he said, adding that the National Environment Agency (NEA) is waiting for its Indonesian counterpart to respond to a letter it sent yesterday to express its concerns over the haze.

"There is a mechanism for aid to be given, and there is a mechanism within Asean how it can be activated," he said, in response to a question on whether Singapore has offered assistance to Indonesia.

"We are always standing ready. We've already offered the package, it is up to the Indonesians to activate it. When the level requires it, we will be there to help," he added.


Mr Masagos also said that Singapore has taken steps locally to address the haze problem.

"I have followed up work by my predecessor to ensure that the issue of haze is not something we forget and then only bring up periodically," he said. "We have been tackling this on many fronts, internationally, regionally and also to raise awareness among our own companies and citizens.

"On the one hand, we don't want the haze to come, on the other hand, we should not be buying, supporting companies that produce the products in an unsustainable way."

Caused mainly by palm oil planters and pulp and paper companies using fire to clear peat swamp land in South Sumatra and Kalimantan, the haze has become a public health issue in Singapore, pushing the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) to dangerously high levels at times.

But air quality is forecast to improve in the next 24 hours, NEA said Saturday evening.

The PSI was in the high moderate to unhealthy range on Saturday, dipping slightly through the day.

A "further improvement in the air quality can be expected on Sunday," NEA said.

Winds are expected to change to blow from the south-west or south overnight, with the PSI forecast to be in the moderate range. Thundery showers are also forecast in the late morning and early afternoon on Sunday.

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Hazy conditions in Singapore to persist on Saturday

Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: Hazy conditions are expected to persist on Saturday (Aug 27), although there was some improvement in air quality, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said.

The improvement in the haze situation on Saturday morning was due to a slight shift in the direction of prevailing winds overnight from westerly to west-southwesterly, the agency said.

As of noon, the 24-hour PSI reading was 83-137, in the Moderate to Unhealthy range, and the 1-hour PM2.5 level was 36-121 µg/m3, in Band I to II (Normal to Elevated).

As the latest satellite image shows hotspots with haze still persisting in central Sumatra, hazy conditions are expected on Saturday. However, air quality is likely to improve in the evening, when prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the southwest, NEA said.

Overall, the PSI reading for the next 12 hours is forecast to be in the high end of the Moderate range or low end of the Unhealthy range. The 1-hour PM2.5 concentration over the next 12 hours is expected to fluctuate between Band I (Normal) and Band II (Elevated).

The health impact of haze is dependent on one’s health status, the PSI level, and the length and intensity of outdoor activity, NEA said, adding that reducing outdoor activities and physical exertion can help limit the ill effects from haze exposure.

"Given the air quality forecast for the next 12 hours, healthy people should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. The elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion, while those with chronic lung or heart disease should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion.”

People who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention, NEA added.

- CNA/cy

Haze: PSI forecast to be in unhealthy range for next 24 hours, 11 hotspots detected in Sumatra
Today Online 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the unhealthy range, the National Environment Agency (NEA) in a 6pm update as hazy conditions persisted across the Republic.

The 1-hr PM2.5 concentration over the next 24 hours is also expected to fluctuate between Band II (Elevated) (56μg/m3 to 150μg/m3) and Band III (High) (151μg/m3 to 250μg/m3), said the NEA. “There could be a further deterioration in the air quality in the night should the westerly winds blow in denser haze from Sumatra.”

Singapore woke up to the smell of smoke burning in the air on Friday morning, due to smoke haze blown in from central Sumatra by the prevailing westerly winds, and it quickly became one of the top trending topic on Twitter and Google searches. Air quality was in the moderate to unhealthy range for most of the day.

A total of 11 hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Friday, and moderate to dense smoke haze from some of the hotspots in central Sumatra were observed to spread eastward toward Singapore.

The NEA said its Chief Executive Officer has written to his Indonesian counterpart to “register Singapore’s concerns over additional episodes of deterioration in air quality in Singapore should the fires continue”.

The NEA has “urged Indonesia to continue taking the necessary actions to prevent and mitigate the fires during this dry season, and asked for an update on the situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan”.

The NEA advised that healthy persons reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. The elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion, while those with chronic lung or heart disease should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention.

With drier weather expected for the rest of the region, the NEA will issue daily haze advisories from Friday.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli posted on Facebook that he was “doubly disturbed that the haze shrouded us” as Singapore held a State Funeral Service for the late former President S R Nathan.

“This morning, we saw hazy skies and a strong burning smell across the island as the winds blew our way even when there were not as many hotspots as last year. The latest satellite image showed some hotspots were observed in central Sumatra. Localised smoke plumes were visible from the hotspots. The dry weather conditions in Sumatra also means that Singapore can expect smoke from fires due to the prevailing westerly winds in the region,” he said.

“But in the spirit that Mr Nathan has left us with, we will persevere even if slowly but surely to fight the scourge of haze produced by irresponsible concession land owners.”

NEA relays concerns to Jakarta as air quality worsens
Today Online 27 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — With Singaporeans waking up to a smoky, hazy gloom on Friday (Aug 26) — one that worsened over the day — the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) chief executive officer has registered Singapore’s concerns with his Indonesian counterpart over air quality deteriorating, should fires in Indonesia continue.

