Best of our wild blogs: 31 Dec 13

A change of Punggol shore?
from wonderful creation

A damselfly eating another damselfly
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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NGOs move to extend nature’s reach

Climate issues, human-wildlife conflicts could feature prominently in the year ahead
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 31 Dec 13;

SINGAPORE — It was a year in which the transboundary nature of environmental issues hit home and, in the year ahead, climate issues, human-wildlife conflicts as well as the Cross Island Line’s potential impact on a nature reserve could feature prominently in the news.

Haze resulting from the burning of forests and plantations in Sumatra reached hazardous levels in Singapore and parts of Malaysia in June, sending the public scrambling for N95 masks and the Singapore Government putting mitigation plans into action.

The worst of the haze lasted several days but, for National University of Singapore climate change researcher Jason Cohen, it “really helped to open up people’s minds to this idea of international environmental issues” and served as a wake-up call that “no matter how well the Government does”, it cannot keep the environment of Singapore clean “on its own”.

A Haze Monitoring System for five countries in the region was developed by Singapore and adopted at the ASEAN Summit in Brunei in October. Its success hinges on accurate, up-to-date data from concession maps and satellite images overlaid to keep tabs on firms that clear land by burning.

Despite its tentative beginning, with uncertainties over the sharing of concession maps, Dr Cohen is optimistic about the system. “Any data that can be released is better than none.”


Three months after the haze, scientists in September pronounced it “extremely likely” that human influence is the dominant cause of global warming in the last 60 years and the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) said the Republic could consequently expect more frequent and intense rainfall and more extreme temperatures in the coming decades.

Climate change, related scientifically to the haze in some ways, is the single most difficult global environment issue to deal with, said Dr Cohen.

He did not feel the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report (the Physical Science Basis and Summary for Policymakers) significantly increased public consciousness of climate change.

But for CCRS Director Chris Gordon, the first part of the assessment report released in September gave “considerably greater confidence in the projection that there will be an increase in heavy rainfall events over this region and, therefore, over Singapore in the future”. The report’s sections on impact and mitigation will be released in March and April next year.

Work is under way at the CCRS to “downscale” projections made in the report to produce scenarios for Singapore. Part of the Republic’s Second National Climate Change Study, its first phase of climate projections, is expected to be completed by the end of next year. Some questions it seeks to answer include: In an extreme scenario, how could we expect temperatures and rainfall to change by the end of this century? By how much do we expect sea levels to rise?

Such information will then feed into the second phase of the study, with projections used by infrastructure agencies to determine what coastal defences or flood drainage would be necessary here.

Dr Gordon stressed that climate projections are for the long term — over 50 to 100 years. “It is true that climate change will have some impact but, at this point in time, it’s still a relatively small impact.”

In the short term, natural variations largely account for the varying levels of rainfall and temperature, which make the weather impossible to predict beyond three months.

The Northeast Monsoon which started in November and could last until early March, for instance, has brought above-average rainfall this month and will likely bring 10 to 20 per cent more rain than average in the first two months next year. What causes year-to-year monsoon variation is “a whole range of different things”, such as temperatures of the ocean and those of the winds blowing from Siberia, said Dr Gordon.


Then, there is the delicate issue of the route of the future Cross Island Line (CRL). The underground train line is to be ready around 2030 but, when it was first announced in January and depicted to cut under MacRitchie Reservoir and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, nature groups were immediately concerned. The groups and the authorities soon engaged in dialogue, which the Nature Society’s CRL spokesman Tony O’Dempsey said have been smooth so far.

The Nature Society has proposed alternative routes for the line to avoid cutting through the nature reserve and has formed a working group with other non-governmental organisations and individuals to collate biodiversity studies done on the reserve in the past 20 years.

The working group will make its submission to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) by the end of this year, and is involved in determining the scope of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for which the LTA will call a tender in the first quarter of 2014.

Never before have NGOs been involved at this early stage of a project’s development and Mr O’Dempsey said the society is also requesting for findings of the EIA to be made public.

“The big deal here is that the CRL sets a precedent — if we keep it out of the nature reserve, it will limit other future projects that potentially encroach on the nature reserves,” he said.

