Best of our wild blogs: 1 Nov 12

Wrapping up at the Northern Expedition Day 17
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

The magic waterholes
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Tide watcher
from The annotated budak

Special update: Good news from the Kenyir Wildlife Corridor
from Rimba

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PUB ready for rainy days ahead

Agency to step up monitoring of canals, improve drainage as flash floods struck yesterday
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 1 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE - As heavy rains yesterday afternoon triggered flash floods in several areas, national water agency PUB said it will step up monitoring of canals while replacing scupper holes to improve drainage in preparation for the coming rainy season.

Flash floods were reported at five locations yesterday - near the Alexandra Road exit of the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE), at Thomson Road towards Kampong Java after the junction of Moulmein Road, along Dunearn Road (junction of Kheam Hock Road), Dunearn Road (near Hillcrest Road), and the Cambridge Road and Tiong Bahru Road junction with Lower Delta Road. Traffic was not affected and the flash floods subsided in about 15 to 20 minutes, a PUB spokesperson said.

Along Balestier Road, interior designer Derrick Tan reported that one of the three road's lanes was impassable to traffic. "For 20 minutes, the water level just kept rising and cars couldn't drive in the extreme left lane," said the 31-year-old.

Over the next three months, PUB said short-duration moderate to heavy thundery showers and occasional gusty winds can be expected due to the start of the North-east monsoon. On average, there are 19 rainy days in November and December, and 15 rainy days in January.

In preparation for the monsoon, PUB has distributed flood advisories to almost 500 residential units and shop-houses in the low-lying areas of Singapore's central, western and eastern regions. Precautionary measures they could take to protect their belongings have also been issued.

A series of reinforcements will also be taken to minimise flash flooding during this period. To improve drainage, PUB will be replacing 6,000 scupper holes - semi-circular holes located on the side of roads - and drain inlets in flood-prone areas with modified drop inlet chambers to better channel storm water into drains.

Installation of the drop inlet chambers are expected to be completed in September next year.

Inspections at major construction work sites will also be stepped up to check for drainage obstructions and to ensure there will be no discharge of silt water.

To monitor surface drains and ensure smooth flow of water, CCTV cameras will be installed at 56 new locations by the end of the year.

Is this the start of the flash-floods season again?
Several areas hit yesterday; waters subsided within 20min, says PUB
Feng Zengkun And Goh Shi Ting Straits Times 1 Nov 12;

FLASH floods hit several parts of Singapore yesterday, even as government agencies geared up for heavy rain during the annual north-east monsoon season.

The first floods hit the Ayer Rajah Expressway after the Alexandra exit at around noon, according to Facebook updates from the national water agency PUB.

Other areas affected included Thomson, Dunearn, Cambridge and Tiong Bahru roads.

The PUB said that in all these areas, traffic was not affected and the flash floods subsided within about 15 to 20 minutes, but some motorists reported stalled cars at Novena and a traffic jam from there to Marymount.

The recent heavy showers may continue in the next few weeks as Singapore is in the inter-monsoon season, which normally lasts until late November, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

During the next few weeks, short and thundery showers are expected mainly in the afternoon, NEA said. After that, the north-east monsoon season is expected to begin, it said. This usually lasts till early March.

During the monsoon season, short and moderate to heavy rain is expected in the afternoon and evening, and about two to four "monsoon surges" are also expected in this period, said the PUB.

These surges refer to stronger winds blowing from the South China Sea, and usually lead to bouts of moderate to heavy rain here, lasting between two and five days.

The PUB said it has geared up efforts to alert residents about possible flash floods. It will install 56 more closed- circuit television (CCTV) cameras around the island by the end of the year, to monitor drains. It has already installed 66 CCTV cameras.

Images from some cameras in flood-prone areas such as Sixth Avenue in Bukit Timah and Orchard Road are available at the PUB website and are updated every five minutes.

The PUB has also distributed flood advisories to about 500 residential units and shophouses in low-lying areas in the central, western and eastern regions. These include details of high tides from this month until February next year. High tides increase the risk of flash floods.

The advisory has tips on installing flood barriers, for example, by using boards shored up with sandbags.

The PUB has also begun to inspect 100 major construction sites to check their drains and make sure they do not discharge silt, which could clog the drainage network. This is in addition to routine checks on each site every five to six months.

Flash flood updates are available via the PUB's social media channels on Facebook and Twitter.

People can go to managingflashfloods to sign up for heavy rain and flash-flood warning SMS alerts. To report incidents or to check the flood situation, call the PUB's 24-hour call centre on 1800-284- 6600.

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'Create virtuous cycle' to ensure sustainable palm oil

Alvin Foo Straits Times 1 Nov 12;

THE fast-rising demand for palm oil globally makes it crucial to address the environmental and social problems created in its production, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

A "virtuous cycle" of demand and supply involving producers, intermediaries and consumers must be created to ensure sustainable palm oil.

He was speaking at the 10th Annual Roundtable Meeting on Sustainable Palm Oil at Resorts World Sentosa.

Mr Tharman cited trade publication Oil World, which forecast that world demand for palm oil will be 40.4 billion kg in 2020, almost double the amount produced in 2001.

