Best of our wild blogs: 15 Feb 12

Grey Heron - Night Fishing
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Beautiful Sungei Buloh
from wild shores of singapore

Cleaning up our shores, the whole year round!
from Nature rambles and ICCS and sgbeachbum

Chek Jawa, a trove of treasures
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Traditional food packaging
from Ubin.sgkopi

Matang: Romanticising the Mangroves

Read more!

Singapore agencies need to work together in flood fight

Coordinated response needed to execute plan, manage any conflicts
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 15 Feb 12;

LATE last month, national water agency PUB announced its battle plan to reduce floods in Singapore over the next five years. It will spend $750 million on 20 drainage projects, including the expansion of six major canals across the island. Also promised are smaller engineering fixes such as rooftop gardens to slow rain water and flood barriers to keep the water out.

Arguably, it is a complete management system to tackle floods at various points of the rain-water chain. But the devil is in the details. Independent engineers told The Straits Times that PUB may find the plan difficult to implement, raising other issues which should also be addressed.

The $750 million figure sounds impressive. But PUB is already spending about $150 million a year on drainage projects. This amounts to $750 million over five years. The canals run through built-up estates such as Rochor and Bukit Timah, and widening them in these crowded areas may be difficult.

Where possible, the expansions will take away space from future and existing roads, homes and businesses. The excavation works and expansions could lead to intrusions into private property, said Dr Ho Nyok Yong, president of the Singapore Contractors Association.

Associate Professor Tan Soon Keat, an Institution of Engineers fellow, said the capacity of the canals is likely to be reduced during the construction work, leading to a higher risk of floods. Widening the canals could also change the water's speed and how sediment is transported, affecting eco-systems in reservoirs.

Four of the canals for enlargement are upstream of the Marina Reservoir, magnifying the risk. Computer models should be used to predict the environmental impact of the work, said National University of Singapore Assistant Professor Vivien Chua. Whether the drainage projects would reduce floods or simply shift them from one place to another is another pertinent question.

Only sections of the canals in flood-prone areas will be enlarged. If sections farther downstream cannot handle more water from these expansions, the projects will only transfer the floods downstream. But PUB explained that its hydraulic checks ensure the problem will not be transferred farther downstream, and conditions will be no different than before.

PUB's other measures could also bring it into conflict with other agencies. It will work with developers to install features such as rooftop gardens to help slow and retain rain water during storms. These will be built into new and, if necessary, existing buildings.

But flood-prone areas such as Orchard Road and Bukit Timah are built-up and are unlikely to have many new developments. For the features to be effective, they will have to be compulsory and applied to existing buildings.

But other agencies may have their own plans for the rooftops of existing buildings. The Housing Board (HDB), for example, plans to install solar panels on rooftops in 30 precincts by 2014. Engineering fixes at the street level may also affect other services such as train systems and water, sewage and power utilities.

Associate Professor Susanto Teng of Nanyang Technological University's civil and environmental engineering school said changes in the soil pressure could affect the stability of MRT tunnels. 'When both MRT works and canal works happen at the same location, things can be tricky,' he said.

PUB said the expansion of canals near tunnel works will be led by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to better coordinate the projects.

Potential conflicts with other agencies is why a whole-of-government approach to flooding is necessary. Such an approach will address other issues such as pedestrian and traffic flow disruptions, urban planning and the effect of the projects on homes and businesses.

Such coordination is important as land use - on rooftops, at the street level and even underground - will become more competitive.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan has said an underground detention pond to relieve Stamford Canal and reduce floods in Orchard Road would have to be the size of two to three football fields. PUB is studying its feasibility and will announce its findings by May.

But last month, the Government said a masterplan was under way to map out possible uses of underground space across the country. The Singapore Geology Office, set up in 2010 to provide subterranean data for future underground planning, is yet to complete this work.

Currently, the land-use masterplan is reviewed every five years, while the drainage masterplan will be updated every three years, from next year. Engineers point out that the different timetables do not make sense as work on one level affects the others. Greater alignment between the agencies would also result in more efficient use of limited available land.

The Ministry of National Development (MND), for example, is considering plans to add more car spaces to ease shortages in older estates. Theoretically at least, MND can work with PUB so that the new spaces can absorb rain water.

In the United States and Brazil, the authorities have jointly redeveloped carparks with porous material instead of normal asphalt. This allows the carpark spaces to double as water retention areas during storms.

