Best of our wild blogs: 14 Jul 11

Biodiversity in Singapore: NParks photo and video competitions
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

'Seacil' debris still on Labrador?
from wild shores of singapore

How is Labrador shore doing?
from wild shores of singapore

Finch Haven at Singapore’s Bishan Park
from Bird Ecology Study Group

ICCS Workshop 2011 powerpoints
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

NUS will tackle Lim Chu Kang East mangrove, a tough new site!
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Raffles Museum Open House 2011 (24th & 25th June 2011)
from Raffles Museum News

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Sumatra haze may not affect Singapore

Straits Times 14 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE may be spared from the acrid haze from Sumatra that has shrouded parts of Malaysia since early this month, even as the peninsula's Air Pollutant Index (API) hit 139 in the unhealthy range yesterday afternoon.

That is unless the wind direction changes over the weekend, said Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA).

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the NEA noted that 105 hot spots were detected over Sumatra yesterday, up from 70 last Thursday.

'Over the next few days, the winds over Singapore are expected to blow from the south to south-east and are not expected to transport the smoke haze from fires in Sumatra to Singapore,' it said in an e-mail reply yesterday.

However, a possible change in the wind direction to south-westerly over the weekend may blow a slight haze towards Singapore if the fires in central Sumatra persist, the NEA added.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index reading in Singapore at 4pm yesterday was 22, which is in the good range.

A reading from 50 to 100 indicates moderate air quality, while anything above 100 is deemed unhealthy.

Parts of Malaysia have been shrouded in smoke haze for the past few days due to the fires in Sumatra.

Yesterday, the air quality in Ipoh, Perak was deemed unhealthy, after a steady climb of the API earlier in the day.


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Malaysia: Wind, rain can end the haze

Roy See Wei Zhi New Straits Times 14 Jul 11;

KUALA LUMPUR: What does a business tycoon, a construction worker and other Malaysians have in common? They are not immune to the effects of breathing polluted air.

It is intriguing that the thing we take for granted -- breathing -- ends up being our utmost concern when there is haze.

Unless one can live in a closed environment impervious to haze elements, Malaysians will just have to bear with the fine aerial invaders for the time being.

What could help the country in this situation is wind -- mercifully blowing the polluted air to another area -- or air-cleansing rain. Currently, the haze is plaguing the west coast of the peninsula.

The Department of Environment yesterday said the haze was due to open burning in Sumatra and parts of Kalimantan.

As of yesterday, hot spots were detected in Bengkalis and Riau Province in Sumatra.

Right now, the relatively dry winds of the southwest monsoon are carrying smoke particles and pollutants from the Sumatra fires in the direction of the peninsula.

The DOE's Air Pollutant Index (API) reading saw air quality fluctuating along the Malaysian west coast, with Ipoh, Perak, being hit the hardest.

In Ipoh, the API recorded the highest reading of 139 yesterday evening. A reading of more than 100 is regarded as "unhealthy".

To ensure industrial activities were not contributing to the haze, the department conducted a check on factories in Perak.

It was found that emissions from all 49 factories in the area were within accepted limits.

DOE state director Datuk Abu Hasan Mohd Isa said the situation did not warrant the closure of schools.

He said those who did not have pressing matters should stay at home or wear face masks when they ventured outside.

A total of 18 stations around the country recorded API levels of below 51 (good) while 33 other stations recorded a moderate amount of air pollution. Only one station in Jalan Tasek, Ipoh, was in the "unhealthy" category.

Haze: Air unhealthy in Perak, other areas clearing up
Florence A. Samy The Star 13 Jul 11;

PETALING JAYA: Ipoh registered unhealthy air quality levels, with its Air Pollutant Index (API) tripling in two days even as the haze lingers on.

According to the Department of Environment, the API for the Jalan Tasek station was at 139 at 5pm Wednesday, compared with 43 at 5pm on Monday.

Two other areas in Perak, namely SK Jalan Pegoh in Ipoh and Seri Manjung, recorded near unhealthy levels at 96 and 90 respectively at 5pm Wednesday.

(A good API reading is from 0-50, moderate 51-100, unhealthy 101-200, very unhealthy 201-299 and hazardous from 300 and above).

A regional hazemap showed that scattered hotspots with smoke plumes continued to be detected over central Sumatera, which is geographically close to the peninsula's west coast.

The lack of rain in Ipoh and wind conditions had attributed to the unhealthy air quality with no rain forecasted for today.

However, other areas showed signs of improvement thanks to strong winds and isolated rain.

By 5pm, only 31 areas recorded moderate air quality readings compared to the 38 on Tuesday.

This included Bukit Rambai in Malacca which had recorded the worst air quality reading over the last two days with an API of between 71 to 93. However, its readings were near healthy levels (56) at 5pm.

The haze still persisted in the Klang Valley but the air quality improved to 67 in both Petaling Jaya and Batu Muda in Kuala Lumpur, compared with 80 and 82 the same time Tuesday.

Visibility levels also improved to normal (more than 10km) or near normal levels in most areas except for Butterworth (5km), Sitiawan (4km), Bayan Lepas, Petaling Jaya, Prai and Subang which recorded a 6km visibility at 8pm. More rain and isolated thunderstorms are forecasted over the next few days in most states.

Fires in Borneo have also contributed to the haze in Sabah and Sarawak but air quality levels in the two states improved considerably yesterday due to the rain and isolated thunderstorms.

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Indonesia: At least 69 hot-spots detected in Dumai in January-July

Antara 13 Jul 11;

Dumai, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Dumai agriculture, plantation and forestry office has detected at least 69 hot-spots from January to July 2011, and 11 of them have been tackled optimally.

"Meanwhile, the rest or 58 cases can not be dealt with optimally due to access difficulty to reach the locations and lack of water sources in the fire sites," Head of the Dumai Agriculture, Plantation and Forestry Office Suriyanto said here Wednesday.

The hot-spots were detected among other things in East Dumai (six hotspots), Bukit Kapur (13), Medang Kampai (nine) and Sungai Sembilan (41).