Air quality, which hit the “unhealthy” range on the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) on Friday — the first time this year — is expected to remain in this range on Saturday.

In a letter to his Indonesian counterpart on Friday, NEA CEO Ronnie Tay urged Indonesia to “continue taking the necessary actions to prevent and mitigate the fires during this dry season”, and asked for an update on the situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

As the 24-hour PSI reading crept into unhealthy territory — 101 to 200 — the NEA also made the unusual move of issuing three media advisories on the situation in a day — at about 11am, 2pm and 6pm. Singapore last experienced a prolonged period of unhealthy haze in October 2015.

At of 10pm on Friday, the 24-hr PSI is at 89-126, which is in the moderate to unhealthy range. The one-hour PM2.5 reading islandwide at 10pm was 28 to 108 — within the “Normal” to “Elevated” band — and down from a peak of 137 to 216 at noon. PM2.5, a pollutant, is very fine particulate matter, and the NEA introduced one-hour readings with bandings in June aimed at helping people interpret one-hour PM2.5 levels better.

The NEA said the smoky conditions on Friday was due to the smoke haze that was blown in from central Sumatra by the prevailing westerly winds. Eleven hotspots were detected in Sumatra.

A team of Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) researchers in Riau said their local sources found that the fires in northern Riau were not on concession lands. Five out of some 30 fires there are severe and could intensify and spread into concession areas, said SIIA director (policy programmes) Lee Chen Chen.

In its forecast for Saturday, NEA noted that the prevailing winds will blow mainly from the west and current hazy conditions are expected to persist. As such, the PSI for Saturday is expected to be in the “Unhealthy” range while the one-hour PM2.5 reading is expected to fluctuate between Band II (Elevated) and Band III (High).

With the authorities advising against prolonged or strenuous physical exertions outdoors on Friday, sales of N95 masks and haze-related products surged among some retailers.

NTUC Health Unity Pharmacy said Friday’s sale of facial and N95 masks were 10 times more than the daily average number of face masks sold. Their sale of eye drops and lozenges also increased on Friday.

Its director of wholesale Andy Wan added that their outlets have sufficient stock of face masks, and company is also monitoring stock levels to ensure they are quickly replenished from their warehouse.

Meanwhile, free haze kits from pharmacy chain Guardian were also fully redeemed by 2pm on Friday. Guardian Health & Beauty and GlaxoSmithKline had set aside 5,000 haze kits — containing Panadol, a bottle of water and a N95 mask — on Thursday to encourage consumers to stay prepared for the haze. Friday alone saw people snapping up 2,300 of these kits. Most Guardian stores had run out of masks due to the sudden spike in demand on Friday. But the company has arranged for emergency deliveries to key stores.

Mdm Lim Pik Luan, 62, a resident in the West, said she noticed the burning smell in the air when she woke up around 6am on Friday.

“I didn’t plan on heading out today. But looking at the haze situation, I don’t think I should be going out, especially with my grandchildren,” she added in Mandarin.

Hazy skies over several parts of Singapore
Channel NewsAsia 26 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: A pall cloaked Singapore on Friday (Aug 26) as haze from central Sumatra was blown in by the prevailing westerly winds, according the the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Several people took to social media and called in to Channel NewsAsia to say that they detected a burning smell in various parts of Singapore. Readings on the 24-hour Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) crept into the Unhealthy range from 4pm, and was highest in the west at 7pm at 114.

The 1-hr PM2.5 readings, which peaked at 216 µg/m3 in the West at noon have since dropped to about 59 to 84.

The PSI incorporates six types of pollutants - sulphur dioxide, particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometres in diameter or smaller (PM2.5), particulate matter that is 10 micrometres in diameter or smaller (PM10), ozone, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Of the six, PM2.5 is considered particularly hazardous as the small size of the particles enters the human lungs more easily.


In a statement at around 11.50am, NEA said the haze was likely to have been blown in by westerly winds over Singapore. A total of three hotspots were detected in central Sumatra on Thursday with localised smoke plumes were visible, the authority said, adding that the low hotspot count was due to cloudy conditions.
By 6pm, NEA said the overall PSI for the next 24 hours is forecast to be in the Unhealthy range and that the 1-hr PM2.5 concentration is expected to fluctuate between Elevated and High.

National University of Singapore Assistant Professor of Geography Winston Chow said the haze was caused by a change in wind direction from southerly or southwesterly to westerly winds on Friday morning, combined with hotspots in central Sumatra that generated smoke plumes that were carried over the Malacca Straits.

He also said how long the haze would last in the immediate term would depend on the wind direction as Singapore would be affected by plumes from central Sumatra as long as there were westerly winds. "That said, it’s forecast that there is a likely change in wind direction over the next few days to a more south or southeasterly direction, which should improve air quality as long as there are no hotspots and smoke plumes from South Sumatra or West Kalimantan."


Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said on Friday evening that the haze which appeared in Singapore skies was from forest fires in Indonesia's Riau province.

