Best of our wild blogs: 19 Jul 13

ICCS Lecture & Briefing on Sat 03 Aug 2013 @ NUS LT32 – all are welcome! from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Save MacRitchie Forest: 13. Butterflies, jewels of the forest
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Nature Society (Singapore) Cross Island Line: Discussion and Position Paper
from Habitatnews

Down Memory Lane - Common Sergeant
from Butterflies of Singapore

Sharing our shores with students at Y.LEAS, River Valley High
from wild shores of singapore

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Nature Society proposes alternative route for Cross Island Line

Neo Chai Chin Today Online 19 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE - The Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) has opposed the future Cross Island rail line cutting through nature reserves and proposed an alternate route that cuts southwards via Lornie Road around the reserve.

In a 39-page position paper discussing and explaining its stance posted on its website yesterday, the non-governmental organisation said nature reserves “should not be treated as vacant State Land available to be used for the convenience of transport infrastructure or other purposes”. Design authorities should include the value of ecosystems in cost-benefit analyses in the same way they would consider the cost of private property acquisition, the paper stated.

Plans for a 50km Cross Island Line were announced by the Government in January this year, where the underground line was depicted to cut through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir.

The alignment cuts directly under primary forest and regrowth forests over a century old, according to maps in the NSS’ position paper. The society said its greatest concerns relate to the degradation of forest habitats due to soil investigation and related engineering works that will be required above-ground. Surface works are expected to result in forest clearance, compaction of soil along on rail line’s alignment, toxic material spillage and siltation that will seriously damage one of the two most pristine stream ecosystems in the reserve.

The society’s proposed alternate route via Lornie Road will add 1.7 to 2km to the Cross Island Line, and an estimated four minutes’ additional travel time.

This would present an opportunity to serve residents near Adam Road and visitors to the MacRitchie Reservoir Park, it said. “We believe four minutes is not too much to ask for conserving probably the most pristine part of our nature reserve,” said Mr Tony O’Dempsey, an NSS council member and the society’s spokesperson on this issue.

The reserve is home to some 44 mammals, 72 reptiles, 25 amphibians – most of which are forest-dependant - and all 34 remaining native freshwater fish species here, according to previous surveys. Nature groups including the NSS met the LTA last month and took a group of officials including Transport Minister of State Josephine Teo on a walk in the reserve last week.

The Society had a geologist and engineers on its team but the alternate route proposed is a “concept route” as the team does not have detailed geological information on the Thomson and Lornie Road areas. “That has to be left up to the authorities to consider,” said Mr O’Dempsey.

Transport analyst and civil engineering don Lee Der Horng said a straight rail line is better and cheaper from the engineering and operations point of view. He noted the “big curvature” in the NSS proposed route going around the nature reserve, but was supportive of it. “Even though the alignment looks a bit funny, it’s also a sign that we value our natural environment higher than infrastructure development,” he said. “If this nature reserve is important to us and once destroyed or affected (is irreversible), I think a certain judgment must be put in place and it shouldn’t be just based on transport.”
Professor Leung Chun Fai of the National University of Singapore’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department said “it may still be possible to construct the tunnels along the original proposed route without disturbing the nature reserve but this must be examined in detail”.

Effects of soil investigation and tunnelling works should be studied to see if they are “indeed manageable and very small”. Once sub-surface properties are determined, engineers can evaluate if modern tunneling techniques would disturb the reserve. The fallout from any tunnelling accidents must also be evaluated. The same should be done for alternatives if the original route is proven unfeasible, he said.

The NSS submitted its paper to the Land Transport Authority last week and responding to TODAY’s queries, an LTA spokesperson assured that “the alignment of the Cross Island Line has not been decided, and that no decision will be made until after an Environmental Impact Assessment has been conducted”.

Any decision made will seek to safeguard Singapore’s nature reserves “even as we seek to meet the infrastructure development needs of Singaporeans”, she added.

The nature groups will do further biodiversity surveys and collate existing information over the next few months and could meet the authorities again at the end of the year, said Mr O’Dempsey. The LTA has agreed to postpone its Environmental Impact Assessment until after the groups have studied the effect of different rail-line alignments.

Nature Society suggests different route for MRT line
Cross Island Line works put nature reserve 'at risk'
Grace Chua Straits Times 19 Jul 13;

RUNNING the planned Cross Island MRT Line along Lornie Road instead of through Singapore's largest nature reserve would add just 2km and four minutes to travel time.