An inter-agency committee was formed in 2010 to tackle floods, comprising the PUB, HDB, Singapore Land Authority, LTA, Building and Construction Authority, National Parks Board and industrial landlord JTC Corp. But little has been heard from it since its recommendations last year for higher platform and crest levels for buildings.

Let it lead the way. Give it a deadline, task it with integrating the masterplans and solutions and put its findings up for public discussion. Explain the trade-offs between flood prevention and other goals clearly.

This will not only improve the plans, but also restore confidence in the flood situation being resolved - not just punted into another arena.

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Indonesia open to idea of coal-fired power plants on Batam for electricity sale to Singapore

'Open' to power plant idea
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 15 Feb 12;

JAKARTA: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he is 'open to the idea' of building coal-fired power plants in Batam to produce electricity for sale to Singapore.

His remarks were the first on the topic, which was mooted by Deputy Energy Minister Widjajono Partowidagdo in November.

The Batam power plant idea aims to reduce Indonesia's gas exports to Singapore, and divert the gas to local industries in Java instead.

The Indonesian government has two long-term contracts with Singapore's SembCorp Gas and Gas Supply to supply the city with gas from fields in South Sumatra and the Riau islands through undersea pipes until 2023.

'If that (the Batam power plant) would serve as a solution, we could proceed with it,' said Dr Yudhoyono during a press conference on Monday night. The plan is now being evaluated by the energy ministry.

The plan comes just as Singapore is planning to import electricity directly. Singapore now generates all of its electricity - 80 per cent of which relies on imports of natural gas from Indonesia and Malaysia. The other 20 per cent is generated from other sources such as fuel oil, diesel and waste incineration.

The plan to import electricity - likely starting in 2017 or 2018 - is part of a larger effort to increase and diversify Singapore's energy sources, which could include nuclear energy in the future.

Dr Kurtubi, director at the Centre for Petroleum and Energy Economic Studies, said the project, if approved by Dr Yudhoyono, would likely get the nod from Singapore to amend existing gas sale contracts.

'Indonesia can convince Singapore that this way, they will get a very long-term supply of electricity because Indonesia has abundant coal,' said Dr Kurtubi, who goes by only one name.

The best locations for the power plants are in Pemping and Kepala Jeri islands, where undersea electricity transmission cables to Singapore can be most economically built, said Mr Ahmad Hijazi, head of Batam's industry, trade and mineral resources department.

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Malaysian Flying foxes: Gliding towards the brink

Natalie Heng The Star 14 Feb 12;

Flying foxes face an uncertain future as their habitats shrink and they are shot down.

AT THE back of a traditional shophouse in Pasir Panjang, which lies along the trunk road between Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan, and Malacca, Ang Boon Choo, 62, shows me his gun. A long, sleek affair with smooth wooden handle and details engraved onto the metal, the shotgun looks substantial against the man’s aging frame, and out of place in his neat blue-tiled kitchen.

Pasir Panjang is small; the town is clustered around two rows of shophouses lining Jalan Besar – a brief stretch of habitation between tracts of jungle, and oil palm and rubber estates. There is a Chinese temple, a school, a small building which houses the Chung Hua Chinese School Old Students Association, and not a lot to do. Nevertheless, the area’s plentiful greenery harbours an assortment of wildlife. In the 1960s, Ang’s father passed his time hunting wild boars, green pigeons and flying foxes.

Ang, who runs a liquor store, was in his 30s when he took up the sport of hunting bats. One of the closest hunting spots was Linggi in Negri Sembilan, which he would travel to with a group of hunters by jeep.

“The bats would be hanging from the trees near Linggi River, hundreds of them,” he recalls.

The trick was to get there really early, and at dawn, position yourself at a strategic point along the bank where incoming bats could be shot as they returned from a night’s feasting. Or you could wait until dusk, when bats begin to leave the roost in small groups, flying elsewhere to feed on nectar and fruits.

“The years between 1989 and 1993 were good years. There were thousands of bats and we would catch 40 to 50 in just one day,” he recalls. “When you look up, the sky would be black with bats. You could stand there for a whole hour, and they would keep coming, thousands of them. Sometimes, we would sell the bats to restaurants to make back some of the money we spent on bullets (which cost 60 sen per shot back then). The restaurants in Mantin, Negeri Sembilan, or Jalan Cheng in Malacca would pay RM7 per bat, and then sell them for RM50.”

