Best of our wild blogs: 30 Aug 16

Mass coral bleaching in Singapore: why should I care?
wild shores of singapore

Ghostly clams
Neo Mei Lin

Coral Bleaching at Terumbu Pempang Laut
Offshore Singapore

Discover nature in Singapore! Fun and games @ Festival of Biodiversity – 3rd/4th Sep 2016, Eco Lake Lawn (near SBG MRT)
Otterman speaks

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15 more cases of locally transmitted Zika detected in Singapore

Channel NewsAsia 29 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed 15 more cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection in Singapore as of noon on Monday (Aug 29).

Two cases work at the construction site at 60 Sims Drive and have recovered. 13 cases live or work in the broader Sims Drive/ Aljunied Crescent area, MOH and the National Environment Agency (NEA) said.

The two cases at the Sims Drive construction site were detected as a result of MOH’s look-back and testing of potentially infected persons. As of Monday, MOH said it completed testing of all workers at the construction site who had symptoms of fever and rash previously. It is also screening workers staying at the dormitories located in the areas of concern.


MOH said it will continue to work with GPs in the area to offer testing for patients who had fever and rash previously. The look-back exercise will likely uncover more previously undiagnosed cases of Zika, it added.

As of Monday, NEA has inspected about 3,600 premises out of an estimated 6,000 premises in the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster to check for mosquito breeding, and also conducted ground checks in the vicinity. 36 breeding habitats – comprising 22 in homes and 14 in common areas/other premises - have been detected and destroyed. NEA has also inspected the on-site workers quarters at the construction site at Sims Drive.

NEA officers and grassroots volunteers have completed the first round of outreach efforts in the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster, to distribute Zika information leaflets, and will be continuing with outreach to raise general awareness of Zika, the agency said.

NEA has also commenced vector control operations in areas of concern where cases from the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster work or live. There is currently no evidence of local transmission in these areas of concern, MOH and NEA said.

The environment agency has also commenced inspections at the dormitories/residences at Kranji Road, Senoko South Road, Lor 101 Changi, Toh Guan Road East and Joo Chiat Place. One breeding has been detected and destroyed at the dormitory at Kranji. NEA said it has inspected more than 900 premises at Sembawang Drive, and detected and destroyed one breeding in a residence in that area. Thermal fogging, misting and indoor spraying of insecticides have been carried out at the inspected premises.


Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources and Health Amy Khor said in a Facebook post on Monday evening that aside from NEA's efforts, she hoped that residents would give their fullest cooperation to the more than 200 NEA officers carrying out inspections since the first local Zika case was detected.

"This is extremely critical and fundamental to our efforts to reduce the risk of further spread of the Zika virus," she wrote.

"It is also important that all of us, and not just those living or working in the affected areas, remain vigilant and take action to prevent mosquito breeding in our homes ... Let us all take care of ourselves, and watch out for one another."


Information on Zika cases released as soon as possible: Tan Chuan-Jin
Channel NewsAsia 29 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) put out information on the 41 confirmed cases of locally transmitted Zika infection in Singapore as soon as it was ready, said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin on Monday (Aug 29).

"I know that some quarters have been trying to perhaps cast different aspersions about information being not forthcoming, but I think in this particular instance what is quite clear to me is that MOH is quite particular that once information is ready, then it’s pushed out immediately – which has been the case," he said.

The Member of Parliament for Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency was visiting houses along Lorong 101 Changi and Joo Chiat Place, which have been flagged as areas of concern for the spread of the virus as some of the Zika patients reside or work in these locations.

Mr Tan stressed that there were no initial indications that the symptoms observed by doctors pointed to Zika, and that MOH had interviewed medical practitioners as soon as they flagged concerns. He also reiterated the timeline of events referred to by Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat to explain the jump in the number of Zika cases from one to 41 over the course of a day.

A clinic in the Aljunied area, Sims Drive Medical Clinic, informed MOH of an unusual increase in mild cases with fever, rash and joint pains on Aug 22. Health officials went down the next day, and the ministry announced the 41 locally transmitted cases on Aug 28 in a joint press briefing with the National Environment Agency (NEA).

“Once it was confirmed that it was Zika, the information was put out. It’s very important in times like this that the information put out be accurate, be factual," Mr Tan added.

“I can understand the anxiety that people may have, principally I think pregnant women … (But) I think it’s very important for us to stay focused on the facts, to stay focused on what actions we need to take."


Mr Tan said that efforts to manage the spread of Zika in his constituency would be similar to those already in place for dengue as the two diseases share the same carriers - aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

"Singapore is often regarded by many countries as a very good example of how we’ve managed (dengue) – we’ve not eradicated dengue, I’m not sure whether we will ever be able to do so … but I think we’ve managed to manage its outbreaks and the same effort needs to be done for Zika."

The minister said the area sees dengue outbreaks "from time to time", and authorities have therefore been constantly vigilant against the disease. "NEA has been very active here, and along with the grassroots we’ve been constantly visiting residents, reminding them of what they need to do, so we’re basically carrying on with what we’ve been doing in our efforts to deal with dengue. These are exactly the same efforts in terms of dealing with Zika."

He also urged the public to monitor information released by MOH and NEA about the disease and preventive measures that could be taken.

"The sort of response that we need to take as a society and as a community is very important," Mr Tan said.

- CNA/mz

Information on Zika cases released as soon as possible: Tan Chuan-Jin
TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 30 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — While some people have sought to “cast aspersions” on why the Health Ministry (MOH) did not announce the outbreak of Zika cases earlier, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said that it is important to stay focused on the facts and the actions to be taken, stressing that MOH has been releasing information as soon as it was ready.

His comments came after the Workers’ Party (WP) and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) called for the Government to clarify the timing of the events that led to the public notification of the 41 locally transmitted Zika cases. The two opposition parties said that prompt alerts are important so that the public could take the necessary precautions.

Mr Tan, who was visiting private houses and condominiums near Sims Avenue, where there are cases of Zika infection, told reporters on Monday (Aug 29): “I know that there are some quarters that have been trying to, perhaps, cast aspersions on information not being forthcoming, but it’s quite clear to me that MOH is quite particular that once information is ready, it is pushed out immediately, which has been the case.” He stressed that it was important during such times that information put out is accurate and factual.

“We can make a lot of different speculations, but given the circumstances, even the doctors who noticed it in the first place didn’t immediately think of Zika. Going forward, this is (an area where) we want to be vigilant,” he added.

The MOH has come under scrutiny since it confirmed on Sunday that there were 41 locally transmitted cases.

Mr Leon Perera, WP’s Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, said in a statement on the party’s website: “Prompt public notification of Zika cases is important so that members of the public in the affected areas can take the necessary precautions and so that stakeholders can take vector control measures.”

SDP said that the public should be kept informed even if the matter was still developing. “Medical professionals do not withhold information from their patients even when illnesses are only suspected but need further testing for confirmation,” the party said in its online statement.

In a Facebook post late on Sunday, Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat said that attempts to cover up the cases were “certainly not true”. He added that staff members at the laboratory were working “way past midnight” to complete the tests, so that the results may be announced in a “timely manner”. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VALERIE KOH

Southeast Asia needs to up its game to combat Zika: Experts
Channel NewsAsia 29 Aug 16;

BANGKOK/KUALA LUMPUR: The spread of the Zika virus across tropical Southeast Asia is likely to be significantly under-reported as local health authorities fail to conduct adequate screening, regional experts said on Monday (Aug 29).

International travel hub Singapore confirmed 41 locally transmitted cases of the mosquito-borne virus on Sunday and said it anticipated more, raising fears about how quickly it could disperse throughout the region.

Other parts of Southeast Asia have reported dozens of cases of Zika, which in Brazil has been linked to thousands of suspected cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect, but there are fears the true numbers are masked.

"Zika is under-reported and under-diagnosed," Khin Myint, head of the emerging virus research unit at Indonesia's government-funded Eijkman Institute, told Reuters. "We find many cases are not presented in hospitals because it's a relatively mild disease with mild symptoms and people are not going to doctors."

The World Health Organization (WHO) lists Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam as countries with "possible endemic transmission or evidence of local mosquito-borne Zika infections in 2016."

But the Jakarta-based Eijkman Institute, the main body testing for Zika in Indonesia, said it tested only 1,000 people in the past year - a tiny number in Southeast Asia's most populous country. It found just one positive case, despite reports that Zika is prevalent in the country.

Thailand has recorded the highest number of cases in the region at almost 100 infected people across 10 provinces this year.

"Thailand's surveys have not been thorough enough," said Kriengsak Limkittikul, assistant professor at the Department of Tropical Medicine at Mahidol University in Bangkok, noting that people without symptoms are often not tested. "Screening is inadequate in other countries in the region, too, where health authorities are ill-equipped to test," he said.

Vietnam has recorded three cases of Zika infection, all locally-transmitted, while Cambodia has reported seven cases.

Hong Kong confirmed its first case of Zika on Friday, in a woman who had travelled to the Caribbean.

A major difficulty is that while Zika can cause mild fever, a rash and red eyes, an estimated 80 percent of people infected have no symptoms.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which is a close cousin of dengue and chikungunya and is transmitted by mosquito. There have also been a small number of cases of sexual transmission reported in the United States and elsewhere.


Some countries in the region began ramping up protective measures following the outbreak in Singapore.

Muhamad Subuh, a senior Indonesian health ministry official, said authorities are "in the process of stepping up health checks at main airports and ports, including in Batam," the island closest to Singapore.