That would help reduce the damage to the reserve's ecosystem, the Nature Society (Singapore) suggested in a 40-page paper giving its take on the new line.

The position paper, released yesterday, also described the environmental damage that may be caused by the soil investigations and tunnelling needed for the 50km MRT project, which is expected to be ready in 2030.

The line, first announced in January as part of the Government's Land Use Plan, runs from Jurong to Tampines. It appears to pass through densely built-up areas like Sin Ming, Hougang and Clementi.

But is also seems to cut through primary and secondary forest in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir.

The forest, home to birds such as the critically endangered white-rumped shama and uncommon animals including the pangolin and clouded monitor lizard, will be affected by the land clearing needed for soil investigation works, the paper said.

The soil works, which involves boring 70m-deep holes every 15m to 20m to determine soil strength, would also muddy and choke delicate freshwater streams containing rare native fish like the malayan pygmy rasbora, the NSS added.

While water agency PUB has rules to control erosion during construction, "mitigation does not equate to no impact", said NSS spokesman Tony O'Dempsey.

And tunnelling through granite also carries the risk of rock collapse and soil subsidence, the paper added, pointing out that the MacRitchie forest is part of a gazetted nature reserve under the Parks and Trees Act.

The National Parks Board said in its statement yesterday it "would be concerned about the impact that any development may have on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, which is gazetted for the conservation of our flora and fauna".

NSS suggested the use of alternative routes, such as building the line along Lornie Road.

It may be expensive to acquire the land, the paper suggested, but the price of lost and damaged ecosystems should also be factored into project costs.

A Land Transport Authority spokesman said it had received NSS' paper and will study it in detail, adding that the path the line will take has not been decided.

She said: "No decision will be made until after an environmental impact assessment has been conducted. We remain committed to ensuring that any decision taken will seek to safeguard our nature reserves even as we seek to meet the infrastructure development needs of Singaporeans."

Last Friday, Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo visited the forest with several nature groups and wrote about her trip on Facebook.

"A new MRT line will impact many different stakeholders, all of whom have views we need to consider," she wrote.

"They include commuters concerned about distance and home owners whose families may have to relocate... It goes without saying that whatever we do, we will take into account the impact on our nature reserves."

Related link
NSS's Position on the Cross-Island Line (pdf)

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River turns into classroom for lessons on waterways

Rachel Tan Straits Times 19 Jul 13;

A NEW initiative from the PUB will help kids learn about waterways at Singapore's first "River Classroom".

At Sungei Ulu Pandan in Clementi, students can discover how the river is filtered by plants that get rid of pollutants while absorbing nutrients in the water.

It boasts a community deck that gets youngsters closer to the water safely, and a 600m path where they can observe a new sedimentation basin, floating wetland, and a channel planted with vegetation that removes large pieces of sediment.

The project will be opened officially this Sunday.

It is part of the PUB's ABC Waters programme, started in 2006, which aims to provide "active, beautiful and clean" waterways.

PUB engineer Mak Ming Foong said it will "allow people to get closer to the water".

She added: "Before we decided on the location, we studied the entire waterway together with the surroundings to understand the site characteristics, the user's pattern and if there is potential for educational value."

Students from Queensway Secondary will perform weekly patrols in the area and conduct biodiversity audit checks.

The School of Science and Technology (SST) has been holding its own lessons in the area since January."This programme forces everyone to get out and do a project," said SST science research teacher Tan Hoe Teck.

The nearby Van Kleef Centre, which carries out research into freshwater management, also plans to arrange public walkabouts to highlight the unique features of the ABC learning trail.

Mr Jun-ichi Inada, managing director of landscape consultants Win International, helped design the area. He said: "Teachers use outdoor classrooms as part of the educational programme to make children understand."

First ‘river classroom’ at Sungei Ulul Pandan
Amanda Lee Today Online 19 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE — Residents and students visiting Sungei Ulu Pandan can now learn more about water and the environment thanks to a new project that seeks to create the “river classroom experience”.

Stretching along Sungei Ulu Pandan, between Clementi Avenue 4 and Clementi Road, the project wants to showcase the importance of treating the rainwater run-off from the surrounding catchment before entering the waterway.

The river classroom features four types of ABC Water design elements, one of which is a sedimentation basin. It temporarily collects water from the drains and allow larger sediments to settle before cleaner water flows into the river.

Aquatic plants are planted along the edge to help absorb nutrients in the rainwater run-off while enhancing biodiversity of the area.

