Best of our wild blogs: 18 Mar 13

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [11 - 17 Mar 2013]
from Green Business Times

Sightings of Indo-pacific hump-backed dolphins
from Psychedelic Nature

Come join us at Pasir Ris Park Mangrove this March Holidays
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs and wild shores of singapore

We Are Back!
from Pulau Ubin Tour with Justin

Black-naped Oriole Collects Nesting Material from Epipremnum pinnatum from Bird Ecology Study Group

Low tide reveals trash in the Northeast
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Award-Winning School Video!
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Health and Wellness through Nature
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Facing extinction, conservationists call emergency summit to save Sumatran rhinos from news by Rhett Butler

Bighead Carp
from Monday Morgue

Read more!

Animal migration: Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research's move to the new premises

Straits Times 18 Mar 13;

Preparation work has begun on Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research's move to the new, $46 million purpose-built Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. Even though it will be ready only in the second half of next year, curators (from left) Chua Keng Soon, Lua Hui Kheng, Kelvin Lim and Tan Siong Kiat have been busy getting the 500,000 specimens ready for the migration.

Visitors have until the end of this month to visit the Raffles Museum's public gallery at the National University of Singapore.

Animal specimens prepped for move
Curators at NUS museum will pack up collection after it closes on March 31
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 18 Mar 13;

ITS new home will not be ready until later next year, but the 500,000 specimens at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research are already being prepped by their guardians for the big move.

The museum's public gallery, which opened in 2001, will welcome its last visitors on March 31 before curators get down to some serious packing.

Work actually started on preparing for the move as early as last year, after the National University of Singapore (NUS) managed to raise $46 million from private and public donors for a purpose-built museum that will house one of the largest collections of South-east Asian animals in the region.

"This building is 25 years old. The collection has expanded a lot since," said Mr Kelvin Lim, curator of invertebrates. He has been with the museum, at the Department of Biological Sciences, since 1991.

The four curators will now busy themselves with cleaning the specimens, taking inventories and chasing researchers and students to return specimens they have taken out on loan.

They have accepted that not all that went out will be able to make their way home.

"If people don't return them, there's not much you can do," said Mr Lim. "Some researchers die too."

But the highly valuable century-old specimens inherited from the British - as well as extinct and endangered animals - stay in the custody of the museum.

Even curators like Ms Lua Hui Kheng, who has been tending to this collection since the 1970s, thinks twice about handling them sometimes.

"If you're not in the mood, don't do it," said the mollusc and insect expert.

Many of the mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, crustaceans and other invertebrates in the collection are seasoned "travellers".

Some originated from the Raffles Museum, founded in 1849, which later became the National Museum.

When the latter decided not to focus on natural history, the collection was given to the Singapore Science Centre in 1970 and then to the former University of Singapore.

It has moved from five World War II huts where the National University Hospital now stands, to the university's Bukit Timah campus, to then Nanyang University's library building, and finally to its current home at NUS.

The caretakers are glad that the collection will be going to a bigger, better home - the 7,500 sq m Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, named after the philanthropist because of a sizeable donation from the Lee Foundation, on the NUS campus.

But while the new museum will have about 10 times more gallery space than the current one, that is hardly good news for the curators.

"You actually don't want the specimens to be shown, because you're scared they will deteriorate," said Ms Lua.

Related links
Last chance to see the Raffles Museum Public Gallery on the wild shores of singapore blog

Read more!

Experts say Singapore needs higher water tariffs

Today Online 18 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE — Water tariffs may not be raised this year, but two experts in the field of water management are urging that the Republic looks at doing so — by at least 30 per cent — and soon.

Professor Asit Biswas and Dr Cecilia Tortajada note that Singaporeans are high consumers of water, at 152 litres per person per day, while water tariffs have not increased since 2000 — even as household incomes have gone up 61 per cent.

“Singapore’s goal to reduce domestic consumption to 140 litres per person per day by 2030 is not ambitious enough. To proceed further down the road to self-sufficiency by 2061 (when the Johor water agreements expire), Singapore needs to reduce consumption through proper pricing,” said the authors of The Singapore Water Story in an interview with TODAY.

They noted that several European cities are aiming by 2015 to cut water consumption per capita to 100 litres a day, and Singapore needed to look at innovative pricing models to encourage water conservation.

