Best of our wild blogs: 21 Mar 14

Butterflies Galore! : Elbowed Pierrot
from Butterflies of Singapore

Man of Science and Dreams – ST article 21st March 2014
from Raffles Museum News

Anuj Jain awarded the Joan Mosenthal DeWind grant for Lepidoptera conservation! from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Read more!

Dry spell drives home need for water solutions

Chua Chin Wei and Simon Tay Today Online 21 Mar 14;

The drought suffered by Singapore has now been punctuated by on-and-off rainstorms. But while these have brought welcome relief, there is no guarantee that prolonged dry spells will not recur in future. Water supply is under stress across the world and Singapore is no exception.

Climate change, extreme weather events, water scarcity and pollution are real issues impacting on water supply. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report has identified water crises as one of the world’s top three risks this year. Signs are evident across different countries and regions, affecting both rich and poor.

Whether it is California, Brazil or Queensland in Australia, all are facing their worst drought in decades. In Brazil’s case, more than 120 cities are under water rationing, despite the fact that the country is estimated to hold more than 10 per cent of the global freshwater supply.

In Malaysia, after a two-month dry spell, a third phase of water rationing has been announced. It will affect more than 3.6 million people.

As we mark World Water Day tomorrow, given recent events, the overall situation bears review. While there is sufficient supply in Singapore, under current conditions, this cannot be taken for granted. Moreover, while the government has invested in technology and infrastructure, companies and citizens can and must do more.


Countries are searching for solutions, and more have begun to recognise the merits of water recycling to increase water security. This is technically possible, as Singapore had shown by introducing NEWater in 2002. Questions on costs and perceptions of acceptability are now shifting.

In Australia, a key element in South East Queensland’s urban drought initiative is a recycled water project along the state’s western corridor. This is the country’s largest recycled water scheme and aims to reduce the dependency on sources that would be vulnerable to climate change.

In California, the Orange County Water District has long used recycling to weather the dry conditions better than other regions in the state. Its Groundwater Replenishment System treats and purifies used water to produce drinking water. Orange County provided an early model for Singapore and, this year, its pioneering work won the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize.

This approach is now emulated in Australia, as well as in other American states, such as Colorado and Texas.

Yet, recycling can only be part of the solution. Significant investments must be made for a diversified portfolio of water sources. For Singapore, local catchment and reservoirs remain important, as does water pumped in from Malaysia under a long-standing agreement between the two countries. To make Singapore’s water supply more robust, additional new efforts have been made for recycled NEWater and desalinated supply, drawn from the sea.

These new sources of water are more resilient and less dependent on rain. During the recent dry period, desalination and NEWater plants had run at close to full capacity. Indeed, with the fall in water levels at reservoirs, the drought would have been worse if NEWater had not been used to top up and maintain the water stock.

Today, these new sources can meet up to 55 per cent of Singapore’s water needs, and more investment can be expected in the future. Yet, NEWater and desalination are not without costs and constraints.

Energy is a critical element and major cost in their production. And since Singapore does not have its own sources of energy, production depends ultimately on the supply of gas or other fuel from elsewhere. Even with the best current technology, we cannot indefinitely and infinitely increase the supply of water.


Therefore, we need to better manage the demand for water. Fundamentally, Singaporeans need to be reminded that water is a precious resource. This is a slogan from the country’s early years and Singaporeans of that generation will remember water rationing.

However, recent years of plenty may have lulled us into complacency. Notably, during this spell of drought and haze, household water consumption went up. Some of this usage is essential but others may seem frivolous, such as the plan to hold a Songkran or water festival next month in Singapore, even though this is not our custom.

Singaporeans and residents need to take ownership in water conservation and change consumption habits. Currently, supplies remain adequate and water rationing is unnecessary. But exercises in rationing might be important to drive home the message anew.

Such exercises could start in schools to expose younger generations to the issue. It could also be carried out systematically across different constituencies, one at a time, to make the point clearer, while avoiding mass disruption. The lesson would be to not take things for granted, and would make people more aware and robust, in case of an emergency.

These exercises must aim to help develop a common understanding about sufficiency and sustainability. We hope the Singaporean “kiasu” instinct would not kick in, causing people to stock water excessively in bathtubs and buckets, which would create unnecessary wastage and potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Rationing exercises must be carried out in tandem with the promotion of better consumption habits.

Per capita water consumption in Singaporean households has been steadily decreasing, from 165 litres a day in 2003 to the current 151 litres. We can, however, definitely do more. Improving water conservation can be spurred by simple common-sense efforts, such as not leaving the tap running unnecessarily, using water-efficient appliances and fittings, or timing our showers.

Companies can also do their part as responsible corporate citizens. More than 200 companies and organisations that took part in the PUB’s 10% Challenge have successfully managed to reduce their water usage by 10 per cent in the past four years. Wafer fabrication plants have also taken steps to stem their thirst.

So have developers when designing our buildings. For example, City Developments Limited has successfully cut down its water usage by using rainwater to test waterproofing in newly-built toilets. At construction sites, underground water storage tanks are used to collect rainwater, which is then used for miscellaneous purposes such as watering plants or hosing down muddy truck tyres.

Such efforts are commendable. While this extended dry spell is still on people’s minds, the public should be encouraged to do their part to conserve this precious resource and cut down water consumption for years to come.


Chua Chin Wei is Deputy Director and Coordinator for sustainable resources at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA). Simon Tay is SIIA Chairman and Vice-Chairman for the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, a non-profit network across the region.

