Best of our wild blogs: 4 Sep 16

17 Sep (Sat) - Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Upcoming MacRitchie Walks!
BES Drongos

Festival of Biodiversity 2016
Butterflies of Singapore

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Singapore’s air quality to stay in normal range to Sunday: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 3 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: Air quality in Singapore is expected to remain in the normal range for the next 24 hours and the likelihood of the city-state being affected by transboundary haze is low over the next few days, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a press release on Saturday (Sep 3).

As of 5pm, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was 54-65, in the Moderate range, while the 1-hour PM2.5 was 15-23 µg/m3, in Band I (Normal), NEA said.

“The weather was fair today, and the current conditions are expected to persist for the rest of the day with prevailing winds blowing from the southwest,” the agency added. "Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, everyone can continue with normal activities."

A total of 13 hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Saturday, with all of them located in southern Sumatra, but no visible smoke plume or haze was observed, NEA said.

Over the next 24 hours, the 1-hour PM2.5 concentration is expected to stay in Band I (Normal) and the 24-hour PSI is forecast to remain in the Moderate range, according to the statement. NEA added that prevailing winds are forecast to be light and will blow from the southwest or west, while thundery showers are expected in Singapore during the late morning and early afternoon.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of Singapore being affected by transboundary haze is low over the next few days in the coming week, as the prevailing light winds are expected to continue blowing from the southwest or west. Showers are also forecast over parts of Sumatra and the surrounding region, said NEA, adding that it is monitoring the situation closely.

- CNA/sk

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Zika cases hit 215 on Sat, as analysis shows Asian lineage of virus in Singapore

Today Online 3 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — An analysis of the Zika virus found in two patients from the Aljunied Cresent/ Sims Drive cluster showed that the virus belongs to the Asian lineage and likely evolved from the strain that was already circulating in South-east Asia, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said.

The virus from these patients was not imported from South America, the MOH added of the finding concluded by the National Public Health Laboratory and A*STAR’s Bioinformatics Institute after completing genetic sequencing of the virus.

In MOH's latest update, 26 new cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection in Singapore have been confirmed as of 12pm on Saturday (Sept 3), bringing the total number of cases to 215.

Of these, 24 cases are linked to the the Aljunied Crescent/ Sims Drive/ Kallang Way/ Paya Lebar Way cluster.

Two cases have no known links to any existing cluster, said the MOH.

The Republic announced its first locally contracted case of Zika last Saturday.

The Aedes mosquito-borne Zika, which has been detected in 67 countries and territories including hard-hit Brazil, causes only mild symptoms for most people such as fever and a rash.

But pregnant women who catch it can give birth to babies with microcephaly, a deformation marked by abnormally small brains and heads.

Malaysia on Saturday confirmed its first locally transmitted case of Zika infection in a man living in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah.

This comes two days after the first case on Malaysian soil was reported in a woman who is believed to have contracted it while visiting her daughter in neighbouring Singapore. WITH AFP

Zika cases in Singapore top 200
Sequencing analysis of two patients from the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster show the virus is likely from a Southeast Asia strain and not imported from South America, authorities say.
Channel NewsAsia 3 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: There are 26 new cases of locally transmitted Zika virus in Singapore, authorities said on Saturday (Sep 3), bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 215.

In a joint statement, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) said 24 of the new cases are linked to the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive/Kallang Way/Paya Lebar Way cluster.

They added that two cases have no known links to any existing cluster, but did not specify where these cases were located.

Meanwhile, the National Public Health Laboratory has worked with A*STAR’s Bioinformatics Institute to complete the sequencing analysis of the Zika virus found in two patients from the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster, and the analysis indicated that the virus belongs to the Asian lineage and likely evolved from the strain that was already circulating in Southeast Asia, MOH and NEA said.

They added that the virus from these two patients was not imported from South America, and that more details will be released shortly from the research team.

NEA said it has been continuing with vector control operations in high-risk areas such as Aljunied Crescent, Sims Drive, Paya Lebar Way and Kallang Way.

As of Sep 2, 57 breeding habitats – comprising 32 in homes and 25 in common areas or other premises – have been detected and destroyed in these clusters, the agency said. NEA officers and grassroots volunteers are also continuing with outreach in the expanded cluster areas like Paya Lebar Way and Kallang Way.

Vector control operations and outreach efforts are also being carried out in Bedok North Avenue. NEA said that as of Sep 2, 26 breeding habitats in Bedok North Avenue – comprising 17 in homes and 9 in common areas or other premises – have been detected and destroyed. Mosquito control measures are ongoing, while NEA officers are continuing with outreach in this cluster as well.

Indoor spraying of insecticides, outdoor fogging, and oiling and flushing of drains are also underway in these two cluster areas. “In such areas with active transmission, outdoor fogging and indoor spraying and misting are both necessary because there may be infected adult mosquitoes in both outdoor and indoor areas that need to be destroyed before they bite and infect more people,” NEA said.