Indonesia introduced thermal scanners at airports targeting arrivals from Singapore over the weekend, and plans to roll them out to ports. Authorities are also handing out printed warnings to all incoming passengers, noting Zika has an incubation period of around 10 days before presenting any symptoms.

Malaysian Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said travellers who enter Johor Bahru, where up to 200,000 people commute daily to and from Singapore, will go through thermal screening at border checkpoints. People crossing in private vehicles will not be scanned but handed a pamphlet detailing the symptoms and asking them to report to authorities if they develop those.

Malaysia is also stepping up vector control mechanisms including fogging and larvicidal spraying in Johor Bharu.

"What we can do as a country comes down to how well we control our vectors, and at this point of time, dengue is still a bigger problem than Zika because people can die from dengue," Subramaniam said.

Other countries were not responding so quickly.

In Thailand, the Department of Disease Control said it was screening athletes returning from the Olympic Games in Brazil, but otherwise not changing its prevention methods. Vietnam and Cambodia made no immediate changes to their border controls.

"Different countries have different economic and political situations and it's not that they don't want to screen the virus, but they don't have the resources and capacity to do it at this stage," said Jasper Fuk-Woo Chan, a clinical assistant professor at the Carol Yu Centre for Infection at the University of Hong Kong.

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, with additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor in JAKARTA, My Pham in HANOI, Prak Chan Thul in PHNOM PENH, A. Ananthalakshmi and Joseph Sipalan in KUALA LUMPUR and Zoe Cooney in SYDNEY; Editing by Jane Wardell and Ian Geoghegan)

- Reuters/dt

MOH tightens checks as 15 more Zika cases confirmed

SINGAPORE — As the number of confirmed Zika cases continues to climb, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has tightened reporting protocol for general practitioners (GPs) by requiring suspected cases of infections to be sent by ambulance to the Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC) for further tests.

Adding to the 41 cases made public over the weekend, the MOH said that as of noon on Monday (Aug 29), 15 more cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection have been confirmed. The figure is expected to rise further: At least two patients contacted by TODAY said they tested positive for the Zika virus later in the day.

Among the new confirmed cases reported by the MOH on Monday, two were workers at a construction site at 60 Sims Drive — identified as one of the hotspots — who have since recovered. The remaining 13 either live or work in the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive area, said the ministry.

GPs around the island received a circular from the MOH on Saturday afternoon — a few hours before the first locally transmitted case was announced by the ministry in the evening — stating that suspected cases be sent to the CDC for blood and urine tests via ambulances dispatched by the MOH. The circular described suspected cases as patients who have fever, skin rash, joint and muscle pains, headaches or red eyes, and had been in the vicinity of the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive area.

On Monday, five patients were sent in two ambulances from Sims Drive Medical Clinic, where the first locally-transmitted case was discovered. Of these, two are women, aged 18 and 54, and three are men who work at a construction site in the clinic’s vicinity. Across the road from the clinic, TJ Medical Clinic & Surgery’s Dr Tan Thai Keng told TODAY that he had written referral letters for four patients to undergo further tests and directed them to the CDC immediately. These patients — three women aged 24, 26 and 32, and a 44-year-old man — were not sent by ambulance, he said.

One of the patients who told TODAY they had tested positive for Zika virus was a 54-year-old woman who wanted to be known only as Madam Ho. She said she was shocked to wake up on Monday with red spots all over her body and face. Mdm Ho was speaking to reporters outside Sims Drive Medical Clinic in the morning. Her face and arms were visibly swollen, while her eyes were red-rimmed. After she had received her test results in the evening, she told TODAY: “I feel very tired… I am only worried that I may have spread it to my family members because I don’t know when I was bitten.” Madam Ho, who lives with her two children and son-in-law, said she has advised them to go for health checks.

Aljunied Crescent resident Amalina Yusoff was also diagnosed as a Zika patient on Monday. The 18-year-old student said she had recovered from fever on Sunday but started developing rashes all over her body.

Over the weekend, the MOH and the National Environment Agency (NEA) had warned that more cases could emerge. Beyond Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive, other areas of concern include Khatib Camp, Sembawang Drive, Kranji Road, Joo Chiat Place, Senoko South Road, Toh Guan Road East and Lorong 101 Changi. On Monday, the MOH reiterated that “more previously undiagnosed” Zika cases would likely be uncovered, as it continues to work with GPs in the Sims Drive-Aljunied Crescent area to offer testing for patients who had fever and rash previously.

GPs and doctors said they are seeing women patients, including those who are pregnant, who are concerned about the outbreak.

Dr Beh Suan Tiong, who specialises in obstetrics and gynaecology at Thomson Medical Centre, said that some of his pregnant patients have requested to be tested. “We conduct tests based on necessity…If they do not exhibit the symptoms and have not travelled to Zika-affected countries or live in the Aljunied area, there are currently no guidelines for them to be tested,” said Dr Beh.

Members of Parliament (MPs) for the areas flagged by MOH said they are taking precautions to manage the situation. MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling said her grassroots volunteers had visited households in Aljunied Crescent over the weekend. They have also compiled a list of seven pregnant residents whom they will check on regularly, said Ms Tin.

Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency (GRC) MP Tan Chuan-Jin, who is also the Minister for Social and Family Development, was out and about on Monday at Joo Chiat Place, visting residents and giving out brochures and mosquito repellents.

Jurong-Clementi town council chairman Ang Wei Neng and Sembawang town council chairman Lim Wee Kiak said that their grassroots volunteers will step up efforts to alert residents and dormitory operators about the outbreak. Dr Lim said: “We’ve done this before, when we had a dengue cluster... (Times like these are) a good reminder to residents and grassroots organisations (to) look out for one another.”

As of Sunday, the NEA has inspected about 3,600 out of 6,000 premises in the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive cluster for mosquito breeding. Thirty-six breeding habitats in homes and other common areas have been detected and destroyed. It has also commenced vector control operations in areas where cases from the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive cluster work or live. There is currently no evidence of local transmission in these areas, the NEA said.

Meanwhile, pharmacies islandwide are stocking up on mosquito repellent products following a surge in demand.

Unity Pharmacies said sales for mosquito repellent sprays and patches have gone up by about half in its 59 outlets across the island. A Guardian spokesperson said that compared to last week, sales of such products have, on average, doubled islandwide, with sales at its five stores in Aljunied increasing by more than four times.

Australia, Taiwan issue alerts on travel to Singapore after Zika outbreak
Today Online 30 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Both Australia and Taiwan have issued travel alerts for Singapore following 56 locally transmitted Zika virus infection cases.

The Australian government has urged pregnant women to avoid non-essential travel to Singapore and to adopt additional measures against mosquito bites if planning a trip here.

“This included deferring non-essential travel if pregnant and avoiding pregnancy for two months following a return. Australians should exercise normal safety precautions in Singapore,” the Australian government said in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC) raised the travel notice for Singapore to Level 2 and advised pregnant women not to travel to the country.

“Pregnant women and women intending to become pregnant are advised to take particular caution and travellers to the country must take precautionary measures against mosquitoes,” the statement said.

Under the CDC’s three-tier system, a Level 1 travel warning urges vigilance and health precautions, while Level 2 calls for a high degree of caution and strong protective measures, and Level 3 advises against travel to or from a specified destination.

The CDC now has a Level 2 travel alert in place for 58 countries and regions where Zika virus infections have been reported, including Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, countries with a heavy flow of people to and from Taiwan.

United Kingdom has also advised those who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to discuss their travel plans to Singapore with their healthcare provider.

Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) announced over the weekend 41 locally transmitted Zika cases and 15 more cases were confirmed on Monday.

The first case, which came to light on Saturday, involved a Malaysian woman living at Block 102 Aljunied Crescent. The other 40 cases, announced on Sunday, either lived or worked in the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive area.

How Zika got here could remain a mystery, say experts
TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 30 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Exactly how the Zika virus found its way to Singapore and triggered a local outbreak could remain a mystery, experts say, given that existing tests are unreliable for infections that are more than two weeks old.

Nonetheless, the infectious diseases experts whom TODAY spoke to believe that Patient Zero — or the source of the outbreak — was likely to have been infected with the virus overseas and brought it back to the country — specifically to the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive area where a cluster has emerged.

A mosquito could have bitten the person, got infected, and then transmitted the virus to other people. While transmission is possible through sexual intercourse, it is a less common means of infection.

Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, programme leader of the antimicrobial resistance programme at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said: “If a compatible mosquito bites someone who has the virus in his or her blood, the mosquito becomes infected. After about a week, the virus can be detected in the mosquito’s saliva, and the mosquito can then infect all the other people that it bites.”

“If these other infected people are bitten by other mosquitoes during the days when the virus is circulating in their blood (which is usually three to 12 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito), the virus will be passed to these mosquitoes, and the cycle of infection will continue,” he said.

On the sexual transmission of Zika, Prof Hsu noted that based on reported cases, the virus can remain in semen for more than six weeks. “Almost all cases of Zika sexual transmission — with one exception — have been from men to women,” he said.

Prior to the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) announcement over the weekend that Singapore has discovered dozens of cases of locally transmitted Zika infection, a 48-year-old man who travelled to Brazil was diagnosed in May as the Republic’s first Zika patient. The Singapore permanent resident made a full recovery and tested negative for Zika before he was discharged. His family members also had not reported any symptoms of the mosquito-borne disease.

Infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam, who diagnosed the first Zika case at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said: “This is a very mild disease. The infected person might not even see a doctor, and if he didn’t raise the alarm, he could become a source of infection. He might have thought that the travel made him unwell, had some rest and probably recovered after a couple of days. Meanwhile, he got bitten by a mosquito while he was ill, and the whole cycle started.”

By now, Patient Zero would be very hard to track down, said Dr Wong Sin Yew, an infectious diseases physician at Gleneagles Medical Centre. Tracing of cases would need to be done and a transmission link has to be established. “At present, we don’t have a good, reliable test for infections that are beyond two weeks,” he said.

Dr Wong said that based on MOH’s recommendation, blood and urine tests are carried out within the first week of infection. If it is beyond the first week, a urine test is used, because the virus tends to stay in the urine for a longer period of time.

Results of the urine and blood tests can be obtained at a laboratory within three or four hours, said the experts. But Dr Wong noted that test results could take days, if there is a huge number of cases.

While some have questioned the delay in the discovery and announcement of the Zika cases, Dr Leong stressed that the focus is on protecting Singaporeans and “not (playing) the blame game”. “The gatekeepers, who are now the family physicians, must be aware that Zika is mild and we must investigate (the suspected cases), especially (those) in a cluster,” he said.

The experts urged people to protect themselves from mosquito bites by using repellent or wearing more clothing, and not travel to Zika-infected countries. Pregnant women in their first trimester should take extra precautions as the risk to the foetus is highest, Prof Hsu said.

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Punggol pre-schoolers get screened for TB; second such case in a week

KENNETH CHENG Today Online 30 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — In the second case of tuberculosis (TB) at a pre-school to emerge in less than a week, children and staff of Bridges Montessori Preschool have undergone screening after a trainee teacher there was diagnosed with active TB.

And at least one pre-schooler, a two-year-old girl, has tested positive for latent TB — the disease in its non-infectious, asymptomatic form.

The school, located on Punggol Seventeenth Avenue, found out on Aug 12 that the trainee teacher, a foreign national, had been diagnosed with the disease, said its director, Ms Irene Toh, 58.

The next day, it began informing parents of its 50-odd pre-schoolers via email and WhatsApp about the case and the steps the school was taking.

The trainee, who had sat in on classes as an observer, had spent about three weeks in the school. Twenty-nine pre-schoolers, who were in the affected area where the trainee was based, as well as seven staff members were screened for TB last Tuesday. Ms Toh could not say how many others have tested positive for TB.

Contacted by TODAY, the Ministry of Health (MOH) did not address queries about the case, but noted that latent TB infections are not uncommon in Singapore. Last week, a similar case emerged at Little Greenhouse pre-school in Bukit Batok, where pre-schoolers and staff had to be screened for TB after a teacher from China was diagnosed with active TB the week before.

The Early Childhood Development Agency told TODAY that there have been three reported TB cases among the 1,300 childcare centres here this year. Centres were generally vigilant and have the necessary measures in place to prevent its spread, a spokesperson said, and new employees must undergo a chest X-ray and a doctor must certify them free from active TB before they can start work.

Bridges Montessori’s Ms Toh said before the trainee teacher arrived in Singapore last month, she had undergone a series of medical tests, including one for TB.

It was only after a pre-employment check-up at the Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association that a doctor spotted a “scar” in the trainee’s lungs, and referred her for further checks.

At the time, Ms Toh said that the doctor had advised that she could continue with “normal activities”.

The trainee’s S-Pass was cancelled on Aug 19, after both parties came to a “mutual agreement”. The trainee felt awkward returning to the pre-school and wanted to head home to her family, said Ms Toh.

The mother of the two-year-old with latent TB, who wanted to be known only as Ms Tan, 40, told

TODAY she was “very, very upset” that her daughter may have go through a protracted treatment process. Patients with latent TB can receive treatment to prevent the disease progressing to active TB.
“(It) is a lot to handle for a child. (They) are pre-schoolers,” Ms Tan said.

Ms Toh said the school did not want this to happen. “We’ve (followed) all the necessary SOPs (standard operating procedures) that were given by the ministries and more,” she added.

The school’s premises were fumigated and sanitised by a health and environmental cleaning agency on Aug 15, and Tuberculosis Control Unit (TBCU) officers conducted a site assessment on Aug 16.

Figures provided by the MOH showed that the number of new active TB cases among long-staying foreigners has been on a steady decline over the years, as the number of cases among residents edged up to 1,498 last year. Last year, there were 502 cases involving long-staying foreigners, compared with 643 in 2012.

But doctors TODAY interviewed said TB screening for non-residents could be more stringent.

Citing global literature, Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious-diseases specialist at the Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, said globalisation — including the movement of migrants to the developed world — has contributed to an increase in TB not only in Singapore, but around the world.

He suggested that Singapore adopt the United States’ practice of employing both blood tests and a chest X-rays when screening individuals planning to work or study in the US. Currently, blood tests are not required. Also, currently, only patients with pulmonary TB — in the lungs — have their contacts screened for the disease, but this should be done for all TB patients, said Dr Leong. TB can occur in different parts of the body, like the gut.

Mount Elizabeth Hospital respiratory medicine specialist Ong Kian Chung said when abnormalities show up on chest X-rays and TB is a possibility, patients should be required to undergo blood tests. Such blood tests, which cost about S$200 each, should be made available more cheaply to patients, he added.

Alternatively, all abnormal pre-employment X-rays could be referred to the TBCU, but this might increase their workload “significantly”, Dr Ong said.

TB transmission typically occurs through close and prolonged contact with an infectious individual, but those with active TB become non-infectious rapidly, once treatment begins. All newborns here are given the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine, but this vaccine may work only against certain forms of TB, such as TB in the brain.

Pre-schoolers screened for tuberculosis after teacher gets disease

SINGAPORE — About 80 pre-schoolers enrolled at a centre in Bukit Batok have been screened for tuberculosis (TB), after a teacher there was found to have contracted the infectious disease.

The teacher, a Chinese national who taught at the Little Greenhouse pre-school on Bukit Batok Street 31, had phoned in sick last Thursday morning. She had shown no signs of being sick in the days prior, said Ms Ruth Kua, deputy chief operating officer of Global EduHub, the pre-school’s parent company.

The teacher, who has active TB, did not update the pre-school on her condition after she was diagnosed, according to Ms Kua. The pre-school, which has 104 students, was only informed of the TB case last Friday, she said.

The Ministry of Health (MOH), in response to queries, said that the ministry and Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s TB Control Unit (TBCU) were notified of the diagnosis last Wednesday, and that the patient is now undergoing treatment.

“TB transmission typically requires close and prolonged contact with an infectious individual. It is not spread by contact with items or surfaces touched by a person with TB,” said a ministry spokesperson. “Persons with active TB disease rapidly become non-infectious once treatment starts. The childcare centre is not required to close.”

TB is endemic in Singapore and can occur in various settings including pre-schools, but it mainly affects older adults, said the spokesperson. The TBCU has started contact tracing for the case and have identified 124 staff and students for screening.

About three-quarters of the students were screened at the school on Wednesday, while five of its staff were screened at TTSH.

In addition to sanitising the premises last Saturday, Ms Kua said the pre-school phoned or messaged parents from Friday to Sunday, asking them to check on their children’s health. “So far, the majority have reported to us that they are OK,” she said.

The teacher, who will be on medical leave for two weeks, remains on contract with the school till next June. “The teacher needs her own rest and has an MC (medical certificate),” said Ms Kua. “The school has to honour it. We did not terminate her, as that would mean that she did not perform her job well as a teacher.”

About five children were taken home by their parents after Wednesday’s screening so they could rest, but Ms Kua described parents’ reaction to date as “very calm”.

Ms Kua also said she had sought advice from the Early Childhood Development Agency on the need to close the centre temporarily, and was told that there was “no need at all”. “But we have to monitor the situation closely and to see what’s the next step,” she added.

As for why screenings began only on Wednesday, Ms Kua said time was needed to allow the TBCU to do an assessment, and get the parents’ consent to screen their children.

TODAY understands that time was needed for contact tracing before screening began. The MOH said that only a very small proportion of TB cases occur in children and last year, only 0.6 per cent of TB cases among Singapore residents occurred in those aged below 15.

“Those with positive screening test results will be followed up at TBCU for further assessment and treatment if necessary. These cases may not be linked to the staff member with active TB,” the MOH spokesperson said.

Parents TODAY spoke with were shocked and concerned by the news initially, but say they were satisfied with the school’s handling of the matter so far, noting that the school has been prompt in updating them on the situation.

Said warehouse supervisor Muhammad Nurzady, 34: “They don’t keep us in the dark and update us regularly. Even in the past, back when my older children were here and when there were cases of hand, foot and mouth disease, the school has been consistent in keeping us informed.”

Mdm Jasmine Chua, a 40-year-old human resource administrator, was worried when she first heard about the case, but felt more assured after the school’s explanations.

One parent who wanted to be known only as Mrs Tan had kept her son at home as she did not want to take any risks. At the school on Wednesday to speak to staff about the situation, she added that it was good that the school had sanitised the toys and premises.

Mr James Ong, a laboratory manager, did not mind the wait for screenings to begin. As parents, they had to be given sufficient information before giving consent for the screening,
he said. Last year, there were 1,498 new TB cases among Singapore residents, up from the 1,454 cases in 2014.

In June, the authorities revealed that an unusual cluster of six multi-drug-resistant cases had emerged in a housing block in Ang Mo Kio.