Read more!

PUB scales down production at NEWater, desalination plants

Channel NewsAsia 20 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: National water agency PUB said on Thursday that it is progressively scaling down operations and production at the NEWater and desalination plants after the rain over the last few days brought much-needed relief to the country’s record-breaking dry spell.

At the height of the dry spell over the past two months, PUB stepped up desalination to the full capacity of 100 million gallons a day. NEWater production was also raised to more than 100 million gallons a day for industrial use and to top up the country's reservoirs by 35 million gallons a day.

PUB's assistant chief executive of operations Tan Yok Gin said: "With the reservoirs filling up, NEWater injections into the reservoir have been cut back. Water demand has also returned to normal levels. However, should there be a return of the dry weather, operations will be adjusted accordingly."

"The agency will monitor the weather for the next few days before re-opening the water play areas at Marina Barrage, Alexandra Canal, and Lower Seletar Reservoir," Mr Tan said.

"Notwithstanding the rains returning, we call on the public to continue to adopt water efficient habits to conserve water and make it a way of life," he added.

- CNA/fa

Read more!

New air quality reporting system to take effect on April 1

Sharon See Channel NewsAsia 20 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: The government will implement the new air quality reporting system on April 1, a month earlier than planned.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said this is because the current improvement in air quality brought on by the rain could be temporary.

The new Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which was announced two weeks ago, will incorporate a sixth pollutant parameter, PM2.5 in its reading.

The heavy rains over the past week have been a welcome relief for Singapore which had just gone through one of the most severe dry spells it has ever seen.

However, it seems this respite will not last. The National Environment Agency said the haze could return by late March.

Singapore is expected to enter the inter-monsoon period in late March until May.

During the inter-monsoon period, winds are typically light and variable in direction and they may carry haze to Singapore if hotspots increase in central Sumatra.

Singapore enters the Southwest Monsoon in June, where winds over Singapore typically blow from the southeast or southwest. The Southwest Monsoon is the traditional dry season and Singapore could be affected by haze if hotspots increase in central Sumatra.

Authorities say most climate models are predicting that an El Niño weather pattern may develop over the second half of the year. Depending on the intensity of this phenomenon, Singapore may experience even drier and warmer weather.

Last June, Singapore experienced its worst case of haze in history, when the PSI hit hazardous levels.

Last month, Singapore narrowly escaped the haze thanks to prevailing northeasterly winds, even though the haze recorded in Riau, Indonesia, was even more severe than that in June 2013. The question is, will this year be worse?

Dr Balakrishnan said: "I cannot predict with certainty, but I want to say that because we are worried about an El Niño year, a drier year, and because we have seen that the level of burning in Riau this year was even worse than last year, it means we have to be prepared. We have to prepare for the worst but hope for the best."

For this reason, authorities will start using the new PSI a month earlier than scheduled.

The new PSI may reflect slightly higher readings since it now incorporates six pollutant parameters including PM2.5.

PM2.5 are tiny particles that can travel deep into the respiratory tract and may pose serious health concerns.

Even so, health advisories issued by authorities remain largely unchanged, and healthy individuals can still carry on normal activities as long as the PSI is under 100.

However, authorities are advising employers to plan early.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "We want you to identify who are your vulnerable employees. We want you to work out adjustments to the work schedules so that when the air is not so good, you can decrease the level of physical exertion needed.

"Thirdly, we want you to have all the equipment necessary so for instance, if you need to get masks, this is a good time to go and stock up on the masks because there are lots available. The onus is on the employer to deploy the employee in a safe way, and to provide all the necessary protection."

Dr Balakrishnan reiterated that the government has sufficient N95 masks in its stockpile.

He said the masks are not the solution. What's more important, he stressed, is to prepare early and make adjustments based on the Health Ministry's advisory.

For example, if the air quality worsens when school is in session, Dr Balakrishnan said schools may keep students in school for a longer period for their safety.

"If school is in session and the air suddenly deteriorates, we will not dismiss the students and ask them to find their own way home in times of high pollution. The students will be safer staying on in school in a controlled, safe environment, and that's what the MOE (Ministry of Education) intends to do."

- CNA/fa

New air quality reporting system from April 1
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 21 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — The new air quality reporting system — which will come into effect on April 1, one month ahead of schedule — will better reflect visibility levels during a haze, as it will incorporate levels of fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, into the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI).

In other words, the new three-hour PSI, which will be based on PM2.5, will pass the “window test”, as an official from the National Environment Agency (NEA) put it yesterday.

During the severe bout of haze last year, there was criticism from some members of the public that the PSI readings did not correspond with what they saw outside their windows.

The new reporting system was announced in Parliament last week by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, during his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate.

Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan said at a press conference that the Government will bring forward the roll-out of the new system in view of the earlier onset of hazy conditions this year. While the showers that Singapore experienced over the past few days have improved air quality, he said this might be temporary as slash-and-burn activities in Indonesia had begun earlier this year than in the past.

He said: “The haze in Riau that was present two weeks ago was worse than it was last year — that means the fundamental economic forces that lead to illegal clearing of land and deforestation through burning are still present.”

Nevertheless, he noted that Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had recently gone to Riau to address the situation. He said: “If they take his instructions seriously, maybe, we can hope for a better situation.”