Prof Biswas, who was awarded the water sector’s version of the Nobel Prize in 2006, said the increase should be “at least 30 per cent”, noting that water tariffs make a less-than-1 per cent dent in household incomes.

But Dr Tortajada — President of the Third World Centre for Water Management in Mexico, founded by Prof Biswas — acknowledged the political difficulty of raising water tariffs when the cost of living is rising.

“The problem is that the longer you put it off, politically it will be more difficult to increase prices, having allowed it to go down in real terms for 13 years.”

Last week, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said water prices would not be raised this year. But he stressed that water needs to be “correctly priced to reflect its scarcity value”, while facilitating various long-term investments in the sector.

Marking Singapore World Water Day on Saturday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Singaporeans to work together to conserve water, even as the Government does its part. “We have made it a national priority to provide reliable and clean water. We must continue to conserve every drop of water and take care of our rivers and reservoirs,” he wrote on Facebook.

The Singapore Water Story, scheduled to be launched on Friday and co-authored by Yugal Joshi, details the Republic’s quest for water self-sufficiency over the last 45 years and more.

Read more!

Malaysia: Uproar over macaque culling

R.S.N. Murali The Star 18 Mar 13;

MALACCA: The culling of almost 100,000 long-tailed macaques last year by the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) has turned into a controversy, with the decision being challenged here.

Kota Melaka MCA complaint bureau deputy chief Dr Yee Kok Wah said he found out that Johor topped the list with 20,600 of the primates culled, followed by Selangor (18,800), Perak (16,000), Kedah (13,000), Pahang (8,100) and Negri Sembilan (8,000).

The total number culled last year was 97,200, up from 87,900 in 2011.

“The primates should not have been exterminated as they were not diseased.

“We need to create a colony for them so that the monkeys can be relocated.

“We have a moral responsibility to look after the primates.

“They will not pose a danger to humans if they are relocated to the jungle,'' he told The Star.

Dr Yee said Kyoto University's Juichi Yamagiwa, who is president of the International Primatological Society, had found that the transmission of virus between humans and macaques was very rare.

“As such, the mass culling of macaques here should be stopped.

“The primates are being driven to extinction,'' he added.

Dr Yee said there was a report saying that captured wild macaques from Malaysia had ended up on dinner plates in China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, or in research laboratories.

Long-tailed macaques are native to Malaysia and considered opportunistic feeders, and can adapt well to the urban environment.

A Perhilitan official, when contacted, explained that the primates were exterminated through an internationally accepted culling method to control “a population that far exceeded the proportionate capacity of its habitat”.

He said the culling, conducted by trained game rangers, was carried out where human-macaque conflicts were most serious.

He denied that the macaques were killed by deliberate drowning as alleged by some quarters, adding that standard operating procedures were adhered to.

There’s no need to cull macaques, says expert
The Star 19 Mar 13;

PETALING JAYA: Culling is not the answer to resolving human-macaque conflicts in Malaysia, said an expert.

Wildlife veterinarian Dr Sharmini Paramasivam said humans had invaded the monkeys’ habitat.

“Studies have shown that effective waste management and sterilisation reduces the size of the population.”

The wildlife veterinarian said it was unfair to blame monkeys for going into housing areas and rummaging through rubbish bins.

“We should first look at how residential areas are being planned.”

The Star reported yesterday that almost 100,000 long-tailed macaques had been culled last year by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan).

A Perhilitan official had explained that the primates were exterminated through an internationally-accepted culling method to control their population, which “far exceeded the proportionate capacity of its habitat”. He said culling had been carried out where human-macaque conflicts were most serious.

Dr Sharmini was involved in running a macaque conflict management project in Indonesia and has worked with the monkeys for a few years.

She said conflict management included studying the macaque population and their behavioural patterns, as well as conducting education programmes for those living in conflict areas.

“Malaysia should set an example on the best way to deal with wildlife conflict. Understanding the cause of the conflict is key in successful conflict management,” she stressed.

Read more!

Malaysia: Sea turtles returning to Setiu

Satiman Jamin New Straits Times 18 Mar 13;

A TOURIST DRAW: 201 landings at Penarik and Telaga Papan beaches last year

SETIU: TURTLE landings at the Penarik and Telaga Papan beaches here have been increasing over the years and they have the potential to become major tourist attractions as industry players come up with a multitude of ecotourism products.