In December last year, the National University Hospital had to call in 178 children for tests after a paediatric nurse was diagnosed with pulmonary TB. Five children were found to have latent TB, which is TB in its uninfectious, asymptomatic state.

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New dengue cases spike to 274 last week; upward trend expected: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 30 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The number of new dengue cases spiked to 274 in the week ending Aug 27, up from 222 the previous week, with the figure expected to rise further amid the traditional peak dengue season in Singapore, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said.

Another 50 cases were reported between Aug 28 and 3pm on Aug 29.

A total of 11,053 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since the start of the year. Seven people have died of the disease so far, with the latest fatality a 79-year-old man who lived in Eastwood Drive near Upper East Coast Road. There were four dengue fatalities in the whole of 2015.

There are now 58 active dengue clusters in Singapore – up from 46 the previous week – including 10 classified as high-risk. The biggest cluster is in the area around Tampines Ave 8, Tampines Street 81, Street 83 and Street 84, where 60 cases have been reported, including three in the past fortnight.

In an advisory on its dengue website, NEA said it anticipates an upward trend in the number of new cases in the coming months. Since April, its Gravitrap data has shown a steady increase in the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which is responsible for spreading dengue fever, it said. These mosquitoes also carry the chikungunya and Zika viruses.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and NEA have warned that the number of dengue cases in Singapore may exceed 30,000 this year, higher than the record of 22,170 reported in 2013.

Singapore also reported its first case of locally transmitted Zika last Saturday. It has since confirmed another 55 cases, and authorities have warned of more likely positive cases.

- CNA/cy

Dengue cases break 11k mark in peak season
Lee Min Kok, MyPaper AsiaOne 31 Aug 16;

The number of dengue cases in Singapore has crossed the 11,000 mark for this year, according to the latest figures from the National Environment Agency's (NEA's) dengue website.

As of Monday, a total of 11,053 cases of the mosquito-borne virus have been reported - just shy of the 11,286 cases in the whole of last year.

Last week saw the number of dengue cases rise to 274, an increase of 52 from the previous week.

While the number of cases has been fluctuating within the same range for the past couple of weeks, NEA has repeatedly said it is anticipating an upward trend in the coming months as Singapore is currently in its traditional peak dengue season.

It warned in February that there could be more than 30,000 cases this year - higher than the historic 22,170 reported in 2013.

Seven people have died from dengue this year, three more than in the whole of last year.

Ten areas have been classified as high-risk, with a cluster in Tampines the highest risk with 60 cases, including three in the last fortnight.

Since April, NEA said its Gravitrap data has shown a steady increase in the Aedes aegypti mosquito population.

The mosquito is responsible for transmitting both the dengue and Zika viruses.

Singapore reported its first locally transmitted case of the Zika virus on Saturday.

Since then, another 55 Zika cases have surfaced as the authorities warn of more to come.

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Air quality expected to stay in normal range for next 24 hours: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 29 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: Air quality in Singapore is expected to remain in the normal range for the next 24 hours, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a press release on Monday. This follows an improvement in haze conditions earlier in the day, as prevailing winds strengthened to blow from the south, and parts of the island saw showers in the late morning and afternoon, NEA said.

NEA said showers over parts of central Sumatra today have helped to reduce the extent of the haze there. Some haze was still observed over the Strait of Malacca, NEA said. Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency said separately on Monday that there were 138 hotspots across Indonesia, with 85 of them in Riau province in central Sumatra.

As of 5pm on Monday, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was 65-95, in the Moderate range, and the 1-hour PM2.5 was 12-19 µg/m3, in Band I (Normal), NEA reported.

"For the rest of today and tomorrow, the prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the southeast or south. Thundery showers are expected in the morning for Singapore," NEA said in the statement.

Over the next 24 hours, the 1-hr PM2.5 concentration is expected to stay in Band I (Normal) and the 24-hour PSI is forecast to remain in the Moderate range, it added.

Air quality took a turn for the worse on Friday and over the weekend, with the 24-hour PSI in the Unhealthy range.

- CNA/mz

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Far less litter left by NDP partygoers this year

Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Aug 16;

Many partygoers outside the National Stadium brought along their own trash bags, said a volunteer.

Singapore has earned a reputation for being a "cleaned" city well looked after by cleaners.

But during the National Day celebrations on Aug 9, revellers showed that they can pick up after themselves, too.

According to the Public Hygiene Council, which led clean-up efforts outside the National Stadium where the parade was held, partygoers left behind significantly less litter than last year.

Volunteers had brought with them about 3,000 trash bags to fill up with rubbish left behind by revellers.

But they ended up using fewer than 200 of them. In comparison, volunteers used about 1,000 bags during last year's clean-up.

"We observed that many members of the public brought along their own trash bags, and responsibly binned their own trash, before they left," said Ms Dinie Kartika, 25, a volunteer from the ITE College East Rotaract Club.

A total of 331 volunteers from organisations such as the ITE College East Rotaract Club, the Waterways Watch Society, and the Lions Club of Singapore Mandarin, took part in this year's clean-up efforts.

From about 6pm on Aug 9, they fanned out across three areas - Marina Promenade, Stadium Riverside Walk and Tanjong Rhu Promenade - where those without tickets to the National Day Parade (NDP) congregated.

There, volunteers mingled with people, distributed items such as hand-held fans, and reminded them to bag and bin their rubbish.

It seemed to help. Mr Seet Kok Heng, 49, a volunteer from the Lions Club of Singapore Mandarin, said the presence of the volunteers created an awareness among partygoers to keep the areas clean.

"I think it greatly helped to minimise the amount of trash after the event," said the director of an engineering firm.

Public Hygiene Council chairman Edward D'Silva said the council will continue to work with different stakeholders, including members of the public, to encourage people to keep public spaces clean during and after events.

He added: "This year's NDP clean-up efforts by the volunteers, as well as by the members of the public who helped to keep the spaces clean, are very encouraging. More could still be done for a truly clean Singapore."

Inside the National Stadium, where some 55,000 people partied away, about 15 tonnes of rubbish was collected, said the NDP organising committee.

Last year, cleaners picked up about 12 tonnes of rubbish from the Padang and The Float @ Marina Bay after the parade.

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Malaysia: Catchment areas needed to solve Johor’s looming water crisis

Liew Chin Tong Letter to Malaysia Kini 30 Aug 16;

No one can deny that there is a looming water crisis in Johor.

Residents in Kluang have been facing water rationing since Aug 16, while Mersing has been facing rationing since four-and-a-half months ago. Since last week, some parts of Mersing receive water from trucks and no longer from the pipe.

The question is what can we do about it? And whether the Johor state government has the political will to rein in illegal farming and plantation around dams and water facilities to secure and expand water catchment areas.

The main challenge is most dams in Johor are surrounded by palm oil estates. I visited Lebam and Upper Layang Dams with senior Syarikat Air Johor (SAJ) officers in November 2015 and Congok Dam a week ago, and witnessed the situation first hand.

Sembrong Dam, which caters for the need of Kluang, is also surrounded by farms, animals and palm oil estates. We have even seen a horse bathing in the Sembrong dam.

A dam without a catchment area means that it is a glorified open water tank which is filled only with rainwater and nothing else. If there is no rain or if rain doesn’t fall into the dam, there would be no water for consumption. Such is the sad state of affairs in Johor.

I would like to draw the attention of the Johor state government and Menteri Besar Khaled Nordin to a paper by Jackson Ewing and Karissa Domondon, entitled ‘Drought, Pollution and Johor’s Growing Water Needs’, published by Institute of Southeast Asia Studies on Aug 26, 2016.

I usually do not like to compare Singapore with Malaysia. But in this instance, it is just too glaring to compare water management in Singapore and Johor for the past few decades.

Three salient points to note:

Treated wastewater (NEWater) accounts for 30 percent of Singapore’s total freshwater needs and desalinated water 10 percent;

Singapore’s water catchment area has increased to two-thirds of the country’s land surface (from 11 percent in 1970);

Roughly 40 percent of Singapore’s water needs are met by water from Malaysia, compared to 80 percent at the time of Singapore’s independence in 1965.

I urge Khaled to come up with a plan with a detailed time frame to remove all the palm oil estates around dams and to create as well as expand water catchment areas to ensure long-term sustainability of the provision of water supply for the people of Johor.

LIEW CHIN TONG is the MP for Kluang and Johor DAP chairperson.

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Malaysia: Slight relief as downpour increases water level at Congok Dam

HALIM SAID New Straits Times 29 Aug 16;

MERSING: The water level at the Congok Dam today showed a slight increase after a downpour last night, the first in the last two months.

The rain, which lasted around 20 minutes, increased the dam's water level by 0.12m, with the dam's current level now at 2.62m.

However this is still way below its critical level of 3.50m. Syarikat Air Johor (SAJ) Holdings Sdn Bhd general manager for production and distribution, Elias Ismail, confirmed the slight rise in the water level.

He said the dam and also the Tenglu Water Treatment Plant are both still in operation but running at minimal production.

"The rationing exercise is also continuing but with a slight change to several areas, where certain areas in the district are given six hours to stock up water instead of the previous 24-hour period," he said.

The areas affected by the change in scheduled water supply are Taman Nakhoda, Mersing town, Air Puteri and Taman Sri Mersing, which are scheduled to get water from 10am to 4pm.

Jalan Mahkota, Rumah Kilat and Mersing Kecil will get water supply between 5pm and 11pm.

He said the reason for cutting the distribution time at the selected areas was due to low production at Tenglu plant, as the dam reserves have dropped drastically.

