Best of our wild blogs: 12 Oct 11

October Fish Fest
from Pulau Hantu

Rainy day gifts from the mangroves
from wild shores of singapore

Pulau Semakau (9 Oct 2011)
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore and Lab session (8 Oct 2011)

ICCS Changi 2011: A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Lessons from the New Zealand oil spill
from wild shores of singapore

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Hawks to scare off Orchard Road pests

Birds of prey to put 'nuisance' mynahs and starlings to flight
Jessica Lim Straits Times 12 Oct 11;

HIGH-PITCHED sounds did not work and chemicals were deemed inhumane. Now, trained hawks could be the answer to controlling the numbers of mynahs and starlings in the Orchard Road area.

The plan to use these birds of prey to frighten away smaller birds was initiated by the Orchard Road Business Association (Orba), made up of about 60 businesses in Singapore's premier shopping belt. It is working with Wildlife Reserves Singapore and the Singapore Tourism Board on the idea.

Birds have been a nuisance to retailers and shoppers since 2008, after the Somerset carpark was redeveloped and trees at the site removed. They used to roost there but have moved to the area near Orchard Cineleisure and The Heeren.

Chairman of the South-east Asian Biodiversity Society Yong Ding Li estimates that 2,000 to 5,000 birds roost in the Orchard Road area at dusk. The peak congregation time is between 6.45pm and 7pm.

People have complained about the noise the birds make and the droppings they leave on cars, pedestrian walkways and even shoppers' heads.

Orba executive director Steven Goh said it was approached by the managements of malls such as The Heeren, Mandarin Gallery, 313@Somerset and Paragon about the problem.

Bird training and the acclimatisation of hawks to urban areas is under way. The plan, he said, is to release the hawks in the area for short periods of time to chase away the problem before they go back to their handlers.

'The idea is to scare the birds away. At the end of the day, we want the pleasant shopping experience to return to Orchard Road,' said Mr Goh, adding that malls like The Heeren tried to project high-pitched sounds as a scare tactic a few weeks ago.

'That didn't work,' he said, adding that Orba had also discussed using chemicals but found it too inhumane. It chose the hawk option after meeting bird experts from pest-control firms.

Mr Goh said there was a 'high chance' the project would take flight, noting that a lot of time and effort had been invested since Orba initiated the idea four months ago. Details like the start-date and number of hawks are being discussed.

In Britain, two hawks, accompanied by their handlers, successfully drove seagulls away from a mall in Exeter in 2009. They made four flights a week in the area over a 20-week period.

Farmers worldwide have also used full-sized replicas of hawks to scare birds away from crops.

The chairman of the South-east Asian Biodiversity Society, Mr Yong Ding Li, attributes the increase in the number of mynahs and starlings in the Orchard Road area to a drop in the number of crows. These birds were creating havoc before the authorities tackled the problem islandwide.

He added that the kind of hawk used will probably be the Goshawk, Sparrowhawk or Falcon - species that eat other birds and are easier to handle. Fewer than 10 are likely to be used due to their limited numbers, he said.

Although they would be effective in scaring the smaller birds away, he said it would likely be a short-term solution. 'The smaller birds will just go somewhere else, so it's shifting the problem,' he said, adding that the hawks would not be able to control a large bird population.

Nonetheless, tenants in the area are hopeful that the move will help.

Mr Ryan De Guzman, 30, who works at a food stall at *Scape Youth Park, said that when a customer gets up to order something, the birds swoop down on his unattended food almost immediately.

But some, like property investor Tommy Chow, 35, worry that the hawks themselves could pose a problem, asking: 'What if they start attacking humans?'

Experts, however, say such incidents are rare.

Additional reporting by Stacey Chia

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ABC of water project? It pays big dividends

Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters programme brings people together
Kezia Toh Straits Times 12 Oct 11;

THE money the Government has poured into water resources is a good investment that will pay dividends in the years to come, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday. He was speaking at the annual Watermark Award ceremony and the opening of the second phase of the Active, Beautiful, Clean (ABC) Waters programme at MacRitchie Reservoir.

But Dr Balakrishnan - who took on the portfolio after the May general election - said he initially wondered why so much money was spent on water resources.

'I must admit that when I first came to the ministry, I was wondering why (national water agency) PUB was devoting so much value, so many resources to the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters programme,' he said. 'Because ultimately, what I saw was, they were creating a park using the water resources.'

However, he found that the end result was to get people to come together.

'I realised that it goes far beyond just a cosmetic or aesthetic aspect,' said Dr Balakrishnan, who was formerly the minister for community development, youth and sports. 'But many people must really understand the critical role that our water resources play in Singapore.'

He added that the ABC programme was about bringing people to the water, 'or in this case, walking on water'.

He was referring to the new 40m-long submerged boardwalk at MacRitchie Reservoir, which will allow visitors to walk through ankle-deep water and view water plants and other aquatic life.

The boardwalk was officially unveiled yesterday, along with other facilities such as a space for a hilltop restaurant - which could be open by early next year - and improvements to the iconic zigzag bridge and bandstand.

Improvements have also been made to the tomb of Lim Bo Seng, with new information panels about the World WarII resistance hero.

Speaking to about 150 people at the event, Dr Balakrishnan added that working on beautifying water features here also has a functional purpose - to keep water clean and ensure it is of good quality.

Some projects under the ABC Waters programme, introduced in 2007, include the $34 million makeover of Alexandra Canal, $47.7 million for the Lorong Halus Wetland area, and $6.95 million on Pandan Reservoir.

Under this scheme, utilitarian drains, canals and reservoirs are turned into beautiful and clean streams and lakes.

MacRitchie Reservoir is the 16th water project to be completed under the ABC programme.

Dr Balakrishnan said: 'I've come to the conclusion that this is indeed money well-spent, an investment that will bear much fruit in the years to come.'

New features at MacRitchie Reservoir
Channel NewsAsia 11 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: The second phase of the "Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters" initiative at MacRitchie Reservoir opened Tuesday evening with new water features.

MacRitchie Reservoir, Singapore's oldest, now has improved pathways, a refurbished zig-zag bridge and a submerged boardwalk.

Gracing the event, Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said 15 ABC Waters projects have been completed so far, and this has created new hotspots for recreational and community activities.

Beyond these enhancements, he said, the project is also about bringing people closer to the waters so they will value and cherish Singapore's water resources.

"This process of community integration and education needs to go on... Keeping and creating beautiful waters also has a functioning purpose of keeping our water clean and ensuring that we drink quality water," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"(It is) an investment that will bear much fruit in the years to come."

Dr Balakrishnan also gave out Watermark Awards to five organisations to honour their contribution to water conservation.

The award recipients are Bendemeer Primary School, Nature Society (Singapore), Sony Electronics Asia Pacific, Singapore Civil Defence Force and Fuhua Primary School.

- CNA/cc

Organisations lauded for water conservation efforts
Wendy Wong Channel NewsAsia 11 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: Five organisations have been honoured with this year's Watermark Award for their contribution to water conservation.

They are the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), Fuhua Primary, Sony Electronics Asia, The Nature Society of Singapore and Bendemeer Primary School.

Fuhua Primary constructed a wetland two years ago for its aquaponic system in an effort to go green.

Rainwater collected is filtered through the system's soil and plants.

The system is also used as an educational tool for the pupils to learn about water recycling.