The new PSI will be based on the worst of six pollutants — sulphur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, PM10 and PM2.5 — to give a better picture of Singapore’s overall air quality. The NEA will report the three-hour PSI based on PM2.5, instead of PM10 (particulate matter with a diameter below 10 micrometres) to satisfy the “window test” in periods of smoke haze, said its Chief Scientific Officer Indrani Rajaram.

Hourly updates on PM2.5 levels in the air will also be published, so the public can take necessary precautions.

An NEA spokesperson said the three-hour PM2.5 readings will reflect more recent levels of PM2.5 and should “correspond more closely with what one sees”, as finer particles in PM2.5 scatter more light.

National University of Singapore air-pollutants expert Jason Blake Cohen said some of such fine particulate matter also absorb light, thus reducing visibility. Asst Prof Cohen said the new method of deriving PSI should give the public more clarity and confidence, as it is a widely accepted standard that can make it easier for Singaporeans to compare air quality with other cities in the world.

The NEA spokesperson said that, while the three-hour PSI might be useful to help the public decide whether to proceed with or postpone their immediate activities, it is not as useful in helping to plan for activities to be held later, such as the next day. “For this, the public may wish to take reference from the haze forecast issued by the NEA based on the 24-hour PSI.”

Under the new reporting system, the Republic may experience many more days of “moderate” air quality, despite the air being no more polluted than in the past. Accordingly, the Health and Manpower ministries have refined, respectively, the haze health advisories and workplace guidelines for employers.

Representatives from both ministries and the Ministry of Education reiterated that contingency plans are in place, should the haze return.

On whether a stop-work order will be issued if the haze reaches a certain level, Dr Balakrishnan reiterated that while the health and safety of Singaporeans are the priority, the country cannot “shut down totally in the face of haze”. He noted that the authorities have the power to intervene if an employer is not behaving responsibly and ensuring the safety of workers.

Dr Balakrishnan said that, compared with last year, when the PSI reading hit a record 401, he is confident the Government is “far more prepared and ... will be able to ride through” the situation should the haze worsen this year. With the Government, retailers and People’s Association having stockpiles of masks, he said this should “not be a point of anxiety”.

While the North-east Monsoon has kept haze from Sumatra away from Singapore, the coming inter-monsoon season with lighter and variable winds and the South-west Monsoon, which typically begins in June, could lead to haze coming in Singapore’s direction.

“We still have to be on guard against the recurrence of haze,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

Worse haze to come
Zul Othman The New Paper AsiaOne 23 Mar 14;

The rain over the past week has brought some relief from the haze plaguing Singapore.

But as the haze in the region is more severe compared to last June's episode, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) are bracing for conditions to worsen in the months ahead.

At a media briefing on Thursday, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said while the rain may have "improved" the situation brought on by a prolonged dry spell, the improvement is also likely to be "temporary".

In view of this, both MEWR and NEA are rolling out the new Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) a month earlier than scheduled.

It will come into effect from April 1 instead of May 1.

The new air quality reporting system incorporates PM2.5 into the current Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) as its sixth pollutant parameters.

PM2.5 refers to particulate matter up to 2.5 micrometres or microns in size.

These particles are known to cause inflammatory responses both in the respiratory tract and blood vessels.

Previously, the incidence of PM2.5 was not directly taken into account when determining the index.


Dr Balakrishnan said this year's haze has been "unusual" and the situation in Riau in Sumatra, Indonesia, has been severe since last month.

Slashing and burning in Indonesia, which is usually done between the June and September dry season to clear land, also began earlier this year.

While prevailing northeastern winds in February had kept most of the haze away from Singapore, most climate models are projecting an El Nino weather phenomenon - linked to dry weather in the region - to develop in the second half of 2014.

The El Nino phenomenon is also "usually associated with aggravated haze", added Dr Balakrishnan.

With these factors in mind, there is a need to accelerate Singapore's preparations against transboundary haze, he added.

The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) have revised haze health advisories for the public and workplace guidelines for employers to protect their workers.

For instance, MOM has advised employers to identify workers who may be more affected by the haze.

Employers are also advised to make changes to work schedules so that those employees can be redeployed should the haze worsen.

Read more!

The evolution of land reclamation: Malta looking at Singapore's example

Optimists say that a Palm Island in Marsaxlokk harbour opposite the new gas plant could perhaps be convenient for berthing massive LNG carriers away from urban areas where otherwise they be perceived as problematic and residents are complaining – please, not in my backyard.
George M. Mangion Malta Today 20 May 14;

During a business trip to Singapore last month, I was fascinated by the island’s success in many sectors, notwithstanding the fact that it possesses no mineral wealth and is a densely populated country which has acted as a safe haven when the world was hell striven by the start of the recession in 2007. Singapore is roughly twice the size of Malta but houses over 5 million citizens in a densely populated area.

It comes as no surprise that over the past decades Singapore has invested heavily in land reclamation for large infrastructure projects such as a massive Freeport and construction of an international airport. So how can Malta ever reach the high GDP per capita on a tiny island where space comes at a premium and land prices are already very expensive (and scarce)? The probable answer is the continuation of land reclamation from the sea.

The topic recently hit the headlines after the prime minister announced the government’s intention to invite investors to participate in such ventures. As can be expected, the subject is highly contested by environmentalists and NGOs who focus their thrust against land reclamation, saying such measures will upset the ecological, scientific, archaeological habitat amid other cultural values.

