Best of our wild blogs: 21 Sep 14

Some Dragonflies @ Lornie Trail
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Life History of the Peacock Royal v2.0
from Butterflies of Singapore

Palm oil giants announce deforestation moratorium -- effective immediately
from news by Rhett Butler

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142 hotspots detected in Kalimantan, Sumatra on Friday: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 20 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: The overall air quality for Saturday (Sep 20) is expected to be in the "moderate" range, even as 142 hotspots were detected in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan on Friday.

According to an advisory by the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Saturday, there were 44 hotspots in Sumatra and 98 hotspots in Kalimantan on Friday, which caused the haze experienced in the city-state. Air quality improved overnight though, helped by showers and a change in wind direction in some parts of the region.

It added that prevailing winds are expected to blow from the southeast or south, and showers are expected Saturday afternoon.There may be occasional slight haze experienced, but overall air quality is expected to be in the "moderate" range. As of 4pm, the three-hour PSI reading is at 60, while the 24-hour PSI reading ranges between 60 and 63, NEA data showed.

For updates, visit NEA's website (, the haze microsite (, or via Facebook ( and Twitter (@NEAsg).

- CNA/kk

Overall air quality expected to stay in ‘moderate' range for next 24 hours: NEA
Today Online 20 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE - Occasional slight haze is expected to continue tomorrow as prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the southeast or south, says the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The weather agency said “the overall air quality for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the moderate range,” in their daily haze situation report released at 5pm today (Sept 20).

For most of today, the air quality remained in the moderate range, with the 24-hour Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) recording the highest reading of 82-88 in the wee hours of the morning between 1am and 2am before slipping gradually. As of 9pm, the PSI registered 55-60 while the three-hour reading registered 55. Air quality is in the moderate range when the PSI value is between 51 and 100, and is considered unhealthy when the PSI value is between 101 and 200.

This marks an improvement from yesterday where air quality hovered into the unhealthy range for some periods in the day. The three-hour PSI reading was above 90 throughout, reaching a peak of 106 at 4pm. The 24-hour charted a peak of 96-102 at 5pm.

The NEA also gave an assurance to members of the public that routine activities can be allowed to proceed tomorrow based on the 24-hour haze forecast.

“Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, everyone can continue with normal activities,” the agency said.

Earlier this week, the NEA said that Singapore is expected to experience haze for the next two weeks due to prevailing wind conditions from the south-southeast or the south-west where Sumatra lies, with periods of consecutive dry days that are typical during this South-west Monsoon season.

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Malaysia: Govt complains to Indonesia over rise in hotspots

The Star 21 Sep 14;

PETALING JAYA: The Government has written formally to Indonesia to express concerns over the increase in hotspots in south Sumatra and Kalimantan that had led to haze over Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said the Department of Environment director-general had written to his Indonesian counterpart on Sept 15.

“Malaysia has urged Indonesian authorities to carry out preventive measures and extinguish fires, which have resulted in trans-boundary haze,” he said in a statement here yesterday.

According to the Singapore-based Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC), some 18 hotspots were detected in Kalimantan on Friday and 44 in Sumatra.

However, the actual number of hotspots could not be determined due to thick cloud cover. The satellite imagery also showed a ring of haze in central Kalimantan.

Palanivel said there were also nine hotspots in the country – one each in Kedah, Johor and Sabah, two in Terengganu and four in Pahang.

“These hotspots will be investigated and action will be taken by the authorities against those responsible,” he said.

He pointed out that the ban on open burning remained in effect, adding that local authorities had taken action against those found to have defied the restrictions.

To date, he said, 4,705 cases of open burning had been detected throughout the country this year, and that 389 compounds along with 119 warnings were issued.

Investigation papers, added Palanivel, had also been prepared for 47 cases while 14 cases were pending in the Sessions Courts.

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Indonesia: Law enforcement key to curbing forest fires

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 20 Sep 14;

In a bid to combat the rampant forest fires on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, the government is planning to strengthen its law enforcement following the country’s decision to ratify a decade-old regional haze treaty.

Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) said on Friday that the unit was planning to do so by several means, such as closely monitoring all government units.

“We will intensify law enforcement to show that we are capable. The 13 action plans [on forest fires eradication that had been formulated by the government] will be constantly monitored by the UKP4,” Mas Achmad Santosa, the deputy of law enforcement in the UKP4, told The Jakarta Post.

