90-year-old durian tree crushes Ubin kampung house

Two bedrooms in the three-bedroom house were wrecked, but the outdoor kitchen and generator were unaffected
Rennie Whang, Syahirah Anwar The New Paper 15 Dec 12;

SINGAPORE - The house was so special that it was featured in the National Parks Board's walking trail guide to the island.

Taxi driver Azman, 47, said he would take tourists inside if its owner was around.

"I'd say, this is what a kampung house is all about," he said.

But two weeks ago, the 40-year-old Pulau Ubin house was almost completely destroyed as a durian tree, estimated to be 90 years old by residents, fell on it.

Two bedrooms in the three-bedroom house were wrecked, but the outdoor kitchen and generator were unaffected.

Nobody was in at the time, as owner Madam Puasa Ahmad, 78, has mostly stayed on the mainland with a son since her husband died four years ago.

More comfortable

The couple have six children in their 40s and 50s. Up till the Nov 30 incident, said Madam Puasa, she has been visiting once a week, usually alone, to clean the house - which was built by her husband.

"Sometimes I think of the place. It's more comfortable living at the village. You don't have to worry about bills," she said.

"It's old, but holds memories."

Madam Puasa was informed of the accident by her brother-in-law, Mr Ahmad Kassim, 78, whose 50-year-old house overlooks hers.

He said he was praying when he heard a crash at around 6pm.

He went outdoors only to see the house in ruins.

"We're all very sad. There's nothing we can do about it," he said, adding the house was not insured.

Mr Ahmad Kassim said it was the third time he has seen a tree damage a house in all his years on the island. His kitchen was destroyed in 1977, when large branches of another durian tree fell.

He was sleeping in his bedroom at the time.

With the help of other people in the kampung, repair works took just three weeks.

"It's not like now, there are not so many people. If the kampung people were still around, we could each take an axe to the tree and it'd be gone," he said.

The house is on state land and the family is waiting for the tree to be removed by the authorities.

A spokesman for the Singapore Land Authority would only say that it is "aware of the fallen tree and will be removing it."

She continued: "We understand that the tree fell after a heavy storm."

An arborist at DP Green, Mr Edwin Lim, 30, said the stability of the tree trunk could also have been weakened by insects, like borers.

"(The possible decay and presence of borers) and the heavy (winds)... resulting from the current monsoon season are likely the causes of (trunk) failure," he said.

Mr Lim added that unless the trunk showed signs of fungal structures or obvious borer holes, it would be difficult to tell when there will be trunk failure.

Mr Tan Kim Teik, 49, a senior engineer at DPC Consulting Engineers, said rebuilding would most likely involve demolishing the existing foundation.

"Old houses usually don't have good foundations and verification needs to be done if this has eroded."

Framed by coconut trees, the house once made for a pretty picture, said Mr Azman.

Now, it just invites questions as people stop by Mr Ahmad Kassim's to ask what happened.

"A lot of people knew this house," said Mr Ahmad Kassim.

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Best of our wild blogs: 15 Dec 12

Return to the Lost Coast
from wild shores of singapore

The Calls of the Collared Scops Owl
from Bird Ecology Study Group

The Man behind Syzygium ngadimanianum
from Flying Fish Friends

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Scientists identify pesky midges

Two different species plaguing Bedok and Pandan reservoirs, but reason for outbreaks still not known
Grace Chua Straits Times 15 Dec 12;

THE researchers studying Bedok Reservoir's midge nuisance have solved a pesky ecological whodunnit.

They now know that two different non-biting species of the tiny insects are the ones responsible for the swarms that have plagued residents around Bedok and Pandan reservoirs for the past couple of years.

But they have not yet worked out the how or why, or how to prevent future outbreaks.

"The first thing you have to know is who's causing the problem, then you can start addressing the issue," said National University of Singapore biologist Rudolf Meier, who is leading a study of the midge problem. The three-year project is part-way through its first year.

The culprit at Pandan is one called Polypedilum nubifer, a common nuisance species that dominates ecosystems almost everywhere it is found.

But at Bedok, the culprit is a fly called Tanytarsus oscillans, a minuscule green species. It has previously been found in Sumatra, India and Japan - but is not known to cause problems anywhere else in the world, said Professor Peter Cranston, the Australia-based midge expert helping with the study.

Identifying the midges is not as simple as looking at stripes or spots, researchers said. It involves staring at the insect's rear end and mouth parts under a microscope to work out whether they really are different from other species.