Other eco-friendly initiatives include students teaching kindergartens how to build miniature terraniums and collecting rainwater to water plants.

Another Watermark Award winner is the SCDF.

Its Watermist Technology, first implemented in 2004, reduces water usage by up to 90 per cent.

The technology uses specially-designed nozzles to generate fine water mist at high pressure.

The SCDF's Civil Defence Academy (CDA) has a recycling system to save water.

All of SCDF's 16 fire stations are equipped with concrete wells for rainwater collection and water collected is reused for firefighting training.

Foo Ying Kai, Rota Commander at the Central Fire Station, said: "We collect rainwater and the water used for our training, we filter it and pump it back to the hydrant for continuous usage, firefighting or any operation that we go through."

The Watermark Award is given out by national water agency PUB. Now into its fifth year, it has been given out to 42 recipients.

- CNA/cc

Fuhua Primary, SCDF, others recognised for efforts to conserve water
Wendy Wong Today Online 12 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - Fuhua Primary School, which has embarked on a series of eco-friendly initiatives, and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) are among the five winners of the PUB's Watermark Award 2011.

The other recipients of the award - which honours organisations for their contribution to water conservation - are Sony Electronics Asia Pacific, Nature Society (Singapore), and Bendemeer Primary School.

Fuhua Primary constructed a wetland two years ago for its aquaponic system in an effort to go green.

Rainwater collected is filtered through the system's soil and plants.

The system is also used as an educational showcase to learn about water recycling.

Other eco-friendly initiatives include students teaching kindergartens how to build miniature terrariums and collect rainwater to water plants.

As for the SCDF, its Watermist Technology, implemented in 2004, reduces water usage by up to 90 per cent. The technology uses specially-designed nozzles to generate fine water mist at high pressure.

Foo Ying Kai, Rota Commander at the Central Fire Station, said: "We collect rainwater and the water used for our training, filter it, and pump it back to the hydrant for continuous usage, firefighting or any operation that we go through."

The SCDF's Civil Defence Academy has a recycling system to save water.

All of the SCDF's 16 fire stations are equipped with concrete wells for rainwater collection and water collected is reused for firefighting training.

The Watermark Award, now into its fifth year, have so far honoured 42 recipients. Through the award, PUB hopes to encourage better water sustainability.

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Singapore due for "big" dengue outbreak next year: expert

Ng Lian Cheong Channel NewsAsia 11 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: The number of dengue cases reported in Singapore has been steadily declining over the past few weeks. But an expert warns that Singapore may be due for a "big" outbreak next year.

Associate Professor Leo Yee Sin, Head of Infectious Diseases at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said: "The last big three cycles that we experienced include the 1991 cycle, the 1997, 2004 and 2005 cycle. So when the next one is going to come is subject to a lot of speculation.

"But if you look at the interval of every five to six years [in between each] big cycle, then it should be quite soon. (Either) this year or next year."

263 new cases of dengue were reported for the week of July 24 to 30, the highest number of cases in a week this year.

But the numbers have since declined, with just 60 cases from October 2 to 8. As of October 8, there have been 4,490 new cases of dengue reported this year.

The Health Ministry told Channel NewsAsia that as of September, three people, two men and a woman, have died from dengue infection this year.

Professor Leo said the seasonal peak season for dengue cases occurs between June and October each year. She added that the rapid decline in numbers observed this year may be due to effective mosquito prevention measures taken.


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Specialized courts for environment cases among proposals as law experts mull green governance

Malaysian Industry‑Government Group for High Technology EurekAlert 11 Oct 11;

Assigning environment-related legal cases to specialized tribunals, courts and judges is among the ideas being aired as experts convene in Malaysia for a two-day United Nations conference on the relationship between the world's law, justice and governance systems and sustainable development.

High court "green benches" already exist in India, established by that country's Supreme Court to ensure judges have the expertise and resources to properly consider environmental issues.

"Specialist environment courts and tribunals can reduce the number of cases brought before the Supreme Courts and High Courts, facilitate more consistent of expeditious environmental decision-making and be less expensive," says Greg Rose, associate law professor at Australia's University of Wollongong, just south of Sydney.

In a brief prepared for the Malaysia meeting, entitled "Gaps in the Implementation of Environmental Law at the National Regional and Global Level," Mr. Rose also recommends creating a catalog of the type and severity of penalties imposed in environment-related judgements as an international resource for prosecutors and judges.

"These may be especially useful in courts of general jurisdiction where there is limited expertise in environment matters," he says.

Among the complex considerations and issues commonly confronting judges in environment-related cases:

The public's right to information and participation
Interpreting agreed international principles of sustainable development, including the polluter pays principle and the precautionary principle
Inter-generational interests and entitlements
Obtaining authoritative information and interpreting technical scientific assessments
Interpretation of constitutional rights - including rights to life and a healthy environment
Corporate responsibility and liability, and obligating continuous environmental impact assessment
Judicial reasoning in environment-related cases, including the importance of traditional values and ideas

Malaysia's Prime Minister and the Chief Judge of Malaya state lead a distinguished group of participants expected at the Kuala Lumpur meeting, convened under the auspices of the UN Environment Programme.

The meeting is the first in a series to be held in different world regions in the lead-up to a UNEP-hosted World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability 1-3 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- immediately before the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD 2012 -- the "Rio+20 Conference"). A similar event was held just prior to a 2002 meeting in Johannesburg on the 10th anniversary of Rio's original landmark 1992 environmental summit.

Participants expected at UNEP's upcoming World Congress in Rio include Attorneys-General, Chief Prosecutors, Auditors-General, Chief Justices and senior judges from around the world.

Malaysia's Prime Minister, Hon. Dato' Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, notes that over the past 50 years "humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel.

"A sustainable future needs to be founded on a strong judiciary system. The full participation of all stakeholders within a framework of justice, governance and rule of law is needed for any strategy for sustainability to be successful."

Says Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to Prime Minister of Malaysia and co-chair the High Level International Advisory Committee for the World Congress in June: "This event recognizes that many of the principles agreed by leaders at world summits later find expression in environmental conventions dealing with such issues as ozone depletion, prior informed consent related to imports, ocean management, species protection, climate change, desertification and several others."

"At the national level, new laws and regulations are enacted and top judges deliver many landmark decisions giving shape, content and legal effect to these principles," says Dr. Zakri, who also serves as Joint Chair of the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT). "The judiciary therefore remains a crucial player in promoting compliance with and enforcement of laws critical to sustainable development goals."

Among their objectives in Malaysia, judges and legal experts will exchange views, knowledge and experience related to environmental law implementation. Regional co-operation will also be promoted, including the collation and sharing of information and material via such tools as ECOLEX (, a comprehensive database of information on environmental law maintained UNEP, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

A world environmental organization with influence akin to WTO's

Participants will also consider the adequacy of today's institutions to cope with looming global and regional environmental challenges. A growing number of voices worldwide are calling for an international environment-related institution comparable in influence to the World Trade Organization.

In his brief for the meeting, Bakary Kante, Director of UNEP's Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, notes "arguments that international environmental governance is incoherent because there are so many layers of bureaucratic fragmentations between multilateral environmental agreements and has evolved as a system that is too loosely connected."

"The heart of the incoherence problem is the very fact that the primary international organization responsible for environment, the United Nations Environment Programme, is solely an 'environment' organization and does not place environment in the context of overall sustainability (economic and social). ...(U)ntil this fundamental flaw is fixed in the IEG (international environmental governance) systems, progress towards environmental sustainability cannot be achieved."