Most of the fires were located in industrial forests (HTI), concessionary forests belonging to PT Suntara Gajapatih (SGP), Sinar Mas, Surya Dumai Agrindo and ex-PT Dock.

"Only few of them were abandoned lands owned by the government and community, and also oil palm plantations," he said.

Lack of personnel was also a problem hindering the fire handling in Dumai, Suriyanto said.

"If we have enough budget, we will be able to solve the problems in the field," Suriyanto said.

In Dumai, a number of local Residents have begun to suffer from respiratory problems due to the haze.

"At night, the air becomes choking. The smell of haze also stings. The haze seems to be very thick," Suhendra (32), a local resident, said in Dumai recently.

Marjoko Santoso, head of the Dumai health service, has warned the public that the air quality in the region has deteriorated due to haze containing excessive sulfur dioxide which is hazardous to human health.

The Air Pollution Standard Index board owned by PT Chevron Pacific Indonesia (CPI) showed the pollutant standard index at 242 meaning a very dangerous level, he said on July 4.

According to him, the air condition in Dumai has been very dangerous for people of all walks of life, especially for those having respiratory problems.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

NOAA satellite detects seven hotspots in Hulu Sungai Tengah
Antara 13 Jul 11;

Barabai, South Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)`s satellite detected seven hotspots in Hulu Sungai Tengah District, South Kalimantan Province, Wednesday.

The seven hotspots were located in three sub districts, Sukeran Effendi, the Hulu Sungai Tengah forestry and plantation office`s forest protection section, said here Wednesday.

"Two hotspots are found in Barabai, four in Pandawan and one hotspot in Labuan Amas Utara," he said.

The seven hotspots were not located in forest area, but in peat land and dried farming area, he said.

"Based on the NOAA satellite monitoring, forest area in Hulu Sungai Tengah is safe from the possibility of fire breakout," he said.

His office regularly receives data obtained from the NOAA`s satellite on hotspots.

The local forestry and plantation office is on alert of possible forest fire during this current dry season.

On Kalimantan Island, haze from forest and plantation fires has forced the authorities of Haji Asan airport in Sampit, East Kotawaringin District, Central Kalimantan province, to delay flights, over the past one week.

"Due to the haze, plane arrivals and departures are often late," Head of Haji Asan Airport Maruli Tua Edison Saragih said in Sampit on July 7.

He hoped that the haze would not get thicker in the future because it could endanger the flights.

The East Kotawaringin district administration has set up a command post to deal with the forest and plantation fires.

The command post involves various officers in the district, such as the environmental affairs office, the forestry office, the local fire brigade, the plantation and agriculture office, and police, according to Sanggol Lumban Gaol, an official of the East Kotawaringin district administration.

Similar command posts will later be set up at all sub districts and villages in East Kotawaringin District.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Arctic meltdown brings opportunities for Singapore

Joshua Ho Straits Times 14 Jul 11;

ALTHOUGH climate change has many negative effects, one positive outcome is the opening of new sea lanes in the Arctic. This can reduce transit times between destinations and has implications for Singapore.

Global warming may cause the ice-logged Arctic Ocean to be ice-free in the summer in the future. Estimates on when this will occur vary, ranging from as early as 2015 to beyond 2040.

When it does occur, the opening of Arctic routes will result in tremendous shipping benefits. Transiting the Northern Sea Route above Russia between the North Atlantic and the North Pacific would trim about 5,000 nautical miles - a week's sailing time - as compared with passing through the Suez Canal and Malacca Strait.

Financial savings associated with using this shorter route are estimated at US$600,000 (S$740,000) a vessel.

This may have an adverse impact on existing regional hub ports which have long been a nexus of east-west shipping, like Singapore.

But despite the threats that could be presented to a transit hub port like Singapore, there are also opportunities which could be capitalised on.

First, with the opening of the Arctic routes and the Arctic in general for oil exploration, there would be an increasing need for new offshore rigs, special-purpose offshore facilities and vessels which can withstand the cold and harsh Arctic environment. Singapore shipbuilders which have already attained world-class standards are in a position to capitalise on this new market.

Already, Keppel Offshore & Marine has signed an agreement with Lukoil to cooperate on building new platforms. It has already delivered two ice-breakers, two ice-class, anchor-handling tug supply vessels, two ice-class rescue vessels and an ice-class floating storage and offloading vessel in 2009, which were built according to the standards and rules of the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping.

More Singapore shipbuilders can start to capitalise on this opportunity as Russia has released plans to build a total of 40 ice-resistant oil platforms, 14 offshore gas terminals, 55 ice-resistant tankers and storage tankers and 20 gas carriers in the future.

Second, new opportunities in research and development and shipbuilding will spring up for Singapore. The rather clean Arctic environment is very susceptible to marine pollution. This will prompt the Arctic Council to impose stringent marine environmental regulations for ships that transit the waterway to protect the marine environment.

This will require cleaner ships that have low carbon emissions and are more energy efficient. Some research and development could be undertaken. These may include improvements in hull design to reduce underwater resistance, special coatings to cut fuel use and the development of new ship engine technology fuelled by liquefied natural gas and hydrogen.

There is also a need for stronger and more powerful vessels to transit the Arctic as well as to extract natural resources which lie beneath the Arctic basin - this lends itself to further research and development. An example of such ships would be the double-acting ship, which is able to use both its stern and bow interchangeably while navigating through different ice conditions.

Another example would be the development of oblique ice-breakers with azimuth propulsion that could rotate and break ice sideways. As Singapore is home to world-class shipbuilders, these firms could capitalise on the development of new types of ships to meet the projected demand.

Finally, with the opening of the Northern Sea Route, there would be an increasing need for ports to service ships that ply the route as the existing ports have rather rudimentary infrastructure.

PSA International is one of the leading global port groups, with investments in 28 port projects in 16 countries across Asia, Europe and America. With its extensive experience in port development, it is well placed to develop ports along the Northern Sea Route in cooperation with partners in Russia.