In a statement, BNPB said that monitoring posts on the ground had reported 67 hotspots in the province, with most of the hotspots from the Rokan Hilir district.

BNPB said that efforts to put out the fires in Riau were continuing, and that more than 7,000 personnel were on the ground to extinguish the flames. Assets to conduct water bombing, including three helicopters and two Air Tractors aircraft, have been deployed. One Casa aircraft has been mobilised for cloud seeding operations.

The Chief Executive Officer of NEA has written to his Indonesian counterpart to register concern. "NEA urged Indonesia to continue taking the necessary actions to prevent and mitigate the fires during this dry season, and asked for an update on the situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan," the agency said.

Back in March this year, when a burning smell was detected in some parts of Singapore, the NEA said it could have been caused by some local vegetation fires.

It added that fires and some wind convergence over Singapore could have also contributed to the deterioration in the air quality in some parts of the island.

NEA said on Friday that the health impact of haze was dependent on one’s health status, the PSI level, and the length and intensity of outdoor activity.

"Given the air quality forecast for the next 12 hours, everyone can continue with normal activities. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention."

- CNA/mn

NEA CEO writes to Indonesia to register concerns over haze
Channel NewsAsia 26 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The Chief Executive Officer of the National Environment Agency on Friday (Aug 26) wrote to his Indonesian counterpart to register Singapore's concerns over additional episodes of deterioration in air quality in Singapore, should fires in Indonesia continue.

In a media statement, NEA said its CEO "urged Indonesia to continue taking the necessary actions to prevent and mitigate the fires during this dry season, and asked for an update on the situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan".

This comes after hazy skies were spotted across Singapore on Friday. NEA added that 11 hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Friday, and moderate to dense smoke haze from some of the hotspots were observed to spread eastward towards Singapore.

NEA said in a statement on Friday afternoon that hazy conditions have persisted as haze from central Sumatra continued to be blown in by the prevailing westerly winds.

Hazy conditions in Singapore continued to worsen throughout Friday.

As of 6pm, the Pollutants Standards Index in Singapore was in the Moderate to Unhealthy range at 82-112, the 3-hour PSI was 127, while the 1-hour PM2.5 was in the Elevated range islandwide, at 69 to 85.

NEA said overall, the PSI for the next 24 hours is forecast to be in the "Unhealthy" range and the 1-hour PM2.5 is expected to fluctuate between "Elevated" and "High".

- CNA/dl

Organisers adopt wait-and-see approach for weekend mass events due to haze
AMANPREET SINGH Today Online 26 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — Organisers of mass sporting events scheduled for this weekend are adopting a wait-and-see approach before they decide whether to call off their activities because of the haze, which worsened on Friday (Aug 26) morning.

As of 6 pm on Friday, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was at 82-112, which is in the unhealthy level.

Puma Singapore said on Friday that they will cancel Saturday’s Puma Night Run if the 24-hour PSI exceeds 200 at 5pm.

The run, which will be held at Seletar Aerospace Park, is scheduled to begin at 6 pm for the 12km Men’s and Women’s Open categories, and at 7pm for the 6km Men’s and Women’s Open.

In a statement issued on Friday, they said: “The safety and health of participants, volunteers and staff are of utmost importance and Puma will adopt the following measures based on the 24-hour PSI reading at 5pm on Saturday.

“If the overall Singapore 24-hour PSI exceeds 200, PUMA Night Run Singapore 2016 for both 6km and 12km will be cancelled.

“If the 24-hour PSI falls between 100 to 200, Puma Night Run Singapore 2016 will be converted into a 6km walk for both 6km and 12km categories. Flag-off timing will remain the same.”

However, activities at the race village will continue as planned.

The Puma Night Run, which made its debut at Sentosa in 2014, was almost cancelled last year due to the haze, but eventually went ahead at the Marina Barrage area.

Puma also announced that participants can collect their finishers’ medals at the race village if the event is cancelled.

“Alternative arrangements will also be made for participants to collect their finisher medals at a later date. Details for the later collection will be announced shortly,” it said.

Participants can refer to the event’s official website ( and PUMA’s Facebook page by 5pm on Saturday for further information. An SMS notification will also be sent to all participants.

Meanwhile, organisers of the SAFRA Singapore Bay Run & Army Half Marathon, which will take place on Sunday, are monitoring the haze situation and have advised participants to check the event’s Facebook page for any further updates.

National sports governing body Sport Singapore (SportSG) announced on Friday that all outdoor and non-air-conditioned facilities at its ActiveSG Centres would be closed to the public if the 24 hour PSI is above 200, while air-conditioned sports halls and gyms will stay open during this period.

SportSG will assess and re-open the facilities when haze conditions improve.

However, the ActiveSG football academy will cancel their training sessions if the 24-hour PSI is above 100 at 7am on Saturday. If the session is already underway, the coaches will stop the training immediately any time the PSI crosses 100.

The public can refer to the official ActiveSG website ( for the latest updates on the haze and closures of MyActiveSG sports centres, or the MyActiveSG Facebook page. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NOAH TAN.

