Thursday, 1 October 2015

Putting heat on the Haze

Indonesia's Forest Fires Choke Malaysia, Singapore: 'Burning Land....Just for Fun'
Indonesian firefighters put out a fire in Ogan Ilir, South Sumatra on Sept. 5. Haze across much of Southeast Asia mostly comes from forest fires on Indonesia’s western island of Sumatra. (ABDUL QODIR/AFP/Getty Images)

Planes can’t land, schools are closed, states of emergency imposed and the Indonesian President Joko Widodo makes a surprise visit to still-smoking South Sumatra. This is the new normal for Southeast Asian summers — choking haze from Indonesian forest fires. Unlike past years, the pall hardly makes a headline in the Hong Kong press. For Singaporeans, Malaysian and Indonesians the inconvenience and ill health are something they have to live with. This year is no exception. The Singapore government has a special website.

Indonesia said Friday (Sept. 11) that it would send 10,000 troops to fight the fires in Sumatra. Singapore’s defense minister the same day said that Indonesia has accepted his country’s offer to provide military aircraft to fight forest fires. Even that offer was shrouded in the smoky air: Indonesian media quoted government officials as saying Indonesia didn’t need any help.

The forest fires are set partly to clear land for palm oil plantations. Innovative efforts are going into tracking down the culprits, who in the past were able to get away with burning forest land for plantations because of the difficulty of figuring exactly what was going on in locations that are far from Jakarta.

read more

Indonesia needs three years to solve haze problem, says President Joko Widodo
Indonesian President Joko Widodo inspecting the aftermath of a recent forest fire during a visit in Banjarbaru, south Kalimantan province, Indonesia on Sept 23, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo said he needs time to tackle the forest-burning, and that his citizens were also victims of the haze that is affecting the region.

However, it would take three years for results to be seen from efforts to end the huge annual fires, as it is "not a problem that you can solve quickly", Mr Joko said in an exclusive interview with the BBC.

More than 3,700 soldiers, nearly 8,000 police officers and four water-bombing planes in Indonesia have been deployed to put out the fires.

related:
Jakarta to take 40 haze fire cases to court: Police chief
Singapore 'respects Indonesia's sovereignty'
Indonesian govt determined to resolve crisis: Eng Hen
Spore's offer to help Indonesia tackle haze 'still stands', says Ng Eng Hen

read more

Jakarta rejected earlier offers ‘over concerns S’pore would claim credit’
A wooden boat is seen on Air Sugihan river during haze shrouds in Ogan Komering Ilir, Indonesia's South Sumatra province, October 7, 2015 in this picture taken by Antara Foto. Photo: Reuters

Indonesian Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said that Jakarta had earlier rejected Singapore’s offers of assistance to combat the transboundary haze crisis in the region because it was concerned that the city state would claim credit for solving the problem, even while the officials were worried about the rapidly deteriorating situation.

“The (Indonesian) government is not closing ourselves off to assistance. But if we are assisted, the government does not want them (Singapore) to claim the credit. It is the government that is working hard to resolve (this smog disaster) … So we do not want it to reach the point of them claiming credit for it,” Mr Anung told CNN Indonesia yesterday (Oct 7).

According to Indonesian media reports, President Joko Widodo held an unscheduled closed-door meeting yesterday to discuss the haze problem, which has worsened this week.

read more

Singapore should help solve haze issue, not just talk about it: Indonesian V-P Jusuf Kalla
Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said that Singapore should help solve haze issue, not just talk about it.PHOTO: AFP

The Indonesian government welcomes any country, including Singapore, that wants to help extinguish forest and land fires in the country to remove the haze, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has said.

"Go ahead, we are open. Singapore can come and see for themselves if they want to help. Don't just talk (about it)," said Mr Kalla on Sunday (Sept 27) in New York, according to a report by the Antara news agency.

