Best of our wild blogs: 11 Mar 14

Butterflies Galore! : Grand Imperial
from Butterflies of Singapore

Olive-backed Sunbird nesting: SPIDER ISSUES “STOP WORK” ORDER from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Committee of Supply 2014 - Speech by Minister of State Desmond Lee "Working Together to Build a Liveable and Green Singapore"

MND Press Release 10 Mar 2014 08:00 PM

Sir, I serve a constituency in Jurong West. In my conversations with older community leaders and residents, I would be reminded from time to time that, not too long ago, Jurong was a swamp. Nobody thought it could be an industrial hub and a residential heartland. But our pioneers dreamt, persevered, and their vision of Jurong became reality.

In 1965, Singapore was an improbable nation-state. Our pioneers worked hard, thought far, had big dreams, but were very much pragmatists, and in less than the lifetime of a generation turned this place into a city of opportunities – modern, green and constantly rejuvenating.

Back in the early days, our preoccupation was survival and providing the basic essentials for our people. Today, our focus is increasingly on quality of life: liveability, sustainability and inclusiveness. And if you had visited the exhibition or had been consulted on the URA Draft Master Plan 2013, you would have seen some of the ideas being proposed to enhance our living environment, and to celebrate our heritage and green spaces. We agree with Ms Penny Low’s comment on the need to be people-centric when we plan urban spaces – housing areas and community areas. This is what URA and other agencies are precisely doing, building on experience from past Master Plans, and applying lessons learnt from consultations, studies and continuous research.

Yet, in tackling the challenges of tomorrow for our land-scarce city-state, we should retain the ‘Can-Do’ spirit of our pioneers – forward-thinking, hardworking, sensible and pragmatic. This means constantly thinking out of the box and looking for innovative solutions, but being disciplined in urban planning, having a clear sense of where the trade-offs lie, and keeping a careful eye on the long term.

Ms Faizah Jamal made a passionate speech and was concerned that the Government was overly people-centric in our development.

We must provide for the needs and aspirations of Singaporeans and improve their quality of life in this small city-state. Within our confines, we have to provide for everything that a sovereign state needs. Unlike cities in large countries, we do not have the luxury to put our utilities, our defence needs and our nature reserves outside the walls of the city. Even then, we have protected more than 3,300 hectares in 4 Nature Reserves, designated 20 nature areas with significant biodiversity, including 2 more last year, planted extensive Nature Ways to facilitate movement of biodiversity between natural habitats, and embedded pervasive greenery through our parks and into our urban areas. Our passionate NParks officers work closely with agencies and with many nature volunteers on reforestation and conservation programmes, biodiversity research as well as public outreach and education especially the youths. And this work goes on day after day.

All of this is possible only because our pioneer generation of leaders, most notably former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, had consciously and deliberately made greening part and parcel of Singapore’s planning and development DNA from day one, and this continues to this very day.

Our efforts have not gone unnoticed by the international community. NParks was pivotal in facilitating the formulation of an index for biodiversity to guide sustainable development of cities. This has been endorsed by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and is now known as the Singapore Index on Cities’ Biodiversity. This honour was accorded to Singapore because of the conservation efforts of our small city state, which is a model now adopted by other cities.

At this point, let me share with you two new projects in two very different parts of Singapore which tell contrasting, vivid stories of how we hope to better the lives of our people in a uniquely Singapore way. With your permission, Sir, I have prepared some pictures to illustrate my point.

Marina Bay – Reclaiming the Impossible
Not far from Parliament House, Marina Bay stands as the extension of our new CBD. Gardens by the Bay, the Esplanade, and Marina Bay Sands, well recognised and iconic developments for Singaporeans and visitors alike, are in fact new developments which were built in the past ten over years. With plenty of room to grow, Marina Bay is well positioned to serve as Singapore’s premier business and financial hub for the region.

Marina Bay did not just appear overnight. Our pioneers took a bold leap of faith more than 40 years ago, when they started reclaiming Marina South and Marina Centre from the sea. They saw the potential for Marina Bay to become an attractive waterfront location for the expansion of our financial centre. But we did not want it to be another Raffles Place or Shenton Way, where offices dominate. We wanted it to be a “People’s Bay”, nestled amongst gardens and flanked by water, grounded in our heritage and historical memories, such as Clifford Pier, Merlion Park and Collyer Quay, for Singaporeans to live, to work and to play.

So we gradually reclaimed around 360 hectares of land at the Bay, about nine times the size of London’s Canary Wharf. We deliberately planned for seamless connectivity between Marina Bay and the city, complemented by an integrated network of walkways both above and below ground. We provided well-landscaped open spaces for people to relax and gather in, and devoted 100 ha of land to waterfront gardens. Gardens by the Bay has brought nature ever closer to Singaporeans. It is the pride of Singaporeans and well-liked by locals and visitors, including some otters that have visited the gardens!

