Singapore, Cambodia Say Sand Exports Have Stopped

KUCH NAREN Cambodia Daily 24 Jan 17;

The controversial exporting of Cambodian sand to Singapore has finally—if temporarily—been stopped, according to officials from the two countries, amid long-running criticism over discrepancies in shipment records and environmental damage.

A Singapore official said the country had ceased importing sand from Cambodia, according to a Singaporean media report on Monday, while a Cambodian Mines and Energy Ministry spokesman said exports were suspended for the time being.

Singapore, a wealthy city-state hungry for sand used in reclamation projects to expand its land area, has denied any improper activities despite a gaping difference between the huge amounts of sand recorded entering its ports and the drastically smaller totals that source countries such as Cambodia have reported leaving their shores.

The sand trade has long been roiled by tales of large-scale smuggling, rampant destruction of coastal habitats, and even “sand mafias” who have been said to rule over black markets.

In Cambodia, sand dredging—mostly in Koh Kong province—has devastated coastlines and ecosystems and become a flashpoint for environmental groups campaigning against continued exports.

On Monday, The Straits Times reported a Singaporean Ministry of National Development spokesman as saying that Singapore had stopped sand imports from Cambodia in November in response to a ban on all sand exports by the Cambodian government.

The spokesman also denied that there had been any illicit sand trading in Singapore.

“Thus far, Singapore has not encountered instances of smuggled sand, or contractors bringing sand into Singapore carrying fake export permits,” he was quoted as saying.

Asked to respond to the report, Chhe Lidin, a spokesman for Cambodia’s Mines and Energy Ministry, said sand exporting was suspended in November to “reassess and improve the whole process altogether.”

“Until a new process is set using multi-stakeholders approach, the suspension will stay intact,” Mr. Lidin said.

He added that past exports to Singapore had been done “in a responsible manner.”

The U.N.’s Commodity Trade Statistics Database shows Singapore importing 75 million metric tons of sand from Cambodia between 2005 and 2015, but figures from the Cambodian Finance Ministry’s general department of customs and excise show just 14.3 million tons leaving the country.

The difference of more than 60 million tons in unreported exports—worth hundreds of millions of dollars—has become the focus of questioning in the National Assembly, discussions between NGOs and the Mines and Energy Ministry, and a government ban on sand dredging in Koh Kong.

Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the exiled director of the environmental NGO Mother Nature, said sand dredging in Koh Kong had only taken off in 2007 after Indonesia banned the export of marine sand and Singapore promised to buy massive amounts of sand from Cambodia.

“So, now that there seems to be a moratorium on further exports, we hope that the local environment will slowly start regenerating itself and that fish catches will start rising once again,” Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson said in an email.

“The biggest concern we have is that both governments will try at some point to resume sand exports, after coming up with some new scheme, such as sending the sand to Singapore via Vietnam, as the Cambodian government has already admitted doing in the past.”

He said the Singaporean government should open up its books and make publicly available all information and documents on sand shipments from Cambodia.

“Then, they should make it loud and clear that they will not be importing any more of this dirty Cambodian sand,” he said.

“Both governments have been caught with their pants down on this issue, and it is now snowballing into a big headache, especially for Singapore, which tries very hard to come across as accountable, transparent and responsible.”

(Additional reporting by Michael Dickison)

Sand exports in limbo
PECH SOTHEARY Khmer Times 25 Jan 17;

Dith Tina from the Ministry of Mines and Energy at yesterday’s forum. KT/Mai Vireak

Sand exports will remain suspended amid questions about a 56 million-ton discrepancy in deliveries to Singapore.

Dith Tina, a secretary of state and spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said yesterday that no date had been set for the exports to resume.

He spoke at a public forum titled “The truth about sand exports abroad” at the general department of petroleum at which more than 100 youths, students, civil servants and community members took part.

Mr. Tina said the ministry was preparing to improve procedures to allow civil society to monitor sand exports to avoid any suspicion or accusation against the government.

“Until now, we have not yet determined how long we will suspend the exports,” he said.

“If we continue to do without civil society participation, they will shout that there is no transparency or clarity.

“We are preparing procedures to let them join. Also, when we look at the bureaucracy, we will affect another aspect which is trade facilitation.”

On October 13, 47 civil society organizations and communities issued an open letter asking the ministry to clarify sand exports from 2007 to 2015 after it emerged that there was a difference of nearly 70 million tons between the Cambodian and Singaporean figures.

The ministry has tried to explain the problem with the Singapore records in the National Assembly.

After that there was customs data from India obtained by NGO Mother Nature activists which showed more than 108,000 tons of sand, worth $2.7 million, were sent from Cambodia to India between 2013 and 2015, while Cambodian Customs did not have any figures on sand exports to India.

Mr. Tina confirmed that the ministry did not grant any licenses for sand to be exported to India.

However, the ministry did not impose any conditions on destination countries to export sand because Cambodia has a free market system, he said.

He said that Mines Ministry is responsible for licensing, overseeing the execution of the company in compliance with licensing conditions and collecting royalty with proper evaluation of the impact on the environment.

In a public forum on macroeconomic management and the 2017 budget on Monday, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia Preap Kol said ministries – especially the Ministry of Economy and Finance – should take action to find out about the differences in the figures.