It follows that due to Malta’s size, high population density and unique island biodiversity, any political announcements to encourage land-use are resisted by the environmental lobbyists, but of course welcomed by property magnates. The former base their complaints on the island’s relatively high urban land cover, while they refer to a high proportion of used dwellings (about 70,000) which in turn raises questions about the overall efficiency of land use when viewed in the context of the latest census relating to residential occupancy.

This bone of contention needs to be counterbalanced by the reuse of abandoned dwellings to accommodate social housing for the elderly and potential redevelopment of some of the dwellings, which are old and unfit for habitation. Of course this is what the Housing Authority is doing: inviting developers to come forward to form a joint venture with which to share the development costs with government so as to rehabilitate such derelict houses.

This is a medium-term solution but in the meantime, in my opinion, there is nothing to stop us from attracting new investment to emulate Singapore’s success in land reclamation.

There was much negative feeling against the alternative use of a mountain of inert material at Maghtab and some had suggested that due to its proximity to the sea at Qalet Marku, such building debris could be deployed to create a small island as land reclamation given the water level there is relatively shallow. This idea found strong opposition from a number of environmentalists. Naturally the construction lobby is very much in favour of sustainable work linked to large-scale land reclamation work, which on its own can secure jobs and perhaps qualify for EU funding.

The prime minister is encouraging the private sector to come forward with ideas and this is welcome. Any large-scale reclamation will inevitably stimulate the regeneration of key areas such as the St Julian’s inner creek area and Mellieha bay, but designs have to blend and respect with great sensitivity for its aesthetic value and historical significance with the functional considerations of a busy tourist centre with a modern promenade supporting multifarious commercial, cultural and recreation activities.

The question one may be asking at this stage is what is the alternative use of reclaimed land?

The answer is not very difficult to give since with a bit of imagination one can mention a number of creative projects that can be accommodated thus relieving pressure from building in outside development zone (ODZ) areas. As stated earlier the island is not growing in size but quite the contrary there is constant coastal erosion and rising sea levels. Consider for a while the ambitious cruise liner industry in Valletta and Cottonera being both construed on reclaimed land and, therefore, in this specific context, how vital it is for environmentalists to carefully weigh the advantages of better paid jobs benefitting from a heavy investment, both private and public, to reclaim land from the sea.

Land reclamation is not new to the Maltese islands and here I can mention with pride the success of the Marsa Sports Grounds, built entirely on reclaimed land, the sea originally reaching inland as far as Qormi since ancient times; the massive Freeport terminals in Birżebbuġa (employing thousands) and the platform on which the Delimara power station stands.

There will always be a price to pay when inert waste, usually from construction and demolition sources, is arbitrarily dumped into the sea for land reclamation. The hardest hit, from a purely environmental standpoint, is obviously the seabed, which not only loses its integrity in terms of physical characteristics but any biodiversity thriving on a particular site can be wiped out altogether. The obvious collateral damage to the Posidonia oceanica meadows (seagrass) that lie over large tracts of seabed at various depths around the coastline merits serious consideration as the ecological significance of such meadows is well known in terms of stabilising the seabed and serving as nurture grounds for an immense variety of marine organisms.

So now that the government is inviting investors to come forward to participate in this ambitious project, what are the environmental and economic implications of engineering an artificial island on a much smaller scale to the world famous Palm Island in Dubai? Could this pipedream materialise now that the Prime Minister has fired the starting gun? It is certainly a controversial topic that has long grasped the imagination of many architects and challenged the capabilities of structural engineers trained at our University.

Optimists reply that a Palm Island in Marsaxlokk harbour opposite the new gas plant could perhaps be convenient for berthing massive LNG carriers away from urban areas where otherwise they be perceived as problematic and residents are complaining – please not in my backyard.

Another idea is an artificial island for the purposes of constructing a mega-solar power station ostensibly to qualify for the EU funds given that twenty percent of our energy has to be derived from clean sources by 2020. So to conclude is it pie in the sky or a incredible dose of political audacity by Prime Minister as he is trying to start solving the dilemma of a shrinking island? If he succeeds, then that will be the day when Malta may rise as a phoenix out of the water and share the success of a quasi-Singapore in the Med.

Read more!

More food going to waste

Walter Sim The Straits Times AsiaOne 21 Mar 14;

Every day last year, each person in Singapore wasted an equivalent of one packet of economy rice or nasi padang.

All this added up to an astounding record of 796,000 tonnes - the weight of about 1,420 fully loaded Airbus A-380s - of food waste, according to National Environment Agency statistics released this month.

This marks a steep 13.2 per cent rise from the 703,200 tonnes dumped in 2012, and is the sharpest spike in at least six years. Before last year, food waste had typically gone up between 1.6 and 6.7 per cent year on year since 2007.

"It's an extremely steep rise and it's rather disturbing that there is a distinct lack of awareness and nonchalance to food security issues," said Singapore Environment Council chief executive Jose Raymond on Tuesday.

The amount of food waste, which includes cooked food and expired packaged products, last year is a 42.4 per cent leap from the 2007 figure, far outpacing the 17.7 per cent growth in national population.

Mr Raymond blamed rising consumer affluence, a growing food industry that is "constantly bringing new delicacies to the table", and a lack of public awareness on food waste.

An affluent society has resulted in habits such as "not finishing up our food (because) the taste is not up to par or the inclination to load up our plates when in front of a buffet line", said Food and Beverage Managers' Association (FBMA) president Cheong Hai Poh.

He revealed that FBMA has already been studying food practices in Europe.

The problem has also permeated every link in the supply chain, said Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman in Parliament last week.

