Best of our wild blogs: 31 Dec 11

noble volute @ terumbu semakau
from sgbeachbum

The Bird Ecology Study Group acknowledges contributors
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Perfect storm of factors led to Orchard Road flood

Full canal, overflowing drain among reasons Liat Towers flooded
Grace Chua Straits Times 31 Dec 11;

A PERFECT storm of factors led to the flooding of the basement of Liat Towers in Orchard Road last Friday, said national water agency PUB yesterday.

Giving its latest findings on what happened there, PUB said that prolonged and heavy rainfall that day caused some parts of Stamford Canal, which runs in front of the shopping mall, to be full.

Because the canal was full, rainwater could not flow into it any more.

Meanwhile, rainwater draining off from the roof and the back area of Liat Towers into an internal drain overflowed into the building's basement area, adding to the pooling of water there.

While Liat Towers' pumps can ordinarily pump water from the basement into the Stamford Canal, this was not possible that day. 'When the canal in front of Liat Towers reached 100 per cent, the pumps were not able to discharge water accumulating in the basement into the Stamford Canal,' said the PUB.

But, it added, the pumps were still able to pump some water from the basement onto the pedestrian walkway along Orchard Road, which is what they did.

Sustained and heavy rain last Friday caused the basements of Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza in Orchard Road to flood, although the rest of the shopping district did not experience flooding and was passable to traffic, unlike in the big flood of June last year.

The PUB's latest statement comes on the heels of a seeming disagreement between the water agency and Liat Towers on what exactly caused the basement plaza area to flood.

This was the third time in two years that the sunken area has been badly flooded, affecting the four businesses there.

Customers at coffee joint Starbucks had to make their way out using chairs as stepping stones, while the Wendy's fast-food restaurant, clothing store Massimo Dutti and high-fashion retailer Hermes were also inundated.

PUB had said last week that the heavy rain had caused 'ponding' in some places like Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza across the road, which also has basement shops.

A spokesman had said at the time that based on its monitoring, 'Stamford Canal did not overflow. If it had, it would have resulted in flooding on Orchard Road, which was not the case'.

The agency had also noted that the huge volume of rain could have exceeded the building's pumping capacity.

Liat Towers, however, insisted that its pumps had been working at full bore to push water into Stamford Canal. But because the canal was full, the water had nowhere to go, resulting in the flood.

In its statement yesterday, PUB said it understood that members of the public were concerned about the adequacy of measures taken to date.

'As the national water agency, PUB takes its responsibility for flood management seriously. While it is not possible for us to completely eliminate flash floods, we will do everything feasible to prevent it, mitigate it and keep the public informed,' it said.

It added that its officers have been working closely with the management of affected buildings to investigate the cause of the floodings and identify measures to help prevent a recurrence.

It pointed out that last Friday, 152.8mm of rain fell from 2.20pm to 5.20pm in Orchard Road.

This is about half the average monthly total - 287.4mm - of rain recorded for the entire month of December over the last 142 years.

To protect against future floods, Liat Towers and the PUB have come up with some solutions.

They are building a 60cm-high wall next to a drain that starts near Wendy's and wends round the back of the building. The 90m-long reinforced concrete wall will cost between $20,000 and $25,000, which Liat Towers will pay for, and be ready next week.

Another solution: The building's management has redirected two pipes so they are now able, in an emergency, to flush water out onto the pedestrian walkway.

Asked if water pouring out onto the walkway might create problems for pedestrians, a PUB spokesman said it would be done only in exceptional circumstances.

'We expect that when the rain is very heavy, that the pedestrian walkway would be free from users. We will pump onto the pedestrian mall only when the capacity of the canal is full,' he said.

Stamford Canal has two parallel branches under Orchard Road - one on the Forum Galleria side, and the other in front of Orchard Towers. On the Forum side, it is 2.2m deep, and across the road it is 3m deep. When the shallower side is full, water coming from upstream flows into the Orchard Towers branch.

The capacity of the Stamford Canal, the PUB acknowledged last year, was a factor in last year's flooding on Orchard Road as well.

The PUB raised a 1.4km stretch from Tanglin Road to Cairnhill Road by an average of 30cm. This was completed in June this year.

Earlier this year, the Tanglin-Cuscaden area was also hit by flash floods.

PUB yesterday said that although the rainfall on Dec 23 was higher than what was recorded in June last year, Orchard Road remained passable to traffic.

Given the constraints in expanding Stamford Canal as it is in a highly urbanised area, PUB is studying the feasibility of building a detention pond and a diversion canal for the Stamford catchment for the longer term, it said.

The study started in August and will be completed in May next year.

Half the month's rain in 3 hours
Kezia Toh Straits Times 31 Dec 11;

IN THREE hours last Friday, the rain that pelted down on Orchard Road was half of what December typically gets in the entire month.

Between 2.20pm and 5.20pm, 152.8mm of rain fell in the area. The long-term average for December - the wettest month in the entire year - is 287.4mm.

Basement shops in Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza were in ankle-deep water because of the prolonged and heavy rain.

Last year, shops in the two malls were similarly affected. In two hours, 100mm of rain was dumped on Orchard Road then.

National Environment Agency (NEA) figures show that as of last Friday at 4pm, total rainfall for the month had hit 274.4mm.

So this month looks set to finish above the average, said Assistant Professor Koh Tieh Yong from the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences at Nanyang Technological University.

'I am fairly confident that this year's December rainfall will exceed the typical average December rainfall,' he told The Straits Times.

'As compared to the revised higher rainfall, last Friday's rain will be a smaller fraction of that, and will not be so significant,' he said.

Liat Towers flooding traced to Stamford Canal
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 30 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE: The cause of flooding at Liat Towers last Friday has been traced to Stamford Canal's fundamental problem of being unable to cope with the surge in water during heavy and prolonged rainfall.

And that's why during last Friday's downpour, the canal reached its full capacity very quickly.

Explaining on Friday why the flooding occurred on December 23, PUB said that the prolonged and heavy rain that day caused some parts of Stamford Canal to flow full.

The national water agency said that 152.8mm of rain fell on Orchard Road from 2.20pm to 5.20pm that day.

This is equivalent to about half the average monthly total of 287.4mm of rain recorded for the entire month of December over the last 142 years (1869 to 2010).

The sustained heavy downpour resulted in the flooding of several roads including the Thomson/Cambridge areas as well as the basements of Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza.

At Lucky Plaza, rainwater drained into the basement via the steps.

For Liat Towers, rainwater that had drained off from the roof and the back area of the building overflowed into the basement area from an internal drain, as water could not flow out into the canal, which was full.

The pumping system at Liat Towers is able to pump out the water from the open basement area when the canal is not full.

But when the Stamford Canal in front of Liat Towers reached 100 per cent capacity, the pumps were not able to discharge the water in the basement into the canal. However the pumps were still able to pump some water onto the pedestrian walkway.

To improve flood protection during similar storms, Liat Towers will be building a perimeter wall along its internal drain as an interim measure. Construction of the wall will begin on December 31 and will take about four to five days.

Liat Towers management is also considering installing more goose-neck pumps, perhaps even at a larger capacity, to divert water onto the pedestrian walkway if water overflows past the perimeter wall.

PUB said it takes its responsibility for flood management seriously. It added that while it is not possible for PUB to completely eliminate flash floods, it will do everything feasible to prevent it, mitigate it and keep the public informed.

The agency has been working closely with the management of flood-affected buildings.

PUB's director of 3P network, George Madhavan, said: "Since 23 December, PUB officers have been meeting regularly with the management of Liat Towers to review, to enhance the flood protection for this building.

"What we are clear is that both PUB as well as Liat Towers are determined to put in measures to make sure that this (flooding) does not recur."

Liat Towers' director of property management, Lydia Tjhia said: "PUB (officers) have come down many times for discussions with Liat Towers and they have been very helpful.

"They have given us a few recommendations, one of which is the raising of the 60cm curb. This will allow more water to be held within this so-called pond and with the difference in pressure we'd be able to drain the water into the canal.

"However, when the canal is full there may be times when the water might overflow onto the pedestrian walkway."

As for Lucky Plaza, its management is in the process of putting in place flood barriers after getting in-principle approval from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in October.

But the installation could be delayed.

Lucky Plaza has been asked to tweak its design of the barriers to ensure better pedestrian flow along the walkway.

URA said Lucky Plaza has yet to resubmit the refined proposal to URA for further consideration and approval.

PUB said it will work with Lucky Plaza to ensure that an effective flood prevention system is implemented quickly.

PUB noted that although the rainfall recorded on 23 December was higher than what was recorded in June last year, Orchard Road remained passable to traffic.

This was because after the June 2010 floods at Orchard Road, PUB raised the road to improve the flood protection for the area. This was completed in June this year.

Nevertheless, recognising the constraints in expanding Stamford Canal given the highly urbanised development in the area, PUB is studying the feasibility of building a detention pond and a diversion canal for the Stamford catchment in the longer term.

The study started in August this year. PUB will share the details when it completes the study by May 2012.

- CNA/fa/ir

Stamford Canal a cause of flooding again
Saifulbahri Ismail Today Online 31 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE - The 4km-long Stamford Canal, cited as a factor in last year's floods along Orchard Road, has again been traced as the source of flooding at Liat Towers last Friday.

