MND Press Release 10 Mar 14;
Let me now touch on the issues raised by Ms Faizah Jamal and A/P Muhammad Faishal on food security.
Today, Singaporeans enjoy a steady supply of safe food at affordable prices. Our supermarkets’ shelves are never empty, and we can always find a place, be it a hawker centre or restaurant, to have our meals. Yet, like water and energy, we should never take our food availability for granted. We must continue to ensure our food supply resilience, especially when we import more than 90% of our food.
Madam Chair, food source diversification will continue to be our core strategy to ensure Singapore’s food security. This strategy has worked well when some supply sources are disrupted. For instance, the recent export ban of several species of fish by Malaysia had minimal impact on our fish supply as our importers were able to increase fish imports from other countries to meet our consumers’ demand. During the world rice shortage in 2008, Vietnam banned the export of rice but we had adequate supplies from different sources, and our rice stockpile provided the additional assurance of buffer stock.
While we actively open up overseas food sources to guard against supply disruptions, we have also supplemented our food imports by producing three key food items, namely, eggs, fish and leafy vegetables locally.
Ms Faizah has said that AVA gave a reply to a Forum Page letter in the Straits Times last year that Singapore aimed to be self-sufficient in these 3 key food items. This is incorrect. We have never aimed to be fully self-sufficient in these food items. We cannot, as we do not have enough farmland. AVA’s reply dated 23 February 2013 that Ms Faizah referred to, in fact said that we only aimed to achieve some degree of self-sufficiency in the production of these 3 key food items.
The reality in Singapore is that we have limited land with many competing uses. Hence, land for our local farming sector will remain small. Our focus will be on the key food farms, and we will work with these farmers to boost farm productivity in a sustainable manner, and to intensify the use of whatever limited farmland we have.
Ms Faizah asked about how the recent mass fish death incident has affected our aim of achieving self-sufficiency in fish supply and how much time is needed to recover from the loss. The recent mass fish death incident which saw losses of up to 500 metric tonnes of fish was indeed unfortunate. However, the impact to our food supply was minimal as our farms produced only 6% of the fish consumed in Singapore. AVA is assisting the affected farmers to get back onto their feet and resume production in the following ways.
First, AVA will fund 70% of the cost of restocking of frys and fingerlings to help the affected farms re-start their operations.
Second, AVA will increase its Food Fund’s co-funding support from 50% to 70% for the purchase of equipment and systems that farms can put in place to mitigate against similar incidents in future. These include aerators, oxygenators, generators, water treatment systems and water quality monitoring systems.
Third, AVA will review and strengthen the current alert system to quickly detect and warn farms of adverse environmental conditions which could affect their farm production.
Fourth, AVA will work with the fish farms to develop a more sustainable sea based farming system, so that they are less susceptible to changes in environmental conditions.
The mass fish death incident is a timely reminder to our fish farmers to enhance their production systems through technological innovation to safeguard against externalities, build up their resilience and to improve productivity.
Madam Chair, allow me to display a photo on the LED screen. One beneficiary of the Food Fund is the Metropolitan Fishery Group (MFG), a local fish farm which received about $570,000 for investments in solar powered aerators and water monitoring systems to enhance its operations. The investment has indeed paid off as the farm was not adversely affected by the recent mass fish deaths.
Ms Faizah also asked about rooftop gardens and whether there will be support for residents who wished to plant their own vegetables on rooftops. Such rooftop gardens are very much a community initiative and indeed, we are seeing the community gardening movement flourishing amongst our HDB residents.
HDB will set aside space at all new multi-storey carparks (MSCPs) rooftops, and equip them with planter beds and irrigation systems to facilitate community farming. Both AVA and NParks also conduct training for these community farmers. However, our experience shows that such initiatives require strong local champions who are passionate about community farming. The production capabilities of such community farms are also limited.
Let me now give an update of the work of the Inter-Ministry Committee on Food Security (or IMC in short), as requested by A/P Muhammad Faishal. Formed in 2012 under the purview of the National Security Coordinating Committee, the IMC is tasked to review and formulate strategies to mitigate food security risks and vulnerabilities. It started out focusing on two broad strategies – industry development and food wastage reduction. The IMC has engaged key stakeholders along the food supply chain, such as importers, processors, retailers and logistics players for their inputs.
The IMC recognises that there is room for the food industry to share resources and functions such as procurement, logistics or even equipment in order to boost productivity and efficiency.
We will also facilitate and encourage our food importers to move upstream and consider investment in farming, collection, processing or packaging to gain better control over product quality and supply. Some companies have started to do this, recognising the benefits of securing food at source. IE Singapore is in the process of, for example, assisting Chew’s Group Limited to set up an integrated aquaculture centre in China through grants and operational support. In this way, not only does Chew’s Group control the entire value chain, it can also gain access to one of the world’s largest seafood markets.
IE Singapore and AVA will continue to identify interested companies and match them with available opportunities for upstream investments in the region, expanding the source and supply of food back to Singapore.
The IMC also recognises that food wastage reduction can help enhance our food security by managing the demand for food. We must inculcate the right attitude and habit in not wasting food amongst all Singaporeans – young and old.
Today, households, food manufacturing and catering industries, food and beverage retail premises, hotels and shopping malls are the main food waste generators. In 2012, about 703,200 tonnes of food waste was generated in Singapore. This is equivalent to, on average of an individual wasting about 650 bowls of rice per year. Imagine how much food we can save to help the less fortunate and buffer us during times of emergencies!
All our stakeholders agree that more can be done to increase awareness of the need to reduce food wastage. The National Environment Agency (NEA) and AVA are now looking into developing a comprehensive public education outreach programme targeted at schools, community and retailers to reduce food wastage, especially in moderating the way we consume food.
Many of our stakeholders have already implemented their own initiatives to reduce food waste and are willing to do more. As part of IMC’s recommendations, several agencies such as NEA, AVA, and SPRING Singapore are developing guidelines for food manufacturers and retailers to help them identify areas along their supply chain to minimise food waste. We will consult the industry on these guidelines when ready. To implement these guidelines, companies can leverage on the existing NEA’s 3R Fund to reduce food wastage and promote more recycling.
Madam Chair, we have done well in sensitising Singaporeans to conserve water and energy. We should do likewise for food consumption.
All of us must play our part in ensuring Singapore’s food security. Besides inculcating good habits not to waste food, we must also be prepared to switch to equally good alternatives, for example, frozen meat in place of chilled meat, or powdered and liquid eggs as substitutes for shell eggs, when supplies are disrupted. By working together, we can increase our resilience and safeguard our food supply for our present and future generations. Thank you.
Committee of Supply 2014 - Speech by Minister of State Desmond Lee "Working Together to Build a Liveable and Green Singapore"
MND Press Release 10 Mar 2014 08:00 PM
Sir, I serve a constituency in Jurong West. In my conversations with older community leaders and residents, I would be reminded from time to time that, not too long ago, Jurong was a swamp. Nobody thought it could be an industrial hub and a residential heartland. But our pioneers dreamt, persevered, and their vision of Jurong became reality.
