Best of our wild blogs: 29 Apr 14

Love MacRitchie Walk – Happy campers despite the drizzle and a blue coral snake appears! from Toddycats!

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Botanic Gardens enjoyment to reach new heights in 2016

Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE - Trees that go up to 20 storeys and an unblocked bird's-eye view of the forest floor.

Visitors will get to take in these sights from an elevated boardwalk at the Singapore Botanic Gardens' upcoming Tyersall Learning Forest when it is ready in 2016.

Two Sepetir trees were planted yesterday at the boardwalk's proposed site to mark the start of the development of the $2.4 million walkway and the 9.8ha learning forest.

The planting was done by Dr Lee Boon Yang, chairman of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) - the boardwalk's co-sponsor - and representatives of the National Parks Board (NParks) which is leading the project. The Sepetir tree, which is native to Singapore, can grow up to a height of 50m.

SPH chief executive Alan Chan also attended the event.

SPH has donated $1.2 million to the boardwalk, which will take visitors up to a height of 8m. The donation is part of a series of activities scheduled in conjunction with the organisation's 30th anniversary this year.

The other half of the boardwalk's cost will be paid for by NParks.

The Gardens will increase by a sixth in size to about 74ha when the new Tyersall extension is ready.

It will house rare fruit and nut trees such as wild durian, persimmon and chestnut trees.

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Turning Earth Hour into Earth Hours

Richard Hartung Today Online 29 Apr 14;

It has been a month since we marked Earth Hour 2014, when buildings across the island plunged into darkness for an hour from 8.30pm to 9.30pm on March 29.

Organiser World Wildlife Fund and its partners extolled the success of the event here and in more than 160 countries, saying “millions of people were touched by this unifying movement”.

Post-event reporting focused on top-level entertainers, lights going out at iconic buildings and a one-hour focus on environmental concerns ranging from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to the Zayanderud River in Iran.

A month later, though, it is hard to see how much has changed here. Lights are back blazing on all the buildings, air conditioning keeps temperatures in conference rooms far too cold and commuters continue to drive their cars.

While Earth Hour CEO and co-founder Andy Ridley said “Earth Hour is more than just this hour” and “you feel that a collective effort is collective power”, in many places, this collective power largely dissipated after 9.30pm on March 29.

The reality seems to be that, for many people, Earth Hour was, once again, a one-hour event with great publicity beforehand, lights turned off for an hour and celebrations in a slightly darker city. Then, it was back to the status quo.


To make a real and longer-lasting difference, changing the approach to making Earth Hour the beginning of a year-long transformation rather than a short one-hour event could have a far bigger impact. While the Earth Hour organisers did suggest longer-term events and launched Earth Hour Blue as “a global crowd-funding platform that lasts longer than 60 minutes”, we can do more over the course of a full year.

For instance, organisers here could get supporters to obtain pledges from banks, factories, hotels, malls, property developers and other companies as well as ordinary citizens to conserve energy for an entire year, starting from when Earth Hour happens. Recognising the companies that change their practices and the people who obtain the pledges, as well as setting up processes to monitor the results, could be the catalyst for real change.

Some cities have started on this path. Chicago, for example, won the 2014 US Earth Hour City Capital award and is encouraging residents to “go beyond the hour” through a programme that helps homeowners install solar panels. In India, Earth Hour kicked off a year-long project to reduce carbon footprints in 15,000 schools by recording carbon output and educating children on efficient energy usage.

Earth Hour has indeed become an amazing event, and the organisers deserve kudos for starting it. Seven years on, it has been easy to fall into the trap of doing the same thing every year and calling it a success as more and more people participate. However, rather than simply repeating the same theme on a bigger scale year after year, innovating to make longer-lasting change can have a far greater impact.

In commemorating Earth Hour, it has been common to get celebrities to rally support for the cause. What may be even more important is to involve political leaders and officials to show the way towards change. After all, they are the ones whose agencies will develop the regulations and policies that can have a positive impact on climate change.

It may take time for mindsets towards the event to change. For a start, we should use the 8,760 hours before the next Earth Hour on March 28, 2015 to implement positive changes. Instead of focusing on only one hour, we can start planning now for longer-lasting change to happen.


Richard Hartung is a consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992.

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Public water supply not affected by Tuas fire: NEA

Seet Sok Hwee Channel NewsAsia 28 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: Sunday's warehouse fire in Tuas has raised concerns about its impact on the environment.

But the National Environment Agency (NEA) said public water supply has not been affected and air quality there is within the normal range.

Gutted in the warehouse were petroleum-based products and toxic wastes.