Although the 201 turtle landings on the beaches here last year were not much compared with those recorded at the Rantau Abang beach in Dungun in the 1970s, they are significant as the turtles have made a comeback to areas with heavy human presence.

Setiu Fisheries Department officer Rosli Abdul Rahman said turtles had returned to lay eggs at the Penarik beach although street lighting had been installed at the area a few years ago.

He said turtles would normally be jittery when there were human presence and would shun areas with bright lights.

Rosli added that in the first few years after the street lighting was installed, turtles had stopped coming to the beach.

"However, after about five years, the turtles have returned despite the bright lights at the pedestrian walkway there.

"Maybe, they have gotten used to the lights and human presence."

Rosli was speaking after the opening of a turtles' mini gallery by World Wildlife Fund Malaysia and Hijau Group at Penarik Inn Beach Chalet here yesterday.

The gallery was an initiative by Penarik Inn, with the support and technical assistance from WWF, and will serve as an information centre about sea turtles and painted terrapins (Batagur affinis) to visitors.

Terengganu Fisheries Department director Abdul Khalil Abdul Karim lauded Penarik Inn's initiative to set up the gallery as an example of a forward-looking ecotourism product.

He added that besides attracting tourists, it could help educate the public about turtle conservation.

"The state government had allocated RM500,000 a year for turtle conservation efforts in Terengganu and private initiatives like this can boost public awareness of the endangered species, which are part of our natural heritage."

In a press release for the gallery's opening, WWF-Malaysia chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said community involvement was the key to success in championing the survival of endangered species.

He said the project to create an information centre on sea turtles and painted terrapins in Setiu was started in August last year.

He added that 90 per cent of the gallery's designs used recycled materials and were developed in collaboration with four arts and design students from Universiti Teknologi Mara.

Read more: Turtles returning to Setiu - General - New Straits Times

Read more!

Malaysia: Experts trying to find answers to mysterious elephant deaths

Ruben Sario The Star 18 Mar 13;

KOTA KINABALU: The mystery surrounding the deaths of 14 Bornean pygmy elephants at a forest reserve in January continues to unravel with wildlife experts leaving no stone unturned in investigations.

Researchers are examining two surviving elephants to get to the bottom of the 14 fatalities.

The surviving herd, an adult female and juvenile female elephant, were found at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve where the 14 carcasses were found over several days in late January.

State Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) veterinarian Dr Diana Ramirez said blood samples were collected from the two elephants on Feb 25 as directed by the Wildlife Enforcement Task Force.

The adult female, named Dara by WRU rangers, was fitted with a satellite collar by the Danau Girang Field Centre, she added.

Centre director Dr Benoit Goosens said the move would help researchers track the movement of the herd within the changing landscape of the Gunung Rara-Kalabakan region.

“This can help us understand what could have happened to the 14 elephants that died,'' he added.

He said the centre, a collaboration between the Sabah Wildlife Department and Cardiff University, was working with WWF-Malaysia to fit the collars on 20 to 30 elephants from several herds in central Sabah.

“We will monitor their movement and ranging patterns to identify the best areas for conservation and propose the establishment of elephant corridors,” Goosens said.

As for Dara, he said the satellite tracking showed that the pachyderm continued to move about within the Gunung Rara area.

Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said state authorities were determined to resolve the deaths of the elephants.

Dara's collaring was funded by grants from the Asian Elephant Foundation, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Read more!

New restrictions bite Hong Kong shark fin traders

Beh Lih Yi (AFP) Google News 17 Mar 13;

HONG KONG — A conservation victory restricting global trade in more shark species will take a fresh bite at Hong Kong's market in fins, which has already been hit hard by persistent attacks from anti-fin campaigners.

Defiant fin merchants insisted the impact of the restrictions would be minimal as they would continue to import other species not covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreement.

And a local anti-fin lobby group warned the measures, which aim to protect the oceanic whitetip shark, the porbeagle and three types of hammerhead, would be hard to enforce.

But traders in the southern Chinese city, one of the world's biggest markets for shark fins, which are used to make an expensive gelatinous soup, have already suffered from successful environmental campaigning.

New figures show shark fin imports dropped off dramatically last year to 3,351 tonnes from 10,340 tonnes in 2011, after some prominent Hong Kong hotels and restaurants struck it from their menus.