Over the years, more and more Singaporeans have taken the initiative to enliven and energise Marina Bay. Today, we see street performances, grassroots activities and arts festivals held at this Bay. The Countdown party draws around 300,000 people to the Bay each year, as well as over half a million New Year wishes in the wishing spheres on the waters of the Bay. Just last Friday, I had the privilege to open the i Light Marina Bay festival, where artists, students, and the community pooled their talents to create a magical display of art and light. It was tremendously heartening to see many young Singaporeans participating actively in an eco-friendly, low carbon footprint way to bring life and light and splendour to this beautiful place.

We will do more to realise Marina Bay as the “People’s Bay”. More affordable food options will be introduced along the Waterfront Promenade. There will be an open area for small-scale events, recreational activities and sports. We will also launch a pilot mobile transporter tour in the area soon, for a trial period of one year. Water activities are also expected to increase at the bay when the People’s Association water venture facility at Marina East is completed by end of this year, and canoeing, dragon boating and sailing activities are available to the community.

With these enhancements, we expect Marina Bay to be abuzz with even more energy and excitement, and become a more popular waterfront destination for our families and friends to visit and to enjoy.

Pulau Ubin – Nature, Heritage and Recreation
Let me now turn to another part of Singapore, this time in the north east, to describe an area that is altogether different, that excites different impulses and senses, but which also presents opportunities that require the collective participation of Singaporeans to realise.

When we speak of Pulau Ubin, we think of a small island untouched by the hustle and bustle of Singapore, immersed in the rustic charm of yesteryear. An island which reminds us of life in the early days. An island which Singaporeans love to visit to be in close touch with nature and for activities like camping, cycling and hiking. It is a place close to the hearts of many Singaporeans.

Ubin is certainly all that. But it is also much, much more. In the 50s, Ubin was a bustling island with 2,000 residents, many of them involved in farming, fishing, and the quarrying of granite for construction. In fact, granite from Ubin had been used to build the Causeway and the Horsburgh and Raffles lighthouses. So the history of Ubin tracks the history of Singapore and is very much part of our heritage.

As farming and mining declined, so too did the number of residents. It now has less than 100 residents. But unknown to many, Ubin is a wonderful treasure trove of biodiversity. These include species which are endangered or not found in the rest of Singapore. Habitats are being enhanced and species are being discovered, with the help of many Singaporeans in the community. For instance:

a. In the 1990s, Prof Ng Soon Chye, former President of the Nature Society (Singapore), together with a French researcher, had approached NParks to carry out a joint study of the Oriental Pied Hornbills on Ubin. The study revealed the breeding ecology of the hornbills and, as a result, they installed artificial nest boxes on the island. From one breeding pair of hornbills, we now have over 60 of them on the island. . Some of them have even flown across to other parts of Singapore, including Changi and Pasir Ris.

b. In 2003, NParks carried out a comprehensive survey of butterflies on Ubin with the help of butterfly enthusiasts led by Mr Khew Sin Khoon. More than 100 butterfly species were documented. This group went on to form the Butterfly Circle, an interest group. It advised NParks in planting up Butterfly Hill, a little known knoll created out of wasteland left over from Ubin’s granite quarrying history. Today, over 130 species of butterflies can be found there.

c. The Greater Mousedeer was presumed to have gone extinct from Singapore by the mid-1990s. It was rediscovered on Ubin in 2008 through a partnership project between NUS and NParks to study wildlife. These mousedeer are doing well on Ubin and are still frequently photographed by our remote cameras set in the forest.

d. The “Eye of the Crocodile”, scientific name Bruguiera hainesii, or known by the Malays as Berus mata buaya, is a mangrove tree that is listed as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It gets its interesting name from the breathing pores on its trunk which look like the scaly lids of the crocodile eyes, and which help the tree to take in oxygen in the muddy mangrove environment. It is the most endangered mangrove tree species in the world, with an estimate of less than 250 of these trees left globally. Of these, at least 11 are in Singapore – Dr John Yong from the Singapore University of Technology and Design had discovered the first one at Sungei Loyang, and subsequently helped to find one of two trees on Pulau Ubin. The largest tree was found along the Kranji Nature Trail by Ms Ria Tan, who is a passionate naturalist who set up WildSingapore, a popular nature blog.

These are just some of the many examples of how agencies like NParks have been working with passionate volunteers and experts to document Ubin’s biodiversity, preserve its rustic character, enhance its natural environment and sensitively provide access so that the public can enjoy Ubin’s natural charm.

Building on these efforts, we will initiate a conversation soon with Singaporeans, including the islanders, interest groups and experts, on how we can sensitively enhance the natural environment of Ubin and protect its heritage and its rustic charm. We will seek ideas about nature and heritage conservation, and about education and nature-based recreation. Minister Khaw has asked me to lead this project, and I am humbled and privileged to do so. We will consult and engage widely. And we will not rush, because the process is as important as the outcome and we want to hear from as many Singaporeans as possible. Our collective ideas, when implemented, can be a gift for many generations of Singaporeans. Some of these ideas, if ready, will also be meaningful in our commemoration of Singapore’s 50th anniversary next year. We will share more details about “The Ubin Project” later this year.

I hope Members will support this initiative. And I hope Singaporeans, young, old, and the young-at-heart, as well as the heritage and green community, will rally around, support this project and share your memories, ideas and impressions with us.