Outdoor learning experience for residents, students at Sungei Ulu Pandan
Hetty Musfirah Abdul Khamid Channel NewsAsia 21 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: Residents living in the west can now enjoy new community spaces along a waterway, while learning about the environment.

The Sungei Ulu Pandan has been spruced up under the Active, Beautiful and Clean or ABC waters programme.

The aim is to create a river classroom experience where residents and students can learn more about water and the environment to the waterway

Green features like floating wetlands were added to enhance the biodiversity of the area.

The National Water Agency PUB said schools like Nan Hua High School and Queensway Secondary School have already expressed their interest to further their outdoor learning at the waterway.

Residents can also make use of new gathering and viewing decks for recreational activities.

Over a three-year period, APB Singapore is also pledging $300,000 towards an APB Singapore Water Education Fund.

The money will support initiatives like an internship programme for tertiary students at ABC waters at Sungei Ulu Pandan.

- CNA/de

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Jakarta's info law forbids sharing of maps

But exemptions are possible, says official
Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta Straits Times 19 Jul 13;

INDONESIA'S reluctance to publicly share maps that could help pinpoint the culprits behind haze-causing forest fires can be partially traced to its Freedom of Information Law.

Clauses in the law specify that data which could reveal the country's wealth of natural resources, such as forests, cannot be made public.

Exemptions can be made, but there is a process that needs to be followed, the Communication and Information Ministry's chief spokesman, Mr Gatot Dewa Broto, told The Straits Times.

The issue of whether concession maps can be made public surfaced when environment ministers from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand met in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday to discuss tackling cross-border haze. They agreed that these maps would be shared between governments on a "case-by-case basis", subject to Asean leaders' approval at a summit meeting in October.

"Our regulations regarding transparency and publicly available information bar us from releasing such information," Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said.

The 2008 law actually mandates that agencies make a range of official data publicly available, with several exceptions, including where national security and diplomatic ties need to be protected. But it also says that these are not permanent, and the government can issue a regulation for an exemption. It does not say how wide the exemption can be.

Several observers and NGOs have criticised the limited plan to share maps, saying continued secrecy will impede efforts to prevent illegal fires.

Singapore had earlier pressed for these maps to be made public, so they could be used with satellite data on hot spots to identify and take action against Singapore-linked firms with fires on their lands.

Mr Samadhi Nirarta of Indonesia's presidential work unit on monitoring development (UKP4) said that while information on natural deposits is classified, information on concession ownership and areas of concession, among others, should be public.

Like Indonesia, Malaysia was "strict" about sharing its maps, Natural Resources and Environment Minister G. Palanivel said on Wednesday. He also said that land matters came under the jurisdiction of state governments, not the federal government.

"But a state government cannot reasonably refuse federal government access (to land information)," said Universiti Malaya law lecturer Azmi Shahrom. "Malaysia has ratified the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which requires that countries share information."

A more sensitive point, he noted, was the scrutiny that access to concession maps would bring.

"Who owns this land, who this person is related to, how big his area is - once everything is transparent, then any transaction or ownership which is dubious will be open to public scrutiny," he said.

Dr Nigel Sizer, director of the World Resources Institute's Global Forests Initiative, described the lack of commitment to public disclosure as "a serious obstacle to progress".

"Continued secrecy by South-east Asian governments about the location of land holdings by oil palm, pulp wood and other companies will seriously impede efforts to prevent illegal fires and the associated suffocating smog in the future."

Additional reporting by Teo Cheng Wee in Kuala Lumpur
Indonesia's House supports government’s move to ratify haze pact
Margareth Aritonang, The Jakarta Post 19 Jul 13;

The House of Representatives said on Thursday it welcomed the government’s second attempt to ratify the 2002 regional haze treaty in the wake of the massive forest fires in Sumatra, the smog from which choked local residents and people living in neighboring states.

Nur Yasin, a National Awakening Party (PKB) lawmaker at the House’s Commission VII on the environment, said the lawmakers were ready to discuss the planned ratification. “We have not yet discussed the treaty in Commission VII, but we are ready to deliberate the government’s proposal because I think the purpose is good,” he said.

The government has said that it will bring the treaty back for discussion at the House. On the sidelines of an ASEAN ministerial meeting to discuss ways to prevent forest fires in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya told reporters that Jakarta hoped to be able to ratify the treaty early next year.