Explaining yesterday why the flooding occurred, national water agency PUB said the "prolonged and heavy" monsoon rain on Dec 23 caused "some parts of Stamford Canal to flow full". Then, 152.8mm of rain fell on Orchard Road from 2.20pm to 5.20pm - equivalent to about half the average monthly total of 287.4mm of rain recorded for the entire month of December over the last 142 years.

The sustained heavy downpour resulted in the flooding of several roads, including the Thomson/Cambridge areas, as well as the basements of Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza.

At Liat Towers, PUB said rainwater that had drained off from the roof and the back of the building overflowed into the basement area from an internal drain, as water could not flow out into the canal, which was full.

The pumping system at Liat Towers is able to pump out the water from the open basement area when the canal is not full. But when the Stamford Canal in front of Liat Towers reached 100-per-cent capacity, PUB explained the pumps failed to discharge the water in the basement into the canal. "However, the pumps were still able to pump some water onto the pedestrian walkway," it added.

In its statement, PUB assured the public that it takes "its responsibilty for flood management seriously". "PUB regrets the inconveniences caused by the floods to members of the public and businesses," said the agency. "While it is not possible for us to completely eliminate flash floods, we will do everything feasible to prevent it, mitigate it and keep the public informed."

At Liat Towers, for example, PUB officers have been meeting the building's management regularly since last Friday to enhance its flood protection.

"What we are clear is that both PUB as well as Liat Towers are determined to put in measures to make sure that this (flooding) does not recur," said PUB's director of 3P network, Mr George Madhavan. He said the agency has been working closely with the management of flood-affected buildings.

To improve flood protection during similar storms, Liat Towers will be building a perimeter wall along its internal drain. "This will allow more water to be held within this so-called pond and, with the difference in pressure, we'd be able to drain the water into the canal," said Liat Towers director of property management Lydia Tjhia. "However, when the canal is full, there may be times when the water might overflow onto the pedestrian walkway."

Given the constraints in expanding Stamford Canal due to the urbanised development in the area, PUB is studying the feasibility of building a detention pond and a diversion canal for the Stamford catchment in the longer term.

For nearby Lucky Plaza, where rainwater drained into the basement via the steps, PUB said it will work with the building's management to ensure that "an effective flood prevention system is implemented quickly".

An Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) spokesperson said Lucky Plaza was granted in-principle approval for the installation of flood barriers in October, subject to the refinement of the design of the barriers. "Lucky Plaza has yet to resubmit the refined proposal to URA for further consideration and approval," added the URA.

PUB noted that, although the rainfall recorded last Friday was higher than what was recorded in June last year, Orchard Road remained "passable to traffic" because of road-raising work along a 200m stretch.

PUB working to prevent more floods
Tam Yu Ling Business Times 31 Dec 11;

FOLLOWING last Friday's flash floods, national water agency PUB says it will work closely with the management of affected buildings to find out the cause of the floods and identify ways to prevent a recurrence.

Sustained downpour over a three-hour period caused flooding in areas such as Thomson, Little India and Orchard Road, including the basements of Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza - the third time in less than two years.

That afternoon, a total of 152.8mm of rain was collected from 2.20-5.20pm in the Orchard Road area. According to PUB, this represents about half the average monthly rainfall for the whole of December over the last 142 years.

When the prolonged monsoon rains caused Stamford Canal which runs along Orchard Road to flow full, rainwater from the roof and back areas of the building started flowing into the basement via an internal drain, after it could no longer flow out into the already-full canal.

A post-flood assessment conducted by PUB also found that the internal pumping system at Liat Towers was operationally able to pump out water from the basement when the canal was not full. However, when the canal in front of the building reached 100 per cent, the pumps were not able to discharge the water accumulated in the basement into Stamford Canal.

Liat Towers has put in place floodgates to protect its premises since the June 2010 flood, which PUB said had effectively prevented water collected on the pedestrian walkway from flowing into the basement plaza.

To increase the building's flood protection, Liat Towers and PUB are looking into constructing a 60cm-tall perimeter wall along the internal drain to prevent water from flowing back into the basement in the event of a similar downpour.

When contacted by BT, a PUB spokesman said construction of the curb will start today and is expected to be completed in a week.

Another flood-affected building is Lucky Plaza, where rainwater has drained into the basement via the steps. To improve Lucky Plaza's flood protection system, the building management is in the process of putting up flood barriers, after obtaining in-principle approval from the relevant government agencies. PUB also said that it would work with Lucky Plaza's management to ensure that an effective flood prevention system is implemented quickly.

The national water agency said that after the June 2010 flood in Orchard Road, it raised the road to increase flood protection for the area. The road raising project was completed in June this year.

Comparing this month's flood with that of June last year, PUB noted that although the rainfall on Dec 23 was greater than what was recorded in June 2010, Orchard Road remained passable to traffic.

In August, the agency also undertook a study on the feasibility of constructing a detention pond and diversion canal for the Stamford catchment after recognising the constraints of expanding the canal given the highly urbanised development in the area.

PUB said that it would share details of its findings when it completes the study next May. It added that it regrets the inconvenience caused by the floods to members of the public and affected businesses.

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Five questions with... Dr Tan Swee Hee

Straits Times 31 Dec 11;

Dr Tan handling one of the specimens at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. As part of his work, he gets to discover new species and visit remote habitats. -- PHOTO: NUS

BIOLOGIST Tan Swee Hee is in charge of setting up Singapore's first dedicated natural history museum in four decades.

Dr Tan, 40, a crab taxonomist by training, is based at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

How did you get interested in what you do?

My earliest memory is of observing ornamental fish in aquariums. At university, I realised there was a lot more out there than what I had read about in ornamental fish magazines. That was when I started studying other groups of animals, especially crabs.

Can you tell us a bit about the museum?

Singapore has not seen the likes of a natural history museum for more than 40 years. This is a very exciting time for the local biodiversity education and research scene.

What's the greatest misconception people have of your work?

That we sit in the office or laboratory all day long.

We do field work to obtain data for research and to interpret information for exhibitions at the museum. Local field trips are typically one-day or half-day affairs.

We also have to be in the field when the animals are active. For example, to observe intertidal animals, we have to go out at low tide - sometimes at 3am.

It is hard work, and clocking 18-hour days is the norm, but we get to see some of the most remote and pristine habitats in this part of the world, and to discover new species.

The best thing about my job is...

Visiting natural history museums while on holiday. Fortunately, my family shares my interest.

Our last such visit was to the National Museum of Nature and Science at Ueno in Tokyo. It is probably one of the most comprehensive natural history museums in Asia, and has lots of specimens on display, including dinosaurs.

What are your hopes for your field of work?

That we can be more aware of our environment and the pressures we impose on it as a result of our activities.

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Stir-fried snake show when society is more compassionate?

Straits Times Forum 31 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE is changing. Our society is becoming more compassionate towards animals.

Laws protect domesticated animals from abuse and wild animals from being trafficked. People rescue abandoned animals, such as cats, from shelters and provide them with loving homes.

People question the serving of shark's fin soup on special occasions, such as wedding dinners. Zoo animals are no longer forced to give unnatural performances. Restaurants offer more vegetarian options on their menus.

Indeed, in increasing numbers, people recognise that animals are thinking, feeling beings deserving of respect. This shift towards greater compassion by Singapore's Government, people and businesses makes it all the more disturbing to see the Healthy Dining series, on Wednesdays on MediaCorp's Channel 8. The series is shot in China, with the goal of teaching the audience about healthy ingredients and how to prepare them.

However, some of these ingredients are animals, such as snakes and guinea pigs. For example, in the show about snakes, the hosts visit a snake farm and play with a snake. Not long after, we see stir-fried snake served on a plate, snake in a soup and a skinned snake. In this way, the show promotes the consumption of exotic animal parts for their alleged 'healing properties' and may whet appetites for exotic game meat among viewers.

In Healthy Dining, the animals are viewed only as objects of entertainment and nutrition for humans. Where, please, is the shift towards greater compassion for animals that we are seeing elsewhere in Singapore society?

Louis Ng
Executive Director
Animal Concerns, Research and Education Society (Acres)

Dr George Jacobs
Vegetarian Society (Singapore)

Jennifer Lee (Ms)
Project: FIN

TV show followed MediaCorp's rules on exotic animals
Straits Times 7 Jan 12;

WE THANK the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, Vegetarian Society (Singapore) and Project: FIN for their feedback ('Stir-fried snake show when society is more compassionate?'; last Saturday).

As part of our support for the environment, we have a policy on the feature of endangered/exotic animals in our television productions. It prohibits the depiction of exotic animals/foods as a lifestyle or food to be sought after (for example, shark's fin, foie gras, veal and wild game).

For programmes that showcase the traditions and practices of another country, and in the event that exotic animals are being featured, the host will treat the subject matter as part of its culture but will not endorse the act.

To this end, Channel 8's programme, Healthy Dining, adheres to the company's guidelines.

Paul Chan
Vice-President (Branding and Promotion)
Channel 8

Don't curb our taste for shark's fin soup
Straits Times 7 Jan 12;

LAST Saturday's letter ('Stir-fried snake show when society is more compassionate?' by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, Vegetarian Society (Singapore) and Project: FIN) characterised the increasing intolerance and push for more space at the expense of others.