Masks fly off shop shelves as smoke shrouds S'pore
Melissa Lin, The Straits Times AsiaOne 27 Aug 16;

Grey skies and a familiar burning smell greeted Singaporeans yesterday morning as the haze made a return.

On the streets, people young and old were seen wearing face masks, while others held cloth over their mouths and noses. The sudden spike in demand for N95 masks yesterday caught retailers by surprise, with some shops running out of stock in the middle of the day.

N95 masks can filter out fine particles found in the haze.

Air quality is forecast to be in the unhealthy range today, the National Environment Agency said. Air quality is considered unhealthy when the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading is in the range of 101 to 200, and hazardous when it is above 300.

It was between 84 and 114 at 7pm yesterday, with western Singapore registering the highest reading.

Accountant Muhammad Kader, 26, said he might cancel his plans to visit the Singapore Night Festival this weekend if the haze worsens. "It's quite bad. The haze just came overnight," he said.

The sudden onset of haze prompted at least one school, Methodist Girls' School, to issue an advisory to parents on the precautions it has put in place. This included switching on air purifiers in classrooms when air quality hits the unhealthy or elevated range.

Many people took to social media to share photographs of skylines shrouded in smoke, from Jurong in the west to Katong in the east.

Taxi driver Francis Ong, 65, said he figured it was the start of the hazy season when he woke up to the smell of smoke. "I'll try to stay indoors because it's difficult to breathe outside," he said.

Yesterday, some 2,300 free haze kits given out by Guardian pharmacy - which included an N95 mask and a bottle of water - were snapped up by 2pm. Sales of masks also soared.

"Although we were prepared for the haze to return and had arranged for a good level of stocks at all stores, the speed of the demand spike resulted in most stores running out of stock very fast," said Guardian's chief executive, Ms Sarah Boyd.

The pharmacy has arranged for emergency deliveries of masks, lozenges, eye drops and analgesics to some stores over the next two to three days.

Shopping site Lazada, which noticed a spike in sales of air purifiers and N95 masks, has launched a campaign that offers next-day delivery of these items. Delivery usually takes two to three days.

Singapore Post issued masks and eye drops to its outdoor delivery staff and temporarily redeployed those with respiratory or heart conditions or who are above 65 years of age to indoor work.

Still, the haze did not stop ardent fans of location-based augmented reality game Pokemon Go. They were spotted out and about in a Pokemon hot spot in Hougang.

Singapore suffered one of its worst bouts of haze last year.

In September, readings reached hazardous levels, leading to the closure of primary and secondary schools for a day.

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Singapore shrouded in smog as haze returns to SE Asia

AFP AsiaOne 26 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE - Acrid smog blanketed Singapore Friday as the city-state was hit by the year's first major outbreak of haze, an annual crisis sparked by forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia.

Singapore's air quality index reached unhealthy levels with conditions deteriorating through the day, marking the worst return of the haze to the city since vast parts of Southeast Asia were affected in 2015.

Last year's haze outbreak was among the worst in memory, shrouding Malaysia, Singapore, and parts of Thailand in acrid smoke.

The blazes are started illegally to clear land, typically for palm oil and pulpwood plantations, and Indonesia has faced intense criticism from its neighbours over its failure to halt the annual smog outbreaks.

Singapore's National Environment Agency said the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was at 165 as of 0400 GMT on Friday. The reading for the 24-hour period, however, was on the higher band of the moderate range.

PSI levels above 100 are deemed unhealthy and people are advised to reduce vigorous outdoor activity.

A cloud of greyish smoke swept across the island, accompanied by a strong smell of burning foliage.

Visibility from high-rise offices and other vantage points was virtually zero. An AFP photographer said he could hardly see the skyline from one of the city's highest points at Mount Faber.

Smog was also visible in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of neighbouring Malaysia, over a few days last week but did not breach unhealthy levels.

An area in the Malaysian state of Perak had briefly tipped over to the unhealthy range for a few hours last week, according to local media.

Singapore last September closed schools and distributed protective face masks as the air pollution index soared to hazardous levels following three weeks of being cloaked in smoke from Indonesia's nearby Sumatra island.

Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said on its website that the number of "hotspots" on Sumatra - which sits across the Malacca Strait from Singapore - had increased in the past 48 hours.

A hotspot is an area of intense heat detected by satellites, indicating a blaze has already broken out or that an area is very hot and likely to go up in flames soon.

As of midnight local time on Thursday, there were 68 hotspots on Sumatra, up from 43 two days earlier, the agency said.

In the Indonesian part of Borneo island - another area where large numbers of smog-belching fires occur every year - there were 31 hotspots as of midnight Thursday local time, it added.

However there were far fewer fires than at the peak of last year's crisis, when hundreds burned out of control.

Three provinces on Sumatra and three on Indonesian Borneo have in recent months officially declared they are on alert owing to the growing threat from forest fires.