While the opening up of the Arctic sea routes, in particular the Northern Sea Route, could have an adverse impact on Singapore as a hub port, it also presents opportunities in new shipbuilding, research and development into ship technology, as well as port development.

Firms operating in these areas should quickly capitalise on the new opportunities that arise as the Arctic routes may well open earlier than expected due to the unexpected and accelerated rates of global warming.

The writer is a senior fellow with the Maritime Security Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

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Native Macaques in Southeast Asia Pushed to Brink of Extinction by Monkey Trade

Ismira Lutfia Jakarta Globe 13 Jul 11;

The international trade in the long-tailed macaque, a monkey indigenous to Southeast Asia, has reached alarming levels and is threatening the survival of the species in the wild, conservationists have warned.

In a statement released recently, the Species Survival Network, an international coalition of more than 80 nongovernmental organizations committed to the strict enforcement of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, said the cross-border trade in long-tailed macaques had rapidly expanded since 2004.

“The long-tailed macaque is the most heavily traded mammal currently listed on the CITES appendices and our research findings raise alarming questions concerning the long-term viability of targeted populations of the species if this trade is allowed to continued at current levels,” Ian Redmond, chairman of the SSN Primate Working Group, said in the statement.

The species is classified under Appendix II of CITES, which means that while it is “not necessarily now threatened with extinction, [it] may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.”

Long-tailed macaques have long been bred for use in medical research, and breeding centers have become large-scale enterprises, particularly in Southeast Asia. This has been marked by a significant increase in the number of long-tailed macaques exported globally, according to the SSN, from 119,373 animals during the period between 1999 and 2003 to 261,823 between 2004 and 2008.

The SSN called on government representatives with the CITES Animals Committee, meeting in Geneva this month, to carry out an urgent review of the impact of the international trade on the long-tailed macaque.

It also requested that the species be included in the committee’s Review of Significant Trade, with specific emphasis on the impact of international trade in countries where the macaque is endemic, including Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Pramudya Harzani, director of the animal welfare group Jakarta Animal Aid Network, agreed that the international and domestic trade of the animal was raising concerns about the survival of the species.

The monkeys are commonly exploited in traveling sideshows across the country, for which they are forced to undergo months of torturous training to be able to perform tricks. A large number also continue to be shipped off to laboratories for biomedical research, Pramudya said.

He added their open sale at animal markets in Indonesia was in direct violation of the legal protection granted to the species under the 1990 Natural Resources and Ecosystem Conservation Law and a 1999 government regulation on the use of macaques.

However, the Forestry Ministry contends that the species is not a protected one and that its export, with a strict system of quotas in place for each importing country, abides by CITES Appendix II provisions.

“And the export can only be done through registered primate exporting companies under the strict supervision of the regional Natural Resources Conservation Agency [BKSDA],” said Bambang Novianto, the ministry’s director of biodiversity.

“We set an annual quota of 5,000 wild-caught macaques in 2010 and 2011.”

He added the government had ruled that wild-caught primates were only to be captured for breeding purposes to replenish captive-bred offspring stocks bound for export.

But the BUAV, a London-based group that campaigns for an end to animal experiments, pointed out that the supposed captive-breeding programs in Indonesia still regularly required large numbers of wild-caught monkeys as breeding stock despite having been in operation for 17 years.

It would also be difficult for the government to ensure that monkeys exported for research were genuinely captive bred, particularly when thousands were allowed to be taken from the wild each year, the group said.

The BUAV said that although Indonesia had officially banned the export of wild-caught primates for research since 1994, an investigation conducted by the group between 2007 and 2009 showed that this ban was a “sham.”

The group said it believed that wild-caught long-tailed macaques from Indonesia continued to end up in the international research industry.

Pramudya said JAAN had urged the government to ensure that no international animal welfare rights and guidelines were being violated in the primate breeding centers.

“The government should respond and find sensible alternatives for the primates’ use in the long run without hurting the animals or exploiting them for unclear purposes,” he said.

“If the government fails to exercise caution or transparency in managing the primates’ habitat, it would be better to review the quota or put an end to the practice.”

He stressed that it was important for the government to take action against cruelty without waiting for the species to be listed as endangered.

“We call on people to stop buying wild-caught long-tail macaques because they are better off in their natural habitat, and to refrain from consuming products tested on the animals,” Pramudya said.

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Malaysia: Remaining forests in Selangor protected

The Star 14 Jul 11;

LESS forest reserve in Selangor is being taken up for development or agriculture, State Tourism, Consumer Affairs and Environment committee chairman Elizabeth Wong said.

Wong said from 2000 to 2008, a total of 7,842ha of forests had been degazetted for development and agriculture.

“Less than 500ha of forest have been de-gazetted from 2008 until today and most of it is for agriculture.

“This shows that the state is concerned over the forests and wants to protect it.

“Now, the existing forest reserve areas in Selangor are maintained systematically with observations from satellite, ground crew and by air for encroachment,’’ said Wong, who was answering a question by Gan Pei Nei (PR-Rawang).

Gan also asked on the steps taken by the government to protest the forest reserves.

Wong said the state had placed the forest reserves under the National Forestry Act 1984 to safeguard from development if any government took over in future.

She pointed out that under the act, there should be a public hearing for residents in the surrounding areas before the forest could be developed.

“This is to ensure that the forests in Selangor cannot disappear without public knowledge,’’ she said.

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New Pit Viper Found—One of World's Smallest

Forest-dwelling snake was a "surprise gift," scientists say.
Christine Dell'Amore National Geographic News 13 Jul 11;

A good thing recently came in a small package for scientists: A new snake species found in China is one of the littlest pit vipers in the world.

The new snake, Protobothrops maolanensis, was an unexpected "surprise gift for us," study leader Jian-Huan Yang said in an email.

Yang and colleagues found the species during a recent survey of forests in Maolan National Nature Reserve in Guizhou, China. At a maximum length of about 2.6 feet (0.7 meter), the new pit viper is the smallest known so far in the country.

Though the grayish brown species easily blends into its habitat, the ground-dwelling species ended up being the most common snake found during the research, noted Yang, of Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou.