Vongsey Vissoth, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, responded that the ministry was investigating the case as sand exports were a source of budget revenue, among other natural resources.

However, the case took time and involved cooperation from relevant parties, he said.

“The ministry did not ignore it. All of these workers have to collaborate internationally and conduct studies,” he said.

“This unofficial figure cannot be taken as the basis of conclusions that can cause confusion as today’s media system is very complex,” he said.

Read more!

Heavy downpour causes flash floods, traffic snarls on Monday

Channel NewsAsia 23 Jan 17;

SINGAPORE: A heavy downpour caused flash floods and traffic snarls in Singapore during the morning peak period on Monday (Jan 23).

Flash floods were reported at the Tanjong Pagar area along Craig Road, Tanjong Pagar Road and Maxwell Road, national water agency PUB said on Facebook.

At 10am, the flash flood at Maxwell Road had subsided, and the road was passable to traffic, PUB said.

Heavy rain and a high risk of flooding was also reported at Alexandra Road, Tiong Bahru as well as the West Coast area, according to PUB.

Accidents were reported on many expressways, including AYE, CTE, PIE, SLE, KPE and TPE, the Land Transport Authority said on Twitter.

Obstacles were also reported on the PIE towards Tuas after the Clementi Road exit, CTE towards AYE after the PIE (Changi) exit, ECP towards city at Fort Road exit, CTE tunnel towards AYE after the Bukit Timah Road exit, as well as on the CTE towards SLE at the Braddell Road exit.

Moderate to heavy showers, sometimes with thunder, are expected to continue over many areas of Singapore for the rest of the day, the National Environment Agency said. The rain is expected to gradually ease by Tuesday evening.

According to the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS), the heaviest rainfall on Monday was recorded mostly over the southeastern and southwestern part of Singapore - around Kallang, Buona Vista, Queenstown and Marina Barrage - as of 5pm.

It added that so far this month, the total rainfall recorded at the Changi climate station was 81.8mm, which is 65 per cent lower than the long-term average for January. Between Jan 1 and 21, the total rainfall recorded at rainfall stations across Singapore ranged from 34.8mm to 272mm.

The heavy downpour also brought down temperatures on Monday. As of 8pm, the highest temperature recorded was 28.4°C in Pulau Ubin at 5.15pm. The lowest was 23.2°C at Ang Mo Kio at about 11.15am.

The MSS had said last Monday that the second half of January is expected to be wetter than the first fortnight of the year, with short-duration thunderstorms expected on six to eight days.

- CNA/cy

Flash floods seen across Singapore after heavy rain
ALFRED CHUA Today Online 24 Jan 17;

SINGAPORE — Ms Janell Chan, 30, thought that she had it all planned to handle yesterday morning’s heavy downpour: She packed an extra pair of shoes and a towel, just in case. But on her way to her office at Tanjong Pagar, the strap of one of her sandals broke, so she had to change into the shoes she packed, and was “drenched from the leg down” in the end.

The week got off to a wet start on Monday (Jan 23), with moderate to heavy downpours across many parts of the island, and Ms Chan’s route to work was near one of the two flash-flood areas around Tanjong Pagar.

The floods were reported at the junction of Craig Road and Tanjong Pagar Road, as well as at Maxwell Road (South Bridge Road). Waters subsided by around 9.45am and 10am, respectively, for the two zones.

Parts of the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park were also flooded when the Kallang River — which runs through it — burst its banks.

An administrative executive, who gave her name only as Ms Loh, told TODAY she was drenched completely even with an umbrella in hand. “I didn’t anticipate how heavy the rain would turn out,” she said.

Mr Joe Corey, a 45-year-old manager working near the City Hall area, said he was slightly late for work this morning because of the traffic snarl along the way to work.

Various parts of Singapore from Tiong Bahru to Marine Parade had high flood risk due to the overnight rain since Sunday, national water agency PUB said.

The Meteorological Service Singapore had warned last Monday that the two weeks of this month from Jan 16 was expected to be wetter than the first fortnight, even though the overall rainfall for January is forecast to be slightly below normal.

Businesses around Chinatown told TODAY that the wet weather had put a dampener on sales during the Chinese New Year season, with celebrations due to start this weekend.

A stallholder, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lim, said that the rains had “driven some customers away” even though his shop selling souvenirs is located along Smith Street and was not hit by flash floods. “The economy isn’t doing very well, too, so business has taken a hit,” he said in Mandarin.

Multiple flash floods across island after downpour
Isabelle Liew, The New Paper AsiaOne 24 Jan 17;

Heavy rain from 10pm on Sunday until noon yesterday led to 32 traffic accidents and multiple flooded areas across the island.

Flash floods occurred at a 20m stretch at the junction of Craig Road and Tanjong Pagar Road, and a 30m stretch at Maxwell Road (towards Kadayanallur Street) after South Bridge Road at around 9am, PUB said in a statement yesterday.

A PUB spokesman said: "Drainage improvement works at the junction of Maxwell Road and Tanjong Pagar Road will commence next month and are expected to complete by the third quarter of this year."