Some of Ang’s friends came to see the lucrative side of this.

“There was one year, sometime in the 1990s, when someone I knew made RM16,000 in nine months. He spent RM9,000 on bullets.”

Things have, however, somewhat changed since the 90s. Today, it is hard to imagine anyone single-handedly shooting over 2,000 bats in less than a year. You would be lucky to shoot any; bats are no longer a common sight in Linggi.

Hunting parties have to travel much further to find bats now. “Some of my friends go down to Kuala Rompin (roughly 260km away) in Pahang to hunt flying fox,” says Ang, who has a hunting permit for bats from the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan).

He thinks it is the growing pace of development in the area that has chased the bats away. “Lots of their roosting habitat has been converted into oil palm plantations, or developed into housing and such. Last October, we did see some bats, but instead of thousands, there were only a few hundred, and we only managed to shoot a few.”

Ang shot only four flying foxes, before giving up last season. “There were just too few, flying too high,”

Fewer numbers

Over the years, there has been evidence that shows a steady decline in the Peninsular Malaysian flying fox population. Perhilitan records show a drop in hunting licence applications. In 2005, 541 hunting licences were issued. The number dropped to 219 in 2008, rose to 369 in 2010 and then plummeted to 192 in 2011.

The Malayan flying fox (Pteropus Vampyrus), also known as the giant fruit bat, is listed as “near threatened” in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This means that the species is in significant decline and at risk from over-harvesting. The ranking, however, might not reflect the severity of the situation in Malaysia. Part of the reason for its listing as “near threatened”, as opposed to anything more severe, is its widespread distribution. The species is found across South-East Asia. And like Malaysia, where few people study the species, little research has been done in many countries within the bat’s habitat range.

Therefore, baseline population data is largely deficient.

Hunting of flying foxes is prohibited in Sarawak and Thailand but most of the other range countries either have no restrictions, or allow limited hunting. The current licensing system in Peninsular Malaysia, which has been in place since 1972, allows hunting year-round. Each permit is valid for three months and allows a bag limit of 50 heads, and hunters are required to keep a record of their take. There is no annual restriction on how many licences one can apply for.

Anyhow, most hunters are unbothered about the quota as often, no Perhilitan officer is around to check their take.

And the records do not reveal the actual number of bats killed during a hunt. Heng Aik Kin, 54, is one of Ang’s old hunting partners. Though he stopped practising the sport about 10 years ago, he remembers the damage a shotgun can inflict.

“When you shoot, many small pellets are released, injuring more than one bat. Aside from bats that you take down (within retrieval range), many others may be injured in flight, but land and die elsewhere.”

The upshot of this is that there is likely to be a significant amount of collateral damage. Some hunters shoot beyond the allowed hunting time of 5am to 7.30am and 7.30pm to midnight, using spotlights which blind the bats, not giving them a fair chance of escape. One particularly dirty tactic is to shoot one bat down, then torture it with a stick. The high-pitched screeches from the injured bat will attract other bats in the colony to fly low, bringing them within shooting range.

In 2009, renowned veterinarian epidemiologist Jonathan Epstein published a paper in the Journal of Ecology which pointed out that the Peninsular Malaysian flying fox population could face extinction due to current hunting policies. Drawing from the number of hunting licences issued by Perhilitan, his study estimated that an average of 22,000 flying foxes were killed annually. It also came up with a range of population estimates, the most optimistic of which was 500,000. Bats, unfortunately, tend to only give birth to one pup per year (the gestation period lasts for six months).

Epstein – who is a research scientist at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and part of an international team that identified bats as the natural wildlife reservoir for SARS coronavirus in China – calculated that for hunting to be sustainable in a population of 500,000, the maximum take would be around 16,000 annually. This means the rate at which our flying foxes are being killed exceeded the rate at which they can reproduce. To reiterate Epstein’s findings, published but seemingly ignored: the flying fox could go extinct in Peninsular Malaysia within the next six to 81 years.

The end of hunting?

Following the publication of Epstein’s study, many wildlife experts called for a temporary ban on hunting of flying foxes. Among them was Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia professor of small vertebrate ecology, Dr Zubaid Akbar Mukhtar Ahmad, who says a ban would at least provide a window of time for bat populations to recover, and give time for more behavioural and ecological research, which is sorely lacking for the species.