“These methods are, however, only effective if the insecticide has direct contact with the mosquitoes, and thus have to be repeated frequently as new batches of mosquitoes will continue to emerge until all breeding habitats are found and removed. Hence, routine fogging is not a sustainable vector control measure – source reduction is still a more effective and sustainable strategy.”

Meanwhile for non-cluster areas, NEA said that the most effective mosquito-control measure remains as source reduction, through detecting and removing breeding habitats and killing larvae, “as it eliminates the mosquitoes at the most vulnerable stage of their life cycle”. This is in line with WHO’s recommendations for vector control.

The statement on Saturday said that community outreach activities are being conducted across the island over these two weekends to urge all residents to join in the collective efforts in the fight against the mosquito-borne virus.

- CNA/sk

Live normally and tackle Zika at its source: DPM Teo
Leong Wai Kit Channel NewsAsia 3 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: Live life as normally as possible even as Singapore steps up its fight against Zika, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Saturday (Sep 3) during a walkabout in Pasir Ris where he met residents and helped spread the awareness about the virus.

Mr Teo said Singaporeans are taking the fight against the mosquito-borne virus seriously, and urged them to work together and deal with the virus by getting rid of the Aedes mosquito.

"I would say that the most important thing is to deal with Zika in an appropriate manner… which is good collection of information, dissemination of information, and attacking the problem, which is attacking the mosquitoes and their breeding ground," he said.

When asked how Singapore can work more closely with neighbouring countries to battle the virus, Mr Teo said countries can share best practices and health information with one another.

Speaking to the media after making the rounds in his constituency, DPM Teo Chee Hean said Singaporeans can deal with Zika by living life as normally as possible and attack the virus at its source. (Photo: Leong Wai Kit)

As of Friday, there has been 189 confirmed cases of locally-transmitted Zika virus infection in the Republic.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said it is continuing with vector control operations to control the Aedes mosquito population in Aljunied Crescent, Sims Drive, Kallang Way and Paya Lebar Way. As of Sep 1, 55 breeding habitats – comprising 30 in homes and 25 in common areas or other premises – have been detected and destroyed, the agency said.

- CNA/sk

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Malaysia: Haze -- It’s still here

HARIATI AZIZAN The Star 4 Sep 16;

THE heavy downpours in the last few days seem to have washed away the haze, but that does not guarantee blue skies ahead. As experts advise, we still need to keep that face mask on hand.

“We know that the El Nino has subsided and so with the generally wetter weather, any haze this year would not be as persistent, severe or extensive as last year’s,” says Assoc Prof Koh Tieh-Yong.

“But the period from June to September is the usual dry season of the annual monsoon cycle in Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra. So when forest fires start this season, there will still be smoke haze produced and the wind systems on some days will carry it across the Malacca Straits,” the weather and climate scientist from Singapore’s SIM University tells Sunday Star in an e-mail interview.

The hazy shroud that returned to our skies early last week certainly triggered bad memories of the choking smog last year when schools had to be closed and flights cancelled, among other disruptions, due to the low air quality and poor visibility. With the intense heat caused by the El Nino phenomenon, the seasonal agricultural fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan – widely recognised as the main cause of the region’s transboundary haze – had peaked in September and October 2015, before fizzling out by the end of November.

This year, the Singapore-based Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) forecasts La Niña conditions in the coming months, which will see above normal rainfall for most parts of the region, especially in the Indonesian archipelago.

As Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar assured earlier, this will make the haze more moderate.

La Nina conditions can definitely help ease the haze, says Universiti Malaya (UM) meteorological expert Dr Sheeba Chenoli.

“For large-scale haze, rain or favourable prevailing winds are the only means to clear or lighten it. At present, we are slowly moving into La Nina conditions and if they prevail, they will favour more north-east monsoon rain that will ease the haze.”

The burning question remains, however: Can the haze be prevented?

Dr Sheeba notes that while 1997 recorded the worst smog in the region, the occurrence of the haze has been an annual affair since 1982.

“Light haze persists throughout the year but the intensity increases during the dry period, aggravated by open burning either by individuals or large-scale plantation clearance activities.

“Locally, the effect can be minimised through self-restraint or enforcement. However, if it is advected from neighbouring countries, there is not much we can do,” she says.

Dr Sheeba points out that even though the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution was adopted in 2002 to mitigate haze pollution through concerted national efforts and international cooperation, the treaty has not been effective enough to mitigate impacts due to the recurrence of haze between 2004 and 2010, and in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

We are also not helped by our climate, she adds.

“In Malaysia, the climate is characterised by two monsoon seasons, the south-west monsoon and the north-east monsoon with the two inter-monsoonal periods in between. The south-west monsoon period in Malaysia is generally drier and warmer whereas the north-east monsoon is characterised by frequent spells of heavy rain.

