Best of our wild blogs: 31 Oct 13

Butterflies Galore! : Peacock Royal
from Butterflies of Singapore

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'Need for trust' to solve green challenge

Yeo Sam Jo Straits Times 31 Oct 13;

THERE is a need for trust between the people and the Government in order to solve Singapore's environmental challenges, Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

Speaking at the National University of Singapore U@live Forum, a monthly discussion featuring alumni speakers, he highlighted the three challenges which he felt lie ahead.

He listed pandemics such as Sars (the severe acute respiratory syndrome of 10 years ago), transboundary effects like this year's haze, and the warming climate and its adverse effects on food, water and energy.

He cautioned that these problems might be mere preludes of worse to come.

"There has to be a balance between commanding a sense of urgency and yet not have people panic," he said, stressing the importance of trust.

"The combination of being completely open, having a proven track record, and the sense that we are all in it together - we all breathe the same air, drink the same water, and go to the same hawker centres - will reaffirm the people's trust with the Government."

He highlighted how younger Singaporeans seem to be getting "greener" and more passionate about long-term sustainability. "There is an opportunity to show the rest of the world a working model of a sustainable future."

Held at the NUS Shaw Foundation Alumni House, the forum was attended by some 200 students, staff and alumni.

‘More frequent intense storms a warning of worse to come’
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 31 Oct 13;

SINGAPORE — The focus in recent days may have been on heavy downpours and flash floods, but Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday cast the issue as a longer-term challenge facing the country, saying that the rising frequency of intense storms is a warning sign of worse to come, as sea levels rise due to global warming.

Climate systems that are more brittle could magnify issues of food, water and energy security, he said at a National University of Singapore (NUS) forum last night, citing it as one of his potential nightmares.

Responding to a question from the audience on whether flood-control expenses would shift the focus away from clean water for home and industry use, Dr Balakrishnan said the Government’s investment to improve Singapore’s drainage system is to prepare Singapore for future floods. He noted that a quarter of Singapore’s land is reclaimed and 1.25m above sea level.

In the future, “we’ll be challenged at a far greater level than we are today”, Dr Balakrishnan said. “So that’s how I justify to my colleagues in Cabinet why I need the budget and the approval to proceed to do these drainage projects.”

Dr Balakrishnan’s comments came as several parts of Singapore were hit by flash floods yesterday afternoon. On Monday, the authorities had warned that “slightly above-average rainfall and rainy days” during the north-east monsoon, which is expected to last from the middle of next month till March, could result in flash floods in parts of the island.

At the forum, which was attended by 200 staff, students and alumni, Dr Balakrishnan outlined three major threats to Singapore’s environment. Besides global warming, a major pandemic, such as SARS and transboundary environmental issues like the haze were identified as challenges facing the country.

Asked by participants if a law could be enacted to mandate environmental-impact assessments be done before development, Dr Balakrishnan said this has to be considered carefully.

While an impact assessment will be done before the Government decides whether the future Cross Island MRT line will run below the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, he said: “Personally, I’m opposed to it running through our nature reserve.”

On whether economic indicators would trump environmental issues, the minister said the Government has “never viewed it as the economy versus the environment” and believes clear skies and clean water and streets are good for business.

Asked by a student about the petrochemical industry, which contributes significantly to Singapore’s carbon emissions, he said the authorities take a long-term view and do a “holistic assessment” of what is in the interest of Singaporeans and the country’s role in the global value chain.

The petrochemical industry provides jobs for locals and, as a major refining centre, Singapore can be part of the solution in shaping a less pollutive industry, Dr Balakrishnan said.

Two students asked if Singapore could take part in a “payment for ecosystems services model” where it paid its neighbours not to degrade forests. Dr Balakrishnan said that while the model is philosophically sound, practical challenges exist — such as the potential of being asked to pay ever-elevating amounts.

He also cautioned against the notion that Singapore is wealthy enough to hand out funds “indefinitely”.

“Yes we’ve been successful. Yes, we’ve the responsibility to be a good citizen of the world … But never get this inflated idea that we are rich and that we can change the world unilaterally.

“I’m afraid we are not in that position,” he said.

Singapore faces 3 major threats to its environment
Channel NewsAsia 30 Oct 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore faces three major threats to its environment, given the current global trends.

Speaking at a forum on Wednesday evening at the National University of Singapore, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the likely threats are another major pandemic, transboundary contamination and global warming.

Dr Balakrishnan said that there are already signs that global warming is affecting Singapore, with rising sea levels and unpredictable weather conditions being experienced.

He said this could lead to more droughts and other weather phenomena around the world, which in turn would affect the supply of food, water and energy in Singapore.

"When climate systems become more brittle (in agricultural countries), food is going to be an issue. Therefore the price of food, the availability of food and food security are going to be issues," said Dr Balakrishnan.

He also said that Singapore could soon see a revolution in transport soon.