Says Prime Minister Razak: "From the perspective of our government and many others, only with a major overhaul of the governance system will we be able to address the challenges of environmental sustainability. The complex international environmental governance infrastructure in place today needs to be streamlined and strengthened to become more effective. The existing systems are so complicated it is virtually impossible for countries, especially developing countries, to participate effectively. Most global organizations in place today were designed and negotiated by the developed world, with developing countries largely on the sidelines. We have to change the approach: the International Environmental Governance system has to respond better to developing countries' needs in their pursuit of sustainable development."

Also tabled for consideration in Malaysia: a brief by University of Edinburgh Law Professor Alan Boyle on the need to rethink human rights and "the right to a decent or satisfactory environment."

"Simply put ... should we continue to think about human rights and the environment within the existing framework of human rights law, in which the protection of humans is the central focus ... - or has the time come to talk directly about environmental rights -- in other words, a right to have the environment itself protected? Should we transcend the anthropo-centric in favour of the eco-centric?"

Meanwhile, Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Antonio Herman Benjamin, Chair of the Executive Steering Committee for the June World Congress, and Scott Fulton, General Counsel for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, have written a brief on "effective national environmental governance."

In it, they list seven "core precepts" that have emerged in the past 40 years and form a basis for effective national environmental governance:

Environmental laws should be clear, evenhanded, implementable and enforceable
Environmental information should be shared with the public
Affected stakeholders should be afforded opportunities to participate in environmental decision-making
Environmental decision-makers, both public and private, should be accountable for their decisions
Roles and lines of authority for environmental protection should be clear, coordinated and designed to produce efficient and non-duplicative program delivery
Affected stakeholders should have access to fair and responsive dispute resolution procedures
Graft and corruption in environmental program delivery can obstruct environmental protection and mask results and must be actively prevented

At the end of the meeting, the Chair will present the Kuala Lumpur Statement as a contribution to June's World Congress.

High-level participants anticipated in Kuala Lumpur include:

Hon. Dato' Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia

Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, Chief Judge of Malaya

The Hon. Chief Justice of Bangladesh, Justice Md. Muzammel Hossain

The Hon. Mr. Justice Frederick Egonda Ntende, Chief Justice, Republic of Seychelles

The Hon. Mr. Anwar-ul-Haq, Attorney General of Pakistan

Dr. Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to Prime Minister of Malaysia

Prof. Gary Sampson, Melbourne Business School, Australia

(Drs. Zakri and Sampson co-chair the High Level International Advisory Committee for the June World Congress in Rio)

The Hon. Mats Palm, Chief Public Prosecutor and Head of the National Environmental Crimes Unit, Sweden

The Hon. Lic. Wilehaldo David Cruz Bressant, Attorney-General for the Environmental Sector and Overseer of Judicial Linkages of the Executive Power for Environmental Issues, Mexico

Mr. Mohan Peiris, Senior Legal Advisor to the Cabinet of Ministers of Sri Lanka

Ms. Sheila Abed, Director, IDEA and Chair, IUCN Commission on Environmental Law

Mr. Bakary Kante, Director, Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, UNEP

Mr. Bradnee Chambers, Chief, Environmental Law and Governance Branch, UNEP

Mr. Vijay Eswaran, Executive Chairman, QI Group of Companies

Mr. James Cameron, Executive Director and Vice Chairman, Climate Change Capital

Malaysia Proposes WEO To Anchor Global Efforts For Environment
Bernama 12 Oct 11;

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 12 (Bernama) -- Malaysia has today proposed to the United Nations (UN) to create World Environment Organisation (WEO), to anchor global efforts for the environment.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the proposed environmental body should be consultative and facilitative to assist countries to meet the commitments derived from mutual agreements.

He said only with a major overhaul of the governance system would the world be able to address the challenges of environmental sustainability.

"It has become virtually impossible for developing countries to participate meaningfully. The only countries that cope with the system are the richest countries of the world while the developing nations are becoming disenfranchised.

"A new body like the WEA can help facilitate the participation of developing countries in a more realistic and meaningful way," he said in his speech at the First Preparatory Meeting of the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability, here, today.

Najib's speech text was read out by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz.

The prime minister said that over the years, the international community had adopted hundreds of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAS), all with their own secretariats and administration.

Between 1992 to 2007, the 18 major MEAs alone convened some 540 meetings which produced over 5,000 decisions that countries were supposed to act upon through national efforts, he added.

Najib said the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability in Brazil on June 4 to 6, next year, would provide a timely opportunity to examine contemporary norms and principles of justice, governance and law in the area of environmental sustainability and the inherent linkages among them.

He said the congress would further provide an opportunity to decide on steps for the evolution and implementation of these norms and principles, which would in turn provide a way forward for addressing the sustainability challenges of the 21st century.

Najib said the participants of the preparatory meeting would also have the opportunity to send clear messages on how they could move forward on international environmental governance at all levels by bringing a new perspective to the debate.

"This preparatory meeting is particularly important because it will give the chance to lay the foundations for the deliberations at the World Congress.

"The World Congress is a unique opportunity to engage in the Rio+20 debates on governance and to become an active participant, especially for developing countries, with proposals matching our needs for development," he added.

Director of the Division of Environmental Law and Conventions of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Bakary Kante, said Najib's proposal towards environmental sustainability was a giant step forward for the global environment.

"This is the first time a leader is stating an advance position to call for WEA. The prime minister has understood how environment is important for the future of this country and the world," he said in welcoming the statement made by Najib.

"On behalf of the UN, we express our deepest gratitute to the prime minister (for the statement made)," he added.

The 34 participants of the two-day meeting which ends tomorrow, comprise judges and legal experts from 19 countries who exchange views, knowledge and experience related to the implementation of environmental law.


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Malaysia: Agarwood trees in reserves illegally chopped down

Exotic oil in wood
Josephine Jalleh The Star 12 Oct 11;

GEORGE TOWN: Agarwood trees are being chopped down illegally in the forest reserves of Bukit Mertajam and Bukit Panchor as its oil extract is fetching a good price in the Middle East.

State Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said a 10ml tube of Gaharu oil, which is used as medicine and perfume, is priced at RM140.

“We suspect that there are foreign syndicates involved in the chopping of the trees over the last four years.

“They usually enter the forest at night to cut down six to seven trees using axes and not chainsaws because of the noise,” he told a press conference at his office in Komtar yesterday.

Phee advised forest rangers to be careful when coming across the culprits as they could have firearms.

State Forestry Department director Shah Rani Ahmad Zailan said the culprits would identify the Agarwood trees in scattered areas of the forest.

“These activities have been detected from Cherok Tokun in Bukit Mertajam to Simpang Ampat and Bukit Panchor in Nibong Tebal.

“The culprits know the value of the Gaharu oil which can fetch up to RM1,000 per kilogramme, depending on its grade,” he said.

Shah Rani added that foreig-ners were involved in carrying out the illegal activity as forest rangers noticed that they spoke with a foreign accent during surveillance and investigation operations.

“Those found guilty could be charged under Section 68 of the National Forestry Act 1984 which carries a fine of up to RM50,000 fine, five years’ jail, or both.

“They can also be charged under Section 84 of the same Act with a fine of not more than RM50,000, jailed not more than five years, or both,” he said, adding that they were unable to reveal the number of trees which had been cut.