Among those culpable included food manufacturing and catering industries, food and beverage outlets as well as hotels.

The latest statistic has surprised Restaurant Association of Singapore president Andrew Tjioe, who is also the executive chairman of Tung Lok Group.

"I have seen restaurants with waiters who keep customers from over-ordering," he said. "People also dabao (take away) leftovers, it is not shameful. I do so even if I have only a little bit of food left."

He believes catered occasions, such as buffets and banquets, were the prime wasters.

People also tend to cater more food than required, said Mr Tjioe. "But caterers wouldn't dare to cut down in case the demand is there and food is not enough."

He suggested reducing Chinese banquet courses, which can have as many as nine dishes, or to cut the size of portions.

Open-concept kitchens at restaurants such as Carousel at Royal Plaza on Scotts also help chefs gauge how much food is still available to diners, said its general manager Patrick Fiat.

Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association president Thomas Pek, who said he will raise the problem at an association meeting later this month, urged more companies to work with charities in giving away food that is nearing its expiry date.

He also suggested that more supermarkets and bakeries could mark down prices of their fresh produce near the end of the day.

Despite the massive amount of food being disposed, recycling remains low. Last year, only about 13 per cent of the total was recycled, up 1 per cent from the previous year. This comprises mainly clean food waste such as spent grains from beer brewing and bread waste, which are converted to animal feed.

Said Mr Raymond: "With the amount of food waste being generated, it is probably timely for Singapore to revisit the possibility of food waste recycling."
- See more at:

Read more!

Malaysia: 'Illegal land clearing cost us millions'

ivan loh The Star 21 Mar 14;

IPOH: Perak suffered losses amounting to millions of ringgit because of rampant illegal land clearing, Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Abdul Kadir said.

Quoting initial studies by the state government, he said about 17,400ha of state land had been cleared.

He added that the losses amounted to “hundreds of millions” and the state was taking action to curb further losses.

“We are collecting more information and identifying more areas that may have been cleared,” he said, adding that the Batang Padang and Seri Manjung districts were among the hot spots for these activities.

“We will not protect anyone, including civil servants or their so-called cronies, if they are found to be involved,” he said after appearing on the Perak FM morning show Selamat Pagi Perak here yesterday.

“People have claimed that the illegal activities are due to poor enforcement and that we have no mechanisms to control these,” he said, adding that there were syndicates offering “land deals” that could purportedly rake in tens of thousands of ringgit.

Dr Zambry claimed there had been some irresponsible statements from opposition leaders encouraging people to “teroka dulu, minta peruntukan kemudian (venture first, ask for allocations later)”.

He added that the opposition leaders were giving the wrong picture to the people.

On land grant applications by farmers, Dr Zambry said the state was not heartless to deny some who had been toiling on the land for 30 or 40 years.

However, the state needed to be thorough when vetting applications, he said.

Regarding illegal sand mining, Dr Zambry said the state was monitoring the situation.

Read more!

Malaysia: Recent wet days bring respite for Malaysians suffering from haze and dry spell

New Straits Times 21 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: Recent rains have brought temporary relief from the haze and dry spell that Malaysians have been enduring for the past week.

However, Meteorological Department spokesman Dr Mohd Hisham Mohd Anip said the widespread rain was expected to reduce by today before picking up again by the middle of next week.

“After a few days of widespread rainfall over most of Peninsular Malaysia, the haze is unlikely to return again until June, unless there are forest and peatland fires.

“Plus, the wet season is just around the corner,” he said yesterday.

Last Friday, Port Klang and Banting reported a hazardous level of Air Pollutant Index (API) with readings exceeding 300, forcing schools in Selangor to be closed.

In contrast, as at 2pm yesterday, the API readings in both these areas had dipped to moderate levels while the air in Malacca and Negri Sembilan, which had previously registered unhealthy readings, was recorded at good.

API readings of between 0 to 50 are categorised as good, moderate (51-100), unhealthy (101-200), very unhealthy (201-300) and hazardous (more than 301). The recent rainfall enjoyed by folks in Klang Valley and parts of Peninsular Malaysia was a combination of both rain and cloud-seeding efforts.

Cloud-seeding, which can induce rainfall within 15 minutes to half an hour after the exercise, resumed last Saturday after the National Security Council recalled a Hercules plane from the search of the missing MH370 plane. The operation was targeted at clouds over water catchment areas and places with severe haze.

Water rationing: Stage one is now discontinued
The Star 20 Mar 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: The first stage of the water supply ration plan has been discontinued as the Cheras Batu 11 and Bukit Tampoi are now back in operation.

Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Syabas) confirmed this in a statement on Thursday.

However, Syabas was still monitoring the ammonia content in Sungai Langat and would impose the water ration again if it was found to be at the dangerous level.

"At present the water treatment plants will be operating according to the quality of the raw water sources to enable the water supply to be channeled to areas being rationed in Hulu Langat, Kuala Langat and Sepang," it said.

The areas that are scheduled to have rationed water supply will receive water supply for the time being while the two water treatment plants are in operation.

Meanwhile the third stage of water supply rationing is still being continued despite the occurrence of rain in several areas since the last few days.
Syabas said it would be continued until amendments or directives were received from the Selangor state government and the National Water Services Commission (SPAN)

Firefighters battling 12ha forest fire in Grik
The Star 21 Mar 14;

IPOH: Some 12ha of forest in Gunung Kerunai in Grik, about 200km from here, is on fire.