Dr Balakrishnan said the current situation on the roads was not efficient and he believes that robotic transportation could be the answer, with driverless cars a possible option in the future for both public and private transportation.

- CNA/fa

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Real root of monkey problem

Strait Times 31 Oct 13;

ANIMAL Concerns Research and Education Society campaign executive See Han Sern is mistaken that I suggested culling monkeys because they are aggressive ("Culling doesn't tackle root of monkey problem"; last Friday).

I suggested culling because monkeys have invaded our living space and deprived us of the comforts of home.

Mr See also said monkey problems arise because food is readily available in human areas.

Food will always be readily available in human communities, so how does he expect us to keep food out of sight and reach of monkeys?

The real root of the problem is that monkeys do not have predators in their natural habitat to keep their numbers down.

As their population surges, they are forced to forage for food in human communities. The situation is aggravated by animal lovers giving food to them.

It is unrealistic to suggest that humans try to coexist with wild monkeys in our living space.

Without culling, the wild monkey population will surge such that we see monkeys all over the place.

As they can be aggressive, how are we to go about our lives in peace without the risk of being attacked?

Contrary to what Mr See would like us to believe, the culling of wild animals whose populations have grown to menacing proportions is an accepted practice in Australia, Europe, the United States and many other countries.

Culling does not mean killing the entire monkey population; it simply means keeping their numbers down to an acceptable level, so they will have enough food in their natural habitat and not have to invade our living space for it.

It will be more cruel to allow their numbers to multiply without control.

I support not culling wild monkeys if Mr See can produce a foolproof way to keep them in their natural habitat. So far, his proposals do not fulfil this condition.

Han Cheng Fong

Impose heavier fines on feeders
Straits Times Forum 31 Oct 13;

I VISIT MacRitchie Reservoir every Saturday morning for long runs with my team. Over the course of four years, I have observed that the monkeys there have become more aggressive ("Do more to curb monkey population" by Mr Han Cheng Fong, Oct 23; and "Culling doesn't tackle root of monkey problem" by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, last Friday).

It is common to see monkeys hanging around the cafe, compromising the safety of diners, especially young children. When the animals snatch food off the tables, the cafe staff would use spray hoses to chase them off.

My team usually eats fruits after training and monkeys have tried to attack us to obtain them.

Once, I saw a monkey in the amenities centre rummaging through a bag for food. It was tearing plastic bags and biting shampoo bottles, leaving the owner's belongings strewn all over the floor.

The monkeys have lost their fear of people and have come to expect food. They think plastic bags contain food and will not hesitate to snatch them from people.

In September last year, a woman needed 13 stitches after a monkey attacked her at MacRitchie Reservoir Park.

There is substantial evidence that the monkeys at MacRitchie Reservoir have crossed the line of safety.

Some people have called for the animals to be culled, but that is a short-term solution. Animal lovers who feed them are the prime reason why they approach humans.

Heavier fines could be imposed on those who feed monkeys. The authorities may also consider strengthening enforcement by roping in security companies to nab offenders.

Wong Shiying (Miss)

Tough to coexist with monkeys
Straits Times 31 Oct 13;

THE Animal Concerns Research and Education Society ("Culling doesn't tackle root of monkey problem"; last Friday) fails to appreciate the problem Mr Han Cheng Fong and his family face every day ("Do more to curb monkey population"; Oct 23).

To suggest that coexistence is the key to resolving the human-monkey conflict is unhelpful to the Han family and their neighbours.

Families should not have to lock themselves in their homes whenever there are monkeys around. It is hard to imagine how they could hold a birthday party or a barbecue in their garden without attracting unwanted attention from the monkeys. Babies left unattended could also be in danger.

Moving out may not even be an option as families may be reluctant to buy properties in monkey-infested areas.

Perhaps the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society can ascertain if humans have intruded into the natural habitat of monkeys, or if our forests have become too small to provide enough food for the monkeys, forcing them to invade our living space.

Fong Hang Yin (Ms)

Educate public on consequences of feeding monkeys
Straits Times Forum 31 Oct 13;

I AGREE with Mr Han Cheng Fong ("Do more to curb monkey population"; Oct 23) that the increase in the monkey population and their boldness over the years have become a serious concern.

I go to MacRitchie Reservoir weekly to train with my team and we consume fruits after training. We always keep a lookout for monkeys as they are not intimidated by the presence of humans.

This problem could have started because the public does not know that feeding the monkeys would increase their reliance on, and lessen their fear of, humans.

Planting more fruit trees in the forest would probably not help because the monkeys have already tasted our food.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has put up notices around the reservoir reminding people not to feed the monkeys, but this is not enough.

The public needs to be educated, starting from students in school. Forest treks could be arranged for them to learn about the consequences of feeding monkeys.

I hope the NEA will come up with more initiatives to resolve this problem.