NEA said it did not detect any harmful gases.

It said toxic waste collection centres are located outside water catchment areas in order to prevent any water pollution to reservoirs.

As such, water used to extinguish the fire entered drains that lead to the Northern Tuas Basin, and not the Tengah Reservoir.

NEA said water samples from the Basin showed a slight increase in oil and grease levels following the incident, but the readings returned to normal levels on Monday.

Mr Richard Karim, a security guard from Technochem Environmental Complex, said: "They are clearing the waste water inside the drain. It's advice from the NEA."

- CNA/de

No injuries reported in Tuas warehouse fire
Claire Huang Channel NewsAsia 27 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: A fire broke out at a warehouse housing waste products in Tuas Avenue 11 on Sunday afternoon. The Singapore Civil Defence Force said no one was injured.

The SCDF said it was alerted to the raging fire at the warehouse belonging to Technochem Environmental Complex at 3.38pm.

Eighty SCDF personnel and eight fire engines were despatched to the scene. They took about two-and-a-half hours to put out the fire, which engulfed a warehouse about the size of a two-room HDB flat.

Colonel Ling Young Ern, commander of the 4th SCDF Division, said: "When we arrived, the whole warehouse was already engulfed by the fire and we saw flames going through the roof.

"The warehouse contained a concoction of flammable materials and solvents, so our strategy was to contain the fire using handheld jets at the exterior to prevent it from spreading to the neighbouring companies.

"We deployed the UFM, the unmanned fire-fighting machine, which gave us the strategic advantage of going right into the seed of the fire, manoeuvring through the rubble to tackle the seed of the fire, to apply a layer of foam blanket over an area of 50 by 50 metres. That enabled us to put out the fire very effectively."

- CNA/ac

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Malaysia: 'Rationing to continue'

NURADILLA NOORAZAM New Straits Times 29 Apr 14;

DELAY: Water levels at dams increase only slightly

SHAH ALAM: WATER rationing in Selangor will continue despite the increasing water levels at dams, said Dr Ahmad Yunus Hairi yesterday.

Yunus, who is state youth, sports, infrastructure and amenities committee chairman, said despite Sungai Selangor dam recording a reading of 40.08 per cent yesterday, the exercise had to continue for the time being.

The reading was 15 per cent lower than the targeted 55 per cent level at which the water rationing exercise could end, he said.

"Six of seven dams in the state showed slight improvements in water levels compared with last week, mainly because of heavy rainfall.

"But overall, the readings have not met our target yet. We hope that our efforts to pump water from the Hang Tuah old mining pool will increase the water levels in the dams.

"It is fortunate that the downpour in recent weeks had reduced the amount of water released from the Sungai Selangor dam needed for water treatment plants."

As of yesterday, water levels in the Klang Gates dam stood at 58.49 per cent, Langat dam 53.82 per cent, Semenyih dam 75.68 per cent, Sungai Tinggi 62.60 per cent and Tasik Subang 86.77 per cent.

The state government is scheduled to install five more pumps at the Hang Tuah pool today.

The state government had placed an order for another 10 pumps from China, which were expected to arrive here within a month, Yunus said.

Some RM10 million had been set aside for installation and infrastructure costs for the pumps, which will be installed at the Sungai Selangor dam and Hang Tuah mining pool.

"We used less than RM1 million from the budget, mainly to buy five pumps with a capacity of 50 million litres of water per day (MLD) and diesel fuel to operate the pumps. The other 10 pumps will have a capacity of 87 MLD," he said.

On the use of royal rainmaking technology from Thailand, Yunus said the state government had not yet adopted it because of setbacks.

"The state government is negotiating with the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry, the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry and the Defence Ministry on the aspects of implementing the technology.

"We have not received clearance from the Defence Ministry to use the technology yet."

Slight increase in dam level
p. aruna AND tashny sukumaran The Star 29 Apr 14;

HULU SELANGOR: Water levels at the Sungai Selangor dam have seen a slight increase after having dipped below 40% of its capacity for the past few months.

As of 8am yesterday, the water level at the dam had hit the 40% mark, according to the Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS) website.

The Sungai Selangor dam supplies water to over 60% of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Selangor.

Aida Isa, 20, of Kampung Pertak, Kuala Kubu Baru near the dam, said there was finally frequent rain in the area for the past two weeks after a dry season that lasted for almost two months.

“We had water cuts for about two weeks, but now the supply is back to normal,” she said.

A visit to the dam showed that there were patches of fresh grass growing around the dam area.

On March 31, the water level at the dam was at 36.53% while last Wednesday, it rose to 38.97%.