Prof Cranston said of the Bedok issue: "We don't know what the environmental trigger is yet."

These midges live in the reservoir year-round, but their numbers explode only at the end and beginning of the year. Elsewhere, triggers for a midge swarm can be natural, such as water that goes from flowing to still. Or they can be man-made. For instance, nutrients flow into waterways from deforestation, construction or changing agricultural practices, Prof Cranston said.

But water agency PUB said the water quality in Bedok Reservoir, which is more than 25 years old, is the same as it was before the midge swarms started last year.

Seven ponds in the area collect rainwater from Bedok, Tampines and Tanah Merah, and flow into the reservoir.

Another explanation is that the small fish that feed on midge larvae might have been eaten by larger non-native fish that live in the reservoir.

At Pandan Reservoir, plant roots that dangle from floating wetlands provide a place for these small fish to hide, said PUB biologist Michelle Sim.

Now, the research team breeds midges in the lab and collects data on environmental variables like temperature and water quality to work out possible causes.

Three times a week, the PUB also counts the overall number of midge larvae (of all species) in the water; if it gets above a threshold number, it knows a swarm of adult midges is about to occur.

At Bedok, general preventive measures such as fogging larvicides and scrubbing algae off rocks where midges might lay their eggs are used, and these target all midge species, said Mr Goh Chong Hoon, a deputy director of catchment and waterways at PUB.

In the past few months, there have been only isolated complaints, he said. And he said that currently, there are no warning signs yet of another midge outbreak. "So far, we've been able to keep the numbers low."

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Singapore's record on water and built environment provides a lesson for Asia

The tiny island nation proves that good environmental policies – and public-private partnerships – are also good for business
Kishore Mahbubani Guardian Professional 14 Dec 12;

In Southeast Asia, there is an island called Sumatra. On Sumatra there is an extinct volcano. On that extinct volcano, there is a small lake, Lake Toba. In the middle of Lake Toba, there is a tiny island. This tiny island in a volcanic lake is, however, the same size as Singapore.

David Bellamy, the famous British environmentalist, has said that tiny Singapore has more tree species than the continental 48 states of the US. Amitav Ghosh, a famous Indian novelist, echoed this observation: "What is remarkable about Singapore is, despite all the buildings and developments, it remains so green."

This is not a result of accident or good fortune. It is the result of a comprehensive matrix of environmental policies that reinforce each other, providing a model of environmental management that is worth studying in detail.

The world also needs to study it urgently. In 2008, for the first time in human history, more people lived in cities than in rural areas. Urbanisation is accelerating. By 2050, it is estimated that nearly 70% of the world will be urban residents. Of the 25 most densely populated cities in the world, 17 are in Asia, and by 2025, 21 of the world's 37 megacities will be in Asia.

Sadly, few of these cities are managing their environments well. The lessons from Singapore are clearly relevant to Asian megacities. Ghosh says: "A lot of people I interviewed [in 1997] told me, 30 years ago, Singapore was just like Calcutta or Karachi. The transformation of this city in such a short time is a truly stunning thing."

Just look at the water dimension. Projections from the 2030 Water Resources Group suggest that the global gap between water demand and supply could be as large as 40% by 2030.

While the world is running out water, Singapore – which is one of the most densely populated countries in the world – is moving towards water self-sufficiency. Good public policies – including those that preserve water catchment areas, and develop advanced desalination plants as well as plants that utilise modern membrane technology – have led to this success story. This is why the Singapore Public Utilities Board (PUB) won the Stockholm Industry Water Award in 2007.
Private sector dynamism meets public needs

Significantly, many of these projects are provided through public-private partnerships between the PUB and private Singaporean companies, such as Keppel Engineering and SingSpring. The dynamism and innovation of the private sector has been harnessed to help meet public needs.

Singapore's success in environmental management is also influencing its neighbors in Southeast Asia. Kuala Lumpur also began a greening program after watching Singapore's success. The late distinguished former Indonesian foreign minister, Ali Alatas, once told me privately that Jakarta's urban planners used to despair about improving their city. However, after studying how Singapore went from third world to first world in one lifetime, they began to believe that they too could succeed.

And there are other remarkable Southeast Asian success stories. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and has experienced the worst genocide of recent times. Yet its capital city, Phnom Penh, has a water authority that expanded the city's water output by 600% in just 10 years. It also manages its water supply better than most British water authorities.