Singapore has previously expressed frustration with Indonesia regarding the smog that has affected the country and expressed its willingness help to battle the fires - offers that Indonesia has so far rejected.

read more

Indonesia provides “nice air” most of the time, and all you do is complain about the pollution
The neighbors just will not stop complaining. (Reuters/Beawiharta)

Every year during Indonesia’s six-month dry season, which lasts until around October, a noxious haze rises from the island of Sumatra. Generally lasting about a month at its worst, it’s so large that it hovers over an entire region, including Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.

The haze is caused by massive amounts of dense smoke coming from fires that are illegally set to cheaply burn trees or peat off the land—land that can be more profitably used for producing paper or palm oil. The haze regularly leads to school closures, canceled flights, and serious health problems.

Neighboring nations, of course, complain about this—not that Indonesia’s government officials much seem to mind. In March, Indonesian vice president Jusuf Kalla said:
“For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us. They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset.”
read more




Get Your Facts Right on Indonesia's Haze Problem

I find it remarkable that after several decades of forest and peatland fires and associated haze problems, governmental and non-governmental organizations are still barking up the wrong tree in the fire and haze blaming game.

In a recent Jakarta Globe article, President Joko Widodo talks tough on fires and haze, blaming "disobedient plantation companies for setting the fires to clear land for planting." Similarly, the article quotes environmental activists who point to plantation companies for being the biggest cause of fires and haze.

Dear oh dear, does anyone ever read the studies about causes of forest fire and haze in Indonesia? Apparently not. Or maybe people do, but they prefer to ignore the facts and reiterate the more convenient fictions.

read more

Hazing rituals
After all the meetings and promises, the smog in South-East Asia still proves ineradicable

OF COURSE there is an app for it. Air4ASEAN, produced by the Thai government, sends smartphones a pretty if depressing map of the parts of South-East Asia afflicted with “the haze”, the foul smog that has been almost an annual curse for two decades now. It also offers data for each of the ten member countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Tap “Indonesia”, however, and the page that loads is one of several with nothing but the word “soon”. That is apt. The haze emerged as a man-made catastrophe in 1997, when forest fires in Indonesia and Malaysia shrouded much of the region, causing severe disruption and untold damage to human health. Ever since, ASEAN, and in particular Indonesia, the biggest source of the haze, have been promising to tackle it. However, ASEAN’s efforts have tested the organisation’s aspiration to become more than a talking-shop among governments and to forge a co-operative “community”.

ASEAN was designed precisely to foster the kind of regional co-operation that cross-border pollution seems to demand. And the scourge affects all its members. Smog caused by burning forests in Myanmar is now an annual event in northern Thailand. Last month Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, the ASEAN countries that share the Mekong river, met for the fifth time to discuss haze-prevention. It is, however, in the southern ASEAN countries—Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore—that the smog has become perennial and seemingly insoluble.

This haze season is the first since Indonesia ratified the “ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution”, 12 years after it was signed, and launched its “one map” initiative, a cartographic exercise which was supposed to make it clearer who owns the land where fires are burning. This would give teeth to a “Haze Monitoring System” which ASEAN introduced in 2013. But if it knows whose land the fires are on, Indonesia is not telling its neighbours. Simon Tay and Lau Xin Yi of the Singapore Institute for International Affairs, a think-tank, lamented in an article this month that “the progress and co-operation” of past years may now be receding. It did not help that earlier this year Indonesia’s vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, castigated Singaporeans for complaining about the haze instead of thanking Indonesia for the 11 months a year when they enjoy “nice air from Indonesia”.

read more

RI dodges haze blame game
Firest fire: Fire engulfs trees and bushes in Pekanbaru, Riau, on Tuesday. (Antara/FB Anggoro)

Singapore has urged Indonesia to provide data on the companies and concession maps to enable it to act against the plantation firms that employ slash-and-burn methods, adding that air pollution on the island had hit unhealthy levels with some of the worst readings since the 1997 regional haze crisis.

“Calls of such a type are actually a bit redundant, in the sense that we in Indonesia, the government and our people, want those responsible to be held accountable,” said Marty, commenting on the request. “There is actually no need for such a demand. We are fully aware of the impact and consequences and the need for action,” Marty added.