While I understand that the inhumane way in which sharks are culled for their fins may be a major concern to many, I still enjoy my shark's fin soup and hope that the farming of sharks happens soon.

As long as an animal is not unduly subjected to unnecessary suffering, all meat is, pardon the pun, game.

After all, pigs at abattoirs are herded through rings where they are either stunned by electricity or gassed before they are slaughtered.

While it is one thing for restaurants to discourage diners from ordering shark's fin soup and substitute it with similarly tasty concoctions, it is another to loudly proclaim during a wedding dinner that fellow diners should be ashamed of consuming the dish.

The 'healing properties' of exotic animal parts are not 'alleged' but anecdotal. Similarly, should we ban traditional Chinese medicine, which is experiential rather than scientific?

I wish for reasonableness to prevail this year.

Colin Loh

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The past is just a memory

Heritage issues and conservation causes loomed large in 2011 as Singaporeans reeled from the erosion of personal space
clarissa oon Straits Times 31 Dec 11;

I came face to face with the sights and smells of my 1980s Katong childhood two years ago while on holiday in Penang.

On a long road lined with shophouses were musty Chinese medicine shops with pungent herbs, tailor shops with bales of fabric, photo studios with display portraits of men in pompadours and women in upswept Farah Fawcett hairdos and haberdasheries with their constellation of buttons and zips.

The street was Jalan Penang in Georgetown, the civic heart of the coastal Malaysian state which has historical links with Singapore as one of the three Straits Settlements administered by the British in the 19th century.

A stroll down Jalan Penang, inhaling its perfume of mint leaves, fish flakes and spices from roadside laksa stalls, was like a trip back in time to the East Coast Road I knew as a young girl. All that was missing was a shop selling school uniforms, like the one my mother took me to many moons ago to be fitted for starched white blouses and crisp blue pinafores.

Today's East Coast Road - a stone's throw from my family home in Marine Parade - is a different world of patisseries, food joints serving everything from foie gras to bi bim bap and design-conscious furniture shops. Its contrast with Penang threw into sharp relief how, in less than one generation, globalisation and breakneck economic growth have overhauled Singapore's cityscape.

This sense of irretrievable loss amid the gains has come at a time when I have assumed a growing list of adult responsibilities - the vote, marriage, mortgage, a baby. It makes me think: What can I see, touch and feel of this land that keeps me rooted here? What is worth preserving and passing on to the next generation?

It would seem a growing number of Singaporeans - young and old alike - are asking such questions. In 2011, heritage issues and conservation causes loomed larger than ever in civil society and cultural life.

Call it the pull of nostalgia or search for the island's unchanging soul, it is a tide of emotion that can no longer be content with just technocratic progress.

Part of it is the urge to go beyond the official narrative to uncover the many Singapore stories in our midst. In today's crowded concrete jungle, people are also reeling from the erosion of personal space and the attendant memories.

The year's top-grossing local film was Kelvin Tong's It's A Great Great World, a valentine to the bygone Great World amusement park in its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. Young moviegoers connected with the film even if they could not understand fully its melange of Hokkien, Cantonese and Teochew dialects.

Numerous books published this year served up slices of pop cultural and literary history, including memoirs by veteran poet-playwright Robert Yeo and music industry stalwarts Mel and Joe Ferdinands. Home-grown publisher Epigram Books re-released five classic Singapore novels by Goh Poh Seng, Yeo and others. Epigram and S. Rajaratnam's biographer Irene Ng also put out a volume of short stories that showed the literary side of one of Singapore's founding fathers.

But most striking of all were the public outcry and debates over the impending loss of parts of the historically significant Bukit Brown Cemetery and the former Methodist Girls' School building, now home to the Old School arts enclave.

The sprawling wildlife-rich cemetery contains many tombs of distinguished local pioneers and their families.

The announcement in September of plans to build a road cutting through Bukit Brown sparked calls from the public to preserve the cemetery, earmarked by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for long-term residential use.

The pragmatic argument that the new road would ease traffic congestion on nearby Lornie Road did not convince heritage lovers. 'Roads are insatiable. Within a few years' time, it will be realised that this little fix was inadequate... and another road will have to be built somewhere else.

Meanwhile, part of Singapore's heritage and an invaluable source of genealogical and historical data for scholars will be lost forever,' wrote one Lim Su Chong - a descendant of pioneers Tan Tock Seng and Lim Boon Keng, whose families are buried at Bukit Brown - in this newspaper's Forum page.

As for Old School, the URA has said only the oldest of six buildings in the Mount Sophia complex will be conserved after the lease on the arts enclave expires in June. A Save Old School campaign has been launched on Facebook by Methodist Girls' School alumni, garnering about 5,000 supporters.

In comparison, the demolition of old Chinatown shophouses and the former National Theatre in the 1980s in the name of urban renewal scarcely raised a flutter. No attempt was made to restore the National Theatre building off River Valley Road, the precursor of today's Esplanade arts centre, built in 1963 with contributions from ordinary Singaporeans as well as the Government.

Its distinctive building - with a geometric facade riffing on the crescent and five stars of the national flag - was deemed structurally unsafe, closing with little fanfare in 1984 before facing the wrecking ball two years later.

Times have changed. Singaporeans are so attuned to the discourse of conservation these days that they want to see not just the physical shell of a historic building retained but also its spirit. Hence the brouhaha that erupted among heritage and Chinese culture lovers last month over Majestic Theatre, when it was reported that the once-iconic venue for Chinese opera and theatre is now a horse-betting centre run by the Singapore Turf Club. This is even as its chinoiserie-inspired exterior has been preserved according to conservation guidelines.

The other new buzzword is documentation. In land-scarce Singapore, numerous cemeteries have been razed over the years without systematic documentation of their tombstones.

However, for Bukit Brown, the Government has taken the unprecedented step of appointing a specialist-led team of volunteers to put together an online archive of the dead. In all this, there are two significant developments for state-society relations. One is a greater flexibility and willingness to consult on the part of the authorities.

While the ban on Chinese dialects in the mass media remains, the Media Development Authority had the sense to know that a period film such as It's A Great Great World could not have achieved any semblance of authenticity without dialects.

While plans to build a road through Bukit Brown remain unchanged, the authorities are now consulting experts to find a path with the least impact on the graves. Also notable is how the Government has been soliciting ideas from the public and conservationists on what to do with the Rail Corridor, the historic long strip of former railway land which Malaysia returned to Singapore in July.

In turn, civil society is more organised and better able to mobilise supporters through social media. The Singapore Heritage Society, for one, has been lobbying for and researching the likes of Bukit Brown and Old School, and updating its members regularly through Facebook.

Clearly, not every old building can or should be saved, hence the need for informed views and accommodation from both the Government and civil society.

But a few will argue that the exercise of trying to recover the past is too little, too late. One of them would be Boey Kim Cheng, seen as one of the best Singapore poets from the post-1965 generation. He left Singapore for Australia in 1996, disillusioned in part with how much of old Singapore had been erased.

In a poem on the National Theatre published recently in the online Singapore literary journal QLRS, he wrote:

In the lost photograph the National
stands, its five spires rising above
the crescent-boat fountain and its
aqueous ribbons
sparkling in the late 60s sun,
to salute the nation's birth, and mark
the year it severed the cord
to the Peninsula, and sailed down
the long chute to the future of leaping
jostling to own the country's sky,
the same year the boy in the fore-ground
was born, caught mid-air in Kodak
leaping from a parapet.
Now the boy teeters on middle age
and the Theatre is gone.

I was too young to really remember the National Theatre, though I have memories of being taken to the nearby Van Kleef Aquarium - another landmark in the area, demolished in 1998 - to see the giant fish and turtles. My wish for 2012? Not just for more people to see that old is gold but more debate and discourse to open our eyes to all that is worth holding on to for posterity.

How about heritage index?
Straits Times 7 Jan 12;

I agree wholeheartedly with The Past Is Just A Memory (Life!, Dec 31). As a child of the 1970s who grew up in Chin Nam Street, which no longer exists (Funan Centre now sits in its place), the National Library, National Theatre and Van Kleef Aquarium bring back memories.

Most Chinese families spoke dialect then. Many, like me, will remember weekly visits to the library, accompanied by parents who did not speak English but who ensured each child went home with four English books. Call me biased but, modern as the new Central Library is, it is the humble red-brick building that evokes warm emotions.

Have we gained more with the opening of the tunnel to ease road traffic in the city at the expense of a library that generations could relate to?

It is the same with the National Theatre. Built with funds jointly donated by the Government and the public, it must have been a source of much pride to Singaporeans then. I remember accompanying my grandma to watch Teochew opera there. If tickets were sold out, the trees surrounding the theatre would be filled with people standing on its branches to catch a view. The theatre had no side or rear walls, so it was possible to watch the show free. It was a loss that the theatre was demolished later due to structural defects.

The air-conditioned Van Kleef Aquarium with darkened interiors and more than 6,500 marine creatures opened our eyes to the aquatic world. I remember afternoons spent going from one tank to the next, looking at sea creatures and playing hide and seek. We have the Underwater World now, but ticket prices are different and we have to go to Sentosa. Both the theatre and aquarium sites have been sitting empty for more than 20 years.