He said that the working unit and the police would also try to punish agroforestry companies that had caused rampant forest fires by implementing a “multi-door system”, which is a system seeking the harshest punishment possible by all legal means.

The government recently adopted the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution amid pressure from neighboring countries following the spread of haze caused by land clearing in Sumatra to Singapore and Malaysia last June.

According to the Singapore National Environment Agency, the country’s air pollution rose to unhealthy levels as of Monday, as winds changed direction and brought in smoke from forest fires in Indonesia.

The treaty obliges Indonesia, as one of the member states, to actively involve itself in efforts to mitigate air pollution, both nationally and through intensified regional and international cooperation.

The government will intensify law enforcement by implementing “multi-door system”

Indonesia is ready to share data on forest fires with other ASEAN countries

Achmad said that he believed the treaty would benefit the country’s effort in combating forest fires.

“It forces us to intensify our coordination, which is why it is very possible for us to support and help each other [neighboring countries],” he said.

Achmad added that the treaty would also help the law enforcement in the country as well as in neighboring countries.

“Maybe the law enforcers could utilize data from us due to data sharing,” he said.

Achmad cited Indonesia’s Land and Forest Fires Monitoring System (KMS) as one of the possible ways for the unit to implement the treaty.

The treaty also serves as an opportunity for Indonesia to prove itself, according to him.

“What’s important for me is the initiatives implemented in our country. We have to show that we are a country that does not get help, but we have to help [other countries] instead,” Achmad said.

One of the unit’s efforts to combat forest fires is summoning regional police heads in seven provinces which are most prone to forest fires on Friday.

The provinces are Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi, South Kalimantan, West Kalimantan, East Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

National Police detective chief Comr. Gen. Suhardi Alius said that the meeting had decided to develop a system to combat forest fires currently being used by the Riau Police.

“The Riau Police are involved in putting out the fires, pushing the public and the governor [to combat forest fires] and so on,” said Achmad.

Evan Sembiring, Riau deputy director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said law enforcement agencies so far lacked the will to issue proper penalties against environmental criminals.

“We are very disappointed with the district courts, which are a representation of the country’s legal system,” he said, referring to the recent very light punishment for PT ADEI Plantation operating in Riau.

PT ADEI Plantation & Industry, which is a unit of Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhard, was found guilty of violating the 2009 Environmental Protection and Management Law. The Pelalawan District Court in Riau handed down a fine of Rp 1.5 billion (US$125,177). If the fine is not paid, the company’s director, Tan Kei Yoong, will serve five months in jail. The court also ordered ADEI to pay an additional Rp 15.1 billion to repair the environmental damage caused by the forest fires it had caused.

The court also sentenced ADEI general manager Danesuvaran KR Singam to a year in prison and the option of paying Rp 2 billion or serving an additional two months in prison. (ask)

Thick haze forces flights to be axed in Indonesia
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 20 Sep 14

Thick haze forced flights to be delayed, diverted or cancelled altogether at several airports in places such as Jambi and Palembang in Sumatra and Palangkaraya in Kalimantan yesterday, as visibility levels dropped below the 1km threshold for safe landings.

Officials in some affected provinces discussed measures including school closures if conditions worsen and the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) exceeds 200.

In Kandis, Riau province, the PSI hit 435, as the haze reached as far north-west as Banda Aceh and Medan, some 600km away.

But the worst-affected areas were in Kalimantan, where health officials distributed masks and warned residents to stay indoors. Winds travelling westwards from Kalimantan drove the haze to Singapore over the past two days.

Indonesia's national disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) carried out cloud-seeding operations over Central Kalimantan in the past two days, using an air force Hercules aircraft, a spokesman said. The plane had been under maintenance earlier this week, when fires were at their peak.

Nine helicopters were also deployed across several provinces to conduct water-bombing operations to put out fires.

BNPB chief Syamsul Maarif has ordered more intensive cloud seeding and water bombing, especially as fires and the haze may pick up until next month amid drier weather.

Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan wrote to his Indonesian counterpart Balthasar Kambuaya on Thursday to express concern over the haze and reiterate Singapore's offer of assistance to Indonesia to deal with the fires (see box below).