Indonesia, the largest country in the regional grouping, is the only ASEAN nation that has yet to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution that was brokered in 2002.

It has now come under pressure from its neighbors to immediately ratify the treaty following June’s forest fires that created severe haze that blanketed Singapore and Malaysia.

The incident forced President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to issue a formal apology to the two neighboring countries, which severely criticized Indonesia for its sluggish response to the haze problem.

The government first submitted a bill to ratify the pact in 2008. Lawmakers at that time refused to endorse the bill, saying it only benefited neighboring countries and undermined Indonesia’s interests.

At the time, the House argued that Indonesia should not ratify the treaty as ASEAN members did not take into consideration Indonesia’s demands to forge regional cooperation to combat transboundary illegal logging and illegal fishing. The House also expressed its objections to the fact that most clauses within the bill were obligatory.

It is unclear if the government has submitted a new bill. “I haven’t heard anything so far. This is why we haven’t started any discussions on the matter,” Firman Subagyo, a lawmaker from the House’s commission VII on forestry, said.

The Golkar politician added that his commission would strongly support the plan to ratify the treaty, especially if it could enable Indonesia to impose harsh sanctions on any foreign companies found to be responsible for the forest fires.

“The recent case in Riau is an incentive for us to review our policies regarding the environment and forestry,” he said.

ASEAN has also welcomed Indonesia’s commitment to address the haze problem.

The grouping’s secretary general, Le Luong Minh, said the move showed Indonesia was ready to mobilise available resources to put out fires and eradicate the haze problem. “This is a spirit of cooperation to be commended, and with such successes, we will be able to achieve our agreements,” he said as quoted by Bernama on Wednesday.

Critics have said that the main problem is the fact that the Indonesian government is failing to enforce the law to prevent illegal practices that cause forest fires.

Singapore’s Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, for instance, called on Indonesia to enforce its own laws to make a big difference.

In a first, the National Police said it was ready to press charges against a Malaysian firm that was alleged to be responsible for the forest fires in Riau. The police accused PT ADEI Plantation and Industry, a subsidiary of Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK) of conducting irresponsible burning practices in its concession area in Riau.

Previously, the environment minister had suggested 14 companies were the source of the fires in Riau.

Eight of the companies are Malaysian-owned, namely PT Langgam Inti Hiberida, PT Bumi Rakksa Sejati, PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation (PTTMP), PT Udaya Loh Dinawi as well as PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa, PT Multi Gambut Industri, PT Mustika Agro Lestari and PT ADEI.

The police then narrowed down their investigation to five companies, including PT ADEI.

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Stumbling to map a path through the haze

Chua Chin Wei and Henrick Tseng Today Online 19 Jul 13;

It was probably wrong to expect too much too fast when Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) environment ministers met to discuss the haze, caused by fires in Indonesia.

Never mind that Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, which hosted the meeting, have suffered record-high and hazardous levels of the pollution. The Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) — which brings together ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand — seems to face real limits on what it is capable and willing to do.

Some compromise was reached to share land concession maps at the government-to-government level. But this will only be done provided that leaders agree. The promise also falls short of making them publicly available, an idea suggested by Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

Similarly, the meeting voiced some optimism that Indonesia would, at last, ratify the ASEAN haze treaty, more than a decade after other governments. Yet, nothing concrete was decided.

In the past, the MSC was used to kick-start and review on-the-ground cooperation, with Singapore working with Indonesian officials in Jambi while Malaysian efforts were undertaken in Riau. But since these projects, the MSC has failed to restart them, let alone sought to replicate and scale up such cooperation. Even at this week’s meeting, Indonesia was non-committal.

The Singapore minister judged that only “slow progress” was made.

This may be too diplomatic. The MSC has now met 15 times over a decade, and others will be scathing about a lack of substance and political commitment.


Take the problem of the maps. The Indonesian Environment Minister, Dr Balthasar Kambuaya, said that publishing concession maps contravenes Indonesian laws. Neither did Malaysia support disclosure. While the country is a victim of the haze, Malaysian companies have been implicated in the fires on Indonesian soil.

It is important that governments consider the benefit of public disclosure. Public data is critical for coordination between governments and local agencies, and for monitoring by non-government organisations (NGOs). Without accurate and official data, it would be difficult for countries to enforce fire prevention laws and respond to future incidences of severe haze.

Companies can benefit if concession maps are made public. Their reputational and operational risks rise when information remains undisclosed, as the media and governments increasingly seek accountability for fires. Governments must seek ways to exert greater leverage over the industry.