Valarie Lai Zi Qing (Ms)

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PUB working to prevent floods in low-lying areas in eastern Singapore

Leong Wai Kit Channel NewsAsia 30 Oct 13;

SINGAPORE: The authorities are looking into ways to prevent flooding in low-lying areas in eastern Singapore.

On his Facebook page, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, who is also the Member of Parliament for Marine Parade GRC, said that he has asked national water agency PUB to look at areas such as Kembangan, Telok Kurau and Siglap.

His comments came as intense rain on Wednesday caused flooding in eastern Singapore, with reports of Chai Chee being the most affected.

PUB said it will bring forward drainage improvement works at the junction of New Upper Changi Road and Chai Chee Road from the last quarter of next year to mid-2014.

It added that it had installed a pump to transfer some of the water to the downstream drain across New Upper Changi Road. Another pump will be installed by this week.

In addition, the depressed section of Chai Chee Road will be raised and work will start in November.

At about 1pm on Wednesday, the junction of Chai Chee Road and New Upper Changi Road was flooded after a torrential downpour.

Faisal Suptu, a resident in Chai Chee, said: "There were two vehicles stalled and they had to be towed away. The police have to be called in just to direct the traffic."

"There are two contract workers to ensure that the drain covers are open to allow water to quickly flow and allow flood to subside. A few cars stalled and can't move from Chai Chee Road. The rain kept getting heavier, and soon the flood level rose," he added.

This was not the first time the area has been flooded. In April this year, the area was also hit by floods.

"When I was younger, flooding wasn't that often so it seems a novelty… but as an adult, when this happens, it just upsets your work schedule," said Faisal, who has been living in the area for 20 years.

On his Facebook post, Mr Tan said that flooding can get quite bad at the Chai Chee Road and New Upper Changi Road junction when there is intense rain.

He has talked to PUB and the Land Transport Authority to see what else can be done to deal with the issue.

Elsewhere, flood prevention measures have been put in place. At Liat Towers along Orchard Road, barriers have been set up, and over at Bukit Timah, shop owners rely on an informal network to help each other out.

The National Environment Agency said thundery showers in the afternoon are expected in the next three days.

- CNA/fa

Moves to cut flood risk in Chai Chee stepped up
Woo Sian Boon and Tiara Hamarian Today Online 31 Oct 13;

SINGAPORE — Immediate measures are being taken to reduce the flood risk at the junction of New Upper Changi Road and Chai Chee Road, hit yesterday by the second flash flood in three days which brought traffic to a standstill for about 20 minutes.

National water agency PUB said a pump to move some water to the downstream drain across New Upper Changi Road had been installed as an immediate measure to reduce flood risk, while another pump would be installed by the end of this week. Work will also start next month to raise the depressed section of Chai Chee Road.

The PUB added that drainage-improvement work it had earlier scheduled for the junction would be carried out in the middle of next year, instead of commencing at the end of 2014.

The heavy downpour yesterday also prompted a nearby school to warn parents about their children’s safety. Mdm Fatimah Beevi, whose son is a Primary 6 pupil at Opera Estate Primary School, yesterday received a text message from the school stating that it would dismiss pupils only after the rain had subsided. The school also allowed parents who were not driving to wait inside the compound for their children.

“It is the first time I have received such a message from the school regarding the heavy rain. Other times, (they are) just reminders about school holidays or extra activities,” she said.

Hawkers and stallholders at Marine Parade Market and Food Centre had to contend with ankle-high water flowing out of covered drains during the worst of the downpour yesterday — something that happens during heavy rain.

Said noodle-seller GY Liu, 50: “In the seven months since I’ve moved here, it has flooded three times, which has affected business badly. Customers, such as office ladies, won’t want to step in and get their shoes ruined.”

Customers at another coffee shop around the corner were also stuck for about two hours when the floods flowed into the premises. Said Mr Steven Ong, 51, who sells fish soup: “For about two hours, we had no customers.”

Shopkeepers in the nearby Changi Road area are bracing themselves for the coming north-east monsoon, which the authorities have warned will bring more intense and heavier rainfall this year. Since the area was hit badly by floods in 2010, business owners have taken various measures to prevent their goods from getting soaked, such as placing items on raised shelves or wooden pallets. Others have placed acrylic boards near doors to slow down the flow of flood water.

Said carpet-shop owner Kazem Fadakar, 49: “From now till February is the most dangerous time. I’ve been having sleepless nights worrying (about my shop). When it rained heavily the other night, I even took a taxi down just to make sure it’s not flooded, but what can I do? The waters rise so quickly, I only have five minutes to move everything, which is not possible because my carpets are so heavy.”

There was also concern that business would be affected if flooding continues. Said Operations Manager Doreen Tay of Bagus La Mian and Yong Tau Fu: “If the situation gets worse and it floods, we’ll have to close because we have a responsibility (to) our workers and customers — it can be dangerous if they slip and fall.”