“During the south-west monsoon, there is a possibility of hotspot activities due to peat and forest fires, particularly in the fire-prone areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan. The prevailing winds during the south-west monsoon blow mainly from the south-east or south-west. These winds tend to advect haze particles from Sumatra and Kalimantan towards peninsular Malaysia, causing widespread and dense haze that can last for weeks.”

Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist from the Singapore-MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Alliance for Research and Technology, stresses in an e-mail interview that there is nothing natural about the fires that are causing the annual haze.

“The haze is triggered mainly by massive fires on oil palm and pulpwood plantations on the neighbouring islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“These fires are not natural. Burning has been used for centuries for land-clearing purposes. Until four decades ago, their impact was not so severe given their small scale. In recent years, the number and extent of the fires have drastically increased.”

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that many of these man-made fires burn in already-deforested peatlands, adds Dr Velasco.

“Peats are rich in organic material underground and therefore are prone to maintain fires smouldering for long periods of time.”

He stresses that preventing the fires requires an enormous effort on a regional scale.

“Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore need to work together to reduce their occurrence as much as possible. A strong political commitment is needed to find solutions. We cannot blame the local farmers. They need to make a living. The solution relies on finding alternative economic activities for them – investments in sustainable agro-industry will help, for instance,” he says.

Another measure is to take a tight control of the corporations controlling the plantations.

“It is mandatory. Similar to the drugs problem, the authorities should look at who is getting the economic benefits,” says Dr Velasco.

Universiti Malaya Sabah’s environ­mental science expert Dr Justin Sentian agrees that existing regional cooperation and agreements among Asean governments on the haze problem need to be reviewed and strengthened.

“The haze is a seasonal environmental issue in Malaysia with both local and regional sources,” he says in an e-mail interview.

“Preventing the haze is a difficult task but we can minimise it through strict surveillance and control by the respective government and authorities.

“For one, existing strategies adopted by the Environment Department to minimise additional contributions from local sources (such as industries, quarries) to the effects of the haze need to be strengthened,” Dr Sentian says.

For UM’s Centre for Climate Affairs director Prof Dr Khairulmaini Osman Salleh, the main challenge lies in the implementation and enforcement of the strategies and policies.

“Mitigation efforts are already in place at the regional (Asean) and national (Asean states) levels. The main challenge is translating these policies on the ground, such as addressing legal issues at the regional level.”

Prof Dr Khairulmaini ultimately believes that the haze not only cannot be prevented but its adverse impact on our quality of life will not subside any time in the future unless the region and its people adopt more sustainable lifestyles.

The use of non-clean energy, rapid urbanisation and natural fires in peat swamps amidst a regional and global population that is exponentially increasing will not only continue to increase the hazard threat but could also cause a potential regional-scale disaster, he says.

More research needed to mitigate impact of haze
The Star 4 Sep 16;

IT may look clear outside, with no smoky smell, but that does not necessarily mean that the air does not contain harmful pollutants, warns Dr Erik Velasco, research scientist from the Singapore-MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Alliance for Research and Technology, underlining the importance of an accurate reading of the haze.
As he had told The Straits Times, “Don’t just trust your eyes and nose because they are not what detect harmful substances in the air.”

Dr Velasco was one of the experts who pushed for the country’s National Environmental Agency (NEA) to provide hourly reports from its haze monitoring system to enable people to manage the short-term harm of haze exposure to their health.

“Full transparency in the dissemination of air pollution information to the public is necessary. Environmental authorities have to communicate air quality information quickly and efficiently. In addition to the 24-h Pollutant Standard Index (PSI), they need to report the 1-h PSI, as well as the hourly concentrations of all monitored pollutants,” he says in an e-mail interview.

It was reported recently that Malaysians will also soon be able to see real time readings of the haze rather than the current 24-hour average Air Pollutant Index (API).

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar was quoted as saying that he would bring up the proposal at the next Cabinet session on Wednesday, and if approved, it will be implemented the next day.

Many Malaysians are hoping that the Government will also adopt the PM2.5 measure­ment that Singapore uses; this is a reading of six pollutants that includes the measurement of fine particles sized less than 2.5 microns. This will provide a more accurate measurement of the haze index instead of the current PM10 which only measures pollutant particles measuring smaller than 10 microns.

Wan Junaidi has said that the PM2.5 measure­ment can only be introduced in mid-2017 because his ministry needs to upgrade the entire system simultaneously.

The lack of a comprehensive air quality monitoring network covering the entire Straits of Malacca is a problem, says Dr Velasco.

“It must be a priority. The three countries – Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia – should work together to implement such a monitoring network.

“In Singapore, I always recommend to follow the 1-h concentration of fine particles, or PM2.5. Among the monitored pollutants, PM2.5 is the most representative pollutant for the haze plumes,” he reiterates, adding that robust methodologies to detect fires and forecast the dispersion of the haze are also needed.

