Holy smoke! Is Mr Haze coming to town?

20 10 2010

HAZY CONDITION IS rearing its ugly head again! The Malaysian southern state of Johore and closest ASEAN neighbour, Singapore, are getting the brunt of it… 😦

Hotspots are thought to have been spotted by satellite shots in the
Indonesian Province of Riau on Sumatera island. So it could only mean
profit-driven palm oil conglomerates are burning more land for this
lucrative agricultural product. Malaysian oil palm plantation owners may
follow suit?

Looks like Brunei also seems to be slightly affected by the haze? So where does that leave Singapore and Brunei Darussalam folks?! HAZED! πŸ˜‰ Surely there’s gotta be some kinda joint international law action to be sorted out by legal eagles from both ‘victimized’ ASEAN nations, no?! Put on your thinkin’ hats, guys! πŸ˜›

I remember way back in 1997 (when the worst haze occurred) while driving across Sarawak and Sabah borders, I personally saw large hectares of oil palm estates which were openly burnt to derive huge profit margins from palm oil products. But the blame was put on Indonesian fires… 😦 I wonder now if hotspots on Borneo island weren’t detected by satellite images since the Indonesian province of Kalimantan and both the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah are quite significant palm oil producers, too. πŸ˜‰

Still, Indonesia is the world’s richest and largest producer of palm oil priced @ USD962 per ton (today’s world crude palm oil market rate).


Disappointed over hotspots
Amresh Gunasingham Straits Times 21 Oct 10;

A SINGAPORE minister has expressed disappointment at the recent sharp increase in hotspots in the region of Sumatra which has brought haze back to Singapore in recent days.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim on Wednesday said Singapore has asked the Indonesian authorities on several occasions to take extra measures to make sure the forest fires do not recur.

‘It is a matter that cannot be taken lightly,’ he told reporters on the sidelines of the opening of a new co-generation power plant by Powerseraya at Jurong Island on Wednesday, adding that Asean members had agreed to take steps at a recent meeting on the haze issue to emphasize the need for more vigilance against firestarters.

Dr Yaacob advised those more vulnerable to respiratory ailments to curb their outdoor activities following a worsening of the haze on Tuesday. If the situation gets worse, the authorities will consider issuing a health advisory, said Dr Yaacob. But for now, the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) is in the moderate range, meaning no special precautions need to be taken. As at 3 pm on Wednesday, the PSI stood at 80.

Satellite pictures on Tuesday showed 202 ‘hot spots’ in Sumatra, indicating where Indonesian farmers and plantation companies had set fires to clear large swathes of forests to get the land ready for the crop-plating season. The prevailing winds from the south-west carried the smoke to Singapore, said the National Environment Ministry.

Many areas in Malaysia were also blanketed in thick haze on Wednesday, with the air quality in Muar reaching an unhealthy level based on the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings compared with 51 other areas nationwide. Malaysia’s Department of Environment said in a statement on Wednesday that the API readings at 11am showed 27 areas with moderate air quality and 23 areas with good-quality air.

Declining air quality have been reported over the last two days in several places such as in north Johor, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan and Selangor, due to the haze brought in from Sumatra.

No let-up in Riau forest fires despite crackdown promises
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Straits Times 21 Oct 10;

JAKARTA: Forest fires in the Riau province on Sumatra island have continued unchecked, despite promises by the Indonesian government to crack down on land owners who set fire to their land, environmental activists said yesterday.

This is why thick smog has spread across the province in the past few weeks, they said, adding that land owners who wanted to clear forest land to plant oil palm trees were mostly responsible for the fires.

‘A lot of the hot spots were in the concession areas,’ said Ms Syamsidar, a World Wide Fund for Nature activist based in Riau province.

A hot spot is defined as a fire covering a hectare of land or larger, while concession areas are the land swathes that have been granted to a company for use for a period of time.

‘The government must act and hold the land concession owners accountable. They have been given the right to use the land, thus are required to protect it,’ Ms Syamsidar told The Straits Times.

Riau province and its surrounding areas have also been hit by the haze.

The coastal town of Dumai was blanketed in smog yesterday, forcing the Pinang Kampai Airport to halt operations for a few hours in the morning because of poor visibility.

But officials in the province said the situation had improved due to rainfall over the past two days.

In Pekanbaru, which is in central Riau, the visibility level at the international airport was 10km yesterday, compared with just 4km on Monday.

The local government on Tuesday asked Jakarta to carry out cloud seeding to increase rainfall over the area.

This would stop the forest fires from spreading, said Riau province deputy governor Mambang Mit, as quoted by online news website Detik.com.

Ms Syamsidar said that in the past two weeks, 1,302 hot spots had been detected throughout the province, with 445 in the concession areas. She linked this to the growth of the oil palm industry.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, which brings in huge revenue for the country. But large swathes of virgin forest have to be cleared for oil palm plantations.

Ms Syamsidar claimed some operators were illegal plantation owners who resorted to slash-and-burn techniques to clear the land, in order to cut costs.

But a senior Environment Ministry official told The Straits Times that most fires were the result of negligence on the part of people living in Riau, or occurred naturally due to dry weather and heat.

Mr Alfi Fahmi said there were many cases in which residents tossed cigarette butts on dry peatland, which catches fire easily.

But strict law enforcement has helped to lower the number of slash-and-burn cases, he added.




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