PUB lays out plans to reduce flood risk at New Upper Changi Road
Today Online 30 Oct 13;

SINGAPORE — More immediate measures are being taken to reduce the flood risk at the junction of New Upper Changi Road and Chai Chee Road, which was hit by a flash flood earlier today (Oct 30) – the second in three days.

PUB said another pump will be installed in the area by this week to transfer water to the downstream drain across New Upper Changi Road. There is already one pump there. The depressed section of Chai Chee Road will also be raised and work will start next month.

PUB said it had earlier scheduled drainage improvement works at this junction in the fourth quarter of next year. This has been brought forward to the middle of next year.

Heavy showers had resulted in a few flash floods in eastern Singapore this afternoon, with Bedok and Chai Chee the most affected.

The junction of New Upper Changi Road and Chai Chee Road was not passable to traffic at about 1pm. Flood waters subsided within 20 minutes, said PUB.

Writing in a Facebook post, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said he is in discussions with PUB and the Land Transport Authority to “see what else can be done to deal with the flood issue” at the junction of New Upper Changi Road and Chai Chee Road.

“It’s quite bad when there is intense rain,” said the Marine Parade GRC Member of Parliament, adding that he will “try and address this issues or to at least ameliorate the effects”.

“I have asked PUB to widen and deepen drains in some stretches of Kembangan estate so that there will be a larger ‘receptacle’ in those areas that are low-lying. This is ongoing,” added Mr Tan.

“Works will be done in the Telok Kurau area as part of the improvement to the Siglap Canal drainage, but this will take some time,” he also wrote.

Flash floods hit two eastern areas again
Audrey Tan And Bryna Singh Straits Times 31 Oct 13;

FLASH floods hit two areas in eastern Singapore for the second time this week, owing to the heavy rainfall yesterday afternoon.

The same junction between Chai Chee and New Upper Changi roads, as well as Marine Parade Market and Food Centre a 10-minute drive away, were under water, as they were on Monday afternoon.

Traffic and businesses in both locations were affected, with water levels at the Chai Chee junction swelling to a point where "traffic (was) not passable", said national water agency PUB on Twitter. PUB said flooding started at about 12.54pm, and subsided after 20 minutes.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, an MP for Marine Parade GRC, said on Facebook that talks are ongoing with PUB and the Land Transport Authority "to deal with the flooding issue". He added: "It's quite bad when there is intense rain."

Hawker Zheng Ji, 54, agreed, saying that the junction has been flooded at least 10 times over the past three years.

PUB said in a statement that drainage improvement works at the junction will be brought forward to mid-next year instead of the fourth quarter.

Another pump will also be installed this week to aid the one transferring water to the drain across New Upper Changi Road.

"In addition, the depressed section of Chai Chee Road will be raised and work will start in November," PUB said.

Figures from PUB show that total rainfall of 54mm was recorded at Ping Yi Secondary School in Chai Chee from 12.30pm to 1.30pm, of which 48mm was recorded from 12.30pm to 1pm.

Marine Parade Market and Food Centre also reeked of a foul smell when its toilets overflowed and dirty water mixed with the floodwaters. Hawkers and stallholders, seen working in 10cm- deep rainwater, said business has been hit by the floods.

"Once the place is flooded, no customer wants to come," said hawker Tan Ah Guan, 62, who owns Apollo Fresh Cockle Fried Kway Teow.

Hawkers said toilet drainage has been a problem for the past few years, and the problem is exacerbated when it rains heavily.

Some patrons said water levels in the toilet bowls can near the brim, making the toilets almost impossible to flush. "We call the authorities a few times a week, and we've closed our stalls before for them to unclog the pipes, but it hasn't improved," said a hawker who asked to be known only as Mr Lee, 52.

In a statement, the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said that as of 7.30pm yesterday, total rainfall over Marine Parade Road was 66.2mm.

With more rainy days ahead, wet market stallholders are getting worried too. "When it rains in the afternoon, our business is not so affected. But if the place floods in the morning, it'll be bad for us," said pork seller Koh Sweet Huat, 58.

The MSS said on Monday that total rainfall this December and January could be 10 per cent to 20 per cent above average.

A spokesman for Marine Parade Town Council told The Straits Times it was aware of the situation. He said the market and food centre closed for a month late last year for repair and redecoration works, and a section of the sewer was repaired.

He said the town council has identified several external factors causing the flooding and is working with stakeholders, including PUB, the National Environment Agency, Marine Parade Merchants' Association and hawker representatives on the matter.

"Our town council has carried out CCTV inspection of all the sewer lines recently and will be carrying out repair works," said the spokesman.

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Heavy showers, flash floods hit eastern Singapore

Audrey Tan Straits Times 30 Oct 13;

Vehicles were left stranded at the junction between Chai Chee Road and New Upper Changi Road on Wednesday after the area was flooded again. This after heavy showers caused flash flooding at the same junction on Monday.

