Best of our wild blogs: 12 Mar 14

Butterflies Galore! : Studded Sergeant
from Butterflies of Singapore

World Water Day is almost here!
from Green Drinks Singapore

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Indonesia: Fires Spread, From Riau to Kalimantan

Herman Genie & Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 12 Mar 14;

Some 41,000 people in Sumatra have reported upper repertory infections as forest fires continue to burn. (JG Photo/Safir Makki)

Nearly 50,000 people in Riau province have been suffering from upper respiratory infections due to the worsening forest fires in Sumatra, a official said on Tuesday.

“The thickening haze blanketing Riau is worsening the air quality. The air-pollution index has reached more than 300, which is already considered hazardous and could affect the public’s health,” spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said.

He said more than 41,000 people have been suffering from upper respiratory infections, while many others are suffering from pneumonia.

“This data is obtained from the number of people seeking treatment at the community health centers [Puskesmas] and of course there are many others who prefer not to come to health facilities,” Sutopo said.

The BNPB has deployed two Russian helicopters that can carry up to 4,000 liters of water and six smaller helicopters with a capacity of 500 liters to work continuously to douse the flames.

“The police have also arrested some people. There have been 27 cases [of fires] reported and 28 people have been named suspects for the forest fires,” Sutopo said, without providing further detail of who had been arrested and what they had been charged with.

The haze has also affected other parts of Indonesia.

In Tarakan, East Kalimantan, nearly 2,000 kilometers east of Riau, people have been urged to wear face masks at all times because of thick haze that has blanketed three subdistricts.

Hariyanto, head of Tarakan’s Disaster and Mitigation Agency (BPBD), said since Sunday there had been six hotspots that could not be controlled because of a lack of personnel and the large area effected.

“Even if we deployed all our personnel, we would not be able to put out the fires completely because the size of the burning land is so large; we can only hope it will rain tonight while we try our best to extinguish the fires,” he said.

Hariyanto said his team still could not figure out the cause of the fires but locals had reported the fires started because of the hot temperatures.

“We haven’t figured out where the fires have originated, because for now, our priority is putting them out so it won’t spread to nearby residential areas,” he said.

“We hope people who wish to develop new land do not just slash and burn, because it will be catastrophically dangerous in a dry season like this, especially when the wind blows strongly,” he said.

The local health office recommended that people wear face masks to guard against respiratory diseases.

Indonesian Forestry Minister Zulkifli Zaini previously said last year’s forest fires, which were almost all the result of actions to clear forest areas for planting, eased in July-August, with the arrival of the rainy season.

However, climate change seems to have brought the burning season forward this year, the minister said, with fires and haze in Riau reappearing in February, while other parts of the nation were still hunkered down under heavy rain that in some cases have caused flood disasters.

Riau is home to major palm oil and pulp and paper producers, many belonging to or supplying companies that are household names both in Indonesia and overseas.

Despite forestry laws prohibiting land-clearance by fire, and despite companies operating in those areas pledging zero-burning policies, the fires return every year, because it is such a cheap and fast method to pave the way for new paper-pulp and palm oil plantations.

Local farmers, who have been using slash-and-burn methods for generations, are suspected of lighting some fires to clear small family farming areas.

But they are also suspected of accepting payment to start fires on some company plantations, providing those firms with a screen of plausible deniability in case of prosecution.

Thanks to near-real time data provided by agencies such as NASA, which has satellites taking photos regularly, it is possible to see where the fires are lit, and to determine who stands to benefit from that.

Thick haze continues to blanket Bukittinggi
The Jakarta Post 11 Mar 14;

Thick haze from the reckless land clearing activities in Riau province and its surrounding areas continued to cover Bukittinggi, West Sumatera, on Tuesday, forcing residents to wear masks.

“The haze is getting increasingly worrisome [and as such] we have to wear these masks,” Efrizal, one of the local residents, said as quoted by Antara news agency.

He said that the haze was thicker than it had been the past few days. Due to the poor air quality, many residents are suffering from eye irritation and respiratory difficulties.

Bukittingi Health Agency head Syofia Dasmauli admitted earlier that the number of acute respiratory infections in the area had increased by up to 20 percent.

“The rising number of respiratory cases was reported in seven community health centers [Puskesmas] from 24 subdistricts in three districts of Bukittinggi,” Syofia said.

Syofia advised residents to ensure they were well hydrated. “Wearing masks can also prevent respiratory diseases,” she added. (meh/nvn)

Read more!