At around 9.30am, PUB said on its social media pages that the water level at the Alexandra Canal Sub Drain B, at Prince Philip Avenue near Redhill MRT station, was at 100 per cent.

It also sent out a warning for several high flood-risk areas as water levels rose above 90 per cent at Tanjong Penjuru/Penjuru Road, Tiong Bahru Road/Boon Tiong Road and Jalan Seaview.

Bishan Road and Yio Chu Kang Road were also added to its list of high flood-risk areas at around 11.20am.

The water levels for all of these areas fell below 90 per cent by noon.

The Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) had said on Jan 16 that more showers are expected in the second half of the month due to prevailing North-East Monsoon conditions.

When The New Paper visited the Alexandra Canal at noon yesterday, there was a slight drizzle, and the water level of the 1.2km-long canal had subsided to about half its height.

Workers from Toh Guan Enterprise Hub, who declined to be named, told TNP that the water threatened to overflow at 9am but did not.

High water levels at the Kallang River at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park also receded after the rain stopped, said the PUB spokesman.

Madam Cheong Lee Meng, 66, a retiree who lives in a block overlooking the park, said high water levels were common there.

"There is shallow water if there is no rain. There was heavy rain today, but I was not alarmed because the water didn't reach the bridge or pathway. The water receded fast after the rain stopped," she said.

Social media was flooded with photos and videos of the flash floods.

Places included Maxwell Road, Tanjong Pagar, Commonwealth, Supreme Court Lane and Upper Cross Street near the State Courts.

Facebook user Jama Mohamed posted a video of a flash flood in a drain near the Commonwealth Crescent carpark.

Twitter user Shaiful Rizal, 30, was on his way to work at Lim Teck Kim Road in the Tanjong Pagar area at 9.20am when he lost his slippers in ankle-deep water.

He told TNP: "I lost my slippers while I was crossing the road at the traffic lights. My feet were fully submerged. Luckily I found some spare shoes in the office."

Lianhe Wanbao also reported that the water was gushing out from drains at the bus stop outside Haw Par Villa MRT station.


Upper Thomson Road, which was hit by flash floods last Thursday and on Christmas Eve, was spared during yesterday's rain.

Mr Syed Ridzwan, 40, a waiter at The Roti Prata House, near Jalan Keli, told TNP that he was thankful that it did not flood.

He said: "I was worried at first, but everything was under control. I am still worried about business being affected because customers are scared that it will flood here."

Shop owners in Chinatown said the rain had dampened sales in the run-up to Chinese New Year on Saturday. (See report below.)

An MSS spokesman said the heaviest rainfall as of 5pm yesterday was recorded mostly over the south-eastern and south-western parts of the island - around Kallang (99.6mm), Buona Vista (96.6mm), Queenstown (92.4mm) and Marina Barrage (91.0mm).

Read more!

New plans serve cheaper power sunny side up

Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 23 Jan 17;

But few firms have switched from SP Services to other electricity retailers: EMA

Shopping for customised electricity plans has been an option for businesses for the past year or so, but not many have decided to make the switch away from SP Services.

As at the end of the third quarter of last year, only about a third of the 35,000 eligible commercial and industrial consumers have chosen to do so, latest figures from the Energy Market Authority show.

Businesses with an average monthly electricity usage of at least 2 megawatt-hour (MWh or 2,000 kWh) - a monthly power bill of about $450 - can choose an alternative to SP Services from July 2015.

Before that, only consumers which use more than 4MWh of electricity monthly were eligible.

On the low take-up rate, Mr Julius Tan, manager of energy retail at home-grown electricity retailer Sunseap, said some may worry that electricity supply may be less reliable with a different retailer.

But he said electricity supply will still come from the grid. "The only difference is that they are paying an electricity retailer that can offer them plans customised to their needs," he said. This is similar to how mobile phone users choose price plans from various telcos.

Customised price plans, for example, will allow consumers to power up their premises with a mix that includes solar energy without the need to install and maintain their own solar panels. This may appeal to eco-conscious consumers and those who want to save money as electricity generated in part by solar energy is cheaper than the regulated tariff.

Last month, Sunseap started offering eligible consumers a GoEco price plan which guarantees that a portion of electricity used will come from the sun. Its website says doing so can cut electricity bills by 20 per cent.

As a gauge, it costs about 20 cents for 1kWh of electricity from SP Services at the regulated tariff.

Sun Electric, another local solar electricity retailer, is also offering a variety of price plans that allows eligible consumers to tap varying amounts of solar energy, resulting in savings of between 15 and 20 per cent.

"You don't need a roof... to get solar electricity, and a lot of electricity consumers like to get clean electricity. All of our products are also cheaper than the tariff," said Dr Matt Peloso, Sun Electric chief executive.

Logistics firm Ninja Van has made the switch from the regulated tariff. It subscribed to Sunseap's GoEco plan for one of its two facilities last month. The other facility will also be on the same plan from next month.

Mr Pang Sing Yang, vice-president of strategy at Ninja Van, said of the switch: "We believe in supporting other local start-ups and want to play our part in environmental conservation by using a form of renewable energy. We also enjoy some cost savings."

Next year, 1.3 million households can also get to benefit from this flexibility when the electricity retail market is fully open to competition.