An investigating officer of the department, Mariatul Qiptiyah Md Sah said eight Malaysian men were arrested on Sept 3, while several people managed to escape at around 4am on Oct 2.

On Feb 21, the Kedah Anti-Smuggling Unit (UPP) stumbled upon eight sacks containing the agarwood. A total of 442kg of agarwood worth RM337,600 were found at a parking area in Kuala Kedah.

Malaysia is the world’s leading source of Agarwood, with half of the global supplies of the perfumed wood originating here, and this has put seven of the 18 Agarwood tree species growing here at risk of extinction.

Two reports released last yearby TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring body, showed that rising demand for Agarwood, pro-blems in monitoring harvests and a persistent illegal trade threaten the future of the highly-prized fragrant wood.

Picking trees at leisure
M Sivanatha Sharma The Star 12 Oct 11;

THE state Forestry Department believes that Agarwood tree poachers had camped in the Cherok Tokun Hill forest reserve for days while looking for the highly-prized trees to chop down.

Department staff Mohd Nasir Ahmad said a canopy, cooking utensils and food found in the forest reserve showed that the poachers would identify a tree in the day before chopping it down at night.

“The poachers, who are usually foreigners employed by a syndicate, will use an axe and sometimes a chainsaw to cut down the trees under the cover of darkness between midnight and 4am.”

Several hikers met at the forest reserve expressed shock when told about the illegal activity in the area.

Surinder Singh, 50, a former army personnel, said he noticed several trees had been fell but he did not know that the poachers were responsible.

“I initially thought that the forestry department had fell the trees for a certain reason. I only knew that the trees were valuable after reading StarMetro this morning.”

Another hiker Goh Chuang Chung, 51, said he saw the trees on the forest floor about a week back but thought nothing of it at that time, adding that he was not aware that the oil extract of the Agarwood tree was so valuable.

It was reported that a 10ml tube of Gaharu oil from the Agarwood tree, used as an ingredient for medicine and perfume, can be sold for RM140.

Gaharu oil can also fetch up to RM1,000 per kilo depending on the grade.

The poachers’ activities have been detected from Cherok Tokun in Bukit Mertajam to Simpang Ampat and Bukit Panchor in Nibong Tebal.

Malaysia is the world’s leading source of Agarwood, contributing to half the global supply.

Agarwood theft nothing new
Derrick Vinesh The Star 12 Oct 11;

THE Agarwood tree felling activities in the Bukit Panchor State Park and its surrounding areas in Nibong Tebal are believed to have been ongoing for a few years.

A local resident, who declined to be named, said while the illegal felling in the park could have been recent, the felling of the trees near a water catchment area outside the park had been going on for some time.

“Sometimes, when I take visitors up the Bukit Pachor Hill, we come across chunks of Agarwood trees strewn near the water catchment area.

“A major segment of the tree trunks are chopped and left behind because the poachers only cut out small segments with blackish resin where the exotic oil can be extracted,” he said when met at the park yesterday.

The resident said some of the trees also had deep slash marks on the trunks, which were done to help promote the growth of the particular resin.

He also noted that the tree trunks would easily decay, as the wood was rather soft.

An information board placed by the state Forestry Department at an Agarwood or Gaharu (Aquilara Malaccensis) tree at the park stated that the particular species was also known in Malaysia as depu, karas and engkaras.

It said the Agarwood tree, which can also be found in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and northern India, could grow up to 20m.

It also said that the Agarwood resin, which was found in the tree trunk, has a high commercial value in the world market. The resin has been used for centuries as incense, medicine, cosmetics and for religious ceremonies.

It stated that the Agarwood is believed to be one of the most expensive woods in the world, and is appreciated by many cultures for its fragrance.

Another local resident Mohd Salim Abdul Hamid, 15, from Jawi, said it was disheartening to hear about the illegal tree felling activities, noting that it took many years for the trees to mature.

“How can the authorities allow such activities to go on? They should step up enforcement against the culprits.”

Fellow resident Mohd Ikmal Sofi Ishak, 15, said even though the park authorities could scrutinise the visitors who used the main entrance to the park, its surrounding area was not fenced up.

“The poachers can gain easy access to the park from various locations around the park.

“It may be a difficult task to fence up the entire park, which is located on a 445ha plot of land, but some form of security system should be in place to safeguard the trees,” he said.

A state Forestry Department official said many people visited the park especially on weekends and during the school holidays.

“But, in the last few months, the number of visitors has dropped following the announcement by the Health Department that traces of leptospirosis virus were found in its pond.

“The Health Department has since cautioned visitors about being exposed to the virus by placing adequate notices outside the pond.”

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Floods exact heavy toll in Cambodia

Over 1 million displaced, with women and children hardest hit
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 12 Oct 11;

PHNOM PENH: Women and children are suffering the most in Cambodia, the government and relief agencies said, after the worst flooding in more than a decade.

At least 207 Cambodians have been killed, 1.2 million displaced from their homes and 13 per cent of the country's rice crop has been wiped out by the widespread flooding that has also forced Phnom Penh to slash growth estimates for the year.

Seventeen of Cambodia's 23 provinces have been badly hit as the Mekong River, swollen from heavy rain since the middle of August, has overflowed its banks in recent weeks.

With an estimated 160 bridges submerged and nearly 3,000km of roads damaged, the Cambodian government and aid agencies have been struggling to reach affected communities.

Displaced people are staying in makeshift tents and often drinking contaminated water. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) bulletin noted yesterday: 'Evacuation centres or safe places for people seeking shelter are becoming increasingly overcrowded.'

'Nearly 73 per cent of the people in the sites are women and children,' it added.

More than 1,100 schools and close to 100 hospitals have been destroyed, the government said.

The last time such massive flooding occurred was in 2000, when 347 people were killed and 3.5 million affected.

A team from the Singapore-based Mercy Relief agency, which last week rushed rice supplies and water filtration units to Cambodia, reported that in some flood-hit northern provinces, only rooftops were visible above the water.

'It's the scale of the floods that matters,' its chief executive Hassan Ahmad said over the phone.

Since Aug 13, more than 100,000ha of rice fields have been damaged and about 300,000ha are still under water, said Cambodia's National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM).

Mr Hassan, who toured the flood-hit provinces and returned to Singapore on Monday, said: 'A lot of the rice crop that they were anticipating to harvest in around two weeks is gone. Household rice stocks have also been lost. So families have lost their livelihoods.'

The price of rice has shot up by about US$100 (S$130) a tonne, he said - which makes things even worse for affected communities.

Ocha said: 'Immediate food assistance is required. Other major concerns include inadequate health-care services, while random health screening data shows the most prominent diseases to be generalised fever, diarrhoea, typhoid, skin problems, acute respiratory infection and malnutrition.'

Growth forecast cut

Unlike neighbouring Thailand with its superior resources, Cambodia's government has been stretched by the disaster and criticised for its slow and uncoordinated response. Because of the flooding, combined with uncertainty in the United States and European economies, the government has shaved 1 percentage point off its gross domestic product (GDP) growth projection for the year.

This year's GDP is now expected to be 6 per cent - a drop from 7 per cent. Flood damage could exceed US$100 million - although the final figure will likely be known only late next month when the full extent of the damage becomes clear.

There is concern that poor communities hit by floods and the loss of rice stocks and crops would not be able to recover without assistance.

