Best of our wild blogs: 11 Sep 13

Of Whirlpools and Cyclones - Embracing and Enjoying Science by Prof Leo Tan from Peiyan.Photography

The Wild Side of Singapore – Episode 2
from Dragonflies & Damselflies of Singapore

Moving Forward: The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology
from Raffles Museum News

Butterflies and Ants feeding on plant sap along the same branch from Bird Ecology Study Group

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7 habits of a Singaporean

Tommy Koh, For The Straits Times 11 Sep 13;

IN TWO years, Singapore will celebrate its 50th anniversary as a sovereign and independent country. The Government of Singapore has appointed me to the steering committee in charge of the celebrations. In this essay, I wish to share my reflections on what makes me a Singaporean.

First, I am a Singaporean because I was born here, grew up here, went to school here, married here and live and work here.

My wife used to ask me: "Where would you like to spend your retirement years?" I would reply that I wish to work until I die and would like to die in the land of my birth. I have spent my whole life working for Singapore and, although I have never signed a bond of service, I feel bonded to Singapore.

It is, of course, true that you don't have to be born in Singapore to be a Singaporean. One of our founding fathers, Mr S. Rajaratnam, used to say that being a Singaporean is not a condition of one's birth but of one's conviction. In that spirit, we have welcomed many, who were born elsewhere, into our family. I count among our compatriots friends like Mr Asad Latif, born in India; Mr Alain Vandenborre, born in Belgium; Mr Ray Ferguson, born in the United Kingdom; Mr Simon Israel, born in Fiji; and Mr Gautam Banerjee, born in India.

Second, what makes me a Singaporean is the fact that my close friends include Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians, Arabs, Jews, Armenians. I venture that hardly any Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian or Indonesian can make the same claim; and few even among Americans, from the land of the melting pot.

In the short space of half a century, we have succeeded in achieving a level of acceptance - I would even call it celebration - of the diversity of the human family, which no older nation has done.

I believe that, if presented with a worthy Malay candidate, the electorate of Singapore would elect him or her as our President. I also believe that Singaporeans are ready for a non-Chinese Prime Minister.

Third, the Singaporean's cultural DNA includes a gene that respects all faiths.

Although Singapore is a very small country, our Inter-Religious Organisation consists of the representatives of 10 of the major religions of the world. A good Singaporean may or may not have a religion. However, he is schooled to respect all faiths, and no matter how much he may believe that his faith is the one true faith, he may not denigrate the faith of others.

This is why Singaporeans reacted so strongly when a Christian pastor was caught bad-mouthing Taoism and Buddhism. It is not only against the law to do that but it is also against our social norm. Inter-religious harmony is one of our most precious achievements.

Fourth, I believe that Singaporeans share certain core values. The Singaporean is honest, hard-working, law-abiding and reliable. We believe in meritocracy.

I know that, as imperfect mortals, we don't always reflect these virtues in our daily lives. But I would maintain that, on the whole, they are the values that Singaporeans live by. For this reason, Singaporeans are head-hunted by the private sector and sought after by international organisations. The fact that Transparency International ranks Singapore as the cleanest and most non-corrupt country in Asia and one of the top five in the world vindicates my view.

I was also very pleased by how well Singapore did in the Reader's Digest's exercise, in which a certain number of wallets is randomly dropped in different cities around the world. The exercise was to find out how many wallets were returned. In Singapore, seven of the 10 wallets dropped were returned by the finders. This was a high score. I am also convinced that Singapore's taxi drivers are among the most honest in the world.

Fifth, Singaporeans speak English in an identifiably unique way. I don't mean Singlish. I mean our accent and intonation.

I had a very close American friend called Miriam Levering. One day, she was on a street car in Vienna. She heard several men talking to one another in English. She went up to them and asked whether they were from Singapore. They said yes and asked her how she knew. She said: "You speak just like my friend, Tommy Koh."

Although I have spent more than 20 years of my life in America, I have not acquired an American accent. I therefore cannot understand why some Singaporeans, who have had much less exposure to the West, speak English with a fake foreign accent. We should be true to ourselves and speak English in the Singaporean way. There is no need to put on an Oxbridge accent or an American accent.