The last time so many nature advocacy groups worked together was to oppose the reclamation of Chek Jawa wetland in Pulau Ubin over a decade ago, said co-founder of Cicada Tree Eco Place Vilma D’Rozario, who is part of the working group. “To me, the CRL is the worst thing that could happen to our forests … When things like that happen, all the advocacy groups come together,” she said, welcoming dialogue with the authorities.

Dr D’Rozario and three friends had protested by chaining themselves to a tree in Hong Lim Park for 24 hours in June, attracting young nature enthusiasts eager to pitch in.

The result: An initiative called Love Our MacRitchie Forest (, whose website is managed by NUS research assistant Chloe Tan and undergraduate David Tan.

The CRL issue has sparked a groundswell of efforts to share the nature reserve’s richness with the wider public: Cicada Tree Eco Place has held five public talks by botanist Joseph Lai, as well as 18 free walks for the public since June. The Raffles Museum Toddycats, a group of nature volunteers, has 20 trained Love MacRitchie guides and will be recruiting more next year, said Ms Tan.

A Toddycat, Ms Tan had studied the diversity of small mammals in different types of forest in Singapore during her honours year and found native species like the Singapore Rat and Common Treeshrew doing well only in and around mature forests of the Central Water Catchment.

“It is important to me that the boundaries of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve are not breached by development works because this would open the floodgates to further encroachment … in future,” she said.


More wildlife-human conflicts could arise, with developments in Singapore and Malaysia eating into remaining forest areas, said Mr O’Dempsey.

“We need to approach land development intelligently to accommodate this situation,” he said. This means better rubbish collection, better buffering between nature areas and residential developments, better building design so developments blend in rather than abut the nature areas and better understanding of the natural environment by residents.

Singaporeans also need to keep an eye out for dengue and other infectious diseases in the year ahead, said experts from Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Weekly dengue numbers reported are still relatively high despite December being a cooler time of the year.

Based on Singapore’s experience during the 2004 to 2005 epidemic which also involved Dengue Serotype 1, “there may be a chance that the trend this year may continue into next year”, said Professor Leo Yee Sin, Director of TTSH’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Epidemiology.

Singapore logged a record of more than 21,000 dengue cases this year. Next year’s numbers will depend on multiple factors, including temperature and rainfall, the mosquito population, human population density and immunity, as well as the emergence of a new strain of the dengue virus, said TTSH’s epidemiology department head Angela Chow. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SIAU MING EN

Related links
Love our MacRitchie Forest: walks, talks and petition. Also on facebook.

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110 hotspots around Asia causes drop in Singapore's air quality

AsiaOne 30 Dec 13;

Singapore - A total of 110 hotspots detected around Asia has caused a deterioration in Singapore's air quality, the National Environmental Agency said in an update to the media on Monday.

The 24-hr PSI at 6pm today remains in the 'Good' range, hovering at 44 to 49, while the 3-hr PSI stands at 38.

NEA added that the PM2.5 is the range of 25 to 30μg/m3.

Northern ASEAN and parts of East Asia have been experiencing dry weather conditions over the past several weeks, contributing to the increase in hotspots.

Winds blowing from the north or northeast are pushing the dust particles and haze towards Singapore.

In a Facebook update on Monday, Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said that the latest haze is "a reminder that we can never take the environment for granted."

NEA has forecasted showers over Singapore for the next few days, and expects the air quality to improve and remain in the 'Good' range.

Mild haze detected but PSI still in 'Good' range
Melissa Chong Channel NewsAsia 30 Dec 13;

SINGAPORE: Mild haze was detected in Singapore on Monday.

However, the PSI did not exceed 50, which means air quality remains in the 'Good' range (0-50).

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), air quality has deteriorated since Sunday.

The NEA said northeasterly winds were blowing dust particles from the northern ASEAN region, where 110 hotspots were detected on Sunday.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said on his Facebook page that it is a reminder we can never take the environment for granted.

NEA assured the air quality should improve the next few days as rain is forecasted.

- CNA/gn

Air quality to improve in next few days: NEA
Dry weather conditions, 110 hot spots around Asia the reasons behind haze
Kok Xing Hui Today Online 31 Dec 13;

SINGAPORE — Despite a mild haze that was detected yesterday, air quality has remained in the “Good” range (0-50) and is expected to improve over the next few days, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Writing on his Facebook page, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said the episode served as a “reminder that we can never take the environment for granted”.