New PSI reporting system to see more days with "moderate" air quality

Channel NewsAsia 11 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: From May 1, Singapore will see more days with the air quality being classified as in the “moderate” range, as concentrations of smaller polluting particles of PM2.5 will be included in the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings.

"As a result of PM2.5 being incorporated into the PSI, more days will be classified as 'moderate' compared to before, even though the actual concentration of pollutants has not changed.

"This is purely due to the integration of the PM2.5 concentrations into the PSI scale," the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement on Tuesday.

NEA added that people can carry on normal activity if air quality is in the “good” or “moderate” range and there will be no change to normal routines on the ground.

PM2.5 are tiny particles that can travel deep into the respiratory tract, and get embedded in lung tissue.

It is currently reported separately from the PSI.

Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan on Tuesday told Parliament that Singapore will move to an integrated air quality reporting index, where PM2.5 will be incorporated into the current PSI as its sixth pollutant parameter.

In explaining the change, Dr Balakrishnan said as far as public health is concerned, PM2.5 concentrations are more often a cause for concern.

He said the move would also simplify the air quality reporting system.

Going forward, he said PM2.5 levels are expected to determine the PSI "almost all the time".

Dr Philip Koh, chairman of the medical board at Healthway Medical Group, said: "Previously, when we had both the PSI and PM2.5 indices, there was some confusion. Air quality is reflected in such a way that people are only concerned about how does the air quality affect their health.

"If the more hazardous element is incorporated into the PSI, then they will be able to see that 'oh the higher PSI, now actually gives a better reflection of the hazard it has on my health'."

Since August 24, 2012, NEA has been reporting 24-hour PM2.5 concentrations alongside the PSI, which was done as the first step in the transition to the new air quality reporting system.

NEA will now complete the transition by incorporating the 24-hour PM2.5 concentrations into the PSI.

From May 1, the PSI will reflect a total of six pollutants -- sulphur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM10) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and ozone (O3).

The 3-hour PSI will also take into account PM2.5 concentrations.

NEA will also publish the 1-hour PM2.5 concentrations every hour.

Previously, health advisories issued by the government were based on 24-hour PSI and 24-hour PM2.5, whichever was worse.

Under the new air quality reporting system, the health advisory will be based on the new 24-hour PSI as it now directly takes into account PM2.5.

NEA said air quality information will be reported every hour from 7am to 11pm during non-haze periods, and around the clock during haze periods.

The information will be made available on the NEA website, the haze microsite, NEA Facebook, NEA Twitter and smart phone app, MyENV.

NEA will continue to regularly review Singapore's air quality reporting index to ensure that it remains a relevant and useful guide for the public to help plan their daily activities.

Dr Balakrishnan also announced the setting up of an International Advisory Panel on transboundary pollution, which will be co-chaired by Professor S Jayakumar and Professor Tommy Koh.

The panel would advise the government on trends and developments in international law on transboundary pollution, as well as solutions and practical steps Singapore can adopt.

Dr Balakrishnan said that beyond a bilateral and multilateral approach, effective enforcement is also needed on the ground.

- CNA/nd/ac

Hazy conditions back in S’pore with 3-hour PSI hitting 84
Chitra Kumar Channel NewsAsia 11 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Weather conditions became hazy in Singapore on Tuesday, with the 3-hour PSI reading at 8pm hitting 84, the highest for the year.

By 9pm, the level dropped slightly to 76.

The 3-hour readings were in the good range for most of the day, only crossing into the moderate range at around 4pm (52).

The National Environment Agency said the haze on Tuesday can be attributed to hotspots in southern Johor, blown in by prevailing northeasterly winds.

The number of hotspots in Peninsular Malaysia was 149, up from 86 on Monday.

In Sumatra, 259 hotspots were detected on Tuesday, compared with 228 on Monday.

Smoke plumes and haze were visible from some of the hotspots.

NEA said the haziness should gradually improve overnight, and that the weather is expected to be fair and warm for the next few days.

But hazy conditions can also be expected if the hotspots in Johor persist.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said on Tuesday that Singapore will contact the Malaysian authorities and offer assistance, if needed, to fight the fires in south Johor.

Writing on his Facebook page, Dr Balakrishnan said: "The haze worsened this afternoon, this time due to fires in south Johor.

