Benedictine monks see red over Vietnam forest fires

Benedictine monks see red over Vietnam forest fires

Brothers claim blazes were started deliberately and ask authorities and individuals to respect their dignity reporter, Hue City
Vietnam, May 29, 2018

Benedictine monks in a central Vietnam province have criticized authorities for ignoring forest fires that they claim were started deliberately.

Brother Stanislas Tran Minh Vong said two fires were found in pine forest around the Benedictine Monastery of Thien An just outside the ancient city of Hue in Thua Thien Hue province on the afternoons of May 22 and 23.

Brother Vong, 81, said 50 monks used water pipes, hoes, shovels, knives and other tools to extinguish the first fire, which broke out about 300 meters from the monastery.

“A group of gangsters shouted at us and tried to prevent us from extinguishing the fire, which was approaching the monastery,” he said. They also told the monks that the forest does not belong to the monastery.

Two security officers from Thuy Bang commune saw the incident but did nothing to stop the flames. “They tried to take away cameras from some monks who were videoing the fire to find its cause,” said Brother Vong.

Brother Vong said the second fire was put out by Benedictines and some soldiers.

Father Louis Gonzaga Dang Hung Tan, head of the monastery, said four fires have started in the area this year. They destroyed five hectares of pine forest planted by the monks decades ago.

“After examining the scene, we confirm that these fires were caused by people. All fires aimed to cause disorder to the monks’ life and religious activities,” Father Tan said.

The priest said some groups of strangers have broken into the monastery and watched the monks’ work for recent months. However, they have never been present at fires and protected the monastery’s properties, he added.

He also accused some individuals and organizations of destroying and confiscating the monks’ land and properties.

The monks have had legal ownership of the monastery and its 107 hectares of pine forest and farmland since 1940.

Since 1975, local authorities have “borrowed” or confiscated land and assigned it to state-run forestry and tourism companies. The monks were allowed to retain only six hectares of land including the monastery.

The monks say they have never transferred the ownership of properties or land to any individual or organization.

“We ask relevant individuals and organizations to respect our dignity and basic human rights by laws,” Father Tan said.

He demanded they stop starting forest fires and preserve the pine forest and the monks’ spiritual values, which help create a clean environment.

The area is now in the dry season lasting from May to September. Five rainwater containers at the monastery are running out and pools used to water orange farms have dried up. Monks have to carry water 10 kilometers to use for their daily activities.

“It is unfair that we are not allowed to use our 49-hectare lake near the monastery,” said Father Tan, referring to a lake confiscated by the government.

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Singapore set for third straight haze-free year

Singapore set for third straight haze-free year

PUBLISHED MAY 19, 2018, 5:00 AM SGT

Indonesian minister says there won’t be a repeat of 2015 crisis in 2018, thanks to steps taken

Endangered Bornean Orangutans Threatened Further By Wildfires, Both Natural And Human-Made

Endangered Bornean Orangutans Threatened Further By Wildfires, Both Natural And Human-Made

rangutans are among the closest relatives of Homo sapiens, and their three known species are part of the seven great apes — chimpanzees, bonobos and the eastern and western gorillas being the other four — that have survived the onslaught of time and human activity. The latter, particularly land clearing for agriculture and felling trees for logging, are considered as the main factors that have brought orangutans close to the edge of extinction, but a new threat has been brought to light — wildfires.

All three species of orangutans — Bornean, Sumatran and the recently discovered Tapanuli — are found in a small part of Southeast Asia, mostly in Indonesia, and are already listed as critically endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Indonesia is also infamous for its annual forest fires, which sometimes blanket the entire region in smoke and haze for months.

Wendy Erb, a researcher from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, was studying male orangutans in Indonesian Borneo when the fires started (often done by small farmers to clear forest land) in 2015. A few weeks later, Erb noticed a change in the male orangutans’ vocalizations, specifically in the call scientists think males use to attract females and to warn other males.

“I thought they sounded raggedy, a little like humans who smoke a lot,” Erb said in a statement Tuesday, and that prompted her to investigate the effects of inhaling smoke on the orangutans’ health.


Belt and Road Initiative Vows Green Infrastructure with Connectivity

Belt and Road Initiative Vows Green Infrastructure with Connectivity

MANILA, May 8 2018 (IPS) – “My son in primary school did not attend a birthday celebration because it was cancelled due to bad air — and we live in Seoul, a great place to live,” said Dr. Frank Rijsberman, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI).