Let me now turn to the remaining cuts filed by honourable Members. First, on urban planning.

Urban Planning
A/P Fatimah Lateef, Ms Sylvia Lim and Ms Lee Li Lian asked about how plans for new developments had been properly coordinated and smoothly implemented.

In Singapore, land use planning is a structured process overseen and coordinated by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, in consultation with all relevant agencies. Agencies will look at a wide range of parameters, such as the overall planning intention for the area, transport capacity, utilities, greenery and recreation, amenities like shops, schools, hawker centres, food establishments, and so on.

Agencies will then assess the use, scale and intensity to determine whether developments can be supported by local infrastructure, or whether the plans need to be adjusted appropriately to avoid adversely affecting nearby residents and businesses. They will also seek feedback regularly to make sure the planning parameters remain relevant.

But, Sir, sometimes, there are gaps between what is desirable from the planning perspective, what is feasible, and what residents want. Sometimes, there is a limit to how much new infrastructure we can add in the area around developments, as the area may already be built up. This is part and parcel of intensification, to make good use of our limited land. Sometimes, implementation may be held back by technical issues. It is often tricky to synchronise precisely an increase in demand for new developments, with the expansion of supporting infrastructure, which does usually takes years to build. As a result, residents may experience temporary inconvenience, which agencies will do their level best to mitigate. For instance, we have required developers of Government Land Sales sites to inform residents living nearby about upcoming developments. We have also mandated that contractors reduce noise nuisance from construction. Overall, our agencies recognise the need to plan and implement ahead of demand in a coordinated manner, and will continue to do so.

I note that Ms Sylvia Lim had mentioned earlier about certain instances where certain surveys seemed to have been done after the developments had been pushed through. We will be grateful if she could provide us with the specific examples in order for us to look into this matter more effectively.

Sir, on Ms Lee Li Lian’s specific concerns about food establishments, as I mentioned earlier, the availability of amenities is one of many parameters that we look at when planning new towns. We assure her that agencies do plan for adequate food establishments in her constituency, as had been responded to on a number of PQs last year. Residents in the ward are currently served by two commercial centres located near LRT stations and are within a walking distance of about 5 to 10 minutes for most residents. There are 15 food establishments in the area including coffee shops, food courts, cafes and restaurants. Nevertheless, more such facilities can be considered when there are more residential developments.

Foreign Worker Housing
I would also like to thank Mr Yeo Guat Kwang for his cut on foreign worker housing. Sir, to build homes and other facilities for Singaporeans, including transportation and infrastructure, we need foreign workers. The Government will continue to launch new sites for purpose-built dormitories that meet the housing, social and recreational needs of these workers. We have also launched and will continue to identify new sites to build recreation centres for these workers.

As mentioned by the Acting Minister for Manpower in his earlier speech during the MOM COS, the Government is considering enhancing levers to ensure that foreign worker dormitories better meet workers’ needs. In that regard, the move by the Dormitory Association of Singapore Limited, or DASL, to develop a set of standards, and to consult government agencies on these standards, is very much welcome. The Government will work very closely with the industry on these initiatives.

Sir, on behalf of MND, I would like to thank Members for their interest in the work of MND, and look forward to working with all of you and fellow Singaporeans to realise our dream of a sustainable, highly liveable and green home and city.

Ministry to seek ideas on protecting Pulau Ubin
Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - Lovers of Pulau Ubin will be asked to give their ideas on how the popular island can be protected and enhanced.

The Government hopes that a wide range of people, from island residents to interest groups and experts, will give their views in an upcoming consultation announced in Parliament yesterday.

It wants the process to address "nature and heritage conservation, and... education and nature-

based recreation on the island", said Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee.

The 10.2 sq km island, about the size of Changi Airport, hit the headlines in April last year when a notice by the Housing Board led islanders to believe that 22 households would be evicted so an "adventure park" could be built.

The Government clarified shortly after that the island will be kept in a "rustic state for as long as possible".

Ubin's population has dwindled from 2,000 between the 1950s and early 1970s to just 38 today, but more than 300,000 visitors throng the place every year.

Mr Lee told Parliament yesterday that preserving and enhancing Pulau Ubin's rustic character and natural environment while sensitively providing access for the public require help from all Singaporeans.

He noted how the National Parks Board (NParks) has worked with researchers and nature groups to study its biodiversity.

In 2003, for instance, NParks conducted a survey with the help of butterfly enthusiasts and documented more than 100 species.

The enthusiasts - who call themselves ButterflyCircle - advised NParks to plant Butterfly Hill, a knoll made out of wasteland left over from Ubin's granite quarrying industry. The knoll is home to over 130 species today.

Mr Lee, who will be leading the project and the conversation, said the ministry will build on these efforts, adding that it will "consult and engage widely". More details on the project will be announced later this year.

During the debate, Nominated MP (NMP) Faizah Jamal asked for more to be done to conserve places such as Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa. She also called for a national nature conservation policy where, among other things, there is a fair distribution of nature areas across the island.