“We expect the situation to improve during the night, but high moderate haze is expected to persist for the next few days as northeasterly winds blow smoke from increasing hotspots in Malaysia. We will try to contact the Malaysian authorities, and offer assistance if needed."

- CNA/gn

PSI to include fine particulate matter
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 12 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — The Republic could experience many more days of “moderate” air quality from May, despite the air being no more polluted than the past. This is because levels of fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, will be incorporated into the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI).

The change will mean more integrated air quality reporting, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday, as he announced several measures — targeting vehicular emissions, fuel quality and transboundary haze — to improve air quality here.

PM2.5, or the concentration of particles smaller than 2.5 microns, is currently reported separately from the PSI. The PSI includes levels of PM10 (coarser particulate matter), sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone and nitrogen dioxide. When PM2.5 becomes the additional parameter, it is likely to be the key pollutant setting the index — which reflects whichever pollutant is most significant — almost all the time, said Dr Balakrishnan.

PM2.5 levels of 18 to 42 micrograms per cubic metre at 8pm last night would be considered moderate under the enhanced PSI. According to the National Environment Agency, the Republic’s PM2.5 levels over the past five years would have put the PSI here in the “moderate” range more than 90 per cent of the time, in contrast to more than 90 per cent of days in the “good” range under the current index.

The move towards integrated air quality reporting was welcomed by respiratory and climate change experts. PM2.5 comprises mainly water, sulphates, acids, nitrates, organic carbon and trace metals, and can penetrate deep into the lungs. Short-term exposure can cause respiratory tract symptoms such as cough, wheezing and shortness of breath, while long-term exposure can cause a gradual decline of lung function, said Dr Jason Phua, head of the National University Hospital’s Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine Division.

There is increasing research that correlates PM2.5 with overall mortality, since small particles do not get filtered out by upper airways and, as a result, penetrate into the deep recesses of the lungs, triggering heart attacks, said Associate Professor Philip Eng of Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

Air pollutants and climate change expert Jason Blake Cohen, of the National University of Singapore, said PM2.5 is an important air pollutant and should be factored into the PSI, which is a good tool to inform the public about air quality hazards as it uses a single number and is easy to understand.

The main sources of PM2.5 in Singapore are industrial activities, emissions from older vehicles, ships and, when they occur, forest or plantation fires. PM2.5 is a standard measurement preferred by scientists and researchers because equations used for air quality indices may vary across countries and there is “more than one way you can come up with the same number”, said Asst Prof Cohen.

Giving an update on Singapore’s efforts to tackle transboundary haze — which caused the three-hour PSI to creep up to 84 at 8pm last night — Dr Balakrishnan said no concession maps for the Haze Monitoring System or information on errant companies have been forthcoming. But the Republic hopes to sign a memorandum of understanding to renew collaboration with Jambi province in Sumatra later this year.

In addition to proposed laws targeting local and foreign companies that cause the haze here, Singapore will appoint an international advisory panel on transboundary pollution. Co-chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister S Jayakumar and top diplomat Tommy Koh, it will advise the Government on trends and developments in international law relating to transboundary pollution and solutions and steps Singapore can take. The panel will make recommendations to the Government later this year.

PSI to include PM2.5 levels from May
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - From May, Singapore will have a new Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) that includes tiny, hazardous particles referred to as PM2.5.

The move is timely as it gives a better picture of the toxicity of the air as the PM2.5 can enter people's lungs and blood to cause harm, said experts interviewed.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said as much when he announced the change in Parliament yesterday.

"This revised single index will reflect whichever of six pollutant parameters is the worst.

"In reality, we expect the PSI will be determined almost all the time by the levels of PM2.5. As a doctor, I think this is reasonable as PM2.5 is the one we are most concerned with," he said.

Many people had called for more data on PM2.5 last year, during Singapore's worst haze episode, owing to its health impact.

Nanyang Technological University's Professor Ang Peng Hwa, who created the Haze Elimination Action Team Facebook campaign in 2007, said the new PSI "reports more accurately the situation, that PM2.5 is bad for health".

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said yesterday that based on the present PSI, each of the past five years had between 91 and 96 per cent of "good" air quality days, and just 4 to 9 per cent of "moderate" days.

But with the revised PSI, the figures would be 1 to 4 per cent of "good" days each year and 92 to 98 per cent of "moderate" days.

NEA said: "There will be no change to normal routines on the ground as people can carry on normal activity if air quality is in the 'good' or 'moderate' range."

