Monday 26 October 2015

Moral need to act decisively on haze, says Ng Eng Hen

Defence Minister points out that man-made disaster has affected health of thousands of Indonesians
By Francis Chan, Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta, The Sunday Times, 25 Oct 2015

The strongest motivation to resolve this year's transboundary haze crisis - statistically proven to be the worst in a decade - must be a moral one, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has said.

And those who own or use the land for commercial purposes must bear responsibility for the fires raging over them, Dr Ng added yesterday, as he welcomed the Singapore firefighting assistance team that returned home after a two-week mission to Indonesia.

"The haze has impacted the lives of millions of residents in our region in many ways. Schools have closed and the volume of business has dropped. Tourist arrivals will plummet if this becomes a chronic issue," Dr Ng wrote in a Facebook post.

"But to me, the strongest motivation to deal with the haze for Indonesia must be a moral one - the health of hundreds of thousands of their own citizens are affected by this man-made disaster as they breathe in high levels of pollutants. These are strong reasons to act decisively."

Yesterday, Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan told The Sunday Times that the government plans to claw back concessions in peatlands that have not been cultivated, to prevent companies from using the slash-and-burn method to clear land.

The move is seen as a strong indication that Indonesia believes peatland restoration must be the focus of any efforts to end the haze crisis.

Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency estimates that more than 43 million people in the country are breathing in the toxic fumes from the fires.

The haze has also hit Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, forcing airports to delay or ground flights and schools to close as well.

The human costs, however, are the highest in Indonesia, where there have been unverified reports of more than 10 deaths, including babies, from lung infections.

Dr Ng said Indonesian leaders, including President Joko Widodo, have realised that what is key in preventing this environmental disaster from recurring is prevention and enforcement.

"I applaud the President's ideas and initiatives. The industrial scale of this disaster - millions of hectares burning - requires a systemic, deliberate and multi-prong response to be effective."

He added that there is no shortage of international expertise to help in the crisis.

On Oct 10, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) deployed three aircraft and a 34-strong team to Sumatra after Indonesia accepted Singapore's offer.

The SAF team was accompanied by a six-man Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

Homecoming for SAF and SCDF Firefighting Contingent
After extinguishing more than 50 hotspots and discharging more than 400,000 litres of water within the last 2 weeks, 34 personnel from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the six-man Disaster Assistance and Relief Team (DART) of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) finally reunite with their families.The Singapore ArmyThe Republic of Singapore Air Force
Posted by cyberpioneer on Saturday, October 24, 2015

"The Indonesian authorities accepted help from various countries, including Singapore, to deal with the haze for an initial two-week period," said Dr Ng.

"With the two-week period concluded, our SAF and SCDF personnel returned home today.

"This is the worst haze situation to affect this region in a decade. Our deepest thanks to our men and women who overcame difficult conditions on this mission to put out hot spots and help the surrounding villages."

Jason Tan, an Associate Editor of Today, has written a good piece on the haze problem. The Indonesian fires harm not...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday, October 29, 2015

<<The Haze>>The Indonesian authorities accepted help from various countries including Singapore to deal with the haze...
Posted by Ng Eng Hen on Saturday, October 24, 2015

The SAF has concluded its two-week fire-fighting deployment in Sumatra, and returned to Singapore this afternoon. This...
Posted by cyberpioneer on Saturday, October 24, 2015

On 10 October 2015, Singapore sent a contingent of SAF and SCDF personnel to assist in fighting the ongoing forest fires...
Posted by cyberpioneer on Monday, December 7, 2015

Singapore committed to tackling root causes of haze, says MFA
By Francis Chan, Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2015

Singapore remains committed to working with Indonesia in resolving the haze crisis, although its firefighting assistance team that was sent to Jambi province in Sumatra has returned home, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said yesterday.

The MFA was responding to queries from The Straits Times on whether there will be another deployment of firefighting assets to Indonesia after the team returned from its two-week mission last Saturday.

A ministry spokesman said that although the direct involvement of Singapore has ended, the Government will continue to enhance cooperation to tackle the root causes of the fires that led to the haze.

"To this end, Singapore will continue to take legal action against errant companies responsible for the haze through the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA)," she said. "We look forward to Indonesia's response to our repeated requests to share information on these companies (as) this information will be critical in helping Singapore to take the fullest course of legal action against these companies under the THPA."