Ms Geraldine Tan, general manager for retail at electricity retailer PacificLight, which also offers renewable energy, said: "With the electricity market opening up next year, the price of solar continuing to fall and the availability of hybrid solutions, more customers in Singapore will be able to pledge their commitment to renewable energy at a competitive price point."

Government agencies are also looking to tap savings without having to install their own systems.

Under the Government's SolarNova scheme, which aggregates solar demand, agencies such as the HDB provide rooftop space for firms to install the panels. In return, town councils enjoy discounted electricity rates.

S'pore-made solar panel more efficient, works even if partially shaded

Local solar firm REC Solar believes it has found a possible solution to tackle Singapore's lack of space for solar panels. It said its new panel can convert more of the sun's energy into electricity, compared with a conventional panel of the same size. The REC TwinPeak solar panel can produce 280 watts, compared with the usual 260 watts generated by a conventional solar panel.

Professor Armin Aberle, chief executive of the National University of Singapore's Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore, said that considering Singapore's limited space, it is important to maximise the energy output from every square metre available for solar panels.

He worked with the REC team on developing the new solar panel, which is also able to work even if part of it is shaded, something conventional panels cannot do.

Dr Shankar Sridhara, the firm's vice-president of technology, said the differences may appear small, but are significant in the quest to make solar energy a more viable option here.

TwinPeak has higher efficiency because of a number of novel technologies, such as using smaller solar cells which reduce energy lost to heat, said Dr Shankar.

A solar panel is made up of many solar cells, and the REC panel uses cells about half the size of conventional ones. This halves the current running through the cell, and reduces heat loss.

The REC team also maximises the amount of sunlight absorbed by the panel. Besides capturing sunlight that hits its surface, the panel harnesses the infrared energy that passes through it, thanks to a reflective material at the rear of the solar cell. The infrared light is reflected back into the cell to be converted into electricity.

Mr Goh Chee Kiong, executive director for cleantech at the Economic Development Board, which supported TwinPeak's development, said: "Singapore is grooming clean energy as a growth area, which will address the opportunities from increasing urbanisation and environmental sustainability in Asia...

"Innovations such as REC's TwinPeak solar technology are one such example where companies have successfully tapped Singapore's position as Asia's clean energy hub to serve the regional markets."

Read more!

Malaysia: Monsoon rains batter southern states

The Star 24 Jan 17;

PETALING JAYA: Strong north-east monsoon winds are bringing heavy rain to the southern states of Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor, too.

East coast states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang are also experiencing heavy rain due to the monsoon.

According to the Meteorological Depart­ment, the strong monsoon winds have carried rain across the east coast states to several districts in Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor which has resulted in heavy rain.

As of 5.15pm yesterday, Infobanjir website recorded a rainfall intensity of “very heavy rain” of more than 90mm rainfall in Jasin and “heavy rain” between 30mm and 60mm rainfall in Sg Duyong and Batu Hampar in central Malacca.

In Negri Sembilan, several areas recorded heavy rain in Tampin while Palong Sembilan in Jempol recorded very heavy rain, amounting to 62mm.

In Johor, several areas in Segamat recorded over 110mm in rainfall with Bandar Segamat having 163mm. Muar also experienced very heavy rain.

Certain parts of other districts in Johor also experienced heavy rainfall.

Floods strike Johor, 250 in three districts evacuated
AHMAD FAIRUZ OTHMAN New Straits Times 24 Jan 17;

SEGAMAT: Non-stop heavy rain since Sunday night has led to flooding in Segamat, Tangkak and Johor Baru districts. As of 10pm last night, almost 250 flood victims in three districts were relocated to six temporary relief centres.

The floods were caused by rising waters at Sungai Segamat in Kampung Batu Badak, Sungai Juaseh (Labis) and Sungai Tiram (Johor Baru), which overflowed and inundated low-lying areas.

Johor Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said evacuation centres which were opened yesterday are Balai Raya Kampung Melayu Raya, Dewan Serbaguna Kampung Bukit Tunggal, SJKC Ai Chun Tenang Station, Balai Raya Kampung Gelang Chincin, Ulu Tiram and Balai Raya Kampung Melepang.

"A total of 159 victims from 29 families from Kampung Lembah Bakri, Labis, have been placed at SJKC Ai Chun, Tenang Station, while another 50 victims from Kampung Paya were placed at the Ulu Tiram temporary relief centre.

"Another 11 victims from a single family were relocated to a temporary relief centre which was opened at 10pm, and 18 victims from seven families were placed at Dewan Kampung Bukit Tunggal.

"In Tangkak, four victims from one family were relocated to a temporary relief centre at Balai Raya Kampung Melepang," said Ayub.

Read more!

Indonesia: President Jokowi calls for increased vigil against forest fires

Antara 23 Jan 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has reminded ministers and regional authorities to remain vigilant against forest fires, starting from early this year.

"It is only January, but it is already dry. Hence, do not be careless. The BMKG (the meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency) has forecast that 2017 will be drier as compared to 2016," Jokowi remarked at the State Palace, here, Monday, while opening a coordination meeting on forest and plantation fires.