But Jakarta has previously said it would marshal its own resources to put out the fires, and yesterday, BNPB said: "We hope all national resources can collaborate to help regional governments put out forest and plantation fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan."

Meteorologists had some good news for the weekend. Said weather forecaster Dina Ike in Pontianak, West Kalimantan: "There is possible light to moderate rain in the next three days. The rainy season should start in mid-October at the latest."

Environmental activists continued to criticise the government for not doing enough to prevent the fires, an annual occurrence mostly caused by open burning, which is the cheapest way to clear land - but illegal.

"The government is not serious in tackling this," said activist Mukri Priatna from environmental group Walhi. "Getting the culprits is as easy as matching the coordinates of the hot spots with the concession coordinates of plantation companies. It doesn't do this."

But the World Resources Institute was more optimistic, saying in a note yesterday that the Indonesian Parliament's vote to ratify an Asean haze agreement could put more pressure on officials to enforce the country's laws.

It noted that there was greater momentum to crack down on illegal burning, saying: "Recent events show that Indonesia is taking the fires more seriously."

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Best of our wild blogs: 20 Sep 14

Night Walk At Bididari Cemetery (19 Sep 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Bats in my Porch: 15. Is the roosting site also a salt lick?
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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How S’poreans can help save the Malayan tiger

Only about 250 to 340 Malayan tigers are left in the wild. Photo: Loretta Ann Shepherd/MYCAT
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 19 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — By watching what they consume and serving as “boots on the ground” near the western border of Taman Negara National Park in Pahang, Singaporeans can help to protect the wild tiger population in Peninsular Malaysia, say conservationists.

Latest findings announced this week by a tiger conservation alliance and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) Peninsular Malaysia have suggested that 250 to 340 wild Malayan tigers are left — smaller than the previous estimate of 500. This means the target of 1,000 wild Malayan tigers in Malaysia by 2020 may now be unachievable, said Perhilitan and the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT).

To play a part in conservation, Singaporeans can head to Malaysia as “volunteer tourists” on weekends to enjoy nature, and protect tiger and other wildlife from deadly snares and illegal logging at the same time, said tiger biologist Kae Kawanishi, MYCAT’s general manager.

One MYCAT project allows volunteers to take part in low-impact activities such as hiking and photography, while deterring poachers with their mere presence. Started in 2010, the CAT Walks — CAT is the acronym for Citizen Action for Tigers — take place in a critical tiger corridor near the western border of Taman Negara National Park in Pahang, which links to another major tiger landscape to the west, called the Main Range.

Dr Vilma D’Rozario, co-founder of local green group Cicada Tree Eco-Place, has been on a CAT Walk and hopes to encourage more Singaporeans to participate. Sixty per cent of the proceeds from a fund-raising dinner organised by the group next Saturday will partially subsidise Singapore volunteers for CAT Walks in the year ahead. The rest will go to MYCAT, Singapore’s Animal Concerns Research and Education Society and biodiversity-related research grants, said Dr D’Rozario.

There are other ways in which Singaporeans can make a difference: By not consuming tiger meat or tiger parts, and not crossing the Causeway to eat meat from wild pigs, Sambar deer and barking deer, which are tiger prey, she said.


Malayan tigers are found only in Peninsular Malaysia and southern Thailand, but the numbers remaining in southern Thailand are insignificant, said Dr Kawanishi. Poaching, as well as loss and fragmentation of forests, are the key threats to tigers in the country. Forest fragmentation due to the building of roads, for instance, damages a landscape and helps poachers penetrate internal forests quickly, she said.

About 50 per cent of three priority areas for tigers in Malaysia — Belum Temengor, Taman Negara and Endau Rompin — are designated protected areas, but foot patrols are needed to truly protect the tigers, she added.

“For example, my research found that western Taman Negara lost 85 per cent of its (tiger) population in 11 years because of a lack of active protection,” said Dr Kawanishi, who is from Japan and did her doctorate in wildlife ecology and conservation in the United States.

Estimates of tiger numbers in each of the three areas cannot be revealed yet, as they are part of an academic paper being drafted, she said.

More sites need to be surveyed for a more robust tiger population estimate for Malaysia, said Perhilitan and MYCAT. But with the latest estimates, Dr Kawanishi recently submitted a detailed proposal to the International Union for Conservation of Nature to reclassify the Malayan tiger as a critically endangered species.