Reports are that Indonesia lacks definitive and accurate information and maps. New systems and coordination frameworks can and must then be set up. One initiative by Indonesia is the integrated map system or One Map. This is led by the REDD+ Task Force that reports to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet, even this effort faces obstacles in cutting through red tape and laws that prevent map-sharing across different agencies and between the central and local authorities.


This reveals a second and quite fundamental problem facing the environment ministers.

Within each country, there are different agencies of government that must be coordinated. This applies to the question of providing maps when concession grants are made by other ministries — Agriculture and Forestry. Actions taken by local communities and decisions by provincial officials can also create differences between the maps and the realities on site.

The question is whether the environment ministers are able and allowed to coordinate and foster cooperation across these different agencies. Based on their meeting, the answer seems to be “no”.

In the weeks following the worst incidents of haze, the ASEAN foreign ministers first met, and now the environment ministers have followed up. Yet, little has been agreed upon and even less have been effective.

The reasons that there is a respite from the haze are that the region is experiencing some wet weather dampening the fires, and that Mr Yudhoyono made a stateman’s decision to apologise and send across thousands to quash the fire swiftly.

The MSC is a necessary but insufficient way forward. It has seeded political will to eradicate haze and punish those responsible — but more needs to be done. Industry and consumers must now take up the hard work from here.

As a follow up to the MSC, the environment ministers must work together to provide authoritative maps to clear up the question of responsibility. Otherwise, when the ASEAN leaders next meet in October, the haze will be lingering on the agenda.

Concerted efforts must be made by each government to publicise authoritative maps which would require extensive coordination across different departments. Only with consistent attention, persistent action and resources can a repeat of the worst haze in history then be avoided.


Chua Chin Wei is a Deputy Director and Henrick Tsjeng a Researcher at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

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Sea turtle conference addresses Great Barrier Reef sickness spike

Rangers and scientists gather to explore ways of curbing threats that led to soaring number of strandings in recent years
Oliver Milman 18 Jul 13;

Pesticides, cyclones and boat strikes have been blamed as causes of a worrying spike in the number of sick and dying sea turtles on the Great Barrier Reef.

A three-day conference being held in Townsville has gathered wildlife rangers, scientists, vets, volunteers and government agencies from across Australia to work out a way to curb threats to sea turtles.

According to Queensland government data, there has been a sharp increase in the number of sea turtles found stranded on the state’s coastline.

In 2010, 808 turtles were found stranded, but the tally soared to 1,781 in 2011 and 1,510 last year. This year has so far seen a slight decrease in the rate of strandings, totalling 342 up until 30 June.

Cyclone Yasi, which destroyed vast tracts of seagrass – sea turtles’ preferred delicacy – in 2011, caused many animals to starve to death. But the conference has heard that human factors have also adversely harmed the creatures.

Julie Traweek of the Sea Turtle Foundation, which rescues stranded turtles, said the animals faced multiple threats.

“We get a lot of sea turtles in with floating syndrome, where they can’t dive, as well as lesions on their organs and brains caused by blood flukes,” she said. “This is becoming more common. They can also suffer from tumours, which we know is from a strain of herpes but we’re not sure what triggers it.

“We see tumour hotspots in Bowen, whereas they don’t see it up on Cape York. They get a lot of turtles that ingest plastic in Benalla in NSW, but less so here.

“Chemical run-off is a problem, but we can’t say that for definite. But we do see more problems in areas with lots of coastal development.”

Traweek said green turtle numbers appeared to be stable, while loggerhead and hawksbill turtles numbers were “crashing.” Although protected in Australia, hawksbill turtles are prized by hunters for their attractive shells when they migrate to Asian waters.

Ellen Ariel of James Cook University’s school of veterinary and biomedical sciences said more research needed to be done to understand sea turtles and the threats they face.

“We see some populations do well on some parts of the coast and others not so well,” she said. “We need to learn more as sea turtles are a good barometer of the health of the water.

“Overall, it would be a good idea for people to slow down in boats in shallow waters to avoid hitting them. We can all be sensible about the things we flush down drains and the plastic we throw away, too.”

On Wednesday Mark Butler, the federal environment minister, pledged $930,000 to Indigenous organisations and traditional owners across Queensland to manage sea turtles, dugongs and the marine environment.

Butler followed that up by unveiling a further $5m in Reef Rescue funding on Thursday to help protect the Great Barrier Reef from crown-of-thorns starfish.