"We also are deploying our reserved treated water through water tankers to areas which get low water supply at remote areas or on higher ground," he said.

He said SAJ is working hard to ensure that water supply to all residents will not be disrupted.

"We have more than 30 staff in Mersing alone who are working rigorously to ensure water supply reaches the user," he said.

SAJ supplies treated water to 82,000 account holders and 140,000 users in the district.

Scheduled water supply to end on Sept 15 but depends on level at Congok dam

JOHOR BARU: Scheduled water supply to some areas in Mersing which has been prolonged for the past four months is expected to end by Sept 15 but is subject to the water level recorded at Congok dam.

SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Abdul Wahab Abdul Hamid said the Congok dam, which was the source of raw water for Tenglu water treatment plant (LTA) could not accommodate the needs of the plant.

He said that Sungai Mersing, which supplied raw water to Sungai Mersing LTA, that also helped to cater to the Tenglu LTA, was also facing the same problem as Congok dam, with water level at a critical point.

“As of Aug 25, the water level at Congok dam recorded at 2.7m compared to its critical level of 4.5m where it will decrease at about 0.04m per day.

“The scheduled water supply for several parts of Mersing affected some 8,200 accounts where it was scheduled to be two days without water supply and one day with water supply, alternately since April 20, 2016,” he said in a statement here on Thursday.

He added that the frequency period would depend on the river’s and dam’s current situation, which were deteriorating at the moment due to the zero rainfalls in the area recently.

Abdul Wahab said following the matter, the affected residents might only receive less water supply, which could not cater to their 24-hour usage.

“The condition of both sources for raw water is unstable and we are trying our best to distribute the limited treated water to all affected residents through pipes or the water tankers.

“We have also provided a total of 85 static water tanks and nine water tank lorries to help cater to the needs of those affected.

“We will give priority to dialysis centres, hospitals, school hostels and for festivities,” he added.

He also urged consumers to store sufficient water and use it wisely.

For details, call 1-800-88-7474 (SAJ Info Centre), SMS to 019-772 7474 or email

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Malaysia: Four areas record unhealthy API readings

DAWN CHAN AND TEOH PEI YING New Straits Times 30 Aug 16;

SEREMBAN: The haze situation in the country continues to deteriorate, with four areas recording unhealthy air pollutant index (API) readings this morning.

Thick smog remains at certain areas, with the early morning rain doing little to ease up the haze.

As of 9am, Nilai's API reading stood at 118, followed by Banting (101), Shah Alam (105) and Putrajaya (102).

Port Dickson and Seremban both recorded moderate levels at 60 and 63, respectively. API readings are determined based on an international acceptable protocol which calculates the 24 hour averaging times.

An API of between 0 and 50 is categorised as good, 51 to 100 (moderate), 101 to 200 (unhealthy), 201 to 300 (very unhealthy) and 300 upwards (dangerous).

The public can refer to the Department of Environment website at to find out the current API readings.

Is the haze back?

KUALA LUMPUR: Is the haze back? The Air Pollutant Index (API) in most areas may be at normal level but already, reports are coming in of hazy conditions and a burning smell in the air.

As of 1pm, Nilai registered the worst API reading at 79, followed by Pasir Gudang in Johor (74), Bukit Rambai in Malacca (73), Bandaraya Melaka (72), and Port Dickson (70).

All these five areas, however, were still within the API's moderate category.

In the Klang Valley, the burning smell of smoke hangs thick in the air despite Batu Muda and Cheras recording an API of 49 and 56, respectively, as of noon.

Among areas surpassing the 'good' API level reading are Putrajaya (62), Pelabuhan Kelang (56) and Banting (59).

Members of the public have noted that the Petronas Twin Towers in the city centre are slowly becoming less visible due to the depreciating visibility level.

The visibility levels in Petaling Jaya and Subang both recorded 6km and 1km, respectively. An API of between 0 and 50 is categorised as good, 51 to 100 (moderate), 101 to 200 (unhealthy), 201 to 300 (very unhealthy) and 300 upwards (dangerous).

The public can refer to the portal to find out the current API readings.

Tanjung Malim registers highest API reading in the country
The Star 30 Aug 16;

PETALING JAYA: The Air Pollutant Index (API) in Tanjung Malim, Perak reached the unhealthy level of 121 yesterday.

API readings in Kuala Lumpur was highest in Cheras at 97, followed by Batu Muda (96) and Putrajaya (91). In Selangor, high API readings were recorded in Shah Alam at 93 and Petaling Jaya (91).

API readings of between 0-50 are considered good, moderate (51-100), unhealthy (101-200), very unhealthy (201-300) and hazardous (exceeding 301). The deteriorating air quality in the Klang Valley led many to question the moderate API readings on the Department of Environment’s (DOE) website.

Last Friday, smog blanketed Singapore 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.

API readings are determined based on an international acceptable protocols, which calculates the 24-hour averaging times for five criteria pollutants, namely Particulate Matter of less than 10 microns (PM10), Sulphur Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Ground Level Ozone and Carbon Monoxide.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was also concerned about the haze situation, saying that the Government would take the necessary action about it.

He wrote on Facebook: “Looks like the haze has come back outside my office, and several other areas too. If your area is affected, take care of your health, especially the children and senior citizens.”

Unhealthy air quality in Klang Valley despite moderate API readings
DANIAL ALBAKRI The Star 29 Aug 16;

PETALING JAYA: The haze has visibly returned to the Klang Valley despite the fact that Air Pollutant Index (API) on the Department of Environment’s (DOE) website reported ‘good’ to ‘moderate’ readings.

Residents noticed a sharp drop in the air quality Monday and could smell it in the air, with several parts in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor recording poor visibility.

However, some may be left puzzled as API readings for Petaling Jaya was 46, Shah Alam (51), Port Klang (55), Putrajaya (61) and Cheras (45) as at 11am.

According to the DOE, the API readings are based on an average of readings over the previous 24 hours.

For example, the API readings reported on 10am on Monday would be the average reading taken between that time and 10am on the previous day.

Last Friday, acrid smog blanketed Singapore 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.

API readings are determined based on an international acceptable protocol which calculates the 24 hour averaging times for five criteria pollutants namely Particulate Matter of less than 10 micron (PM10), Sulphur Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Ground Level Ozone and Carbon Monoxide.

API readings of between 0-50 are considered good, moderate (51-100), unhealthy (101-200), very unhealthy (201-300) and dangerous (exceeding 301).

Any reading above 300 is “hazardous”, meaning the air quality is a hazard to high risk individuals and the public health in general.

Farmers hope for light haze
The Star 30 Aug 16;

PETALING JAYA: Livestock farmers are looking to the skies and keeping their fingers crossed the haze condition will be mild this year.

Federation of Livestock Farmers’ Association of Malaysia president Jeffrey Ng said the situation so far wasn’t bad and its members were hopeful.

Their business would be affected if the haze became as thick as in previous years and caused warmer and drier weather, he said.

He said chickens would lay less eggs while poultry and livestock would take longer to reach market weight due to heat and water shortages.

“Some farmers are preparing by making sure they have an adequate water supply,” he added.

Federation of Pork Dealers Association president Chan Nyen Loong said the extreme haze conditions in 2014 and last year affected breeding and mating.

“Production went down and our costs went up because we had to buy medicine for the sick animals,” he said.

Like human, animals also get affected by the haze, said Malaysian Federation of Ruminant Breeders Association chairman Samad Kassim.

“Cows, goats and buffaloes have trouble breathing if conditions are really bad. They can even die from it,” he said.

At the very least, milk production in the cows and goats drops, he added.

Marine Fish Farmers Association deputy president Mohamed Razali Mohamed said the haze has no direct impact on fish stocks.

But the resulting poor visibility and air quality makes life miserable for the 20,000 workers nationwide in the RM1.2bil industry.

“Haze is much worse at sea level and productivity is affected when workers fall ill,” he said.

Malaysia exports 62,000 tonnes of fish to Singapore, Hong Kong and China annually.

Malaysia expects haze to be less severe this year: Minister
Channel NewsAsia 30 Aug 16;

PUTRAJAYA: The haze in Malaysia is not expected to be as serious as that in 2015 following the end of the El Nino phenomenon, according to Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar on Monday (Aug 29).

Regarding the current dry weather as normal, he said several areas in the country were still receiving normal amounts of rainfall or more since June.

"These areas are expected to continue receiving some rain, which will reduce the dry conditions and haze despite the increasing number of hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia.

"The proactive, integrated action by Indonesia in putting out the forest fires would also help to reduce transboundary haze pollution," he said after chairing a meeting of the National Haze and Dry Weather Committee on Monday.

Dr Wan Junaidi said his ministry and each agency involved in managing the haze disaster were stepping up open burning prevention efforts as the problem could cause haze at the local level.


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Indonesia: Riau air pollution reaches dangerous level

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 16;

Riau has grappled with severe air pollution for the past week as land and forest fires continue to spread. In the Mandau and Pinggir districts in Bengkalis regency, air pollution has already reached dangerous levels.

Based on Riau Land and Forest Fires Emergency Task Force data, the air pollution standard index (ISPU) in Duri Camp, Mandau district, stood at 361 PSI, a dangerous level, on Monday. Three days before, the air pollution level in Duri even reached 460 PSI. Schools in Bengkalis gave their students a two-day vacation due to the worsening haze.

The air quality is considered good if the ISPU is below 50 PSI, moderate if 101-199 and unhealthy if 101-199. Meanwhile, air with an ISPU level of 200-299 PSI is considered very unhealthy and dangerous if it reaches beyond 300 PSI.

