Archive | June 2013

Indonesian fires highlight weak governance and corruption

By Ben Bland in Jakarta, Financial Times  6/23

Thick, stifling smoke clouds are an annual blight in the dry season on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, when forest and peatlands are illegally set alight to clear space to grow lucrative oil palm and trees for paper production.

Usually it is the millions of Indonesians who suffer the health consequences of these bad environmental practices, which are sustained by weak governance and corruption at a time when global demand for palm oil, used in everything from shampoo to biofuels, and paper products is soaring because of rapid economic growth in markets such as China and India.

Over the past two weeks, the wind blew north and east concertedly, wafting the haze to neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore, where air pollution levels soared to the highest on record, angering residents and rekindling a long-running diplomatic dispute that has ensnared some of the world’s biggest plantation companies.

The blame game intensified over the weekend, with the Indonesian government and NGOs trading accusations over responsibility for the fires with some of the large plantation companies operating in the region

With plantation owners, small-scale farmers, local officials in Sumatra and the national governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore all pointing the finger at each other, environmental scientists say little has changed since the last major regional haze outbreak in 1997-98 and that hopes for a co-ordinated solution to the enduring haze problem are distant.

That raises serious doubts about the ability of Indonesia, one of the world’s biggest emitters of the greenhouse gasses that are believed to cause climate change, to achieve its ambitious target to cut carbon emissions by 26 per cent by 2020. READ MORE

Indonesia Smoke Haze Shrouds Malaysian Cities

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AFP  June 16

Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia was Sunday shrouded with haze from forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra causing “unhealthy” levels of pollution in six areas.

Haze is an annual problem during the monsoon season from May to September as winds blow the smoke across the Malacca Strait to Malaysia.

Environment Department director general Halimah Hassan said they had detected 46 hotspots in Sumatra via satellite.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) showed unhealthy levels of between 101 and 129 in six areas on Sunday morning, including two places in Malacca state along with Port Dickson and the country’s largest port, Port Klang.

In the capital Kuala Lumpur the skies were hazy with air pollution readings at 92, just below the unhealthy threshold.

A level of 101-200 is considered unhealthy, while 51-100 is moderate.

Halimah in a statement late Saturday attributed the haze to the westerly monsoon season during which winds blow the smoke towards Malaysia.

Haze, mostly caused by fires in Indonesia, builds up during the dry season, affecting tourism and contributing to health problems across the region.

Indonesia’s government has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak law enforcement means the ban is largely ignored.

The haze hit its worst level in 1997-1998, costing the Southeast Asian region an estimated $9 billion by disrupting air travel and other business activities.

Agence France-Presse

Illegal wildlife trade flourishes in Sumatra

By Birchard Kellogg 6/10

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In a chilly rain on Sunday, in a town just a few kilometers beyond the edge of a protected Sumatran rainforest, a young orangutan sat perched on a piece of plywood and grabbed the metal wires of his tiny cage.

He has sat in that cage for six months and, like more than a dozen other species on display in this “zoo” in the town of Kandang in Aceh, he has a price tag.

This packed assembly is an acknowledged front for illegal trafficking in wildlife.

“It’s a zoo, but you can buy,” said the wife of the property’s owner. The critically endangered orangutan? $200. A leopard cat? $25-$50.

A steady rotation is evident. In March, a staff member of a Sumatran conservation organization working to fight the trade witnessed a critically endangered baby sun bear on the property. About a week later, two other bears sat caged, according to the same eyewitness. None are there now.

Primates appear to be frequently traded, or simply die from lack of care. Eight months ago, three other orangutans were caged here, witnesses said, along with a gibbon that has since died. One orangutan has disappeared, likely sold. When a flood hit on May 10, locals say one escaped and another drowned.

Click here to read the rest of the story and see more images



More or less protection for forests in Indonesia?

By Dave Armstrong June 5

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 9.31.33 AMThe critically-endangered Sumatran tiger, Panthera tigris sumatrae, is one of several imuch-loved mammals due to become extinct as their habitat is destroyed, even within their own reserves. Illegal logging, pam oil plantations and mining surround them. 5 years ago, there were a maximum of 679 left © Shutterstock


President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia acted 2 years ago to outlaw logging permits for virgin rainforest throughout the extensive archipelago of Indonesia. Corruption and various loopholes have enabled a wide disregard for the government’s action. Palm oil is the tree of choice for industrial giants and smaller operators alike in the previously large forests of Indonesia. Soap and biscuits have replaced the biodiverse inhabitants of pure jungle.

Pulp, paper and tissue companies have also joined mining groups in this devastation of natural vegetation types, even in swamps and deep jungle. Even the obvious and characterful orang utan has been driven from its home and then killed, but invertebrates and small vertebrates have even less chance of survival when many of them are undescribed and unseen. Many more new species are found every year. All of this forest loss makes Indonesia the biggest palm oil producer and the third biggest carbon dioxide emitter. That is surprising when you consider the enormous industry of China and the US, above them in this sad league table.

Permits given out before the moratorium 2 years ago, or for secondary forest, are of course perfectly valid. The areas now being destroyed are very large- the size of a small country – in Aceh Province, for example. What one country has done to help is provide incentive to slow this forest loss. Norway has pledged $1 billion. according to Kumi Nadoo, the Greenpeace international executive director. Norway’s offer was conducted through the UN as part of their climate change commitments. The president’s response was the moratorium and last month the ban was continued for another 2 year span. Hopefully the slowdown in deforestation might bring Indonesia more cash from their Norwegian sponsors.