The meeting was attended by Commander of the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) General Gatot Nurmantyo; National Police Chief General Tito Karnavian; Coordinating Minister for Political, Law, and Security Affairs Wiranto; Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya; South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin; Jambi Governor Zumi Zola; and several other governors.

Forest and plantation fires had affected 2.089 million hectares of area and inflicted financial losses worth Rp220 trillion in 2015.

The 2015 wildfires affected commercial flights, offices, businesses, schools, and public health.

Some 504 thousand people suffered from respiratory ailments, and flora and fauna habitats were damaged, as 2.6 million hectares of forest areas were gutted by wildfires.

"Hence, we have to anticipate and prevent the 2015 fires from recurring. We should be grateful that in 2016, (the number of hotspots of forest fires) dropped by up to 82 to 83 percent, and we hope that it would further decrease in 2017," the head of state noted.

Based on monitoring data of the NOAA satellite, the number of hotspots in 2016 had decreased by 82.14 percent compared to that in 2015, while the Terra and Aqua satellites showed that the drop was 94.58 percent.

Jokowi urged concerned stakeholders to prepare early preventive measures against wildfires.

"On this good occasion, I would like to thank everyone who has carried out this big job," he remarked, adding that he was optimistic of zero hotspots being recorded this year.

"Although I know it would be impossible, however, we have to work hard to anticipate it," he pointed out.

In 2015, a 150-day emergency response period was declared, while in 2016, it was nil, according to Minister Wiranto.

(Reported by Desca Lidya Natalia/Uu.F001/INE/KR-BSR)

President Jokowi urges revocation of companies triggering forest fires
Antara 23 Jan 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has urged several related ministries such as the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to revoke permits of several companies that triggered land and forest fires in Indonesia.

"There were several permits that were revoked in 2015 and 2016. I have asked the ministries not to announce the notice of revocation of burner companies in 2017 but impose the sanctions directly," Jokowi said here on Monday.

According to Jokowi, the government would take firm action to avoid land and forest fires.

The president added that the total loss in 2015 due to forest fires was worth Rp220 trillion.

He urged the law enforcers to take firm action to resolve incidents of forest fires.

Jokowi reiterated that some companies that own concession permits should maintain and preserve their own production fields by implementing friendly environment cultivation process.

He also asked the Peatland Restoration Agency or BRG to immediately restore the peatland areas that were burned in 2015.

"I hope the central government, the police, the Indonesian military and the provincial administration would simultaneously work together to avoid land and forest fires in 2017," he stated.

Additionally, the Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya also urged the companies not to burn their production fields.

"I will check several government rules that are supporting the presidents directives to avoid fires," she said.

Previously, Jokowi had reminded ministers and regional authorities to remain vigilant against forest fires starting from early this year.

The meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG) has forecast that 2017 will be drier compared to 2016.

The forest and plantation fires had affected 2.089 million hectares of land and caused financial losses worth Rp220 trillion in 2015.

(Reported by Desca Lidya/Uu.B019/INE/KR-BSR/F001)

Government outlines measures against likely forest fires
Antara 24 Jan 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Wiranto has outlined measures covering budget, human resources, and legal enforcement to be undertaken in the fight against forest and plantation fires this year.

"First, the Finance Minister and the head of the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) are expected to allocate a special budget for forest fire prevention efforts," Wiranto noted at the State Palace, here, Monday.

Secondly, the home affairs minister should revise Home Affairs Ministers Regulation No. 21 of 2011 on State Financial Guidance to allow local administrations to disburse budget for forest fire prevention measures at an early stage and not only during the emergency state.

Thirdly, governors, district heads, and mayors should educate the local inhabitants to not set fires while clearing land for farming.

Fourthly, plantation companies must abide by the regulations that ban the setting of fires to clear land.

"Fifth, legal enforcers must closely supervise and sanction any one breaking the regulations," Wiranto affirmed.

On the evaluation of forest fires in 2016, the minister quoted data of the NOAA satellites that the number of hotspots had dropped by 82.14 percent, or 94.58 percent, according to the Terra and Aqua satellites.

The size of peatland and non-peatland areas gutted by fires also decreased by 83.21 percent.

"Last years forest fires did not have an impact on the socioeconomic and political conditions nationally and regionally, unlike those in 2015," he pointed out.

The public has become more aware of the importance of clearing land without using fire, he noted.

Besides this, La Nina natural phenomenon, which prolonged the rainy season in several regions, also helped in stopping forest fires in 2016.

Ministries and institutions coordinated with the local administrations in nine provinces, prone to forest fires, to closely monitor hotspots.

The ministries and institutions, include the environmental affairs and forestry ministry; agriculture ministry; the meteorological, climatology, and geophysics agency; National Aeronautic and Aerospace Agency; National Disaster Mitigation Agency; the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI); and the National Police (Polri).

The TNI, Polri, and other relevant stakeholders have also implemented a capacity building program to help train fire fighters and set up task forces against forest fires in the nine provinces.

Moreover, forest fire control brigades have also been established in 10 forestry-related units in five provinces: South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, and Papua.

A total of 15,410 canals in peatland areas, 2,581 ponds, and 516 artesian wells have been built to store water to extinguish forest fires.