Given Singapore's environmental track record, it is appropriate that it plays host to two global, and increasingly influential, conferences that bring together major stakeholders from the public, private and non-profit sectors: the biennial Singapore International Water Week and World Cities Summit. These two conferences signify the international community's recognition that Singapore's successes in managing the scarcity of space and resources will help many other cities which will experience similar challenges in coming decades, if they are not already experiencing them now.
Eco-city for the future

Singapore is also sharing its experience directly with other cities. The Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city, due for completion in 2020, is one such example. Together, the Singapore and Chinese governments are trying to build a sustainable city for the future, which will serve as a laboratory for the green technologies and public policies that we will need in the 21st century and beyond. Already, more than 600 companies have moved to the Tianjin Eco-city and 4,000 homes have been purchased.

Singapore has also discovered that good environmental policies are good for business. As a result, Singapore is rapidly becoming a hub for the development and manufacturing of sustainable energy sources. Large international firms that specialise in renewable energy – such as Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems and Norway's Renewable Energy Corporation (REC) – have set up shop here. The Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS) is home to 160 leading researchers from across the globe, thanks in large part to a S$130m (£66.1m) government grant, and it collaborates directly with multinational solar companies such as Trina Solar and REC in research and development, as well as personnel training.

These industries are becoming increasingly important to Singapore's economy: by 2015, the cleantech sector is expected to contribute S$3.4bn (£1.7bn) to Singapore's GDP and employ 18,000 people.

In a world that is devoid of good news on the environmental front, Singapore's success provides a lot of hope to many. There is one critical statistic that explains the metaphysical significance of Singapore's success. If the world's seven billion people were to live in a single city as densely populated as Singapore, the entire world would only need an area the combined size of Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana to live in.

Kishore Mahbubani is dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, and author of the forthcoming book The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World.

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Reservoirs can make local flooding worse, says study

Matt McGrath BBC News 14 Dec 12;

Researchers say that large man-made reservoirs can increase the intensity of rainfall and could affect flood defences.

The scientists found that rain patterns around bodies of water in Chile were much higher than in similar areas without them.

This "lake effect" could overwhelm flood defences which are often built without taking it into account.

The study has been accepted for publication in the journal Hydrology.

Stormy edge

Previous research in this field has focused on the impact of dams on local climates. There is evidence that standing bodies like reservoirs and lakes can alter rain patterns by increasing the amount of water that evaporates.

Some experts believe that you also get circulating air patterns in the atmosphere above the boundary between the water and the land and this can initiate thunderstorms and showers.

The impact can be significant. One study showed that extreme precipitation increased by 4% per year after dams were built.

In this latest work, researchers from the University of Talca, Chile, examined data from 50 rain gauges near reservoirs in different parts of the country.

Chile has a large variety of climates ranging from areas that get 0mm of annual rainfall to places that get more that 4,500mm. The scientists found that the most intense rainfall was measured at weather stations located near water bodies, especially in drier climates.

One of the authors, Dr Pablo Garcia-Chevesich from the University of Arizona told BBC News that the work had important implications for flood defences.

"If you install a water reservoir that will change things totally and that will lead to flooding," he said.

"Engineers get fired when there's flooding because they didn't do a good design, but in reality they did good work but someone else installed a water reservoir and the climate changed."

"The bigger the water body, the greater the effect."

Dr Garcia-Chevesich said this area of research was controversial because changing the design of flood defences was very expensive.
Dam boosters

Other scientists took a more measured view of the study.

Dr Faisal Hossain, from Tennessee Technological University, said the Chilean study was purely observational and that while the lake effect changed rainfall patterns, the jury was still out on whether it increased or decreased the amounts.

However, he said that he was hoping to bring the research to the attention of dam builders around the world.

"We have modified the weather patterns in such a way that we didn't anticipate before building these reservoirs, and yes in the global context it might have serious ramifications," he said.

Prof Richard Harding from the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) said several studies had now pointed to the impact of reservoirs particularly in dry areas.

"The physics says that it will happen, but I'm struggling a little to know how big an impact it is, and quite whether it is strong enough to change the design of flood defences," he said.

Dr Harding suggested that the new study might provide ammunition for those who oppose the building of large-scale new reservoirs.

The authors argue that they want engineers and designers to take this new work into account in planning new flood barriers.

"In the US, they are very rigorous about taking climate change into account when talking about storm water management design," said Dr Garcia-Chevesich, "but this is new and should be taken into account too."

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