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  Today Online 7 Oct 06
Hourly updates after PSI hits 80

Ashraf Safdar

Antara 6 Oct 06
Kalimantan's Sebangau national park on fire


Antara 6 Oct 06
Greenpeace urges govt to stop issuing peat land conversion permits


Channel NewsAsia 6 Oct 06
Indonesia dousing fires causing haze: forestry official

PlanetArk 6 Oct 06
Indonesia Says Working "Tirelessly" to Douse Fires
Story by Ed Davies

Bernama 6 Oct 06
Asean Govts Should Meet Urgently To Discuss Haze Problem

Channel NewsAsia 6 Oct 06
The war of fog: industry insists it's fighting Asian haze

PANGKALAN KERINCI, Indonesia : As thick haze chokes Southeast Asia and drifts across the Pacific, the pulp and paper industry, blamed for failing to prevent the burning of vast swathes of Indonesian forest, says it's doing its best to fight the scourge.

According to Greenpeace, forest clearing for acacia pulpwood and oil palm plantations is the leading cause of illegal fires and suffocating haze which has closed schools, disrupted air traffic and caused widespread breathing problems.

The annual illegal burn-off in Indonesia, which officials have been accused of doing little to stop, sees acrid smoke billow across the region, with Malaysia, Singapore and southern Thailand usually worst affected.

This week, the haze had also spread 3,600 kilometres (2,250 miles) to smother islands in the western Pacific.

But giant companies like Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd. (APRIL) and Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), among the world's biggest pulp and paper producers, say they are committed to fighting the fires -- even though their plantations keep expanding.

"We use only mechanical methods to clear the land," said Brad Senders, APRIL fire, safety and aviation manager. "We don't want to contribute to the smoke and haze."

Both companies have their headquarters in Singapore and are part of powerful conglomerates -- Sinar Mas for APP, Raja Garuda Mas for APRIL -- controlled by tycoons. Sukanto Tanoto, boss of Raja Garuda Mas, which has interests in palm oil, construction and energy, was named as the richest man in Indonesia by Forbes Asia magazine last month.

Net plantable areas under APRIL management cover more than 400,000 hectares (nearly a million acres) and the company's mill near this city of Pangkalan Kerinci is the second biggest in the world in terms of designed production capacity. APRIL uses around 9 million cubic meters (nearly 12 million cubic yards) of wood annually for its yearly production capacity of 2 million tons of pulp. APP capacities are similar.

As of the end of June 2006, APRIL says it has planted about 300,000 hectares of acacia, but still acknowledges that 55 percent of the wood it uses comes from natural forests.

This angers conservationists, who are concerned that rare wildlife, such as Sumatran tigers, Sumatran elephants and birds, face extinction.

"We need the wood as raw material for pulp and paper. Why would we burn it? We do not want charcoal mixed in chips," APRIL's Senders, presenting his team of firefighters which is equipped with a water-dropping helicopter.

Dressed in red overalls and equipped with radio transmitters, their goal is to get to fires within two hours of receiving a report, flying by helicopter equipped with portable water pumps, hoses and axes.

"Since 1996, APP has insisted that its fiber suppliers implement a strict no-burn policy," said company spokeswoman Aida Greenbury. The company claims to have more than 600 trained fire officers and three full-time fire-suppression helicopters to patrol the forests and control fires.

But environmental groups insist burning is continuing in APRIL and APP concessions. "We found some evidence that there are hotspots in their concessions and the concessions of their sub-contractors," Rully Syumanda from Walhi, the Indonesian branch of Friends of the Earth, told AFP.

A coalition of three non-government organisations in Sumatra's Riau province asserted that from January to August this year, 8,876 hotspots were detected there. By associated pulp mill, APP contributed to 745 hotspots and APRIL 523, with the remainder unknown or unidentified groups, the coalition said in September.

"Unfortunately, fires still do occur in APP operating areas," Greenbury concedes. "These are frequently started illegally by villagers seeking to clear land so that they can plant oil palms, rubber or other crops."

WWF's Indonesian species conservation director Nazir Foead agrees that small companies are enticed to burn. "For small companies doing palm oil, the best and cheapest way is to set fire. You don't need bulldozers," he said. - AFP /dt

Channel NewsAsia 6 Oct 06
Indonesia dousing fires causing haze: forestry official

JAKARTA: Hundreds of firefighters in Indonesian Borneo, aided by police and volunteers, were dousing illegal forest fires causing acrid haze blanketing western parts of the island, officials said.

The billowing, polluting smoke from the fires, ignited annually to clear land, has already forced schools to shut, disrupted regional travel and drifted thousands of kilometres across the Pacific.

Forestry ministry spokesman Masyud, who uses one name, said at least 200 firefighters were trying to contain fires around the West Kalimantan provincial capital, Pontianak.