Stringent legal enforcement was also implemented, including by revoking the business licenses of three plantation companies, freezing licenses of 16 others, and issuing warnings to 115 companies.

The significant drop in last years forest fires was also due to intensified on-field patrols.

Wiranto said the meteorology agency had forecast that the climate in 2017 would be drier than that in 2016.

Hence, early prevention command posts need to be set up at the central, provincial, district, and rural levels to prevent forest fires, he stated.(*)

Jokowi orders early fire prevention for 2017
Haeril Halim The Jakarta Post 23 Jan 17;

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has instructed related parties to devise early plans to tackle land and forest fires as hot spots have begun to emerge in several regions over the past two weeks. The official dry season begins in late January.

Jokowi warned all stakeholders attending the coordinated meeting on land and forest fire prevention at the State Palace that a failure to contain hot spots before they turned into fires could see the trauma of 2015 repeat itself this year. The fires that ravaged the country in 2015 resulted in Rp 220 trillion (US$16.5 billion) in material losses.

“We have to anticipate all possibilities in order not to see a repeat of 2015,” Jokowi said.

During the meeting, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto reported on the progress made by the government to contain land and forest fires in 2016.

The number of hot spots in 2016 decreased by up to 82.14 percent according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA satellites and up to 94.58 percent according to Terra and Aqua satellites.

Wiranto said that in 2015 a total of 2.6 million hectares of land and forest were burned up but the figure decreased in 2016 to just 438,360 hectares, thanks in part to the La Nina weather phenomenon that lengthened the rainy season in a number of regions.

“In 2015, the emergency status went for 151 days, while in 2016 the figure decreased to zero. This is a very good achievement,” Wiranto said.

Indonesian government remains vigilant on forest fires
Haeril Halim and Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 24 Jan 17;

While praising last year’s success in curbing land and forest fires, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has told regional heads to remain watchful in their respective regions and demanded the expansion of fire-prevention initiatives.

Jokowi reminded the dozens of regents, mayors and administrations from haze-prone regions he convened at the State Palace on Monday not to repeat “the mistakes of 2015”.

The fire season of 2015 saw the nation’s worst-ever haze crisis, which angered neighboring Singapore and Malaysia and caused Rp 221 trillion in economic losses to the country, an amount equal to 1.9 percent of national GDP in that year.

The fires, which damaged 2.6 million hectares of land and forests, claimed the lives of 24 people and brought respiratory problems to hundreds of thousands of people.

Jokowi told the local leaders to not become complacent despite the fact that the collective efforts made by the central government and local administrations had managed to contain land and forest fires last year, with almost no accidents. He added that this outcome was partly due to the La NiƱa weather phenomenon extending the rainy season.

The President said the focus in 2017 would be prevention and instructed all regional heads to declare emergency status as early as possible should they find any potential fire hot spots in their jurisdictions so that the central government could send aid.

“We all remember well how hard our struggle was in 2015, but all our efforts failed, because we were late to launch preventative measures. The [mistakes] of 2015 must not reoccur,” Jokowi said, staring sharply at his audience.

After a concerted effort by the central government, land and forest fires significantly decreased last year, with the total land area burned reduced to 438,360 ha. The number of hot spots also decreased by up to 82.1 percent according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites, and by up to 94.58 percent according to Terra and Aqua satellites.

As of Monday, only two regions, Rokan Hilir regency and Dumai city in Riau, had declared emergency status. However, Jokowi called on all nine haze-prone provinces to follow suit as between early and mid-January the government had recorded hot spots starting to emerge in six provinces, namely Jambi, Riau, Central Kalimantan, West Kalimantan, West Sumatra and North Sumatra.

Jokowi also ordered relevant agencies to improve their early warning systems to detect hot spots and to have helicopters on standby. He also instructed them to prepare artificial rain before the dry season started in late January, the period when if left untreated hot spots can quickly turn into fires.

The President also ordered the National Police to thoroughly investigate and arrest all land burners and increase air patrols to monitor haze-prone regions, especially those in Riau and Kalimantan.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto said that as part of its preventative measures the government had dug 15,410 canals, 2.581 embung (ponds) and drilled 516 wells to raise the moisture of peatland areas in haze-prone provinces.

“In 2016, we also revoked three concession permits as well as suspended another nine permits. In total, 17 companies are under investigation. Local administrations have also reprimanded 115 companies,” Wiranto said.

Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) head Nazir Foead said that starting in 2017 the BRG would brief farmers as well as company representatives on how to clear land without burning.

“There are three available options. The first one is encouraging them to use tractors, but this way costs a lot of money. The second is encouraging them to burn trees they cut down inside drums to minimize the haze. This trick takes time,” Nazir said.

Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) research and environmental law department head Zenzi Suhadi argued that region’s merely raising the fire danger level from alert to emergency status would not be effective.

He says alert status should not just mean that the government is able to deploy necessary resources to extinguish fires.

“Alert status should mean that all costs of prevention, management and recovery from the fires and haze should be borne by those responsible for starting them. If we apply these conditions, then the alert status will be effective,” Zenzi said.

Indonesian President instructs authorities to prepare early for forest fires this year
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 23 Jan 17;

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo has urged all relevant authorities to be ready to fight any forest fires this year.