So far, only 30% of the blaze had been put out, said state Fire and Rescue Department director Yahaya Madis.

Effort was being made to get closer to the more challenging spots of the hill, he added.

“Firemen have been unable to get close to certain parts of the hill due to the ninety-degree steep slope.”

He added that another segment of the slope is full of resam trees and shrubs which were making it difficult for firemen to put out the fire.

Yahaya said the department would be sending an aircraft to carry out a water bombing exercise today.

Read more!

Thailand: Garbage becomes the most serious environmental problem

New Straits Times 20 Mar 14;

BANGKOK: Garbage becomes the most serious environmental problem in Thailand due to improper disposal, especially industrial and infectious wastes, Thai News Agency (TNA) reported.
Director-General of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment's Pollution Control Department, Wichien Jungrungruang on Wednesday said that industrial wastes in Thailand now amount to as much as two million tonnes yearly, accounting for 77 per cent of all garbage in the country.

Wichien noted that improper disposal and illegal dumping, including that of industrial wastes, have continued and there are five Thai provinces with the highest amounts of accumulated garbage, including Songkhla, Samut Prakan, Kanchanaburi, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani.

At present 20 million tonnes of garbage are left unattended nationwide daily.

The Director-General urged the Ministry of Industry's Department of Industrial Works to tackle the problem and said that it was time for Thailand to apply a standard system to handle garbage.

Wichien pointed out that the latest incident showed that the garbage crisis in Thailand was a lingering fire at a garbage dump site in the Bang Pu municipality of Bangkok's adjacent Samut Prakan Province, which started on March 16 and has remained, affecting more than 300 locals.-- BERNAMA

Read more: Garbage becomes the most serious environmental problem - Latest - New Straits Times

Read more!

China's smog driving top foreign talent away: U.S. business survey

Natalie Thomas PlanetArk 20 Mar 14;

China's smog driving top foreign talent away: U.S. business survey Photo: Alex Lee
A tourist boat, decorated with green lights, travels on the Pearl River amid heavy haze in Guangzhou, Guangdong province March 3, 2014.
Photo: Alex Lee

China's smog is making it harder for foreign firms to convince top executives to work in the country, the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing said on Wednesday, offering some of the strongest evidence yet on how pollution is hurting recruitment.

Some 48 percent of the 365 foreign companies that replied to the chamber's annual survey, which covers businesses in China's northern cities, said concerns over air quality were turning senior executives away.

Pollution is "a difficulty in recruiting and retaining senior executive talent", said the report. The 2014 figure is a jump from the 19 percent of foreign firms that said smog was a problem for recruitment in 2010.

China's slowing economy, however, remained the top risk for companies, the report added.

Foreign executives increasingly complain about pollution in China and the perceived impact it is having on the health of themselves and their families. Several high-profile executives have left China in recent years, citing pollution as the main reason for their decision to go.

Almost all Chinese cities monitored for pollution last year failed to meet state standards, but northern China suffers the most. It is home to much of China's coal, steel and cement production. It is also much colder, relying on industrial coal boilers to provide heating during the long winter.

The capital Beijing, for example, is surrounded by the big and heavily polluted industrial province of Hebei. It is also choked by traffic.

By contrast, China's commercial capital Shanghai, in the south, suffers less air pollution. Indeed, a similar survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce's Shanghai branch did not ask if pollution was affecting recruitment.

Premier Li Keqiang "declared war" on pollution at the opening of the annual session of parliament this month, part of a push to wean the world's second biggest economy from credit-fuelled growth to more sustainable development.

China also pledged on Sunday to make 60 percent of its cities meet national pollution standards by 2020.

Lulu Zhou, associate director of the Beijing Office of international recruitment agency Robert Walters China, said some foreign executives were using pollution to negotiate higher salary packages.

"We have seen some senior level professionals ... who are concerned about relocating to Beijing because of the pollution," she said.

In a sign of the growing corporate concern over pollution, Japanese electronics firm Panasonic Corp has told its unions it will review the hardship allowance paid to expatriates in China because of the air quality, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

And a state-owned Chinese insurer said this week it would offer Beijing residents insurance cover against health risks caused by air pollution, promising to pay out 1,500 yuan ($240)to policy holders hospitalized by smog.

The policy, available for people aged 10 to 50, will also pay out 300 yuan when the city's official smog index exceeds 300 for five consecutive days, a level considered "hazardous", according to a notice posted on the People's Insurance Company of China (PICC) website (

Beijing's official air quality index (AQI), which measures airborne pollutants including particulate matter and sulphur dioxide, routinely exceeds 300, and sometimes hits levels higher than 500.


Despite the concerns over pollution, China's cooling economy, which government leaders project to grow this year at about 7.5 percent, posed the greatest risk to companies, according to those polled in the Beijing survey.

Firms increasingly reported a stagnation or contraction in operating margins compared with previous years, it said.

As a result, more foreign firms saw China "as just one of many investment possibilities", the report said.

Nevertheless, a majority of companies surveyed remained optimistic about the business outlook for the next two years.

"This optimism is driven by our membership's confidence in their own ability to adjust and deal with the challenges," said Mark Duval, China president of the American Chamber of Commerce.

Many members had high expectations that recently announced economic reforms might deliver, Duval added.

But two in five respondents to the Beijing survey said the business climate had become less welcoming for multinationals, with a similar number saying foreign firms were being singled out in a series of pricing and corruption investigations.

