Best of our wild blogs: 31 Dec 11

noble volute @ terumbu semakau
from sgbeachbum

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

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Perfect storm of factors led to Orchard Road flood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the installation could be delayed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- CNA/fa/ir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Five questions with... Dr Tan Swee Hee

Straits Times 31 Dec 11;

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

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

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

How did you get interested in what you do?

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

Can you tell us a bit about the museum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best thing about my job is...

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

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

What are your hopes for your field of work?

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

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Stir-fried snake show when society is more compassionate?

Straits Times Forum 31 Dec 11;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr George Jacobs
Vegetarian Society (Singapore)

Jennifer Lee (Ms)
Project: FIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish for reasonableness to prevail this year.

Colin Loh

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The past is just a memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about heritage index?
Straits Times 7 Jan 12;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ng Wee Chew

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

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

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

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

Bernard Tay

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Malaysian floods: Situation improving, but more rain expected

New Straits Times 31 Dec 11;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Logging in spotlight after Philippines flood tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The national picture is just as bleak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Praise for Sabah’s forestry policy growing popular

Joniston Bangkuai New Straits Times 31 Dec 11;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Huge wildfire shutters Chile national park

Paulina Abramovich AFP Yahoo News 31 Dec 11;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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World pays Ecuador not to extract oil from rainforest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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