It has been listed as an endangered species since 2008. A reclassification would signal that the Malayan tiger needs immediate conservation interventions and more focused resources, or it will face extinction sooner than species with the endangered status, she said.

MYCAT, which consists of the Malaysian Nature Society, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society-Malaysia Programme and WWF-Malaysia, is also calling for the Malaysian government to establish a task force to save the tiger from imminent extinction, said Dr Kawanishi.

To find out more about the fundraising dinner on Sept 27, visit A free talk on protecting the Malayan tiger will be conducted by MYCAT’s Mr Ashleigh Seow at 4pm on Sept 26 at the function hall of the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ Botany Centre.

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Air quality back in 'moderate' range after thunderstorms

Monica Kotwani and Faris Mokhtar Channel NewsAsia 19 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: The air quality in Singapore improved on Friday afternoon (Sep 19), after crossing into the unhealthy range earlier in the morning.

At 9am, the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reached an unhealthy level of 106. However, by 12pm, it had slipped to 97.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said this was helped by the thunderstorms in the western parts of Singapore.

As of 9pm, the three-hour PSI was 73, while the 24-hour mark showed it was in the 88-94 range.

NEA said thunderstorms are expected in the late morning and early afternoon of Saturday, with the prevailing winds blowing from the southeast or southwest. However, there might still be occasional hazy conditions during the day, the agency said.

A PSI reading over 100 refers to unhealthy air quality, while a reading of between 50 and 100 is moderate.

- CNA/xk

Employers take precautionary steps against haze
Siau Ming En Today Online 19 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — With the air quality hovering in and around the unhealthy range over the past few days, some employers have begun to take precautionary steps against the effects of the haze, while others have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

A few construction companies have stocks of masks on hand for their workers, while other employers have started to schedule more frequent breaks for staff working outdoors.

There has also been a 30 per cent jump in sales of N95 masks across NTUC Unity pharmacies. Guardian pharmacies have also seen sales of masks and other related products such as eye drops and lozenges rise slightly.

Unity said it had sufficient stocks of N95 face masks and was well-stocked on related items such as eye drops. It added that its pharmacists were also on standby to provide advice on haze-related health queries.

Yesterday, the National Taxi Association (NTA) made an impromptu decision to distribute 1,000 care packages to taxi drivers at Changi Airport in the afternoon, after the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading hit 100 at 9am. NTA adviser and Member of Parliament of Ang Mo Kio GRC, Mr Ang Hin Kee, took the opportunity to remind taxi drivers of safety protocols during hazy conditions, such as turning on headlights under poor visibility conditions.

Singapore’s air quality worsened on Sunday night when PSI readings climbed into the unhealthy range. Yesterday, the three-hour PSI reading peaked at 106 at 4pm.

Mr Koh Piak Huat, Sentosa Leisure Management divisional director of operations, said its staff were advised to use face masks and were given more frequent breaks when the rising PSI readings were detected on Monday. Depending on the readings, he said Sentosa might suspend operations for certain outdoor attractions or programmes until they improve.

On Wednesday, the Singapore Contractors Association issued to their members advisories that included the Manpower Ministry’s guidelines on protecting the health and safety of their workers.

At a construction site TODAY visited yesterday, Mr Mohammad Khairudin, a workplace safety and health officer at construction firm Contint, said N95 masks would be issued to workers should the PSI reading hit the mid-100s. A reading of 200 and above would require all workers to don masks, and if the PSI hits 300, all work would cease, he said.

In the meantime, some employers have continued to monitor the situation while staying prepared. For instance, technology firms Polycom and PASR Technologies are allowing employees the flexibility of working remotely to ensure minimal disruption.

Staff and principals of pre-schools under My First Skool and MY World Preschool have also been briefed on preventive measures and asked to stay alert.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it was closely monitoring the situation, together with the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, the National Environment Agency (NEA) and other partner agencies. The spokesperson noted that in most cases, it was still safe for one to carry on with outdoor activities. Individuals with existing chronic heart and lung conditions should ensure that medication is on hand and readily available.

Nonetheless, contingency plans for the healthcare sector are in place, assured the MOH. They include sufficient stocks of N95 masks and a reactivation of the Haze Subsidy Scheme when the need arises.