The minister confirmed he had received phone calls from his counterparts in Malaysia and Singapore, but he refused to offer details, saying only that they had “exchanged information about the situation”.

related:
Singapore should help solve haze issue, not just talk about it: VP
Singapore, Jakarta hold high-level haze talks
Singapore 'respects Indonesia's sovereignty'
Singapore needs to understand Indonesia’s fire issue: Chief of staff


read more

Singapore Calls On Asean to Tackle Haze Together
Singapore is calling on all its Southeast Asian neighbors to help combat recurring forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan as thick haze is once again plaguing large parts of the region

"Greater regional efforts and cooperation [are] needed to effectively combat the haze problem," Singaporean Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in a statement published on Friday evening.

Shanmugam emphasized that all Asean states should follow through and fulfill their obligations under the region's Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution -- which was established in 2002 and ratified by Indonesia last September.

The agreement requires all parties to cooperate to mitigate transboundary haze pollution, as well as to respond promptly to "a request for relevant information sought by a state or states that are or may be affected" by such pollution in order to minimize the impacts.

read more

As Haze Shrouds Singapore, Indonesia Suspects Staying Silent
Indonesian police and firefighters extinguish a fire on burning peat land in the district of Kapuas in the Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island. Photographer: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images

“We cannot work in isolation in the landscape,” APP said in a statement. “Other actors in the landscape must do the same, and importantly they must not start fires. This has not been the case,” it said, adding the causes of fires included local community rights, illegal activity by small and medium enterprises and complexities over land use and spatial planning.

Indonesia has said it’s investigating Singaporean and Malaysian companies, home to the region’s largest listed planters. Wilmar International Ltd. and Golden Agri-Resources Ltd., both listed in Singapore, said on Friday they have halted palm oil purchases from suppliers under investigation.

“Singapore has enjoyed a supply of oxygen from Indonesia in the past nine months and we also know that there are many plantation and mining companies that keep their export proceeds in Singapore,” Masduki said. “This is what we are thinking about, disincentives to reduce the motivation to burn forests.”

read more

Singapore, Jakarta hold high-level haze talks
A firefighter from Indonesia's disaster management agency trying to extinguish a peatland fire in an oil-palm plantation in Pelalawan, Riau province, Sumatra, Saturday. (Reuters via The Straits Times/ANN)

The haze crisis was a key subject of discussion at a high-level meeting between Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen and his Indonesian counterparts, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan, and Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.

The meeting in Jakarta yesterday evening took place as Indonesia ramps up efforts to tackle the smoldering haze that has enveloped parts of the region in recent weeks.

Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar is said to be consulting peatland experts on how to better douse illegal forest fires raging in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

related:
Singapore should help solve haze issue, not just talk about it: VP
Singapore needs to understand Indonesia’s fire issue: Chief of staff


read more

As Air Pollution Soars in Singapore, So Do Tempers

As the city-state continues to suffer under a thick blanket of haze, Singapore's Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam took to social media this week to condemn statements made by senior Indonesian officials about the crisis, which affects the region every year.

Foreign relations between the nations have been repeatedly tested in recent years over the haze crisis, caused by forest fires in Sumatra. The haze has now blanketed Singapore for three weeks, the worst episode the city-state has seen since mid-2013, as the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI)  climbed to "hazardous" levels of 341, forcing the closure of schools on Friday.

The crisis has become an annual occurrence due to slash-and-burn agricultural techniques used to clear land for plantations, engulfing large parts of Indonesia and neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

read more

Singapore sues neighbour over smoke haze

Singapore has taken legal measures against Indonesian businesses for the vast forest fires that are choking millions of people across southeast Asia.

The government has invoked new legislation against four companies, ordering them to extinguish forest fires in Sumatra. Singapore’s National Environment Agency also wants answers from Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), one of the world’s biggest paper manufacturers, on why the fires are burning.