Those investigations have targeted various sectors, including pharmaceutical and milk powder multinationals, as well as American technology companies.

Most recently, China's anti-monopoly regulator said Qualcomm Inc. was suspected of overcharging and abusing its market position. The U.S. chip giant has said it was cooperating with the investigation by the National Development and Reform Commission.

Respondents also chafed at perceived state enterprise favoritism, with 77 percent believing policies benefiting state-owned firms had negatively impacted their business.

"My judgment is that the biggest area that drives (this response) would be market access," said Duval.

Protection of trade secrets and company name theft were among other issues worrying businesses. Half of all respondents said that protecting confidential company data was a concern.

Other difficulties were a lack of clarity and inconsistency in the application of laws and regulations, the survey said. ($1 = 6.1920 Chinese yuan)

(Additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando in Tokyo. Editing by Dean Yates)

Read more!

Climate change fuelled storms, rising seas cost China $2.6 bln in 2013

Reuters 20 Mar 14;

(Reuters) - Climate change fuelled storm waves and rising sea levels cost China 16.3 billion yuan ($2.6 bln) and killed 121 people in 2013, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said.

China is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases which scientists say is driving climate change.

Southern Guangdong province was hit hardest, recording 7.4 billion yuan worth of damage, the SOA said in a new report. Storm waves caused 94 percent of the destruction, it said.

Climate change-linked rising, warmer seas cause more frequent storms and typhoons, flood coastal areas, contribute to coastal erosion and salinate farmland, said SOA.

Average sea-levels in China have risen 2.9 millimetres on average every year since 1980, faster than global sea-level rises, said SOA.

"Sea temperature, air temperature, air pressure and monsoons are the main causes of the irregular sea-level changes," it said.

Temperatures in coastal zones in China have increased by 0.34 degrees Celsius per decade since 1980 and sea surface temperatures by 0.18 degrees, it said.

China plans to put in place a number of policies to protect itself from rising seas, which threaten megacities such as Guangzhou, Shanghai and Tianjin.

The government will solidify embankments in vulnerable areas, build submerged breakwater constructions and convert some coastal farmland.

China also aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP to 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. (Reporting by Stian Reklev and Kathy Chen; Editing by Michael Perry)

Read more!

Indonesia: Mangrove protection still hit and miss

Julie Mollins CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research) Reuters 19 Mar 14;

When Ulva Takke heard that a foreign-owned firm planned to set up an iron ore mine on the tiny island of Bangka in the province of North Sulawesi, she joined forces with other residents in a protest that went all the way to Indonesia’s supreme court.

Takke owns a scuba-diving business on the 4,800-hectare (ha) island, which is populated by fewer than 3,000 people and supports a small tourism industry, as well as fishing, aquaculture and agriculture.

Although the community won its appeal against the mining project, news reports indicate that the company is still preparing to begin work, a move that could put pristine habitats at risk, including lowland tropical rainforest, mangroves, freshwater sago swamp and coral reefs.

“If so, it’s going to be a big disaster,” Takke said. “Livelihoods of traditional fishermen and coconut harvesters will be destroyed and many people will be displaced.”

Takke was among more than 100 delegates debating solutions to the threats faced by Indonesia’s mangrove forests at the Restoring Coastal Livelihoods conference hosted at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) by Indonesia’s Mangrove Action Project (MAP) and the Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP).

The three-day meeting was part of a project of the same name supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and facilitated by the non-governmental organization Oxfam in 72 villages throughout the province of South Sulawesi. The project focused on restoring coastal intertidal resources including mangroves, and on improving aquaculture and coastal agriculture management.


Delegates discussed concerns reported by MAP that Indonesia’s Ministry of Fisheries is considering converting vast tracts of mangroves to increase aquaculture production.

The fisheries plans sit in marked contrast to the plans of the Ministry of Forestry, which has put in place a sustainable strategy for mangrove protection and use, according to Ben Brown, MAP’s chief technical advisor.

“Policy regarding the whole intertidal region was very unclear. Even policy around protected areas wasn’t adequate — there was a lot of illegal conversion and degradation, so even in protected areas anyone could write a permit for land conversion and change.”

Conference delegates worked on developing strategies for collaboration to ensure coastal communities can negotiate with government officials, academic scholars and other stakeholders.

“The key message of the seminar was that government mangrove agencies should be strengthened with greater community involvement,” Brown said. “Let’s not disregard these agencies and say they won’t work — let’s try to strengthen them and provide them with clear tools that aren’t prescriptive and overly simplistic.”

Since 1980, Indonesia has lost more than 26 percent of its mangroves, which have shrunk in area from 4.2 million ha to 3.1 million ha in large measure due to an increase in aquaculture ponds created as part of the “blue revolution” of the late 20th century. Mangrove ecosystems are favored for shrimp production because they are flooded twice a day in intertidal areas between land and sea, with brackish water creating an ideal habitat.

Scientist Jurgenne Primavera, a Philippine-based mangrove specialist with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Zoological Society of London, proposes the use of protective “mosaic landscapes” to help restore degraded coastlines.

“Instead of a company coming in and saying they’re going to produce an unknown quantity of shrimp, they must instead say they’re going to look at the entire community, then the ecosystems — starting with the mangroves,” Primavera said.


Mangroves also help protect coastal areas from erosion and inland areas from high waves.

Since Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013 — killing more than 6,200 people — coastal buffer zones that mangroves can provide have become a major concern, Primavera said, adding that there are many abandoned fish ponds that could be converted back to mangroves.