Dr Velasco believes it is also the authorities’ responsibility to provide mitigation measures based on scientific information.

“Important investments are needed to improve knowledge about the origin and phy­sical and chemical processes of the haze, as well as on its impact on public health and ecosystems,” he says.

Universiti Malaya Sabah’s environmental science expert Dr Justin Sentian proposes that Malaysia adopts the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) to report on the health risk posed by a specific level of air quality during a hazy period.

“The AQHI reports on the health risk posed by a mixture of pollutants: ground level ozone, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. The existing API communicates the air quality of the single worst pollutant, while the index rating for the AQHI is the sum of the health risks from each of the pollutants in the index. It reflects the current knowledge of the health effects associated with air pollution,” he says.

Dr Sentian also stresses the importance of clear action plans – based on scientific information and reliable air pollution data – to protect as best as possible the people’s health during haze.

“The Government and authorities need to state clearly actions such as closing schools and banning outdoor activities when pollution reaches certain concentrations. The general public, meanwhile, should adhere to the ad­visory and guidelines issued by the Government to minimise the effects of the haze on their health,” he says.

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Malaysia, Sarawak: Palm oil mills told to toe the line or face the law

ADIB POVERA New Straits Times 3 Sep 16;

MIRI: Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar has warned palm oil mill operators to toe the line or face the brunt of the law.

The warning was issued following the discovery of dead fishes in Sungai Lamah, Baram near here last week.

“The Department of Environment will not hesitate to take action against those who flout the Environment Quality Act 1974 by causing detrimental effects to the environment.

“The ministry and the department will not compromise on any environmental violation.

“Once again, I would like to remind all palm oil mill operators that they have a big responsibility in protecting the environment,” he said.

On the incident involving the discovery of dead fish, Wan Junaidi said the department is in the midst of investigating the case and that the probe team has taken water samples for analysis at the Bintulu Chemistry Department.

He said outcome of the analysis would be available within two weeks.

“We are looking into whether the incident was due to the effluent discharged by an palm oil mill located about 20km from the spot where the dead fish was found,” he said.

A local daily reported that the discovery was made by a longhouse chief last week.

The longhouse chief had claimed that it was the third such incident at the same river since last year.

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Malaysia: Immigration ops leads to surprise discovery of 10,000 turtle eggs

AWANG ALI OMAR New Straits Times 3 Sep 16;

SANDAKAN: Nearly 10,000 turtle eggs were seized and 10 illegal immigrants held as part of a special operation launched in waters off here.

Launched on Sept 1, the operation, dubbed Ops Pensura Khas, aims to intercept people fleeing the southern Philippines in the wake of an on-going offensive by the country’s security forces against the Abu Sayyaf group.

State Marine Police Chief Assistant Commissioner Mohamad Madun said that in the last two days, five boats ¬¬- an outboard engine-powered vessel and four pump boats powered by modified water pumps - were stopped at sea near Sungai Batu 2, Sungai Batu 3 and Pamaguan.

"A total of 9,900 turtle eggs were recovered, and 10 Filipinos aged 14 to 54 were apprehended in the operation which will continue," he said.

Investigations will be carried out under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 on the seizure of the turtle eggs; the Immigration Act 1959/1960 on the individuals found without valid travel documents; and Boat Rules 1953 for the use of pump boats which are illegal in Sabah.

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Malaysia: Sabah Zika patient dies from heart-related complications

SIRA HABIBU and TAN YI LIANG The Star 3 Sep 16;

PETALING JAYA: A man from Sabah who tested positive for Zika has died from heart-related complications.

Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah (pic) confirmed that the 61-year-old from Taman Public Jaya in Likas died on Saturday afternoon from heart-related complications, not the virus.

“He was scheduled for heart surgery next month. The death is not due to Zika,” said Dr Noor Hisham in a short WhatsApp message.

He stressed that Zika only “causes mild symptoms and signs, not death”.

The Ministry said earlier on Saturday that the man was believed to be the first locally-transmitted Zika infection in the country.

“The Health Ministry is investigating further the patient’s recent travel history. It was found that this Zika infection is most likely from a local source of infection, as the patient does not have any recent travel history abroad, and was probably been bitten by an Aedes mosquito infected with Zika,” said the statement.

The patient developed a fever on Aug 27 and had sought medical attention at the Luyang Health Clinic on Aug 30.

He sought further treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital 2 the next day when he experienced worsening fever, muscle aches and diarrhoea.

Dr Noor Hisham said that the patient’s blood and urine samples had tested positive for Zika, but his serious clinical condition could have been due to existing health afflictions and not the Zika virus.

Health Minister warns of more Zika cases
ASHLEY TANG The Star 4 Sep 16;

PETALING JAYA: New Zika cases will continue to emerge, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam.