In its daily haze advisory, the NEA said the overall air quality for today is expected to fluctuate between the high end of the moderate range and the low end of the unhealthy range. Hazy conditions may be sustained over the next one to two days.


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Parking lots turned into ‘parks’ for a day

Channel NewsAsia 19 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: From community gardens to outdoor yoga classrooms, parking lots across Singapore were transformed into creative spaces on Friday (Sep 19).

A total of 88 parking lots in the Central Business District, Jalan Besar, Kampong Glam, Outram and Tiong Bahru were turned into 52 ‘parks’, in an initiative to mark PARK(ing) Day, a worldwide event where people transform car park lots into temporary public spaces, and leave their vehicles at home.

Mr Ng Lang, CEO of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), said the response was encouraging. “As people visit and enjoy the PARKS, we hope they can see the potential of these spaces being places for the community to enjoy, instead of simply being spaces for cars. This is a light-hearted way to inspire us to imagine a city with fewer cars and more outdoor leisure spaces for people to enjoy,” he said.

Proposals for a variety of creative ideas were received from community groups, local businesses, student bodies and individuals, the URA said. Participants received a special “PARKing” coupon to display on site, allowing them to use the selected car parking lot for free.

Mr Choo Zheng Hao, Bornfire Community Circus member, found this to be a good experiment on how the spaces can be ultilised. “I hope there is a more tangible change that can come out of this. We can learn to see how we can use public space in the future, especially in terms of planning, and not just for car park space."

- CNA/cy/xy

PARK(ing) Day 2014 kicks off in Singapore

Today Online 19 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — They were transformed into a hair salon, outdoor yoga classroom, urban farming exhibit, crime scene and more. For one day, 88 parking lots across the island were transformed into 52 creative spaces for the public to enjoy.

As part of the worldwide PARK(ing) Day event, people got the chance to transform parking lots into temporary public spaces, otherwise known as "PARKS".

While this is the second time that PARK(ing) Day takes place in Singapore, it is the first time that the event is held islandwide. The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the Housing and Development Board (HDB) supported the event offering parking lots under their management.

“We are encouraged by this year’s response for PARK(ing) Day. As people visit and enjoy the PARKS, we hope they can see the potential of these spaces being places for the community to enjoy, instead of simply being spaces for cars,” said URA Chief Executive Ng Lang. “This is a light-hearted way to inspire us to imagine a city with fewer cars and more outdoor leisure spaces for people to enjoy.”

Registration for PARK(ing) Day had opened from Aug 14 to Sept 15, where the URA received a variety of creative ideas from community groups, local businesses, student bodies and individuals.

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Jurong's journey from sleepy outback to bustling gem

Chan Luo Er Channel NewsAsia 19 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: Jurong is being primed for a major revamp that could make it the place to be - a big turnaround from less than half a century ago, when all was quiet on the western front.

In its previous incarnation, Jurong was a swampy area, with jungle and small fishing villages. Mr Zaman Kadir, 76, has been a Jurong resident for 42 years. "When I was in the army, we used to come around to this area. People reared chicken, and bred fish and prawns. To cross the roads, we had to pay 30 cents to cross in a sampan," he recalls.

Dr Goh Keng Swee, one of Singapore's founding fathers, made the decision to develop Jurong. It became Singapore's first industrial estate, and played a key role in the industrialisation of the economy in the 1960s. Investors were encouraged to set up factories here, receiving pioneer certificates that gave them tax exemptions and protective status for their goods.

But getting workers to work in Jurong was a problem. The lack of infrastructure meant that companies had to pay workers extra to commute. So the Government decided to build housing estates in Jurong. That was how Mr Zaman came to live in Jurong - he shifted to company quarters here when he left the army to work for a Jurong factory.

Other amenities soon followed, including Singapore's one and only drive-in theatre. Recalls Madam Tan Peck Siok, 87, who has been living here for 43 years: "When I brought my children to the theatre, I also brought straw mats. We would watch the 9pm show. We went twice a week. The kids would clamour to go, or friends who were visiting would want to. This was the most happening place!"

The Jurong Drive-In shut after 15 years, due to flagging attendance. For many years, Jurong was still considered a less than attractive place to live, due to its lack of amenities. Said Madam Tan: "When I moved here, there was no market. When we wanted to take the bus, we had to walk all the way out to the main road - and there was only one bus there."