In Pekanbaru, haze has led to severe air pollution, in which the ISPU decreased to an unhealthy level of 162 PSI on Monday. The air quality in Dumai, Kampar and Rokan Hilir was also unhealthy, with ISPU readings of 166, 144 and 184 PSI, respectively.

On Sunday, the air pollution in Dumai reached a dangerous level, with the ISPU standing at 369 PSI. Despite the severe air pollution, schools in Dumai have not yet decided to close.

“We are still waiting for recommendations from the Dumai environment and health agencies. A temporary school closure can be applied only through a decree from the Dumai mayor,” the Dumai Education Agency’s secondary education head Misdiono said. (ebf)

Hundreds of Bengkalis residents affected by respiratory infections
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 16;

Smoke from land fires blanketing Bengkalis, Riau, for the past week has led to hundreds of residents suffering from acute respiratory infections (ISPA). Local authorities have distributed masks to prevent the situation from worsening further.

The Riau Health Agency’s health crisis control unit head, Jon Kenedy, said that based on reports from related institutions in Bengkalis, 149 residents were suffering from haze-related illnesses, including 132 ISPA patients. Four residents had asthma relapses, while one person was suffering from an eye irritation and the remaining 12 people had pneumonia, he added.

“As of today, only the Bengkalis Health Agency has sent data on residents affected by haze-related health problems although other areas have also been heavily exposed to smoke from land and forest fires,” Jon said during an evaluation meeting at the Riau Land and Forest Fire Emergency Task Force post at Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base in Pekanbaru on Sunday.

To prevent the number of ISPA increasing, Jon said, the Riau Health Agency had distributed 10,000 masks to haze-affected areas in Bengkalis. “Health campaigns to minimize the dangerous impacts of haze continue to be conducted,” he said.

“We are also routinely carrying out health check-ups on land and forest fire extinguishing personnel because they are really prone to smoke-related illnesses,” he added.

Based on Riau Health Agency data, the number of patients with haze-related illnesses in Riau reached 100,234 in 2015, 84,203 of whom suffered from ISPA, followed by patients with skin irritations (6,067), eye irritations (4,771), asthma (3,872) and 1,321 people with pneumonia. (ebf)

Worsening haze leads to school closures in Riau
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 16;

Schools in Bengkalis, Riau, were closed on Monday as the level of air pollution caused by land fires in the regency reached its highest level in the past week.

Besides smoke, ash carried by winds across the area caused eye irritation, reducing visibility to around 500 meters. Deeming conditions dangerous to health, the Bengkalis Education Agency decided to give a two-day holiday to all students, starting from kindergarten to senior high school.

“Actually, schools did open today and students attended classes this morning. Suddenly, we received an instruction from the Bengkalis Education Agency to send them home because the haze was getting thicker,” state senior high school SMAN 7 Mandau principal Masrida said.

Masrida said the school closure was temporary and would be evaluated in two days. “If the weather improves and haze lessens, school will resume on Wednesday. If not, the closure will be extended to avoid unnecessary health impacts on our students.”

Bengkalis Education Agency acting chairman Heri Indra Putera said it had been decided to close schools after Bengkalis Regent Amril Mukminin instructed authorities in areas heavily affected by haze to close schools until conditions improved.

“It doesn’t mean that students aren’t studying during their holiday. They still have school assignments.”

Based on Riau Land and Forest Fire Emergency Task Force data, the air pollution standard index (ISPU) in Duri Camp, Mandau district, stood at 364 PSI, or reaching a danger level, on Monday. (ebf)

Students stay at home as haze thickens
Rizal Harahap and Jon Afrizal The Jakarta Post 30 Aug 16;

As haze caused by forest and land fires thickens in Riau, a local administration has given holidays to school students.

According to the Riau forest fire emergency unit, the air pollution standard index (ISPU) reached 364 as of Monday morning, far above the 200 level that is already considered “very unhealthy”.

In the province capital, Pekanbaru, haze has deteriorated air quality to 162. In other cities such as Kampar, Dumai and Rokan Hilir, the air quality reached 144, 166 and 184, respectively, reducing vision to only 500 meters.

“Actually all students attended class this morning, but then there was an instruction from the Bengkalis Education Agency urging us all to go home,” the principal of Mandau state high school SMAN 7, Masrida, in Bengkalis regency, Riau, told reporters on Monday.

Masrida said the decision was made for the time being and would be evaluated in the next few days.

“If the weather gets better and the haze starts to disappear, we will restart our classes next Wednesday. Otherwise, we may prolong the closure to avoid health problems.”

Bengkalis Education Agency acting head Heri Indra Putra said the decision was taken following instruction given by Regent Amril Mukminin.

“[School] closures will vary in each area, depending on the haze,” Heri said, adding that teachers would still require students to do homework.

In Dumai, the level of air quality hit 369 on Sunday, a highly dangerous level. However, related authorities had yet to issue a circular to free students from school.

“We are still waiting for instruction from the Dumai Environment and Forestry Ministry office,” Dumai Education Agency spokesperson Misdiono said.

Riau Education Agency head Kamsol urged affected areas to take quick action in preventing illness from inhaling the dangerous haze.

“The provincial government cannot fully monitor air pollution in every area,” he said, demanding better coordination between the regions.

The week-long haze covering Bengkalis has sparked fear as more than a hundred residents have begun suffering acute respiratory infections (ARIs).

To prevent escalating numbers of people suffering respiratory problems, the Riau Health Agency has distributed 10,000 face masks to affected areas. “We will also intensify our campaign [to inform people] of the dangers of the haze,” Jon said.

He said that according to reports from related institutions in Bengkalis, 149 people had been affected by haze-related health problems, with 132 of them suffering ARIs.

He added that four people were suffering asthma, one person an eye irritation, while 12 other people were diagnosed with pneumonia.

According to data published by the Riau Health Agency last year, 100,234 people suffered from the haze, with 84,203 of them diagnosed with ARIs, 1,321 suffered pneumonia and 3,872 contracted asthma. Those who suffered eye and skin irritations numbered 4,771 and 6,067, respectively.

Meanwhile, according to the Batanghari Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) in Jambi, there were eight hotspots found in the region since January, with blazing fires to 12.8 hectares of forest.

National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho claimed on Monday that this year’s haze would not be worse than last year when 32,734 hotspots were recorded, saying that in the same period this year, the agency detected only 12,884 hotspots. (fac)

Haze unlikely to blanket Batam: BMKG
Fadli The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 16;

The country’s meteorology agency predicts that hot spots in Riau and Kalimantan causing haze will not affect Batam because of the wind direction.

Last year, haze blanketed Batam in Riau Islands. Hang Nadim International Airport, for example, lost Rp 1.5 billion (US$113,000) because of flight disruptions caused by the haze.

The head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) station in Batam, Philips Mustamu, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday that haze from hot spots in Riau and Kalimantan was unlikely to reach Batam. BMKG data showed that wind in Riau Islands province, a different province from Riau, came from the southeast and south.

“Observation of the wind direction in Riau Islands shows it is unlikely the haze will reach Batam,” Philips said.

The BMKG said, however, that haze from hot spots in Riau had blanketed Singapore, which is 20 kilometers north of Batam. The agency said Singapore was closer to the source of haze than Batam.

Hang Nadim airport’s general manager said traffic at the airport remained normal.

Haze is reported to have disrupted flights in Dumai, Riau province, and has started to affect residents in Pontianak, West Kalimantan. (evi)

Haze Makes Unwanted Return in Kalimantan, Sumatra, Singapore and Malaysia
Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 29 Aug 16;

Jakarta. Visibility levels in Sumatra and Kalimantan have decreased sharply as haze blanketed various parts of the islands and neighboring Singapore and Malaysia over the weekend.

In South Kalimantan, the cities of Banjarmasin and Martapura were blanketed by haze caused by forest fires.

According to state news agency Antara, visibility levels in Martapura stood at 200 meters, but it was even lower in the area closer to Banjarmasin.

"The haze was very thick and visibility was very limited as it was not even 10 meters," Martapura resident Asyam said on Monday (29/08).

Forest fires in Riau spread smoke across a large part of Sumatra, with light haze spotted in Pekanbaru, Dumai, Rokan Hilir and Bengkalis.

"The smoke in Bengkalis is thick enough that citizens are beginning to fall ill," said Jon Kenedy of the Riau Health Agency.

In Dumai, pollution levels were described as "hazardous" with an air pollution index of 369, resulting in a Pelita Air flight having to be diverted to Pekanbaru's Sultan Sharif Kasim II International Airport.

"The Pelita Air flight had to be diverted to Pekanbaru as it was unable to land in Dumai due to the smoke," Pekanbaru airport duty manager Bambang said on Sunday.

On Monday, the northern Malaysian town of Tanjung Malim in Perak recorded an unhealthy air pollution index of 119, with indices in several areas in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya nearing unhealthy levels, local media outlet Malay Mail Online reported.

According to Bloomberg, Singapore's air pollution index stood at "very unhealthy levels" on Friday, with the Singaporean government advising its citizens to reduce prolonged outdoor activities.

Meanwhile, the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said this year's peatland and forest fire handling is much better compared to last year, with a 61 percent decrease to 12,884 compared to last year.

"We must keep a close eye and look out for potential fires until September in the provinces close to the equator, such as Riau, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan," BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

Sutopo added that forest fire handling has improved this year thanks to the collaborative efforts of the central and regional governments and corporations to extinguishing the fires. Hotspots detected on Monday stood at 138 points, with 60 percent of them in the Riau region.