6 SCDF DART officers who were deployed to Indonesia to assist in fire-fighting operations returned to Singapore this...
Posted by Singapore Civil Defence Force on Saturday, October 24, 2015

Indonesia has not named a majority of the firms it is investigating in connection with the illegal fires, even though it has agreed to share the information with Singapore.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan said last Monday that this is because the cases against the companies have not been taken to court yet.

The thick smoke from the raging fires has spread across many parts of South-east Asia, affecting Indonesia's Asean neighbours Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Thailand. Singapore has called on the 10-member grouping to "take firm and decisive action" through enhanced regional cooperation to help prevent the recurrence of the transboundary haze.

The authorities are preparing for a possible mass evacuation in areas of worst-hit Sumatra and Kalimantan, and navy vessels are on standby. But air pollution levels yesterday fell from hellish conditions the previous day, when the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in some parts of the two regions shot into four-digit PSI readings.

Satellite images last Saturday showed the haze from fires burning in Sumatra creeping towards Java Island, potentially engulfing Jakarta. It was, however, a premature forecast: The haze never arrived in the city where the central government resides.

In Singapore, the National Environment Agency said hazy conditions are likely to continue today, with air quality expected to be in the mid to high sections of the unhealthy range.

<<Haze in Palembang>>Our RSAF troopers took this short clip of the burning forest in Palembang from their Chinook. On...
Posted by Ng Eng Hen on Monday, October 26, 2015

Life goes on as normal in haze-hit Indonesian city
Even as Palangkaraya readies for evacuation, residents are out jogging, playing football
By Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Indonesia Correspondent In Palangkaraya (Central Kalimantan), The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2015

Palangkaraya, which has been affected by the densest smoke from peatland fires in recent months, is on the verge of a mass evacuation.

However, people living in the capital of Central Kalimantan did not seem to care as most went about their normal lives, doing what they usually do on a Sunday morning.

Yesterday, many were at Bundaran Besar, or big roundabout in English, the city's most popular weekend spot, for their morning stroll.

Youngsters were seen out in groups jogging, cycling, in-line skating and playing football, mostly without wearing any masks to protect them from the haze.

This, even though the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was hovering above 1,500 for most of the day.

The scene of normalcy in the midst of the toxic haze, however, belies the mobilisation under way outside the city of more than 220,000 people, where Indonesia's Social Affairs Minister Kofifah Indar Parawansa was frenetically overseeing the setting up of emergency shelters in the event the haze renders the city unliveable.

Palangkaraya, and the smaller towns and villages around it, is the worst hit among the places in Indonesia affected by the haze.

The PSI there regularly soars into four-digit levels. Yesterday, air pollution peaked at 1,682, still within the "hazardous" zone but a far cry from the more than 2,400 PSI it reached on Saturday.

As of 5pm, the PSI was 518. In Indonesia, any index reading above 350 is considered hazardous.

The central government is racing against time to build emergency shelters. There is concern that the peatland fires, raging unabated due to the dry spell, will worsen conditions described by National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho as a "crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions".

Mr Farid Wajdi, an official with the Social Affairs Department, said that as of yesterday, six shelters equipped with air purifiers and air-conditioners had been set up.

One of them is located in a 350 sq m facility that used to house the department's Trauma and Protection Centre in Palangkaraya. The centre has the capacity to accommodate up to 40 people, and an additional 20 in a tent put up in its front yard, said Mr Farid.

Two other shelters are at the Palangkaraya State Hospital and the Palangkaraya Christian University.

"The number will increase in the days ahead," he said.

At a shelter in Rimbawan, a town in Palangkaraya, 184 people were given 15 minutes to breathe with an oxygen tank on Saturday - more than double the number of people the previous day.

The building is owned by the Central Kalimantan Forestry Department, and the oxygen treatment is conducted by volunteers from the local Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups.

Dr Susilo Sumitro, who helps at a shelter in Rajawali, also in Palangkaraya, said he treated 18 patients on Saturday, and expects the number to increase as more people become aware of the shelters.

Jakarta has said priority for the evacuation and shelters will go to babies and children, but Dr Susilo said he will treat anyone in need.

"We allow babies to stay for up to three days but, for special cases, they can stay longer," he added. "And while we tell people we are supposed to focus on infants and kids under five years old, if adults come, we cannot reject them."