Scientists have found two other new pit vipers in China so far in 2011: Sinovipera sichuanensis and Protobothrops maolanensis, he added.

Bad Luck Snake?

The group of snakes known as pit vipers includes well-known species such as the copperhead, the rattlesnake, and the water moccasin.

All known pit vipers are venomous, although their potency varies across species.

The toxicity of the new pit viper species is not yet known, but "kindly local peoples warned me that this snake is very poisonous," Yang added.

"They said that some local peoples had been bit by this snake and then got poisoning—one was dead who had not got treatment in time."

Yang's team also found dead snakes that had been killed by people—the Miao, a local minority, believe that a snake encountered in the wild will bring bad luck unless it's killed immediately, he said.

The new pit viper was described July 1 in the journal Zootaxa.

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Hanoi's renowned turtle free again

AFP Google News 13 Jul 11;

HANOI — An ageing giant turtle revered as a symbol of Vietnam's independence struggle has won back her freedom back three months after being captured for medical treatment, an official said on Wednesday.

The animal, one of only four known of its kind, has been successfully treated at a special pond on an islet in central Hanoi's Hoan Kiem lake, said Le Xuan Rao, director of Hanoi's Department of Science and Technology.

"Her health condition is good, no more ulcers on the body," he said, a day after she was released back into the lake.

Local media earlier reported that the soft-shell turtle, which weighs about 169 kilograms (372 pounds), had been injured by fish hooks and small red-eared turtles which have appeared in the lake in recent years.

"Everything went smoothly," Rao said.

A conservationist has said the reptile is likely more than 100 years old, and is one of only four Rafetus swinhoei turtles known to be in existence. Two are in China and one lives in another Hanoi-area lake, he said.

But the animal's status in Vietnam stems from its history and its home in Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Returned Sword), rather than its rarity.

In a story that is taught to all Vietnamese school children, the 15th century rebel leader Le Loi used a magical sword to drive out Chinese invaders and founded the dynasty named after him.

Le Loi later became emperor and one day went boating on the lake. A turtle appeared, took his sacred sword and dived to the bottom, keeping the weapon safe for the next time Vietnam may have to defend its freedom, the story says.

Thousands of onlookers cheered the animal's capture in April after the feisty creature fled an earlier attempt to take it to the treatment pond.

Rao said Hoan Kiem's polluted waters are also being cleaned, to freshen up the turtle's environment.

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Critically endangered Amur leopards captured on video

WWF 13 Jul 11;

Vladivostok, Russia – Recent video footage from a survey on a group of critically endangered Amur leopards in the Russian Far East has yielded unexpectedly positive results, giving evidence that some wild groups of the big cat are showing clear signs of a tendency towards population growth, says WWF Russia.

The recordings, which document a total of 12 leopards, reveal two different pairs of the rare spotted animals and one individual in the Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve and “Leopardoviy” Federal Wildlife Refuge in Russia’s Primorsky Province, located between the Sea of Japan and the Chinese border.

One scene captures a pair of leopards moving languidly through a small forest clearing, while a second shows a female leopard parenting a nearly grown-up cub.

“In the previous 5 years of camera-trapping, we were able to identify between 7 and 9 individual leopards in this monitoring plot every year. But this year, the survey was record-breaking: today 12 different leopards inhabit the territory,” says Sergei Aramilev, Species Program Coordinator at WWF Russia’s Amur Branch. “The results are pointing to a population increase of up to 50 per cent within the target group in Kedrovaya Pad and Leopardoviy,” he adds, “and I think we can attribute this to improvements in how our reserves are managed and the long-term efforts that have gone into leopard conservation.”

There are fewer than 50 Amur leopards remaining in the wild. To help understand how to better protect this rare animal, WWF Russia and the Institute of Sustainable Use of Natural Resources (ISUNR), a non-profit organization based in Vladivostok, and the Pacific Institute of Geography of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Science have carried out this regular survey for the past 6 years.

Leopards changing their spots
The Amur leopard now inhabits only a fraction of its original range, which once extended throughout China’s Northeastern provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang, and into the Korean Peninsula. In Russia, about 80 per cent of the species’ former range disappeared between 1970 and 1983.

Unsustainable logging, forest fires and land conversion for farming are the main causes. The Amur leopard – which is also know as the Far-Eastern leopard, Korean leopard and Manchurian leopard - has also been hit hard by poaching, mostly for its unique spotted fur.

In December 2010, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov announced that the government would take urgent measures to protect the critically endangered species, including the creation of a new national park – the “Land of Leopard”.

The new, larger reserve would merge the Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve with the nearby Leopardovy Wildlife Refuge in Russia. The Hunchun Nature Reserve in China, also an important habitat for Amur leopards, is expected to be added at a later date to from a transboundary protected.

“Even the first steps towards establishing the “Land of Leopard” national park are having positive results. The fact that the number of Amur leopards has grown from 7 to 12 on the monitoring plot offers proof that creating one united trans-boundary protected area is the right idea,” says Yury Darman, director of WWF Russia’s Amur branch.

First use of video monitoring
This is the first time WWF Russia and ISUNR have used video-enabled cameras to monitor the leopards living in and around the Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve.

“The digital cameras helped us capture longer image sequences for the survey, which gave us important insights into these very unique animals’ lives,” comments Sergei Aramilev. “What we’ve seen this year suggests that the leopard group being surveyed is experiencing a tendency towards population growth. We hope that next winter, after the monitoring is carried out across the entire range, this trend will be proven true,” he continues.

A similar monitoring program is being run the Wildlife Conservation Society in plots to the north of Kedrovaya Pad, covering part of the federal Leopardovy Wildlife Refuge and the Nezhinskoye Hunting Estate. Integrated data obtained from both monitoring plots will be available in the coming months.

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EU revamps fishing policy to save depleted stocks

BBC News 13 Jul 11;

The European Commission has unveiled major plans to reform the EU's fishing industry and stop catches being wasted.