Sixth, one of the things that make me a Singaporean is my love of our hawker food. Cooking and baking are two of the greatest inventions of the human civilisation. When I was living in New York and Washington, I would often ask Singaporeans what they miss most about home. In their replies, they would always mention family, friends and food.

Our hawker food reflects the inter-racial and inter-cultural diversity of Singapore. Eating is also an arena in which Singaporeans cross many boundaries. Thus, I have Indian friends who love Chinese food and Chinese friends who love Indian or Malay food. Our hawker centres should be preserved and enhanced because they are where Singaporeans of all races, ages and incomes meet and enjoy our unique culinary achievements. I am therefore very pleased to be one of the judges, for the fourth year, of the Singapore Hawker Masters competition, sponsored by The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao.

Seventh, I love physical Singapore. I love our trees, parks, gardens, forests and beaches. Singapore should keep as much of our natural heritage as possible. We should also aspire to maintain a balance between heritage and modernity in our built environment. I regret that my primary school has disappeared and my high school has moved house twice. I am, however, happy that my law school has returned to its original home at Bukit Timah.

I am very encouraged by the new interest shown by Singaporeans, young and old, to preserve our memories, history and heritage. This is good because a nation is a people bound together by their collective memories of the past and their shared dreams of the future. We need to anchor our memories of the past to physical Singapore.

The writer, an international lawyer and diplomat for many years, is special adviser to the Institute of Policy Studies and a member of SG50, the steering committee to coordinate plans to celebrate Singapore's 50th National Day in 2015.

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Plans for 5th incineration plant for solid waste

New waste-to-energy facility needed to meet projected increased demand
Grace Chua Straits Times 11 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE is planning to build a fifth plant to burn the nation's burgeoning amount of solid waste and turn it into energy.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) called a tender for consultants to manage the project that involves procuring a new incineration plant and overseeing its design and construction.

There are four waste-to-energy plants currently running, the oldest being at Tuas, which started operating in 1986.

The new plant is expected to be completed by 2018. With a capacity of at least 2,400 tonnes per day, it will be the second-largest plant here, after the one at Tuas South.

"The four current waste-to-energy facilities have sufficient capacity to cope with the daily amount of waste generated," an NEA spokesman said. "However, a new waste-to-energy plant will be required to meet the projected increase in demand for waste incineration services."

The amount of waste disposed of - excluding what is recycled - has gone up about 13 per cent from a decade ago, a trend that is set to continue with population and economic growth, she added.

Singapore recycles 60 per cent of its waste, and the rest is burnt or put into landfill. In 2012, it burnt 7,475 tonnes of waste per day, up from 7,277 tonnes a day in 2011. The electricity derived is less than 3 per cent of the island's needs.

Some 57 per cent of non-recycled waste comes from domestic and commercial sources, with the rest from industry.

NEA's tender was called on Aug 21 and will close in October.

Professor Wang Jing-Yuan, who studies solid waste resource management at Nanyang Technological University, said: "The main purpose of waste-to-energy is not to produce energy, it is to reduce waste."

He noted that ideally, plastic waste should be removed before trash is incinerated, to reduce the amount of pollutants - called dioxins - that are released and to reduce the overall amount of rubbish burnt.

The ash left after incineration can be used in construction or reclamation, he said, to save space in the Semakau landfill so it can meet Singapore's needs beyond 2035.

Singapore Environment Council executive director Jose Raymond stressed the need for measures such as making recycling a social norm. He said: "With proper education and awareness about concepts of recycling and reusing, waste generation can be decoupled from population and economic growth."

He pointed out Singapore aims to recycle 70 per cent of its waste by 2030. It also has schemes to reduce waste in the first place, like the Singapore Packaging Agreement, in which companies voluntarily cut the amount of packaging they use.

In Europe, there have been calls for more recycling of materials like plastic. Denmark, a world leader in incineration which burns more than 50 per cent of its household waste for energy, wants to shift to recycling to cut its carbon dioxide emissions.

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Reservoir beneath Bidadari

Estate's unique feature: It will house Singapore's first underground service reservoir built on low, instead of high, ground
Charissa Yong Straits Times 11 Sep 13;

THE future Bidadari estate will lay claim to a unique feature - Singapore's first underground service reservoir built on low, instead of high, ground.