"The confirmation of the second case of Zika in Kota Kinabalu suggests that the virus is already present within our communities.

"This patient has not been to any other country where large number of cases had been reported.

"This means that this person contracted the disease locally," Dr Subramaniam said on his Facebook post on Sunday.

The 61-year-old patient from Taman Public Jaya in Likas, who tested positive for Zika locally, died on Saturday afternoon from underlying heart-related complications.

Dr Subramaniam said the ministry was still oblivious to where the virus might have originated from.

He, however, said it was possible there were other infected people in the community who are potential sources of infection.

"We are in the process of tracing the movement of this last patient over the past few weeks. We will intensify vector control activities in these areas," he said.

Dr Subramanian said the Health Ministry was of the view that the patient's death was not directly related to Zika.

He said this was because the patient had other medical conditions including heart problems and chronic renal disease which were life threatening.

"Any form of viraemia in such a situation could have tilted the balance and caused his demise," he said.

Dr Subramaniam also said it was the responsibility of Malaysians to intensify the anti-aedes war as Zika was already present in the nation.

On Thursday, the ministry announced the first Zika patient diagnosed in the country, a 58-year-old woman who had visited her daughter in Singapore with her husband on Aug 19 and returned on Aug 21.

Her daughter, who works and lives in Paya Lebar, Singapore, had been infected.

The latest update from the Singapore Health Ministry showed that 11 Malay­sians were confirmed to be infected with the Zika virus - 10 of them work and live in Singapore, and one works in Singapore but resides in Johor.

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Indonesia: Environmental Group to File New Police Reports Against Riau Forest Burners

Alin Almanar Jakarta Globe 3 Sep 16;

Jakarta. An environmental organization will file new police reports against 15 companies allegedly implicated in Riau's wildfires last year, a group member said after its complaints were dropped last month.

Citing lack of evidence, the Riau Police terminated their investigations into the plantation companies that allegedly performed illegal land burning practices.

Activists from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) have launched their own investigations into the cases. Walhi member Zenzi Suhadi said fire spots have frequently been detected since 2013, in most of the concessions.

"We have found that the fire was used to clear the land. This means those companies are indeed responsible for environmental destruction there," Zenzi said on Friday (02/09).

Zenzi added that Walhi has found that three of the 15 companies have also been implicated in cases of illegal logging, but the police have terminated their investigations in 2008.

"We decided to report these crimes again to the police. The police should be progressive and not get trapped in procedural matters," he said.

The 15 companies are part of the 18 reportedly responsible for the 2015 forest and peatland fires. Three companies were brought before the court.

Wildfires have been a recurring problem in Indonesia over the past decade. The 2015 fires, described by observers as the worst on record, have destroyed vegetation on millions of hectares, afflicted more than half a million people with health problems, and resulted in billions of dollars in losses.

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Indonesia: Govt monitors major ports to prevent spread of Zika

Hans Nicholas Jong and Fadli The Jakarta Post 3 Sep 16;

The government will monitor travelers from Singapore arriving at four major points-of-entry in Indonesia, namely Jakarta, Batam, Bali and Medan, following confirmation on Thursday that an Indonesian woman was being treated in Singapore for the disease.

The Health Ministry has ordered the Port Health Office (KKP) to tighten monitoring, including by installing thermal scanners and requiring all passengers arriving from Singapore to fill in health alert cards (HAC) to ensure the early detection of the virus.

The Health Ministry has also assigned paramedics to eight seaports in Batam, Bintan and Karimun in Riau Islands, regions that have close transportation links with Singapore.

Despite the increased security measures, there are concerns over the government’s preparedness and ability to handle the increasing threat from the Zika virus, with Indonesia being one of the countries most vulnerable to infection.

Recently, media reports said the thermal scanners installed at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, a popular tourist destination for Singaporeans with up to 300,000 visitors per month, were broken.

Thermal scanners installed at entry points warn authorities if there is a passenger with a body temperature of more than 38 degrees Celsius.

“I admit that some scanners are not working properly. But now we are helping so that they [the thermal scanners] are installed, especially in regions that experience high traffic from Singapore, such as Batam, Medan and Jakarta,” Health Minister Nila F. Moeloek said.

She said the thermal scanners were important because fever was one of the symptoms of the virus.

“The symptoms are fever and pain. So we focus on fevers. That’s why we need scanners. And if there are people suffering from a fever, we will ask for a blood test. The fever might not have been caused by the Zika virus so we need laboratory testing,” Nila said.

While Nila said the ministry would try to ensure that the Zika virus would not infiltrate the country from major points-of-entry, she admitted that the risks of the virus entering the country were significant.

“We have to remember that we have lots of ports in Indonesia,”she said.

Furthermore, there are cases of people infected by the Zika virus who do not develop fever.