He was speaking to delegates of a forum that discussed creating environmental policies while enabling economic and regional cooperation among countries in the Belt and Road route during the 51st annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) that concluded over the weekend.

The forum took cues from Rijsberman’s story of living in Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, one of the poorest countries that in 50 years became an example for many developing countries to demonstrate the importance of economic growth while being mindful of air quality and the overall livability of the environment.

The “Green Growth and Regional Cooperation” forum was a side event hosted by GGGI with an expert panel that discussed China’s proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and, with many references to “green growth,” “green policies” and “green investments,” looked at putting in place policies to accelerate green investments and green technology while exploring ways to create opportunities that address poverty across countries.

“Climate change is already exacting its toll, particularly in the Asian region, so rapidly that technological and economic growth (that may have worsened issues like air quality) should also be our most immediate driver of action to do something,” said Rijsberman.

He said there is a need for countries to have “green growth,” a new development approach that delivers environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economic growth that is low-carbon and climate resilient; prevents or remediates pollution; maintains healthy and productive ecosystems and creates green jobs, reduce poverty and enhance social inclusion.

Rijsberman said the GGGI will join the Green Belt and Road Coalition and currently cooperates with the China Ministry of Ecology and Environment and the ASEAN Center for Environmental Cooperation on regional cooperation and integration that facilitates sustainable urban development and supports high-level policies and impactful knowledge sharing on the adoption of sustainable growth in the Belt and Road countries.

Prof. Dongmei Guo, China state council expert of the China-ASEAN Environmental Cooperation Center, said the BRI brings together two regional trade corridors: the Silk Road Economic Belt that will link China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea though Central Asia and West Asia with three routes:  China-Central Asia-Russia-Europe through the Baltic Sea; China-Central Asia-West Asia-Persian Gulf through the Mediterranean Sea and China- Southeast Asia-South Asia through the Indian Ocean; and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road that stretches from the South Pacific Sea to Europe with two roads — Coastal China-South China Sea-Indian Ocean-Europe and Coastal China-South China Sea and South Pacific.

The initiative covers more than 65 countries — or more than 60% of the world’s population — that includes Africa and Europe and plans to mobilize 150 billion dollars in investments over the next five years. Initiated in 2013, the BRI aims to create the world’s largest platform for economic cooperation, including policy coordination, trade and financing collaboration, and social and cultural cooperation.

“The BRI provides great opportunities for promoting green transformation and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2030,” said Guo, mentioning environmental-related SGDs 6, 12, 13, 14 and 15 as the same targets envisioned in the initiative.  “The global sustainable development process has entered a new stage through the BRI and it must be green.”

Goals 6, 12, 13, 14 and 15 enjoin countries to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation and sustainable consumption and production patterns, to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development and to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Guo said among some of the concerns in the countries along the route are water shortages, water pollution, agricultural pollution, tailings, industrial wastes, and nuclear waste for Central Asia, biodiversity loss, water pollution and urbanization-led pollution in South Asia, and biodiversity, forest fire and haze brought by conventional pollution in Southeast Asia.

Winston Chow, GGGI country representative for China, said the program is still in its initial phase but is seeing an estimated investment of 500 billion dollars through 2030 that will be invested in the developing world along the BRI route, with 300 billion of that being carbon-related.

“What that means is that we have to consider the impacts of these economies in the long term and a major opportunity to decarbonize, which is a big step as we enhance global development,” he said. “We have to look at 2030 development goals and align our efforts at helping member countries contribute as they implement development projects.”

Organized under five guiding tasks of policy coordination, unimpeded trade, facilities connectivity financial integration, and people-to-people bond, Chow said the BRI aims to utilize Chinese government policy, financing and technology in enhancing strong projects in the developing world. The GGGI will facilitate the work with member states on how to deploy green projects and we have talked to a number of country governments such as those in Mongolia, Jordan, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Vietnam and the Philippines.”

He cited the strong collaboration with Mongolia after its policy makers were introduced to energy efficiency with air quality restrictions and environmental impact reductions through the introduction of the electric vehicles tariff in the capital Ulaanbaatar that successfully reduced bad air from 2016 to 2017.

Jordan, Indonesia and Ethiopia are also underway in their ecological restoration and water treatment practices. Transformative projects among Chinese technologies in solar energy use, e-transportation and e-mobility technology, land restoration, water and solid waste treatment and solar, wind and energy building efficiency projects will also be shared as well with participating countries.