Nature groups and wildlife enthusiasts said the Pulau Ubin initiative is a step in the right direction. For years, it has lacked a central body to coordinate efforts to enhance its green and rustic character, said the Nature Society (Singapore).

"This process will allow the Government to take into consideration the multiple views on what Ubin can grow to become - like a biodiversity hub or an ecotourism site," said society vice-president Leong Kwok Peng.

Madam Kamariah Abdullah, 54, who opens her 100-year-old Malay kampung on the island a few times a month to visitors, hopes the authorities will also consider conserving the kampung homes. "The kampung vibe and the people living here are integral to the island's identity," she said.

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Hazy conditions continue in S'pore but gradual improvement expected

Channel NewsAsia 10 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Singapore continues to experience slightly hazy conditions as the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) crossed into the moderate range late on Monday afternoon.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) says that the condition is expected to gradually improve during the night.

Although the 3-hour PSI reading remained at a good level for most of the day, it crossed into the moderate range at 4pm when it reached 51.

At 7pm, it hit 58, before dropping to 53 two hours later.

NEA said that the haze may be attributed to hotspots to the north of Singapore.

A total of 86 hotspots were detected in peninsular Malaysia and 228 in Sumatra on Monday.

The occasional slight haze can be expected if the hotspots in the surrounding region persist.

The weather is expected to be fair and warm for the next few days.

NEA said that at the current PSI and PM2.5 levels, most people can continue with normal activities.

Those not feeling well, especially the elderly, pregnant women and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention.

MPs question measures to combat haze as hot spots persist
Neo Chai Chin AND Woo Sian Boon Today Online 11 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — Transboundary haze, anti-dengue measures and public cleanliness formed the bulk of questions posed by Members of Parliament to the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources yesterday.

Their questions at the start of the ministry’s Committee of Supply debate — which will continue today with Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s response — came as the air quality remained in the moderate range for much of yesterday and a deterioration in conditions in some parts of the island occurred in the late afternoon. The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index was 58 at 8pm.

The National Environment Agency said 86 hot spots were detected in Peninsular Malaysia and 228 in Sumatra yesterday, and that the occasional slight haze could be expected over the next few days if the hot spots in the region persist.

At least five MPs spoke about the haze, with Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (Nee Soon GRC) asking about the “stalemate” on the haze monitoring system for five Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries, including Singapore and Indonesia, and Mr Charles Chong (Joo Chiat) asking if the Indonesian government had indicated whether there was any involvement of Singapore companies in forest fires.

The MPs also sought an update on the effectiveness of dengue control measures, with Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) asking if there was satisfactory government support for the STOP Dengue research programme. Last week, 210 dengue cases were logged.

The management of hawker centres and estate cleaning also came up, with questions on the operating model of hawker centres and how the shortage of cleaners would impact cleanliness standards.

Other issues raised included water conservation and energy efficiency. NEO CHAI CHIN AND WOO SIAN BOON

- CNA/ec

MPs call for answers on haze problem
Feng Zeng Kun The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - MPs were calling for answers over the haze problem yesterday, and asked for updates on plans that had been implemented to tackle the issue.

The urgency of the questions was highlighted by the slight haze that affected Singapore throughout most of yesterday, with air quality worsening from "good" to "moderate" in the evening.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) asked during the budget debate for the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources: "What is the ministry doing to mitigate the recurrent haze problem?

"We don't want to go year after year singing the song Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."

Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (Nee Soon GRC) noted that the haze monitoring system recently adopted by 10 ASEAN countries - including Indonesia, where farmers using fire to clear land have been blamed for the haze - had stalled as "other parties" could not agree on its implementation.

"Can the minister elaborate on this stalemate?" he asked.

Several MPs and Nominated MPs praised the recently proposed law to punish companies behind fires in the region that cause haze in Singapore.

Nominated MP Nicholas Fang called it a "landmark step", while Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong said legal action against the culprits could also help consumers identify and boycott the offenders' products.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan will respond to the questions today. Other concerns raised yesterday included Singapore's record-busting dry weather, the steep rise in dengue cases last year, worsening public cleanliness and hawkers' woes, such as difficulties they may have

securing affordable table-top cleaning contractors.

"Some table-top cleaning contractors are not able to clear tables efficiently, leaving patrons frustrated and presenting public health issues," said Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC).

Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) used the debate to highlight national water agency PUB's work in managing Singapore's water resources, especially in the light of the dry spell.

He said: "All the stresses we have seen in infrastructure, transport, health and housing, these have not appeared in water."

Ministry of the Envrionment and Water Resources
FY2014 Budget - $1.4 billion, up 13%

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Liveability standards need to take in residents’ social & emotional needs, say experts

Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 10 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE: Just how liveable is Singapore?

Experts at a conference on Monday said Singapore may rank well when it comes to factors like the economy, security and infrastructure, but not as well in meeting the social and emotional needs of residents.

With the country's changing demographics, they said there now needs to be a different yardstick to measure quality of life.

Speakers at the conference said liveability goes beyond just meeting physical needs. Sometimes, it is about managing expectations.