He said: "This rapid future growth makes it all the more important that we address the environmental and social problems created in the course of palm oil production."

The main issue relates to the potential role of palm oil plantations in deforestation, he said. The clearing of forests for land to grow palm oil has been the main source of deforestation in South-east Asia.

He said: "There is also a real risk that we will reach tipping points in forest conversion where critical biophysical functions are disrupted, leaving the region increasingly vulnerable to droughts, fires and floods."

Another major issue is haze pollution. The total number of hot spots recorded in Sumatra was 12,750 as of September, a little higher than that seen during the previous peak year of 2006.

Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, said: "We have to do more, through joint efforts by the public and the private sectors, to resolve this problem."

Eliminating palm oil production is not viable, he said. "It will simply divert the demand to alternative edible oil crops which are of lower yield, and likely cause more harm to the environment in the long run."

Instead, Mr Tharman called for the creation of a "virtuous cycle of consumers, intermediaries and producers across the value chain with an interest in ensuring sustainable palm oil".

He urged the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to intensify its work with buyers and consumers so that they better recognise the value of sustainable palm oil.

RSPO is a global not-for-profit body with more than 1,000 members from the industry, including producers, processors, manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors. It aims to develop and implement global standards for palm oil.

He said: "RSPO remains the most suitable platform for all stakeholders to work together to tackle the environmental and social challenges surrounding palm oil production."

He also highlighted the role of non-governmental organisations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in promoting sustainability. For instance, WWF uses satellite technology to help identify firms burning forests.

Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh said in his keynote address that Singapore has a stake in RSPO even though there are no palm oil plantations here. That is because the Republic is a major centre of oil trading, including vegetable oils trading, and will gain if all palm oil plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere meet the RSPO standards.

Palm oil plantation owners responsible for sustainable production: stakeholders
Thomas Cho, Dylan Loh Channel NewsAsia 31 Oct 12;

SINGAPORE: Changes to the European Food Information Regulations will mean labels have to identify the specific types of vegetable oils that have been used.

Businesses are already starting to implement the change, and it will be mandatory on all food products from 13 December 2014.

Palm oil growers should ensure that its products are cultivated in a socially responsible manner, as buyers are increasingly insisting that palm oil products come from sustainable sources.

This was the call made at a gathering of stakeholders across the palm oil sector in Singapore.

Some 800 delegates attended the 10th Annual Roundtable Meeting on Sustainable Palm Oil in Singapore to shift their business model towards sustainable palm oil production.

Palm oil is widely used in food and cleaning products, including confectionery, cosmetics and cleaning agents.

Global demand for palm oil has been on the increase due to the declining supplies of soybeans, grapeseed and sunflower seed.

Each hectare of palm oil plantation can, on average, produce four tonnes of oil more than any other crops.

But palm oil plantations can create environmental problems such as deforestation, which lead to carbon dioxide emission and pollution from haze.

As at September 2012, the total number of hotspots that are recorded in Sumatra stood at 12,750 - higher than the previous peak year of 2006, according to data released at an ASEAN conference in Bangkok held on 26 September.

Some plantation owners have raised concerns that converting to higher-cost sustainable palm oil production may hurt their profitability.

But there are others who remain committed.

Palm oil produced from sustainable methods trades at 20 ringgit, or US$7 more than ordinary crude palm oil.

Khairudin Hashim, group head of sustainability and quality management at Sime Darby Berhad said: "We have been practising sustainability since we were involved in the plantation industry. Looking into sustainability, you are providing a reasonable income to the growers, you are looking after the environment and naturally the profit will come."

There are 20 Singapore-based firms that are involved in palm oil trading activities.

Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore's deputy prime minister and finance minister said: "Our role is basically in the palm oil trade; we have the infrastructure and we (are located) next to the world's largest palm oil producers and that makes us a convenient venue, convenient base for the major resource companies and commodity trading companies."

Meanwhile, some planters have called for banks to help finance projects to promote sustainability.

"Singapore stakeholders like bankers, financiers and investors need to get involved," said Edi Suhardi, director of sustainability at PT Agro Harapan Lestari.

"They have to promote investments to the companies who are actually producing the CSPO (certified sustainable palm oil)."

Separately, environment ministers from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand agreed that plantation companies and land owners should be held responsible and accountable for much of the pollution from haze.

The ministers met in Bali, Indonesia on Wednesday.

They noted there are technologies that can improve hotspot monitoring.

They support the idea of forming a technical task force to develop a platform to monitor fires in the region.

They acknowledged that greater transparency is needed so that plantation companies and land owners responsible for the haze can be held accountable.

They noted the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre's expectation of more rain as the traditional dry season in the southern ASEAN region ends in mid-October, and that would lessen hotspot activities.

But the countries agreed to maintain vigilance and continue the sub-region's commitment to tackle land and forest fires, and minimise the spread of transboundary smoke.

Global exports of palm oil is projected to rise to 42.6 million tons this year, the highest in at least five years, according to WorldOil.

Despite the increase in supply, analysts say the demand for palm oil is unlikely to wane soon, given the wide variety of the crop's usage.

- CNA/xq

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