The Indonesian disaster agency is currently using eight water-bombing helicopters, two water-bombing planes, and two cloud-seeding planes to combat the fires, according to agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

Smoke from Indonesian fires hits "unhealthy" level in Singapore
Marius Zaharia and Fergus Jensen Reuters 26 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE/JAKARTA, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Air pollution in Singapore rose to the "unhealthy" level on Friday as acrid smoke drifted over the island from fires on Indonesia's Sumatra island, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said.

Every dry season, smoke from fires set to clear land for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations in Indonesia clouds the skies over much of the region, raising concern about public health and worrying tourist operators and airlines.

The 24-hour Pollution Standards Index (PSI), which Singapore's NEA uses as a benchmark, rose as high as 105 in the afternoon. A level above 100 is considered "unhealthy".

The NEA said it planned a "daily haze advisory" as "a burning smell and slight haze were experienced over many areas" in Singapore.

Indonesia has been criticised by its northern neighbours and green groups for failing to end the annual fires, which were estimated to cost Southeast Asia's largest economy $16 billion in 2015, and left more than half a million Indonesians suffering from respiratory ailments.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has increased government efforts to tackle the haze, with police doubling numbers of fire-related arrests this year.

"Forest and land fires in the Riau area are increasing," Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said in a statement on Friday, referring to aerial surveillance of 67 hotspots and smoke from the area drifting eastward over Singapore.

"The smoke billowing from the hotspot locations is quite dense," Nugroho said, adding that 7,200 personnel and several aircraft had been deployed to stop the Riau fires.

Pollution levels in neighbouring Malaysia were normal on Friday.

Singapore has pushed Indonesia for information on companies suspected of causing pollution, some of which are listed on Singapore's stock exchange.

A forest campaigner for the environmental group Greenpeace Indonesia, Yuyun Indradi, said the government was struggling to enforce laws to prevent the drainage of peatland for plantations and the setting of fires to clear land.

"It has become a challenge for the government to enforce accountability among concession holders, to enforce its directives on blocking canals, and push companies to take part in efforts to restore peatland and prevent fires," Indradi said.

"Now is the time for the government to answer this challenge. It is in the law."

Greenpeace said, according to its satellite information, there were 138 fires across Indonesia on Friday. (Reporting by Marius Zaharia and Fathin Ungku in SINGAPORE and Fergus Jensen in JAKARTA; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

The haze is back across South East Asia
BBC 27 Aug 16;

The haze is back across areas of South East Asia.

The air pollution is caused by the burning of forests and peat land in Indonesia so it can be used for growing crops, mostly lucrative palm oil.

An annual feature of life in Indonesia's neighbouring countries, it has been blamed for deaths and illness.

Indonesia, which has declared a state of emergency in six provinces, has repeatedly said it is cracking down on the slash-and-burn activities.

But the issue is a constant source of diplomatic tension, with Jakarta accused by Singapore and Malaysia of not doing enough to tackle it.

Living in the haze: Anna Jones, BBC News, Singapore

A mild smoky smell has been in the air here for a few days, but throughout Friday, the view from our office window grew worse and worse.

Air pollution is officially measured in Singapore Pollutant Standards Index (PSI). Anything over 100 is considered unhealthy. Though the 24-hour average so far on Friday was only slightly over that, the three-hour reading at 14:00 local time was 215.

You can smell it inside buildings, it lingers in your hair and clothes and it makes your eyes itch.

There will no doubt be people cancelling their outdoor plans for the weekend and stocking up on face masks, but there's a way to go before Singapore hits the peak of last year's haze, one of the worst ever.

At times back then, the PSI reading was above 300. You could barely see the other side of the road and venturing out without a face mask was almost unthinkable.

What causes the haze?

Every year Indonesia sees agricultural fires across Sumatra, and in parts of Kalimantan on Borneo island. About 100 "hotspots" were detected on Friday.

The fires are said to be caused by corporations as well as small-scale farmers using slash-and-burn to clear vegetation for palm oil, pulp and paper plantations.

Once lit, the fires often spin out of control and spread into protected forested areas and peat. A peat fire is difficult to put out as it can burn underground for months, and requires a lot of water to extinguish.
How big a deal is it

At its largest the annual haze measures hundreds of kilometres across. It spreads to Malaysia, Singapore, the south of Thailand and the Philippines, causing a significant deterioration in air quality.

In slash-and-burn areas like Kalimantan, the haze can create atrocious living conditions for several months of the year

The problem has accelerated in recent years as more land has been cleared for expanding plantations for the lucrative palm oil trade.

What is Indonesia doing?

Indonesia says it has arrested 450 people so far this year in connection with fires, including some linked to companies.

President Joko Widodo has ordered extra resourcing for monitoring and fire-fighting efforts, but told the BBC last year it would take at least three years for the results to be seen.

Is it dangerous?

Besides irritating the respiratory tract and the eyes, the pollutants can cause serious long-term damage to health.

The indices used to measure air quality in the region usually measure particulate matter (PM10), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone.
PM2.5 can enter deeper into the lungs. It has been associated with causing respiratory illnesses and lung damage.
As much as Singapore complains about poor air quality, in parts of Indonesia the haze can last for months and be deadly.