The proposal, due to take effect from 2013, would give fleets quota shares guaranteed for at least 15 years.

"Discards" will be phased out - the practice whereby up to half the catch of some fish is thrown back into the sea to avoid going above the quota.

The environmental group Oceana said the plan had "some positive" aspects but stronger measures were needed.

It called the plan "an incomplete work that does not provide the urgently needed strong solutions to restore European seas and ensure the long-term sustainability of fishing".

The Common Fisheries Policy has been in effect for 28 years, but Maritime and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki says it has been a failure.

"There is overfishing; we have 75% overfishing of our stocks and comparing ourselves to other countries we cannot be happy," Ms Damanaki told BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

"So we have to change. Let me put it straight - we cannot afford business as usual any more because the stocks are really collapsing."

There will be hard bargaining by the European Parliament and EU member states' governments before the new policy is adopted.

Restoring stocks

The Commission says that in the Mediterranean 82% of fish stocks are overfished, while in the Atlantic the figure is 63%.

Under the new scheme, boats are expected to land all the fish caught, and the whole catch would count against quotas. This would apply to species including mackerel, herring and tuna from the beginning of 2014.

Cod, hake and sole would follow a year later, with virtually every other commercial species coming under the regulation from 2016.

The reform also includes plans to restore fish stocks over the long term and allow EU member states to set incentives for the use of selective fishing gear.

The Commission says too many detailed decisions on fisheries have been made by Brussels. It now says it wants to hand back more decision-making powers to member states, so that the industry tailors its actions to local conditions.

"Today, by virtue of the co-decision procedure, even the most detailed technical decisions... have to be taken at the highest political level in the European machinery," Ms Damanaki complained.

Outlining the new policy, she said "I want to decentralise... the choice of instrument, or instruments' mix, is up to member states, co-operating at regional level".

The plan aims to:

ensure catches are within levels that can "produce the maximum sustainable yields" by 2015
implement an "ecosystem-based approach" to limit the impact of fishing
reduce fleet overcapacity through market measures rather than subsidies
promote the development of "aquaculture activities" to ensure food security and job opportunities
develop alternative types of fish management techniques.

There has been widespread public opposition to discards across the EU, with more than half a million people signing a petition publicised by UK celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon called the new commission proposals "a vital first step".

"Because our fisheries are so varied, I don't believe that a one size-fits-all approach... will work effectively. There has to be flexibility to work with the industry to introduce a range of tailored measures."
Catch limits

Bertie Armstrong, head of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said the EU plan would mean a cut of at least 20% in the size of the Scottish fishing fleet and its crews.

The negotiations were "not going to be easy," said Markus Knigge, policy and research director for the Pew Environment Group's Brussels-based European Marine Programme.

"I do believe that most member states accept that we have to do something, but when it comes to solutions, that can be more difficult to discuss than the failures of the current policy," he told BBC News.

He said there were a number of nations unhappy about particular parts of the proposals, such as the role of scientific advice in the process of setting catch limits.

Maria Damanaki unveils EU fishing reforms
European fisheries chief hopes phasing out 'discarding' and agreeing plans with member states will preserve Europe's fish stocks
Fiona Harvey 13 Jul 11;

The biggest shake-up of European fisheries regulation in four decades was unveiled on Wednesday in Brussels, intended to preserve dwindling fish stocks.

Maria Damanaki, the EU fisheries chief, told policymakers in Brussels that strong and urgent action was needed if stocks were not to face collapse. She said: "Action is needed now to get all our fish stocks back into a healthy state to preserve them for present and future generations. Only under this precondition can fishermen continue to fish and earn a decent living out of their activities."

The central plank of her radical proposals is an attempt to ensure all European fish stocks are "at sustainable levels" by 2015 – a difficult task, as most stocks in the region are already overfished. She aims to achieve this by phasing out the wasteful practice of discarding healthy fish at sea – a perverse consequence of the current fishing quota systems – and agreeing with member states' long-term management plans for their stocks, but giving the states the freedom to decide how to implement those policies.

She is also likely to face opposition, as the reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) – the roots of which date back to the Treaty of Rome of 1957 at the founding of the European Union – will mean short-term pain for fishermen, even as they should preserve the long-term future of some.

Fishing groups have attacked her proposals in their draft form, arguing that their fleets will be unfairly penalised and that not enough attention has been given to possible solutions such as adjusting fishing gear.

But Damanaki has made it clear she will stick to her proposals. She said: "We have to manage each stock wisely, harvesting what we can but keeping the stock healthy and productive for the future. This will bring us higher catches, a sound environment and a secure seafood supply. If we get this reform right, fishermen and coastal communities will be better off in the long run. And all Europeans will have a wider choice of fresh fish, both wild and farm-produced."

The proposals also include targets and time frames to stop overfishing; ways to allow fishermen to trade their quotas with one another, which will help some fishermen to leave the industry; support measures for small-scale fisheries; better collection of data; and new rules for fish farms.

Damanaki's proposals will also replace the current annual shouting match among countries over the size of the quota they should get. At present, ministers vie for the biggest quota with a decision taken each December. But under the new plans, these annual contests would be replaced with long-term management plans, giving greater certainty for the future and less of the wrangling that can result in fisheries losing out. Day-to-day decision making would also be devolved from Brussels to the regions.

Europe's fishing fleet is too large and too efficient, according to the European commission. This has led to drastic overfishing. Chris Davies, the UK Liberal Democrat MEP, pointed to recent academic studies suggesting Europe's fish stocks were less than 10% of their post-war levels.

Damanaki has made clear in the past few months her intention to phase out the wasteful practice of discarding healthy fish, which fishermen are forced to do under the current rules, for instance if they exceed their quota or because they catch fish for which they do not hold a quota.

But she has come under pressure from fishing groups and some member states who are concerned that ending discards and forcing fishermen to land all they catch could result in lower profits for fishing crews. They could end up having to sell lower value fish or species for which there is less demand, meaning their catches may be worth less than if they could discard at will.