Gerard Ee, chairman of the Council for Third Age and the Public Transport Council, said: “More and more people, I feel, are not distinguishing between a ‘need to have’ and a ‘nice to have’.

“So I always wonder with the size of apartments in Singapore, why anybody ever has a need for a 42-inch or even larger TV screen? That is their aspiration -- to have as large a screen as possible, a smart TV -- getting the latest and the best.

“So unless one begins to distinguish and (determine) the things (one) really needs to have and measures that, and determines that as affordability, I don't think we will get the answer."

As Singapore progresses, coupled with its changing demographics, the speakers added that the measurement of liveability must take into account less tangible needs.

Professor David Chan, director of Behavioural Sciences Institute at Singapore Management University, said: "There are issues about demographics, there are issues about integration, there are issues of social habits… therefore we need to pay attention to the social behavioural issues underlying all these sentiments."

A pivot towards the social and emotional needs of residents may be needed. The speakers all agreed there is room for the community itself to step up to cater to this.

Laurence Lien, CEO of National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, said: "There are a lot of opportunities for greater social capital, more social trust, and for citizens to get together to do things for one another, for the community.

“We don't see a lot of community ownership by citizens and residents and they are not creating new (ground-up) initiatives sufficiently."

Mr Lien added that the government needs to do less and the citizens need to be empowered more.

He said: "It needs to start with a mindset shift because citizens have been very dependent on the government on all aspects of life. This has to shift.

“We need to invest in more community facilitators. These are paid full time staff who are skilled at mobilising people at the community, working with interested people -- the connectors (and) the initiators encouraging them, giving them, perhaps, seed money to start initiatives from little experiments. Some may become models for others. I think we can build a movement of ground-up initiatives."

The shift in mindset comes with risks, but also a sense of ownership. Professor Chan called the concept the "home-in-community" concept, where Singapore is home to everyone, regardless of nationality, race, and social status.

Professor Chan said: "It is a concept that allows for commonality across people of different grouping, no matter how you slice them. It's important because you want people to live, work and play and have a high quality of life -- everybody that's physically in Singapore."

And this is where, he said, the government will have to put social issues at the forefront of any policy.

One question that came up during the conference was whether there is a tipping point to Singapore's population growth?

The answer is "yes", but speakers said they cannot give a number. What is important, they said, is for scenario planning to also take into account social issues.

Professor Chan said: "We need to think upfront so that we do not get ourselves caught in certain situations where if we want to reconcile differences or deal with them, it's a bit too late."

- CNA/gn

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Malaysia: Unhealthy air readings recorded in five towns

The Star 11 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: Unhealthy air levels have been recorded in Nilai, Seremban, Banting, Port Klang and Shah Alam.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department reported that the air pollutant index (API) recorded at 3pm yesterday showed the levels in Nilai at 112, Seremban 104, Banting 116, Port Klang 135, Putrajaya 107 and Shah Alam 101.

An API reading of between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 moderate, 101 to 200 unhealthy, 201 to 300 very unhealthy, and 301 and above hazardous. Unhealthy API levels may lead to chest discomfort, coughs and shortness of breath.

The API readings are calculated based on five major air pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ground level ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter with a diameter below 10 micrometres (PM10).

Most of these pollutants come from various sources such as industries, motor vehicles, open burning and power generation.

The concentrations of these five pollutants are measured in 52 air quality stations throughout Malaysia, mainly located in industrial and urban areas.

A check with the department also showed that except for isolated rain in coastal areas in Sabah, no rain is expected for the peninsula and Sarawak. It has not rained in the Klang Valley in over a week.

Some residents still using water for non-essential activities
The Star 11 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: While Klang Valley residents under Zone 2 began experiencing water rationing in the third phase of the exercise yesterday, others in Zone 1 are not being prudent with their water usage.

Rukun Tetangga SS2B chairman Willie Tan Kim Tun said residents in his area were still seen using water for non-essential activities such as washing cars and watering plants.

“It is not even about reducing wastage any more. We need to cut down usage now,” said Tan, adding that he and other residents in SS2 here began stocking up water even before the area was scheduled to undergo rationing.

Tan said Zone 1 residents should not take advantage of the fact that their rationing was only starting tomorrow to continue using water as normal.

The Phase 3 of water rationing in the Klang Valley started yesterday.

Some 3.6 million residents from 290,865 households will experience the standard two days of dry taps followed by two days of supply.

Phase 2, involving two million people from 431,617 households and businesses, started on March 2 while the first phase, affecting 60,185 households, began from Feb 27.

The affected areas include districts in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

Each phase of the exercise, announced by the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) and Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Syabas), was divided into two zones, starting with Zone 2.

Taman Kinrara 1 resident Catherine Lim said her household and a few others in the neighbourhood had carried out their “spring cleaning” and other major cleaning before rationing started.

“Everybody, even the dogs, had a good bath, and we washed all the big items like bedsheets,” said Lim.

Even then, her family had placed water containers in each bathroom, with smaller buckets for toilet use.

Shops selling equipment for outdoor activities have reported high sales of water filters and water purification chemicals.