In the Philippines, coastlines are almost completely dedicated to fish ponds, she said.

Primavera proposes shoreline barriers characterized by a band of mangroves and a beach forest, with aquaculture ponds, beach resorts and other developments in the landward zone behind the coastal buffer zone.

“I’m proposing for the Philippines … a minimum 100-meter solid green belt of mangroves and/or beach forests,” she said. “A green belt would serve to both restore and maintain the coastline and aid shrimp producers trying to get certification for organic shrimp — as the Vietnamese government has planned for the Cà Mau Peninsula in the south of the country,” she said.


Another threat to mangroves and coastlines under discussion is rising sea levels caused by global warming.

“We don’t know what sea-level rise is going to be — we know the direction it is going, but we don’t know the rate and the magnitude,” said Dan Friess, an assistant professor with the University of Singapore who is measuring the surface elevation of mangroves in Thailand and Singapore to establish a baseline.

“Once a mangrove starts to break up, trees are lost and by that point it is too late to save it,” he said.

“Mangroves are not static and can tolerate a certain amount of flooding, but over time they can drown. What we are most interested in is whether we have the mangroves that have the ability to respond to whatever rate sea-level rise may be, and how we can manage a mangrove to help it respond.”


Carbon-rich mangrove ecosystems have a crucial role to play in global climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies — not only do they provide a wide range of ecosystem services, but research indicates they store higher amounts of carbon than other forest types, according to Daniel Murdiyarso, a principal scientist with CIFOR.

It is estimated that mangrove deforestation generates as much as 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation globally, despite accounting for just 0.7 percent of tropical forest area, Murdiyarso said.

“Combined with low-oxygenated, water-logged soils, mangrove ecosystems have the potential to offset emissions that cause global warming,” he said.

Murdiyarso heads up SWAMP, a collaborative project that includes the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Oregon State University and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) designed to deliver wetlands data for use in developing programs for the sustainable management of wetlands in the tropics.

“The conference gave us a chance to demonstrate the use of our protocol, which allows us to assess carbon stocks and its dynamics on both intact and degraded mangrove ecosystems,” Murdiyarso said.

For further information on the topics discussed in this article, please contact Daniel Murdiyarso at

Read more!

El Nino weather pattern will likely hit Peru next month - government

Marco Aquino PlanetArk 20 Mar 14;

The feared El Nino weather pattern will likely hit Peru with a "weak to moderate" intensity starting in April, affecting the fishmeal industry on the country's northern coast, the government said on Wednesday.

The prediction, by Peru's official El Nino commission, comes on top of forecasts from around the world that the climate phenomena will probably strike this year.

El Nino occurs, on average, every three to five years, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and is characterized by a warming of surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. It can trigger droughts in some places and floods in others.

In Peru, El Nino threatens to batter the fishmeal industry by scaring away abundant schools of cold-water anchovy.

Temperatures in the Pacific are expected to rise two to three degrees Celsius above normal this year, said German Vasquez, the president of the government commission.

"We expect anchovy resources to move toward southern Peru," Vasquez told reporters, adding that Peruvian waters would likely stay warmer until around the middle of 2014.

Peru is the world's top fishmeal exporter, producing about a third of worldwide supply. The industry is concentrated along the northern and central coast.

(Reporting By Marco Aquino; Writing by Mitra Taj; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Read more!

China draws up plan to tackle widespread soil pollution

Dominique Patton PlanetArk 20 Mar 14;

China's environmental authorities have passed a plan to tackle soil pollution as the government becomes increasingly concerned about the risk to food posed by widespread contamination of farmland.

About 3.33 million hectares (8 million acres) of China's farmland - about the size of Belgium - is too polluted for crops, a government official said in December, after decades of industrial development and poorly enforced laws allowed poisonous metals and discharge to seep into soil and water.

The plan, together with a soil pollution law in the drafting stage, is expected to focus on protecting food supplies and ensuring that contaminated crops do not enter the food chain.

China has time and again published policies and plans aimed at addressing environmental problems but it has long struggled to bring big polluting industries and growth-obsessed local governments to heel.

The top leadership is increasingly worried about the problem, with premier Li Keqiang declaring a 'war on pollution' during his opening speech of parliament this month.

The vice-environment minister, Wu Xiaoqing, told reporters this month the new soil pollution plan would help to create the legal mechanism to stop soil the problem getting any worse.

Meeting this week, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said cleaning up soil was a first priority for food safety and a fundamental basis for creating a healthy environment, according to a report published by the ministry's official newspaper on Wednesday.

The discovery last year of dangerous levels of cadmium in rice produced in Hunan, the country's top rice-growing region, caused an outcry with members of the public venting frustration that even their staple food appeared to be unsafe.

The plan proposes measures including targeting various sources of soil pollution as well as management of land for agriculture and setting up a process for cleaning damaged soil.

A recent government agency survey found that restoration of contaminated soil accounted for only 3.7 percent of the environmental protection business in China, highlighting the potential for growth.

Agriculture minister Han Changfu said this month pilot projects had been launched to rehabilitate farmland.

However, pollution experts have told Reuters the projects were only small and did not begin to redress the extent of the problem. One of the major concerns is who will eventually pay for clearing up polluted soil.

The action plan, approved in principle, will be submitted to the State Council, or cabinet, for approval. The ministry is also working on a draft law on soil pollution.

(Reporting By Dominique Patton. Additional reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Read more!