The current PSI is calculated from the worst of five other pollutants: sulphur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and particles called PM10.

Another change taking place in May is that the Government will give hourly updates that are more current on PM2.5 levels in the air.

Now, the updates are given hourly too but are averaged from readings in the previous 24 hours.

With the new hourly and more current PM2.5 updates, NEA will publish a lot more raw data that is useful for academics and scientists, Dr Balakrishnan said.

Last night, the three-hour PSI also crept up to 84 at 8pm, close to the unhealthy range. NEA said it was because of hot spots in southern Johor. The number of hot spots detected in Peninsular Malaysia rose to 149 yesterday from 86 on Monday, while those in Sumatra numbered 259, up from 228, the agency said.

New panel on transboundary pollution
Audrey Tan The Straits Times 14 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - The Government will appoint an international panel to advise it on issues related to transboundary pollution.

The body will be co-chaired by Professor S. Jayakumar and Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh, and will include legal experts from Singapore and overseas.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament yesterday that it will provide insights on trends and developments in international law related to transboundary pollution, as well as legal issues arising from its impact.

The International Advisory Panel on Transboundary Pollution, as it will be known, will also advise the Government on solutions that Singapore can adopt.

Dr Balakrishnan urged Indonesia to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, adding that it was the "last member of ASEAN who has signed, but not ratified, the agreement".

The pact, which was signed by all 10 members in 2002, commits countries to prevent open burning, monitor prevention efforts, share information and help one another in tackling the haze.

But "ratifying an agreement on its own will also be insufficient if ground measures remain weak", Dr Balakrishnan acknowledged. He added: "Most importantly, we need effective investigation and enforcement on the ground at the source of these fires."

His remarks come at a time when air quality here - as measured by the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) - is gradually worsening as the haze returns.

Dr Balakrishnan also noted that the situation "is worse this year (compared with) last year", when Singapore experienced the worst bout of haze, with PSI readings hitting a record of 401 last June.

An unusual dry spell in Riau province in Sumatra, Indonesia, since late December has seen farmers taking the opportunity to clear land by starting fires, which are causing the haze.

But as the Indonesian authorities have yet to disclose the concession maps, the ASEAN Sub-Regional Haze Monitoring System "will not be able to achieve its intended purpose" of pinpointing companies that practise illegal land clearing activities, Dr Balakrishnan said.

He said the Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill now up for public consultation sends a signal that "irresponsible commercial actions that put the health of Singaporeans at risk" would not be condoned. The proposed legislation would hold companies or other entities liable for causing haze affecting Singapore.

Responding to a supplementary question raised by Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) on whether Singapore might consider taking action, such as international arbitration, against Indonesia, Dr Balakrishnan said that was a reason the international panel was appointed.

"We will await their deliberations and their recommendations. We will keep our options open."

Read more!

Everyone wins when we safeguard Ubin’s heritage

Shawn Lum, President, Nature Society (Singapore)
Today Online 12 Mar 14;

To say that I was encouraged by Minister of State (National Development )Desmond Lee’s parliamentary speech on Monday about Pulau Ubin is an understatement. He has set a new standard for engaging stakeholders on heritage-related matters.

Ubin is already a wonderful place. From a natural heritage perspective, there is reason to believe that it can be even better, with the right planning, input from experts and long-term commitment from the people and public sectors. The National Parks Board has been doing a good job of looking after Ubin’s natural heritage since being tasked with the duty in the 1990s.

Mr Lee’s speech is a reaffirmation of its good work and a call for others to join in a broad community effort to safeguard and improve, where possible, Ubin’s heritage and natural value.

Not only will nature benefit, all Singaporeans will be winners, hopefully for generations to come.

The Nature Society is buoyed by this opportunity to work with the ministry, its statutory boards and other stakeholders to ensure Ubin is managed for everyone’s benefit and demonstrate that what is good for nature is good for people.

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SICC decides to give up 1 Bukit course

Cai Haoxiang The Business Times AsiaOne 11 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), the largest golf club here with four 18-hole courses, has opted to give up an 18-hole course at its Bukit location - instead of at its Island location - for public use.

This was as originally discussed with the Government. A "significant majority" of members at a dialogue on Wednesday supported the move, acting general manager Desmond Tay said in a March 8 newsletter.

The general committee will accept the Government's Feb 21 offer, he said.

Members who still prefer the Island location to be reconfigured for public use instead of Bukit can exercise their rights under the club's constitution by March 25 so that the club can submit an alternative proposal by end-March, he said.