In an advisory issued last evening, the NEA said air quality has “deteriorated” since Sunday. Yesterday’s 24-hr PSI reading at 6pm was in the range of 44 to 49.

The agency said recent dry weather conditions in the northern ASEAN region and parts of East Asia were the reasons behind the haze and added that 110 hot spots were detected in northern ASEAN on Dec 29. “The haze is due to dust particles conveyed by the winds blowing from the north or north-east,” wrote Dr Balakrishnan.

The hot spots detected were mainly concentrated in Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar, unlike in June, when Singapore experienced a prolonged haze situation due to fires in Sumatra, which caused the PSI reading to hit a record high of 401 .

The haze in June, the worst experienced by the Republic and Malaysia since 1997, prompted regional governments to discuss measures to tackle transboundary haze pollution more effectively. In October, ASEAN leaders formally adopted the Singapore-developed haze monitoring system for five member states: Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Thailand.

On the current mild haze, the NEA said it is monitoring the situation closely and will provide updates when necessary.

For the next few days, showers are forecast over Singapore and the NEA said it expects the air quality to improve and remain in the “Good” range.

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Malaysia: Emergency response committee for natural disasters to be set up

The Star 31 Dec 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has announced the setting up of a special committee to work out emergency response procedures in facing natural disasters.

The Prime Minister did not name the committee but said it was a precautionary measure when dealing with natural disasters such as the recent floods that struck several states.

In his latest post on his Facebook account, Najib also recorded his appreciation to all those who had extended relief aid to the flood victims.

He also referred to the current floods in Sarawak and prayed for God to ease the burden on those affected.

“I pray that God will ease the burden of the households affected by the floods in Bintulu, Miri, Sarikei and other areas, he said.

Incessant rain for almost a week had caused floods in four Sarawak divisions, namely Miri, Bintulu, Betong and Sri Aman.

As of today, 261 people from 60 households in Miri and Bintulu had been evacuated to relief centres.

Of the total, 222 were in the Bintulu division and 34 in Niah and five in Marudi, both being sub-districts in the Miri division. — Bernama

Panel to devise strategies to tackle floods
New Straits Times 1 Jan 1;

KUANTAN: The government will draft comprehensive measures to tackle floods, including improving the existing standard operating procedures (SOP) and exploring the possibility of introducing an early warning system.

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said he would chair a special committee meeting on Friday, which will be attended by representatives from all states, National Security Council and agencies. "We will find ways to coordinate (relief efforts) more efficiently, including the introduction of an early warning system."

He said this after presenting flood aid, including school bags donated by the Student Volunteer Foundation to pupils at SK Permatang Badak here yesterday.

Muhyiddin, who is also education minister, said the committee would discuss measures to improve facilities in flood relief centres and food supply storage facilities.

He said an in-depth plan on logistics and aid distribution to areas cut off by the floods will be also be identified.

Muhyiddin said although the SOPs were followed during the disaster, there was a need to make changes, especially with the unpredictable weather trend.

He said affected schools in Sarawak will be allowed to postpone their opening until the situation improved. "These schools are allowed to delay the new term until the situation is safe."

He said they can hold replacement classes later.

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Malaysia: Kemaman, Terengganu, suffers worst flood in 50 years

Daily Express 30 Dec 13;

KEMAMAN: In Malaysia, the perennial flood has always been associated with the East Coast states, especially Terengganu and Kelantan.

In fact, since early 1950's it had become an annual affair for the two states to suffer from the year-end monsoon floods.

However in recent years, other states such as Johor, Kedah, Perlis and Perak also had their fair shares of inundation, causing losses that ran into millions of ringgit.

One of the major floods to hit the country must be the big floods of Johor in 2006 where more than 90,000 people evacuated, which also affected Pahang, involving the districts of the Pekan and Rompin with more than 20,000 victims relocated to safer grounds. This year, Pahang and Terengganu bore the brunt of the natural calamity.

Earlier this month, more than 40,000 people were evacuated due to floods in Pahang, especially in Kuantan.