Fires were also reported in North Sumatera's Samosir district, where it destroyed 2,400 hectares of forest and agricultural land. Sutopo said the Samosir district head did not declare an emergency despite the blaze continuing to spread.

"This area burnt between June and Aug. 20, but last Saturday it flamed up again," Sutopo said. "The Samosir Disaster Management Agency has asked the Samosir district head to declare a state an emergency."

He added that the fires are occurring in a newly expanded area of the district.

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Indonesia: Forest and bush fires expected to end in October

The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 16;

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) estimated on Monday that the bush and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan would end in October, a time slated to have high intensity rains.

“Rainfall intensity this year is high compared to last year. And in October, most areas of the country will see a rainy season,” agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said at a press conference.

Sutopo warned that the threat of forest fires and land burning would still occur in September, mostly in Riau and provinces in the northern part of the equator, such as West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency predicted that October rainfall in most areas of Indonesia would be of high intensity, with downpours estimated to measure as much as 500 millimeters per day.

Meanwhile, BNPB reported findings of 138 hot spots around the country on Monday. Eighty-five of them were found in Riau, producing enough haze to blow to Singapore. However, Sutopo claimed the haze that crossed borders was not thick, and not dangerous to Singaporeans.

As of Monday, there have been 12,884 hot spots detected, while 2015 experienced 32,734 hot spots. Six provinces, comprising Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan, have declared a haze emergency. The government had operated 17 water bombing aircraft and planes for artificial rain. (wnd/bbn)

All-out fight against forest fires in Sumatra, Kalimantan
Antara 29 Aug 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian authorities had a fleeting sense of relief that there had been no haze from forest fires until early August this year, thanks to all out efforts to put out the fires by joint teams that included military and police personnel, as well as local inhabitants.

The government claimed that the number of forest fire cases had drastically dropped by 78 percent until August this year, compared to last year.

The significant drop was a result of the hard work of regional heads and security personnel, and was also attributed to the enhanced awareness on the part of plantation companies managers, according to Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo claimed in statement posted on the home affairs ministrys website, around a couple of weeks ago.

The role played by the regional governments, supported by the military, the police, various companies and the community, proved crucial to tackling the problem.

Integrated and early fire detection and extinguishing systems have also been applied up to the rural area level.

Village chiefs in eight areas, where local customs allowed slash and burn farming methods, were able to adopt new ways, thanks to the governments public awareness campaign, the minister said.

In addition to the active role played by the state apparatus and the community, involving timber plantation concession holders (HTI) helped put in place important preventive measures, he noted.

But, unfortunately, despite the maximum efforts, haze has reportedly returned in Riau and West Kalimantan Provinces, since last week.

The districts of Rokan Hilir, Dumai and Pekanbaru in Riau Province, were shrouded by haze. Haze reportedly also spread to neighboring country, Singapore on Aug. 26

Most of the fires came from local farmers who practiced slash and burn method to open farmlands mostly in peatland area, according to reports.

Commander of the Riau Fire Task Force Brig.Gen. Nurendi said in the past two weeks 600 hectares of forest and peat lands caught fires. Most of the lands are owned by farmers, the general said.

NASAs Aqua and Terra satellites detected 65 hotspots of forest fires across Sumatra Island with an accuracy rate at 50 percent, Aug. 27 morning, an increase from 51 hotspots on the previous day.

Nearly 94 percent, or 61 hotspots were concentrated in Riau Province. The rest were in Lampung Province with three hotspots, and one in West Sumatra.

In Riau, the hotspots were found in the districts of Rokan Hilir (36), Siak (13), Bengkalis (nine), Rokan Hulu (two), and Kampar (one).

The Indonesian Air Force based in Pekanbaru, has deployed four helicopters each with a water carrying capacity of four to five thousand liters, and two air tractors having capacity of carrying 3,100 liters of water, to carry out water bombing activities to put out the fires.

Over the past two weeks in Bengkalis, a joint team comprising among others 60 Riau mobile brigade personnel, 25 police officers of Pinggir police sector, 10 military personnel, 10 fire fighters, and 100 local residents, have done their utmost to extinguish the fires.

Forest fires have also been reported West Kalimantan sending thick black smokes to the air including in the provincial city of Pontianak.

The local people were worried that what happened last year would repeat itself again in that region.

The return of haze from forest fires has forced the environmental affairs and forestry ministry to place the country under emergency with regards to anticipating and preventing the impact of smoke emanating from forest and land fires.

"In the morning, afternoon and evening, we kept monitoring the situation and as soon as we detected a fire, we immediately acted to put it out. As a result, the number of fires this year has dropped sharply by 70 to 90 percent," Minister of Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya.

Like Minister Kumolo, Nurbaya also claimed that the number of hotspots in Jambi and West Kalimantan has dropped by 90 percent.

However, there has been a hike in the number of hotspots, which doubled, especially in Riau and West Kalimantan, she added.

The joint teams have dropped up to 45 million liters of water to extinguish the fires in Riau and three million liters in South Sumatra. Efforts are still continuing to fight fires including in West Kalimantan and Jambi.

It is predicted that forest and bush fires were more devastating in August and September.

Therefore, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) had earlier instructed that action must not be delayed to put an end to fires when they were still easier to control.

The order was given to prevent a recurrence of the 2015 land and forest fires that had produced smoke chocking hundreds of thousands of Sumatran and Kalimatan inhabitants, and spreading up to Malaysia and Singapore.

The legal enforcement has also been stepped up to prevent fires intentionally set in farmland and plantation areas particularly.

In line with the Law No. 32 Year 2009 on Environmental Protection and Management, forest and plantation arsonists could face up to 15 years in jail and a fine worth Rp15 billion maximally if the fire claims casualties.

The National Polices Criminal Investigation Department (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 on Aug. 25.

In West Kalimantan, the Military District Command (Kodim) 1207/BS Pontianak has detained 38 people, including 26 farmers, suspected of setting fires.

"Of the 38 suspects, 36 are farmers who clear their farm lands by setting fire to them, and one cleared land the same way for housing construction," Commander of Kodim 1207/BS Pontianak, Colonel (Inf) Jacky Ariestanto said.

Another suspect cleared land by using fire for a palm oil plantation, he added.

Earlier, the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) announced six of Indonesian provinces - Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan, are in emergency of forest and bush fires.

BNPB has put into operation eight water bombing helicopters to help extinguish the fires, spokesman of the agency Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Aug. 23.

The threat is not over as it is feared that the worst of dry season is yet to come. Normally in September forest fires are more devastating.

In September and October 2015, the hazardous haze emanating from the forest, peatland and plantation fires had led to 10 deaths, left 503 thousand people sick and 43 million people exposed to smoke, in six provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan alone.

Thousand of the two islands inhabitants had suffered from acute respiratory infection, eye and skin irritations, and pneumonia.

Legal enforcement stepped up to combat forest fires
Fardah Antara 29 Aug 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Riaus inhabitants have long yearned to lead a haze-free existence as they have reeled under the impacts of smoke originating from forest and plantation fires over the past eight years, particularly in the dry season.

Last year, despite various efforts to combat wildfires that had ravaged the countrys six provinces, especially Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands, in September and October, the hazardous haze emanating from the fires had led to 10 deaths, left 503 thousand people ill, and exposed around 43 million people to smoke.

Thousands of the two islands inhabitants had suffered from acute respiratory infection, eye and skin irritations, and pneumonia.

The haze emanating from the forest fires did not only harm the locals and the environment, but has also affected the financial performance of airways and state airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II.

PT Angkasa Pura II had suffered an estimated loss of Rp30 billion during the past month due to the haze, and some three thousand flights were affected over the September 1 to October 10 period alone, due to the haze.

Airports in Jambi and Pekanbaru (Riau Province) in Sumatra and in Pontianak (West Kalimantan Province) had to be frequently shut down due to poor visibility.

The World Bank recorded that forest and plantation fires, which had ravaged Indonesia last year, inflicted material losses worth trillions of rupiah, in addition to the operational costs involved in extinguishing the fires.

In November 2015, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) visited Riau to supervise the efforts to put out the fires. He also went to Kalimantan for the same reason.

This year, the government has intensified efforts to combat the fires as early as possible by deploying joint teams that included military and police personnel.

This is in line with President Jokowis instructions issued last January that whenever a fire breaks out, it should be tackled immediately.

The president has reminded all rank and file of the need to take steps as early as possible to prevent a recurrence of the 2015 land and forest fires

Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya claimed that the number of forest fire cases had dropped drastically by 75 percent until August this year, compared to last year.

The significant drop was the result of the hard work of the forest fire task force comprising military and police personnel, among others.

The Indonesian Air Force and the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) have deployed a number of helicopters and air tractors to carry out water bombing, as well several planes to make artificial rain.

A total of 88 thousand hectares of forest, peatland, and land areas across Indonesia were gutted by fires, a drop from 190 thousand hectares in the same period last year, according to Nurbaya.

Legal enforcement measures have also been intensified against forest arsonists, including farmers, using the slash and burn method that lead to uncontrolled fires on their farmlands.

The National Police have handled 498 cases of forest fire across Indonesia until August 2016, compared to last years 275 cases, including those involving nine companies that are still being investigated.

However, unfortunately, over the past week, haze is reportedly back in several towns in Riau and West Kalimantan Provinces particularly.