"They are working round the clock," Masyud told AFP, adding that they were being assisted by "hundreds of local policemen and civilian volunteers."

He insisted that most of the fires -- often lit by Indonesians in rural areas to prepare land for the planting season -- were raging outside state-controlled forests.

"Fires within the state-owned forest areas are less worse compared to ground fires outside those areas. The problem is classic, and that is, the people's long-standing culture of slash-and-burn before planting season," he said. "We are absolutely doing our best to tackle this issue," he added.

Satellite images taken over Indonesian Borneo on Wednesday showed that the number of hotspots -- large areas with high temperatures indicating fires -- stood at 713.

In Pontianak, visibility was a lowly 100 meters (109 yards) early Friday and just 500 metres by midday, said Sutowo Aji, an official with the meteorological agency at Pontianak's Supadio airport. He said the smoke had delayed at least two flights early in the morning. The haze also stung residents' eyes and caused breathing problems, said Habiri, an official with Pontianak's forestry agency.

"This is a thick smoke. There has been hardly any sunshine since this morning," said Habiri.

The annual burning causes a haze that typically smothers parts of Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand along with Indonesia itself. The Indonesian government has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak enforcement means the ban is largely ignored. - AFP/so

PlanetArk 6 Oct 06
Indonesia Says Working "Tirelessly" to Douse Fires
Story by Ed Davies

JAKARTA - Indonesia rebuffed neighbouring nations' complaints about haze from its forest fires on Thursday, arguing that a tireless drive involving thousands of people and costing many thousands of dollars was under way to put them out.

Forestry Minister Malem Sambat Kaban's defence of efforts to douse hundreds of blazes on Sumatra island and in Kalimantan on Borneo came as Greenpeace urged Jakarta to "break the cycle of fire and haze" threatening the health of millions across the region.

"Thousands of residents have been working with fire brigades to extinguish the fires," Kaban told Reuters. "We don't know when we can put out the fires but we are working tirelessly and have spent billions of rupiah (hundreds of thousands of dollars) in our efforts.

"As for complaints from neighbouring countries, there's nothing else we can do. We don't cause the fires deliberately."

He said recent satellite images had shown more than 1,600 hotspots on Sumatra and on Borneo.

Environment group Greenpeace meanwhile urged the forestry minister to halt all land-clearing in virgin forests. It blamed big industrial concerns for being behind many of the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, home to endangered animals such as orangutans, tigers and the Asian elephant.

"The Forest Minister must immediately stop all new conversions to minimise the possibility of large and uncontrolled forest fires in Indonesia," Hapsoro, forest campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said in a statement.

The fires are a regular occurrence during the dry season, but the situation has worsened in the last decade, with timber and plantation firms often blamed for deliberately starting fires.

The situation in Malaysia appeared slightly improved on Thursday, although pollution levels in the worst-hit state of Sarawak on Borneo remained at "unhealthy" levels.

"At the moment, it's better than yesterday," Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister George Chan told Reuters. "We have undertaken cloud-seeding three days ago."

He said schools and kindergartens remained open. The minister said there had been a few flight cancellations and diversions on Wednesday, and helicopter flights were still suspended in the state because of poor visibility.

After a plane with over 100 on board skidded off a runway in Borneo on Tuesday, Indonesia urged airports in areas shrouded by thick haze to close if conditions made landing hazardous.

Singapore's Pollutants Standards Index (PSI), which hit its high of the year on Monday, also fell back further on Thursday.

Indonesian Environment Ministry spokesman Hermono Sigit put the number of hotspots on Wednesday at 300, but said most fires were on peatland, where flames are particularly hard to douse.

He said that putting out such fires required driving pipes deep into the ground and piping in water.

Samuel Chatib, head of the local plantation office in South Sumatra, estimated that 120,000 hectares (296,500 acres) of peatland were ablaze in South Sumatra province alone.

Today Online 7 Oct 06
Hourly updates after PSI hits 80

Ashraf Safdar

A choking haze enveloped most of Singapore on Friday, sending the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) to its highest level this year. The PSI reading issued by the National Environment Agency (NEA) hit 80, up from the previous record of 73 last Monday, but still in the moderate range.

In response, the NEA will now release an hourly update on the PSI average over a three-hour period, to give a better indication of the air quality.

The NEA reiterated that the smog is likely to clear by mid-October.

Much of the pollutant cloud is from bush fires from Indonesia and, to date, both Indonesia and Malaysia appear to be bearing the brunt of this smog attack.