Other dams which showed an improved water level were Sungai Tinggi at 62.6% and Klang Gates at 58.49% – up from 62.05% and 54.24% respectively last week. Selangor began water rationing in early March.

Last week, Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim said the exercise would end this week if the state’s move to pump pond water into Sungai Selangor yielded favourable results, and current weather conditions continued.

Experts, however, had cautioned against its lifting in view of an impending five-month dry spell from June.

In Shah Alam, Selangor Youth and Sports, Infrastructure and Public Amenities Committee chairman Dr Ahmad Yunus Hairi said the rationing would not be stopped abruptly.

“If and when rationing ends, it will be done in stages.

“Also, the decision on when to stop is still being discussed,” he told reporters during a briefing on the issue yesterday.

Dr Ahmad Yunus said Selangor would be buying 10 new pumps from China, which would arrive in a month, to draw water from mining pools.

Selangor now has nine pumps and has used “less than RM1mil” of its RM10mil allocation for the purpose.

He also dismissed allegations by Klang MP Charles Santiago that the water channelled from the Kampung Hang Tuah mining pool to the Sungai Selangor dam was unsuitable for consumption.

He added that extensive testing had proved otherwise.

Who is to blame for S’gor water woes?
khairy jamaluddin The Star 29 Apr 14;

The Selangor Government’s reluctance to gradually raise tariffs, to allow water companies to increase supply and reduce leakages, forced the Federal Government to step in and initiate damage control. Unfortunately, public anger is now directed at the wrong party.

THE other day, I was listening to a business radio “talk-back” show. Irate listeners called to air their anger on the Federal Government for the protracted water crisis. Being unaware of the facts, understandably, they blamed the Federal Government for poor planning.

The question everyone should be asking is this: Why is Selangor and Kuala Lumpur the only areas facing water shortage when the rest of the country does not have such a problem?

Is it because we have not expected the increase in demand for Selangor like other states?

No. All states register increases in demand every year and we have reliable forecast of demand growth to provide the right information for planning.

Is it entirely caused by drought in Selangor?

No. There is also drought in other states at different times of the year, and they do not face water shortage.

Is it because Selangor’s non-revenue water (NRW) is too high compared to other states?

No. Selangor/KL’s NRW is at 32% and lower than the national average (36%), and certainly lower than Pahang (56%), Kelantan (55%), Sabah (50%) and Kedah (47%). Yet they do not have water shortage.

So why is Selangor facing water shortage and who is to be blamed?

With proper planning, there should be enough supply of water to cater for increases in demand and drought contingencies.

The current water strategy ensures water reserves at 70% (which will last for 100 days before hitting critical levels). This means we should have water supply to cover 100% of existing demand.

Under the water concession agreement, the previous Selangor Government deliberately established the initial water tariff at very low rates while allowing for gradual increases in the interest of the public.

These increases are needed to provide additional revenue to the water companies so that they can use the money to increase water supply and reduce leakages or NRW.

Except for Selangor, all other states in Malaysia, including Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat states have allowed for increases in water tariff in line with the concession agreement or the business plan.

In 2010 itself, the Federal Government had warned Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim of a water crisis in 2014 if water resources were not managed properly.

Khalid retorted, saying that there would be more than sufficient water supply to meet the demands of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur well up to 2019.

This is in stark contrast to what he said last week that “the water supply will only last 29 days if water rationing is not carried out.”

The state government refused to allow for the construction of Langat 2 and has, since 2009, rejected increases in water tariff. In its obstinacy, the state government has become the stumbling block.

The Selangor Government must be held accountable for this water shortage.

They should not deflect this problem by apportioning blame on the Federal Government. If they had approved Langat 2 in 2009, it would be completed by now and we would have enough water today.

Let’s look at the Selangor Government’s alternative water plans.

Based on their election manifesto, Pakatan promised free water or no increase in water tariff. To achieve this, they wanted to buy out the four water companies.

After more than five years of trying, they failed to acquire the companies on a “willing seller, willing buyer” basis.

To fulfil their election manifesto, the Selangor Government halted any increase in water tariff, even though it was provided for under the concession agreements.

As a result, water companies in Selangor said they were not in a financial position to inject money for upgrading infrastructure as well as undertaking NRW projects.

They were even on the brink of defaulting on their bond and loan repayment.

The water companies sued the Selangor Government for breach of contract. As it was concerned about a looming water crisis, the Federal Government was forced to take its first intervention measures.

The Government had to spend RM6.2bil to take over the bonds and further injected RM400mil for operations and maintenance.