Gradually, things changed - especially after the Jurong Town Corporation was set up. The transformation into an industrial area meant new companies moving in, and many new buildings going up.

Social and recreational facilities, as well as transport links, soon improved. By the 1980s, the Pan-Island Expressway linked the west to the east of Singapore, and the MRT line was extended to Jurong.

Today, the area is no longer a sleepy outback. Said longtime Jurong resident Madam Lim Yoh Tee, 70: "Everything is so convenient now. In the past, heading out to take the bus was so hard. Now, everything is so convenient. Buying things, sending the children to school is convenient. There was nothing in the past."

Jurong now has shopping malls to rival those on Orchard Road. A huge new hospital hub is coming up, and Jurong's existing gardens are slated to be transformed into a new lake garden district, complete with waterfront housing. With change in the air once again, Jurong is set to come into its own.

- CNA/xy

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Malaysia: Kuala Terengganu hit by haze particles from Kalimantan

hemananthani sivanandam The Star 20 Sep 14;

PETALING JAYA: The unhealthy air quality recorded in Kuala Terengganu over the past two days is due to the wind carrying haze particles from Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Kuala Terengganu recorded unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings from 4pm on Thursday till 1pm yesterday.

The readings dropped to ­moderate levels after 2pm.

Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri G. Pala­nivel said based on satellite images issued by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre, haze was still visible on the south of Suma-tra and central Kalimantan, Indo-ne­sia.

Two hotspots were identified in Pahang and investigations and action would be taken, he said in a statement.

Palanivel said the south-west monsoon was under way and the weather would transition to the inter-monsoon period soon.

“Hot and dry conditions can be expected during this period.

“Most areas in the peninsula are expected to experience normal weather conditions, but Sabah and Sarawak are expected to experience dry weather conditions in September and normal weather conditions in October,” he said.

Palanivel also said that as of yesterday, 4,705 cases of open burning were detected, with open burning in agricultural land being the highest number of cases at 1,469.

“This is followed by 1,030 cases of bushfires, 1,023 cases of open burning, 905 cases of forest fires, 159 cases in construction areas, 85 in landfills and 34 in industrial areas,” he said.

He said 47 investigation papers were opened and compound notices issued over 389 cases of open burning.

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Indonesia: Ongoing haze disrupting schools, flights

Rizal Harahap and Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 19 Sep 14;

The dense haze that has plagued parts of Sumatra for the past few days is raising health concerns and disrupting flights.

In Pekanbaru, Riau, parents of elementary school students are worried about the health of their children and have urged the government to put schools on leave.

Mother of a first and a sixth grader in Pekanbaru, Nur Latifah, said the provincial administration should have already put schools on leave because the thick haze has shown no signs of receding. Air Pollution Standard Index (PSI) boards have shown that the air quality has reached 197 PSI, an unhealthy level.

“No one wants their children to miss out on lessons due to schools being closed, but elementary school children are at great risk of acute respiratory tract infections from the smog,” Nur said on Thursday.

She also expressed surprise that the government had not yet distributed masks to schools.

Another parent, Budiman, expressed his annoyance over the recurring annual haze.

“Residents of Riau have been affected by the haze twice this year alone. Why can’t the government find a solution?” he asked.

Meanwhile, Pekanbaru Health Agency acting head M. Noer said that the policy of closing schools would only be implemented if the air quality reached a dangerous level. “For now, the status is ‘healthy’. We’re urging students to minimize outdoor activities,” said Noer.

Data from the Health Agency reveals that as many as 1,972 residents have suffered acute respiratory infections (ISPA) over the past week. Noer said he had ordered community health centers (Puskesmas) to distribute masks to residents to minimize the impact of the haze.

In Jambi, residents are also suffering from the worsening smog.

The Jambi Environmental Management Board (BLHID) has announced that the air quality in Jambi is of an unsafe standard.

“According to our manual calculations, the air pollutant standards index in Jambi has risen above 100. This figure indicates poor air quality,” head of BLHID’s Jambi branch Rosmeli said on Thursday.

Jambi Governor Hasan Basri Agus said that his administration would stop all schooling activities should the air quality worsen.