The government had earlier announced that it will evacuate babies and children from their homes in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan, if the haze worsens. On Friday, six navy ships were on high alert off the waters of the two regions to receive the evacuees.

A problem emergency workers will have to deal with during the operation would be convincing people to leave their homes for shelters farther south in Banjarmasin, or for the ships to live at sea till the haze clears. Some do not want to leave their loved ones behind, while others were worried about losing their jobs.

When asked what she thought about being evacuated to South Kalimantan, which is a five-hour drive from Palangkaraya, 55-year-old Evina Trikapatini, who works for the Palangkaraya land agency, said: "I would want to, but my boss would have to give permission first."

Ms Ratu Yulidia, a 21-year-old travel agent, said: "I would want to be evacuated, but my boss has to give me permission, which is impossible because I am now very busy."

Some like 18-year-old Zaini told The Straits Times yesterday that he prefers not to leave Palangkaraya despite the toxic air.

The high school student's school was closed - like many others across Kalimantan and Sumatra to keep students indoors - but Zaini was out playing football with his friends at Bundaran Besar.

He said: "I would not want to go to Banjarmasin. I still like it here."

Indonesia set to evacuate kids in worst haze hit areas
Six navy ships and other vessels ready to help if cities are rendered unliveable by toxic haze
By Francis Chan, Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2015

A massive operation, both on land and at sea, is under way to prepare for what appears to be an imminent evacuation of thousands of babies and children from their homes in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

This, as forest fires, which produce the toxic haze, continue to burn unabated despite the extensive firefighting resources dedicated to putting them out.

Indonesia yesterday put six navy ships on high alert off the waters of the two regions, which have been the worst hit by thick smoke from forest and peatland fires this year.

Together with a fleet of vessels from state-owned shipping firm PT Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia, they form the last resort in the event that cities need to be evacuated after being rendered unliveable owing to high levels of air pollution.

"We are doing this by way of a military operation for the sake of humanity," said Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.

pollution levels continued to soar in Sumatra and Kalimantan, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in various areas in the two regions hovering within the "hazardous" zone for most of this week.

Yesterday, the PSI for Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan jumped off the charts on Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency website, which has a maximum reading of 2,000 PSI. It peaked at 2,251 PSI at 4pm and never went below 1,045 PSI. In Jambi, Central Sumatra, the PSI peaked at 914 but fell to 531 at 6pm.

In Indonesia, anything above 350 is deemed hazardous.

The haze, exacerbated by an extended dry spell, has affected millions across South-east Asia.

In Thailand yesterday, air pollutant levels stayed in the unhealthy range although they dipped from the day before, when parts of the south saw the worst haze in years.

As of 3pm, the PM10 reading - which measures particles up to 10 microns in diameter - for Songkhla province was 249 per cubic m, from 369 on Thursday; in Satun, it was 203 from 273; in Yala, 142 from 172; and in Pattani, it was 149 from 216.

In Malaysia, schools were allowed to reopen yesterday except for those in Perlis, Perak and Penang, where pollution continues to worsen.

At least eight airports across the Philippines have grounded planes without instruments that will allow pilots to land and take off in low to near-zero visibility.

As a humanitarian crisis looms in Indonesia, Mr Luhut said measures to alleviate the suffering of people affected by the haze will be prioritised for infants and children.

At least four babies and a young child have died after suffering from lung infections, while more than 450,000 people have suffered from haze-related illnesses.

Mr Luhut said he is requesting more waterbombers to join the multinational assistance team fighting the fires. "We have secured nine (of the initial 15 aircraft planned) and they will be operational in 10 days or earlier," he said.

"We are also approaching Canada, the US and France (for help)."

Top on Indonesia's wishlist is still the Russian-made Beriev Be-200, capable of hauling 12,000 litres of water. "If we can get another five, that would be good," said Mr Luhut.

He was speaking to the press after a meeting with President Joko Widodo at the Presidential Palace to finalise the emergency plans yesterday.

Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture Puan Maharani, who was also at the meeting, added that emergency shelters, complete with air purifiers, are being set up at public buildings across Indonesia to offer refuge for people affected by the haze.

These are meant to be the first gathering sites in the event that conditions worsen, or for people who refuse to evacuate to the ships or cannot make it out to sea, added Mr Luhut.

"We have taken measures, but it is impossible to put out the fires over the next one to three weeks as our efforts should go hand in hand with rain."

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