The Government had offered SICC a choice after some members asked if the original arrangement could be swopped.

But consensus seems to be that one of two courses at the Bukit site should be opened up, instead of one at Island, which also has two 18-hole courses.

Lawyer and SICC member Thomas Lee said the decision to hold on to the Island course was reasonable. "We can do more in the Island location; we still have a lot of GFA (gross floor area)," he said.

The GFA of leasehold land at the Island site is 30,000 sq m, significantly more than Bukit's 3,551 sq m.

The Island site also has a 1.66 million sq m leasehold land bank, compared with a 1.18 million sq m leasehold land bank at Bukit.

SICC owns another 12,000 sq m of freehold GFA and 21,272 sq m land bank at Bukit.

The Island site allowed more scope for reconfiguration of golf courses as well as more space for non-golfing facilities, SICC president Tay Joo Soon said in his Feb 19 message to members.

Keeping Bukit would also have required significant capital expenditure to bring the standard of its facilities up to that of Island, he said.

Mr Desmond Tay also offered a new argument in favour of keeping the Island location: the proposed Cross Island MRT line would impact it less than the Bukit location as the line cuts across part of the Bukit courses.

SICC has to give up one of its four 18-hole courses for public use as the Government plans to redevelop Singapore's only public 18-hole course at Marina Bay for housing and commercial uses.

The Government wants to have at least one 18-hole course - a typical full-sized course - available for the public, national servicemen and the labour movement.

The debate is now likely to shift to which of the two Bukit courses SICC will give up: the Sime Course located off Braddell Road or the Bukit Course located further in after the clubhouse.

The lease for one of SICC's two 18-hole courses at the Bukit location will not be renewed when it expires at end-2021.

The Government said SICC's other Bukit course can be offered a lease extension until 2030, conditional on the club reaching a sharing agreement on the Bukit site with the labour movement by next February.

Meanwhile, the lease extension for the Island location will be until 2040.

Read more!

Keeper of light

Toh Yong Chuan The Straits Times AsiaOne 12 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - The colonial-style building has a private jetty where a 20m luxury yacht can dock and a dining room with a 180-degree sea view. A private beach lined with coconut trees is just steps away.

"I can have morning coffee facing the sunrise. For dinner, I just turn my chair around to see the sunset," said Mr Syed Hassan of his outdoor dining patio, which is about the size of two squash courts.

But unlike those who have paid tens of millions of dollars for their Sentosa Cove bungalows, the 65-year-old has not forked out a single cent for the seafront home.

He is a lighthouse keeper and the oldest in Singapore.

For days at a time, he resides in Raffles Lighthouse on Pulau Satumu, Singapore's southernmost island, which is a 45-minute boat ride from the mainland. As part of a little-known eight-man crew, he helps to maintain the country's collection of five lighthouses.

These include the famous Horsburgh on Pedra Branca and the unmanned Bedok Lighthouse. The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) announced in January that the latter will move from the top of Lagoon View condominium to a block of public flats in Marine Terrace. Sultan Shoal, which is also unmanned, Pulau Pisang and Raffles round up the quintet.

Mr Hassan and his lighthouse comrades take care of the latter pair, working in two-man teams.

They rotate with 10-day blocks, doing a stint at the lighthouses followed by an equally long break on the mainland.

Life on the island is not lacking in modern amenities despite the lighthouse being 159 years old. There is electricity, as well as airconditioning, drinking water, sewerage facilities and even a 3G mobile network. M1's signal on the island is the best, said Mr Hassan.

But the biggest challenge is battling loneliness.

There are few visitors because the island - about the size of two football fields - is off limits to the public.

"But we have racoons, monitor lizards, turtles and dolphins that visit us," he said.

"Once, we even found a shark in the lagoon."

Work is generally uneventful and the occasional storms are about as exciting as the job gets.

Having a colleague for company keeps him sane.

"If we don't have anyone to talk to for even one day, we end up talking to ourselves and we can get mad," he quipped.

That is why it is important to keep to a routine and remain occupied daily. His day starts before sunrise, when he hoists a flag to signal to passing ships that lighthouse keepers are on watch.

"We do a lot of housekeeping because this is our second home," he said. "We cook, do laundry, do gardening and even burn our own rubbish because there is no trash collection service."