Mr Zheng Ji, a hawker at Foodhub@Chai Chee located at 26A Chai Chee Road, said he has seen the junction flood at least 10 times over the past three years. "Every time there is a heavy rain, the junction will flood," said the 54-year-old. "Sometimes, aunties will fall into the drain at the side when the water overflows."

With flood risks in mind, national water agency PUB has stepped up drainage maintenance efforts from once to three times a week. It will also inspect 100 construction sites to ensure nearby drains remain obstacle-free.

Showers trigger flash floods in eastern Singapore
Today Online 30 Oct 13;

SINGAPORE — Heavy showers resulted in a few flash floods in eastern Singapore this afternoon (Oct 30), with Bedok and Chai Chee the most affected.

The PUB reported that there was a flash flood at the junction of New Upper Changi Road and Chai Chee Road at around 12.45pm. By 1pm, however, the junction was not passable to traffic.

The flood at the junction had subsided by 1.20pm, the PUB reported via its Twitter feed.

There were also reports of water levels rising to above the 90 per cent mark, posing a high flood risk, at Siglap Road, Marine Parade Road and at the Jamiyah Children’s Home on Chin Cheng Avenue, which is near the junction of Still Road and Changi Road.

The Bedok South Avenue 1 exit from the East Coast Parkway expressway was also affected.

All flash floods had subsided by 1.30pm.

Moderation to heavy thundery showers also drenched the other regions of Singapore.

Related links
Katong Ponding on the Breakfast Network

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Singapore Tourism Board: Heritage, history play critical role in tourism efforts

Edward Koh, Executive Director, Strategy and Planning, Research and Incentives, Singapore Tourism Board
Today Online 31 Oct 13;

We thank Mr John Chia for his suggestions in “Don’t let cultural tourism fade into the background” (Oct 14).

Our heritage and history have always played a critical role in helping locals and visitors appreciate our Singapore story. Hence, we have been working with industry partners and grassroots organisations to promote Singapore’s rich culture.

In the cultural precincts of Chinatown and Little India, for instance, we partner relevant grassroots organisations to organise and develop activities, tours and experiences that are sensitive to the respective areas.

There are excellent cultural tourism products like the Changi Museum War Trails, by The Changi Museum and tour company Journeys, which recently won the Best Travel Experience accolade at the Singapore Experience Awards.

We are constantly seeking new ideas. Enterprising firms or people with ideas on cultural tourism can tap our recently launched S$5 million Kickstart Fund (see

As we strive towards Quality Tourism, a development model focused on creating authentic experiences for travellers, our unique heritage and contribution from locals will become more critical to our future success.

Hence, we welcome more conversations from people on ways to shape Singapore into a better place to visit.

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Scientists: SARS virus originated from China's horseshoe bats

The Star 31 Oct 13;

CANBERRA: The Australian national science body, CSIRO, has confirmed that the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus originated in horseshoe bats from China.

The findings were made by a research team led by Prof Shi Zhengli from Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, CSIRO and Duke-NUS scientist Prof Linfa Wang, according to the Xinhua news agency.

The team isolated a SARS-like coronavirus (CoV) called SL-CoV WIV1 directly from faecal samples of Chinese horseshoe bats using a methodology developed by scientists at CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Victoria.

While researchers globally have previously used genetic sequencing to demonstrate that bats are the natural reservoirs of SARS-like CoVs, this is the first time that live virus has been successfully isolated from bats to confirm them as the origin of the virus.

"The results will help governments design more effective prevention strategies for SARS and similar epidemics," the agency said citing CSIRO.

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) pandemic has killed 774 people out of 8,094 infected, a case fatality ratio of almost 10%.

Horseshoe bats are found around the world including in Australia and play an important ecological role.

Their role in SARS-CoV transmission highlights the importance of protecting the bat's natural environment, so they are not forced into highly populated urban areas in search of food.

The latest research is published in the journal Nature. - Bernama

Bats responsible for SARS virus
CSIRO Science Alert 30 Oct 13;

A team of international scientists has isolated a very close relative of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) from horseshoe bats in China, confirming them as the origin of the virus responsible for the 2002-3 pandemic.

The SARS-CoV pandemic killed 774 people of the 8094 people infected, a case fatality ratio of almost 10 per cent. With cases diagnosed across the world, the pandemic had an impact on international travel and trade.

The research team, led by Professor Shi Zhengli from Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and including CSIRO and Duke-NUS scientist Professor Linfa Wang, have just had their breakthrough results published in the prestigious journal Nature.

The results will help governments design more effective prevention strategies for SARS and similar epidemics.

While researchers globally have previously used genetic sequencing to demonstrate that bats are the natural reservoirs of SARS-like CoVs, this is the first time that live virus has been successfully isolated from bats to definitively confirm them as the origin of the virus.