The starfish, which eat coral and have spiralled in number in recent years, are viewed as a key threat to the health of the reef.

“Long term, the work of Reef Rescue is ensuring that runoff to the reef is reduced each year through supporting farmers to improve their practices. But, short term, we need to have divers injecting the starfish and eradicating them,” Butler said.

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South Asia disunity 'hampers flood warnings'

Navin Singh Khadka Environment reporter, BBC World Service 19 Jul 13;

A lack of co-operation between South Asian countries is preventing timely flood warnings that could save lives and property during the monsoon season.

Erratic and extreme rainfall is causing catastrophic flooding, most recently in northwest India and Nepal following heavy rainfall in June.

But the sharing of hydrological data can be a sensitive issue because of disputes over water use.

Officials say a network is required to share data across borders.

Experts and officials told the BBC that countries in the region are doing very little to help each other forecast floods.

Referring to the event last month, Chiranjibi Adhikary, chief district officer of Darchula district in western Nepal, which shares a border with India's flood-hit Uttarakhand state, said: "We received no warning from the Indian side about that devastating flood."

The flooding in the Mahakali river that criss-crosses India and Nepal claimed more than 30 lives on the Nepalese side and swept away many buildings at the district headquarters Khalanga.

Nearly 1,000 people have been confirmed dead because of the floods in the Indian side while thousands are still missing.

"We are still trying to contact them [the Indian authorities] to know what was the reason behind the floods, but there has been no telephone contact yet," Mr Adhikary told the BBC.

In western South Asia, the Kabul river that straddles Afghanistan and Pakistan was a major contributor to the massive floods in the Pakistani territory in 2010.

But, officials say, there was no communication on flood-forecasting between the two countries then, nor is there any now.

"The Kabul river is of course a flood threat to us even today but still we have no hydrological and rainfall data exchange with Afghanistan," said Mohammad Riyaj, Pakistan's chief meteorologist.

"It is something we need to do with urgency but this can be done only at the policy-making level."

One of the worst flood-hit countries in the region, Bangladesh, receives relatively little hydrological data from upstream Nepal.

Officials at Nepal's Department of Hydrology and Meteorology said they used to send the information to Dhaka by fax before but now staffing constraints have become a problem.

Pakistan does have a mechanism to receive limited hydrological data from India but officials say it is quite inadequate for meaningful flood forecasting.

"For instance, the Indian side informs the Indus Water Commission (a body under an agreement between New Delhi and Islamabad on the sharing of Indus river water) only when the water level in the Chenab river crosses 75,000 cusecs," says Mr Riyaj.

"That gives us much less time for evacuation and preparation for floods."

The Chenab is a major tributary of the Indus river that originates in Tibet and flows through India into Pakistan.

India and Pakistan have deep running disagreements on the sharing of Indus waters and have been involved in litigation.

Mr Riyaj said hydrological information on tributaries of the Chenab, including the Jhelum, Ravi and Sutlej rivers, that flow in from India would also be of great help for timely flood forecasting.

Officials in Bangladesh, however, said there had been some progress on hydrological data sharing with India as they were now getting information from three reading stations for the Ganges and four for the Bramhaputra in the Indian side.

The chief of Bangladesh's flood warning office, Amirul Hossain, said his country was also getting Bramhaputra's hydrological data from Chinese authorities in Tibet, where the river originates.

"But since our people are demanding that they should get flood warnings at least a week in advance, we would like to get the hydrological data from a bit further off areas in India so that we get more lead time for a forecast," Mr Hossain said.

Officials say the data Bangladesh gets from India at present are from nearby border areas.

Hydrological data is quite a sensitive issue in India, especially between states that have been at loggerheads over the sharing of water resources for quite some time.

The recent order by India's water resources ministry to its authorities regarding the constitution of the "classified data release committee" read: "The committee shall consider requests for release of classified data after due verification by the concerned chief engineer of the Central Water Commission and [the] receipt of [a] secrecy undertaking."

Rajendra Sharma, who heads Nepal's flood forecasting division at the country's meteorological office, said: "For genuine regional flood forecasting, all countries including India and China will have to actively participate in the exchange of hydrological and meteorological data."

Indian officials said they recognised the importance of cross border cooperation for effective flood forecasting.

Though he was optimistic that things could improve in future, M Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of India's National Disaster Management Authority, said: "Things which are on paper sometimes do not get translated into action."

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