Air quality in Singapore has reached hazardous levels due to the fires raging in neighbouring Indonesia. The fires are used to clear land for palm oil and rubber plantations.

related: Indonesia and Singapore fight for air

read more

Jakarta to take 40 haze fire cases to court: Police chief
Indonesian motorists and pedestrians travelling under a blanket of haze in Palembang, Sumatra on Sept 29, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

Indonesia's police chief Badrodin Haiti has assured Asean ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur of his country's commitment to solve the haze problem caused by illegal forest fires in two of its provinces.

Though the issue is not on the agenda of the 10th Asean Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC), General Badrodin said the Indonesian authorities were making headway in bringing those who flouted forestry, plantation and environmental laws to book.

About 210 cases of forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra were being investigated, and 40 were ready to be taken to court soon, he added.

read more

Indonesia names 8 companies responsible for haze
Singapore haze update: 3-hour PSI remains at 47 as of 9am on June 24

Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya has identified eight of the companies that are being investigated for burning in Riau and Jambi that led to the haze. The eight companies are:
  1. PT Langgam Inti Hiberida
  2. PT Bumi Rakksa Sejati
  3. PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation
  4. PT Udaya Loh Dinawi
  5. PT Adei Plantation
  6. PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa
  7. PT Multi Gambut Industri
  8. PT Mustika Agro Lestari
As is the custom in Indonesia with naming those under investigation, he only gave their initials for the media to infer from.

read more

Indonesia gets tough on companies responsible for haze
Scorched forest land in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Air pollution levels spiked to six times more than what is considered hazardous on Tuesday. Image: Klima- og miljødepartementet

As raging fires in Indonesia continue to fuel a thick haze across Southeast Asia, government officials are cracking down on plantation and forestry companies responsible for the fires, seemingly determined to make good on a recent pledge to end the burning in 30 days.

More than 200 plantation and forestry companies are now under investigation for their role in forest fires, said local government officials, as smoke from burning rainforests sent the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, skyrocketing to 1995 - over six times more than what is considered hazardous - on Tuesday.

The Straits Times also reported that four Indonesian companies were ordered to suspend operations for causing forest fires.

read more

Singapore says Indonesia to share names of companies causing forest fires
An Indonesian soldier sprays water to extinguish a forest fire in Tambang village, Kampar, Riau province, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, September 13, 2015. REUTERS/YT HARYONO

Indonesia has agreed to share with Singapore the names of companies suspected of causing forest fires that have led to a deterioration of air quality in the city state.

Indonesia's Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, told Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Vivian Balakrishnan, that the names would be shared once the information had been verified, Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement.

Haze has engulfed Singapore and Malaysia for several days, pushing the PSI air quality index to unhealthy levels of over 100 in the city state on a 24-hour basis. The three-hour gauge of PSI hit a high of 249 late on Monday night, the NEA said.

read more

Singapore sends notices to 4 Indonesia companies for contributing to haze pollution
Indonesian police and firefighters extinguish a fire on burning peat land in the district of Kapuas in the Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island during President Joko Widodo's inspection of a firefighting operation to control agricultural and forest fires on September 24, 2015

Singapore has written to four Indonesian companies for contributing to haze pollution as provided for under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA), said a press release by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources today.

Under the THPA, haze pollution is said to have occurred if the 24-hour PSI remains at 101 or higher for 24 continuous hours or longer. Haze pollution as prescribed under the THPA has occurred for four periods since Sept 10.

The release stated that the National Environment Agency (NEA) is conducting investigations and the gathering of evidence into these four haze periods. This is done through the close monitoring of hotspots and smoke plumes from fires in the region, drawing on information from sources such as maps, meteorological data and satellite imagery.

read more

New strategy needed to end haze problem
Women wearing masks because of the haze in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on Sunday. The haze problem persists because its systemic causes are not being addressed.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Engrossed in the general election last week, many residents in Singapore hardly remarked on the city's steadily worsening air quality brought about by raging forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia.

Then last Thursday - Cooling-off Day - everyone paused for a breather from the hustings and realised, well, that breathing was not quite so easy.

The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which tracks air quality, hit a high of 248 at 3am last Friday.

related: Tough to pinpoint haze culprits

read more

Putting heat on the Haze

As the season of haze returns to our shores, some Singaporeans may feel helpless about the smoky, unhealthy air blown our way from the south.