Millions flock to Europe to sightsee. One reason is that one can see and touch buildings hundreds of years old, with different architecture reflecting the periods they were built. This brings in tourism revenue. I can count only a handful of buildings here dating to the 1800s. It seems that we are treating buildings the same way we are treating cars here. Cars are scrapped when they are 10 years old or less, and the ones on the road are of similar colours and models.

With limited land in Singapore, there will always be a need for more roads. Rather than demolish buildings and places such as Bukit Brown cemetery, I am sure there can be creative alternatives. There are many roads to Rome. One does not need to eradicate the 'obstacle' on the main road and kill memories along with it.

Singapore has started discussing the merit of a happiness index and not focus only on GDP growth. I suggest we also consider adopting a heritage index, measured by the number of old buildings conserved and maintained.

Ng Wee Chew

Thank you Clarissa Oon for writing your commentary which brought back memories of growing up in Joo Chiat.

I was born in the area and lived in Joo Chiat Terrace in the 1960s and 1970s. I have fond memories of Joo Chiat and Katong: the street hawkers along Everitt Road, from whom I bought my breakfast of beehoon and green bean soup as a child; the famous Fei Fei wonton mee and Kim Choo bak chang (Nonya dumplings); the Lily open-air theatre, where I caught movies such as The One-Armed Swordsman starring Jimmy Wang Yu.

The kampung spirit was great. We did not need to lock our homes and could borrow salt or sugar from our neighbours when my mother ran out of them while cooking. As Joo Chiat is a heritage area, research should be done to find out the history of its road names. I do not want the current generation to have no attachment to the place.

We need to create roots for them to find their identity as Singaporeans. We have developed the country very quickly. We need to preserve the soul of the nation and its memories, by conserving buildings and recreational places.

Bernard Tay

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Malaysian floods: Situation improving, but more rain expected

New Straits Times 31 Dec 11;

KUALA LUMPUR: The flood situation in Sarawak is improving with many of the evacuees returning home but Johor is bracing for more floods.

The number of flood victims at the various relief centres in Sarawak dropped from 562 to 217 yesterday but Sri Aman and Kanowit are still inundated.

In Johor, 241 people in Segamat, are still seeking shelter at six centres, and the authorities issued an advisory for those staying near Sungai Muar to be cautious as the level has risen above the danger level.

In Pahang, all the 15 flood evacuees housed at a relief centre, the Kampung Gadak community hall, were allowed to return home at 8pm yesterday when the situation in the area returned to normal after the high-tide.

The Meteorological Department said the wet weather in Sri Aman, Kanowit and Segamat is expected to continue in the week ahead, with daily afternoon thunderstorms predicted.

According to an advisory by the department, strong northeasterly winds of 50-60kph, with waves of up to 4.5m were also expected to occur over the waters off Sarawak, Labuan, Sabah (West Coast, Interior and Kudat), Reef South and Palawan, until Thursday.

This condition is considered dangerous to all shipping and coastal activities including fishing and ferry services.

In Terengganu, on the erosion at Km3 Jalan Pantai Sura (Teluk Lipat), Dungun last week because of the impact of strong waves, the Public Works Department yesterday said it had closed down the stretch and diverted traffic to alternate routes -- Jalan Lapangan Terbang and Jalan Kuala Dungun.

In Sarawak, the damaged section of the Pan-Borneo Highway has been repaired and is now open to traffic.

Serian police chief Deputy Superintendent Jamali Umi said traffic along Km77 Kuching/Serian road returned to normal since noon yesterday.

"The land is stable and a temporary road, built next to the site, is safe for all traffic," said Jamali.

Flood Situation In Johor Improves, It's Back To Normal In Pahang
Bernama 30 Dec 11;

JOHOR BAHARU, Dec 30 (Bernama) -- The number of flood evacuees in Segamat, Johor remained at 241 this morning with six relief centres still open.

According to the National Security Council portal, the six relief centres housing 58 evacuated families are in Kampung Spangloi, Kampung Batu Badak, Kampung Sanglang, Kampung Pogoh, Kampung Tandong and Kampung Kuala Paya.

In PAHANG, all the 15 flood evacuees housed at a relief centre, the Kampung Gadak community hall, were allowed to return home at 8pm yesterday when the situation in the area returned to normal after experiencing the high-tide phenomenon.

A spokesman from the state police headquarters flood operations room said they were the last group to have been evacuated, while at the moment there were no fresh evacuation of flood victims in other areas as well.


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Logging in spotlight after Philippines flood tragedy

It is emerging as major culprit behind disaster that killed over 1,200
Alastair McIndoe Straits Times 31 Dec 11;

MANILA: Logging is emerging as a major culprit behind the flood disaster that killed at least 1,257 people in the southern Philippines.

In a country highly prone to natural disasters, the loss of vast areas of protective forest cover in uplands and watersheds has long put communities at risk from flash floods and landslides triggered by pounding seasonal rains.

In the aftermath of the catastrophic floods in two coastal cities on Mindanao island on Dec 17, a nationwide logging ban ordered by President Benigno Aquino 11 months ago to help prevent such disasters from recurring is under the spotlight.

Environment officials admitted this week that the logging ban had not been enforced in a politically volatile part of Mindanao that has been hard to govern.

An investigation is now under way to determine whether ongoing logging there contributed to the flood damage unleashed by tropical storm Washi.

But the region already has some of the country's most depleted forests, said Forest Management Bureau assistant director Nonito Tamayo.

Aerial footage of Ligan City's shoreline taken days after the storm shows a thick carpet of logs and other debris washed down from swollen river systems.

Officials believe the logs came from nearby Lanao del Sur province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The logging ban was ignored because the four-million population in ARMM had its own environmental authority.

'That was the problem,' Environment Secretary Ramon Paje told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. 'When the President declared a total log ban, they were not sold on the idea. So logging in the ARMM was allowed and above that, there was illegal logging.'

President Aquino has ordered ARMM governor Mujiv Hataman - who has been just days in the job - to enforce the ban and crack down on illegal logging.

It is a tough assignment. This corner of the Philippines has a notorious reputation for lawlessness - a legacy of decades of insurgency, warlordism and a high incidence of poverty.

And because of security concerns, the ARMM still has not been fully mapped for geo-hazards, said the government's geological survey chief Sevillo David.

All the same, its new governor swiftly sacked a senior environment officer - and has said that more heads will roll - after uncovering evidence of continued logging in a sensitive watershed area feeding Mindanao's main river system.

Government data shows the ARMM has only around 250,000ha of forest cover left. 'That's small considering the size of the region,' said Mr Tamayo.

The national picture is just as bleak.

Decades of rampant logging - and often illegal - have reduced the country's natural forest cover from 80 per cent at the turn of the 20th century to 24 per cent today, leaving just over 7 million ha of forest. The perils of tree-thin uplands were devastatingly exposed in 1991 by flash floods which killed more than 6,000 people in the central Philippine city of Ormoc. The debris flushed down a mountainside included hundreds of logs and shipping containers of cut timber.

After years of ineffective campaigns against illegal logging, there are some signs that the government's logging ban is not merely another exercise in good intentions but with weak implementation.

According to the environment department, 450 cases of illegal logging have been brought to court since the ban, and there have been 72 convictions. Mr Paje said that turning the President's executive order into legislation would give the logging ban 'more teeth' and ensure that it remains in force after his term in office.

The only legal sources of timber are now from commercial plantations, which cover 330,000ha, and imports. Senator Loren Legarda, an environmental crusader, wants the logging ban to last 25 years.

The administration also plans to plant 1.6 billion indigenous trees on 1.5 million ha of forest-depleted land between this year and 2016. Under the programme, 100,000ha was targeted for this year, which Mr Tamayo says was met.

The goal for next year is 200,000ha, and 300,000ha for each of the following three years.

Among those helping are the nation's schoolchildren. Those in state education are each required to plant 10 seedlings a year. Mining firms must plant 100 trees for every one they displace.

As for the logs recovered from Washi's disaster zone, they will be used to repair damaged schools. Classes resume on Jan 3 and in the city of Cagayan de Oro alone, some 406 classrooms need repairing.

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Praise for Sabah’s forestry policy growing popular

Joniston Bangkuai New Straits Times 31 Dec 11;

HATS OFF: Short-term unsustainable logging is out and long-term management is in

SABAH is fast becoming a trailblazer in sustainable forest management. This is evident from the numerous accolades, notably from the United Nations, World Wildlife Fund Malaysia, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Prince Charles Charity, for the success of its forest conservation efforts.

With the global community looking at Sabah as a fine example in tropical rainforest protection and management, several forest conservation-related international meetings and conferences were held in the state over the past few months.

At one of them, the United Nation Development Programme's resident representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, Kamal Malhotra, described Sabah as a model of sustainable forest management not only for Southeast Asia, but also the world.

"What is happening here (Sabah) is closely monitored by those who are interested in sustainable development," he said.

In recognition of Sabah's efforts, the UNDP has agreed to fund a RM14 million project on multi-use forest landscape planning and management at a 260,000ha active production forest area at the Kalabakan-Gunung Rara forest reserve in Tawau.