'This is what the government and the local authorities have to worry about - the people's living standards,' NCDM vice-president Nhim Vanda told journalists at a press conference on Monday.

But there may be a silver lining, the Asian Development Bank's country director for Cambodia, Mr Putu M. Kamayana, said in a phone interview. 'The private sector is already moving to supply seeds to farmers, who, where the water is receding, are eager to plant again soon to take advantage of the nutrients deposited by the flood waters.'

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Pakistan floods show Asia’s vulnerability to climate change

Reuters 11 Oct 11;

By Lord Julian Hunt and Professor J. Srinivasan. The opinions expressed are their own.

It is more than a year since the devastating July and August 2010 floods in Pakistan that affected about 20 million people and killed an estimated 2,000. Many believe that the disaster was partially fuelled by global warming, and that there is a real danger that Pakistan, and the Indian subcontinent in general, could become the focus of much more regular catastrophic flooding.

Indeed, right now Pakistan is again experiencing massive flooding. The UN asserts that, already, more than 5.5 million people have been affected and almost 4300 are officially reported dead, 100 of them children.

Last year’s calamity, in particular, highlights the vulnerability of much of Asia to climate change, and has helped elevate this into one of the most important and pressing political and social issues in the region. Indeed, an increasingly prevailing view is that the impact of climate change could be worse in the region than all previous social, health and conflict disasters of the past.

In particular, there is growing recognition that global warming is dangerously linked to several significant threats, including not just natural disasters, but also energy, water, and food shortages as average rising temperatures reduce productivity and agricultural land is threatened by sea level rises and salinification of coastal areas.

Following the combination of last year’s Pakistani floods, and the exceptional heat waves in Russia, there is also now greater understanding in the region about the links between continental-scale weather events, and hence global risks to food availability. These linkages are likely to be exacerbated by adjustments in the patterns of atmosphere and ocean movements.

Reflecting this heightened concern, Asian prime ministers, legislators and business leaders are increasingly supporting new climate-related legislation, investments and research. They are also leveraging their growing influence at the United Nations to help secure a comprehensive, global warming deal.

This significant shift in Asian elite opinion has occurred despite the fact that it is now largely acknowledged within the region as unrealistic to expect total emissions from developed countries to be significantly reduced over the next few decades. Disappointment is often expressed, in particular, that the United States and Canada have no effective plans to follow European Union countries and Australia in introducing effective measures to make reductions.

There are numerous specific ways in which this “Asian consensus” on climate change is manifesting itself across the region.

First, low-lying islands and coastal areas. The great concern of these terrains – some of which are threatened by rising sea levels, combined with increasing frequency of the intense rainfall and the occasional typhoon and tsunami – is leading affected countries to play a very active role in international negotiations. Singapore has even instituted a climate change secretariat in its Prime Minister’s Office.

Moreover, there is considerable momentum to find new technical solutions. In Bangalore, for instance, companies are solving acute water shortages by hi-tech recycling and restoring depleted aquifers from the still plentiful monsoon rains.

Second, continental-scale Asian countries. Countries such as India and China, with dense centres of population and growing megacities, are thinking very seriously about responses to dangerous rises in temperature. In China, for instance, there has been a rise in temperature of two degrees Celsius since 1950, and the rise is anticipated to be greater than four degrees by 2100 if global emissions continue on predicted trends. To help prevent the looming problems associated with this, Beijing is harnessing new technologies to set ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions per unit of energy supplied by 40-45 percent by 2020.

Within such continental-scale Asian economies, requirements for energy and food are increasing rapidly as standards of living grow. In India, these two requirements are competing with each other in some areas where large power stations, coal mining and biomass projects all take land from farmers, threatening food supplies and local political stability.

But this problem is being mitigated by clean energy systems, such as wind power and the use of desert areas for direct solar production. Such projects are attracting international investment and funds for innovation.

Third, forests. Forests in Asia have been of concern since the 1920s when the Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore raised the alarm. Now the monitoring, conserving and responsible utilisation of forests is being regulated through national legislation, combined with the international funding arrangements of a UN programme to cut emissions resulting from deforestation in developing countries.

Politicians in the region increasingly realise that deforestation has devastating short-term impacts on rainfall reduction and lowering agricultural productivity, and also on health because of air pollution. These impacts can cross land and sea boundaries. Fortunately, areas of forest in India and China are now increasing again, although dense forest areas are still threatened in other Asian countries.

As encouraging as many of these initiatives are, the scale of the challenge means that debate in Asia is also turning to whether there are acceptable low-risk geo-engineering solutions to climate change. In a recent Indo-German experiment in the Indian Ocean, iron particles were released to increase absorption of carbon dioxide, but so far without success. Teams are also planning experiments to release droplets high in the stratosphere to cut solar radiation.

The International Maritime Organisation is meeting to consider a trial on the release of iron particles. This brings to the fore the question of which international organisations should accept responsibility for regulating geo-engineering. Indeed, many in Asia already believe that wholly new approaches to international governance will be needed to obtain a consensus in the region to tackle these unprecedented challenges.

Lord Julian Hunt is Vice Chair of Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment, and visiting professor at Delft University of Technology and the Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre, Cambridge. Professor J. Srinivasan is chairman of the Divecha Centre for Climate Change at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

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Gulf Shrimp Are Scarce This Season; Answers, Too

Campbell Robertson New York Times 11 Oct 11;

LAFITTE, La. — The dock at Bundy’s Seafood is quiet, the trucks are empty and a crew a fraction of the normal size sits around a table waiting for something to do. But the most telling indicator that something is wrong is the smell. It smells perfectly fine.

“There’s no shrimp,” explained Grant Bundy, 38. The dock should smell like a place where 10,000 pounds of shrimp a day are bought off the boats. Not this year. In all of September, Bundy’s Seafood bought around 41,000 pounds.

White shrimp season began in late August, and two months in, the shrimpers here say it is a bad one, if not the worst in memory. It is bad not just in spots but all over southeastern Louisiana, said Jules Nunez, 78, calling it the worst season he had seen since he began shrimping in 1950. Some fishermen said their catches were off by 80 percent or more.

“A lot of people say it’s this, it’s that, it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s BP,” Mr. Nunez said. “We just don’t know.”

There is plenty that is not known. Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has not compiled landings data for the season, so at this point it is hard to measure with any certainty the degree to which it is abnormal.

Even if the reports of a dismal season prove true, any forensic work is complicated by the oddities of this year’s weather, with a severe drought in the states along the Gulf of Mexico interrupted by spring flooding on the Mississippi River that brought millions of gallons of fresh water into the marshes. In addition, white shrimp crops have fluctuated over the decades for various reasons. (A BP spokesman said in a statement that some preliminary sampling indicated that the 2011 white shrimp population was within the historical range of variability.)

“We’re going to have to look at all of those different things and come up with reasons why it’s down, if it is down,” said Jim Nance, a shrimp biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service.

But while all scientists acknowledge the difficulty of determining a cause for a reported decline in the shrimp crops, some say there is evidence that is at the very least suggestive of a culprit.

Joris L. van der Ham, a researcher at Louisiana State University who has been studying white shrimp, said he had found more white shrimp than usual last winter in estuaries that were affected by the BP oil spill. That abundance might have been due in part, he said, to a decrease in the number of people out shrimping last year, but a significant decline in this year’s season would undercut that assumption.