“Customers have come in asking for water purification equipment. This rationing exercise made them think about the need to get water from alternative sources when there is a shortage,” said V. Veeraksana at a shop in SS15 here.

Cloud seeding resumes tomorrow
New Straits Times 11 Mar 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Meteorological Department (MMD) will carry out cloud seeding operations tomorrow.

The operation was initially planned to be conducted yesterday. However, it was halted due to the recent search and rescue mission of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which needed a number of military aircraft.

MMD has been granted permission to proceed with cloud seeding by the Royal Malaysian Air Force. MMD commercial and corporate services division director Dr Mohd Hisham Mohd Anip said cloud seeding might help clear the haze only if the resulting rain was widespread.

"Our department has located certain states that require the induction of rain such as Johor, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Selangor and Kedah."

As of 5pm yesterday, five areas indicated unhealthy air pollutant index readings including Port Klang, which remained as the most affected area at 136, Banting (116), Nilai (111), Putrajaya (107) and Seremban (104).

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Funding drought curbs Australia's "food bowl to Asia" ambitions

Jane Wardell PlanetArk 11 Mar 14;

Australia's lofty ambitions to become a "food bowl" for a rapidly growing middle-class in Asia are in danger of falling at the farm gate due to the country's harsh, drought-prone climate and a lack of investment in agricultural innovation.

The federal government has touted the food bowl plan as one way of diversifying the economy as a decade-long mining boom that brought the country riches wanes.

But the industry says it has been left between a rock and a hard place - with state grants denied and foreign investment blocked, it lacks the funding needed to transform Australia into a provider of high-quality, value-added produce.

"There are many companies that are struggling," said Peter Schutz, the chairman of the federal government-funded Food Innovation Australia Ltd. "We need innovation right through the supply chain; not just products, but logistics, packaging and distribution, and we need funding for that."

The idea of transforming a swathe of the sparsely populated Northern Territory into a food bowl for Asia has been around since the 1950s.

Not long after coming to power last year, Prime Minister Tony Abbott commissioned a policy paper into the development of northern Australia, a region twice the size of Alaska, to reach its goal of doubling food production by 2050.

The theory goes that the tropical north of the country not only gets plenty of rain, but is a stone's throw from a multiplying middle class in Asia that is increasingly adopting a westernized diet.

The reality is that there's little infrastructure and little irrigation, undermining attempts at mass production of soft commodities.

A Korean-owned sugar mill closed down in 2007 because there wasn't enough of the crop being produced in the region, while experiments in peanuts, sorghum, rice and cotton have all failed.

Even in its top exporting businesses of wheat and meat, where it ranks among the world leaders, Australia is challenged by both drought and tougher competition from India, Brazil and the United States.

It also simply can't produce enough of any one commodity to make mass exports of staples viable long-term.


Australia's best opportunities for exports to Asia will come in value-added, high quality, certified safe produce to the burgeoning middle class.

China currently accounts for only 4 percent of global middle class spending, but is forecast by the Brookings Institution to catapult up the global rankings to overtake the United States as the largest single middle class market by 2020.

It will account for nearly half of the global increase in food demand by 2050, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural, Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), with the real value of food consumption in China to double between 2009 and 2050.

"They are starting to move toward a western type of diet, but they are only interested in high value products and that's where we could have an advantage," said Schutz.

The recent hotly contested bidding war for Australia's Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Company Holdings Ltd, which left Canada's Saputo Inc in majority control, was due in large part to Asian demand for the dairy producer's high-tech milk extract lactoferrin.

Warrnambool last month reported it doubled its first half profits, going some way to justifying the rich price Saputo paid to beat off rivals.

But Warrnambool is one of the few success stories.

While agriculture accounts for around 2.4 percent of gross domestic product at around A$50 billion, and exports have surged in recent years, the food industry is comprised almost entirely of small to medium-sized enterprises lacking a cohesive plan.

"Aggregation, machinery, use of technology is critically important," said Doug Ferguson, a Sydney-based partner at KPMG who leads the company's China business practice.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd estimates that A$600 billion in additional capital will be needed between now and 2050 to generate growth and profitability in Australian agriculture.

That funding is not readily forthcoming.

Warrnambool Chief Executive David Lord points out that government support for agriculture has not matched previous financial support for heavy manufacturing industries in his company's home state of Victoria.

The federal government rejected a plea from Australian soft drink bottler Coca-Cola Amatil for a A$25 million grant that would go towards a factory upgrade for its struggling SPC Ardmona fruit cannery.

CCL eventually received a smaller grant from the Victoria state government but its difficulties were underscored this month when it posted its worst full-year result for 20 years.

Schutz said Food Innovation Australia has base funding of A$16 million over the next four years, but planned additional funding for industry collaboration, scheduled to rise to A$50 million per year over the same period, has been frozen since Abbott's conservative coalition won the election in September.

The future of the group, established last year by the former Labor government to accelerate commercially driven collaboration and innovation in the food and beverage industry, is unlikely to be decided until after the May federal budget.


