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  Straits Times 7 Jul 07
Haze will not be so bad this year
La Nina will bring a wetter hot season, possibly dousing regional land-clearing fires
By Arti Mulchand

Straits Times 7 Jul 07
Wet and warm weather spells trouble ahead
By Tania Tan

Today Online 7 Jul 07
I can see clearly now ...
Haze from fires in Sumatra hits northern Malaysia but Singapore spared for now
Lin Yanqin

Channel NewsAsia 6 Jul 07
Singapore may be spared from haze this year: NEA

Straits Times 6 Jul 07
Haze Outlook
Grim in Indonesia: Smoke rises as red tape stifles anti-haze effort

By Azhar Ghani

Straits Times 5 Jul 07
Spike in Sumatra fires signals start of haze season
Over 400 hot spots detected this week; Singapore spared for now because of favourable winds
By Arti Mulchand, In Singapore & Azhar Ghani, Indonesia Correspondent, In Jambi Province

THE number of 'hot spots', which hint at fires in Indonesia's brushland, crossed 400 this week, triggering what could be the start of 'haze season' for the region.

Singapore seems to have escaped this choking smog - at least for now. The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), a measure of air quality, has so far remained in the 'good' range here, helped by two factors - one is that most of the hot spots are in Sumatran cities lying geographically further north than Singapore; the other, that the prevailing winds are not blowing the haze this way for now.

The mid-year dry season, during which Indonesian farmers set fires illegally to clear land for planting, has left the region shrouded in smoke every year in the past decade.

Burning started picking up pace over the weekend, said the National University of Singapore's Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (Crisp). The centre monitors satellite images of the region where hot spots - places on the ground where temperatures are tracked to be higher than usual - show up red.

A record 401 hot spots were seen on Tuesday, a relatively clear day, said Mr Chia Aik Song, who heads Crisp's fire monitoring. The figure for yesterday was lower, but this was only because the heavy cloud cover over northern Sumatra made hot spots harder to see, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Satellite images from 2.30pm yesterday showed 142 hot spots, almost three quarters of which were in the provinces of Riau and Northern Sumatra, the NEA added.

Fires in Riau are bad news for Malaysia, while those in Jambi province, South Sumatra and Southern Riau usually affect Singapore, noted Mr Chia.

For now, the winds prevailing over Sumatra are southeasterly and south-westerly, and blowing the haze to north and west coast Malaysia. The town of Bakar Arang in northern Kedah has been worst hit, with the other northern states of Perak and Penang and west coast Selangor and Negri Sembilan not much better off.

Malaysia, which uses the Air Pollutant Index (API) to measure air quality, clocked Bakar Arang at 104 and parts of Penang and Perak at 90, news reports said. On the API, a reading of 101 to 200 is 'unhealthy', and 51 to 100, 'moderate'.

In Indonesia, the authorities counted about 520 hot spots in 12 fire-prone provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan since the start of this month. Four in 10 were in Sumatra's Riau province.

But Mr Abdul Razak, who holds the newly-created post of coordinator for land- and forest-fire prevention for the Sumatra region, said he was optimistic that things would not be as bad this year because of the country's efforts to fight the problem.

Jakarta announced last month that the number of hot spots in the country had been cut by more than half in the first six months of this year.

But at a meeting last month of environment officials from the countries worst hit by the haze - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand - observers remarked that the reduction was achieved before the dry season had begun.

The real test begins now.

Meanwhile, here, winds from the south and south-east have so far kept the haze out. The weatherman expects them to hold for the next few days, although conditions could change pretty quickly.

Mr Chia said it was still early days in the dry season. The farmers' annual practice of 'slash-and-burn' tends to start in northern Sumatra and move south. The haze here has typically been at its peak in August and September, so 'how bad it will get in Singapore for this burning season is still hard to say. The burning in the southern part of Sumatra does not usually peak this early', he added.

Straits Times 6 Jul 07
Haze Outlook
Grim in Indonesia: Smoke rises as red tape stifles anti-haze effort

By Azhar Ghani

JAMBI - SMOKE was still rising from the burnt tree stumps, but the newly cleared piece of land was already covered with oil palm shoots.

The proud owner of the 1/2ha plot in Sumatra's Jambi province hopes to reap the rewards of his illegal handiwork in about four years, when the palms mature.