“The problem is, bats are not as charismatic as tigers. Research is expensive, plus working in the jungle at night is not every one’s cup of tea.”

Epstein’s study also prompted Perhilitan to state in 2009 that it will consider instituting a temporary hunting ban but it put the matter on hold pending amendments to the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972. (The new Wildlife Conservation Act was finally gazetted in 2010). The department had stated then that a ban on hunting might give rise to difficulties in controlling damage caused by the species during fruiting seasons.

Until press time, Perhilitan has yet to respond to questions by Star2 on whether a moratorium on bat hunting is being considered. Despite the grim outlook, there has been small successes in protecting the species, the most recent of which has been Terengganu Government’s directive to Perhilitan to stop issuing hunting permits for flying foxes.

Late last year, flying foxes reappeared en-masse around Bukit Kapah in Kuala Berang, Hulu Terengganu. The visit came after a three-year dry spell, according to Ong Kim Bian, 57, who says that it used to be common to see thousands around the area. The return, however, was also accompanied by the resonating sound of gun shots, as hunters arrived to take advantage of the rich pickings. This prompted environmentalists to highlight the issue of Malaysia’s declining bat population to the state government and on Jan 18, the state executive council decided to put a stop to the activity.

The last such decision was made in 1998, when Sarawak made it illegal to hunt, capture, sell, import or export bats, after acknowledging the important roles bats play not only as seed dispersers, but as tourist attractions.

Terengganu state chairman of industry, trade and environment Datuk Toh Chin Yaw, who had raised the issue at the state executive council, grew up in Kuala Terengganu, and remembers seeing flying foxes as a boy.

“They would be hanging from telephone lines. But I have recently been told these animals are facing great threats from hunting activities. We want to make sure that what wildlife we have left is preserved so future generations will be able to enjoy them too. We can only do what we can within the state of Terengganu, however.”

And even if bats were fully protected under Malaysian law, there is still the sticky matter of what happens across international borders. Flying foxes shift location according to where trees are fruiting and flowering, and also to search for new roosting areas, perhaps due to habitat loss or to escape persecution from hunting.

“Satellite telemetry shows these bats move across national borders and spend significant amounts of time not only in Malaysia but also Indonesia (Sumatra) and Thailand,” says Epstein in an e-mail interview.

Governments, therefore, need to come together if an effective regional management strategy is to be developed. Endeavours such as the Convention on Migratory Species have been effective at protecting migratory birds, and there is a co-ordinated effort currently being undertaken among European countries to have consistent trans-border bat management and conservation strategies, under Eurobats.

The first hurdle for P. vampyrus, however, remains to be the need for better baseline abundance data, in its range countries.

“Without proper studies, we won’t know what’s happening to local populations in each location, and bats may be vulnerable to the same major threats, hunting and habitat loss,” says Epstein who is also executive director of the Consortium for Conservation Medicine at EcoHealth Alliance, an international biodiversity conservation group.

“Hunting and habitat loss are very real threats to Old World fruit bats, including the Pteropus species. In many cultures, they are hunted for food, and there is very little data available on their abundance in the wild. One of the challenges is that they are slow to reproduce.

Thus mortality, especially with the female, has a significant impact on the ability for a population to persist.”

Canine look-alike bats
The Star 14 Feb 12;

WITH A wingspan of up to 1.6m, flying foxes are one of the largest bats in the world and aesthetically, they are among the animal kingdom’s most unique-looking creatures.

There are two species in Malaysia: the large flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus) and the island flying fox (Pteropus hypomelanus).

Covered in orange, red and brown fur, this dog-faced mammal when not in flight, spends much of its time hanging upside down from tree branches.

However, preventing it’s disappearance from the Malaysian peninsula isn’t just a matter of aesthetics. The bats are critically important pollinators and along with other fruit bats, are responsible for maintaining about 50% of the trees in our tropical forests.

Azlan Azad, a lecturer on conservation biology at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, notes that bats are one of the best seed dispersers in our forests.

He explains how bats provide an essential genetic link between patches of fragmented native vegetation: “Bats feed on nectar and pollen in flowers, and when they do this, the pollen grains get stuck to their fur. So when the bats travel, this pollen may be transported over very long distances, including across cleared land areas.”

Once the bats have landed at a new feeding site, this pollen becomes available for the fertilisation of ovules from flowers on a different plant. Studies have in fact shown that leaving forest patches around production forest increases the rate of reforestation.