KPMG's Ferguson said foreign investors with deep pockets are the only realistic option to meet the food industry's funding requirements. But Chinese investors circling dairy and cattle businesses have been deterred by Australia's tough laws on foreign investment.

"There's concern around the inconsistent treatment for state-owned enterprises," Ferguson said. "There's also a pretty big difference in the approval limits for the U.S., New Zealand, and soon to be Korea, investors."

Private investment deals from those countries are only referred to the secretive Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) when they are above A$1 billion. In contrast, the bar for FIRB approvals for Chinese multinationals is just A$48 million, and due to drop even further to A$15 million. All deals involving state-owned enterprises must go through FIRB, regardless of the size of the deal.

Even U.S. investors can expect heavy scrutiny of major deals. In December, the federal government's blocked a A$2.8 billion ($2.6 billion) takeover of GrainCorp by U.S. agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) on the grounds of national interest.

During the feverish bidding war for Warrnambool, much was made of the local credentials of bidders Bega Cheese Ltd and Murray Goulburn Cooperative Co Ltd over their Canadian rival.

In the end, Lord said, only one thing mattered.

"Saputo made it clear they had the financial capacity to invest for innovation," he said. "That's clearly very attractive for the business."

(This story was corrected to make clear FIAL still has base funding; collaboration funding frozen)

(Editing by Alex Richardson)

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U.N. warns food security a risk to Asia-Pacific

Stian Reklev Reuters Yahoo News 10 Mar 14;

ULAN BATOR (Reuters) - The world must increase its food production by 60 percent by mid-century or risk serious food shortages that could bring social unrest and civil wars, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Monday.

Demand for food will rise rapidly over the next few decades as the world population surpasses 9 billion and increasingly wealthy people improve their diets, consuming more calories, said Hiroyuki Konuma, the assistant director-general of FAO Asia-Pacific, as the body launched a one-week regional food security conference in Ulan Bator.

But as the need for more food increases, the world is spending less and less money on agricultural research, causing many scientists to doubt whether food production can keep up with demand growth.

"If we fail to meet our goal and a food shortage occurs, there will be a high risk of social and political unrest, civil wars and terrorism, and world security as a whole might be affected," said Konuma.

The challenge is especially demanding in developing nations, which need to boost crops by a staggering 77 percent, he said.

The Asia-Pacific would be left with more than half a billion chronically hungry people even if the region meets its millennium development goal of cutting that number to 12 percent of the population, he said.

Despite progress made in fighting global hunger, the world still has 842 million undernourished people, according to FAO, of which nearly two thirds live in the Asia-Pacific. One in four children under five years old are stunted due to malnutrition.

The U.N. body outlined two main options: increase arable land areas and boost productivity rates. But available arable land is almost fully exploited, and production growth rates have been lackluster for the past two decades.

During the green revolution in the 1980s, productivity rates for rice and wheat increased by 3.5 percent annually, but for the past 20 years the rate has been stuck at 0.6 to 0.8 percent.

The growth rate needs to be stable at around 1 percent if the world is to have a theoretical chance to avoid serious shortages, said Konuma.

Water scarcity in big food-producing nations like China is worsening, and many farmers are increasingly tempted to shift production from food to bioenergy, a popular option to cut emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Climate change is worsening the situation, as more frequent extreme weather events devastate crops. In the past three years, Australia, Canada, China, Russia and the United States have all suffered big harvest losses from floods and droughts.

Cost is an additional threat to food security, according to the U.N. body. High and volatile food prices restrict poor people's access to food, while high crude oil prices inflate production costs.

(Editing by Michael Perry)

Food system that fails poor countries needs urgent reform, says UN expert
UN special rapporteur on the right to food champions agroecology as sustainable alternative to existing framework
Mark Tran 10 Mar 14;

Brazil farmer loads trucks with soybeans
A soybean farmer in Mato Grosso, Brazil. The country's 'family farmers' are encouraged to feed urban populations. Photograph: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

The existing food system has failed and needs urgent reform, according to a UN expert who argues there should be a greater emphasis on local food production and an overhaul of trade policies that have led to overproduction in rich countries while obliging poor countries – which are often dependent on agriculture – to import food.

In his final report (pdf), Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, offers a detailed critique of an industrial system of agriculture that has boosted food production over the past 50 years, yet still leaves 842 million – 12% of the world's population – hungry.

"Measured against the requirement that they should contribute to the realisation of the right to food, the food systems we have inherited from the 20th century have failed," he told the UN human rights council. "Of course, significant progress has been achieved in boosting agricultural production. But this has hardly reduced the number of hungry people."

The right to food is defined as the right of every individual to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations.

De Schutter, professor of law at the University of Louvain, Belgium, was appointed rapporteur in 2008, during a sharp rise in global food prices, and has had plenty of time to diagnose what ails food systems. A major culprit, he says, is the "green revolution", which boosted agricultural production through the use of high-yielding plant varieties, irrigation, mechanisation and subsidised fertilisers and pesticides. The flipside, however, was an extension of monocultures (wheat, maize, soybean), a loss of agrobiodiversity, accelerated soil erosion and pollution of fresh water from the overuse of chemical fertilisers.