Echoing Malhotra, WWF Malaysia chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius S.K. Sharma commended the visionary leadership of the state government under Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman for its political will and for "walking the talk" in implementing programmes and initiatives to protect and conserve the environment.

"Sustainable development will determine if we get to keep this planet, and Sabah, with the leadership that it has, will be able to keep this part of the world intact," remarked Dr Dionysius.

Sabah's forest conservation effort has also attracted the attention of Charles, the Prince of Wales, whose foundation is involved in funding numerous rainforest conservation programmes.

State Forestry director Datuk Sam Mannan was recently invited by the prince to share Sabah's success in sustainable forest management at the WWF Global Forest Trade Network (GFTN) Anniversary Forum in London.

It is heartening to note that these strict practices have helped Sabah improve the way it manages its forests.

This was evident particularly in terms of phasing out short-term logging licences that did not adhere to sustainability principles.

Through new practices, long-term forest management plans were designed and reduced-impact logging was introduced.

The state also started giving priority to the protection of High Conservation Value Forests, which are home to diverse wildlife and plants, and also serve as watersheds. By committing to sustainable ways of logging, Sabah has also safeguarded the interests of local communities whose lives depend on the forest.

Switching from conventional logging to sustainable harvesting was perhaps one of the most difficult decisions the state government had to make.

This was due to the fact that Sabah was hugely dependent on timber for revenue, and opting for sustainable forestry management means making sacrifices such as losing short-term monetary gains, and doing away with old ways of logging.

Time and resources were instead allocated to finding the best ways to harvest timber without negatively impacting the environment and communities.

The most practical and pragmatic ways of doing things are continuously addressed as Sabah learnt newer things from its experience in sustainably managing forests.

Despite uncertainties when the state embarked on the bold decision to push for a sustainably harvested forest, it has passed the litmus test and has proven the doubters wrong.

"For Sabah, this is not just talk. We have success stories, among them the Deramakot Forest Reserve which has been certified as a well-managed forest under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification scheme," Musa said.

From the Deramakot experience, Sabah expanded sustainable forest management practices statewide in 1997, allowing it to continue creating jobs and revenue and at the same time preserving its forests and biodiversity.

The practices are now well accepted and the goal of the Forestry Department to attain full certification for forest reserves by 2014 has started yielding results. To date, Sabah has 839,477ha of forest under some form of certification.

Of this, some 373,620ha have been certified as well-managed by the FSC.

This includes the recently certified 50,070ha Tangkulap forest reserve and the Ulu Segama and Malua forest reserves covering a total of 241,098ha. The Malu reserve is particularly significant as it is expected to help conserve a habitat for orang utans.

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Huge wildfire shutters Chile national park

Paulina Abramovich AFP Yahoo News 31 Dec 11;

Chile closed Friday one of its most popular national parks in peak hiking season after a massive wildfire ravaged tens of thousands of acres of pristine Patagonia and showed no signs of abating.

High winds fanned the blaze at the Torres del Paine National Park, a 2,400-square-kilometer (927-square-mile) paradise of mountains, glaciers, natural forests and lakes visited by more than 100,000 people each year.

After meeting emergency officials struggling to get a grip on the inferno in deep southern Chile, President Sebastian Pinera announced that whatever transpired at the park it would now remain shut throughout January.

Some 8,500 hectares (21,000 acres) of woodland and scrub, nearly four percent of the total area of the park, has already been destroyed by the blaze, which more than quadrupled in size in less than 24 hours.

The Chilean government has deployed four planes and a helicopter to the remote mountainous region, where 300 firefighters, soldiers and forest rangers were engaged in a desperate effort to get the inferno under control.

Aerial photographs showed a vast cloud of smoke obscuring the beautiful backdrop of snow-clad granite peaks, wild steppes and turquoise lakes.

"We are faced with a hugely complex situation, an extreme scenario, mainly due to topography, strong winds and highly combustible vegetation," said Vicente Nunez, head of Chile's Office of National Emergency (ONEMI).

A crucial break could come late Friday or Saturday, when 10 to 15 millimeters (0.4 to 0.6 inches) of rain were expected.

The blaze erupted late Tuesday and advanced rapidly in dry conditions, forcing authorities to evacuate 700 people, mostly tourists, from the park, which is located some 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) south of Santiago.

Environmentalist group Accion Ecologica criticized the government for its allegedly slow response to the wildfire, drawing an unfavorable comparison with its rapid crackdown on students protesting education reforms.

"We would have liked to see a government as gifted at throwing water on the flames consuming our natural heritage as they are on citizens defending their rights," said activist Luis Mariano Rendon.

A 2005 bush fire started by a Czech backpacker destroyed 160 square kilometers (62 square miles) of the Torres del Paine National Park, which was designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1978.

Pinera pledged another 100 personnel would join crews on Saturday and said his government would seek "all necessary assistance" from other countries, having already contacted Argentina, Australia and the United States.

Neighboring Argentina, which has its own Patagonian preserves just across the border from Torres del Paine, has already sent in some emergency teams to help.

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World pays Ecuador not to extract oil from rainforest

Governments and film stars join alliance that raises £75m to compensate Ecuador for lost revenue from 900m barrels
John Vidal 30 Dec 11;

An alliance of European local authorities, national governments, US film stars, Japanese shops, soft drink companies and Russian foundations have stepped in to prevent oil companies exploiting 900m barrels of crude oil from one of the world's most biologically rich tracts of land.

According to the UN, the "crowdfunding" initiative had last night raised $116m (£75m), enough to temporarily halt the exploitation of the 722 square miles of "core" Amazonian rainforest known as Yasuní national park in Ecuador.

The park, which is home to two tribes of uncontacted Indians, is thought to have more mammal, bird, amphibian and plant species than any other spot on earth. Development of the oilfield, which was planned to take place immediately if the money had not been raised, would have inevitably led to ecological devastation and the eventual release of over 400m tonnes of CO2.

Ecuador agreed to halt plans to mine the oilfield if it could raise 50% of the $7.6bn revenue being lost by not mining the oil. While the world's leading conservation groups pledged nothing, regional governments in France and Belgium offered millions of dollars – with $2m alone from the Belgian region of Wallonia. A New York investment banker donated her annual salary and Bo Derek, Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton and Al Gore all contributed.

The idea of asking people to pay for something not to take place was widely dismissed by national treasuries as holding the world to ransom. The German development minister, Dirk Niebel, said that the principle of paying for the oil not to be exploited "would be setting a precedent with unforeseeable referrals". However, Germany has now contributed $48m in "technical assistance". The former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was widely criticised after he wrote off $51m of Ecuador's $10bn external debt as Italy's contribution.

Other governments pledging support were Chile, Colombia, Georgia and Turkey ($100,000 each), Peru ($300,000), Australia ($500,000) and Spain ($1.4m).

Supporters of the scheme argued that it could be a model for change in the way the world pays to protect important places. The money raised is guaranteed to be used only for nature protection and renewable energy projects. Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and other countries with oil reserves, have investigated the possibility of setting up similar schemes as an alternative to traditional aid.

The biological richness of Yasuní has astonished scientists. One 6sq km patch of the park was found to have 47 amphibian and reptile species, 550 bird, 200 mammal and more species of bats and insects than anywhere in the western hemisphere. According to Ecuadorean scientists, it would take in the region of 400 years to record Yasuní's 100,000 or more insect and 2,000 fish species.

Of the 63.4% of Ecuadoreans polled last month who knew of the Yasuní initiative, 83.4% supported it.

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Best of our wild blogs: 30 Dec 11

Is the (sea)grass really greener on the other side?
from The Green Bush

Sit and wade
from The annotated budak

Kingfishers@Jurong lake
from PurpleMangrove

New survey dates for sign up: Jan-Jun 2012
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

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Campaign for a green corridor

Seven Singaporeans look back on 2011 to select and reflect on what they consider to be the political event of the year

Teo Wan Gek and Toh Yong Chuan Straits Times 30 Dec 11;

ALARM bells rang in Nature Society (Singapore) vice-president Leong Kwok Peng's head when he read a front-page report in The Straits Times announcing the relocation of Tanjong Pagar railway station to Woodlands.

That was on May 25 last year.

Mr Leong, 55, says the Nature Society had for years hoped to preserve the nature belt along the railway tracks.

With the railway land reverting to Singapore, future developments might encroach into the pockets of nature or break up the continuous stretch of greenery.

Mr Leong got to work. He wrote to The Straits Times Forum to propose a green corridor be preserved, and ended up spearheading the Nature Society's campaign on the matter.

He says with a laugh: 'That is how volunteers work. When you open your mouth, you volunteer yourself.'

A formal proposal to the Government followed in October last year. But they did not receive a response for eight months.

In June this year, Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan- Jin reached out to the society through Facebook.

'We were pleasantly surprised when the minister contacted us personally,' Mr Leong says.

Things moved swiftly thereafter.

He met Mr Tan, who entered politics in May this year, for the first time on July 9. Together, they walked the whole 23km-length of the railway tracks.

He recalls the junior minister was 'willing to listen, positive and enthusiastic'. That first encounter set the tone for future meetings between government officials and the Nature Society.