Holding enough water to fill three Olympic-size pools, the tank will be built beneath the town's planned park to save on surface space and keep the surroundings unmarred.

The land above it will be "integrated with the surrounding park amenities, hence optimising land", PUB said yesterday, adding that high ground available for service reservoirs is "limited".

The Bidadari reservoir could pave the way for more such underground tanks on low ground.

"Where possible, PUB will work with other agencies to explore a similar concept in other new areas," said the national water agency's spokesman.

Service reservoirs store drinking water to regulate supply to homes and boost water pressure during periods when demand is high.

There are 14 such reservoirs now, but all are located on high ground such as Mount Faber and Fort Canning, letting gravity do the work in channelling the water to homes.

In contrast, the Bidadari reservoir will have a pumping station on a 200 sq m plot of land atop it.

Experts The Straits Times spoke to said such a system is viable, given how Housing Board flats already have low-level water tanks, although on a smaller scale.

A lot will depend on the pumping system. It has to be extra reliable in Bidadari, which will have 10,000 public flats.

The estate's first Build-To- Order flats will be launched for sale in 2015.

Work on the reservoir will likely begin in early 2017, alongside general construction work there.

National Research Foundation water technology adviser Lui Pao Chuen, a former Ministry of Defence chief defence scientist, believes that building below the surface is key for Singapore, given the scarcity of land here.

"Instead of having reservoirs above ground, which is water you can't even swim in, you have land that you can walk on. Going underground is an obvious solution to preserve as much free space for people as possible," he said.

The use of below-ground spaces was put in the spotlight by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan earlier this month, when he blogged that the Government was considering an underground masterplan.

In the wake of the revelation, experts noted that building beneath the ground is expensive, especially if rock and soil formations are unsuitable.

PUB said yesterday that it was "premature to estimate the cost" of the proposed reservoir as a detailed study on its structure and construction methods has not yet been done.

The reservoir, however, will occupy less than a hectare of space - about a tenth of the park, which will include a man-made lake.

The Straits Times understands the raw-water lake will be separate from the service reservoir, which will hold treated drinking water.

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Tender process for KL-Singapore high-speed rail to begin in 2H 2014

Melissa Goh Channel NewsAsia 10 Sep 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will begin the tender process for the proposed high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in the second half of 2014. That is according to the CEO of Malaysia's Land Public Transport Commission, Mohd Nur Ismail.

He added that negotiations to finalise plans with Singapore were currently on-going.

The proposed high speed rail will span 330 kilometres and shorten travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to 90 minutes.

Mr Nur Ismail was speaking on the sidelines of a regional rail conference in Kuala Lumpur.

He also said the project was not affected by government measures to consolidate its fiscal position.

"As of the current information, we don't expect it to be impacted by that. We are still looking at 2020 as the completion date," said Mr Nur Ismail.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak recently announced that the government will scale back or put on hold projects with high import content, given a weaker ringgit and a yawning fiscal deficit.

- CNA/ac

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Is Singapore building too fast?

Victor Ong Chee Peng Today Online 11 Sep 13;

I refer to this week’s VoicesTODAY topic, “Floods: A natural or a man-made problem?”.

In the 1950s and ’60s, floods in low-lying areas were common; people took precautions, and the Government took mitigating action. Teachers’ Estate is a good example.

Today, there are floods in places that would have been unheard of before. Has rainfall doubled, causing our drains to flood? Or are we building too fast? Building roads seems to be the next big thing, and I hope that the respective agencies meet and share responsibility in these issues.

Storage tanks the answer to floods
Tan Yong Phai Today Online 11 Sep 13;

The solution to flash floods is simple if we wish to continue building more roads and buildings.

Every project, including road projects, should be required to incorporate a storage tank for rainwater, which would be allowed into the public drainage system after the storm subsides. The size of the tank and when to pump out the water are a matter of engineering calculations.

I am surprised that this design philosophy has not been implemented or even mooted since the problem of flash floods surfaced a couple of years ago. There is a cost involved, but nothing is free.

Green infrastructure more effective in managing storm water
Larry Shaeffer Today Online 13 Sep 13;

Building underground storage, sometimes referred to as the big-pipe solution for storm water management, is too costly and brings limited benefits.