But a group of volunteers are determined to take up the fight against the haze, or those who had a hand in causing it.

The Haze Elimination Action Team (Heat), led by Professor Ang Peng Hwa (right) of Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, is planning to sue and boycott the companies responsible for the fires.

read more

S'POREANS ARE NOT STUPID, WE KNOW WHY GOVT USES 3-HR PSI READINGS

The 3 hourly PSI Reading is completely useless. The 24 hour PSI Reading is even worst. Let me explain why it is useless as a practical tool to know what one should do, especially those who are vulnerable because of underlying health conditions, elderly and the very young.

If the actual hourly PSI levels for 6 consecutive hours is 50, 100, 150, 200, 250 & 300 respectively, the 3 hourly PSI level will read as follows;
  • 100 at 3rd hour (when real PSI is 150)
  • 150 at 4th hour (when the real PSI is 200)
  • 200 at 5th hour (when the real PSI is 250)
  • 250 at 6th hour (when the real PSI is 300) etc.
So one will mistaken that it is just at 'Very Unhealthy' level at the 6th hour when it is already breathing air that is already at 'Hazardous' levels. What is the purpose of the 3 hourly PSI and 24 hour PSI readings? Your guess is as good as any.

read more

No Bullshit PSI Readings

Sick of the 3-hr average PSI? We calculate the actual hourly PSI!

NEA's PSI reading is based on a 3-hour average. While it is a good measure of exposure, it tends to dampen the impact of sharp drops or increase in PSI readings in an hour.

We have created what we think is a right implementation of NEA's official PSI formula on haze.gov.sg to deduce the actual, hourly PSI measurements from hourly PM2.5 readings. Technical details can be found here.

read more

Hourly PSI readings would allow for better decision-making

Amid the annual haze, I would like to again strongly make the case for the National Environment Agency (NEA) to provide hourly Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings instead of three-hour averages.

Singapore is a small country and a slight shift in prevailing winds can cause sudden significant changes in air quality. With a three-hour-average PSI, lower PSI levels for the earlier two hours can lower the reading when the haze has already reached a hazardous level in the third hour.

The NEA’s FAQs on PSI webpage states that its health advisory is based on the 24-hour PSI as it is a “better reflection of the total exposure”, and health effects have been mostly studied based on this measure. In comparison, the three-hour PSI is only “an indicative measure” that the public may use “to make adjustments to their daily activities if they wish to do so”.

read more

Haze hits open-air eateries, tourist attractions
Owners of Haron Satay at East Coast Lagoon Food Village, Ms Harlina Haron (right) and Ms Shima Salim observed that the haze has mauled outdoor eateries, with stallholders pointing out that the number of customers has dwindled in the recent weeks.PHOTO: MOHD TAUFIK A KADER

Business at open-air hawker centres and al fresco restaurants has dipped as customers hide indoors to avoid the haze.

Several tourist attractions were also closed in the past two days, as the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) crossed over to hazardous levels.

Despite conditions improving yesterday, a number of events today and tomorrow have been cancelled or postponed as a precaution.

read more

Indonesia's biggest paper firm back in the spotlight
It is the largest pulp and paper firm in Indonesia, backed by the powerful Widjaja family

But it seems Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) is now Singapore's biggest target in the fight against illegal forest fires, which have led to the haze crisis affecting millions across Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

It has been ordered by the National Environment Agency (NEA) under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to supply information on its Singapore and Indonesian subsidiaries, as well as what its suppliers are doing to fight fires.

APP stood out among the five companies that Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan named on Friday as possible culprits behind forest fires in concession land in Indonesia.

read more

Jakarta must show conviction over haze problem
Singaporeans brave the haze on Orchard Road. The country's three-hour haze Pollutant Standards Index reached a high of 341 on Friday.  (Reuters photo)

Recently, large parts of Songkhla, Trang and Phuket were blanketed by haze from forest and plantation fires in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan.