The team successfully isolated a SARS-like CoV, named SL-CoV WIV1, directly from faecal samples of Chinese Horseshoe bats using the world renowned bat virus isolation methodology developed by scientists at CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong.

The results will help governments design more effective prevention strategies for SARS and similar epidemics.

Horseshoe bats are found around the world, including Australia and play an important ecological role. Their role in SARS-CoV transmission highlights the importance of protecting the bat’s natural environment so they are not forced into highly populated urban areas in search of food.
This work is part of CSIRO's ongoing commitment to protect Australia from biosecurity threats posed by new and emerging infectious diseases.

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Malaysians bracing for year-end floods

Sin Chew 30 Oct 13;

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 30 (Bernama) -- The flash floods that hit several west coast states in the Peninsula were the result of a heavy downfall attributed to the tail end of the Southwest monsoon.

The floods also marked the advent of the Northeast monsoon.

People in the Klang Valley as well as the southern parts of Perak are now experiencing rain everyday, a result of this 'transition period'.

In fact, some parts of Perak and Kedah, such as the districts of Manjong (in Perak) as well as Kepala Batas and Yan (in Kedah) are experiencing torrential rains and floods.

Though it is by no means an extraordinary phenomenon, the Northeast monsoon is expected to last for about five months from November until March, and the rains are expected to unleash their fury over the east coast states of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and some parts in Johor.

So, are such floods imminent? That is a question that many ask around this time of the year.

Floods in Malaysia

Since 1920, Malaysia experienced a number of major floods such as the ones in 1926, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1979, 1983, 1988, 1993, 1998, 2005, 2006, 2007 and the latest being in 2011

The floods that hit Kuala Lumpur and several other states in 1971 left in their wake a trail of massive destruction of property, the losses pegged at RM200 million, apart from the 61 lives lost in the calamity.

But the floods in Johor in 2006-2007 wreaked maximum economic loss in the country's history, the figure standing at a stunning figure of more than RM1.5 billion.

The floods had caused massive damage to infrastructure including bridges and roads apart from agricultural farms as well as many business premises.

Some 110,000 people were displaced and had to seek shelter at flood evacuation centers statewide while 18 fatalities were recorded.

Weather forecasts are crucial

According to the Malaysian Meteorological Department's Weather Forecast Center Director Muhammad Helmi Abdullah, weather forecasts are dependent on phenomena like the El-Nino and La-Nina.

The El-Nino led to an exceptional hot and dry spell while La-Nina's effect was exactly the opposite.

This year, the country is only experiencing the minimum impact of these two phenomena, he told Bernama.

"No exceptionally high rainfall is expected during this year's Northeast Monsoon and the average rainfall will not be above 500mm," he says.

Muhammad Helmi explains that the floods usually occur due to several factors like storms, strong winds and exceptionally high tides.

"However, the amount of rainfall this year is expected to remain average and if floods do occur, then these will be the normal seasonal floods and not like the ones that hit the country in 2006/2007," he explains.

Downfall episodes

About four to five spells of rainfall are expected during this year's Northeast monsoon, beginning in early November and continuing until the end of March in 2014.

The rains will be due to the low pressure and a 'cyclone vortex' expected to occur near the Equator from November till January next year. This will cause strong winds in the South China Sea and West Pacific Ocean.

Both these winds will gather near the Peninsular of Malaysia, triggering heavy rains and huge waves in the east coast region, says Muhammad Helmi. From January to March next year, the wind will move towards Sabah and Sarawak.

He says the department will issue public warnings to enable the people to prepare to deal with the situation.

"The warnings will be issued four to five days before the expected heavy downfall, particularly to fishermen," he says.

He says the department utilizes 13 doppler radars to obtain accurate weather forecasts apart from using satellite pictures and weather monitoring cameras at all meteorological stations nationwide.

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WWF-Malaysia lauds plans in Budget 2014

Isabelle Lai The Star 31 Oct 13;

PETALING JAYA: WWF-Malaysia has given the thumbs up to several green initiatives outlined in Budget 2014, including the Environmental, Social and Government (ESG) Index and the establishment of a National Conservation Trust Fund.

WWF-Malaysia executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said threats and challenges to the environment would continue to exist, which he said was why Budget 2014 was “all about growth and development”.

He noted that initiatives like the ESG would play a role in ensuring environmental considerations were not left behind in the pursuit of economic development.

“It will also ensure corporate governance is enhanced to stop the onslaught, degradation or destruction of the country’s natural environment in the name of progress and development. Otherwise, the well being of the rakyat will ultimately be adversely affected,” he said in a statement.

Dr Sharma, who is also WWF-Malaysia’s CEO, said economic resilience was inextricably linked to the maintenance of a healthy and functioning environment, with sustainable use of its products and services.

He said the Barisan Nasional’s recent general election manifesto had acknowledged this in stating that Malaysia’s abundant resources had been the engine of economic growth for decades.

He said the Barisan had also made the election promise to protect the nation’s natural resources.