If all goes according to plan and market rates do not drop, the crop should earn small-time farmer Bakini, 33, a steady monthly income of around 1.5 million rupiah (S$250) from sales to palm oil factories. That would more than double the monthly 1 million rupiah he currently gets from selling vegetables, which he also grows.

With a wife, a six-year-old son and aged parents to feed, Mr Bakini sees nothing wrong in using fire to clear the land.

Although he knows Indonesia has a law banning open-burning, he says: 'I think it's all right for small farmers like me to use fire. It's just a little bit of smoke.'

Fortunately for Singapore, which fears the imminent return of the choking haze which blanketed it last year and to varying degrees every year for the last decade, such land-clearing fires have yet to make a big comeback in Jambi.

Fires in the province and in neighbouring South Sumatra were largely responsible for the smoke that made eyes water in the Republic last year.

But Singaporeans banking on the Republic's ongoing anti-haze collaboration with Jambi to improve things this year should think again.

The project came about after Indonesia suggested that Asean countries work with some of its fire-prone regions.

In January, Singapore began working with the province to come up with a series of ambitious initiatives ranging from fire prevention to providing alternative livelihoods for potential slash-and-burn farmers.

However, despite a masterplan for the project having been drawn up and agreed to by Jambi Governor Zulkifli Nurdin, progress ground to a halt later in the year when Indonesia announced that it wanted the initiatives to be placed under a formal agreement between the two countries.

A draft agreement has been drawn up but has yet to be finalised and signed.

With the burning season now well under way, it looks unlikely to help the situation this year at least.

'We're raring to go,' said Dr Muchtar Muis, deputy chief of the Muaro Jambi district where the plan is to be piloted. 'But we can't proceed without the agreement between the two governments.'

Still, this does not mean that nothing is being done in Jambi to tackle the haze problem, said the province's planning secretary Syahrasuddin.

He told The Straits Times that the provincial administrator has been working with the central government to boost Jambi's fire-fighting capabilities and to increase the public's fire-prevention awareness.

And Indonesian Environment Ministry official Abdul Razak said: 'We're optimistic that things will improve this year.'

Still, despite these reassurances, the haze outlook for Singapore this year is not looking good. In the first three days of July, as the dry season got under way, Jambi registered about 70 hot spots, which hint at ground fires. Last year, 266 hot spots were detected for the whole month of July.

If the rate at which hot spots were detected in the first three days continues, this month's total could exceed 700.

And even if slash-and-burn farming came to a complete halt in Jambi, there would be no guarantee of clean air for Singapore or the rest of the region.

The province is just one part of the Indonesian problem, with annual forest fires across Sumatra and Kalimantan also casting a pall over the area.

Channel NewsAsia 6 Jul 07
Singapore may be spared from haze this year: NEA

SINGAPORE: Singapore may be spared from the peak of the haze that is currently shrouding Sumatra and northern Malaysia because favourable weather conditions are expected for the rest of the year, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

NEA is forecasting a slightly wetter-than-usual weather from now till September.

The El Nino situation, which brought with it drier days last year, is not expected to kick in this time round. Joseph Hui, Director General, Environmental Protection, NEA, said: "This year, the forecast is that we are likely to get neutral or weak La Nina. La Nina is slightly wetter than usual, so with this forecast, the likelihood is that we will get slightly more rainfall than last year."

Singapore has been spared from the smog so far as the prevailing south to southeasterly winds have kept the smoke away. The same wind direction is also expected over the next few days.

But in the long term, other forces may come into play.

Wong Chin Ling, Chief Meteorological Officer, NEA, said: "It's difficult to know when and where the fires will occur. Fires are essentially started through human activities."

Singapore has come up with a masterplan to help Indonesia's Jambi province to tackle the haze and reduce slash-and-burn activities, and work is underway to formalise the agreement with Indonesia.

Mr Hui said: "We are actively involved in working out this letter of intent. We are waiting for them to come back to us and hopefully finalise it soon."

A meeting of environment officials from both countries may be held as early as next week. - CNA/so

Today Online 7 Jul 07
I can see clearly now ...
Haze from fires in Sumatra hits northern Malaysia but Singapore spared for now
Lin Yanqin yanqin@mediacorp.com.sg

WHILE fires in Sumatra have caused the haze to plague parts of northern Malaysia over the past few days, Singapore has managed to remain haze-free for now and it will probably stay this way.