At one point, the particulate matter in the air in Hat Yai Township hits 123 microgrammes/cubic metre, a level considered unsafe to residents' health. Officials in the affected areas distributed free face masks to people who are also advised to avoid outdoor activities.

Singapore, which is located close to Sumatra, has every reason to feel angry with its neighbour. Last Friday, the Pollutants Standard Index reached 341 -- the highest level this year, prompting authorities to shut down schools.

read more

Trapped by haze – how long more?

THE agony of being trapped in the all-enveloping haze, which should be more accurately called smog, continues with no end in sight. It is no longer a transient irritation that can be “tolerated” because it will soon go away.

“The number of forest fires and land fires could rise until end-November,” according to a spokesman of Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency on Sept 23. Part of the reason is the El Nino which causes dry weather that causes peat lands to burn faster. The burning of peat lands and the forest fires caused by plantations and farmers in Sumatra and Kalimantan are the sources of the haze in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

It is incredible that after so many years of the annual haze affair, after so many promises of action, and after so many meetings and agreements in the context of the three countries and of Asean cooperation, there is still a severe and prolonged haze this year.

read more

‘Too early to say if Singapore law effective’

Malaysia will need to pass a law similar to Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to take legal action against firms suspected of starting haze-related forest fires abroad. Global Environment Centre director Faizal Parish said the Singaporean law, passed last year, allowed regulators to fine or sue individuals or companies for activities leading to haze in the city-state.

“Essentially, anyone that contributes to the exporting of haze to Singapore can be made to pay substantial damages,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

However, he said, it was too early to see whether such a law would prove effective, given the difficulties in establishing a causal link between the companies and the rising levels of air pollution.

read more

Singapore Names Companies in Indonesian Forest Fires Probe

Singapore on Friday named four Indonesian companies that it says may have contributed to the smoke haze blanketing parts of Southeast Asia, adding that it would apply more pressure on palm oil and forestry companies responsible for forest fires.

Investigations aided by meteorological data and satellite imagery showed fires on Indonesian land concessions controlled by PT Rimba Hutani Mas, PT Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries, PT Bumi Sriwijaya Sentosa and PT Wachyuni Mandira, said the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources on its website.

The ministry also said it has served Singapore-based Asia Pulp & Paper with a notice for information on measures taken by its subsidiaries and suppliers to put out fires on their Indonesian land concessions. The company did not respond to a request for comment sent after office hours.

related:
Singapore Names Companies in Haze Issue
Singapore Schools Open After 1st Closure in 12 Years on Haze

read more

Indonesia, Singapore trade barbs over haze

Indonesia has defended its handling of forest fires after a Singaporean minister criticised Jakarta's inability to stop the blazes, or the dangerous haze that they cause, reports said.

Indonesian Minister of Forestry and the Environment Siti Nurbaya Bakar late Sunday urged Singapore to be "fair," saying her government was doing all it could to extinguish the forest fires on Sumatra and Borneo islands. "We are not staying idle," Siti was quoted as saying by state-owned Antara news agency.

"Indonesia is working hard. The president has deployed thousands of soldiers and police [to fight the fires]," she said, adding that air quality in Singapore was measured at unhealthy levels for brief periods, but not constantly. The fires are an annual hazard for Indonesia's neighbours Malaysia and Singapore at this time of year, often causing authorities to issue health warnings and close airports and schools.

read more

We are coming after you: Haze group to companies burning land

A volunteer group called the Haze Elimination Action Team (HEAT) wants to sue and boycott the companies involved in starting fires in Indonesia - and put an end to the haze.

The group is led by Dr Ang Peng Hwa, a professor at Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia on Friday (Sep 25), Dr Ang said that they are looking to "identify an ideal plaintiff" to successfully sue these companies.

read more

Indonesian company accused of starting fires on its Sumatra plantations to face prosecution soon

Bumi Mekar Hijau, a plantation company accused of starting fires on its concessions in South Sumatra, could face prosecution as early as this week said Indonesian police.

Jakarta Globe reported on Monday (Sep 21) that the company is one of ten that have so far been named as suspects in starting the fires responsible for the haze that has covered large parts of Sumatra, reaching as far as Malaysia and Singapore.

