Southeast Asia wheezes in haze, Indonesia cracks down on land burning

admin   •   September 15, 2015   •   3092

A man stands on his wooden boat as it crosses the haze shrouded Batanghari River in Jambi, Indonesia Sumatra island, September 14, 2015. REUTERS/Beawiharta

A man stands on his wooden boat as it crosses the haze shrouded Batanghari River in Jambi, Indonesia Sumatra island, September 14, 2015. REUTERS/Beawiharta

A worsening haze across northern Indonesia, neighboring Singapore and parts of Malaysia on Tuesday forced some schools to close and airlines to cancel flights, while Indonesia ordered a crackdown against lighting fires to clear forested land.

Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smog caused by slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan islands, but governments in the region have failed to address the problem.

The fires have been exacerbated this year by the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon, as a prolonged dry season in Indonesia has parched the top soil, fuelling the flames.

President Joko Widodo, who was on an official visit to the Middle East, said he had instructed security forces to accelerate efforts to extinguish the fires, responsible for the haze spreading over the past few weeks.

“I have asked authorities to take strict legal action against those responsible for the forest fires, including revoking their land permits,” he said in a statement issued late on Monday.

Indonesia’s Riau province declared a state of emergency this week as an air quality index hit a “dangerous” high of 984 in the provincial capital and affected over 25,000 people, according to the national disaster management agency. In Singapore, the index has fluctuated above 100, levels considered “unhealthy”, for the past few days, with the poor air quality causing respiratory problems, and irritating eyes and throats.

Indonesia has struggled for years to contain forest fires and the resulting haze despite repeatedly promising to punish perpetrators.

Indonesian police have named over 100 people as suspects in slash-and-burn cases in Kalimantan and Sumatra, according to local media.

The unhealthy air has also increased the workload for doctors in Malaysia and Singapore, where the haze has clouded the build-up to the Formula One night race to be held there later this week.

“My daughter keeps having to go to the doctor for her wheezing and blocked nose,” said C.S. Ebenezer, 46, a resident of Singapore, where many have been forced to wear face masks.

“The constant barbecue smell is really obnoxious.”

Malaysia said it was preparing to conduct cloud-seeding operations to reduce the haze as schools were closed in several states and some flights were disrupted due to poor visibility.

The smog is usually caused by firms and small-holder farmers clearing land adjacent to existing concessions for palm or pulp and paper.

Major plantation companies like Asia Pulp and Paper say they have a “zero burning” policy but have often been criticized by green groups for not doing enough to stop the haze.

“The problem is, most of the fires were happening outside of known (land) concession boundaries,” said WRI research analyst Andika Putraditama. “This makes it very difficult for the government to monitor and enforce the law when it comes to forest fires.”

Singapore’s environment minister said late on Monday that Indonesia had agreed to share names of companies causing the fires once the information had been verified.

Indonesian Forestry and Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar last week said authorities were investigating 10 firms, which could face sanctions if found violating the law.

(Additional reporting by Trinna Leong in KUALA LUMPUR and Fathin Ungku in SINGAPORE; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Philippines, Malaysia to boost bilateral ties amid easing pandemic situation – DFA

Robie de Guzman   •   October 21, 2021

 MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government is looking to bolster its ties with Malaysia amid improving COVID-19 situation in Southeast Asia, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday.

In a statement, the DFA said that the department’s Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs Neal Imperial met with Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines Norman bin Muhammad last Oct. 18.

Among the things discussed by the two officials were initiatives seeking to revitalize the two nations’ relations across all areas amid easing coronavirus pandemic situation, it added.

“The two officials exchanged views and proposals on how to further boost bilateral trade and investment, address the COVID-19 pandemic, and roll out post-pandemic recovery initiatives, including the careful reopening of borders to gradually revitalize business and two-way tourism,” the DFA said.

The department said that both parties have also discussed counterterrorism cooperation, the promotion of moderate Islam in predominantly Muslim areas, as well as Malaysia’s support for the development of Mindanao.

The two officials also agreed to continue working together to further enhance Philippines-Malaysia bilateral ties, and explore the possibility of reconvening high-level bilateral meetings early next year.

Despite the effects of the pandemic, Malaysia remains one of the Philippines’ top trading partners and investment sources.

During their meeting, Imperial also conveyed the congratulations of the Philippine Government to Malaysia’s newly elected government, the DFA said.

Philippines hailed as Asia’s leading beach and dive destination

Aileen Cerrudo   •   October 19, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines has been hailed as ‘Asia’s Leading Beach Destination’ by the World Travel Awards 2021.

The other nominees are India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The country also bested other contenders for Asia’s Leading Dive Destination, leading against Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat welcomed the said recognition and expressed her gratitude towards the government and the citizens who continue to promote the country’s tourist attractions.

“We share this recognition with our tourism stakeholders, local government units, partner agencies, and all Filipinos who have been helping us promote our country’s attractions, products, and culture,” she said.

This is the fifth time the country has been recognized as Asia’s Leading Beach Destination, and the third time as Asia’s Leading Dive Destination. AAC

PCG in S. Mindanao orders intensified patrols vs. illegal entry of travelers from Indonesia

Marje Pelayo   •   July 22, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in Southern Mindanao recently ordered its station, sub-stations, floating assets, and operational control (OPCON) units to carry out intensified monitoring and regular border patrols in the region to prevent illegal entry of people from Indonesia.

The directive comes after reports of surge in Delta variant cases wreaking havoc in the said Asian country.

Indonesia was recently included by the national government in the list of countries with travel restrictions.

It shares borders with the Philippines in Southern Mindanao and its proximity poses a huge risk of virus importation.

In view of this, PCG Commandant Admiral George Ursabia Jr. directed all Coast Guard districts and units nationwide to step up monitoring of all vessels with crew or passengers who may be carriers of the COVID-19 Delta variant, most especially borders near Indonesia and Malaysia in the Southern part of the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Captain Rejard Marfe, the acting commander of PCG District Southern Mindanao, also ordered all PCG units in the region to ensure that measures are in place, in coordination with local government units and other law enforcement agencies.


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