In Kemaman, Terengganu, flood evacuees at relief centres numbered around 20,000. On Dec 2, only 133 people from Kampung Teladas and Air Puteh in Kuantan were affected by floods, but the number rose dramatically to 1,000 people the next day and later, 8,000 victims had to be moved into evacuation centres.

The flood in Kemaman, on the other hand, reached its peak on Dec 7 when more than 19,000 evacuees at relief centres had to endure a period of incommunicado when all roads were closed and communication with outsiders was not possible.

The big flood literally paralysed Kemaman as power lines had to be disconnected for safety.

The district was said to have been hit by the worst flood in 50 years.

Even the areas on higher grounds such as Felda Neram Satu, Cheneh, Binjai and Geliga were not spared.

Apart from that, police stations, fire and rescue stations, schools and clinics in those areas also went under 1.5 metres of water.

At that time, military trucks and boats had to be mobilised to evacuate victims to relief centres.

Kemaman police chief Supt Che Suza Che Hitam said there were more than 50 cases on flood victims refusing to evacuate to safer places.

On Dec 4, six flood volunteers were almost drowned after their boat capsized when they were on their way to Kampung Seberang Tayor.

They had to hang on to the boat for their dear lives for 15 minutes before help arrived.

It was undeniable that uniform personnel, such as police, army, fire and rescue squad, as well as nurses, had given outstanding performance and went beyond the call of duty for the community during this trying time.

In this regard, Communication and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek was highly impressed with the patience of Kemaman residents during the floods.

Ahmad Shabery, who is also Kemaman member of Parliament, said it was hoped that the people would be better prepared for the disaster after this chapter.

"The arrival of thousands of security forces personnel and volunteers from non-governmental organisations to help flood victims in Terengganu showed Malaysians have also always shared their concerns for their fellow countrymen in times of difficulty," he said. - Bernama

Orange alert in 4 divisions
Fazleena Aziz New Straits Times 31 Dec 13;

HEAVY RAIN: Najib expresses concern for Sarawak flood victims

KUALA LUMPUR: PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak yesterday offered his prayers and concern for those affected by floods in Sarawak.

"I pray that Allah will ease and relieve flood victims in Bintulu, Miri and other parts of the state of the burden," said Najib in his Twitter post.

The Meteorological Department has issued an Orange alert for divisions of Kuching, Samarahan, Sri Aman and Mukah as heavy rain is expected to continue until today.

Its weather forecast centre director, Muhammad Helmi Abdullah, said despite the moderate intensity, the condition would cause floods in low-lying areas due to continuous rain.

"We have issued a Yellow alert for divisions of Betong, Sarikei, Sibu, Bintulu and Miri, which is expected to persist until tomorrow (today) as well as there are intermittent rain.

"High tide is also expected until Jan 6, which can be a contributing factor should the condition worsens in the affected places."

Helmi said the weather was looking good in the east coast but rough seas condition had been issued for all the coastal areas in the country.

In the South China Sea, strong winds and rough seas have been upgraded to third category, with winds over 60kph and waves more than 5.5 metres occurring in the waters off Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and east Johor. This is expected to continue until today.

The department has also issued thunderstorm warning occurring in the waters off Sarawak, Labuan and Sabah (Kudat and Sandakan) yesterday.

In Kuching, Bernama reports that landslides triggered by heavy rain for almost a week have cut off road links to several areas in the Miri and Mukah divisions.

The road link between a settlement in the Bakong sub-district and Miri had been cut off, Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu said after chairing a meeting of the state Disaster Relief Committee.

He said the Public Works Department was clearing the roads of rubble to make them passable again.

Jabu said incessant rain had caused Sungai Batang Baram in Miri Division and Sungai Batang Kemena in Bintulu Division to burst their banks and flood low-lying areas.

"The committee, with the assistance of the relevant departments and agencies, has sent aid to the affected people."

Jabu said the heavy rain was common during the north-east monsoon season and this had caused a rise in the average rainfall recorded for the whole of the month. He said the situation was expected to continue until March.

The committee said 261 people from 60 households had been moved to relief centres in Miri and Bintulu divisions.