Damanaki has acknowledged the problem, telling a meeting of the European parliament's cross-party Fish for the Future group that some reduction in employment in fisheries was inevitable, but that without change to protect fish stocks the loss of jobs would be even greater, because Europe's seas are so depleted.

She would like help from member states to compensate fishermen for some of their lost income, and has supported pilot schemes in which fishermen would turn their boats to other uses, such as tourism or collecting plastic litter for recycling.

Member states would also be encouraged to let the owners of large vessels exchange fishing rights, because there are too many boats hunting too few fish.

Damanaki also wants to reform the fishing agreements that some member states have with developing countries, allowing EU vessels to fish there. These agreements have attracted controversy because, in extreme cases, they can stifle the growth of indigenous fisheries in poorer countries.

Davies said: "Commissioner Damanaki might have been expected to back down in the face of opposition from those who resist change, but she seems fearless and determined to push ahead with reforms that may be the saving of our seas, of the fishing industry, and of coastal communities.

"Our waters are capable of supporting many times more fish than now exist. It is not too late for the situation to be reversed, but we have now reached a crisis point. Overfishing must cease or there will be no more fish on the plate."

Some fishing representatives supported the proposals - but with reservations. Seafish, the UK's fish authority, said the industry should be closely involved in how to implement the proposals. Jon Harman, operations director, said: "[This could be] asignificant step towards long-term fisheries sustainability - as long as the details of the legislation allow for flexibility within their provisions."

Many food companies and retailers also welcomed the plans, several pledging to widen the market for less sought-after fish.

But some campaigners, including a coalition of WWF, Greenpeace and RSPB, called for the EU to go further, for instance by hastening the end of discards and putting stringent targets in place. Ruth Davis, chief policy adviser at Greenpeace, said: "With 72% of Europe's fish stocks overexploited, we desperately need an emergency response plan to rescue our fisheries and the jobs and communities they support. The CFP reform process could produce that plan, but until Europe's leaders acknowledge the urgency of the problem, and make the recovery of fish stocks central to the Common Fisheries Policy, we will be stuck with plans detailing the best way to subsidise the destruction of the Europe's fishing industry."

Richard Benyon, UK fisheries minister, said the new proposals were "just the first steps".

EU Proposes Overhaul Of Failing Fisheries Policy
Charlie Dunmore PlanetArk 14 Jul 11;

Europe's fisheries chief called for an overhaul of the European Union's failing fisheries policies on Wednesday, and warned those EU countries that may seek to resist reform that business as usual is not an option.

The European Commission has estimated 75 percent of EU stocks are currently overfished, and a third of the bloc's fleet will become commercially unviable in the long term without decisive action to tackle overfishing.

With the equivalent of 265,000 full-time workers employed in the EU fishing and processing industries, the sector wields considerable political power in some countries, which have opposed previous efforts by Brussels to reduce catches.

"The Commission underlines that our current policy does not work anymore," Greek EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki told a news conference in Brussels to present her proposals.

"We cannot afford business as usual. Maybe in the years before it was easier for the Commission, for governments and for the sector to close our eyes.

"But we cannot do it anymore, because if we do, our children will see fish not on their plates, but only in pictures."

Her proposals included a reduction in fishing for the most over-exploited stocks for a few years to allow them to recover by 2015 to a level where fishermen can catch and earn more than they do today -- a level known as maximum sustainable yield.

To achieve this, the Commission proposed an end to the annual horse-trading between EU governments over fishing quotas, which in the past has resulted in catch limits being set above the maximum levels recommended by scientists.

Instead, where possible, EU governments should jointly agree longer-term regional plans based on scientific advice, which fix quotas for one or more fish stocks for several years at a time.

Damanaki also proposed a ban on fisherman throwing unwanted fish overboard, known as "discards," which the Commission estimates happens to almost a quarter of all catches.


Environmental campaigners welcomed the Commission's proposals to reduce overfishing, but said the plans were too weak when it came to addressing the main driver of overfishing -- the overcapacity of Europe's fishing fleet.

The European Union has the world's third-largest fishing fleet after China and Peru, with a total catch worth 8.2 billion euros ($11.7 billion) in 2007.

With more than 80,000 EU-registered vessels competing to land dwindling numbers of fish, rows over fishing quotas regularly break out between major fishing nations such as Spain, France and Britain.

"Discards are a disgrace. The best way to tackle the problem is to stop overfishing (and) slim down the fishing fleet," said Greenpeace fisheries campaigner Saskia Richartz.

Damanaki said the biggest challenge would be to win support for her proposals by EU governments and lawmakers, who must now jointly approve the plans before they can become law from 2013.

"My difficulties now begin, because we have to persuade the member state governments and the sector, because without their cooperation we have nothing. The negotiations will be very hard," Damanaki said.

(Editing by Pete Harrison and Sophie Hares)

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Global whaling body adopts anti-corruption reform

Rodrigo Buendia AFP Yahoo News 14 Jul 11;

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) changed Wednesday the way its 89 member nations pay fees, adopting a British proposal to boost transparency and discourage alleged influence-peddling.

Debate at the IWC's 63rd annual meeting, which closes on Thursday, has been dominated by whether or how to introduce the changes.

The new measure "sends a powerful signal that we are ready to move the IWC into the 21st century by improving its effectiveness and governance," said Richard Pullen, the head of Britain's delegation.

Under the old rules, members could pay subscription fees -- ranging from a few thousand to more than 100,000 dollars (euros) -- by cash or cheque, a practice that fuelled allegations of corruption.

Such payments must now be made by bank transfer, as is done in other international organisations.

The IWC was rocked last year by accusations in the British press that Japan used cash and development aid to "buy" votes from Caribbean and African nations.

Japan, which denied the charges, is one of three countries along with Norway and Iceland that practice large-scale whaling despite the moratorium.

Collectively, they take hundreds of the marine mammals each year. Smaller quotas are granted to other nations for traditional, indigenous whaling.

Wednesday's vote was adopted by consensus, a rare achievement in an organisation bedevilled by a rift over whaling quotas and finger-pointing between pro- and anti-whaling nations.