In 1965, Singapore was an improbable nation-state. Our pioneers worked hard, thought far, had big dreams, but were very much pragmatists, and in less than the lifetime of a generation turned this place into a city of opportunities – modern, green and constantly rejuvenating.
Back in the early days, our preoccupation was survival and providing the basic essentials for our people. Today, our focus is increasingly on quality of life: liveability, sustainability and inclusiveness. And if you had visited the exhibition or had been consulted on the URA Draft Master Plan 2013, you would have seen some of the ideas being proposed to enhance our living environment, and to celebrate our heritage and green spaces. We agree with Ms Penny Low’s comment on the need to be people-centric when we plan urban spaces – housing areas and community areas. This is what URA and other agencies are precisely doing, building on experience from past Master Plans, and applying lessons learnt from consultations, studies and continuous research.
Yet, in tackling the challenges of tomorrow for our land-scarce city-state, we should retain the ‘Can-Do’ spirit of our pioneers – forward-thinking, hardworking, sensible and pragmatic. This means constantly thinking out of the box and looking for innovative solutions, but being disciplined in urban planning, having a clear sense of where the trade-offs lie, and keeping a careful eye on the long term.
Ms Faizah Jamal made a passionate speech and was concerned that the Government was overly people-centric in our development.
We must provide for the needs and aspirations of Singaporeans and improve their quality of life in this small city-state. Within our confines, we have to provide for everything that a sovereign state needs. Unlike cities in large countries, we do not have the luxury to put our utilities, our defence needs and our nature reserves outside the walls of the city. Even then, we have protected more than 3,300 hectares in 4 Nature Reserves, designated 20 nature areas with significant biodiversity, including 2 more last year, planted extensive Nature Ways to facilitate movement of biodiversity between natural habitats, and embedded pervasive greenery through our parks and into our urban areas. Our passionate NParks officers work closely with agencies and with many nature volunteers on reforestation and conservation programmes, biodiversity research as well as public outreach and education especially the youths. And this work goes on day after day.
All of this is possible only because our pioneer generation of leaders, most notably former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, had consciously and deliberately made greening part and parcel of Singapore’s planning and development DNA from day one, and this continues to this very day.
Our efforts have not gone unnoticed by the international community. NParks was pivotal in facilitating the formulation of an index for biodiversity to guide sustainable development of cities. This has been endorsed by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and is now known as the Singapore Index on Cities’ Biodiversity. This honour was accorded to Singapore because of the conservation efforts of our small city state, which is a model now adopted by other cities.
At this point, let me share with you two new projects in two very different parts of Singapore which tell contrasting, vivid stories of how we hope to better the lives of our people in a uniquely Singapore way. With your permission, Sir, I have prepared some pictures to illustrate my point.
Marina Bay – Reclaiming the Impossible
Not far from Parliament House, Marina Bay stands as the extension of our new CBD. Gardens by the Bay, the Esplanade, and Marina Bay Sands, well recognised and iconic developments for Singaporeans and visitors alike, are in fact new developments which were built in the past ten over years. With plenty of room to grow, Marina Bay is well positioned to serve as Singapore’s premier business and financial hub for the region.
Marina Bay did not just appear overnight. Our pioneers took a bold leap of faith more than 40 years ago, when they started reclaiming Marina South and Marina Centre from the sea. They saw the potential for Marina Bay to become an attractive waterfront location for the expansion of our financial centre. But we did not want it to be another Raffles Place or Shenton Way, where offices dominate. We wanted it to be a “People’s Bay”, nestled amongst gardens and flanked by water, grounded in our heritage and historical memories, such as Clifford Pier, Merlion Park and Collyer Quay, for Singaporeans to live, to work and to play.
So we gradually reclaimed around 360 hectares of land at the Bay, about nine times the size of London’s Canary Wharf. We deliberately planned for seamless connectivity between Marina Bay and the city, complemented by an integrated network of walkways both above and below ground. We provided well-landscaped open spaces for people to relax and gather in, and devoted 100 ha of land to waterfront gardens. Gardens by the Bay has brought nature ever closer to Singaporeans. It is the pride of Singaporeans and well-liked by locals and visitors, including some otters that have visited the gardens!
Over the years, more and more Singaporeans have taken the initiative to enliven and energise Marina Bay. Today, we see street performances, grassroots activities and arts festivals held at this Bay. The Countdown party draws around 300,000 people to the Bay each year, as well as over half a million New Year wishes in the wishing spheres on the waters of the Bay. Just last Friday, I had the privilege to open the i Light Marina Bay festival, where artists, students, and the community pooled their talents to create a magical display of art and light. It was tremendously heartening to see many young Singaporeans participating actively in an eco-friendly, low carbon footprint way to bring life and light and splendour to this beautiful place.
We will do more to realise Marina Bay as the “People’s Bay”. More affordable food options will be introduced along the Waterfront Promenade. There will be an open area for small-scale events, recreational activities and sports. We will also launch a pilot mobile transporter tour in the area soon, for a trial period of one year. Water activities are also expected to increase at the bay when the People’s Association water venture facility at Marina East is completed by end of this year, and canoeing, dragon boating and sailing activities are available to the community.
With these enhancements, we expect Marina Bay to be abuzz with even more energy and excitement, and become a more popular waterfront destination for our families and friends to visit and to enjoy.
Pulau Ubin – Nature, Heritage and Recreation
Let me now turn to another part of Singapore, this time in the north east, to describe an area that is altogether different, that excites different impulses and senses, but which also presents opportunities that require the collective participation of Singaporeans to realise.
When we speak of Pulau Ubin, we think of a small island untouched by the hustle and bustle of Singapore, immersed in the rustic charm of yesteryear. An island which reminds us of life in the early days. An island which Singaporeans love to visit to be in close touch with nature and for activities like camping, cycling and hiking. It is a place close to the hearts of many Singaporeans.
Ubin is certainly all that. But it is also much, much more. In the 50s, Ubin was a bustling island with 2,000 residents, many of them involved in farming, fishing, and the quarrying of granite for construction. In fact, granite from Ubin had been used to build the Causeway and the Horsburgh and Raffles lighthouses. So the history of Ubin tracks the history of Singapore and is very much part of our heritage.