The Bintulu division had the highest number of evacuees at 222, followed by the Niah sub-district in Miri (34) and Marudi, also in Miri, (five).

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It won't be long before the victims of climate change make the west pay

The scientific case is strengthening: developed countries are to blame for global warming – and there will soon be a legal reckoning
Chris Huhne The Guardian 29 Dec 13;

Would you enjoy the cosiness and warmth of Christmas with your children or grandchildren just that little bit less if you knew that other people's children were dying because of it? More than four million children under five years old are now at risk of acute malnutrition in the Sahel, an area of the world that is one of the clearest victims of the rich world's addiction to fossil fuels.

About 18 million people in the Sahel – the vulnerable pan-African strip of land that runs from Senegal to Sudan along the southern edge of the Sahara – faced famine last year. Life has never been easy there. Its land is poor. Its people are often semi-nomadic, moving their animals between the grasslands. But science is increasingly pointing a hard finger at those to blame for the persistence of Sahelian drought – and it is us.

This is an ineluctable consequence of improving the computer models of climate change. Of course, there are still large uncertainties. But what has long persuaded me of the strength of the scientific case for human-induced climate change is that climate-sceptic scientists have not managed to build a model that explains global warming without human-induced effects. The human hand is indispensable in understanding what has happened.

There are legitimate doubts about the scale of the impact, and about other offsetting factors that may reduce human-induced global warming. But what should be a wake-up call is science's growing ability to highlight the blame for particular extreme events, and not just in the Sahel.

For instance, a recent paper by Fraser C Lott and colleagues examined the increased probability that the 2011 East African drought in Somalia and Kenya can be attributed to human-induced climate change. Pardeep Pal and others investigated the impact of climate change on the £1.3bn insured losses from the flooding in the UK in 2000. Peter A Stott and others looked at the hot European summer of 2003, and its heatwave-related deaths.

Richard Washington, the professor of climate science at Oxford, rightly highlights the importance of this scientific work for its ability to change the global political and legal game. We saw how high feelings run with the walk-out by 132 developing countries at the Warsaw climate-change talks last month when the new Australian government tried to block all talk of loss and compensation until after 2015.

The more certain is the attribution for blame, the more justified many developing countries will feel in protesting about the impact of rising sea levels on small island states such as the Maldives and Fiji or low-lying delta cultures such as Vietnam and Bangladesh. Moreover, fair-minded democracies will find the call for compensation hard to resist at home.

The science also opens up the possibility that the victims of climate change could begin to take international legal action against the countries responsible, particularly the early industrialisers, such as Britain, Belgium and Germany, whose carbon continues to warm the planet a century after it was emitted. Legal action is not a substitute for politics, but it could highlight the evidence in an uncomfortable way.

This year a group of small island states threatened by rising sea levels, led by Palau, came close to asking the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the responsibility of historic emitters for global warming. The main reason they did not press ahead then was that the scientific case is strengthening by the month. A later case will be even stronger.

"There will definitely be a case in my lifetime and probably within five to 10 years," says Philippe Sands QC, the UCL professor of international law, who has advised many endangered nations, including Bangladesh. "It is going to happen. The only questions now are where, how and to what purpose."

The UN framework may not be ideal, precisely because it is dominated by the historic five powers, all of whom have their own interests. But the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea may be a forum that would hear the matter.

Sands points out that climate change is already entering indirectly into cases such as the dispute between India and Bangladesh over territorial waters: as land disappears, so the projection of the line into the sea, dividing territorial waters, will change.

It is not a defence that we did not know what we were doing, nor does a case have to target everyone who might have historic responsibility: countries are jointly and severally liable, which may help to deal with the problem that the United States is often not a signatory and hence denies international jurisdiction.

Paradoxically, one of the strongest cards that the historic emitters can play is to highlight the international effort to tackle climate change. Legally, they can argue that the global process under way since 1992 through the Kyoto Protocol and the countless meetings of the "convention of the parties", is itself a response to the need for action, and displaces the need for lawsuits.

But that implies that the global political process must hold out – as it can and should – a real possibility of delivering change. If it fails, the historic emitters may want to consider some of the consequences, not least of which is the possibility that embarrassing legal cases will display the increasingly strong scientific evidence about who is to blame.

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