Armed with a pair of binoculars, he spends most of the day perched on a spot with a commanding view of ships that pass through the southern limits of Singapore's territorial waters, while keeping in touch with MPA's operations centre.

From sunset to midnight, he does hourly checks to ensure that the lighthouse's revolving beacon which guides passing ships is working.

Many nights are also spent thinking about his family. Despite having been on the job for 12 years since he was retrenched as an administration worker with soft-drinks maker Yeo Hiap Seng, he still misses his wife, five grown-up daughters and four grandchildren.

"I've lost count of the number of birthdays I've missed, including my own," he said.

When The Straits Times visited Raffles Lighthouse two weeks ago, he disclosed that a colleague recently quit.

"This job is not for everyone. It is suitable for those who are older, and definitely not if they have young children," said the secondary school graduate.

But the perks of having fresh air and a relatively stress-free job have kept him going and will continue to. "I don't spend any money here and I don't have to take the crowded buses and MRT to work," he said with a laugh, adding: "I am also never late for work."

And of course, the breathtaking view every day does not hurt. "Where else in Singapore can you see such an unobstructed and beautiful sunrise and sunset from the same spot, with the sea, ships and clouds as the backdrop? The view is priceless."

Read more!

Chemical slowdown? Not on Jurong Island

Jonathan Kwok The Straits Times AsiaOne 12 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - The global commodity chemical industry may be in a down cycle, but new plants and investments are expected to continue at a healthy pace at Singapore's Jurong Island.

Decisions to proceed with these projects were made earlier, and in any case, the industry's long-term prospects remain positive, experts say.

Five plants were opened on the island last year alone, and the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) expects a similar count for this year.

"We capitalised opportunities in the past years, so we will still have new plants opening," said Mr Eugene Leong, director for energy and chemicals at the EDB, which is responsible for attracting foreign firms to invest here.

Jurong Island, which houses part of Singapore's $99 billionper- year chemical sector, has been in the spotlight recently with several large-scale facility openings.

In January, energy major Exxon- Mobil opened an expansion of its vast chemical plant on Jurong Island.

Experts estimate the expansion cost US$5 billion (S$6.3 billion). And last month, the country's first liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal was officially opened on Jurong Island.

The terminal means that Singapore can take in LNG imports from all over the world, in addition to the natural gas coming via pipes from Malaysia and Indonesia.

Both LNG and piped natural gas are used to generate electricity.

Mr Leong expects a similar number of plant openings overall this year, as compared to last year.

Five plants opened on Jurong Island last year, with two more plant ground-breakings.

The Tembusu Multi Utilities Complex was launched by Tuas Power to provide energy and water as well as treat industrial waste. And new facilities from Germany's Lanxess, China's Sinopec and Japanese firms Denka and Asahi Kasei were also added last year.

Japanese company Mitsui Chemicals and oil major Shell also broke ground last year for building new plants.

Still, the chemical downturn - due to a slowdown in demand from markets like China, coupled with increased supply as new plants open worldwide - will inevitably lead to more caution when companies evaluate new projects.

"We are fortunate that over the next five to 10 years, the industry is in a good position, so that has softened the impact of the downturn," said Mr Leong. He noted that demand from Asia is expected to increase.

Mr Leong expects the chemical sector to encounter better times by 2015 or 2016. Singapore has long been a base for many oil majors such as Shell and Mobil (now known as Exxon- Mobil), both of which started refineries here in the 1960s.

The oil industry is closely linked to petrochemicals.

Refineries also produce the feedstock for chemicals - and many chemicals are eventually used to make consumer products, such as shampoo, cosmetics and plastics.

Through merging seven offshore islands, Jurong Island was created to house an integrated refining and petrochemical hub. The reclamation was completed in 2009 and the island today houses about $42 billion in investments.

Now, the Government is emphasising the Jurong Island 2.0 initiative.

The plan is to raise environmental sustainability and ensure that firms' energy, feedstock, water and transport needs are all met, said Mr Dennis Tan, director of the biomedical and chemicals cluster at JTC Corporation, the statutory board that develops and manages industrial estates.

"An example of a project arising from Jurong Island 2.0 is the formation of an inter-agency centre to look at safety and risk management issues," he said.

Utilities plants such as Tuas Power's Tembusu facility will also supply to the Jurong Island companies and reduce the costs of the firms. The industry has given the thumbs up.

"Jurong Island 2.0 anticipates the changing needs of our industry and ExxonMobil will continue to look for new opportunities to increase the efficiency and competitiveness of our operations," said an ExxonMobil spokesman.