Bumi Mekar Hijau, based in South Sumatra, is a supplier to Singapore-listed Asia Pulp and Paper. Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Ministry said around 300 companies are under investigation for alleged slash-and-burn practices in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

read more

Exercise consumer power to fight the haze

The ongoing and unhealthy level of the smoke haze from Indonesia poses questions we have to answer: Are the strategies we have been using to fight the haze failing? And if they are not, what else can we do?

When a friend asked me those questions recently, I replied: "It looks like our strategies are not working, but actually, without them, the haze we are experiencing will be even worse. We should keep the strategies we have but realise that as those responsible are morphing and adapting, so we need to morph and adapt our strategies."

I agree with my colleague Euston Quah ("When the haze doesn't go away"; The Straits Times, Tuesday) that fighting the haze will cost us money and time. However, in one crucial area, I disagree with him.

read more

Indonesia, Singapore trade barbs over haze

Indonesian officials had shown "a complete disregard for our people, and their own" in their handling of the fires, Singapore Foreign and Law Minister K Shanmugam said in a Facebook post last week.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla on Sunday urged Singapore to act on its offer to help fight the fires.

"Singapore can join and see for themselves. Don't just talk," Kalla was quoted as saying by Antara during a visit to New York.

read more

A hazy future

What infuriates Singaporeans is the insistence of Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla that Indonesia need not apologize to its neighbors for the haze. Schools called off classes last Friday here in Singapore. Haze pollution level rose to a health threatening level last Thursday evening.

An article in The Diplomat observed that “even if Indonesia agrees to further anti-burning measures or name-and-shame efforts against blameworthy firms, such policies stand little chance of being effectively implemented.”

The Diplomat pointed out that “As history indicates, many Indonesian legislative actions – addressing everything from corruption to pollution – have failed to generate substantive change. The same would likely happen to haze management legislation.”

read more

Govt holds closed meeting for Sumatran fires

Amid ongoing forest and land fires in Sumatra, the government held a closed meeting on Saturday led by the Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Sudirman Said. “The President has asked us to act quick, not just regarding the current issue, but also [to devise] a long-term plan to prevent it from happening again,” said Sudirman in his opening remarks at the meeting as quoted by tempo.co.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry’s secretary general Bambang Hendroyono, the National Police chief Badrodin Haiti, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo and the regional representatives from South Sumatra, Jambi and Riau were among those in attendance at the meeting held at the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s Manggala Wanabakti building in Senayan, Central Jakarta.

Sudirman said that other regencies had made requests to build coordination posts (posko) such as the one in Riau considered useful in lessening the impact of disasters.

read more

Indonesia’s palm oil production is smoking out its neighbors
Sumatra from above on April 4 and Sept. 4 (right).(NASA Worldview)

It’s dry season in Indonesia, which in some parts means it’s time to clear more land for palm oil plantations—with fire. In recent days, most of Sumatra (about double the size of Great Britain) was covered in a stifling layer of smoke so large it affected neighboring Singapore and parts of Malaysia, too. The smoke has also led to cancelled or delayed flights and health problems.

On the ground in Sumatran cities like Palembang, many turned to social media to vent their frustration. For instance a group of cartoonists—soon joined by others—used the hashtag #masihmelawanasap on Instagram and Twitter to share comments, street-level pics, and illustrations.

On Monday (Sept. 7) hundreds of students at Riau University staged a rally to express their demands to the government regarding the smoke. For starters, they said, authorities should declare an emergency since the situation affects public health. Those who set fires should be punished, they added, and hospitals should offer free medical services to those affected by the haze, particularly patients suffering from respiratory infections.

read more

Finding heart in the haze
Photo: Cai Yinzhou

When the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reached a new high of 401 two years ago, it became clear to Mr Wally Tham that N95 masks would not be the only solution to the haze.

The 38-year-old's heart went out to the elderly in nursing homes who were defenceless against the haze.