“Another difficult aspect is that there are also people who do not have a fever. That’s why we ask people to fill out health alert cards. So if something happens, we can contact them and conduct a blood test,” said Nila.

The government has stepped up its monitoring efforts after an Indonesian woman was infected with the virus in Singapore.

The woman, a domestic worker for a family in Singapore, has fully recovered.

“She is recovering. Her condition is not too serious and she is receiving home treatment,” the Indonesian ambassador to Singapore, I Gede Ngurah Swajaya, told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

There are around 200,000 Indonesians working in Singapore, he said citing data from the embassy. “The embassy continues to monitor Indonesians living here and is asking them to take care of their health to prevent them being infected by Zika,” Swajaya said.

He praised the Singaporean government for competently managing the outbreak of the Aedes mosquito-borne virus that has infected at least 151 people in the city-state as of Thursday.

So far, no cure for the virus has been found.

However, a group of scientists in Indonesia is looking into the possibility of using a bacterium called Wolbachia to stop mosquitoes from transmitting the Zika virus. Wolbachia already infects 60 percent of insects worldwide.

The bacterium has been tested in four villages in Bantul and Sleman, Yogyakarta, from early 2014.

So far, the bacterium has proven to be effective in blocking the proliferation of dengue, which is the main objective of the research program.

Local health agencies told to anticipate spread of Zika
The Jakarta Post 3 Sep 16;

The government must launch a nationwide campaign against the spread of the Zika virus by ordering local health agencies to be alert for Zika cases in their respective regions, the Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI) says.

“Local agencies should inform people about anything related to Zika, including the symptoms. If there is someone experiencing the symptoms, they should be encouraged to go to a hospital,” Daeng Muhammad Faqih, IDI deputy chairman told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

According to the WHO, people affected with the Zika virus, which spreads mostly through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, will experience a fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise and headache. The symptoms are usually mild and last for two to seven days.

Preventive measures such as regular draining of water tanks, covering tubs and burying or disposing used can or bottles are not enough, Faqih said. He argued that Aedes aegypti could be found in most areas in the country and their bites were undetectable.

To limit the spread of Zika, the government has installed thermal scanners to measure the temperatures of passengers arriving at airports, including Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali and Hang Nadim International Airport in Batam. Besides airports, several ports in Batam, Bintan and Karimun, all in Riau Islands have also installed such scanners. (wnd/bbn)

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Burning Rain Forest Hard Habit to Break in Palm Oil Industry

Anuradha Raghu Bloomberg 31 Aug 16;

Cleaning up the image of companies that produce the world’s most-consumed vegetable oil is proving more difficult and costly than the industry anticipated.

Palm oil, used in everything from food to car fuel to cosmetics, has drawn the ire of environmentalists for years. Some farmers in Indonesia and Malaysia have burned rain forests to make way for new palm plantations, shrinking animal habitat and compounding water and air pollution across Southeast Asia. To avoid a consumer backlash, the industry created certification standards intended to show it could meet growing demand without damaging resources.

But 12 years after the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil set its standards, just 17 percent of world supply is certified, and dozens of companies have been cited for violations. The latest was Malaysian plantation owner IOI Corp. Bhd., which had its certification suspended for four months, prompting buyers including Nestle SA to shop elsewhere. Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd., the top crude palm producer, withdrew from the certification program in May, saying it needs three more years to educate 100,000 of its small growers.

“All these must comply” with the sustainability standards, said Zakaria Arshad, who grew up on a palm plantation in Malaysia and is now Felda Global’s chief executive officer. Farmers who have been using the same methods for generations must change if companies hope to retain customers, Zakaria said. “It’s not easy, but we have to go to them and explain to them,” he said. “This takes time. I know RSPO is the way forward.”

Palm Preference

The shift has been difficult partly because demand has about doubled since 2005. Farmers scrambled to expand, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia, which account for 86 percent of global supply, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Palm-oil output exceeded soybean oil for the first time in 2005, and has been widening the gap ever since as rapid economic growth helped fuel consumption across Asia.

Concern emerged as consumers in Europe and the Americas demanded more foods that don’t result in environmental damage or exploit workers. It’s still common for swaths of Southeast Asia to be encased in a haze from the smoke of illegal forest fires. The industry created the RSPO in 2004 to set standards for sustainable production that include environmental, economic and social issues. New technologies like satellites and mobile phones are making it easier to monitor plantations. Palm oil that is certified as sustainable can be sold at a premium, and many food-company buyers require it.

The case of IOI, Malaysia’s second-biggest listed planter, illustrates the challenges of adapting to the standards. The RSPO alleges some IOI subsidiaries didn’t posses environmental permits when clearing land, cleared more land than was authorized and planted trees on fragile land. Aidenvironment, an environmental services organization that’s also an RSPO member, made the complaint.