Singapore’s Air Quality Plummets as Haze Returns
Air pollution in the city-state reaches ‘very unhealthy’ level
P.R. VENKAT and JAKE MAXWELL WATTS Wall Street Journal 26 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE—Air pollution in Singapore reached very unhealthy levels Friday as haze engulfed most parts of the city, an indication that renewed cross-border efforts to combat forest fires in Indonesia are showing scant signs of success.

The hazy conditions—an annual irritant for residents of Indonesia’s northern neighbors—have tested relations between Singapore and Indonesia and prompted lawmakers in both countries to take measures to combat a problem that in recent years has caused billions of dollars in damage.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency said that at 2 p.m. local time on Friday, the pollutant standards index, or PSI, was 215 and had been climbing fast all morning. The NEA classifies any level between 201 and 300 as “very unhealthy” and advises residents to avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exercise. As of late morning Friday, offices and schools remained open in Singapore pending fresh guidance from the government.

Many in Singapore were flippant on social media, long used to the so-called haze season. Twitter user Ben Koh posted an Instagram photo of the city with the caption “Singapore through a smoke filter.” Others, like Facebook user Vivien Tan Hui Ying, said they were worried about health concerns, such as skin irritation. “It’s going to be a torturous period again,” she said.

The smoky conditions, which give off a bitter taste and sharp smell, are the result of forest fires in Indonesia, where farmers illegally burn areas of land to make way for lucrative crops of trees for palm oil, pulp and paper.

Jakarta has promised to take action against the illegal burning but has had trouble tackling the problem over a vast area of rural land, much of it hard to access. Indonesia’s parliament in 2014 voted to ratify a regional agreement on air pollution that would help coordinate action between nations to prevent the clearing of land using fire, after a particularly bad bout of haze in 2013 that caused PSI levels in Singapore to reach “hazardous” levels of more than 370.

Indonesia has moved more quickly this year to fight fires and has stepped up prevention efforts. As of Friday, six provinces had been put on emergency alert. The country’s disaster management agency had deployed eight helicopters and two aircraft to conduct water-bombing activities in those areas and had two airplanes doing cloud seeding to artificially generate rain, said spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho. A total of 7,200 land and air personnel have been deployed to fight the blazes, he said.

Mr. Nugroho said Friday that Riau province in Sumatra recorded 67 hot spots, an indication of fire. The number of hot spots has reached into the hundreds, though that is down significantly from last year, when noxious haze spread across the region. On Thursday, Indonesian police announced they had arrested more than 450 suspects in connection with forest fires this year, nearly double the number from 2015. People linked to nine companies had also been arrested in connection with fires between January and August, said criminal investigative police chief Ari Dono Sukmanto. He didn’t mention the names of the companies.

Singapore, meanwhile, is also taking a harder stance. Two years ago it passed a law to allow regulators to prosecute local and foreign companies involved in illegal forest burning, with fines of up to 2 million Singapore dollars (US$1.5 million).

Last year, several Singapore companies boycotted products from Indonesian companies that contributed to haze, an indication of intense public frustration in the typically squeaky clean city-state. Singapore’s largest supermarket chains, including NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong Group Ltd. pulled from their shelves products such as Nice and Paseo toilet paper and tissue sourced from Indonesian company Asia Pulp & Paper Group, one of the world’s largest paper and pulp producers. The company said in response that it has zero-burn policy on its land and was working with authorities to put of the fires.

Yet the fresh crackdown in both Singapore and Indonesia hasn’t been able to prevent the haze from recurring. Last year, fires in Indonesia consumed a roughly 6.2 million acre swath of land, releasing around 1.75 billion tons of greenhouse gases and setting Indonesia up as one of the world’s worst polluters that year. It exposed tens of millions of people to toxic haze and prompted flight cancellations in Thailand and health warnings in the Philippines and Singapore.

—Sara Schonhardt and Anita Rachman contributed to this article.

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Malaysia offers Indonesia assistance to fight haze: Minister

Melissa Goh, Malaysia Bureau Chief, Channel NewsAsia 26 Aug 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has offered to assist Indonesia combat raging forest fires by dispatching assets and manpower.

Speaking on Wednesday (Aug 24), Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim said two Bombardier CL415 capable of carrying up to 6000 litres of water every 12 seconds, are ready to be dispatched to Indonesia once there is official request from Jakarta.

This offer follows increasing number of hotspots detected in south Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“We are ready to assist Indonesia," said Shahidan. "But there are has been no official request yet; the two bombardiers are ready to go."

He added: “We must help our neighbour."

Last October at the height of haze crisis, Malaysia sent its Bombardier aircraft to assist Indonesia in carrying out water bomb operations in Sumatra to douse raging forest fires that were spewing out choking smoke which shrouded the region for weeks.

- CNA/rw

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Indonesia: Satellites detect 68 hotspots on Sumatra Island

Antara 26 Aug 16;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Terra and Aqua satellites detected 68 hotspots on Sumatra Island, a sharp increase from nine on the previous day.

"Yesterday, there were only nine hotspots in Sumatra, and eight of them were in Riau Province. This morning, the number of hotspots has drastically increased to 68," Sugarin, head of the Pekanbaru meteorology office, stated here, Friday.