“The National Conservation Trust Fund is a good start to fulfilling this election promise, which is also made in the National Biodiversity Policy 1998 and the 10th Malaysia Plan,” he said, adding that the fund must ensure that conservation efforts received sustainable and long-term financing.

He also hoped allocations to increase economic activities and outputs in industries such as oil and gas, palm oil and rubber would be underpinned by principles of environmental sustainability.

Dr Sharma also praised Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s statement that efforts would be made to market Malaysia as a Social Responsible Investment (SRI) venue, saying this was a positive initiative to help steer investments towards sustainable and inclusive activities.

He also welcomed the National Carbon Reporting Programme (MyCarbon), investment tax allowance on green technology products, income tax exemption on green technology services and systems as well as the establishment of the Malaysian Green Foundation.

“We will work closely with the Government and related organisations to move Malaysia on its ‘green journey’ and look forward to seeing all the green initiatives in Budget 2014 implemented next year and in the near future,” he said.

Do you care about the environment?
Victoria Brown The Star 1 Nov 13;

Victoria Brown thinks it’s time to reevaluate our half-hearted stance on the environment.

HOW high do you place Mother Nature on your priority list? The answers range, with some saying that more has to be done to protect our environment, while others nonchalantly reply that they don’t really care.

There is no denying that there are a large number of Malaysians who shove aside their responsibilities in protecting our environment to someone else.

I’m talking about the person who tosses their trash out moving vehicles or openly burns their garbage instead of properly disposing of it.

If everyone had this sort of mentality, our world would be a very different place.

Imagine life without clean rivers, lakes or seas; no rainforests or animals; living in a toxic wasteland.

Before you laugh this terrible scenario off, just look up the pictures of the acres of trees we have cut down and the countless of dirty teh-tarik coloured and rubbish-filled rivers Malaysia has.

The environment affects everybody in some way or another and it’s about time we do something about it!

Thankfully, the government has addressed some environmental concerns in Budget 2014 and are beginning to take a few steps forward in terms of environmental conservation (see Budget 2014 points at the end of the article).

I spoke to a couple of environmental organisations to discuss their thoughts on the government’s allocation to the environmental sector in the latest budget.

Kanitha Krishnasamy, a senior programme officer at Traffic Southeast Asia, expressed her delight on the mention of The National Conservation Trust Fund, which is something that has been deliberated for close to a decade.

“It’s good to see it mentioned, hopefully it will come into effect soon and be an initiative that protects wildlife and protected areas,” she said.

However, she mentioned that there weren’t much details on wildlife protection efforts.

“Illegal hunting and wildlife trade is a serious problem in Malaysia, evidenced by the level of hunting and seizures occurring throughout the country,” said Kanitha.

She said that more enforcement has to be carried out to ensure that we don’t lose more of our “precious wildlife to ruthless poachers and traders”.

“One of the most urgent needs is to improve on-the-ground efforts and intensify patrolling within key forest landscapes to ensure that the killing is stopped,” she said.

“Enforcement agencies must be equipped with the right people, tools and resources to ensure that our forests are protected from encroachment, kept safe from poachers,” added Kanitha.

Kanitha says that patrolling and enforcement activities should focus on key areas such as Belum-Temengor, Taman Negara and Endau Rompin.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Malaysia executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma agrees that the National Conservation Trust Fund is a good start to fulfilling the government’s election promise to conserving our environment.

“It is important that this Fund is set up with a view to ensure that conservation efforts receive sustainable and long-term financing and is able to withstand any flux in economic outlook,” said Sharma.

He stresses the importance of maintaining a “healthy and functioning environment” and the “sustainable use of products and services”.

On the other hand, Sharma says that Budget 2014 is also about growth and development, which is sure to bring about challenges and threats to the environment.

“We have seen that happening in the past, and we continue to see it today,” he continued.

With that in mind, Sharma said that it is essential that measures should be in place to ensure that economic activities and development are conducted based on improved environmental and socially responsible operations.

“Otherwise, the well-being of the rakyat will ultimately be adversely affected,” said Sharma.

Overall, there are still concerns and issues among environmental groups regarding the government’s steps to conserve our environment and ecosystems.

Personally, I hope that the government will effectively implement the points mentioned in Budget 2014 and that more effort will be put into educating the public on the importance of caring for our environment.

What are your thoughts on the government’s environmental initiatives in Budget 2014? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

The following environmental issues have been addressed in Budget 2014:

- The implementation of the National Carbon Reporting Programme or MyCarbon for the corporate sector.

- The establishment of a National Conservation Trust Fund for conservation of degraded areas and permanent forest reserves.

- Provide investment tax allowance for the purchase of green technology equipment and income tax exemption on the use of green technology services and system.

- Malaysian Green Foundation will be established to promote and enhance use of green technology by the corporate sector and the general public.

- Allocation of RM40mil to widen and deepen Sungai Bertam.