Kuala Lumpur and its administrative capital of Putrajaya plummeted into the "unhealthy" range at 101 and 100 on the Air Pollutant Index (API). The API, equivalent to Singapore's PSI, considers a score of 101-200 to be unhealthy. Unhealthy air was reported in 14 towns, including Johor Bahru and Port Klang. In the hardest-hit states of Sarawak and Sabah, air quality was edging towards hazardous levels which begin at 301.

In Indonesia, the haze pushed schools in Kalimantan and other areas on Borneo Island to shut.

The rapidly worsening regional situation prompted Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid to criticise Indonesia for not ratifying the Asean Transboundary Haze Agreement, which came into force in 2003.

Indonesian authorities accused Malaysian plantation companies operating in Sumatra and Kalimantan of burning forests to clear the land for agriculture.

The finger pointing, however, has not solved the problem smog that perennially blankets South-east Asia still remains though active steps are being taken to remedy the situation. With agency reports

Bernama 6 Oct 06
Asean Govts Should Meet Urgently To Discuss Haze Problem

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 6 (Bernama) -- The government should convene an urgent regional conference to discuss the haze situation in the region and come up with concrete and long-term solutions, Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M) said today.

Its president, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, also questioned the effectiveness of the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) signed in 2002 in tackling the issue.

"In recent years, the haze has been an annual feature in Malaysia and other neighbouring Asean countries causing significant economic and social difficulties. "Regional economic activities such as tourism and air travel are also affected," he said in a statement Friday.

The AATHP was a reaction to an environmental crisis that hit the region in the late 1990's which was mainly caused by land clearing via open burning in Sumatra, Indonesia.

"The (AATHP) agreement signed is not producing results. Year in year out, we see the haze continues to occur due to illegal logging or open burning in Indonesia. What is Asean doing about this?" Navaratnam said.

He urged the Asean governments to view this matter seriously and take concrete measures to overcome the situation.

He also said that the Asean governments did not disclose enough information on the cause of the haze or actions taken to overcome them.

"TI-M believes the people are entitled to more accountability and transparency from the government of the countries concerned as to what had been done and will be done to reduce, if not eradicate the causes of the recurrent problem," he said. -- BERNAMA


Antara 6 Oct 06
Kalimantan's Sebangau national park on fire

Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - A fire raging Central Kalimantan`s forest area has spread to the province`s Sebangau National Park, a provincial nature conservation official said.

"We noticed this fact when we flew over the Sebangau National Park," Yohanes Sudarto, head of the Central Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency, said here on Friday.

He said it was feared the fire would spread deeper and deeper into the national park as the park`s soil consisted of dry peat land.

Last year, the Sebangau National Park was also razed by a fire which destroyed around 30 hectares of its forest area.

Forest fires have affected at least eight provinces in Indonesia, namely North Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and South Sulawesi.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono earlier instructed relevant agencies to impose legal sanctions on plantation owners who used fires to clear forest areas for plantations.

"Those who set forests on fire, mostly big plantation companies, must be prosecuted," Communication and Information Minister Sofyan Djalil said quoting the Head of State recently.

A total of 52,599 hot spots were found in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi from June to August 2006, Koes Saparjadi, an expert at the forestry ministry said in Yogyakarta recently.

From June to August this year, the country recorded 8,476.5 forest fires in seven provinces, he said at the Sixth Workshop on Asian Forest Partnership (AFP) that took place in Yogyakarta. (*)

Antara 6 Oct 06
Greenpeace urges govt to stop issuing peat land conversion permits

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - World environment organization Greenpeace urged the forestry ministry to stop issuing permits for the conversion of peat land in peat swampy ecosystem which is prone to forest fires.

The rally, held by Greenpeace activists in front of the forestry ministry building here on Thursday morning, was highlighted with "artificial haze" and the unfurling of banners saying "Stop forest conversion".

Hapsoro, the rally`s coordinator, said his side only urged Forestry Minister MS Kaban to immediately stop all kinds of land clearings in the forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan, cutting off the chain of forest fires and haze which can threaten the health of millions of people.

"We also call for an investigation of big companies allegedly responsible for forest fires," he said, adding that so far the forestry ministry was seen as having failed to exercise functional control in a transparent manner because not all land owners received a sanction for forest fires they had caused.

This was the second rally the Greenpeace activists had done in their demand for a meeting with Minister MS Kaban. At present, they still could not meet the minister even after sending an official request for a meeting with the minister.

Indonesia is viewed as having vast forests in the Asian and Pacific region. At least 11 percent of the world`s forests is found in this region.

Based on official figures from the forestry ministry, the forest destruction rate in Indonesia has reached 2.8 million hectares per year.

In the meantime, the result of a World Bank research conducted in 1999 showed that some of forests in Sumatra had disappeared in 2005 and 2010. In addition to large scale tree fellings and illegal logging, forest destruction was also caused by forest fires.(*)

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