But with BRI being recently introduced, Chow mentioned a few challenges in financing schemes such as gaps between what China wants to invest in and what developing countries are ready to do but have financial needs that are complex to underwrite. For instance, he said “the debate is still out on countries that have electricity grids not quite ready for global energy integration that may not necessarily yield benefits financially or socially.”


Indonesia to raise efforts to reduce haze

Indonesia to raise efforts to reduce haze

Vows to introduce measures to prevent blazes in fire-prone peatland areas

May 3, 2018

The Indonesian government has pledged to raise its efforts to reduce annual choking haze caused by forest fires and crop burning that blanket not only large parts of Indonesia but also several other Southeast Asian countries.

Declaring 2018 as a “zero smoke year”, Bambang Hendroyono, general secretary of the Environment and Forestry Ministry said the government has come up with a concrete plan to reduce the air pollution.

This involved closer monitoring of peatland areas — especially the activities of farmers — speeding up conservation and forest restoration efforts, wetting arid areas and public awareness campaigns.

“Conservation of peatlands is important to decrease the intensity of forest and peatland fires,” said Hendroyono, at a meeting on peatland management in Banjar, Central Kalimantan.

Preventing peatland — of which Indonesia has 14.9 million hectares — from catching fire is a key element of the government’s plan as it acts as a natural fuel and is very difficult to put out once a fire starts.

According to Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, a fire has consumed more than 3 million hectares of peatland in the last three years.

“Conservation of peatland is important to decrease the intensity of forest and peatlands fires,” Hendroyono said.

Father Frans Sani Lake, head of the church-run Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation group in the Kalimantan region responded by warning the government that it would take a mammoth effort to significantly reduce fires and that they would remain a big threat, particularly during the dry season.

“Being free from haze is a dream of all people. But, we must be realistic and be prepared,” he told

The priest said the church has urged Catholics — through homilies, catechism, and announcements in churches — to be wary of activities that trigger forest fires.

Sacred Heart Father Ansel Amo, who heads Merauke Archdiocese’s Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Commission in Papua, welcomed the government’s move.

“All should respond to this, which serves as a reminder for all of us to protect forests and peatlands, particularly during the dry season,” he said.

Annisa Rahmawati, Senior Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia said such a commitment to reduce fires must be ongoing.

She said this year there has already been a 20 percent increase on the 2,400 hotspots found last year.

“We hope the government promise is turned into real action,” she told

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Accelerate efforts to address air pollution: WHO to South-East Asian countries

Accelerate efforts to address air pollution: WHO to South-East Asian countries

THE NEWS SCROLL 02 MAY 2018  Last Updated at 6:29 PM

New Delhi, May 2 The WHO today called upon member countries in the South-East Asia region to aggressively address the issue of pollution, saying it accounts for 34 percent of the seven million premature deaths caused by household and ambient air pollution together globally every year.

This comes in the wake of a report of the global health body which puts Delhi and 13 other Indian cities in the list of 20 most-polluted cities in the world in terms of PM2.5 levels in 2016.

Stating that air pollution contributes significantly to non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancer, Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia, stressed on the need for investment in effective urban planning with energy-efficient housing and power generation, building safe and affordable public transport systems and improving industry and municipal waste management.

She also sought elimination of the emissions from coal and biomass energy systems, proper management of agricultural waste, forest fires and agro-forestry activities such as charcoal production and support the transition to exclusive use of clean household energy for cooking, heating, and lighting.

Singh drew attention to the example of India’s Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala scheme under which, in the last two years, 37 million women living below the poverty line were provided free LPG connections to support them to switch to clean household energy use. The country targets to reach 80 million households by 2020.

“The availability of clean household energy affects us all and our families and is a key to sustainable development. All countries in the region are making efforts to expand the availability of clean fuels and technologies, however, over 60 percent population do not have clean fuel,” she said.

She said that individuals should also contribute by valuing the environment and adopting behavioral changes such as using public transport or ‘soot-free’ vehicles, using clean, low-or no-emission stoves and fuels for cooking and reducing and disposing of household waste in an environmentally sound manner.

The combined effects of household air pollution and ambient air pollution become increasingly hard to address if not tackled early, the World Health Organization official said. The majority of countries in the region are at early stages of accelerated urbanization and rapid industrialization.

“Hence, air pollution needs to be brought under control with urgent and effective action at the earliest to stand the best chance to prevent the situation from worsening as development proceeds,” Singh said.