And Mr Lee Tzu Yang, chairman of Shell companies in Singapore, last year underlined his company's commitment to Singapore, when it broke ground for new petrochemical units on Jurong Island.

Read more!

Large water users have to submit usage plans from next year

Siau Ming En Today Online 12 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — With the current dry spell, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan stressed the need for industries and homes to conserve water.

As part of efforts to help large users of water, such as hotels and wafer-fabrication plants, improve water efficiency, the ministry will make it mandatory for all large users to submit Water Efficiency Management Plans (WEMPs) from next year.

They will have to install private water meters on their premises and submit plans annually to national water agency, the PUB.

Speaking in Parliament at his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan said: “We believe these plans will help companies become more aware of their water usage patterns, (so) they (can) identify ways to reduce consumption and raise efficiency.”

Singapore’s water sources are “reasonably secure for now”, but the Republic should not be complacent.

“We don’t know whether this will turn out to be an El Nino year and, if so, how severe its implications … So the point is, we cannot afford to waste water and need to be very careful to emphasise conservation and insist on efficient use of water across all sectors,” he said.

Dr Balakrishnan added: “I think this is a good reminder that, in fact, flash floods come and go, but droughts can be prolonged and are a much greater strategic threat to our well-being.”

To improve water efficiency in homes, only washing machines with at least a one-tick rating in water efficiency will be allowed for sale in Singapore from next month.

The ministry intends to raise the minimum standard to at least two ticks next year, said Dr Balakrishnan.

As for whether it was “double handling” to add NEWater into reservoirs to produce drinking water — an issue raised by Nee Soon GRC Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah — Dr Balakrishnan explained that the process of topping up the reservoirs with recycled water and processing the mixed water supply creates an “environmental buffer”.

While NEWater is safe to drink, removing that buffer is a big step to take.

“It is something I will study very, very carefully and I will give you this assurance that our top and paramount concern is public hygiene, safety, security and peace of mind among people, so let’s not rush into this,” he said.

Minister stresses importance of water conservation
Siau Ming En Today Online 11 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan stressed the importance of water conservation during the current dry spell in his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate today (March 11), emphasising the need improve water efficiency in both industries and homes.

Speaking in parliament, Dr Balakrishnan said his ministry will make it mandatory for all large water users to submit Water Efficiency Management Plans (WEMPs) with effect from June 2015. These plans help companies better understand their water usage patterns, identify ways to reduce water consumption and raise their water efficiency, he said.

First introduced in 2010, national water agency PUB has been encouraging the voluntary submission of the WEMPs and about 35 per cent of the large water users have done so.

To support these large water users, Dr Balakrishnan added that since March last year, PUB had enhanced the Water Efficiency Fund to co-fund up to 90 per cent or a maximum of S$30,000, for the cost involved with water audits and meter installation. This fund will then be enhanced to better support companies on efforts such as recycling or use of alternative sources of water, he said.

Likewise, to practice water efficiency in homes, Dr Balakrishnan referred to the Minimum Water Efficiency Standards scheme as an example, where only washing machines with at least 1-tick will be allowed for sale in Singapore from next month onwards. He added that the ministry intends to raise the minimum requirement to at least 2-ticks next year.

This will help save both water and money for Singaporeans, he said.

Although water resources ensure that Singapore’s water needs remain secure for now, the country should not be complacent, Dr Balakrishnan added.

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NEA to deploy new tools to fight dengue

Siau Ming En Today Online 12 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — It was not so much the increase in mosquito breeding spots, but rather its coupling with the population’s low herd immunity to the new variant of dengue that led to the worst dengue outbreak here.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said this yesterday, as he addressed questions from Members of Parliament (MPs) about the effectiveness of dengue- control measures during the debate on the ministry’s budget

The National Environment Agency (NEA) will deploy new tools to fight against dengue. For instance, the use of Gravitrap surveillance systems — cylindrical devices with sticky surfaces to trap Aedes mosquitoes — deployed in Bukit Panjang and Clementi will be extended to other parts of the island.

Dr Balakrishnan said the NEA found an increase of about 10 per cent in the number of mosquito breeding sites, a figure that was “not all that significant”. “But this 10 per cent increase in breeding, superimposed with the new virus which we have very low immunity (against), led to this explosive situation that we have now,” he said.