The homes were well-ventilated for practical reasons, which meant residents there were exposed to the unhealthy particles in the air.

read more

Full Coverage:
Jakarta to take 40 haze fire cases to court: Police chief
Singapore 'respects Indonesia's sovereignty'
Indonesian govt determined to resolve crisis: Eng Hen
Spore's offer to help Indonesia tackle haze 'still stands', says Ng Eng Hen
Tough to pinpoint haze culprits
Indonesia 'needs time' to tackle haze
Indonesia needs 3 years to tackle haze: President Joko Widodo
Haze engulfs region as Indonesia needs years to tackle fires
Indonesia needs years to tackle forest fires: Jokowi
Haze engulfs Singapore as Indonesia needs years to tackle fires
Indonesia needs three years to solve haze problem, says President
Singapore open to giving more help to put out fires in Indonesia
Annual haze crisis to stay despite Indonesia's efforts
SE Asia Seeks New Strategy to Fight 'Slash and Burn' Haze Problem
Haze set to last till November as El Nino stretches dry spell
Indonesia starts legal action against companies linked to
New strategy needed to end haze problem
Mining Activities Protested by Slain Farmer Illegal, Police Confirm
Indonesia starts legal action against companies linked to SE Asia haze
Indonesia arrests seven over haze crisis
5 Things to Know About the Haze in Southeast Asia
Jakarta must show conviction over haze problem
Indonesia's Forest Fires Choke Malaysia,Singapore:'Burning Land Just for Fun'
Hazing rituals
Indonesia's OJK to Loosen Regulation on Foreign Currency Accounts

Finding heart in the haze
Singapore, Jakarta hold high-level haze talks
Agribusiness behind haze
​Jokowi's Chief of Staff on the haze: Singapore should be grateful
Air quality to remain between unhealthy and very unhealthy range
The inequality of our haze
Singapore-Batam ferry services stopped for 3 hours due to haze
Hazy conditions could deteriorate further through Tuesday: NEA
PSI expected to remain at very unhealthy levels as haze worsens
Haze: Singapore records very unhealthy PSI reading
Haze conditions deteriorate slightly on Tuesday
How the haze affects animals
More international cooperation needed to tackle haze, says Sg minister
Singapore should help solve haze issue, not just talk about it
Singapore should help solve haze issue, not just talk about it: VP
Singapore Environment Council to get companies on board in
Singapore Environment Council pushes for green procurement
Singapore Red Cross distributes N95 masks to beneficiaries, public
Parents hope haze won't affect start of PSLE tomorrow
Singapore's anti-haze law needs more bite, say experts
Singapore takes Indonesian companies to task over haze role
More international cooperation needed to tackle haze, says S'pore
Singapore reveals new sustainable development programme at UN
Indonesia gives assurance that it takes haze very seriously: DPM
More international cooperation needed to tackle haze: Vivian
Role on world stage not new to Vivian Balakrishnan
Singapore to launch new sustainable development programme
As Haze Shrouds Singapore, Indonesia Suspects Staying Silent
Jokowi’s Chief of Staff on the haze: Singapore should be grateful
Singapore, Jakarta hold high-level haze talks
Putting heat on the haze
'Too early to say if Singapore law effective'
Singapore Names Companies in Haze Issue
Trapped by haze – how long more?
Singapore sues neighbour over smoke haze
Jakarta must show conviction over haze problem
Indonesia's biggest paper firm back in the spotlight
A hazy future
Schools Open After 1st Closure in 12 Years on Haze
Malaysia shuts KL schools over haze
Malaysia again shuts schools as Indonesian smoke thickens
Singapore schools reopen as haze hits Malaysia institutions
Malaysia shuts schools as air quality worsens

Malaysia to shut some schools on Monday due to worsening haze
Smog Closes Schools In Singapore As Fires Rage In Indonesia
Haze Hazard Shuts Schools; Highway Links India to Burma

Haze hits open-air eateries, tourist attractions
Singapore Schools Open After 1st Closure in 12 Years on Haze
Trapped by haze – how long more?
Indonesia's biggest paper firm back in the spotlight
Malaysia shuts schools as air quality worsens