"I'd like this resolution not to be treated as as a win (victory) by some over others," Joji Morishita, deputy head of the Japanese delegation, pleaded just before the measure was passed.

Dropped from Britain's original proposal was a bid to strengthen the voice and access of non-governmental organisations in the IWC's proceedings.

"I know some of us would have liked to go further, particularly on the issue of observer and civil society participation," said Pullen.

"But negotiations mean compromise and the revised proposals we have in front of us reflect that."

Some NGOs nonetheless praised the outcome as significant progress.

"The final resolution is a step in the right direction for the forum," the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said, calling it a "significant victory for whale conservation."

Whaling body passes reforms on 'cash for votes'
Richard Black By Richard Black

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has approved measures designed to prevent past "cash for votes" scandals from happening again.

Countries will have to pay membership fees by bank transfer from government accounts, enabling traceability.

Previously, delegates have been able to turn up and pay in cash.

Observers were pleased the measures passed, though some were dismayed that plans to give non-governmental groups a bigger role were discarded.

Deliberations on the package - proposed by the UK - took an entire day out of the four scheduled for this meeting, and were eventually passed by consensus.

"This is a fantastic achievement that will modernise the IWC, bringing it in to line with other important international bodies, and give it real credibility," said UK Environment Minister Richard Benyon.

"We have been working on these proposals for a year and it is a credit to the UK that we have had them passed without needing a vote."

The measures should also improve communication, with meeting reports issued within two months rather than up to a year, as currently, and more information publicly available on the IWC's website.

Cash memory

But the most controversial element proved to be the money.

Several developing country delegations said their governments tended to provide money only a few days before meetings began, so bank transfer meant the money would arrive after the meeting had begun.

Delegations are unable to vote until fees have been paid.

A number argued for the use of bankers' drafts instead. This was received with some scepticism by some western observers, who believed some delegations were trying to maintain the capacity to pass on funds from a third party easily, as bankers' drafts are anonymous.

Eventually a compromise was found, enabling the IWC secretariat to accredit delegates if it is sure that payment has been initiated.

Daven Joseph, the IWC commissioner for St Kitts and Nevis, said he regretted the amount of time spent on these discussions but it had been necessary.

"We have been establishing the rules of procedure, and we have to be very careful in how those rules are established," he told BBC News.

"In some of our countries, whaling has never been given a top priority when it comes to accessing funds from the treasury."

Environmental groups said they were generally pleased that the measures had passed.

"This is a good day for whales and the commission established to protect them; everyone wins," said Patrick Ramage, director of the Global Whale Programme of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw).

"These rule changes represent real progress as the IWC migrates into the 21st Century - a closed whalers' club is becoming a more credible commission, promoting whale conservation not commercial whaling."
Europe's split

However, Mr Ramage and many of his peers were disappointed that proposals to give non-governmental organisations (NGOs) more involvement in the IWC's formal discussions, as they have in many other international institutions, fell along the way.

Currently, six people from the NGO community - three from the pro-whaling side, and three of their opponents - are allowed to speak for five minutes each.

This component was jettisoned before the main negotiations began, a casualty of internal European Union discussions.

All EU members except Denmark supported greater NGO involvement.

But the European Commission wants to have the bloc act in unison where possible; and the UK agreed that having the proposal put forward as an EU document would give it more leverage.

But the only way to get the Danes on board was to abandon the section on NGOs. In the IWC, Denmark represents not itself, but Greenland, a whaling territory.

Earlier in the day, Danish whaling commissioner Ole Samsing had explained his opposition by referring to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is barred from the IWC meeting but which has been holding demonstrations outside.

"We've seen how fanatical and irresponsible some NGOs can be," he told delegates.

"I know they're not accredited to this organisation, but nevertheless they're representing some radical point of view so there is a reason for restricted treatment of NGOs here."

The great irony of this process was that in the end the proposal could not be admitted as an EU document on procedural grounds, as the EU is not a member of the commission.

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World's Newest Country Hosts Wealth of Wildlife Yahoo News 14 Jul 11;

The newest nation in the world will host some of the world's most amazing wildlife.

South Sudan, a land-locked country in East Africa, celebrated its independence July 9 from the rest of Sudan. The new country already has a wealth of wildlife, however, including one of the world's longest animal migrations, which could be a boon to the nation's economy.

To help ensure the country's animals remain a spectacular resource, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has collaborated with South Sudan's governmenton protected area management and land-use planning.

Mammal migrations in South Sudan rival those of the Serengeti. They have survived decades of war, and vast tracts of savannas and wetlands remain largely intact, according to the WCS. South Sudan boasts some of the most spectacular and important wildlife populations in Africa. Boma National Parknear the border with Ethiopia, the Sudd wetland and Southern National Park near the border with Congo are home to hartebeest, kob and topi (antelope species), buffalo,elephants, giraffes and lions.

The southeast part of the country supports the world's second-largest terrestrial wildlife migration of about 1.3 million white-eared kob, tiang and reedbuck antelopes and Mongalla gazelle.

"South Sudan's wildlife treasures provide an opportunity for a diverse economy based on eco-friendly tourism in the world's newest nation," said Steve Sanderson, WCS president.

South Sudan's wildlife migrations provide the opportunity to create a thriving tourism industry if properly managed, the WCS says. In neighboring Kenya, tourism contributed an estimated $1 billion to the national economy in 2009. In Tanzania, tourism accounted for close to $1.2 billion in the same year.

Today, oil exploration in South Sudan accounts for roughly 98 percent of the region's revenues.

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Global warming: study finds natural shields being weakened

Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 14 Jul 11;

The soil and the ocean are being weakened as buffers against global warming, in a vicious circle with long-term implications for the climate system, say two new investigations.

If the seas and the land are less able to soak up or store greenhouse gases, more of these carbon emissions will enter the atmosphere, holding in even more heat from the sun.

A study published in Nature on Thursday says a gradual increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) over the last half-century has accelerated the release of methane and nitrous oxide in the soil.