Of the 3.8 million deaths caused by household air pollution globally, the region accounts for 1.5 million or 40 percent deaths, and of the 4.2 million global deaths due to ambient (outdoor) air pollution, 1.3 million or 30 percent are reported from the region, according to the latest WHO report.

Delhi and Varanasi are among the 14 Indian cities that figured in a list of 20 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM2.5 levels in 2016, according to a data released by the WHO.

The WHO data also said that nine out of 10 people in the world breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.

Other Indian cities that registered very high levels of PM2.5 pollutants were Kanpur, Faridabad, Gaya, Patna, Agra, Muzaffarpur, Srinagar, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Patiala and Jodhpur followed by Ali Subah Al-Salem in Kuwait and a few cities in China and Mongolia.

In terms of PM10 levels, 13 cities in India figured among the 20 most-polluted cities of the world in 2016.

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Asian Games to boost Indonesia’s war on forest fires

Asian Games to boost Indonesia’s war on forest fires

Every dry season, large parts of Southeast Asia are shrouded in pollution caused by forest fires in Indonesia, many sets deliberately to clear land for pulp and paper and palm oil plantations. What’s the government doing about this?

Indonesia’s choking annual haze will be limited this year by the pressure of hosting the Asian Games and a new approach to preventing forest fires, a senior official said on Tuesday.

Every dry season—usually from June until October—large parts of Southeast Asia are shrouded in pollution caused by forest fires in Indonesia, many sets deliberately to clear land for pulp and paper and palm oil plantations.

Indonesia’s government switched focus from containment to prevention after a particularly bad outbreak in 2015 that cost the country $16 billion and caused more than 500,000 people to come down with respiratory ailments.

“Before 2015 it was all about suppressing the fires, but now it’s about prevention,” said Raffles Panjaitan, director of forest and land fire management at the forestry ministry.

If the haze comes, then aeroplanes cannot get through and land, which will stop the athletes.

Raffles Panjaitan, director, forest and land fire management, Ministry of Forestry

The spotlight on Indonesia as it hosts the 2018 Asian Games from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2 makes it all the more important to tackle the problem, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“If the haze comes, then aeroplanes cannot get through and land, which will stop the athletes,” he said on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit in Yogyakarta, on the Indonesian island of Java.

“It’s important for us,” he said of the Games, which will be co-hosted by the Sumatran city of Palembang and Jakarta.

Over the last three years, Indonesia has introduced a range of new policies including educating and training communities in fire prevention and setting up a Peatland Restoration Agency to tackle fires and protect peatland, said Panjaitan.

Peatlands—made up of partially decayed vegetation, typically saturated with water—hold huge amounts of carbon, and are important habitats for endangered species, like tigers, according to the campaign group Greenpeace.

It has drafted in the military, built early warning towers and organized patrols to monitor the burning, he said.

Panjaitan said better coordination of local governments, villagers, and companies could help reduce the risk.

Local leaders may turn a blind eye to burning of peatlands for fear of losing votes in elections later this year, he added.

Experts said the haze problem, which affects Malaysia and Singapore as well as Indonesia, would only be resolved if governments and the private sector, including the palm oil and aviation industries, came together to tackle it jointly.

“You need to take the people that are potentially the most affected—including the private sector—and sit everybody around the table to sort this out,” said Robert Nasi, head of the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research.


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Entering the dry season, watch out for fire in forest and plantation area

Entering the dry season, watch out for a fire in forest and plantation area

Wednesday, Apr 18, 2018, | 02:11 pm – Some parts of Indonesia region had entered dry season this month. Some regions need to cautious of forest and land area blaze.

“Facing dry season this year, we need to be more cautious for a fire in forest and plantation areas,” said Head of BMKG (Meteorology, Climatology and Geology agencies), Dwikorita Karnawati in her statement, Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

The region where vulnerable of happening of Karhutla (fire of forest and plantation areas), which are Aceh and North Sumatra, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, Gorontalo, South Sulawesi, North Sulawesi and  South Papua

Entering the dry season, some areas of Indonesia are affected by weak category of La Nina and can be moved to its normal conditions in September 2018.  BMKG clarified that there was no indication of abnormal weather.

“BMKG predicted that the Indian Ocean is constantly in the normal condition in April up to September 2018,” said Dwikora.

Wind circulation has been dominated by Australia monsoon wind (eastern) almost in all Indonesia region from the southern equator. Eastern wind brings dry wind from the Australian continent.