As farming and mining declined, so too did the number of residents. It now has less than 100 residents. But unknown to many, Ubin is a wonderful treasure trove of biodiversity. These include species which are endangered or not found in the rest of Singapore. Habitats are being enhanced and species are being discovered, with the help of many Singaporeans in the community. For instance:
a. In the 1990s, Prof Ng Soon Chye, former President of the Nature Society (Singapore), together with a French researcher, had approached NParks to carry out a joint study of the Oriental Pied Hornbills on Ubin. The study revealed the breeding ecology of the hornbills and, as a result, they installed artificial nest boxes on the island. From one breeding pair of hornbills, we now have over 60 of them on the island. . Some of them have even flown across to other parts of Singapore, including Changi and Pasir Ris.
b. In 2003, NParks carried out a comprehensive survey of butterflies on Ubin with the help of butterfly enthusiasts led by Mr Khew Sin Khoon. More than 100 butterfly species were documented. This group went on to form the Butterfly Circle, an interest group. It advised NParks in planting up Butterfly Hill, a little known knoll created out of wasteland left over from Ubin’s granite quarrying history. Today, over 130 species of butterflies can be found there.
c. The Greater Mousedeer was presumed to have gone extinct from Singapore by the mid-1990s. It was rediscovered on Ubin in 2008 through a partnership project between NUS and NParks to study wildlife. These mousedeer are doing well on Ubin and are still frequently photographed by our remote cameras set in the forest.
d. The “Eye of the Crocodile”, scientific name Bruguiera hainesii, or known by the Malays as Berus mata buaya, is a mangrove tree that is listed as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It gets its interesting name from the breathing pores on its trunk which look like the scaly lids of the crocodile eyes, and which help the tree to take in oxygen in the muddy mangrove environment. It is the most endangered mangrove tree species in the world, with an estimate of less than 250 of these trees left globally. Of these, at least 11 are in Singapore – Dr John Yong from the Singapore University of Technology and Design had discovered the first one at Sungei Loyang, and subsequently helped to find one of two trees on Pulau Ubin. The largest tree was found along the Kranji Nature Trail by Ms Ria Tan, who is a passionate naturalist who set up WildSingapore, a popular nature blog.
These are just some of the many examples of how agencies like NParks have been working with passionate volunteers and experts to document Ubin’s biodiversity, preserve its rustic character, enhance its natural environment and sensitively provide access so that the public can enjoy Ubin’s natural charm.
Building on these efforts, we will initiate a conversation soon with Singaporeans, including the islanders, interest groups and experts, on how we can sensitively enhance the natural environment of Ubin and protect its heritage and its rustic charm. We will seek ideas about nature and heritage conservation, and about education and nature-based recreation. Minister Khaw has asked me to lead this project, and I am humbled and privileged to do so. We will consult and engage widely. And we will not rush, because the process is as important as the outcome and we want to hear from as many Singaporeans as possible. Our collective ideas, when implemented, can be a gift for many generations of Singaporeans. Some of these ideas, if ready, will also be meaningful in our commemoration of Singapore’s 50th anniversary next year. We will share more details about “The Ubin Project” later this year.
I hope Members will support this initiative. And I hope Singaporeans, young, old, and the young-at-heart, as well as the heritage and green community, will rally around, support this project and share your memories, ideas and impressions with us.
Let me now turn to the remaining cuts filed by honourable Members. First, on urban planning.
A/P Fatimah Lateef, Ms Sylvia Lim and Ms Lee Li Lian asked about how plans for new developments had been properly coordinated and smoothly implemented.
In Singapore, land use planning is a structured process overseen and coordinated by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, in consultation with all relevant agencies. Agencies will look at a wide range of parameters, such as the overall planning intention for the area, transport capacity, utilities, greenery and recreation, amenities like shops, schools, hawker centres, food establishments, and so on.
Agencies will then assess the use, scale and intensity to determine whether developments can be supported by local infrastructure, or whether the plans need to be adjusted appropriately to avoid adversely affecting nearby residents and businesses. They will also seek feedback regularly to make sure the planning parameters remain relevant.
But, Sir, sometimes, there are gaps between what is desirable from the planning perspective, what is feasible, and what residents want. Sometimes, there is a limit to how much new infrastructure we can add in the area around developments, as the area may already be built up. This is part and parcel of intensification, to make good use of our limited land. Sometimes, implementation may be held back by technical issues. It is often tricky to synchronise precisely an increase in demand for new developments, with the expansion of supporting infrastructure, which does usually takes years to build. As a result, residents may experience temporary inconvenience, which agencies will do their level best to mitigate. For instance, we have required developers of Government Land Sales sites to inform residents living nearby about upcoming developments. We have also mandated that contractors reduce noise nuisance from construction. Overall, our agencies recognise the need to plan and implement ahead of demand in a coordinated manner, and will continue to do so.
I note that Ms Sylvia Lim had mentioned earlier about certain instances where certain surveys seemed to have been done after the developments had been pushed through. We will be grateful if she could provide us with the specific examples in order for us to look into this matter more effectively.
Sir, on Ms Lee Li Lian’s specific concerns about food establishments, as I mentioned earlier, the availability of amenities is one of many parameters that we look at when planning new towns. We assure her that agencies do plan for adequate food establishments in her constituency, as had been responded to on a number of PQs last year. Residents in the ward are currently served by two commercial centres located near LRT stations and are within a walking distance of about 5 to 10 minutes for most residents. There are 15 food establishments in the area including coffee shops, food courts, cafes and restaurants. Nevertheless, more such facilities can be considered when there are more residential developments.
Foreign Worker Housing
I would also like to thank Mr Yeo Guat Kwang for his cut on foreign worker housing. Sir, to build homes and other facilities for Singaporeans, including transportation and infrastructure, we need foreign workers. The Government will continue to launch new sites for purpose-built dormitories that meet the housing, social and recreational needs of these workers. We have also launched and will continue to identify new sites to build recreation centres for these workers.
As mentioned by the Acting Minister for Manpower in his earlier speech during the MOM COS, the Government is considering enhancing levers to ensure that foreign worker dormitories better meet workers’ needs. In that regard, the move by the Dormitory Association of Singapore Limited, or DASL, to develop a set of standards, and to consult government agencies on these standards, is very much welcome. The Government will work very closely with the industry on these initiatives.
Sir, on behalf of MND, I would like to thank Members for their interest in the work of MND, and look forward to working with all of you and fellow Singaporeans to realise our dream of a sustainable, highly liveable and green home and city.
Channel NewsAsia 10 Mar 14;
SINGAPORE: Singapore continues to experience slightly hazy conditions as the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) crossed into the moderate range late on Monday afternoon.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) says that the condition is expected to gradually improve during the night.
Although the 3-hour PSI reading remained at a good level for most of the day, it crossed into the moderate range at 4pm when it reached 51.
At 7pm, it hit 58, before dropping to 53 two hours later.
NEA said that the haze may be attributed to hotspots to the north of Singapore.
A total of 86 hotspots were detected in peninsular Malaysia and 228 in Sumatra on Monday.
The occasional slight haze can be expected if the hotspots in the surrounding region persist.
The weather is expected to be fair and warm for the next few days.
NEA said that at the current PSI and PM2.5 levels, most people can continue with normal activities.
Those not feeling well, especially the elderly, pregnant women and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention.
