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

admin   •   September 15, 2015   •   2937

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)

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.

DOH: 12 Filipino crew of tugboat from Indonesia tested positive for COVID-19

Robie de Guzman   •   July 20, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Twelve crew members of a sea vessel that arrived in the country from Indonesia tested positive for COVID-19, the Department of Health (DOH) said Tuesday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the tugboat, which carried 20 Filipinos, is currently docked at a port in Albay.

Eleven of the patients were kept strictly aboard the boat while one is under watch in Butuan after he disembarked to go home to his family despite orders to stay in the boat.

Vergeire said the patient in Butuan snuck off the ship and road a public transport to reach his residence.

“Iyong kaniyang close contacts, kasama ang driver ng public transport at isa pong helper at lahat ng kaniyang kapamilya ay nai-quarantine na po ng local government natin,” she said.

The remaining crew members of the ship tested negative for coronavirus, she added.

Vergeire said the DOH has collected five samples from the 11 COVID-19 positive cases aboard the vessel. These samples will be sent to the Philippine Genome Center for sequencing to determine if they are infected with a coronavirus variant.

The Philippines has so far confirmed 35 Delta variant cases, with three fatalities. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

Mga Pilipino sa Indonesia na balak umuwi sa Pilipinas, pinayuhang ipagpaliban ang biyahe

Robie de Guzman   •   July 19, 2021

Pinayuhan ng Embahada ng Pilipinas sa Indonesia ang mga Pilipino roon na ipagpaliban muna ang kanilang biyahe kung nagbabalak silang umuwi sa Pilipinas dahil sa umiiral na travel restrictions.

Ayon kay Charge D’ Affaires ng Philippine Embassy sa Indonesia na si Consul General Bryan Dexter Lao, hanggang sa katapusan ng Hulyo epektibo ang travel restrictions ng Pilipinas para sa bansang Indonesia bunsod ng mga kaso roon ng mas nakakahawang Delta variant ng COVID-19.

“Ang kailangan nilang gawin sa ngayon ay kausapin ang kanilang travel agent o airline para makapag-rebook sila ng flights,” ani Lao.

“Hindi pa natin masabi kung ano ang mangyayari sa mga susunod na panahon kung makakabiyahe ba sila agad dahil hihintayin pa natin ang magiging kautusan ng pamahalaan tungkol sa pansamantalang travel ban,” dagdag pa niya.

Maliban sa Indonesia, may ipinaiiral ding travel ban ang Pilipinas para sa mga bansang India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, at Oman hanggang sa Hulyo 31.

Batay sa ulat ng Embahada ng Pilipinas, aabot sa 15 Pilipino sa Indonesia ang nahawa ng COVID-19 at kasalukuyang nagpapagaling.

Tiniyak ni Lao na patuloy silang nakabantay sa sitwasyon ng mga Pilipino sa Indonesia at tuloy rin ang operasyon ng Embahada roon.

“Nakamonitor kami dito, base sa aming pagtataya, mayroon tayong mga Pilipino na naapektuhan ngayon ng COVID-19, siguro humigit kumulang mga sampu hanggang labing-lima. Hindi naman malubha ang kanilang mga kaso,” ayon sa opisyal.

Nasa 4,000 hanggang 8,000 ang bilang ng mga Pilipinong nagta-trabaho sa Indonesia. – RRD (mula sa ulat ni Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

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