While cautioning that his study is incomplete, Dr. van der Ham speculated that certain compounds in the oil may have stunted the shrimp’s growth rate, and that the large numbers he found last year might have never made it out into the gulf to spawn, thus explaining a missing generation.

“There are numerous lines of evidence now that are sort of lining up that chronic exposure to this material could be problematic,” said James Cowan, a professor in L.S.U.’s department of oceanography and coastal sciences.

Those who work in the gulf seafood industry, as well as their lawyers, have watched closely for signs of a species collapse similar to the one that decimated the herring fishery four years after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. The causes of even that collapse remain a matter of dispute, but it is often cited as an example of the delayed disaster that shrimpers and others fear.

This concern was stoked further by a recent study by L.S.U. researchers that reported that a species of fish abundant in Gulf marshes was showing signs of cellular damage, problems typically due to exposure to oil. The functions of the fish, a minnow called the killifish, have been affected in ways that could harm reproduction, the study found.

Seafood industry representatives say there is enough uncertainty to raise doubts that the shrimp harvest will recover by 2012, a supposition in a report that Kenneth R. Feinberg, the administrator of the $20 billion compensation fund for victims of the spill, used in his formula for determining final settlements.

Mr. Feinberg, in an interview, pointed out that he had, all along, described his report as preliminary and open to revision depending on new findings.

“We are monitoring this, and we are sensitive to these concerns,” he said. “We reserve the right to change the formula if anecdotal and empirical evidence justifies it.”

Concerns about the lack of shrimp are different from concerns about the state of shrimp that are found. Repeated studies have shown gulf seafood is safe to eat, a fact trumpeted by industry representatives and government officials, who launched a gulf seafood safety Web site last week to reassure consumers.

All of this demonstrates just how hard it has become to make a living on shrimp boats, said David Veal, the executive director of the American Shrimp Processors Association.

Mr. Veal has heard the anxieties about the white shrimp season, but while “clearly something is going on,” it is too early to say whether it is the worst in memory, he said.

Whether it is the worst or just very bad is almost immaterial, Mr. Veal said; it is still another blight on the shrimping life, compounded by the decline in the domestic market, the steep rise in fuel prices and the battery of hurricanes over the last decade.

“The fact that anybody is still in this business is a testament to their tenacity,” he said.

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Jaguars Cling To Survival In Argentina's Forests

Kylie Stott PlanetArk 12 Oct 11;

The musty jaguar pelts on display at a government office in Buenos Aires are a grim reminder of the big cat's precarious existence in Argentina's northern forests.

The Iguazu waterfalls that border Paraguay and Brazil mark what is now the outer limit of the jaguar's range. Just 50 of the big cats are estimated to live in the sub-tropical jungle around the famous falls.

Out of sight of the tourist hordes, Argentine scientists have been monitoring one of the nation's last remaining jaguar populations since 2003.

Project Jaguar's aim is to fit the animals with GPS tracking collars in order to observe how they are affected by farming and other activities.

Most years they normally register two or three animals during a month-long tracking campaign, but this time not a single jaguar has been trapped for fitting with a collar so far, team leader Agustin Paviolo told Reuters Television.

"The population risk studies we've conducted in collaboration with the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago indicate that in a medium-term period of between 20 and 30 years, the likelihood of extinction is quite high if we don't take action to reduce the threats to this population," he said.

Argentina's northern forest have been classified as one of the areas where jaguars are least likely to survive, along with parts of Brazil, Venezuela and Guyana and most of its ranges in Central America and Mexico.

The jaguar used to roam up into southern parts of the United States and down to Patagonia, but they now occupy only 40 percent of their historic range.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that only 15,000 are left in the wild as deforestation deprives them of prey and makes them more vulnerable to hunters.


About 18,000 jaguars were killed globally every year for their fur in the 1960s and 1970s and hunting remains a threat to them today despite anti-fur campaigns.

The stuffed jaguar, jaguar-skin rug and jackets on display at the government's Environment and Sustainable Development office were seized by officials in recent years.

Red Yaguarete (Jaguar Network), a voluntary group that works to get hunters prosecuted, was involved in the first two cases in Argentina in which people were fined for selling jaguar skins last year.

"People used to show us the bodies and the skulls when we visited different areas," said Nicolas Lodeiro Ocampo, president of the group. "That hardly ever happens now because people are more aware of the penalties."

The group says there is increasing evidence that foreigners are hunting the animals for sport, though most animals are killed by farmers who lose livestock to the jaguars.

But despite some progress to crack down on poaching, hunters are rarely convicted by over-stretched courts.

"(If a) judge has 5,000 or 6,000 cases to handle, among them kidnappings or drug-trafficking, that affects ... the interest they could have in environmental issues like jaguars," said Marcelo Silva Croome, an official at the government's National Wildlife Directorate.

In Iguazu, the Project Jaguar team says the forest needs the jaguar as much as the jaguar needs the forest.

"In areas where large predators are disappearing ... the ecosystem starts to lose equilibrium," Paviolo said. "For the jungle to remain as it is, we need to have these predators."

(Editing by Patricia Reaney)

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US must stop promoting biofuels to tackle world hunger, says thinktank

Global Hunger Index says US government support for corn ethanol was a factor in this year's food price spikes
Suzanne Goldenberg 11 Oct 11;

America must stop promoting the production of biofuels if there is to be any real progress in addressing spiking global food prices and famine, such as seen in the Horn of Africa, an authoritative thinktank has warned.

A new report, the Global Hunger Index, warned that US government support for corn ethanol was a major factor behind this year's food price spikes – and was projected to fuel further volatility in food prices over the next decade.

Although the report noted some improvements over the past 20 years, 26 countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, are still at extreme risk of hunger including Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Eritrea.

The hunger situation worsened most dramatically in the DRC with a 63% increase in hunger and undernourishment since 1990, the report warned. Burundi's hunger index rose by 21% and North Korea's by 18%.

And while Latin America, south-east Asia and the Caribbean made "remarkable progress" in reducing hunger, the report singled out India in particular for failing to improve the situation of its poorest people despite rapid economic growth since 2001.

India had "alarming" rates of hunger and undernourishment, putting it in line with the situation in sub-Saharan Africa.

The proportion of undernourished children in India has risen 2% since the mid-1990s, the report said. It blamed the increase in part on the lower status of women.

But the report also suggested that efforts to reduce world hunger would be constrained without action on climate change and changes in US and European government policies promoting the use of food stocks as fuel.

"The recent dramatic increase in pro-biofuel policies throughout the developed and developing world poses a major challenge," said the report, produced jointly by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Welt Hunger Hilfe and Concern Worldwide.

"Biofuel subsidies should be curtailed in order to minimise biofuels' contribution to volatility in food markets. It also means that biofuel mandates should be removed."

In a conference call with reporters, Maximo Torero, co-author of the report and director of the markets and trade division of IFPRI, said America's domination of global corn production meant that US domestic policies had an outsized effect on prices.

In practical terms, this means countries that import food – especially those in sub-Saharan Africa which import a greater share of their food – are at the mercy of US domestic policies governing corn ethanol.

Food price shocks, such as experienced this past year, could also undermine policies which had been making progress in reducing hunger.

US policies encouraging corn ethanol production, such as subsidies and mandates, ensure more corn is grown for fuel rather than food – especially when oil prices are high.

"What this means is that every policy on biofuels will create an increase in volatility, will create an increase in price and that will be translated to all the other countries," Torero said.