MPs question measures to combat haze as hot spots persist
Neo Chai Chin AND Woo Sian Boon Today Online 11 Mar 14;
SINGAPORE — Transboundary haze, anti-dengue measures and public cleanliness formed the bulk of questions posed by Members of Parliament to the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources yesterday.
Their questions at the start of the ministry’s Committee of Supply debate — which will continue today with Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s response — came as the air quality remained in the moderate range for much of yesterday and a deterioration in conditions in some parts of the island occurred in the late afternoon. The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index was 58 at 8pm.
The National Environment Agency said 86 hot spots were detected in Peninsular Malaysia and 228 in Sumatra yesterday, and that the occasional slight haze could be expected over the next few days if the hot spots in the region persist.
At least five MPs spoke about the haze, with Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (Nee Soon GRC) asking about the “stalemate” on the haze monitoring system for five Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries, including Singapore and Indonesia, and Mr Charles Chong (Joo Chiat) asking if the Indonesian government had indicated whether there was any involvement of Singapore companies in forest fires.
The MPs also sought an update on the effectiveness of dengue control measures, with Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) asking if there was satisfactory government support for the STOP Dengue research programme. Last week, 210 dengue cases were logged.
The management of hawker centres and estate cleaning also came up, with questions on the operating model of hawker centres and how the shortage of cleaners would impact cleanliness standards.
Other issues raised included water conservation and energy efficiency. NEO CHAI CHIN AND WOO SIAN BOON
Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 10 Mar 13;
SINGAPORE: Just how liveable is Singapore?
Experts at a conference on Monday said Singapore may rank well when it comes to factors like the economy, security and infrastructure, but not as well in meeting the social and emotional needs of residents.
With the country's changing demographics, they said there now needs to be a different yardstick to measure quality of life.
Speakers at the conference said liveability goes beyond just meeting physical needs. Sometimes, it is about managing expectations.
Gerard Ee, chairman of the Council for Third Age and the Public Transport Council, said: “More and more people, I feel, are not distinguishing between a ‘need to have’ and a ‘nice to have’.
“So I always wonder with the size of apartments in Singapore, why anybody ever has a need for a 42-inch or even larger TV screen? That is their aspiration -- to have as large a screen as possible, a smart TV -- getting the latest and the best.
“So unless one begins to distinguish and (determine) the things (one) really needs to have and measures that, and determines that as affordability, I don't think we will get the answer."
As Singapore progresses, coupled with its changing demographics, the speakers added that the measurement of liveability must take into account less tangible needs.
Professor David Chan, director of Behavioural Sciences Institute at Singapore Management University, said: "There are issues about demographics, there are issues about integration, there are issues of social habits… therefore we need to pay attention to the social behavioural issues underlying all these sentiments."
A pivot towards the social and emotional needs of residents may be needed. The speakers all agreed there is room for the community itself to step up to cater to this.
Laurence Lien, CEO of National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, said: "There are a lot of opportunities for greater social capital, more social trust, and for citizens to get together to do things for one another, for the community.
“We don't see a lot of community ownership by citizens and residents and they are not creating new (ground-up) initiatives sufficiently."
Mr Lien added that the government needs to do less and the citizens need to be empowered more.
He said: "It needs to start with a mindset shift because citizens have been very dependent on the government on all aspects of life. This has to shift.
“We need to invest in more community facilitators. These are paid full time staff who are skilled at mobilising people at the community, working with interested people -- the connectors (and) the initiators encouraging them, giving them, perhaps, seed money to start initiatives from little experiments. Some may become models for others. I think we can build a movement of ground-up initiatives."
The shift in mindset comes with risks, but also a sense of ownership. Professor Chan called the concept the "home-in-community" concept, where Singapore is home to everyone, regardless of nationality, race, and social status.
Professor Chan said: "It is a concept that allows for commonality across people of different grouping, no matter how you slice them. It's important because you want people to live, work and play and have a high quality of life -- everybody that's physically in Singapore."
And this is where, he said, the government will have to put social issues at the forefront of any policy.
One question that came up during the conference was whether there is a tipping point to Singapore's population growth?
The answer is "yes", but speakers said they cannot give a number. What is important, they said, is for scenario planning to also take into account social issues.
Professor Chan said: "We need to think upfront so that we do not get ourselves caught in certain situations where if we want to reconcile differences or deal with them, it's a bit too late."
The Star 11 Mar 14;
PETALING JAYA: Unhealthy air levels have been recorded in Nilai, Seremban, Banting, Port Klang and Shah Alam.
The Malaysian Meteorological Department reported that the air pollutant index (API) recorded at 3pm yesterday showed the levels in Nilai at 112, Seremban 104, Banting 116, Port Klang 135, Putrajaya 107 and Shah Alam 101.
An API reading of between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 moderate, 101 to 200 unhealthy, 201 to 300 very unhealthy, and 301 and above hazardous. Unhealthy API levels may lead to chest discomfort, coughs and shortness of breath.
The API readings are calculated based on five major air pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ground level ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter with a diameter below 10 micrometres (PM10).
Most of these pollutants come from various sources such as industries, motor vehicles, open burning and power generation.
The concentrations of these five pollutants are measured in 52 air quality stations throughout Malaysia, mainly located in industrial and urban areas.
A check with the department also showed that except for isolated rain in coastal areas in Sabah, no rain is expected for the peninsula and Sarawak. It has not rained in the Klang Valley in over a week.
Some residents still using water for non-essential activities
The Star 11 Mar 14;
PETALING JAYA: While Klang Valley residents under Zone 2 began experiencing water rationing in the third phase of the exercise yesterday, others in Zone 1 are not being prudent with their water usage.
Rukun Tetangga SS2B chairman Willie Tan Kim Tun said residents in his area were still seen using water for non-essential activities such as washing cars and watering plants.
“It is not even about reducing wastage any more. We need to cut down usage now,” said Tan, adding that he and other residents in SS2 here began stocking up water even before the area was scheduled to undergo rationing.
Tan said Zone 1 residents should not take advantage of the fact that their rationing was only starting tomorrow to continue using water as normal.
The Phase 3 of water rationing in the Klang Valley started yesterday.
Some 3.6 million residents from 290,865 households will experience the standard two days of dry taps followed by two days of supply.
Phase 2, involving two million people from 431,617 households and businesses, started on March 2 while the first phase, affecting 60,185 households, began from Feb 27.
The affected areas include districts in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.
Each phase of the exercise, announced by the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) and Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Syabas), was divided into two zones, starting with Zone 2.
Taman Kinrara 1 resident Catherine Lim said her household and a few others in the neighbourhood had carried out their “spring cleaning” and other major cleaning before rationing started.
“Everybody, even the dogs, had a good bath, and we washed all the big items like bedsheets,” said Lim.
Even then, her family had placed water containers in each bathroom, with smaller buckets for toilet use.
Shops selling equipment for outdoor activities have reported high sales of water filters and water purification chemicals.
“Customers have come in asking for water purification equipment. This rationing exercise made them think about the need to get water from alternative sources when there is a shortage,” said V. Veeraksana at a shop in SS15 here.