The more effective and less costly alternative that comes with additional benefits is to implement best practices in city-wide storm water management that utilise green infrastructure. In this toolbox are green roofs, which also reduces noise and costs from air-conditioning, and green streets such as Portland’s Green Streets.

Storm water structures are combined with traffic calming techniques for smoother traffic, greater safety for pedestrians and aesthetically pleasing streets. These measures cost far less in total than the big-pipe solution of underground storage.

In the United States, federal clean water laws mandate that cities contain and clean their storm water run-off. The cost estimate for Philadelphia, which is about one-third smaller than Singapore, to address this problem via underground storage was US$9 billion (S$11.4 billion) to US$14 billion.

Many officials in US cities who saw these price tags have now switched to implementing green infrastructure, in part because it has other benefits beyond simple water storage.

This was posted on in response to “Is Singapore building too fast?” (Sept 11).

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Malaysia: Haze problem hovers over environment and health forum

The Star 11 Sep 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: The haze problem will be one of the main issues addressed by the Forum on Environment and Health in South-East and East Asian Countries.

Malaysia will chair the forum for the next three years.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said the ministry would use the platform for co-operation among the 14 countries to address cross-boundary issues.

“That is an area we will look at closely. For example, the issue of haze which three or four countries touched on at the meeting. We will see how we can cooperate to find regional consensus on managing it,” he said during a press conference at the Third Ministerial Regional Forum on Environment and Health in South-East and East Asian Countries yesterday.

Dr Subramaniam added that the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry had been engaging all levels, including highlighting the issue at Asean meetings on the haze.

He added that there was positive commitment from the Indonesian representatives at the forum as they were taking serious measures to address air pollution affecting neighbouring countries.

The forum also produced and endorsed the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Environment and Health.

In the declaration, the ministers of environment and health from 14 countries agreed to commit to action plans that put sustainable environment and health at the centre of development.

'Instil respect for nature'
Ahmad Fairuz Othman and Nuradilla Noorazam New Straits Times 11 Sep 13;

NEW MINDSET: PM urges leaders to balance development with care for environment

KUALA LUMPUR: DATUK Seri Najib Razak has called on world leaders to inculcate respect for the environment, stressing that this was needed to achieve a balanced development and ensure the wellbeing of future generations.

The prime minister said a change in mindset and organisational culture was needed, especially when leaders formulated policies to preserve the environment.

He said while the authorities struggled to balance development and the environment, it was vital to understand the correlation between inequity, poverty, illness and environmental degradation.

"Leaders must understand that sacrificing natural resources for short-term monetary benefit will undermine long-term aims and we cannot hope to achieve sustainable development.

"This same principle applies to regional and global policy, too," he said when opening the Third Ministerial Meeting of the Regional Forum on Environment and Health in Southeast and East Asian Countries here yesterday.

Najib cited the example of an unscrupulous logger, who felled trees without considering the impact in the long run.

"Our local cengal trees, like the California Redwoods, take centuries to grow. But it can be felled in less than a few hours by an unscrupulous logger with a chainsaw.

"When a logger sees a cengal tree, he sees the dollar sign. He doesn't see that it has been growing for a century."

The forum, which was hosted by Malaysia for the first time, involved ministers in environmental and health portfolios from 14 countries in Southeast Asia and East Asia.

Themed "Health and the environment at the centre of development", the two-day event, that ended yesterday, was organised by a secretariat from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Health Organisation (WHO).

Najib said the forum could be used to address pressing issues such as the recent haze.

He cited the haze, that reached hazardous air pollutant index levels in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia in June, as "a stinging reminder of the human costs of environmental degradation".

He said the crisis brought about new levels of regional cooperation like the Asean Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution, which played a vital role in taking action to solve the crisis.

He said many governments had noted the links between environment and socio-economic wellbeing, particularly since the landmark Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 21 years ago.

Najib later proposed six steps that could bring environmental health into any development plan.

He said on Malaysia's part, the government had put in place policies for an integrated form of sustainable development.

Among the measures were the National Policy on Environment since 1992, which protected natural heritage through enforcement, research, education and public awareness.

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