These gases are respectively 25 and 300 times more effective at trapping radiation than CO2, the principal greenhouse gas by volume.

"This feedback to our changing atmosphere means that nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as we previously thought," said Kees Jan van Groenigen, a professor at Trinity College Dublin and the paper's lead author.

Earlier studies examining how additional CO2 affects the capacity of different soils -- in forests, grasslands, wetlands and agricultural fields -- to either absorb or release these two gases yielded conflicting results.

When van Groenigen and colleagues reviewed 49 such studies, however, two patterns emerged.

More CO2 increased nitrous oxide in all soils, but soils in rice paddies and wetlands released more methane in particular.

The culprits in both cases are microscopic soil organisms that breathe in CO2 and "exhale" methane. The more carbon dioxide in the air, the more these single-cell greenhouse-gas factories thrive.

If the calculations are right, the carbon "credit" that is attributed to faster plant growth driven by extra CO2 in the air must be revised, say the researchers.

This "credit" helps to offset the negative impact of greenhouse gases -- but the new data suggests it should be written down by a fifth.

"By overlooking the key role of these two greenhouse gases, previous studies may have overestimated the potential of ecosystems to mitigate the greenhouse effect," van Groenigen said.

In the second study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience last Sunday, scientists in the United States highlight evidence that global warming is eroding the ability of the ocean to soak up CO2.

The world's seas take up roughly one-third of all human carbon emissions, but how this "sponge" responds to rising CO2 levels is a tough question, mainly because data has been spotty geographically and didn't cover long time periods.

Galen McKinley, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, worked with a team that looked at three decades of observational data from the North Atlantic.

They found that rising air and water temperatures were slowing the pace at which carbon is absorbed across a large portion of this ocean's subtropical zones.

"The ocean is taking up less carbon because of the warming caused by the carbon in the atmosphere," McKinley said.

Up to now, scientists reasoned that only when carbon content in the ocean rose faster than in the atmosphere could one say that the capacity to take in CO2 had diminished.

But the new study shows that the ocean "sink" can be weakened even without this visible sign.

"More likely, what we are going to see is that the ocean will keep its equilibration [the balance between atmospheric and ocean carbon levels] but it doesn't have to take up as much carbon to do it because it's getting warmer at the same time."

She explained that warmer water cannot hold as much CO2 as colder water. As a result, as the ocean's temperature rises, its "carbon capacity" decreases.

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In The Horn Of Africa, Drought Threatens Millions

Aaron Maasho PlanetArk 14 Jul 11;

Four-year-old Hussein Musa sits propped against his mother in a thatch-roofed hut, in a section cordoned off under a scorching sun to mark those with the worst symptoms.

"They say he is severely malnourished. He is also suffering from fever and diarrhea," said Mako Wabari, his 35-year-old mother.

"We are relying on food aid. We lost 40 goats and sheep, it is the worst drought in three years," Mako added, before wiping darkened sweat off her forehead with her bright, billowing dress.

Behind the gated health post, a group of elders sit cross-legged on the ground, spreading out their hands in prayer for rain, as a mirage sparkles in the distance.

In Bisle, a remote settlement in Ethiopia's Somali Region, residents say it is a year since they have had a drop of rain, and their livestock -- the area's vital source of income -- are dwindling in number as the months go by.

Across the Horn of Africa, a fierce drought is forcing more than 10 million people to rely on emergency food aid, up from a previous forecast of six million, according to the U.N. World Food Programme.

Drought and fighting in Somalia mean about 2.85 million people -- a third of the population -- need humanitarian aid, while some 4.5 million out of a population of 80 million are affected in Ethiopia.

In Kenya, the region's economic powerhouse, some 3.5 million are at risk of starvation, the United Nations says.

"The situation across the Horn of Africa this year has really deteriorated in terms of food security and that has caused a deterioration in nutritional security as well," Kristen Knutson, spokeswoman for the U.N.'s humanitarian affairs office in Ethiopia, told Reuters.

Much of the region relies on the October-December rains, but they failed completely last year. Rainfall during the other vital season -- March to May -- was late and erratic this year.

"The immediate cause of this is the La Nina phenomenon that has prevailed over the region and the world from the middle of last year until June when it started dissipating," Knutson said.

In Bisle, village administrator Ige Farah pointed at abandoned mud shacks once thronged with families. More than 5,000 people from a population of 9,000 have travelled long distances in search of greener pastures this year.

"We won't know for sure when they will return, or whether they ever will," he said.


The U.S.-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) estimates that northeast Kenya, southeast Ethiopia and parts of Somalia -- mainly in the center and south -- will be in an "emergency" phase of food insecurity, the stage before "catastrophe or famine."

This year's drought is not isolated, and its recurrence is blamed on an anomaly that the region has little to do with.

La Nina, meaning "little girl" in Spanish, is an abnormal cooling of Pacific waters. The same phenomenon has also been blamed for one of the worst droughts in the southern United States.

Its symptoms are rising temperatures and reduced rainfall, and its most common victims are those living in the dry lowlands of impoverished countries.

"The arid and semi-arid lands, the Sahel in Africa - they are the kind of 'canary in the coalmine' for climate change," David Wightwick, regional response leader at Save the Children UK, told Reuters.

"If temperatures rise even slightly, if rains falter slightly, then what you are going to have is a disproportionate effect on the population."

Ethiopia, which has one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, has suffered from recurrent droughts in recent years.

In arid provinces such as its Somali Region, one solution has been resettling pastoralists from dry patches to more fertile areas, but cases of unwillingness to move and other factors have limited the effectiveness of the plan.

"We have to take the impact of climate change more seriously," the U.N.'s top aid coordinator, Valerie Amos, told journalists during a visit to Bisle on Saturday.

"As droughts are becoming so much more frequent, we have to be a lot more innovative and creative in thinking about what some of the long term effects might be," she said.

Mitiku Kassa, state minister for agriculture in Ethiopia, said his government would give priority to development.

"(One solution) is development intervention. We have to focus on water in pastoral areas," he said.

(Editing by George Obulutsa and Tim Pearce)

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