Cloud seeding resumes tomorrow
New Straits Times 11 Mar 14;
KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Meteorological Department (MMD) will carry out cloud seeding operations tomorrow.
The operation was initially planned to be conducted yesterday. However, it was halted due to the recent search and rescue mission of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which needed a number of military aircraft.
MMD has been granted permission to proceed with cloud seeding by the Royal Malaysian Air Force. MMD commercial and corporate services division director Dr Mohd Hisham Mohd Anip said cloud seeding might help clear the haze only if the resulting rain was widespread.
"Our department has located certain states that require the induction of rain such as Johor, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Selangor and Kedah."
As of 5pm yesterday, five areas indicated unhealthy air pollutant index readings including Port Klang, which remained as the most affected area at 136, Banting (116), Nilai (111), Putrajaya (107) and Seremban (104).
Jane Wardell PlanetArk 11 Mar 14;
Australia's lofty ambitions to become a "food bowl" for a rapidly growing middle-class in Asia are in danger of falling at the farm gate due to the country's harsh, drought-prone climate and a lack of investment in agricultural innovation.
The federal government has touted the food bowl plan as one way of diversifying the economy as a decade-long mining boom that brought the country riches wanes.
But the industry says it has been left between a rock and a hard place - with state grants denied and foreign investment blocked, it lacks the funding needed to transform Australia into a provider of high-quality, value-added produce.
"There are many companies that are struggling," said Peter Schutz, the chairman of the federal government-funded Food Innovation Australia Ltd. "We need innovation right through the supply chain; not just products, but logistics, packaging and distribution, and we need funding for that."
The idea of transforming a swathe of the sparsely populated Northern Territory into a food bowl for Asia has been around since the 1950s.
Not long after coming to power last year, Prime Minister Tony Abbott commissioned a policy paper into the development of northern Australia, a region twice the size of Alaska, to reach its goal of doubling food production by 2050.
The theory goes that the tropical north of the country not only gets plenty of rain, but is a stone's throw from a multiplying middle class in Asia that is increasingly adopting a westernized diet.
The reality is that there's little infrastructure and little irrigation, undermining attempts at mass production of soft commodities.
A Korean-owned sugar mill closed down in 2007 because there wasn't enough of the crop being produced in the region, while experiments in peanuts, sorghum, rice and cotton have all failed.
Even in its top exporting businesses of wheat and meat, where it ranks among the world leaders, Australia is challenged by both drought and tougher competition from India, Brazil and the United States.
It also simply can't produce enough of any one commodity to make mass exports of staples viable long-term.
Australia's best opportunities for exports to Asia will come in value-added, high quality, certified safe produce to the burgeoning middle class.
China currently accounts for only 4 percent of global middle class spending, but is forecast by the Brookings Institution to catapult up the global rankings to overtake the United States as the largest single middle class market by 2020.
It will account for nearly half of the global increase in food demand by 2050, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural, Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), with the real value of food consumption in China to double between 2009 and 2050.
"They are starting to move toward a western type of diet, but they are only interested in high value products and that's where we could have an advantage," said Schutz.
The recent hotly contested bidding war for Australia's Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Company Holdings Ltd, which left Canada's Saputo Inc in majority control, was due in large part to Asian demand for the dairy producer's high-tech milk extract lactoferrin.
Warrnambool last month reported it doubled its first half profits, going some way to justifying the rich price Saputo paid to beat off rivals.
But Warrnambool is one of the few success stories.
While agriculture accounts for around 2.4 percent of gross domestic product at around A$50 billion, and exports have surged in recent years, the food industry is comprised almost entirely of small to medium-sized enterprises lacking a cohesive plan.
"Aggregation, machinery, use of technology is critically important," said Doug Ferguson, a Sydney-based partner at KPMG who leads the company's China business practice.
Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd estimates that A$600 billion in additional capital will be needed between now and 2050 to generate growth and profitability in Australian agriculture.
That funding is not readily forthcoming.
Warrnambool Chief Executive David Lord points out that government support for agriculture has not matched previous financial support for heavy manufacturing industries in his company's home state of Victoria.
The federal government rejected a plea from Australian soft drink bottler Coca-Cola Amatil for a A$25 million grant that would go towards a factory upgrade for its struggling SPC Ardmona fruit cannery.
CCL eventually received a smaller grant from the Victoria state government but its difficulties were underscored this month when it posted its worst full-year result for 20 years.
Schutz said Food Innovation Australia has base funding of A$16 million over the next four years, but planned additional funding for industry collaboration, scheduled to rise to A$50 million per year over the same period, has been frozen since Abbott's conservative coalition won the election in September.
The future of the group, established last year by the former Labor government to accelerate commercially driven collaboration and innovation in the food and beverage industry, is unlikely to be decided until after the May federal budget.
KPMG's Ferguson said foreign investors with deep pockets are the only realistic option to meet the food industry's funding requirements. But Chinese investors circling dairy and cattle businesses have been deterred by Australia's tough laws on foreign investment.
"There's concern around the inconsistent treatment for state-owned enterprises," Ferguson said. "There's also a pretty big difference in the approval limits for the U.S., New Zealand, and soon to be Korea, investors."
Private investment deals from those countries are only referred to the secretive Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) when they are above A$1 billion. In contrast, the bar for FIRB approvals for Chinese multinationals is just A$48 million, and due to drop even further to A$15 million. All deals involving state-owned enterprises must go through FIRB, regardless of the size of the deal.
Even U.S. investors can expect heavy scrutiny of major deals. In December, the federal government's blocked a A$2.8 billion ($2.6 billion) takeover of GrainCorp by U.S. agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) on the grounds of national interest.
During the feverish bidding war for Warrnambool, much was made of the local credentials of bidders Bega Cheese Ltd and Murray Goulburn Cooperative Co Ltd over their Canadian rival.
In the end, Lord said, only one thing mattered.
"Saputo made it clear they had the financial capacity to invest for innovation," he said. "That's clearly very attractive for the business."
(This story was corrected to make clear FIAL still has base funding; collaboration funding frozen)
(Editing by Alex Richardson)
Stian Reklev Reuters Yahoo News 10 Mar 14;
ULAN BATOR (Reuters) - The world must increase its food production by 60 percent by mid-century or risk serious food shortages that could bring social unrest and civil wars, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Monday.
Demand for food will rise rapidly over the next few decades as the world population surpasses 9 billion and increasingly wealthy people improve their diets, consuming more calories, said Hiroyuki Konuma, the assistant director-general of FAO Asia-Pacific, as the body launched a one-week regional food security conference in Ulan Bator.
But as the need for more food increases, the world is spending less and less money on agricultural research, causing many scientists to doubt whether food production can keep up with demand growth.
"If we fail to meet our goal and a food shortage occurs, there will be a high risk of social and political unrest, civil wars and terrorism, and world security as a whole might be affected," said Konuma.