The chances are, however, that the massive “colonisation” of Indonesia by the multinational companies who run these deforesting industries will cause no slowdown in forest loss at all. Instead, the profit motive and the incredible lack of human rights afforded to indigenous people lost these particular groups 10 million hectares (24.7 million acres) over 10 years. Jakarta politics is rife with land-grabs and transmigration policies (to facilitate “growth”), nowadays largely in distant Papua and Sulawesi. The dispossessed can then be sent to prison for talking about the situation. “Now you can be sent there for talking about corporations,” says Abetnego Tarigan, director of Friends of the Earth Indonesia in Jakarta.

The tigers, the rhinos, the orang utans and the great trees that used to reign here have largely disappeared. The fabulous pieces of tiger habitat for those two above have gone: someone forgot to leave them the trees they need.

AP/ June 5, 2013, 7:51 AM Indonesia critically endangered Sumatran elephants poisoned, shot, WWF says

CBS, via Associated Press June 5 Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 9.23.31 AM

JAKARTA, Indonesia Poisoning or shooting killed many of the 129 critically endangered elephants that have died on Indonesia’s Sumatra island in less than a decade, highlighting weak enforcement of laws against poaching, an environmental group says.

WWF Indonesia said killings of Sumatran elephants are on the rise, with 29 either shot or poisoned last year, including 14 in Aceh province. The group said Tuesday that no one has been convicted or jailed in the deaths that were counted in Riau province since 2004.

The report came three days after two dead Sumatran elephants were found near a paper plantation in Riau, allegedly poisoned by poachers. Another elephant was killed last month near Tesso Nilo national park and its tusks were hacked off. An autopsy found a plastic detergent wrapper in its belly filled with poison.

The group said 59 percent of the dead elephants were definitely poisoned, 13 percent were suspected to have been poisoned, and 5 percent were killed by gunshots. Others died from illness or other causes, or the reason for their death was unknown.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the animals as “critically endangered” after their numbers dropped to between 2,400 and 2,800 from an estimated 5,000 in 1985. Environmentalists say the elephants could be extinct within three decades unless they are protected.

The decline is largely due to destruction of their habitat. Forests across Sumatra are being logged for timber, palm oil, and pulp and paper.

Sumatra has some of the most significant populations of Asian elephants outside of India and Sri Lanka and is also home to tigers, orangutans and rhinos.

“Effective action on the ground should be taken immediately to protect Sumatran elephants from extinction, especially in Riau,” the report said. There are about 300 elephants left in Riau, which is part of Sumatra island.

Achmad Saeroji, head of the government conservation agency in Riau, denied the allegation of lax law enforcement, saying at least eight cases have been handled by authorities recently.

“We always investigate every case of elephants found dead,” he said. “But it is hard to capture the perpetrators, either because of late reports or the fear of people to report the poachers, who work in a network.”

Indonesia’s elephants sometimes venture into populated areas searching for food. They destroy crops or attack humans, making them unpopular with villagers. Some are shot or poisoned with cyanide-laced fruit, while others are killed by poachers for their ivory.

Urgent Call for Help


Please donate to bring a world-class photographer to Aceh to document threats to critically endangered species.

It has been widely reported in the media that the current Aceh administration is planning to open huge amounts of currently protected forest for commercial exploitation. Leading scientist are warning that opening these protected forest will increase natural disasters (ie. Landslide and flooding), human wildlife conflict with community and paved the way to extinction of Sumatra’s megafauna (Critically endangered Sumatran Rhino, Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Orangutan and Sumatran Elephant).

We are writing to request Paul to join our communications team for the duration of 7-10 days to photograph and profile the activities currently taking place undocumented in Aceh. Key aspects would be seeking to capture human-wildlife conflict and “natural disaster” that are currently taking place. The key proposed outcome of Paul’s trip to Aceh is to secure the currently missing images that can send the story of this campaign further than it is currently reaching.

Obviously, capturing the images that portray this story are exceptionally difficult and largely based upon being at the right place at the right time. This is where the working relationship between Paul, us, and our local partners provide the highest likelihood of success. Prior to Paul’s arrival, two weeks of field survey will be conducted by localized teams of forest rangers, working with local community to indicate the locations where these powerful images which will accelerate the campaign can be captured.

Unfortunately, our organization is not currently in the financial position to fund the anticipated US$ 6,500 cost to bring Paul to the field to photograph what is taking place. However it is viewed as essential for the broader campaign to protect and restore Aceh threatened forest that Paul is able to join the team at this critical time. As of right now, we have field reports of broad scale flooding and landslide along the entire west coast of Aceh and numerous human wildlife conflict taking place in central highland and east coast. The sooner Paul can get here to capture the disaster and conflict the better. Paul’s images, as we have seen in the past internationalize local issues and this is essential for the work we are currently undertaking right now.

This project is anticipated to be utilized to raised the profile of the campaign to protect and restore Aceh threatened forest, securing the last habitat where Rhinos, Elephants, Tigers and Orangutans still live in one place. We thank you in advance for your generous support.

To donate, please go to this LINK

Indonesia on right path to saving forests: Greenpeace

Bangkok Post  June 3

A copy billion deal to save Indonesia’s rainforests has slowed a “tidal wave” of logging destruction, Greenpeace’s global chief said Monday, but he warned much more needed to be done.

 While many environmentalists have sharply criticised Indonesian efforts to end rampant logging across some of the planet’s most vital forests, Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said there was reason to hope.  Click here to read more