Mr Leong sees the green corridor preservation as the political event that made the most impact on non-governmental organisations this year, because it 'signals the Government's readiness to collaborate and engage civil society groups at a deeper level, with ministers personally involved'.

He adds: 'It also shows that the Government is willing to balance preservation of nature with physical development.'

Even though the dust has barely settled, the former chemical engineer, who now runs an outdoor education adventure training company with his brother, has his sights set on something new.

Pointing to a map, he wonders aloud: 'The green corridor is now separated from Sungei Buloh. If only they can be connected through the Mandai mangroves into a continuous stretch of nature reserve.'

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Singapore's community activism blossoming

Qiuyi Tan Channel NewsAsia 29 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE: More Singaporeans this year have spoken up and acted on a slew of social causes from heritage conservation and environmental protection to animal welfare.

In June, Singapore saw its first-ever public forum on animal welfare policies.

Observers said this is not unusual for a developed country with an educated population.

Assistant Professor Reuben Wong, from the National University of Singapore's Political Science Department, said: "Singaporeans find it remarkable because we've been used to a certain kind of politics which I'd describe as abnormal, where the citizenry has been depoliticised, where there is one overwhelming party or sometimes just one party in Parliament."

At the National Day Rally in August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had urged Singaporeans to come forward to play a larger and positive role on issues affecting the country.

Leading the way in this effort are civil society groups such as the Cat Welfare Society.

The society has seen public support increase steadily over the years.

But what made 2011 a milestone for the group was its engagement with the government.

It has successfully lobbied authorities to start sterilising stray cats this year -- a shift from the old policy of culling them.

Its vice-president Veron Lau said the Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme, which was terminated in 2005, is now back and piloting in a number of housing estates like Ang Mo Kio and Tampines.

Under the programme, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) works with town councils to microchip and sterilise stray cats, and pays for half the cost.

"I see the change from the government officers in the way they want to work together with us," Ms Lau said.

"It's because they have seen the results that are brought about when volunteers and residents in the community step forward to resolve issues, rather than just leaving it to the government officials to resolve them."

Separately, architect Tham Wai Hon got his friends and colleagues together to lobby the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to preserve the full tract of KTM railway land recently returned to Singapore. They did that by proposing creative development ideas.

Mr Tham said: "What's so amazing was that, usually in Singapore, things are planned 10, 20 years in advance, but this time, things happened so suddenly, no one was ready except our group. And so in that way it lent us a bigger voice, and the URA was really keen to get any ideas for what they could do about the space."

Mr Tham's group -- Friends of the Rail Corridor -- is now part of an official dialogue process with the Rail Corridor Consultation Group on the Rail Corridor.

There are concerns lengthy consultations will slow down Singapore's efficiency and strong government.

But activists and observers said the dialogue process as well as active citizens and a strong civil society are vital to a mature and resilient society.

NUS' Assistant Professor Wong said: "Some of the younger ministers and younger Members of Parliament (MPs) understand more intuitively, but the rest of the cabinet and government might have to be convinced of the merits of a more consultative approach."

While some observers said activist groups are getting more organised and connected, others believe there will always be new issues that will get Singaporeans talking and moving.

But one thing all can agree with, though, is that Singapore's budding community activism looks set to grow in the years ahead.

- CNA/wk

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Camera Traps Spot 35 Rhinos in Indonesian Park

Jakarta Post 29 Dec 11;

An adult male Javan rhino is caught by a video trap at Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java. Camera traps in the Indonesian park have captured images of 35 endangered Javan rhinos, five of them calves. (AP Photo/Ujung Kulon National Park) An adult male Javan rhino is caught by a video trap at Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java. Camera traps in the Indonesian park have captured images of 35 endangered Javan rhinos, five of them calves. (AP Photo/Ujung Kulon National Park)

Camera traps in an Indonesian park have captured images of 35 endangered Javan rhinos, five of them calves.

Forestry Ministry official Bambang Novianto said Thursday that dozens of video cameras were placed earlier this year in the Ujung Kulon park — the animal’s original habitat.

Researchers studying the images that came back were able to identify 35 different rhinos, though the total number in the park is likely higher.

The Javan rhino was once the most widespread of Asian rhinoceroses, but was nearly wiped out when the Krakatau volcano erupted in 1883, spawning a tsunami that inundated the park.

The greatest threat they face today is from poachers and habitat destruction.

Experts estimate only 40 to 60 Javan rhinos remain in the park.

Associated Press

Cameras show 35 rare rhinos in Indonesia: official
AFP Yahoo News 31 Dec 11;

Hidden cameras in the jungles of Indonesia's Java island have captured images of 35 critically endangered Javan rhinos, including five calves, an official said Friday.

The forestry ministry set up 44 infrared cameras from January to October this year in the rugged Ujung Kulon National Park on the western-most tip of Java.

"The cameras captured the images of 22 male and 13 female rhinos. The five calves consisted of one female and four males," director of biodiversity conservation at the forestry ministry Bambang Novianto told AFP.

He said the discovery of the five calves "shows that its population continue to develop", but an imbalanced sex ratio could threatened the rare species.

"There are more male rhinos than females. We are worried that it will create dangerous competitions among the male rhinos in getting a partner. They may end up in a deadly fight," he said.

To boost conservation efforts, Novianto said his ministry was finalising a rhino breeding sanctuary in an area of 38,000 hectares inside the 122,000-hectare (300,000-acre) national park.

"It will be easier for us to monitor its population so that the breeding process would be more effective," he said, adding that such programmes will help the government to reach a target of 70 to 80 Javan rhinos by 2015.

The Javan rhino is distinguished from African rhinos by its small size, single horn and loose skin folds.

Around 44 Javan rhinos are believed to live in Ujung Kulon, a rare patch of wilderness on one of the world's most densely populated islands.

They form the world's only viable population of the critically endangered species capable of reproducing.

Asian rhinos have been driven to the brink of extinction because their horns are highly valued in traditional Chinese and Korean medicine, although most countries in the region have banned the trade.

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Record number of ivory seizures in 2011: WWF

Ed Stoddard Reuters Yahoo News 30 Dec 11;

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A record number of large scale ivory seizures will be recorded globally in 2011, pointing to a surge in elephant poaching in Africa to meet Asian demand for tusks for use in jewelry and ornaments, a monitoring group said Thursday.

TRAFFIC, a conservation group which tracks trends in wildlife trading, said there have been at least 13 large-scale seizures of over 800 kg (2,000 pounds) of ivory in 2011, more than double the 6 recorded in 2010.

"A conservative estimate of the weight of ivory seized in the 13 largest seizures in 2011 puts the figure at more than 23 totonesnnes, a figure that probably represents some 2,500 elephants, possibly more," it said in a statement.

Zimbabwe-based Tom Milliken, who manages TRAFFIC's Elephant Trade Information System, said it was the worst year for large seizures he had seen in the over two decades he has been running the database.

He said the poaching and illegal trade were consequences of China's investment drive into Africa to secure the mineral and energy resources it needs to fuel its economic growth.

"We've reached a point in Africa's history where there are more Asian nationals on the continent than ever before. They have contacts with the end use market and now they are at the source in Africa," he told Reuters.

"This is all adding up to an unprecedented assault on elephants and other wildlife," he said.

Milliken said some of the ivory that was making its way to illicit markets may be coming from African government stockpiles from previous seizures but the trade numbers and data from other wildlife monitors pointed to a rise in elephant killings.

"The trade data suggest that thousands of elephants are being killed a year ... I think central Africa has been brutally affected, especially Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)," he said.

Milliken said elephant poaching was also taking place in Zimbabwe, Zambia, northern Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya.

A global ban that was placed on the ivory trade in 1989 was widely credited with stemming a relentless slaughter of African elephants in countries such as Kenya. Occasional auctions from African government stockpiles have since been sanctioned.

Most of the illegal African ivory winds up in China or Thailand, according to TRAFFIC. Ivory is used in the making of jewelry and art carvings.

Estimates of Africa's elephant population vary widely from around 400,000 to 700,000.

In some southern African states such as Botswana there are large and growing populations and in South Africa there are concerns that elephant numbers have swelled to the point that they are damaging the environment in enclosed reserves.

But elsewhere the situation is far more bleak. In lawless regions of the DRC poaching is rampant.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Malaysia: Flood situation improves in Johor and Sabah

The Star 30 Dec 11;

JOHOR BARU: The flood situation in both Johor and Sabah has improved with many of the evacuees allowed to return home.

In Johor, there were only 241 evacuees remaining at the relief centres yesterday, down from the 1,200 people taking shelter when the flood was at its worst on Monday.

The National Security Council's portal reported Segamat as the only district with six centres still open.

State police chief Deputy Comm Datuk Mokhtar Mohd Shariff said no break-ins had been reported during the floods, which affected several districts for more than a week.

All police personnel, he added, were also instructed to check on the homes affected by floods.

On a report that several men from Kampung Tanjung Endau in Mersing were staying back to guard their homes from being broken into, he reminded the public not to take their safety for granted.

“Floodwaters are unpredictable and it is dangerous for anyone to guard their belongings when their homes are hit by floods,” he said.

In KOTA KINABALU, 18 families in Kampung Gum-Gum in Sandakan were allowed to return home after being evacuated on Christmas eve while another 287 residents continued to remain in relief centres.