Hong Kong has traditionally handled around half of all global trade, exporting most fins to mainland China where they are considered a rare delicacy.

On "Dried Seafood Street", a pungent thoroughfare at the centre of the city's shark fin trade, dozens of shops show off their goods, from lower-quality fins wrapped in plastic to the premium variety displayed behind glass that fetch up to HK$10,000 ($1,300) per kilogram (two pounds).

"More and more young people think having shark fin soup is cruel," trader Frederick Yu said.

"For Chinese, the only two delicacies we have are abalone and shark fins. The Westerners eat caviar and foie gras, is that not cruel? Why do they stop us from eating shark fins?"

But Yu, who has been in the business for over 10 years, said he supported the sustainability of shark populations, adding that environmentalists were unfair to target traders.

Despite opposition from China and Japan, the 178-member CITES conference in Bangkok approved a deal that requires countries to issue export permits to ensure the sustainability of the sharks in the wild, otherwise they could face sanctions.

But Ho Siu-chai, the chairman of the Hong Kong Shark Fin Trade Merchants Association said the restrictions would only affect one-tenth of current business.

"It's not an issue for us -- we have about 400 shark species, we can always import other species," he told AFP.

"We see it positively. We don't oppose the new restrictions."

Humans kill about 100 million sharks each year, mostly for their fins, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which says 90 percent of the marine predators have disappeared over the past 100 years.

The brutality of the practice sees fishermen slice off the fins before throwing sharks back in the water to die, campaigners say.

Hong Kong director for US-based Shark Savers, Silvy Pun, said while the three species already under CITES protection -- the great white, whale shark and basking shark -- are larger in size and more easily identified, the newly-listed species were hard to differentiate.

"The next step for Hong Kong will be very, very challenging," she said.

"The only way you can identify them correctly is DNA identification but as far as I know, this is not very well-developed yet (in Hong Kong)."

The government's conservation department said it would abide by the CITES restrictions, which must be introduced within 18 months, but would not elaborate on how it was planning to step up enforcement.

In the face of public distaste, some traders have stopped drying fins in the open on the pavement, moving them instead to rooftop locations.

And Pun was hopeful that the tide is turning.

"Hong Kong as a shark capital has the responsibility to conserve the shark population. Now we can take bigger steps to conserve sharks -- we can start and we can change," she said.

Read more!

How virtual water is lost

Jenny Kehl Straits Times 18 Mar 13;

ONE often does not hear of water "moving" across oceans, locked in sacks and cartons of food. Yet food exports hide the significant global trade in water, which could be made transparent and reorganised to reduce water stress and increase global food security.

Several of the world's most water-scarce regions are producing the most water-intensive crops - for example, water-intensive rice grown in arid parts of Australia, Mexico and the American West for export to Asia or Europe.

Many of these water-intensive crops are traded globally along with their water content and the water consumed in the production process. The trade, now referred to as virtual water exports, constitutes a net loss of water from water-scarce regions.

Why virtual water matters

VIRTUAL water is the embedded water used to produce agricultural and industrial goods. Estimates by Unesco-IHE, the international institute for water education, found some 1,040 billion sq m of virtual water are traded each year globally. This trade could be reorganised for water-scarce regions to become virtual importers, a reversal of their current net loss, and water-rich regions to become virtual exporters.

The reality is that it takes more water overall to produce water- intensive crops in water-scarce regions. This constitutes an inefficient use of water. For example, it requires twice as much water to produce grain in water-scarce regions as in water-rich regions.

A 2005 study suggests that producing 1kg of grain in favourable climactic conditions requires up to 2,000kg of water; the same amount in an arid country requires up to 5,000kg. The difference is due largely to high temperature, high evaporation, soil conditions and other climate factors.

It also means that global coordination is needed as water scarcity increases. Water scarcity and food security are inextricably linked.

Agriculture is the largest water user, requiring about 70 per cent of all water used for human production and consumption. For example, it takes around 500 litres of water to produce one cup of rice and 4,500 litres to produce a 300g serving of beef.

Virtual water is deemed a consumptive use, meaning it's not returned to its local hydrological system, often resulting in a net water loss from the region when the products are exported. Virtual water exports exacerbate scarcity, food insecurity, and income loss. The imbalances could subsequently decrease political stability and stunt economic prosperity.