Torero warned that projected growth in US biofuel production over the next decade would put even more pressure on global corn prices.

"The mandate is going to continue to put pressure on prices and volatility for the coming years," he said.

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China Urban Tide To Grow By 100 Million In 10 Years

Chris Buckley PlanetArk 11 Oct 11;

More than 100 million rural Chinese people will settle in towns and cities in the next decade, testing provision of welfare and services as a new generation of migrants turn their backs on farming, according to a new government report.

The National Population and Family Planning Commission report forecast that by 2020, China's urban population would pass 800 million, and many of the new residents are rural migrants who lack old-age and medical insurance in the towns and cities they want to call home, media reports said on Monday.

The study, based on survey data from 2010, is the latest to underscore how important, and how challenging, the ramifications of China's tide of urbanisation are.

"Our country still faces many challenges in achieving healthy urbanisation," said the report, according to a summary from the Xinhua news agency.

"At present, we still have not formed a sensible array of cities and towns, and overall urban capacity urgently needs to be strengthened," it said.

"The migrant population strongly desires to be absorbed into the areas where they live, but there is a stark conflict between supply and demand of urban public services."

China's census last year found the country had 1.34 billion people, and 670 million were residents of towns and cities.

Many new urbanites are young rural migrants with no plans to return to villages and farming after years in factories and on building sites, unlike their parents' generation.

Although their wages have risen in recent years, this "new generation" of migrants also needs better housing, healthcare and schooling opportunities. The report found 52 percent of Chinese rural migrants had no social welfare insurance.

In June, migrant workers rioted in far southern China's manufacturing belt, trashing government offices and police vehicles after a pregnant peddler was roughed up by guards, triggering anger about mistreatment.

A string of strikes at Japanese-owned vehicle parts makers last year also showed the growing assertiveness of younger Chinese workers.

China has about 153 million migrant workers living outside their home towns, and by 2009, 58.4 percent of them were "new generation" migrants born in 1980 or after, according to an earlier National Bureau of Statistics survey.

The latest report found that 76.3 percent of this "new generation" of migrants had no plans to return to the areas they came from, and most of those that did have plans to return wanted to find jobs in towns, not return to farming.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

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The world's 7 billionth person will be born on 31 Oct 2011

7 Population Milestones for 7 Billion People
Stephanie Pappas LiveScience 11 Oct 11;

This year marks the seventh "billion-person" milestone in the planet's history. On or around Oct. 31, 2011, the world's 7 billionth person will be born, the United Nation estimates.

Even more staggering is that of the 7 billion people on Earth, about 1.4 billion of them will be old enough to have observed the arrivals of the 6 billionth, 5 billionth, 4 billionth and 3 billionth people in the world. About 42.5 million people could have blown the party horn for the birth of the 2 billionth baby.

Yes, population has risen very quickly over the last century. Demographers do expect a decline in the population growth rate, but absolute numbers will continue to rise, likely hitting 9 billion by 2050. Meanwhile, we look back at history's past population milestones, asking: "How has the world changed?"

1805 – The 1 billionth baby

The world's first billion-person milestone was a long time coming. Estimates of historical populations can be rough, but the U.S. Census Bureau pegs the global population at a paltry 5 million people in 8000 B.C. Certainly, humans remained scarce until the development of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Even after our kind began farming, it was a slow climb to the 100-million-person mark around 500 B.C.

From there, population growth gets a bit more exciting. Somewhere around A.D. 500 to 600, humans hit the 200-million mark. By about 1250, the population had doubled to between 400 million and 416 million. Plagues and wars took a toll on the global human population before the 1400s, but the numbers then started a steady tick upward. [Infographic: Urban Population Explosion]

The birth year of the world's billionth baby will never be certain, but it's likely he or she came into the world around 1805. Beethoven was big that year, and already going deaf. Lewis and Clark made it to the Pacific Ocean. Napoleon was on a roll in Europe, 10 years from his defeat in the Battle of Waterloo. With the exception of a few coastal outposts, most of Africa was a complete mystery to Europeans. In China, the Qing Dynasty had just put down the White Lotus Rebellion, a tax protest that ultimately killed about 16 million people — a reminder that mass death and population growth don't necessarily cancel one another out.

1927 – Race to 2 Billion

It had taken thousands of years for the population to reach 1 billion, but 2 billion was barely more than a century away. The 2 billionth baby was likely born in the late 1920s, perhaps 1927; the U.N. estimates that by 1930 there were 2.07 billion people on the planet.

This sudden takeoff of population makes sense in the context of a phenomenon called the demographic transition. In the transition, a population goes from one with high birth rates and high death rates (imagine farming families having seven or eight kids in hopes of a few reaching adulthood) to one with low birth rates and low death rates (where parents usually have one or two kids and expect them to grow up).

In the midst of this transition is a period when death rates are declining but people have yet to alter their behavior: They still have lots of kids. Even if those kids decide to have only a few children of their own, population will remain high, because there are so many potential parents.

The agricultural and industrial revolutions led to gradually declining death rates in the Western world starting in the 1700s, while birth rates remained fairly high for generations. As developed countries began to see falling birth rates, developing countries entered the transition period of declining death rates and high birth rates. Some countries in sub-Saharan Africa are just entering the demographic transition today.

But back to 1927. If the 2 billionth baby was indeed born in this year, he or she came into being the same year that the first trans-Atlantic telephone call was made (from New York City to London). The world was on the cusp of the Great Depression. Mao Zedong battled the Kuomintang in Hunan, China, and lost — for a time. An enormous flood along the Mississippi River inundated 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers), the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history at that point.

1959 – 3 Billion People

The 3 billionth baby was a Cold War baby, born in approximately 1959. If he or she was a westerner, baby No. 3 billion would have been a baby boomer, part of the generation born after World War II. During this period, births in the U.S. rose from around 2.8 million a year in the 1930s and early 1940s to a peak of about 4.3 million births per year in the late 1950s.

Worldwide, the population growth rate hit a peak of more than 2 percent per year in the early 1960s, just after our 3 billionth baby's birth. The growth rate had been increasing since 1950, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with one rapid downward plunge between 1959 and 1960. This hiccup was because of China's Great Leap Forward, a disastrous industrialization and collectivization push that killed millions and caused China's fertility rates to plummet.

The year the 3 billionth person was born was also the first year that rocket scientists were able to send monkeys to space and bring them back alive. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet during an uprising and set up a government-in-exile in India. And in a fitting tie to humanity's evolutionary roots, Louis and Mary Leakey discovered the first skull of the ancient hominid Australopithecus.

1974 – A Billion More

Only 15 years after humanity reached the 3 billion mark, it was time to ring in the 4 billionth. It all seemed rather sudden, and people were noticing. In 1968, biologist Paul Ehrlich and his wife, Anne, published "The Population Bomb" (Sierra Club/Ballentine Books), sounding a doleful alarm about overpopulation and predicting mass famine in the 1970s.