A potentially devastating effect of industrial-scale agriculture has been the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, which represent 15% of total manmade emissions. Climate change will affect future agricultural productivity, he warns.

"Under a business as usual scenario, we can anticipate an average of 2% productivity decline over each of the coming decades, with yield changes in developing countries ranging from -27% to +9% for the key staple crops," says the report.

The increasing demand for meat is another area of concern. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that annual meat production would have to reach 470m tons to meet projected demand in 2050, an increase of about 200m tons from 2005-07.

"This is entirely unsustainable … Demand for meat diverts food away from poor people who are unable to afford anything but cereals … Continuing to feed cereals to growing numbers of livestock will aggravate poverty and environmental degradation," says De Schutter, who urges governments to discourage meat consumption where it has already reached levels that are more than enough to satisfy dietary needs. He is optimistic that public attitudes towards meat will change in rich countries, but less so about attitudes in emerging economies such as China, where eating meat is akin to a status symbol.

As an alternative to existing systems, De Schutter champions agroecology, a range of techniques including intercropping, the use of manure and food scraps as fertiliser and agroforestry (planting trees). This approach would not only be more environmentally friendly, but would contribute to more diverse diets and improve nutrition. Although easier to implement on smaller-sized farms, agroecology is also applicable to large farms.

Other measures to improve the system would be to abandon mandates for biofuels and cut down food waste in rich countries and post-harvest losses in poor countries.

Changes to support small-scale farmers in poor countries – access to land, support for local seed banks, storage connection to makers – must be accompanied by reform in rich countries, where the farming sector has become highly dependent on subsidies – $259bn in 2012. This has encouraged the expansion of the food processing industry thanks to cheap inputs and facilities such as silos and processing plants.

"Large agribusiness corporations have come to dominate increasingly globalised markets thanks to their ability to achieve economies of scale and because of various network effects … the dominant position of larger agribusiness corporations is such that these actors have acquired, in effect, a veto power in the political system."

De Schutter says he is not completely opposed to agribusiness as it is incredibly efficient in connecting consumers and producers far away from each other.

"It is not desirable to get rid of agribusiness," he says. "It is incredibly efficient, connecting far away consumers and producers, and many needs can only be satisfied by agribusiness. But we need alternative systems to serve different needs. There is an imbalance, as there has been a priority on large-scale farming and underinvestment in local food markets. It is more realistic to have different systems co-exist. Brazil shows you can have huge, efficient farms along exemplary family farms, but you do need high-level political commitment to small farms and a participatory tradition."

De Schutter sees possibilities for change. Rebuilding local food systems, for instance, would decentralise food systems, making them more flexible and creating links between cities and rural hinterlands. He cites urban agricultural initiatives in Montreal and Toronto, Canada, Durban, South Africa and Belo Horizonte, Brazil, where "family farmers" are encouraged to feed urban populations.

At the national level, governments should encourage investment in local food packaging and processing industries. Social protection schemes should be established, says De Schutter, offering a social safety net to protect vulnerable families from falling into poverty. Globally, meanwhile, states should limit excessive reliance on international trade and build capacity to produce the food needed to meet consumption needs, with an emphasis on small-scale farmers.

"The expansion of trade has resulted in the luxury tastes of the richest parts of the world being allowed to compete against the satisfaction of the basic needs of the poor," says De Schutter.

As for the power of agribusiness corporations, states should use competition law to check the abuse of power. "This requires having in place competition regimes sensitive to excessive buying power in the agrifood sector, and devising competition authorities with mechanisms that allow for affected suppliers to bring complaints without fear or reprisal by dominant buyers."

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Japan sees higher chance of El Nino this summer

James Topham and Osamu Tsukimori PlanetArk 11 Mar 14;

Japan sees higher chance of El Nino this summer Photo: SIGIT PAMUNGKAS/FILES
Wooden boats sit at the base of a dried-up reservoir, due to the long dry season, at Kedung Sumber village, near Bojonegoro Indonesia's East Java province, in this October 16, 2013 file photo.

There is a greater possibility of an El Nino weather pattern emerging this summer, Japan's weather bureau said on Monday, after previously forecasting a 50 percent chance of the phenomenon that is often linked to heavy rainfall and droughts.

El Nino - a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific - can trigger drought in Southeast Asia and Australia and floods in South America, hitting production of key foods such as rice, wheat and sugar.

The potential disruption to supply would come after many crops have already been hit by adverse weather in the Northern Hemisphere that has been in the grip of a savage winter.

"The El Nino predictive model predicts the sea temperatures in the ocean area monitored for El Nino will transition from a level near standard this spring to a higher than standard level this summer," the Japan Meteorological Agency said in a monthly online bulletin about the phenomenon.

Last month, the bureau had pegged the possibility El Nino emerging or not as equal.

The U.S. weather forecaster said last week that the much-feared weather pattern could strike as early as the Northern Hemisphere summer.

Outlooks for higher possibilities of El Nino forming will increase uncertainty in global commodity and energy markets, with coffee, cocoa and natural gas prices roiled by an extended period of extreme weather.

(Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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