Of the total 68 hotspots, 67 were found in Riau Province and one in Lampung.

In Riau, 44 were detected in Rokan Hilir, 17 in Bengkalis, four in Siak, and two in Rokan Hulu District.

In the four districts, 52 hotspots were believed to have originated from wildfires, comprising 35 in Rokan Hilir, 14 in Bengkalis, two in Siak, and one in Rokan Hulu.

Personnel of the Riau forest and plantation fire task force have been making all-out efforts to extinguish the fires, including three hotspots in the border between Pekanbaru and Kampar, which were not detected by the satellites.

Two air tractors and a MI-8 helicopter were deployed to conduct water bombing activities, including in Tapung Sub-district, Kampar District, Colonel Yani Amirullah of the Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force operation remarked.

"The wildfires in Kampar and Pekanbaru must be put out immediately to prevent them from producing smoke haze that could affect flights at the Sultan Syarif Kasim International Airport," he added.(*)

Police detains 85 forest fire suspects in Riau
Antara 26 Aug 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Police Criminal Investigation Agency (Bareskrim) has detained 85 forest fire individual suspects in Riau this year.

"In addition, nine companies are being investigated for alleged involvement in forest fires," Bareskrim Chief Insp. Gen. Ari Dono Sukmanto said here on Thursday.

The suspects are facing a jail term of 15 years and a fine of Rp5 billion if found guilty, the police general said.

Last year, 15 plantation and forestry companies in the list of forest fire suspects were released by police.

Police said the case against the 15 companies was dropped as there was not enough evidence found against them.

The 15 companies included PT. Parawira group, KUD Bina jaya Langgam , PT. Bukit Raya Pelalawan, PT. Bina Duta Laksana, PT. Perawang Sukses Perkasa Indah , PT. Pan United, PT. Alam Sari Lestari, PT. Riau Jaya Utama, PT. Suntara Gaja Pati, PT. Siak Timber Raya, PT. Hutani sola Lestari, PT. Dexter Rimba Perkasa, PT. Ruas Utama Jaya, PT. Sumatera Riang Lestari and PT. Rimba Lazuardi.

Some of the companies already ended their contracts before the fire broke out, police said. (*)

Police investigate 3 companies over fires in oil palm concessions
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 26 Aug 16;

The Riau Police are intensively investigating three companies for their alleged negligence in regard to fires within their concessions during the last two weeks.

The three companies, identified only by the initials PT APSL, PT DBD and PT SS, operate in the oil palm plantation sector. Two companies, APSL and DBD, operate in Rokan Hulu regency while SS operates in Rokan Hilir, where a member of the Indonesian Navy, Chief Pvt. Wahyudi, died during efforts to extinguish fires on Tuesday.

The total burned land in the three companies’ concession areas amounts to approximately 300 hectares.

The police’s special crime investigation (Reskrimsus) director Sr.Comr.Rivai Sinambela said Rokan Hulu and Rokan Hilir Police were now handling the fire cases.

“Their investigations are under way. Criminal investigation unit chiefs at the two police precincts have been instructed to work maximally. The Riau Police’s Reskrimsus has dispatched investigators to help strengthen efforts to find evidence. If their investigation achieves maximum results, the Riau Police will take over the case,” said Rivai in a press conference on Friday.

He further said the police would involve expert witnesses in evidence collection to determine whether or not the burned land was within the concession areas of the companies.

“We suspect the burned land is within the companies’ concession areas, however, our investigators cannot straightaway conclude that the areas belong to the companies,” said Rivai.

“We should have enough evidence. We [the Riau Police] don’t want the issuance of a termination of investigation [SP3] on land fire cases implicating 15 companies to happen again. That’s why the case handling and suspect naming in land and forest fires will be conducted more carefully,” said Rivai. (ebf)

Police claim more fires started by individuals
Jakarta Post 26 Aug 16;

The National Police recorded an increasing number of individuals linked to forest and land fires this year, while on the other hand they reported a decreasing number of corporations involved in the activity.

National Police’s Criminal Investigative Department (Bareskrim) announced Thursday that it has named 463 suspects in forest and land fires all across the archipelago, the majority of whom were acting as individuals.

Bareskrim head Insp. Gen. Ari Dono Sukamto told the press that 454 of the suspects were individuals while only nine were corporations. He also announced that all the individuals have been detained while the nine corporations are still under investigation.

Ari declined to elaborate on the corporations and instead emphasized that, “Everyone will be punished if proven guilty.”

The number of individuals linked to the crime is more than double last year’s 196. In contrast, the police recorded an almost two-thirds decrease in the number of corporations involved in forest and land fires this year from last years’ 25.

In the effort to solve more forest and land fires, the government has set up a team of “fire hunters” consisting of state institutions in charge of the matter. Besides the National Police, the team also consists of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), the Environment and Forestry Ministry and the Office of the Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister.

The team is tasked with searching for and reducing hot spots throughout the country and at the same time educating members of the public to protect forests and lands in their neighborhoods.