The RSPO said in March it was revoking IOI’s certification from April 1 and the suspension included European refinery IOI Loders Croklaan, a specialty fats and oils maker that supplies to more than 100 countries. Over the next two months, IOI shares fell more than 11 percent. While the suspension was lifted three weeks ago, companies including Nestle, Kellogg Co. and Cargill Inc. have said they won’t source from IOI.

IOI, which on Aug. 23 reported a loss of 59 million ringgit ($14.6 million) in the quarter ended June 30, declined to discuss how the suspension affected its business. In a company filing that day, it said it will prioritize regaining lost sales in the U.S. and Europe. “We aren’t inclined to discuss commercially confidential matters in public,” the company said Aug. 26 in an e-mailed response to questions from Bloomberg.

Concern Remains

“IOI hasn’t restored the forest it destroyed or resolved its social conflicts with communities in Malaysia,” Annisa Rahmawati, a forest campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia, said in an Aug. 5 statement. “It sends the message that the RSPO is more concerned about helping a founding member regain customers than ensuring its standards are upheld.”

Voon Yee Ping, an analyst at Kenanga Investment Bank Bhd., said it may take until the second half of 2017 for IOI’s downstream business to recover. “The damage is done,” she said.

The RSPO said this month it welcomed the progress made in resolving IOI’s case. The implementation of the company’s action plan shall be subject to independent ground verification and after 12 months, following another independent verification, the RSPO will undertake a review.

Palm-oil futures are up 27 percent from a year ago, closing Tuesday at 2,526 ringgit a metric ton on Bursa Malaysia Derivatives exchange in Kuala Lumpur.

Producers say the certification standards are working. While only 17 percent of global palm-oil supplies are certified sustainable, the RSPO last year said that its market uptake target for Europe was 100 percent by 2020. The shift will be slower in Asia, where the goal is 50 percent in Indonesia and Malaysia, 30 percent in India and 10 percent in China, according to the group’s website.

More Sustainable

Golden Agri-Resources Ltd., a Singapore-based company that is Indonesia’s largest producer, says about 60 percent of its output is certified sustainable, which carries a premium in the market. To make sure it can keep palm growers accountable, the company said its mills will be able to trace all palm supplies to specific plantations by 2017, and independent mills who contract to produce palm oil will have to meet that standard by 2020.

Golden Agri “sees sustainability as an integral part of its operations and value chain, and a long-term investment which contributes to business resilience,” said Paul Hickman, the company’s head of global vegetable oils and oilseeds, trading. “As an agribusiness reliant on the environment and rural communities, we must act as responsible stewards.”

Costlier Rules

Complying with RSPO standards won’t be easy. Companies may re-assess their planting and acquisition strategies, and the amount of available land that can be developed is reduced when abiding by stricter environmental laws, according to BMI Research. Some also may have to implement costlier production processes to improve conditions for workers, BMI said.

Felda Global Ventures in May voluntarily withdrew RSPO certification for 58 of its 71 milling complexes in Malaysia to educate small holders on changing the way they plant and produce. Sime Darby Bhd. says almost all of its 2.36 million tons of production is certified.

“Companies who think they can do away with all this sustainability business are living a dream,” Darrel Webber, the RSPO’s secretary general in Kuala Lumpur, said in an interview in June. “Those people are dinosaurs. They are waiting for mass extinction.”

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China ratifies Paris climate pact, US tipped to follow

Channel NewsAsia 3 Sep 16;

HANGZHOU: China ratified the Paris climate change accord on Saturday (Sep 3), with the US expected to do so later in a joint stand against global warming by the world's two biggest polluters.

The 180-nation accord sets ambitious goals for capping global warming and funnelling trillions of dollars to poor countries facing an onslaught of damage as a result of climate change.

It will come into effect 30 days after at least 55 countries, accounting for 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, have ratified it.

China is responsible for almost a quarter of the world's emissions, with the US in second place on around 15 per cent, so their participation is crucial.

China's legislature, the National People's Congress, voted to adopt "the proposal to review and ratify the Paris Agreement", the official Xinhua news agency said.

Shortly after US President Barack Obama arrived in China for a G20 summit in the eastern city of Hangzhou, where he and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are expected to announce their joint formal joining of the accord.

Climate is one of the few areas where the world's two most powerful countries - who are at loggerheads on issues ranging from trade disputes, cyberspying and the South China Sea - are able to find common cause.

Campaigners welcomed the move.

"China and the US, the two largest developing and developed country economies and emitters, joining the Paris Agreement shows that the global community can come together to address the threat of climate change," said Alvin Lin of the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Both countries are transforming their economies to grow through clean energy rather than fossil fuels, so their citizens can benefit from a cleaner environment and be competitive in the green economy," he told AFP.


The two giants are expected to use the summit, a gathering of the world's leading developed and emerging economies, to pressure others to do so.