- Government will install solar panels on rooftops of ministry buildings as well as replace existing lights with LED lights in stages.

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Swallowed by coal: UK profits from Indonesia's destructive mining industry

Funded by British investment, mining brings deforestation, health problems and pollution to Samarinda, part of 'coal's last frontier'
John Vidal 30 Oct 13;

Just 30 years ago, Samarinda was a sleepy village surrounded by deep equatorial forest and known mostly for its traditionally woven sarongs. Today it is the largest city in Indonesia's East Kalimantan province, with nearly 1 million inhabitants. It is also the centre of the burgeoning coal industry, surrounded by more than 1,000 mines and concessions.

The forests have gone, opencast mines circle the city and giant barges pass down the river Mahakam every few minutes taking coal to India, Japan, Korea and beyond. Nearly 70% of the city has been handed to coal companies as concessions. In theory, Samarinda could be swallowed by coal.

The city and most of East Kalimantan is unrecognisable to those who left some three decades ago, but now, say Indonesian and British campaigners, coal mining is poised to rip through central Kalimantan, or Borneo, a few hundred miles west of Samarinda. Mining companies such as BHP Billiton are moving in with money raised in London to exploit some of the world's largest deposits in what is being called coal's last frontier. So far, 449 exploration concessions have been awarded, covering 15,313 square miles (39,662 sq km) – about 25% of the area of the whole densely forested province famed for its tribespeople, remoteness and wildlife.

According to the World Development Movement and its partner in Indonesia, the East Kalimantan Mining Advocacy Network, mining and the infrastructure needed to extract and export coal from the heart of Borneo will inevitably ruin vast, heavily forested areas at great cost to people living there and the environment.

Apart from the millions of tonnes of carbon that will be emitted from the burning of the coal, massive railway projects are planned, and giant pits and waste dumps will be needed to support the industry. This will lead to pollution of rivers and land-grabbing during the digging of vast open-cast pits each covering several square miles, as people flock there in search for jobs.

The pace of the mining is speeding up in central Kalimantan. More than 8.5m tonnes of coal were dug last year compared with less than 1m tonnes in 2005; and by 2020 companies could be extracting more than 20m tonnes a year. Indo Met, the largest concession in central Kalimantan, owned by BHP Billiton, covers 350,000 hectares and is thought to have coal reserves of more than 774m tonnes.

Where mining has started, people complain of air pollution, flooding, and land grabs. "We receive all the negatives of coal but very little of the benefits. We will receive the full impact of the waste when they start dumping. The forest will be gone and we will lose our rubber trees," Erly Aisha, a Dayak leader from Maruwei village, told WDM.

Waste from Borneo Lumbung's mine has seeped into the local rivers, say other villagers. "The water is dark and dirty and makes your skin itch. We don't drink it now. The new mine is not operating but the company already has our land. We feel afraid," said Yesmaidfa, a mother in Maruwei.

According to WDM, the UK financial sector is involved in more than 50 major coal mines worked by 12 large companies in East and others in central Kalimantan.

BHP Billiton, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, has recieved millions of pounds of investment from Barclays. Because it is part of the FTSE 100, almost every pension holder in the UK has money invested in it. Borneo Lumbung, which controls the Asmin Koalindo Tuhup mine in central Kalimantan, received a loan of $1bn (£0.6bn) from the UK bank Standard Chartered in 2012. Most of the money, says WDM, was used to buy shares in Bumi, the troubled London-listed firm co-founded by financier Nat Rothschild that owns large stakes in some of the biggest mining projects in East Kalimantan.

BHP Billiton, which has a 75% share in the giant IndoMet coal project, is estimated by WDM to have used about £110m of money raised in London. Elsewhere, Adaro Energy, Indonesia's second-largest producer of thermal coal, received £245m from a coalition of UK banks, including HSBC and Standard Chartered.

"With the financial sector shrouded in secrecy, it will be very hard to do anything more than estimate the true extent of involvement that UK financial and investment institutions have in fossil fuel projects in places such as Indonesia," said Alex Scrivener, author of the WDM report. "The sector and its institutions must be held to account for their bankrolling of climate change and environmental destruction."

Andrew Hickman, from the Indonesian mining watchdog Down to Earth, said: "The energy we consume in Britain is dirty, but the profit that UK companies make from Indonesia's coal is dirtier. Local communities facing health problems, pollution and human rights abuses in Indonesia know that this coal is deadly too. BHP Billiton's Borneo coal concessions will be a disaster for local people, the environment and our climate."

A spokesman for BHP Billiton in London said: "The IndoMet coal project is a joint venture between BHP Billiton and Adaro. The first stage of development is a small operation called Haju and we are continuing to evaluate the potential for larger scale developments in the region. Any development in central and East Kalimantan will be subject to detailed environmental and social impact assessments, feasibility studies and will require all appropriate permits to be in place before activities commence."

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