However, police personnel are on standby as the state braces itself for another round of bad weather.

Federal Internal Security and Public Order director Datuk Salleh Mat Rasid said police all over the country would monitor flood-prone areas and coastal settlements with king tides expected in Samarahan, Sarawak, and Likas Bay here yesterday.

Malaysia: Situation improves in flood-hit states
Punitha Kumar and Lavanya Lingan New Straits Times 30 Dec 11;

Worst-hit Sarawak sees highest reduction in number of evacuees

THE flood situation in the country took a turn for the better yesterday, with many evacuees returning home.

The number of evacuees in worst-hit Sarawak, which stood at 2,657 on Wednesday, dropped to 562 yesterday.

Sarawak Drainage and Irrigation Department director Wong Siu Hieng said floodwaters were expected to fully subside by tomorrow.

"The condition in Kuching is back to normal, only the coastal areas are still affected.

"It will take a couple of days for the coastal area to clear, provided there are no more downpours."

Wong said Sarawak saw the highest recorded rainfall at 610mm in 24 hours on Christmas day which was the cause of the flood.

According to the National Security Council's website, the relief centre in Samarahan had 451 victims, a huge drop from 1,407 yesterday.

This was followed by Sri Aman (102) and Sarikei with nine evacuees.

In Johor, the numbers dropped to 251 victims from 715 yesterday, all of whom were housed in six relief centres in Segamat.

Mersing and Batu Pahat had closed down their evacuation centres as the situation improved with all evacuees returning home.

The situation in Pahang remained the same as the number of victims still stood at 15, all in |Kampung Gadak.

In Sabah, there were no flood evacuees as all 101 families had returned home.

The evacuation centre at Sandakan was closed at 11am yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Meteorological Department has forecast intermittent rain, occasionally moderate, occurring over states of Johor (Kota Tinggi and Mersing districts), Pahang (Rompin, Pekan and Kuantan districts) and Terengganu (Hulu Terengganu, Marang, Dungun and Kemaman districts) to continue till today (Friday).

The department added that the rainfall may cause floods over low-lying areas.

Strong Northeasterly winds over 60 kmph with waves more than 5.5 metres were expected to occur and continue till next Thursday, over the waters of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, East Johor, Samui, Tioman, Bunguran, Condore, Reef North and Layang-Layang.

The third category warning meant it was dangerous for all coastal and shipping activities, including workers on oil platforms.

In addition, the coastal areas of East Coast of the Peninsular are vulnerable to sea level rise.

This condition is expected to continue until Monday.

Places such as Sarawak, Labuan and Sabah (West Coast, Interior and Kudat) were expecting winds between 50 and 60kmph with waves up to 4.5 metres till next Thursday.

Flood Situation In Affected States Under Control
Bernama 29 Dec 11;

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 29 (Bernama) -- The flood situation in the affected states were under control in the evening Thursday, with most of the evacuees having returned to their homes.

In SARAWAK, the flood situation was improving and up to 6pm today, only 687 evacuees from 222 families were still housed at the relief centres.

According to a statement from the state operations room, still at the relief centres in Samarahan were 451 flood victims from 163 families, Sri Aman (102 from 33 families), Sibu (125 from 25 families) and Sarikei (nine from one family).

Incessant rain over the past four days in Sarawak has not only caused flooding in low-lying areas but also landslides, includng at KM77 and KM78 Jalan Serian-Sri Aman at 8.45pm yesterday, causing the Trans Borneo road to be cut off still.

Meanwhile, the National Security Council portal reported that in JOHOR, only Segamat district was still affected by floods, with 241 evacuees housed at six relief centres.

The relief centres are in Kampung Spangloi, Kampung Batu Badak, Kampung Sanglang, Kampung Pogoh, Kampung Tandong and Kampung Kuala Paya.

The Drainage and Irrigation Department portal reported that the water levels in three rivers were still above the dangerous level; Sungai Muar at Buloh Kasap, Segamat (at 9.40 metres), Sungai Muar at Bukit Kepong, Muar (3.23 metres) and Sungai Simpang Kiri at Sri Medan, Batu Pahat (2.31 metres).

IN PAHANG, 15 flood evacuees are still at the relief centre in Rompin.

A spokesman for the state police contingent headquarters' operations room said that as at 5pm today, flood victims housed at the Kampung Gadak community hall were still waiting for the situation to return to normal after the area had been hit by the high-tide phenomenon.

"Only Kampung Gadak is still inundated while the situation has returned to normal in other areas," he said when contacted.

Pahang Meteorological Department director, Azemi Daud said the high-tide phenomenon would disappear by the year-end.

"Huge waves that have hit the East Coast states in the peninsula have been caused by the strong northeasterly winds and this is expected to continue today.

"The high-tide and huge waves phenomenon can hamper rain water flowing out to sea, causing the floods to subside slowly," he explained.

He advised the people to reduce activities at the beaches and sea due to the prevailing phenomenon, to take safety precautionary measures if involved in such activities and to follow safety instructions given by the relevant authorities.

In SABAH, the flood situation in Sandakan has improved, with all the flood evacuees at the relief centres allowed to return home this morning.

A spokesman for the Sandakan Municipal Council's flood operations room said the remaining 64 evacuees from 18 families from Kampung Gum-Gum were allowed to return home after the river water level in the village dropped to the alert level.

He said Dewan Sri Gum-Gum ceased to be a flood relief centre this morning but the flood operations centre was still open to monitor the flood situation in the district.

In Beluran, its assistant district officer, Roger Appolonius has advised residents in three areas in the district, namely Sugut, Paitan and Tangkarason to be alert and to evacuate if the water level of the river in their area rose suddenly.


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Australia: Plastic not fantastic for turtles

Paul Appelkamp Northern Star 30 Dec 11;

AUSTRALIAN Seabird Rescue general manager Rochelle Ferris had some surprises in store when she took people on a tour of the organisation's Ballina headquarters yesterday.

Injured sea turtles were being nursed back to health in eight on-site pools and people viewed the laid-back reptiles up close as they were being fed squid.

Ms Ferris also talked to visitors about seabird and sea turtle conservation.

"A lot of visitors to the area are unaware of the endangered species we have living in the area," Ms Ferris explained.

"If anyone sees nesting turtles that we don't know about, we'd like them to be able to tell us."

Seabird Rescue has saved an unprecedented number of sea turtles in the past six weeks.

"It's the worst we've seen since we started (operating) in '98," Ms Ferris said.

"We usually average 11 (turtle rescues) a month, but this November we had 28 and in December we're still counting but we've had similar numbers."

The main reason turtles have been turning up sick on North Coast shores was due to the countless plastics filling the oceans.

"About 40% of turtles that come to the rescue centre are here because they've ingested plastic," Ms Ferris said.

"And that's because plastic resembles food."

During their stay at the group's Ballina headquarters, each turtle eats about a 1kg of squid a day.

Ms Ferris said sourcing squid for turtles was the organisation's biggest ongoing cost and a challenge for the volunteer-run organisation.

Every morning for the next month Seabird Rescue will conduct tours on which people can donate, but in the meantime, Ms Ferris had some wildlife conservation tips.

"What you can do to help is get to know your backyard, get to know the local wildlife and get to know when there's changes in the local environment."

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Tide of plastic bags that started wave of revulsion

Since Rebecca Hosking reported the plastic pollution in the Pacific, levies and bans on single-use bags have spread
Juliette Jowit 29 Dec 11;

Plastic bags became almost a national symbol of waste and decadence thanks to BBC camerawoman Rebecca Hosking, who travelled to the remote Pacific island of Midway to film a nature documentary.

As the Guardian reported at the time: "Instead of finding some prelapsarian wilderness, she and a colleague were confronted with the horror of hundreds of albatrosses lying on the sand. The great birds' stomachs had been split open by the heat and bits of plastic were spewing out between the feathers and the bones. All kinds of plastic – toys, shopping bags, asthma inhalers, pens, cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, combs, bottle tops. The birds had swallowed them and choked to death."

Later, Hosking and her colleagues found humpback whales, seals and turtles, "all dead or dying from the plastic", which rolled in on every tide.

Hosking came back to the UK, finished the film, and returned to her home town of Modbury in Devon, where she set about persuading all 43 shopkeepers to stop using plastic bags.

Modbury's example inspired communities across the country to attempt the same thing, and led to a national debate about whether all shoppers in the UK should pay a levy to deter plastic bag use.

By the time Modbury became a national name, the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, South Africa, Zanzibar and at least one state in India (Karnataka) had already banned distribution of single-use plastic bags, while the environment minister of Rwanda suggested using such bags was breaking environmental protection laws.

Meanwhile, Ireland introduced a levy of 15 euro cents (now 22c) a bag, slashing plastic bag use from 328 bags per person a year to just 18 last year – and cutting plastic bags from 5% of litter to a quarter of 1%.

Since then Kenya, Uganda, several more Indian states and China have introduced bans, while many European retailers charge for bags.

As with so many environmental "improvements", however, banning and charging for plastic bags has not been without controversy: earlier this year an unpublished report by the Environment Agency was leaked, showing that popular alternatives to plastic bags needed to be used many times over to generate less carbon pollution: paper bags at least four times, and cotton bags more than 171 times over.