Last year, dengue cases hit a historic high of 22,170 — 50 per cent more than the previous peak in 2005. Since the start of this year, there have been 3,147 cases.

Dr Balakrishnan agreed with the MPs that vaccines would offer a long-term solution, but as of now, there are no vaccines for all four serotypes of dengue, which is why the authorities are focusing on “source eradication”.

He highlighted construction sites as an area of concern — mosquito breeding sites were found at 10 per cent of the 12,000 inspections conducted at constructions sites last year. The authorities issued 55 stop-work orders and 26 contractors were taken to court and fined S$3.5 million.

“We need to strengthen our housekeeping and our environmental management on-site. We will not hesitate to take strong and tough action because 10 per cent is an unacceptably high rate for breeding,” he said.

While the figure has since dropped to 4 per cent, Dr Balakrishnan added there is room for improvement. Siau Ming En

Dengue outbreak not over yet: Vivan Balakrishnan
Today Online 11 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — The dengue outbreak is not over yet, although the numbers have come down significantly, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan today (March 11).

Addressing questions from Members of Parliament during the ministry’s Committee of Supply Debate, Dr Balakrishan said the National Environment Agency (NEA) will deploy new tools to enhance its operations.

For example, Gravitrap surveillance systems which are deployed in Bukit Panjang and Clementi to trap mosquitoes and provide data on mosquito activity and viral prevalence will be progressively extended to other parts of the island, especially in cluster areas to complement other efforts to reduce the adult mosquito population.

Last year, dengue hit a historic high of 22,170 diagnosed cases — 50 per cent more than the last peak in 2005. Since the start of this year, there were an additional 3,075 cases.

Dr Balakrishnan said the outbreak last year was due to a dengue serotype switch from DENV-2 to DENV-1. This new strain of the DENV-1 virus, which Singapore has a low population immunity against, accounted for up to 85 per cent of all diagnosed cases, he added.

Construction sites are one particular area of concern for the authorities. Last year, 10 per cent of the 12,000 inspections conducted at construction sites were found to be breeding mosquitoes. Enforcement actions were meted out to these contractors, with fines totalling S$3.5 million. In the last six months, NEA has issued 55 stop-work orders, and prosecuted 26 contractors in court.

Contractors will need to strengthen their environmental management at their worksites as we will not hesitate to take action against any negligent contractor, Dr Balakrishnan said.

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Malaysia: Cloud-seeding operations postponed indefinitely

hemananthani sivanandam The Star 12 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Meteorological Department will postpone cloud-seeding operations indefinitely until the search and rescue mission for the missing MH370 jetliner is over.

The department’s atmospheric science and cloud-seeding division director Azhar Ishak said the exercise was supposed to begin last Sunday but was postponed because the aircraft usually used for the purpose – the RMAF’s C-130 Hercules – had been deployed to help in the search mission.

The cloud-seeding operations were scheduled to be conducted daily from March 9 to 16 to help ease the country’s current dry spell. They were to have been carried out over water catchment areas in Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Johor, Malacca and Kedah.

Azhar said wind conditions had improved somewhat with the approach of the inter-monsoon season.

“The weather is transitioning from the north-east to the south-west monsoon. This period will begin in late March and last until early May.

“We can expect rainfall and thunderstorms in the late afternoons, especially in the west coast of the peninsula, during the period,” he said.

Residents, meanwhile, have to contend with the dry weather, hazy conditions and water rationing.

The third phase of the water-rationing exercise – two days of dry taps followed by two days of supply – began in Zone 2 on Monday.

It involves some 3.6 million residents from 290,865 households in 577 areas in Gombak, Kuala Lumpur, Petaling, Klang, Shah Alam, Kuala Selangor and Hulu Selangor.

The second phase started on March 2 and the first phase on Feb 27.

Syabas to speed up resumption of water supply in rationed areas
The Star 12 Mar 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Syabas) will improve on the time for resumption of water supply in rationed areas which receive water late.

Its Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Department assistant general manager Priscilla Alfred said monitoring would be carried out according to the stipulated zones.

She said delays were because some rationing areas were in high elevations and at the end of the water supply system, other than being involved with internal pumping systems or pumping stages.

“Syabas will carry out improvements specifically in the time of the recovery of supply in all areas involved as scheduled, from time to time,” she said in a statement here, Tuesday.

She also announced that the first stage of rationing had entered its 13th day and the third stage, implemented Monday, was running smoothly.
The public can surf to get full information on the water rationing. – Bernama

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