Thanks to the prevailing wind direction and an expected "wetter-than-normal" dry season typically from July to October the National Environment Agency (NEA) is predicting better air quality for the "haze season" this year.

"We're quite likely to expect haze from time to time in the coming months," said Ms Wong Chin Ling, NEA's chief meteorological officer.

"But we don't expect it to be as bad as the previous year." Last year, haze readings were at its worst in October, soaring over 100 on the Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) on three days.

How bad the haze gets this year would depend on a "combination" of factors, such as wind conditions, where and when the fire starts, and the intensity of the fires.

July usually marks the start of the dry season, where slash-and-burn farmers in Indonesia illegally clear land by burning to make way for growing crops.

Unlike last year, where the dry season was intensified by the El Nino effect allowing more fires to start and burn longer wetter weather has been predicted for this year, which will prevent fires from starting.

So far, hotspots places registering higher temperatures than usual, suggesting fires have been on the rise in Sumatra since the beginning of the month. According to the NEA, more than 100 hotspots have been detected mainly in the northern and central parts of Sumatra in the past week.

But unless it moves downward in Sumatra, Singapore could be spared provided that wind conditions remain favourable. Another condition that favours the Republic:

Hotspot activities in Borneo have been subdued so far due to the wetter weather, although NEA is concerned that this may lead to a "pent-up demand" for even more burning later in the dry season, by farmers eager to make up for lost time.

Also, the burning season in Borneo starts later, which means the haze could still hit Singapore in the coming months, depending on wind conditions.

The NEA is expecting the number of hotspots to increase significantly in the coming months during the drier periods.

On whether hotspot activities have seen a decline this year since Indonesia pledged to reduce the number forest fires by half, Mr Joseph Hui NEA's director-general of environmental protection said the "real test" would come in August and September, when burning is usually at its peak.

"We should trust them to do what they can do," he said.

PSI readings have been in the "good" range from 1 to 50 for this year so far, peaking at 55 in January. As of 4pm yesterday, overall readings for Singapore were at 38.

Student Juliana Md Rasid who gets regular asthma attacks during the haze seasons each year, says the season "worries her."

"But so long as I bring my inhaler, I'm fine," she said. "Also, I try to stay indoors more."

Straits Times 7 Jul 07
Haze will not be so bad this year
La Nina will bring a wetter hot season, possibly dousing regional land-clearing fires
By Arti Mulchand

THE drought-causing El Nino may have kept Singapore in the choking grip of the haze last year, but now, its rainier counterpart - La Nina - could keep some of the smoke at bay, says the weatherman.

Climate models around the world, including those of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and Japanese Meteorology Agency, are forecasting a weak La Nina effect over the next few months.

La Nina, caused by cooler waters in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, could make for a wetter than usual dry season, explained Ms Wong Chin Ling, chief meteorological officer at the National Environment Agency's (NEA) Meteorological Services Division.

And more rain means some of Indonesia's land- clearing fires could fizzle out - so less haze comes in, added Mr Joseph Hui, the NEA director-general for environmental protection.

'When you have more rain, you have fewer fires, and so the likelihood of us being affected by the smoke haze decreases. In a La Nina year, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) tends to be lower,' Mr Hui explained.

The PSI measures Singapore's air quality, and yesterday, the PSI of 38 was in the 'good' level. This year, the dry season is also expected to end in September.

Last year, it dragged on to October, when there was an El Nino effect. El Nino lengthens the dry season and makes it more intense - 1994, 1997 and last year, when the PSI hit choking levels, were all El Nino years.

Last year's El Nino effect dissipated in February.

Still, the expected rainier weather does not mean no haze at all. Stretches of dry weather between the showers mean fires - and haze.

'If the fires happen to be, from our point of view, in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the wind is also blowing in the wrong direction, then it can hit us,' Mr Hui added.

The prevailing winds are now blowing from the south- east, keeping the smoke away and sparing Singapore from the haze that has hit neighbouring Malaysia.

All areas in Malaysia recorded 'moderate' air quality yesterday for the second day running. On Wednesday, the Air Pollutant Index in Sungai Petani district in Kedah rose to just above 100 to a 'unhealthy' level - the first time the level was reached in Malaysia this year.