Approximately one-fourth of all water used in production is traded through water-intensive commodities in the international market. In short, this means that one-fourth of water use is exported as virtual water. The amount is even higher in countries that are large food and grain exporters. For example, the United States exports approximately one-third of its total water withdrawal in the country. The scale of the virtual water trade is expected to increase as global demand for food increases with population growth and economic development.

Water-scarce regions can mitigate food shortages and improve water-use efficiency by importing agricultural products with high virtual water content and exporting products with low virtual water content. Yet the opposite is the current reality.

Water-scarce regions are overwhelmingly producing and exporting water-intensive products. Arid parts of Egypt, Turkey and Eastern Europe produce large quantities of water-intensive cotton for export to Asia and Europe.

What S'pore, Malaysia did

YET international water-use inefficiencies are not a fait accompli. International water trade and food output can be improved if the idea of comparative advantage is applied to decisions about importing versus exporting water- intensive crops. Water-scarce countries should import water- intensive grains and export products with less virtual water content.

Based on scarce land and water resources, Singapore and Malaysia have used the international food market to import water- intensive grains and meats; they export mostly non-agricultural value-added manufactured goods. This lets them maintain food security while harnessing scarce water resources for competing uses.

Internationally, adjusting to the new information and emerging realities can improve water- use efficiency and food security. Virtual water flows in the international economy are measured as net water gain/water loss in global water-use efficiency.

A net water loss, for example, occurs if a water-intensive grain is produced in a water-scarce country. Such loss will be seen in two ways: First, the water-scarce country is exporting virtual water, which constitutes a domestic net water loss. Secondly, it decreases global water-use efficiency because it requires more water overall to produce certain crops in water-scarce regions.

Global cooperation needed

CORRECTING inefficiency in global water-use requires substantial international coordination. A high level of cooperation is possible in this area, as the food crop trade is globalised and food security highly interdependent. It is the dearth of information about the hidden water trade and the current lack of coordination that perpetuates global water-use inefficiencies.

Finally, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development have the experience, and are best suited, to provide information about global water-use efficiency and coordinate the world's large food producers and consumers. We must look for the water hiding in plain sight.


The writer is the endowed chair of the School of Freshwater Sciences and director of the Centre for Water Policy, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Read more!

Saving coastal cities from the rising sea

The changing climate threatens to deluge the region's big cities if urgent mitigation measures are not taken seriously
Zakir Hussain Straits Times 18 Mar 13;

WHEN heavy floods hit Jakarta in January, sections of the city were crippled for days.

A levee close to the centre of the city broke, effectively turning the main thoroughfare into a river for 24 hours. A large dam in the north overflowed, leaving some streets under at least 2m of water for a week.

There were fears that the deluge could become as severe as that in Bangkok in 2011 and Manila last year, when thousands of people were displaced for weeks.

Politicians rushed out ambitious plans to overhaul and improve infrastructure, as disaster officials carried out cloud-seeding, so that rain would fall into the sea instead of on Jakarta.

Today, some of these flood mitigation plans are embroiled in bureaucratic wrangling once more.

But the key concern has not changed: A great deal of work needs to be done if 500-year-old Jakarta is to survive as a liveable city for another 50 years.

A disregard for planning regulations, large populations, politics and poverty remain key challenges for the authorities in Jakarta and other major cities which must put in place measures to fix them.

Record heavy rainfall was, of course, the main trigger for the severe flooding. But haphazard development over the past decade was also to blame - and reining it in is a key part of the solution.

The Jakarta city authorities, under pressure from developers to issue building permits for glitzy new shopping malls and apartment complexes for a rapidly expanding middle class, had disregarded zoning plans and environmental considerations.

It is not always easy for officials to stand their ground against business interests with lots of money, even if the latter have only short-term gains in mind. But there are compelling reasons to resist these pressures.

Risks from climate change

A RECENT report by the Economy and Environment Programme for South-east Asia, funded by Canada's International Development Research Centre, identified Jakarta as the Asean city most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

This year, risk consultancy Maplecroft rated five major Asean commercial capitals among the top cities in the world facing the greatest risk from severe flooding and other fallout from more intense storms - Manila, Bangkok, Yangon, Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City.

As Maplecroft's Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas noted: "These risks have heightened relevance given the substantial forecast population increase and economic growth of these cities."