Speaking at a coordination meeting on the issue on Monday (Jan 23), Mr Widodo reminded those present about the devastation in 2015. Swathes of land were destroyed and the air quality was one of the worst on record, affecting not only Indonesia but also several countries in Southeast Asia. Indonesian authorities spent about 1 trillion rupiah (US$74 million) to tackle the fires.

"I believe we all remember about the fires in 2015. We were really in disarray. But, the fires were already too big, all our efforts were in vain," said Mr Widodo at the State Palace.

Since then, Indonesia has stepped up efforts to prevent forest fires, which included introducing a ban on converting peatlands into plantations

Mr Widodo noted that in 2016, the number of hotspots went down by about 83 per cent and said that he hoped it could be further reduced this year. He instructed officials to continue the measures taken last year and to raise the alert status on forest fires earlier.

He added that data from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) showed that it would be drier in Indonesia this year compared to 2016, increasing the risk of more forest fires.

Mr Widodo also stressed there must be strict law enforcement, and that communities as well as corporations needed to adhere to the government's regulations.

A number of regencies in Indonesia's Riau province have already raised the alert level, which would allow the central government to send aid to the regions.

The head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency in Rokan Hulu regency, Aceng Herdina, told the Jakarta Post that hotspots have recently been detected in a number of districts, and have been identified as forest and land fires.

- CNA/nc

Read more!

Indonesia: Conservation agency estimates only 17 Sumatran tigers left in Bengkulu forest

Antara 23 Jan 17;

Bengkulu (ANTARA News) - The Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) of Bengkulu Province has estimated that only 17 Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatra) exist in the provinces forest.

Coordinator of Forest Ecosystem Control of BKSDA Bengkulu-Lampung Said Jauhari stated here on Monday that based on last years observation and data gathered from human-animal conflict reports and patrol, it was estimated that the population of Sumatran tigers in Bengkulu reached 17.

The government has set a target to increase the population of Sumatran tigers by three percent every year, Jauhari noted.

However, fragmentation of the forest area due to illegal logging to make way for plantation areas and rampant poaching activities have become major challenges in the preservation of the Sumatran tiger population, Jauhari remarked.

Moreover, the conflict between humans and the big cat species is also high. Seluma District has recorded the highest incidents of human-tiger conflict, followed by North Bengkulu District.

"To increase the population of this critically endangered animal, we are prioritizing the protection of forests, which serve as their habitat," Jauhari pointed out.

Taman Buru Semidang Bukit Kabu, which covers an area of 9,000 hectares in Seluma District, is considered to be the home of the Sumatran tigers.

The BKSDA has prioritized a program to restore 1,500 hectares of land in the conservation area into a forest to provide a suitable habitat for the wildlife.

The local authority also proposed to the government to declare Taman Buru Semidang Bukit Kabu as a wildlife reserve area.

"Since there are other protected animals apart from the Sumatran tigers, such as siamang (an arboreal black-furred gibbon) and sun bears in the area," Jauhari stated.

By offering the right habitat, the population of the critically endangered species would increase and prevent them from becoming extinct, Jauhari added.

The Sumatran tiger is a rare sub-species that inhabits the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The big cat has been listed as a critically endangered animal on the IUCN Red List, as its population is showing a declining trend.

The Sumatran tiger is the only surviving member of the Sunda Islands group of tigers that included the now extinct Bali tiger and Javan tiger.

Several studies have estimated that around 400 Sumatran tigers survive on the island of Sumatra.

(Reporting by Helti Marini Sipayung/Uu.A059/INE/KR-BSR/F001)

Read more!

Indonesia: Rice-Fish Farming -- Sleman Farmers Kill Two Birds With One Stone

Edo Karensa Jakarta Globe 23 Jan 17;

Jakarta. Farmers in Sleman, a district of Yogyakarta, has been using a method called "rice-fish farming" to boost their income and promote a more ecosystem-friendly approach to rice farming by avoiding the use of pesticides.

Rice-fish farming, a method of planting rice and breeding fish at the same time, was introduced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in close collaboration with the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry in late 2015 in Sleman, Yogyakarta, and Limapuluh Kota, another district in West Sumatra.

Rice-fish farming is a counter to modern, intensive farming techniques that use excessive amount of pesticides. Rice-fish farming drastically reduces the level of chemical fertilizers used by farmers.

Rice-fish farming, better known locally as "minapadi," has already boosted rice production and hence the farmers' income, as well as pushed up the nutrition levels contained in the rice that they produce.

An FAO report on the program recorded an increase in average harvest from 6.5 to 9.3 tonnes per hectare with higher quality rice being produced across the board.

"It is really gratifying to see how the re-introduction of traditional minapadi with innovative techniques has taken off so well in Sleman," FAO Representative in Indonesia Mark Smulders said in a statement received by the Jakarta Globe on Saturday (21/01).

"The enthusiasm of the farmers speaks for itself: we have managed not only to increase incomes through the sale of fish, but have actually maintained, even increased, rice productivity, while also providing the local population with an important source of protein for better nutrition," he added.

The rice-fish farming technique has also been shared with farmers from across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, with representatives from 15 countries visiting Sleman to witness the program in situ.