"Xi and Obama should seize the opportunity to lead the world's 20 wealthiest nations by joining and building on the Paris agreement," said Greenpeace East Asia's senior climate policy adviser Li Shuo.

It is time for the Paris accord to "move from agreement to action", he added. "Political ambition must keep up with rising sea levels faced by vulnerable communities around the world."

The Paris pact calls for capping global warming at well below two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and 1.5°C (2.7°F) if possible, compared with pre-industrial levels.

Until Saturday only 24 of the 180 signatories had ratified it, including France and many island states threatened by rising sea levels but who only produce a tiny proportion of the world's emissions.

For China, ratifying the agreement fits with Beijing's domestic political agenda of being seen to make efforts to clean up the environment, after years of breakneck industrial development led to soaring air, water and ground pollution.

The scourge is estimated to have caused hundreds of thousands of early deaths, and is the source of mounting public anger.

Under the Paris accord, China has pledged to cut its carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 60-65 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 and increase non-fossil fuel sources in primary energy consumption to about 20 per cent.

Neither of those requirements implies a commitment to cut absolute levels of emissions, although China is also obliged to have them peak by "around 2030".

In its Paris commitment, the US promised to cut its own emissions 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.

During the negotiations over the Paris deal Beijing stressed the concept of "differentiated responsibilities" - the idea that developed countries should shoulder the lion's share of the burden as they have polluted most since the Industrial Revolution.

For its part the White House is looking for the Paris accord to come into force during Obama's tenure, in part to burnish his climate legacy, but also to ensure the forthcoming US election does not obstruct US participation.

The administration is arguing that the deal does not need Congressional approval for ratification, which can be done by executive order.

Policymakers from Tokyo to Stockholm have bitter memories of George W. Bush and his Republican Party refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol after it was agreed by Bill Clinton's administration.

- AFP/ec

Paris climate deal: US and China formally join pact
BBC 3 Sep 16;

The US and China - together responsible for 40% of the world's carbon emissions - have both formally joined the Paris global climate agreement.

After arriving with other leaders of G20 nations for a summit in the city of Hangzhou, Mr Obama said: "History will judge today's effort as pivotal."

CO2 emissions are the driving force behind climate change.

Last December, countries agreed to cut emissions in a bid to keep the global average rise in temperatures below 2C.
What is climate change?

What does the climate deal mean for me?

The Paris deal is the world's first comprehensive climate agreement. It will only come into force legally after it is ratified by at least 55 countries, which between them produce 55% of global carbon emissions.

Members of China's National People's Congress Standing Committee adopted "the proposal to review and ratify the Paris Agreement" on Saturday morning at the end of a week-long session.

Analysis: BBC environmental analyst Roger Harrabin

This is a big step towards turning the Paris climate agreement into reality.

Other nations will still tussle over their own ratification, but this will put pressure on G20 nations over the weekend to move faster with their pledge to phase out subsidies to fossil fuels.

But even if enough other players step forward to make the Paris deal law, huge challenges lie ahead.

Before China made its announcement, the 23 nations that had so far ratified the agreement accounted for just over 1% of emissions.

The UK has yet to ratify the Paris deal. A spokesman for the prime minister told BBC News that the government would ratify as soon as possible - but gave no date.

The White House issued a statement on Saturday morning announcing the US move.

In a speech in Hangzhou, Mr Obama said the Paris deal was the "single best chance that have to deal with a problem that could end up transforming this planet".

He praised US and Chinese leadership on the climate issue, saying: "We are moving the world significantly towards the goal we have set."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Mr Obama for what he called "inspiring" leadership.

Mr Ban said Mr Obama and China's President Xi Jinping had both been "far-sighted, bold and ambitious".

However, analysts warn that the target of keeping temperature rises below 2C is already in danger of being breached.

For 14 consecutive months meteorologists have recorded the hottest month on record, and the UK's Met Office has forecast that 2016 is likely to hit temperatures 1.1C above pre-industrial levels.

Average temperatures worldwide are likely to increase more in the coming years as the effect of previous carbon emissions makes itself felt.

Environmental campaigning group Friends of the Earth welcomed the move by China and the US.

But spokesman Asad Rehman added: "The Paris agreement is a step in the right direction, but the reality is it's too weak and delays action to the next decade.

"What's needed is comprehensive and urgent action now to slash emissions and build a low-carbon future."

The G20 summit in Hangzhou starts on Sunday.

This is expected to be Mr Obama's last trip to Asia as US president.

However, as he arrived there was a security dispute on the tarmac at Hangzhou airport as White House officials, including National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and reporters tried to get closer to the president. A Chinese official shooed them away shouting: "This is our country! This is our airport!"

Paris agreement: Key points
To keep global temperature increase "well below" 2C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C
To peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century
To review progress every five years
$100bn a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future
Once the deal comes into force, countries that have ratified it have to wait for a minimum of three years before they exit

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