All five are sorely unprepared for rising sea levels and more intense rainfall projected to be the new normal in the years to come.

Large numbers of people are at risk: Greater Jakarta is home to 30 million people and growing, Metro Manila to more than 20 million, and Bangkok to 10 million. Ho Chi Minh City and Yangon, both in delta regions, have some eight million and five million people respectively.

Ho Chi Minh City academics have proposed deepening the sewers and increasing their capacity to tackle a surge of rainwater.

The local authorities, which are just starting to take heed of the severity of the problems ahead, are pledging infrastructure projects to prepare not for the worst-case scenario, but for what now looks like an eventuality of rising sea levels slowly swallowing up part of their cities.

Manila's two-decade-old sea wall was damaged during a typhoon two years ago. It has since been repaired, but the city is looking to fortify it. Plans for a similar sea wall have been mooted south of Bangkok.

Jakarta wants to build a giant sea wall along its coastline to keep out rising waters, a plan mooted by then Governor Fauzi Bowo in last year's gubernatorial election, which he lost. His successor Joko Widodo says he wants to bring forward the project's construction.

Corruption and red tape

BUT there has been little by way of concrete plans, and Mr Widodo's initial proposals to reclaim land for the project have been criticised by central government ministers over feasibility issues.

Getting the project off the ground this year would, of course, divert resources away from possible pork-barrel projects in Indonesia's general election next year. Sadly, few politicians have their eye on the longer term.

In Manila, the authorities released funds this month to upgrade water pumping stations, widen and deepen rivers, and buy flood control equipment, among other things.

But local media reports note that reclamation and infrastructure projects have also attracted considerable opposition and concern that flooding will be worsened rather than alleviated.

A recent study by two Philippine academics says such projects are also vulnerable to corruption. They also neglect the fact that groundwater extraction is a key contributor.

"Money would be better spent on preventing the subsidence by reducing groundwater pumping and moderating population growth and land use, but these approaches are politically and psychologically unacceptable," it said.

As for Bangkok, criticisms about flood plans being inadequate and favouring the better-off have continued to surface. A March 7 editorial in The Nation newspaper noted: "Thailand's plans for flood prevention and coping with natural disasters are not up to scratch; much more needs to be done by all parties concerned."

Megacity inequities

THE trouble with all natural disasters, though, is that while they affect and inconvenience rich and poor equally, the poor take a longer time to get back on their feet.

Jakarta's rampant overdevelopment has seen disadvantaged residents living in the shadow of glitzy new buildings, often on lower ground and next to filthy and choked up canals and rivers prone to flooding.

Making things worse, poor water supply forces many of these residents to tap the groundwater. As a result, the city is sinking by several centimetres every year due to subsidence.

The picture is somewhat similar in the other megacities.

While economic growth and a consumer boom have made these urban areas more dynamic, living conditions often fail to keep up, in particular for poorer residents.

Observers note that several pockets of Jakarta that flood annually draw little notice, because most of their residents are poor. A key effect of disasters like floods, United Nations Development Programme assistant administrator Jordan Ryan told a recent conference in Jakarta, "is the compounding of poverty and inequality".

"This comes as the reality of climate change increases both the frequency and scale of natural disasters," he said.

River dredging projects in Jakarta, for instance, will help these poorer residents stay put for some time yet while the city develops more low-cost housing for them.

But the politics of inequality is also rearing its head in development plans: Some residents are concerned that talk of a giant sea wall will see more high-rise waterfront housing for the rich built on reclaimed land instead.

Better prepared, better future

FEW are optimistic that cities like Jakarta and its Asean counterparts will be fully prepared for worse weather occurrences in the years ahead, even though mitigation work is now seen as critical if they are to stay liveable.

Yet, as World Bank disaster risk management official Abhas Jha and his team noted in a 2012 guide on urban flood risk management, it is impossible to entirely eliminate the risk of flooding. But all parties can be better prepared to limit the damage caused.

There is room for officials to pitch these projects better: Flood-prevention measures, for one thing, should also clean up poorly planned sections of megacities and improve both waste and water management.

And projects like sea walls and land reclamation offer opportunities to resettle residents into mass housing for the lower-income.

It would be ironic if years from now, cities like Jakarta - whose growth was aided by sea-borne trade - were to become less liveable as a result of excess rainwater.

Read more!