The challenge is especially demanding in developing nations, which need to boost crops by a staggering 77 percent, he said.
The Asia-Pacific would be left with more than half a billion chronically hungry people even if the region meets its millennium development goal of cutting that number to 12 percent of the population, he said.
Despite progress made in fighting global hunger, the world still has 842 million undernourished people, according to FAO, of which nearly two thirds live in the Asia-Pacific. One in four children under five years old are stunted due to malnutrition.
The U.N. body outlined two main options: increase arable land areas and boost productivity rates. But available arable land is almost fully exploited, and production growth rates have been lackluster for the past two decades.
During the green revolution in the 1980s, productivity rates for rice and wheat increased by 3.5 percent annually, but for the past 20 years the rate has been stuck at 0.6 to 0.8 percent.
The growth rate needs to be stable at around 1 percent if the world is to have a theoretical chance to avoid serious shortages, said Konuma.
Water scarcity in big food-producing nations like China is worsening, and many farmers are increasingly tempted to shift production from food to bioenergy, a popular option to cut emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.
Climate change is worsening the situation, as more frequent extreme weather events devastate crops. In the past three years, Australia, Canada, China, Russia and the United States have all suffered big harvest losses from floods and droughts.
Cost is an additional threat to food security, according to the U.N. body. High and volatile food prices restrict poor people's access to food, while high crude oil prices inflate production costs.
(Editing by Michael Perry)
Food system that fails poor countries needs urgent reform, says UN expert
UN special rapporteur on the right to food champions agroecology as sustainable alternative to existing framework
Mark Tran theguardian.com 10 Mar 14;
Brazil farmer loads trucks with soybeans
A soybean farmer in Mato Grosso, Brazil. The country's 'family farmers' are encouraged to feed urban populations. Photograph: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters
The existing food system has failed and needs urgent reform, according to a UN expert who argues there should be a greater emphasis on local food production and an overhaul of trade policies that have led to overproduction in rich countries while obliging poor countries – which are often dependent on agriculture – to import food.
In his final report (pdf), Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, offers a detailed critique of an industrial system of agriculture that has boosted food production over the past 50 years, yet still leaves 842 million – 12% of the world's population – hungry.
"Measured against the requirement that they should contribute to the realisation of the right to food, the food systems we have inherited from the 20th century have failed," he told the UN human rights council. "Of course, significant progress has been achieved in boosting agricultural production. But this has hardly reduced the number of hungry people."
The right to food is defined as the right of every individual to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations.
De Schutter, professor of law at the University of Louvain, Belgium, was appointed rapporteur in 2008, during a sharp rise in global food prices, and has had plenty of time to diagnose what ails food systems. A major culprit, he says, is the "green revolution", which boosted agricultural production through the use of high-yielding plant varieties, irrigation, mechanisation and subsidised fertilisers and pesticides. The flipside, however, was an extension of monocultures (wheat, maize, soybean), a loss of agrobiodiversity, accelerated soil erosion and pollution of fresh water from the overuse of chemical fertilisers.
A potentially devastating effect of industrial-scale agriculture has been the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, which represent 15% of total manmade emissions. Climate change will affect future agricultural productivity, he warns.
"Under a business as usual scenario, we can anticipate an average of 2% productivity decline over each of the coming decades, with yield changes in developing countries ranging from -27% to +9% for the key staple crops," says the report.
The increasing demand for meat is another area of concern. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that annual meat production would have to reach 470m tons to meet projected demand in 2050, an increase of about 200m tons from 2005-07.
"This is entirely unsustainable … Demand for meat diverts food away from poor people who are unable to afford anything but cereals … Continuing to feed cereals to growing numbers of livestock will aggravate poverty and environmental degradation," says De Schutter, who urges governments to discourage meat consumption where it has already reached levels that are more than enough to satisfy dietary needs. He is optimistic that public attitudes towards meat will change in rich countries, but less so about attitudes in emerging economies such as China, where eating meat is akin to a status symbol.
As an alternative to existing systems, De Schutter champions agroecology, a range of techniques including intercropping, the use of manure and food scraps as fertiliser and agroforestry (planting trees). This approach would not only be more environmentally friendly, but would contribute to more diverse diets and improve nutrition. Although easier to implement on smaller-sized farms, agroecology is also applicable to large farms.
Other measures to improve the system would be to abandon mandates for biofuels and cut down food waste in rich countries and post-harvest losses in poor countries.
Changes to support small-scale farmers in poor countries – access to land, support for local seed banks, storage connection to makers – must be accompanied by reform in rich countries, where the farming sector has become highly dependent on subsidies – $259bn in 2012. This has encouraged the expansion of the food processing industry thanks to cheap inputs and facilities such as silos and processing plants.
"Large agribusiness corporations have come to dominate increasingly globalised markets thanks to their ability to achieve economies of scale and because of various network effects … the dominant position of larger agribusiness corporations is such that these actors have acquired, in effect, a veto power in the political system."
De Schutter says he is not completely opposed to agribusiness as it is incredibly efficient in connecting consumers and producers far away from each other.
"It is not desirable to get rid of agribusiness," he says. "It is incredibly efficient, connecting far away consumers and producers, and many needs can only be satisfied by agribusiness. But we need alternative systems to serve different needs. There is an imbalance, as there has been a priority on large-scale farming and underinvestment in local food markets. It is more realistic to have different systems co-exist. Brazil shows you can have huge, efficient farms along exemplary family farms, but you do need high-level political commitment to small farms and a participatory tradition."
De Schutter sees possibilities for change. Rebuilding local food systems, for instance, would decentralise food systems, making them more flexible and creating links between cities and rural hinterlands. He cites urban agricultural initiatives in Montreal and Toronto, Canada, Durban, South Africa and Belo Horizonte, Brazil, where "family farmers" are encouraged to feed urban populations.
At the national level, governments should encourage investment in local food packaging and processing industries. Social protection schemes should be established, says De Schutter, offering a social safety net to protect vulnerable families from falling into poverty. Globally, meanwhile, states should limit excessive reliance on international trade and build capacity to produce the food needed to meet consumption needs, with an emphasis on small-scale farmers.
"The expansion of trade has resulted in the luxury tastes of the richest parts of the world being allowed to compete against the satisfaction of the basic needs of the poor," says De Schutter.
As for the power of agribusiness corporations, states should use competition law to check the abuse of power. "This requires having in place competition regimes sensitive to excessive buying power in the agrifood sector, and devising competition authorities with mechanisms that allow for affected suppliers to bring complaints without fear or reprisal by dominant buyers."
James Topham and Osamu Tsukimori PlanetArk 11 Mar 14;
Japan sees higher chance of El Nino this summer Photo: SIGIT PAMUNGKAS/FILES
Wooden boats sit at the base of a dried-up reservoir, due to the long dry season, at Kedung Sumber village, near Bojonegoro Indonesia's East Java province, in this October 16, 2013 file photo.