That has not stopped the momentum, however. In May the European commission launched a consultation on an EU-wide ban. And in October Wales introduced a 5p charge a bag, which it hopes will cut use by 90%.

Juliette Jowit

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Japan streets ahead in global plastic recycling race

At 77%, country's plastic recycling rate is about twice that of the UK, and well above the 20% figure for the US
Justin McCurry 29 Dec 11;

Japan is one of the most successful countries in the world for recycling plastics. In 2010, 77% of plastic waste was recycled, up from 73% in 2006 and 39% in 1996, according to the nation's Plastic Waste Management Institute.

The country has passed several recycling laws to address the disposal and treatment of plastic waste since 1997, when businesses and consumers were obliged to separate plastic waste for the first time.

That measure, along with better awareness off the benefits of separating out plastic, is what has had the impact.

The list of plastic items that can be recycled has grown to include boxes and cases, wrappings, cups and containers, plates and trays, tube-shaped containers, lids and caps. Most is processed together, with plastic bottles and other containers treated separately.

In 2006, according to the institute, Japan recycled 2.1m tonnes of plastic waste, while 4.8m tonnes undergoes so-called "thermal recycling" which includes conversion into useful chemicals and burning to generate energy.

The number and types of plastic waste separation differ among municipalities, but most households are required to separate plastic wrappers and packages from polyethylene terephthalate [PET] bottles, whose labels must be torn off before they are thrown away.

The law was tightened amid a rise in the amount of waste generated by Japan's 127 million people, and a shortage of landfill space.

Household items such as food wrappers and PET bottle labels are clearly marked to indicate they need to be treated as plastic waste. The items are usually collected for free, on different days from regular kitchen waste.

At 77%, Japan's plastic recycling rate is about twice that of the UK, and well above the 20% figure for the US, which still depends largely on landfill, according to institute spokesman Takushi Kamiya. One major driver has been the lack of space for landfill close to

crowded and sprawling metropolitan areas.

"Japan has been able to make progress in plastic recycling because waste-processing agencies have won the support of manufacturers," he said.

Japan recycled 72% of PET bottles in 2010, compared with 48% in Europe and 29% in the US.

The recycled material is used in textiles, sheeting, industrial materials and household items such as egg boxes. Large quantities are shipped to China, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia, where it is used to make toys and games.

New technology is helping raise the PET-bottle recycling rate. The food company Ajinomoto recently unveiled a plastic bottle made entirely from recycled PET. The firm expects to use 4,500 tonnes of recycled PET in its drink bottles every year.

Japan's plastic recycling operation would be easier if manufacturers reduced the amount of wrapping they use, said Kevin Carroll, representative director of EA International, an environmental and engineering risk management consultancy in Tokyo.

"Japan differs from other countries in that it tends to overwrap," Carroll said. "You buy a bento boxed lunch and it comes in a plastic box with a lid, and then it's put into a plastic bag. Lots of other foodstuffs are the same.

"There's a tremendous amount of plastic around. The real problem is with household plastic, a lot of which gets burned or buried. The amounts involved are phenomenal."

Kamiya agrees that Japan needs to address the 27% of plastic waste that is simply incinerated or buried in increasingly scarce landfill sites.

"We are looking at ways to deal with what's left over, but it's difficult to imagine at this stage that we'll get the recycling rate to 100%," he said. "But I think we do very well compared with other countries."

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UN Launches Biodiversity Decade

Alex Abutu 29 Dec 11;

The United Nations has declared 2011 to 2020 as biodiversity decade with emphasis on the fact that a future of life in harmony with nature was possible, if the world takes action now.

The United Nations Decade on Biodiversity (UNDB) was launched in Kanazawa, Japan, in a ceremony organized by the United Nations University, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment of Japan, Ishikawa Prefecture and Kanazawa City, and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The global launch of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity counted on the participation of United Nations agencies, Parties to the CBD, and representatives of all levels of government in Japan. The three-day event included a workshop on national biodiversity strategies and action plans.

The idea of declaring 2011-2020 the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity was initiated by Japan and endorsed at the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Conventon on Biological Diversity, held in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010. It was formally proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly at its sixty-fifth session.

The United Nations Decade on Biodiversity which builds on the achievements of the successful celebration of the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity aim to implement the first Aichi Biodiversity Target of the Strategic Plan on Biodiversity 2011-2020, namely to ensure that by 2020 all the people of the world will be aware of biodiversity and its value.

In his message addressed to participants, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, called "on all the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and to all the biodiversity-related conventions, as well as all members of the United Nations system, the private sector, civil-society groups and individual citizens and consumers worldwide, to rally to the call of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity.

"In conclusion, he stated, "Let us work together to live in harmony with nature, let us preserve and wisely manage nature's riches for prosperity today and for the future we want."

Mr. Katsuhiko Yokomitsu, Senior Vice-Minister of the Environment in the Government of Japan, speaking on behalf of Mr. Goshi Hosono, Minister of Environment of Japan and current President of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention, said: "The intensive efforts of all participants enabled the Conference of the Parties to achieve substantial results at its tenth meeting, including the adoption of new global targets for biodiversity. Given the current status of biodiversity, it is incumbent upon us to endeavour continually and unfailingly to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

To pass on to our children the abundant natural blessings of this planet, we must harness the collective wisdom of humanity and begin and extend concerted efforts across the globe to create societies that exist in harmony with nature."

Mr. Kazuhiko Takeuchi, Vice-Rector of the United Nations University, stated: "It is not too late to prevent the further loss of biodiversity. The presence of the representatives gathered here today from national governments, United Nations organizations, NGOs, the private sector and the public demonstrates the resolve of the international community to find inclusive global solutions to address this complex problem."

The international launch of the Decade was preceded by regional launches in the Republic of Korea, India, the Philippines, Cuba, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Costa Rica.

More about the Decade and how you CAN make a difference for biodiversity in Singapore.

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EU warns wasting environmental resources could spark new recession

Janez Potočnik, European Union commissoner for green affairs, says unless habits change scarcity could see prices spike
Fiona Harvey 29 Dec 11;

The overuse and waste of valuable natural resources is threatening to produce a fresh economic crisis, the European Union's environment chief has warned.

Janez Potočnik, the EU commissioner for the environment, linked the current economic crisis gripping the eurozone with potential future crises driven by price spikes in key resources, including energy and raw materials.

"It's very difficult to imagine [lifting Europe out of recession] without growth, and very difficult to imagine growth without competitiveness, and very difficult to be competitive without resource efficiency."

Unless consumers and businesses take action to use resources more efficiently – from energy and water to food and waste, and raw materials such as precious metals – then their increasing scarcity, rising prices and today's wasteful methods of using them will drive up costs yet further and reduce Europe's standard of living, Potočnik warned.

He said: "We have simply no choice. We have to use what we have more efficiently, or we will fail to compete. Resource efficiency is a real competitiveness issue for European companies."

Some European regulations will have to be altered in order to ensure the efficient use of energy, water and raw materials, and to protect the natural environment.

Potočnik gave notice that his department was scouring through existing regulations and proposed new ones in order to ensure that none would encourage resources to be used profligately, and to safeguard the EU's natural resources for the future.

The stark warning highlighted the increasing scarcity and rising price of some key resources, including energy and water, but also food and raw materials from metals, ores and minerals.

Although most of the west is still mired in economic woes, much of the developing world including rapidly emerging economies such as China and India are forging ahead financially, and as a consequence are consuming a far greater share of the world's resources.

The current economic models used by businesses and governments have failed so far to take this rapid change into account, and one of the associated problems is that many business models are predicated on cheap resources and an inefficient use of raw materials and energy.

"This is an issue of competitiveness," Potočnik said. "China is understanding that this is a megatrend. We can't ignore it."

Resources are under increasing constraint, as developing countries lift more of their population out of poverty. "If our current living standards are to be maintained, and the aspirations of developing countries satisfied, then the global economy will need to be changed drastically," Potočnik said.

"If we want things to stay the same, things will have to change." He added: "This will be an enormous pressure on resources, which we are already overusing."

Labour costs now make up a much smaller proportion of most manufacturers' overheads than the cost of raw materials and energy, according to Potočnik. A greater proportion of those resources is also coming from overseas, with the attendant potential problems around security of supply. "Europe is importing more than half its resource use in many areas," he said.

Concerns have grown in recent months over the supply of some key resources, such as rare earths. These are used in many modern products, from mobile phones to renewable energy equipment, but the supply is small and China controls many of the sources.

China has about a third of global rare earth deposits in its territory, but it accounts for nearly all of the production because of its efforts in this key market. Recently, the Beijing government has made moves to reduce exports, in order to help its indigenous manufacturers, and this trend has worried western governments.

But these supply constraints are not yet fully priced in to world markets, and while the economic crisis continues the issue is likely to remain overshadowed – which could lay up future problems, according to the European commission.

"There are real problems with security of supply and this is not yet on the radar screen," Potočnik said.

Potočnik called for resource use to become a "mainstream" issue in economics. Recalling his own education as an economist, he noted: "I was taught that water was a free commodity, like air. We really do need to have the internalisation of these costs."

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