“Compared to other pollinators like birds, bees, butterflies and other small mammals, bats travel the furthest. Durian, petai, jack fruit, and rambutan are just some of the trees that benefit from this. Unfortunately some orchard owners don’t see things that way.”

Hunting rules
Natalie Heng The Star 14 Feb 12;

Hunt for the challenge, not the numbers.

THOSE who enjoy the sport of hunting flying foxes insist that there is a difference between those who uphold the “gentleman hunter’s code” and those who hunt with the sole intention of bagging as many animals as possible. Following the hunter’s code is supposed to mean two things: affording your prey a fair chance of escaping, and avoiding practices which inflict unnecessary suffering.

Remi Yap Fui Lee, 63, is from Kuala Lumpur, but retired in Wakaf Tapai, Terengganu, so that he could enjoy a better quality of life and continue a lifelong hobby, recreational shooting. His pursuit of game has taken him on hunting expeditions across Peninsular Malaysia. An ex-national shooter (South-East Asian Games 1971 and 1981), he prides himself on being a gentleman about the sport. Yap says he was taught to adhere to etiquette by his mother Chou Sui Ying, also an ex-national shooter, and his father Yap Paw Thong, an ex-Olympic shooter.

Yap has a quaint selection of photographs, most in black and white, documenting how much hunting was a part of his life. One photograph shows him as a young boy, holding a bunch of green pigeons. In another, he and his mother posed with a dead seladang in Gua Musang, Kelantan. There is one rather shocking image of a dead elephant taken during a hunt in Sabah in the 1950s, when the practice was still legal, as well as a faded colour photograph of Yap as a young man in the 70s, with a sambar deer. At one point, his family had 10 guns, between him, his parents and his brother.

“One thing you should never do is shoot bats while they are roosting, feeding or nesting. Not only is this ungentlemanly, it’s not in anyone’s interest as this may cause them to clear the nest and never return,” says Yap, who has hunting permits for wild boar and flying fox.

If shooting bats at their roost is not in the hunter’s long-term interest, why do people still do it?

“Maybe it’s greed,” Yap suggests, alluding to the fact that some might be hunting for commerce, not leisure.

Yap remembers his very first hunt, at age nine, near Angkasapuri in Kuala Lumpur, where he caught two flying foxes. Today, that patch of habitat has been concreted over, and on it stands Mid Valley MegaMall in Kuala Lumpur, a testament to the additional pressures of development that the animal faces. When asked about his thoughts on how hunting adds to these pressures, his response is similar to most hunters’ – any decline in the number of bats is attributed to habitat destruction, not hunting.

Yap is staunch that hunters must follow the rules. A sharper than average shooter, his “take home ratio”, the number of bats which fall within a retrievable distance, is higher than most people’s – out of 25 bats shot, he takes home between 10 and 20. The average hunter, on the other hand, will probably only pick up two to five, so more bats will have to be shot.

The truth is ugly. As Jonathan Epstein’s study indicates, even if everyone was a gentleman, and shot like Yap, the figures stipulated by legal hunting in Peninsular Malaysia is most likely driving Pteropus vampyrus to extinction.

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Malaysia: Pulau Kukup wetlands in need of funding

Zazali Musa The Star 14 Feb 12;

PONTIAN: The Pulau Kukup National Park is a huge hit among both locals and foreigners with record of 36,184 visitors throughout last year.

The 640ha island which was gazetted as the Pulau Kukup National Park in March 1997 is the second largest non-populated mangrove jungle island in the world.

To date the park has attracted a total of 350,000 visitors since opening its doors.

Johor National Park Corporation director Suhairi Hashim said the island was unique as more than 30 species of mangroves, wild orchids, palms and ferns as well as birds could be found within their natural habitat.

He added that the island’s ecosystem was vital for researchers, scientists and mature lovers as it provided opportunities for them to conduct studies on the flora and fauna.

“The mangrove population on the island is the biggest in the world and they represented about 50% of the mangrove species in the world,” said Suhairi.

He said apart from enjoying the natural surroundings on the island, visitors could see the Karimun Archipelago in Indonesia on a clear day from the 30-metre Observation Tower.

He added that the mangrove ecosystem was important as it was the natural shelter area or the breeding ground for marine life such as crabs, prawns, fresh water fishes and molluscs.