The FAO has contributed about half a million US dollars to develop and demonstrate the good practice, with around 500 farming families benefiting directly from the program.

"It is now time for this rice-fish farming system to be scaled up to ensure a much larger number of farming families can have a better life, while also benefiting rural communities more broadly through stepped-up economic activity and improved access to nutritious food," Smulders said.

A number of government officials, including Safri Burhanuddin, the deputy for Human Resources, Knowledge and Technology and Maritime Culture at the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs, and Musdhalifah Machmud, deputy for Food and Agriculture Affairs at the Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs, visited rice-fish farming demonstration plots in Cibluk Village in Margoluwih, Sleman, last week to observe the progress on the pilot project and to meet with farmers.

Read more!

We are destroying rainforests so quickly they may be gone in 100 years

At current rates of deforestation, rainforests will vanish altogether in a century. Stopping climate change will remain an elusive goal unless poor nations are helped to preserve them
John Vidal The Guardian 23 Jan 17;

If you want to see the world’s climate changing, fly over a tropical country. Thirty years ago, a wide belt of rainforest circled the earth, covering much of Latin America, south-east Asia and Africa. Today, it is being rapidly replaced by great swathes of palm oil trees and rubber plantations, land cleared for cattle grazing, soya farming, expanding cities, dams and logging.

People have been deforesting the tropics for thousands of years for timber and farming, but now, nothing less than the physical transformation of the Earth is taking place. Every year about 18m hectares of forest – an area the size of England and Wales – is felled. In just 40 years, possibly 1bn hectares, the equivalent of Europe, has gone. Half the world’s rainforests have been razed in a century, and the latest satellite analysis shows that in the last 15 years new hotspots have emerged from Cambodia to Liberia. At current rates, they will vanish altogether in 100 years.

As fast as the trees go, the chance of slowing or reversing climate change becomes slimmer. Tropical deforestation causes carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, to linger in the atmosphere and trap solar radiation. This raises temperatures and leads to climate change: deforestation in Latin America, Asia and Africa can affect rainfall and weather everywhere from the US Midwest, to Europe and China.

The consensus of the world’s atmospheric scientists is that about 12% of all man-made climate emissions – nearly as much as the world’s 1.2bn cars and lorries – now comes from deforestation, mostly in tropical areas. Conserving forests is critical; the carbon locked up in Democratic Republic of the Congo’s 150m hectares of forests are nearly three times the world’s global annual emissions.

And as the forests come down, the people who live in or around them and depend on them become impoverished. Without the forests, people migrate to cities, or move to richer countries in search of work. The world’s rainforests not only provide food, energy security, incomes and medicinal plants for 300 million people, but are home to the richest wildlife in the world.

So, what to do? The positive news is that all countries formally pledged at the Paris climate summit in December 2015 to reduce emissions and keep global temperature rises to well below 2C; and in so doing they recognised that this would not be possible without stopping or at least reducing tropical deforestation.

The 50 or more developing countries who share the world’s tropical forests all recognised their contribution and promised to crack down on illegal forestry, replant trees and restore degraded forest lands.

Some countries were highly ambitious. China, Brazil, Bolivia and Congo DRC together put forward targets that could protect over 50 million hectares of forest over the next 15 years, an area the size of Spain.

Indonesia, the world’s sixth largest carbon emitter, promised to cut its emissions by 29% by ending illegal deforestation and restoring 12m hectares of forested land. Ecuador said that it planned to restore 500,000 hectares of forest land by 2017 and then increase that amount by 100,000 hectares a year. Honduras committed to plant or restore 1m hectares of forest by 2030.

If countries stick to their pledges and let damaged forests recover, annual global greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by as much as 24 to 30% – an enormous step.

The science and economics needed to stem deforestation are in place, but there is one huge caveat: countries with tropical forests are some of the poorest in the world, desperate to develop and use their natural resources to grow their economies. Their pledges to stop or reduce deforestation are mostly conditional on rich countries financially and technically helping them achieve this – and the onus on reducing emissions is on these rich countries which have historically caused most climate change.

Rich countries pledged at Paris to raise $100bn a year to help poor countries reduce their emissions. Some of that money should go to tropical forest protection.

In addition, a new UN-backed mechanism called Redd (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) has been initiated that involves rich countries paying countries to protect forests and the carbon stored within them. Tropical and sub-tropical countries could receive both public and private funding if they succeed in reducing their emissions from deforestation. But this is deeply controversial as global schemes are prone to corruption, difficult to implement and hard to measure.

If there is money to protect forests, will it go to big companies as subsidy, or lead to evictions of people and human rights abuses?

There must be safeguards, but Germany, Norway and the UK have together promised up to $1bn a year for Redd schemes until 2020. The World Bank plans to contribute a similar amount to work with African countries. A further fund is intended to benefit indigenous and other forest communities which have been the traditional protectors of the forest.

Until Paris, stopping tropical deforestation was at best unlikely and probably impossible. It remains very difficult, but a political and financial mechanism has now been created to incentivise countries, companies and communities to do so at a fraction of the cost of reducing comparable emissions in the US or Europe. Protecting the forests now depends on rich governments not ducking their responsibilities and playing their part.

Read more!