If the winds start blowing from the south or west, they could bring the haze from central and southern Sumatra here. Fires in places such as Jambi and Kalimantan affect Singapore more, but they traditionally take place later in the burning season. For now, much of the burning is in the north.

So far, no big fires have been sighted in Jambi and Kalimantan but the number of hot spots is increasing, said the NEA. There were 401 hot spots identified in Sumatra on Tuesday, when it was relatively cloud-free, said Mr Chia Aik Song, head of fire monitoring at the National University of Singapore's Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing.

And while fewer hot spots have been seen over the last two days, this is likely due to heavier cloud cover rather than less burning.

In case the haze does hit, contingency plans for large scale outdoor events like the upcoming National Day Parade, are in place. The parade could even be postponed if air quality dips into unhealthy levels, said its spokesman.

But La Nina may not be all good news. It could be doing favours for the dengue-causing Aedes aegypti mosquito by creating more potential breeding habitats.

'Intermittent rain will provide the mosquito greater opportunities to breed in small pools of stagnant of water,' said an NEA spokesman.

Haze? Breathe easier La, it's Nina this year

Last year, when the land-clearing fires in Indonesia coincided with the El Nino effect, the dry season was drier and longer. The result - air quality here hit unhealthy levels. This time round, La Nina has taken over, and it could help clear the air during the haze season.

Arti Mulchand explains what's in store this year

What is La Nina?

The La Nina effect is caused by cooler than normal sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. These cause changes in atmospheric pressure and affect global weather patterns. In South-east Asia, it means rainier conditions. La Nina years happen less often than El Nino years: There are about two a decade, and they can last six to 18 months.

La Nina means 'little girl' in Spanish while El Nino is 'little boy'. What are the differences?

Both are extreme phases of a naturally occurring climate cycle called the El Nino/Southern Oscillation. They connote large-scale changes in sea surface temperatures across the eastern tropical Pacific. In El Nino years, sea surface temperatures in the tropics go up, but during La Nina, they cool.

What is La Nina's effect?

Both El Nino and La Nina affect global climate patterns. In many locations, especially in the tropics, La Nina produces the opposite effects from El Nino. Parts of Australia and Indonesia are more drought-prone during El Nino but get wetter during La Nina. Last month's floods in Victoria, Australia, and in Kuala Lumpur were blamed on La Nina.

What implications does La Nina have for Singapore?

This year, a 'weak' La Nina has been forecast; it could mean wetter conditions in the region. More rain means the haze-causing fires in Indonesia could be put out, and makes burning harder. This may mean not being shrouded in smoke during this burning season. In 2005, it was a 'weak' La Nina year.

Last year, a strong El Nino year, the opposite happened. It was hotter, the dry season was longer, with hazy conditions well into October. The effect dissipated in February this year. El Nino years tend to make the haze worse. The last three times Singapore was hit badly by the haze - 1994, 1997 and last year - were all El Nino years.

Source: National Environment Agency's Meteorological Services Division and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Straits Times 7 Jul 07
Wet and warm weather spells trouble ahead
By Tania Tan

THE La Nina phenomenon may be good for the haze, but the predicted wet weather could spell trouble for an already worrying dengue situation.

Intermittent rain will mean that small pools of water are more likely to form and re-form across the island, providing 'greater opportunities' for the Aedes mosquito to breed, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Warmer temperatures, a hallmark of the August to September period, also improve the mosquito's reproductive ability - shortening the insect's maturation period from two weeks to less than 10 days.

The dengue situation has already crossed into the warning level this week, with 338 cases reported since Sunday. The disease has been on the rise, peaking at 401 cases in the second week of last month.

An online survey conducted by straitstimes.com revealed that, despite efforts to raise public awareness about the need to check for mosquito breeding spots in homes, only about one in two respondents reported that they were 'moderately worried' about dengue.

About 13 per cent of the 343 respondents seemed completely unfazed, trusting instead that the Government would take care of the problem.

At the other end of the scale, about one in 10 said they were 'extremely worried', presumably by the current rise in cases.

Despite intensive mosquito-eradication efforts by the NEA, the number of cases reported each week has remained over the 256 warning level mark, exacerbated by intermittent hot, wet weather and a shift in circulating dengue types.


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