Photo: SIGIT PAMUNGKAS/FILES
There is a greater possibility of an El Nino weather pattern emerging this summer, Japan's weather bureau said on Monday, after previously forecasting a 50 percent chance of the phenomenon that is often linked to heavy rainfall and droughts.
El Nino - a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific - can trigger drought in Southeast Asia and Australia and floods in South America, hitting production of key foods such as rice, wheat and sugar.
The potential disruption to supply would come after many crops have already been hit by adverse weather in the Northern Hemisphere that has been in the grip of a savage winter.
"The El Nino predictive model predicts the sea temperatures in the ocean area monitored for El Nino will transition from a level near standard this spring to a higher than standard level this summer," the Japan Meteorological Agency said in a monthly online bulletin about the phenomenon.
Last month, the bureau had pegged the possibility El Nino emerging or not as equal.
The U.S. weather forecaster said last week that the much-feared weather pattern could strike as early as the Northern Hemisphere summer.
Outlooks for higher possibilities of El Nino forming will increase uncertainty in global commodity and energy markets, with coffee, cocoa and natural gas prices roiled by an extended period of extreme weather.
(Editing by Himani Sarkar)
Today Online 10 Mar 14;
SINGAPORE — The haze continued to linger over the weekend despite some improvement in air quality on Saturday morning, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings remaining in the “moderate” range since 9pm last Friday. However, the situation was expected to improve overnight, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in an update yesterday.
The agency said the haze may be attributed to hot spots to the north of Singapore blown in by the prevailing north-easterly winds. A total of 110 hot spots were detected in Peninsula Malaysia and 210 in Sumatra yesterday. This is an increase from the 14 in Peninsula Malaysia and 129 in Sumatra reported on Saturday.
Last Friday, the three-hour PSI reached as high as 71 at one point. As of 9pm last night, the 24-hour PSI readings ranged from 36 to 50. The three-hour PSI reading was 56 and the PM2.5 concentration level was in the range of 22 to 33 micrograms per cubic metre.
The NEA said that for the next few days, the weather is expected to be fair and warm. “Slightly hazy conditions can also be expected in the late afternoon and night if hot spots in the surrounding region persist. The agency will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as necessary,” the agency said in a statement.
The NEA noted that the health impact of haze is dependent on one’s health status, the PSI level, and the length and intensity of outdoor activity.
“Reducing outdoor activities and physical exertion can help limit the ill effects from haze exposure. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly, pregnant women and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention. At the current PSI and PM2.5 levels, most people can continue with normal activities,” the NEA said.
More than 200 organisations succeed in reducing water usage
Channel NewsAsia 9 Mar 14;
SINGAPORE: More than 200 companies and organisations that took part in PUB's "10% Challenge" have successfully managed to reduce their water usage by 10 per cent in the last four years, the national water agency said.
February was Singapore's driest month in 145 years since records were kept and statistics show that the Republic uses about 400 million gallons of water per day.
Last year, 45 per cent of water usage was attributed to households, with commercial operators and government buildings taking up the rest.
By 2060, commercial usage is expected to form 70 per cent of Singapore's water consumption.
PUB said 342 organisations have developed and submitted their Water Efficiency Management Plan as of last December, and 204 of them have managed to shrink their water usage by 10 per cent.
One of the companies that has successfully cut down its water usage is City Developments Limited.
It uses waste water and rainwater to test water-proofing in newly-built toilets and to wash the tyres of heavy vehicles to prevent them from soiling public roads.
At construction sites, it uses an underground water storage tank to collect rain water, which is then used for other purposes, for example, to water plants when the project is completed.
Recycling water helps the company save S$280.
Chew Chin Boon, a project manager with City Developments Limited, said: "When the project is completed, the rainwater tank will remain. It will be used to collect rainwater and the condensate from all the units' aircons. The water will be used to water all the plants in the estate."
Haze returns to Singapore as air quality dips to 'moderate'
Audrey Tan and Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Mar 14;
AIR quality in Singaporeon Friday reached its worst level since the start of the year, with the haze affecting visibility in some areas and leaving a smell of smoke.
By 6pm, the Pollutant Standards Index's (PSI) three-hour reading had crept from "good" into the "moderate" range, hitting a high of 71 at 8pm and falling to 69 an hour later.
"It's difficult to concentrate," said National University of Singapore business student Jason Ng, 24. "The hall library is filled with people, not only because of the mid-term examinations but also the haze."
The National Environment Agency said north-easterly winds could have blown smoke from hot spots north of Singapore.
Four hot spots were detected in peninsular Malaysia and 35 in Sumatra, Indonesia on Friday.
Since the dry spell began in late December, farmers have been clearing land through burning.
On Friday, civil society activists and leaders of non-governmental organisations met to share their perspectives and recommendations on the proposed Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill.
The new Bill, which is up for public consultation until March 19, would hold companies and other entities liable for fires on their land outside Singapore that cause haze here. It also provides for both criminal and civil liability.
Singapore experienced its worst bout of haze last June when the 24-hour PSI hit a record 246.
At the meeting organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) at its Dhoby Ghaut premises, the 11 participants from think-tanks, universities, and NGOs such as BirdLife International discussed the practical challenges of the proposed law. For one thing, serving notice to those overseas may be challenging. If firms moved abroad in response, Singapore would have even less sway over them.
They also discussed if the proposed fines were high enough. One participant said fines could be pegged to how much land is burned so companies will not simply burn large tracts at one go.
SIIA chairman Simon Tay said feedback from the two-hour session would be compiled and submitted to the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources
. "Singapore's reputation is about enforcing the laws that it talks about and this proposed Bill shows Singapore is willing to do its part to help solve the haze. But the question now is, how this Bill is going to be enforced justly?"
Water use up by 5 per cent
The New Paper AsiaOne 10 Mar 14;
Daily water usage has gone up by 5 per cent above average during the current dry spell.
Singapore will have to "re-evaluate the adequacy of our current plans" if the trend continues, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said.
He was responding in Parliament on Friday to MP David Ong (Jurong GRC), who asked at what point the country may have to consider water rationing, last seen in the 1960s.
Dr Balakrishnan reiterated that he does not see a need for water rationing in "the foreseeable future", as long as Singaporeans do their part to conserve water and cut usage.
Even so, he is "taking seriously" a suggestion from members of the public to conduct water- rationing exercises. These would remind people of the value of water, he said, and allow them to rehearse what may need to be done.
The two desalination and four Newater plants here have been running at near-full capacity during the dry spell, providing 55 per cent of the country's water needs.
Dr Balakrishnan stressed that despite the investments in desalination and Newater, imported water from Malaysia "remains an essential part" of Singapore's water supply.
He noted that the $300 million-plus thatSingapore spent to build the Linggiu dam across the Johor River had enabled both countries to draw more water, even during this dry spell.
"All these additional investments have been a premium that we have paid for greater security and diversity of our water supply," he said.