Those predictions didn't come to pass, though the book did catapult serious issues of overconsumption and resource scarcity into the limelight. In 2009, the Ehrlichs wrote in the Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development that many of their dire concerns persisted, including fishery collapse, major extinctions and fears of an epidemic. The researchers admitted they had underestimated agricultural advances in feeding a hungry world, but argued that they were partially right: Between 1968 and 2009, they wrote, "perhaps 300 million people overall have died of hunger and hunger-related diseases." [7 Devastating Infectious Diseases]

So baby No. 4 billion was not entering the world at an optimistic time, population-wise. But the world had changed in many ways in the 15 years since baby No. 3 billion took his or her first breath. Forget space monkeys: The human crew of Skylab 4 returned to Earth alive and well after 84 days in orbit. Second-wave feminism had hit a stride in the U.S., ushering in a number of legal victories aimed at workplace and educational equality for women. And just as the first Australopithecus skull was found the year the world's population rose to 3 billion, "Lucy," the famed 40-percent-complete Australopithecus afarensis skeleton, was found in 1974, the year the population hit 4 billion.

1987 – The Day of 5 Billion

On July 11, 1987, the United Nations marked "The Day of 5 Billion," the organization's best estimate of when the 5 billionth human might be born. The event was such a hit that July 11 is now "World Population Day" every year.

Which isn't to say the Day of 5 Billion was a celebration, exactly. The then-president of the Population Institute in Washington, D.C., told the New York Times in 1986 that the 5 billionth baby was "a sobering symbol of the shocking rapidity at which the world's population is multiplying." (In a sign of how difficult exact population counts are, the Population Institute pegged the 5-billion milestone to July 1986 instead of 1987.)

But people in the 1980s were no longer as panicked over population as they had been in the 1970s. A 1986 National Academy of Sciences report argued that the time of peak population growth was past; birth rates in developing countries were down sharply, as was fertility in the developing world, though population was still expected to climb. The Carter administration had been concerned about overpopulation, the New York Times reported in 1986, while President Ronald Reagan's advisers argued that market forces and scientific progress would solve any problems caused by population growth.

In fact, it had taken about 13 years to add another billion people to the planet, and it would take 12 the next time around. In the meantime, Baby 5 Billion actually got a name: Matej Gaspar, a 7-pound, 9-ounce Croatian boy, was declared by the United Nations to be the official 5 billionth person on the planet. Matej was born at 8:35 a.m. local time in the city of Zagreb, according to Associated Press reports from the time. The secret of being the 5 billionth baby was location, location, location: Officials looked to Zagreb for the birth because the 14th World University Games were being played there at the time.

1999 – Milestone 6 Billion

Baby No. 6 billion got an official designation, too: Adnan Nevic, born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on Oct. 12, 1999. Adnan got his label seemingly because then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan happened to be in town for a photo shoot.

In less than 75 years, the global population had tripled. The global death rate in 1999 was half what it was in 1950, the U.N. reported, while the average global life expectancy had increased by 20 years over the same period, from 46 to 66.

Fertility was down worldwide by 1999, though the number of children per mother varied widely by country. In Europe, 1.4 babies were born per woman on average, below replacement level. Meanwhile, in sub-Saharan Africa, the average figure per woman was 5.5 babies. There, the fertility rate had dropped by only one child since 1950.

Notably, Adnan Nevic (or whoever Baby 6 Billion really was) was born into a world with more young people than ever before. Over 1 billion people were between ages 15 and 24 in 1999, all entering peak childbearing years themselves.

2011 – A World of 7 Billion

Who will Baby 7 Billion be? While the United Nations places his or her birthday at around Oct. 31, 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau, going with slightly more conservative numbers, estimates a February 2012 due date.

Where the 7 billionth baby will be born is impossible to know. But Plan International, an international child advocacy agency, is taking a bet on Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state. The group plans to present a birth certificate to a baby girl in the region on Oct. 31 to draw attention to the problem of sex-selective abortions in India.

Birth rates have been declining in Utter Pradesh since the 1970s, but not as much as the rest of India, making the area a likely spot for the 7 billionth baby. According to the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Uttar Pradesh had a fertility rate of 3.8 births per woman in 2008, compared with 2.6 births per woman in India as a whole.

What's next for a growing world? The U.N. estimates that baby No. 8 Billion will take its first breath around 2025. According to the organization's 2010 population report, Baby 9 Billion will show up shortly before 2050, and the world will welcome its 10 billionth person by 2100. Most of the growth will be in high-fertility countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa: The population in these areas is likely to triple. Meanwhile, intermediate-fertility countries such as the U.S., Mexico and India will grow by 26 percent, and low-fertility regions such as Europe will actually shrink by 20 percent.

How Many People Can Earth Support?
Natalie Wolchover, Life's Little Mysteries LiveScience 11 Oct 11;

"The power of population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race."

The late-18th century philosopher Thomas Malthus wrote these ominous words in an essay on what he saw as the dire future of humanity. Humans' unquenchable urge to reproduce, Malthus argued, would ultimately lead us to overpopulate the planet, eat up all its resources and die in a mass famine.

But what is the maximum "power of the Earth to produce subsistence," and when will our numbers push the planet to its limit? More importantly, was Malthus' vision of the future correct?

Earth's capacity

Many scientists think Earth has a maximum carrying capacity of 9 billion to 10 billion people. [How Do You Count 7 Billion People?]

One such scientist, the eminent Harvard University sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, bases his estimate on calculations of the Earth's available resources. As Wilson pointed out in his book "The Future of Life" (Knopf, 2002), "The constraints of the biosphere are fixed."

Aside from the limited availability of freshwater, there are indeed constraints on the amount of food that Earth can produce, just as Malthus argued more than 200 years ago. Even in the case of maximum efficiency, in which all the grains grown are dedicated to feeding humans (instead of livestock, which is an inefficient way to convert plant energy into food energy), there's still a limit to how far the available quantities can stretch. "If everyone agreed to become vegetarian, leaving little or nothing for livestock, the present 1.4 billion hectares of arable land (3.5 billion acres) would support about 10 billion people," Wilson wrote.

The 3.5 billion acres would produce approximately 2 billion tons of grains annually, he explained. That's enough to feed 10 billion vegetarians, but would only feed 2.5 billion U.S. omnivores, because so much vegetation is dedicated to livestock and poultry in the United States.

So 10 billion people is the uppermost population limit where food is concerned. Because it's extremely unlikely that everyone will agree to stop eating meat, Wilson thinks the maximum carrying capacity of the Earth based on food resources will most likely fall short of 10 billion. [When Will Earth Run Out of Food?]

According to population biologist Joel Cohen of Columbia University, other environmental factors that limit the Earth's carrying capacity are the nitrogen cycle, available quantities of phosphorus, and atmospheric carbon concentrations, but there is a great amount of uncertainty in the impact of all of these factors. "In truth, no one knows when or at what level peak population will be reached," Cohen told Life's Little Mysteries.

Slowing growth

Fortunately, we may be spared from entering the end-times phase of overpopulation and starvation envisioned by Malthus. According to the United Nations Population Division, the human population will hit 7 billion on or around Oct. 31, and, if its projections are correct, we're en route to a population of 9 billion by 2050, and 10 billion by 2100. However, somewhere on the road between those milestones, scientists think we'll make a U-turn.

UN estimates of global population trends show that families are getting smaller. "Empirical data from 230 countries since 1950 shows that the great majority have fertility declines," said Gerhard Heilig, chief of population estimates and projections section at the UN.

Globally, the fertility rate is falling to the "replacement level" — 2.1 children per woman, the rate at which children replace their parents (and make up for those who die young). If the global fertility rate does indeed reach replacement level by the end of the century, then the human population will stabilize between 9 billion and 10 billion. As far as Earth's capacity is concerned, we'll have gone about as far as we can go, but no farther.

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