Haze also blanketed Kualanamu International Airport in Deli Serdang regency, North Sumatra, on Thursday, causing a Garuda Indonesia flight to be canceled.

Meanwhile, incoming flights to Pekanbaru were forced to land at Hang Nadim International Airport in Batam, Riau Islands, on Thursday as visibility at Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport in Pekanbaru was down to 700 meters.

Hang Nadim Airport flight safety chief Indah Irwansyah said that all aircraft were allowed to fly again at around 12 a.m. following an improvement in the weather in Pekanbaru.

Elsewhere, the thickening haze blanketing Pontianak in West Kalimantan has also affected the air quality of neighboring Malaysia. The Star online portal reported on Wednesday that haze across southern Sarawak worsened overnight. On Tuesday, the air pollution index (API) in the area was around 80, but by noon on Wednesday, it had reached 119.

— JP/Apriadi Gunawan also contributed to the story from Medan

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Philippines: One dead as tropical storm flooding paralyses Philippine capital

Channel NewsAsia 19 Sep 14;

MANILA: Tens of thousands of people fled roof-high floods and one girl drowned in the Philippine capital on Friday (Sep 19) as another vicious storm swept across the disaster-plagued country.

Rescue workers in trucks and rubber dinghies plucked residents from the tops of flooded homes, after one of Manila's major rivers burst its banks, swamping heavily populated eastern districts. "We're dealing with floods over a large area. Our local as well as national responders are out there leading the rescue operations," Mina Marasigan, spokeswoman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council told AFP. She said the first known fatality was a girl who drowned at a flooded slum in northern Manila.

Fung-Wong's winds were relatively light, with recorded maximum speeds of 85 kilometres (40 miles) an hour as it brushed past the northeast tip of the main island of Luzon around noon Philippines/Singapore time. However it brought heavy downpours of more than three weeks' worth overnight Thursday across Manila, more than 400 kilometres to the south, state weather forecaster Gener Quitlong told AFP.

The hardest-hit area appeared to be the Marikina river valley in eastern Manila, where brown, swiftly flowing water rose at least a storey high on heavily populated communities near its banks. Rescuers aboard rubber dinghies, some motorised and some powered by paddles, plucked people from flooded homes, an AFP reporting team saw.

A resident swims along a flooded street during heavy rains brought on by Tropical Storm Fung-Wong in Manila on Sep 19, 2014. (AFP/Ted Aljibe)

People held on to lengths of rope to get to high ground safely and avoid being pulled by the strong currents. Two soldiers involved in the rescue sat on the bonnet of a stranded military truck that appeared to have been disabled, while the roofs of cars and other smaller vehicles bobbed above the floodwaters.

The Marikina mayor, Del de Guzman, told local ABS-CBN television that at least 27,000 of his constituents had to be evacuated. "The scenario is getting worse. The flood waters are rising. Our rescue teams are stranded in major thoroughfares," Kit Nieto, mayor of the nearby district of Cainta, where 7,000 other people were evacuated, told the station. In all, flooding had forced at least 50,000 people to flee their homes in and around Manila, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman told a news conference.

A vehicle is seen trapped in the flood in the Philippine capital Manila after Typhoon Fung-wong made landfall. (Photo: Chris Polecios/Channel NewsAsia)

"I am angry that I have to do this each time it rains hard," lawyer Ghelynne del Rosario told AFP, whose northern Manila bungalow was swamped by chest-deep floods. Cradling her dog, she said she, her mother and grandmother - who is in her eighties - waded through the water at daybreak to reach safety on the second floor of a neighbour's house, with her two other dogs swimming alongside her.

An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year, killing hundreds and bringing misery to millions. Super Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest ever to hit land, left 7,300 people dead or missing across the central Philippines in November last year.

The government declared a school holiday on Friday and sent home government employees not involved in rescue operations and medical emergencies, while financial markets closed down. Manila airport authorities cancelled 21 domestic flights, with six international flights also diverted elsewhere in the country due to bad weather, they said in a statement.

A thoroughly drenched office clerk Alyssa Aldea, 22, decided to return home after finding the street outside her Manila office blocked by knee-deep floods. "I'd rather not get paid than get sick" by wading through the floodwaters, she told AFP as she contemplated a long bus commute back home.

- AFP/nd

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