Suhairi said in return, these marine life provided foods for animals such as long-tail macaques, wild boars and monitor lizards.

“It is important to conserve the mangrove area as it acted as a buffer to shield the mainland from strong winds and choppy waves as proven during 2004 tsunami,” he said.

Suhairi said the island was also the place where the country’s oldest bakau minyak tree or known as rhizora mucronata scientifically could be found.

The tree, located at the estuary of Sungai Jempol at the Pulau Kukup National Park is 58cm in diameter compared to a similar species in Larut Matang, Perak which is 55.5cm in diameter.

“However, the vegetation is in the risk of being washed away due to the rapid sand erosion taking place at the estuary,” he said.

Suhairi said presently, about six metres of the shore line where tree stood, was eroding monthly and based on the rate, in three months time, it would encroach into the tree’s base.

On such note, the corporation needed about RM300,000 to build a retaining wall or a raised concrete platform surrounding protect the century-old tree from being washed away.

Similarly, he said the corporation needed RM100,000 yearly for its mangrove planting activities and as of 2011, it had planted 10,000 mangrove trees on the island.

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Malaysia: Fire at Bukit Sungai Puteh forest reserve

New Straits Times 15 Feb 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: Five hectares of the Bukit Sungai Puteh forest reserve were razed in a fire which broke out yesterday morning.

Cheras Fire and Rescue Department chief Johari Mohd Lazim said the fire was put out more than five hours later.

"We took three and a half hours just to contain the fire in the Taman Supreme side earlier. Towards evening, there was a drizzle, so it made our job easier."

After setting up a temporary control centre nearby, firemen had to stretch their hoses through several living rooms and kitchens as the affected area was located behind a row of terrace houses at Taman Supreme and the Ketumbar Heights apartment here.

Johari said the fire spread quickly and they had to seek assistance from four other fire stations namely, Ampang, Sungai Besi, Hang Tuah and Pandan Indah.

"Volunteer teams from Bukit Bintang and Bangsar also helped in fighting the blaze. No casualties were reported and no homes damaged."

Selangor District Forestry officer Awang Shafie was also at the scene, taking photographs and assessing the damage caused to the environment.

"Mostly destroyed were shrubs and bushes, but we have yet to determine the exact effect of the fire."

Although the cause is still to be determined, a resident who refused to be identified, said it resulted from open burning by other residents who were burning dried leaves outside their compound.

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The Rising Danger of Urban Floods

Asia Sentinel 14 Feb 12;

World Bank says it will probably get worse

Several decades ago, Keyes Beech, an American journalist based in Bangkok, famously had the legs of his grand piano stuck into two sets of Wellington boots, so that when the water rose inevitably in his house, the rubber footwear protected his piano.

The water could well be above Beech’s boots today. He would be alarmed at the flooding that has made high water in Bangkok no longer a joking matter. Nor is it a joke in a long list of Asian cities, even including Singapore, which may have the best infrastructure in the entire Asian region. Nonetheless, water has regularly risen hip-deep on Orchard Road, the island nation’s upscale shopping district.

Just how much urban flooding has become a regular occurrence across the region has been detailed in a voluminous 638-page report by the World Bank released Monday and titled Cities and Flooding: a Guide to Integrated Urban Flood Risk Management for the 21st Century by Abhas K. Jha, Robin Bloch and Jessica Lamond. They describe the problem as a “global phenomenon which causes widespread devastation, economic damage and loss of human lives.”

Over the past 18 months, according to the report, disastrous flooding occurred along the Indus River Basin in Pakistan, in Queensland, Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, in Pakistan’s southern Sindh Province, large areas of Thailand including Bangkok, and other areas.

“The occurrence of floods is the most frequent among all natural disasters,” the authors write. . “In the past 20 years in particular, the number of reported flood events has been increasing significantly. The numbers of people affected by floods and financial, economic and insured damages have all increased too. In 2010 alone, 178 million people were affected by floods. The total losses in exceptional years such as 1998 and 2010 exceeded $40 billion.”

The problem is that as Asia was settled – along with the rest of the world, of course – the settlers selected the mouths of rivers for the locations of their principal cities because of the ease of water transport. As climate has changed and as increased urbanization has packed these areas with people, disastrous floods are becoming a way of life.