Singapore aims to achieve water self-sufficiency by 2061, the year the second water agreement with Malaysia expires, he added, reiterating Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam's remarks in Parliament on Thursday that both countries have to honour the agreement.
Meanwhile, Singapore has opened its first plant to recycle industrial used water.
This water was previously treated to internationally-accepted standards and discharged into the sea. The new plant purifies it to a higher standard so it can be re-used by industries.
National water agency PUB said the plant can produce up to one million gallons of non-drinkable water per day, and the output will be used by companies on Jurong Island.
63 per cent say drought has not led to less water use
Grace Chua, Laura Ng, Vanessa Chng The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Mar 14;
SINGAPORE - Most people here have not changed their water use in response to the current dry spell.
Of 701 people who responded to a Straits Times poll on Thursday and Friday, 438 (62.5 per cent) said the dry spell had not made a difference to their water use. Many said they were already being frugal about water use.
Another 19.7 per cent said they were using less water by taking shorter showers, not washing their cars, and by doing dishes in a filled basin or sink.
The remainder said they were using more - drinking more, taking more showers and watering plants.
Singapore has had a prolonged, record-setting spell of dry weather since mid-January, and a 5per cent increase in water usage.
To maintain water levels in reservoirs, PUB has stepped up desalination to full capacity of 100 million gallons a day (mgd) and Newater production to over 100 mgd.
Meanwhile, attractions and commercial buildings have taken extra steps to save water. The Science Centre Singapore has closed its Waterworks play area and water features, while developer and mall owner CapitaLand has shut off external water features at most of its buildings. Hong Leong Group, which owns Millennium and Copthorne hotels and commercial buildings, has done likewise and has deferred cleaning the facades of some buildings.
The Chin family was among those taking water conservation more seriously.
Small business owner Catherine Chin, 42, waters plants with water collected from washing vegetables and rice, and mops the floor with water used for laundry.
Her husband, Mr Chin Yeow Wah, 49, said: "It's a good practice that we should continue - with or without the dry spell."
But what would it take for people to make a conscious effort to conserve water? Mr Eric Kok, 42, said: "If the Government gave us rebates or NTUC vouchers, if we could lower our water bills from month to month, I would ensure that my family saves water."
Public policy lecturer Leong Ching, who studies water policy and teaches at the National University of Singapore, said she could see why usage doesn't change: "I think it is because they don't see the direct link between, say, taking a shorter shower, and the levels in a reservoir."
Though desalination and Newater create self-sufficiency, she added, both of these require energy. "So we may be self-sufficient but water is not free."
She noted that Singapore's per capita domestic water consumption, at 151 litres a day last year, was more than that of Denmark and Finland, which use 131 and 115 litres a day respectively.
More could be done to affirm the efforts of people who are frugal about water use, such as putting a smiley face on their bill, she added. "To me, this drought is a perfect opportunity to focus people's minds on this issue," Dr Leong said.
Samantha Boh MyPaper AsiaOne 10 Mar 14;
Last year, 9,346 tickets were issued for littering offences, down from 11,131 in 2011, and a slight increase from 8,195 in 2012. In 2010, 23,898 tickets were issued. In 2009, the number was 41,392.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) has stepped up enforcement hours by 50 per cent since May last year. NEA's community volunteer scheme has also helped bring littering down.
Under this programme, which started in January last year, 127 volunteers from non-governmental organisations, such as the Cat Welfare Society, Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and Singapore Kindness Movement, have the power to ask offenders to pick up and bin their rubbish. If they refuse, the volunteers can take down their particulars and give these to the NEA.
As of January this year, the volunteers successfully engaged 321 litterbugs, persuading them to bin their trash. Only one was taken to task for being uncooperative and, being a repeat offender, he was given a court fine of $500 and three hours of Corrective Work Order, said the NEA.
The Government is also mulling over a plan to enlist and train members of the public and give them the same warrant cards as NEA enforcement officers. This means they would have the power to impose fines on offenders on the spot.
SEC's executive director, Mr Jose Raymond, said that, while he supports the programme, it currently "lacks bite without the ability to impose fines".
"If they are just there to put social pressure and to encourage, over time the litterbugs will realise that they can't do much," he said.
He would like to see volunteers in the scheme who police their own neighbourhoods. A block ambassador, for instance, could be appointed for a block of flats.
"If the community gets involved more, they can ensure they have clean surroundings where they live," he said.
First-time littering offenders face a $300 composition fine. Recalcitrant litterbugs can face court fines of up to $2,000 for their first conviction, $4,000 for their second, and $10,000 for third and subsequent convictions.
Bright spots in anti-litter battle
Samantha Boh MyPaper AsiaOne 10 Mar 14;
SINGAPORE - Not long ago, the task of keeping Sentosa clean was down to 70 contract cleaners hired by the management.
Now, an army of about 50 staff members of businesses on the island also chip in for free to pick rubbish once every two months.
As a result, the island has graduated from being labelled as a litter "hot spot" by the Public Hygiene Council (PHC) to a "bright spot", or model example of cleanliness.
Sentosa island is just one of 160 litter hot spots that the PHC has converted into bright spots, in 11/2 years since September 2012, when it embarked on this project.
Other recent conversions include smaller localised bright spots like Dunman High School and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, as well as Nee Soon South.
A litter hot spot is a problem area with incidences of littering, or one where littering is likely. It is converted into a bright spot normally after it is adopted by a civic group - like residents that band together or even a Community Development Council that takes charge of efforts to reduce littering in the area. These could include regular litter-picking sessions or the spreading of anti-litter messages.
The PHC aims to convert at least another 100 community places into bright spots by the end of this year.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) said that the aim is to get the community involved and to foster a sense of ownership.
"This programme aims to establish norms for good personal and public hygiene, so that everyone will embrace and advocate them as a way of life," said NEA, which added that the PHC is working with Yishun Pond, Katong, Sembawang-Nee Soon town, Punggol Waterway and Sentosa to share and replicate litter-free practices.
This move is one in the right direction, said experts interviewed.
Such initiatives, they pointed out, are not meant to take the place of hired cleaners but, rather, are an attempt to solve the problem at its source.
Mr Tay Lai Hock, chief of the Ground-Up Initiative, a non-profit organisation that connects people back to nature, told MyPaper: "It is a good idea because if people clean up their own space, they will inculcate a sense of ownership."
However, he warned that there is a risk that few will stay committed, resulting in just a small pool of regular volunteers in the long run. "To keep it going, the organisers could ensure that one member of each household participates, for instance," said Mr Tay.
Mr Mohamad Aidi Mohd Lahab, a staff volunteer on Sentosa, said he participated to understand what cleaners go through each day. He said he now has a new-found respect for them, after having to bend down and stand up to pick litter along the beach.
The beach-patrol officer, who is in his 50s, said it is imperative for Sentosa staff to take the lead. "Sentosa has always been a home to me and the sense of ownership to keep the island clean is strong," he said.