Task force set up to fight rat menace

Chitra Kumar, The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 Apr 16;

The authorities are trying out a new approach to tackling the problem of rat infestation, by setting up a task force of parties such as town councils and eatery or mall operators to coordinate rat control works.

Four areas - namely Redhill Close, Bedok Central, Clementi Avenue 3 and Bangkit Road in Bukit Panjang - were chosen for the pilot, as 40 to 130 burrows were found in each area, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

In each place, the stakeholders will engage pest control operators and coordinate rat control plans to manage the overall situation.

The trial aims to "ensure that a holistic and coordinated effort is undertaken to deny rats food and harbourage", said the agency.

It said early results have shown a 15 to 70 per cent reduction in the number of burrows in each area.

The rat menace has grown in recent years. About 43,000 rat burrows were found in public areas last year, up from about 42,000 in 2014, according to NEA figures.

Over the two years, an average of about 85 per cent of the burrows were found in housing estates managed by town councils. More than 80 per cent of these were found near bin chutes and bin centres.

Earlier this month, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Amy Khor, said in Parliament that breaches involving rat infestation in areas run by town councils will lead to stricter enforcement.

In response to Straits Times queries on how enforcement will be stepped up, NEA said town councils now face a $150 fine for a first offence for poor refuse management in their bin centres and central refuse chutes. From July, an additional fine of $200 will be issued - under the Control of Vectors and Pesticides Act - if signs of rat infestation are found in bin centres, central refuse chutes and bin chutes.

Depending on the severity of the problem, town councils may be ordered under the Act to take measures to deal with the rat infestation, on top of the fine, said the spokesman. They may face a fine not exceeding $20,000 if they fail to comply, said NEA.

The Straits Times understands that while these penalties are not new, there would be stricter enforcement. Town councils that ST spoke to welcomed the move.

Chairman of Marine Parade Town Council Lim Biow Chuan, also MP for Mountbatten, said it will "work hard" to clear places under its charge if there are rat infestations.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, chairman of Chua Chu Kang Town Council, welcomed the move but raised concerns about how rat nests may be in areas not run by town councils. "Rats don't recognise boundaries. They cross boundaries," said Mr Zaqy, also an MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC.

A six-month pilot by the Holland- Bukit Panjang Town Council from last October to last month in Bangkit Road has seen results.

About 60 shop owners, four coffee shop owners and a Chinese temple in Bangkit Road took part.

Vegetable seller Low Mui Tong, 54, said he used to catch "a lot of rats" half a year ago. "But for the past few months, I haven't seen any rats," he said.

Likewise, the East Coast-Fengshan Town Council has seen results since its pilot started in January.

Public relations manager Danielle Theodora Loh said its weekly rodent treatment programme was intensified. She said there are now fewer rats in common areas such as bin chutes and carpark drains.

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