NASAs Terra and Aqua Satellites detected 167 hotspots across Sumatra Island in the morning of Aug. 29, a drastic increase from only 50 hotspots on the previous day.

The hotspots were found in seven provinces, including 145 hotspots, or 86 percent of them, in Riau.

Some eight hotspots were detected in South Sumatra Province; four in Jambi; two in West Sumatra; and one hotspot each in Bangka Belitung, Riau Islands, and North Sumatra.

Most of the fires were started by local farmers who practiced the slash and burn method to clear farmlands, mostly in peatland areas, according to reports.

The slash and burn method is banned, except in a farm measuring less than two hectares and having good fire control management.

In line with Law No. 32 of 2009 on environmental protection and management, forest and plantation arsonists could face up to 15 years in jail and a fine worth Rp15 billion maximally if the fire leads to any casualties.

The Indonesian police have arrested more than 450 suspects in connection with land and forest fires this year as part of a wider move to get tough on errant farmers and companies that still insist on using the outlawed slash-and-burn land clearing method.

"The number of people arrested this year has risen compared to last year," National Police Chief General Tito Karnavian informed the media on Aug. 25.

In Riau, the National Police's Criminal Investigation Agency (Bareskrim) has detained 85 forest fire individual suspects this year.

"In addition, nine companies are being investigated for alleged involvement in forest fires," Bareskrim chief Insp. Gen. Ari Dono Sukmanto said in Jakarta, on Aug. 25.

In Pontianak, Military District Command (Kodim) 1207/BS Pontianak has detained 38 people suspected of setting fires in West Kalimantan forest area in August 2016.

"Of the 38 suspects, 36 are farmers who clear their farm lands by setting fire to them, and one cleared land the same way for housing construction," Commander of Kodim 1207/BS Pontianak, Colonel (Inf) Jacky Ariestanto said here, Friday.

Another suspect cleared land by using fire for a palm oil plantation, he added.

"The perpetrator from a plantation company management was considered careless because he failed to put out the fire in his plantation area," he said.

The suspects have been handed over to the local police for further investigation.

Each year wildfires destroy 6 to 14 million hectares of fire-sensitive forests worldwide, a rate of loss and degradation comparable to that of destructive logging and agricultural conversion, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The World Conservation Union (IUCN), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) have come together to work proactively with multi-lateral agencies, governments, private sector and local communities to develop integrated fire management approaches that address underlying causes and develop long-term sustainable solutions.

The core elements of such an approach must include: building awareness amongst policy-makers, the public and the media of the underlying causes of catastrophic forest fires; and discouraging land management practices that predispose forests to harmful fires.(*)

Police chief orders arrest of forest fire perpetrators
Antara 30 Aug 16;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - National Police chief General Tito Karnavian has ordered the arrest of the perpetrators of forest and land fires.

"Some have burned them. So just arrest and process them," he said when inspecting forest and land fires in Rimbo Panjang in the sub-district of Tambang, Kampar district, Riau province in Sumatra.

Accompanied by Riau governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, the chief of Riaus forest fire emergency task force, Brigadier General Nurendi and the chief of the Roesmin Nurjadin air base, General Tito immediately left for the fire location upon arrival at the regional Sultan Syarif Kasim II airport.

The location is 20 minutes away from the provincial capital city of Pekanbaru and through dirt road for around one kilometer long.

During the inspection the team from the task force was just conducting water bombing to put out the fires using helicopters MI-8 and MI-171.

The smell of smoke was strongly felt coming from the fires in Rimbo Panjang that have lasted for the past three days.

The national police chief said forest fires in Riau happened due absence of rain to make peat land drier and thus vulnerable to fires. The situation has been worsened by strong wind that has made the fires to move from one place to another.

"Now the fires have happened. So our focus now is fighting them and enforcing the law. We appreciate our colleagues here that have named 85 people suspects behind the fires. In the future they must just arrest those who cause fires," he said.

General Tito underlined the difficult access to the locations of fires and so special cars are needed to take water tanks to the centers of fires.

He said water supply has also been a source of problems and so wells would be needed.

"I will coordinate with the central agencies including the Peat Restoration Agency to increase the number of wells and equipment for the fire fighters," he said.(*)

Residents burning trash cause fires in Pontianak
Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 16;

The Pontianak Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) has recently identified five to seven hot spots, caused not by forest fires but by residents burning trash near dry vegetation, causing the flames to spread to adjoining areas.

“We detected five to seven spots at the same time. We have deployed fire trucks, but local authorities and residents are also expected to extinguish the fires themselves,” Pontianak BPBD head Aswin Taufik told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province, does not have forests but has experienced several fires in empty fields near housing areas. Since July, dozens of hectares have caught fire. Some have occurred on peatland, where fires are more difficult to extinguish because they smolder underground, and they also cause haze.

“I can say that 92 percent of the fires in Pontianak city were caused by manmade mistakes or negligence. People burn trash and the fires spread to dry land nearby,” Aswin said.

BPBD fire trucks have so far extinguished 45 fires.

Pontianak Mayor Sutarmidji said he suspected that some developers intentionally set fire to empty fields to clear the land quickly. If he found proof of such crimes, he said, he would suspend the developers’ building permits for three years and ask them to pay firefighting costs.

“Each field that has been burned will get a sign stating that it is under the city administration’s supervision,” Sutarmidji said. (evi)

60% of forest fires in Kalimantan, Sumatra not on concession land
Francis Chan, The Straits Times Jakarta Post 30 Aug 16;

Satellites detected almost 700 fires across Kalimantan and Sumatra last week, as the thick haze from land burning on the two Indonesian islands began blanketing the skies over Malaysia and Singapore.

However, the data from Global Forest Watch (GFW) also found that 60 percent of the fires were spotted outside concession areas that were not managed by plantation firms. GFW, an initiative of American think-tank World Resources Institute, produces detailed maps and analyses of forest fires around the world.

The latest satellite information from its website largely supports the findings of Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB).

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, who heads the BNPB's data and information division, said Monday that "a majority" of fires recorded this year were started by errant individuals instead of companies.

"As we can see here on the satellite map, the fires are on the outer parts of the plantation areas," he said during a briefing at the BNPB headquarters in Jakarta.

"So very clearly, they are burning to clear land to make way for new plantings."

Sutopo was referring to farmers who still "slash and burn" - a land-clearing method known to spark uncontrollable fires that have led to the region's haze crisis.

However, six plantation firms were singled out in the GFW analysis, showing "fire alerts", which Sutopo said represented actual fires, in eight concession areas managed by the companies.

They include pulpwood firms Sumatera Riang Lestari (23 fires), Arara Abadi ( 15 ), Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper ( 12 ), Rimba Mutiara Permai (five) and Seraya Sumber Lestari (four), as well as palm oil company Karya Makmur (two).

Forest fires, mainly in Kalimantan and Sumatra, raged for more than three months towards the end of last year. The thick smoke caused more than half a million Indonesians to suffer from respiratory illnesses. At least 19 died.

However, the 697 fires recorded in Kalimantan and Sumatra from Aug 21 to Sunday marked a vast improvement when compared with the 5,724 fires detected over a similar eight-day period last year.

Sutopo said that the BNPB has recorded a 61 percent decline in the number of hot spots this year, attributing it to favorable weather conditions, as well as a more cohesive public-private sector approach in preventing and fighting fires.

He added that the government has sufficient resources to handle the fires and will not need additional assistance as it aims to put out all fires by October this year.

While climate change experts do not expect a repeat of last year's record crisis, the haze has started to impact airport operations and schools in Riau province.

Flights out of Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport in the capital Pekanbaru were disrupted at the weekend after the haze caused visibility to fall to just 2 km.

Schools in Riau's Bengkalis regency were closed Monday after it was hit by thick haze that caused eye irritation and reduced visibility to around 500 m.

Less haze this year, Indonesia promises
Reuters 29 Aug 16;

Home to the world's third-largest area of tropical forests, Indonesia has been criticised by green activists and by neighbouring Southeast Asian nations for failing to stop the region's annual haze, largely caused by forest-clearing for palm and pulp plantations.

The pollution in 2015 cost Southeast Asia economic powerhouse Singapore S$700 million ($517 million), the country's environment and water resources minister said in March.

An unusually wet dry season linked to the La Nina weather phenomenon this year has helped stop fires from spreading, Nugroho said. Based on weather forecasts the dry season will peak in September and end in October, Nugroho said.

"So for that one month we will really keep everything under control," he said.

Singapore on Monday got a break from the haze that hit the island state last week, as shifting winds pushed the smoke from Indonesia's Sumatra island northward over Malaysia.

There, air quality in Kuala Lumpur neared "unhealthy" levels and residents took to social media to complain about poor visibility and an acrid smell.

Despite Indonesian President Joko Widodo's instructions to end the annual blight "the sooner the better", the problem won't go away without an imporovement of preventative measures, Nugroho said.

"There is no way we can completely eliminate or end the forest and land fires in Indonesia, because they are very much linked to behaviours of communities that light fires," he said, referring to farmers who use fires to prepare land for crops and clear it for plantations.

"There are still fires, so prevention needs to be improved."

According to the World Bank, about 35 percent of the Indonesian workforce is employed in agriculture, with palm oil and pulp-and-paper industries key contributors. Palm oil is a major growth driver for Indonesia, the world's biggest producer of the edible oil. (Additional reporting by Bill Tarrant, A. Ananthalakshmi in KUALA LUMPUR; and Bernadette Christina Munthe in JAKARTA; Editing by Alison Williams)

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