85 suspects arrested over land, forest fires since January
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 26 Aug 16;

The Riau Police’s special crime investigation director, Sr. Comr. Rivai Sinambela, said on Friday 85 suspects had been arrested for their alleged involvement in 67 land and forest fire cases in regencies and municipalities across the province.

He said the investigation dossiers of 47 land and forest fire cases had been declared "complete." An order for the termination of an investigation ( SP3 ) had been issued for one case because its suspect suffered from mental health problems, he went on.

“The suspects comprise not only workers who were ordered to clear lands with the slash-and-burn method, but also the land owners. They intentionally burned land to open plantations. The total land they burned amounts to 400 hectares,” said Rivai.

Made Ali, deputy coordinator for environmental group Riau Forest Rescue Network (Jikalahari), urged the Riau Police to revoke SP3 letters previously issued in relation to 15 companies that allegedly started land and forest fires in the province, as hot spots again sprang up in the companies' concession areas.

“Since Aug. 1 to Aug. 15, the Terra-Aqua satellite has detected 623 hot spots in Riau, 267 of which are located in concession areas of 45 oil palm plantation companies and industrial forest permit [HTI] holders,” Made said.

“Eight of the 45 companies received SP3s for land fire cases in their areas from the Riau Police.".

PT Sumatera Riang Lestari has the most hot spots with 13, followed by PT Hutani Sola Lestari and PT Suntara Gajah Pati, each with three, and PT PT Ruas Utama Jaya with two. Four companies, PT Dexter Perkasa Industri Indonesia, PT Siak Raya Timber, PT Bina Duta Laksana and PT Perawang Sukses Perkasa Industri, have one hot spot each in their areas. (ebf)

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Malaysia: Danga Bay multi-billion ringgit project on track

KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 26 Aug 16;

JOHOR BARU: The development of the multi-billion ringgit Country Garden @ Danga Bay project is on track with 9,000 condominium units and a shopping plaza set to be completed and ready for handover by next year.

Country Garden Malaysia regional director Jason Fu said that Country Garden @ Danga Bay has achieved a number of notable achievements.

He said it was among the first turnkey project to introduce high quality facilities, including a 70,000 sq ft Phoenix club, theme mall, infinity pool and a marina.

“With the investment in these facilities, owners can enjoy the experience of five-star quality home life of the future,” he said during the third anniversary celebration of the Country Garden @ Danga Bay launch.

Fu also noted that more than 20 famous businesses were located within the commercial section of Country Garden @ Danga Bay, including popular international chain stores such as Starbucks.

Meanwhile, Country Garden @ Danga Bay Project Department deputy general manager Michael Lu said the company was looking forward to continue producing high quality houses and providing excellent services to its customers around the world.

He added that currently, the Country Garden Group in Malaysia has successfully developed three major projects including the Danga Bay project launched in 2013, Semenyih Diamond City project in Kuala Lumpur launched in 2014 and the Forest City project launched in Gelang Patah, Johor in 2016.

To celebrate its third anniversary, Country Garden Danga Bay held a three-day thanksgiving promotion sale, from Aug 12 to Aug 14, and gave out free gifts comprising household appliances that attracted a large number of participants.

Along with Fu, Lu and the project’s marketing general manager Easson Qian, hundreds of owners and their guests attended the celebration, enjoying several dance performances and winning lucky draw prizes.

The project, which was launched and commenced in 2013, is located on a 23.06ha sea-fronting parcel of land with a gross development value of RM18bil.

Danga Bay is part of the ambitious multi-billion ringgit Iskandar Malaysia project aimed at transforming South Johor into an international metropolis by 2025.

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Indonesia seizes hundreds of frozen pangolins

Agence France-Presse The Guardian 26 Aug 16;

Indonesian authorities have seized more than 650 critically endangered pangolins found hidden in freezers and arrested a man for allegedly breaking wildlife protection laws, police said on Friday.

Police discovered the pangolins, known as “scaly anteaters”, when they raided a house in Jombang district on the main island of Java after local residents became suspicious about the large number of freezers in the property.

A total of 657 pangolins, which are consumed as a luxury dish in China and used in traditional medicine, were found wrapped in plastic and stored in five large freezers, East Java province police spokesman Raden Prabowo Argo Yuwono told AFP.

The house owner, a 55-year-old man whose identity was not disclosed, was arrested and has been named a suspect, a step in the Indonesian legal system meaning that authorities believe they have enough evidence to consider filing charges.

He could face five years in prison and a fine of 100m rupiah ($7,500) for breaking wildlife protection laws.

“The suspect insisted the Pangolins were not his, a friend asked him to store the animals because he has freezers,” Yuwono said, adding the friend named by the suspect was also being sought.

The suspect, who was arrested during the police raid on 15 August, insisted he had not sold any of the pangolins and refused to tell police where they were to be sent, the spokesman said.

Pangolins are sought after in China and other parts of Asia for their meat, skin and scales. The meat is considered a delicacy, while the skin and scales are used in traditional medicine and to make fashion items such as make boots and shoes.

Protection group the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the pangolin species found in Indonesia as critically endangered.

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