“Urbanization, as the defining feature of the world’s demographic growth, is implicated in and compounds flood risk, the authors write. “In 2008, for the first time in human history, half of the world’s population lived in urban areas, with two-thirds of this in low-income and middle-income nations.”

By 2050, as many as 6.2 billion people, 70 percent of the world population, are expected to live in cities. As that happens, urban floods will account for an increasing part of total impact. It is also becoming more dangerous and costly to manage because of the sheer size of the population. By 2030, according to the report, the world will include 75 conurbations of 5 million inhabitants or more.

The poor tend to congregate in the lowest-lying areas, a fact brought home on a horrifying scale in December, when flash floods hit the Mindanao city of Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines, drowning at least 1,400 people. But Cagayan de Oro was hardly alone, The World Bank, which is working with the Philippine government to attempt to create a master water management plan, estimates that 85 percent of the people in the country, which is hit by at least 20 typhoons a year, are subject to flooding.

The country had an eye-opener in 2009, when two tropical storms settled successively over Manila, affecting 9.3 million of Manila’s 14 million people and killing nearly 1,000. Total damage and losses, aggravated by poor urban planning, clogged waterways and street drainage reached more than US$4 billion. For weeks after the floods, a paralyzed government could do little more than hand out food supplies to people whose homes remained underwater.

While the Philippines was suffering from these deluges, the grandfather of all floods hit Thailand in the autumn of 2011, affecting more than 4.4 million people in 63 of Thailand’s 765 provinces, killing 800 people and inundating a major part of the country’s industrial plant under two meters of water and doing untold billions of dollars worth of damage.

“There are real functional differences between urban and rural flooding,” the authors say. “While rural flooding may affect much larger areas of land and hit poorer sections of the population, urban floods are more costly and difficult to manage. The impacts of urban floods are also distinctive given the traditionally higher concentration of population and assets in the urban environment.”

“Climate change is the other large-scale global trend perceived to have a significant impact on flood risk,” the authors write. “The alterations in meteorological patterns which are associated with a warmer climate are potentially drivers of increased flooding, with its associated direct and indirect impacts.”

That has meant rising sea levels, changing local rainfall patterns, fluctuating frequency and duration of droughts, which leads to groundwater extraction – a major problem for both Bangkok and Jakarta, whose groundwater drawdowns have caused both cities to sink. In Jakarta, according to the report, land subsidence due to groundwater extraction and compaction currently has effects on the relative ground and seawater levels 10 times greater than the anticipated impact of sea level rise.

Policymakers, the authors write, first need to understand the hazard that can affect the urban environment, which requires better comprehension of the types and causes of flooding, their probabilities of occurrence, and their expression in terms of extent, duration, depth and velocity. The study calls for improved flood forecasting, to provide people exposed to risk with advanced notice in an effort to save lives and property.

“For the projection of future flood risk, there are even greater sources of uncertainty. The assumption usually made is that future flood patterns will be a continuation of the past because they are generated from the same cyclical processes of climate, terrain, geology, and other factors,” the authors note. “Where this assumption holds true, a system is said to be stationary, which makes the future predictable from the past. If this assumption is not true, the future becomes much more uncertain.”

Defending against future floods will “require more robust approaches to flood management that can cope with larger uncertainty or be adaptive to a wider range of futures, the authors say.

Structural measures range from hard-engineered structures such as flood defenses and drainage channels to more natural and sustainable complementary or alternative measures such as wetlands and natural buffers.

The redirection of water flows also frequently has environmental impact. In some circumstances this is acceptable and appropriate, while in others it may not be. In all cases a residual flood risk remains. The redirection of flows away from Bangkok caused considerable political problems from the less fortunate rural residents whose properties were inundated, for instance.

Non-structural measures can be categorized under four main purposes, the authors write:

• Emergency planning and management including warning and evacuation as, for example, in local flood warning systems in the Philippines and in the Lai Nullah Basin, Pakistan.

• Increased preparedness via awareness campaigns as demonstrated in Mozambique and Afghanistan. Preparedness includes flood risk reducing urban management procedures such as keeping drains clear through better waste management.

• Flood avoidance via land use planning, speeding up recovery and using recovery to increase resilience by improving building design and construction – so-called “building back better.”

What appears impossible, however, is moving people out of the flood plains. Across the world, billions of people have moved into the path of moving water. It appears inevitable that they will stay there, and that, as in Cagayan de Oro, many of them will drown.

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