The irony is that the Federal Government has to shoulder the increase in national debt to the tune of RM6.6bil because the Selangor Government effectively held the public at ransom.

Despite this first round of intervention to buy some time, the Selangor Government continued to reject Langat 2 and refused to increase the water tariff.

Recognising the seriousness of water issues, the Federal Govern-ment agreed to step in with the second round of intervention.

Under the recent MoU, signed on Feb 26, the Federal Government agreed to provide a sum of RM9.65bil to acquire the water companies and release all water assets to the Selangor Government to operate.

This is a sweet deal for the Selangor Government. You can call it a “highway robbery” because it effectively gets the Federal Govern-ment to spend billions while the Selangor Government operates the water companies to fulfil its election manifesto of free or cheap water.

Why do you think the Federal Government would enter into such a bizarre deal?

This is done purely because the Federal Government was extremely worried for the people in Selangor. As it is, over 1.3 million households or 6.3 million people have been affected and 820 new projects put on hold. It decided that for public interest, it will set aside political differences with Pakatan to look for ways to avert a water crisis.

As this latest RM9.65bil offer was rejected by the water companies, the Federal Government is left with no choice but to resort to a third round of intervention by invoking Section 114 of WSIA.

There is a complication here. In the interest of the public, the S114 allows the Federal Government to step in and take over management and operation from the water concessionaires.

It does not allow the Government to take over ownership of the companies. Once it has successfully resolved the water issue, it has to return the management/operation back to the water companies.

The catch is that if the Federal Government were to execute S114 of WSIA, the water issue will continue until Langat 2 is completed in 2017.

The Selangor Government can continue to frustrate its efforts by (a) not approving the development order, permits and land for Langat 2 and the two new distribution lines; (b) not approving the water mitigation projects; (c) not allowing water tariff increases; and (d) not extending the licence agreement to extract water from rivers in Selangor.

If (a), (b) and (d) are not allowed, the water shortage will get worse.

If (c) is not done, the Federal Government will be forced to inject money to cover operational costs. Any which way, people will put the blame squarely on the Federal Government.

The Federal Government has no other recourse but to request the Selangor Government to sign an agreement to implement (a), (b), (c) and (d) before it can execute S114 of WSIA.

By doggedly sticking to its election manifesto, the Selangor Government has failed consistently over five years to put in place its alternative plan.

The people of Selangor have to suffer the consequence of a failed water plan by the Selangor Govern-ment.

To make matters worse, in the interest of the public and the Malaysian economy, the Federal Government has to bear the financial costs through three rounds of intervention.

> Khairy Jamaluddin, Minister of Youth and Sports, is also the chairman of the Barisan Nasional youth wing and leader of Umno Youth.

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Malaysia: Agencies involved to work together to stop peat fires and illegal dumping

sheila sri priya The Star 28 Apr 14;

SEVERAL local authorities have agreed to come together to tackle the on-going illegal dumping problem and put an end to peat fires at the Sungai Kelang riverbank in Taman Sri Manja in PJS3, Petaling Jaya.

On April 24, StarMetro, visited the illegal dumpsite with representatives from the Petaling Jaya Municipal Council (MBPJ) and councillors, Taman Medan assemblyman Haniza Talha, Petaling District land office, Department of Environment (DOE), Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS), Selangor Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) and Penchala fire station.

The illegal dumping of waste and the peat fire issue requires the joint cooperation of all parties to tackle the matter and 30 representatives from the various agencies, were positive about resolving the issues together.

Haniza said she was glad that all parties were serious in handling the issue and hoped the agencies involved would support the other, and resolve the matter quickly, to ease residents’ worries.

“Smoke from the peat fire irritates the eyes and residents in Taman Sri Manja and Taman Medan are suffering.

“With the continuous burning and the release of toxic gas, I fear for their health,” she said.

Haniza said she would write to the land office to declare the peat fire situation as a ‘natural disaster.

“The peat fire has not stopped since early March and this has led to health complications. This is serious matter and we need to move fast,” she said.

Haniza said the land office would need to ascertain the status of the land at the riverbank as some occupants had Temporary Operating Licence (TOL).

“We want to clear the riverbank from all illegal activities and to do so, we need to be sure of the land status,” she said.

The fire station together with DOE, she said, would conduct a test on the gas emitted from the peat fire.

Thirdly, a request has been made to DID to place barriers at the illegal dump site, to prevent further activity.

“We hope 5,000kg boulders will be placed at the entrance to the dump site,” she said adding that Penchala fire station chief Zaidi Ahtan said his station had put out fires at the PJS3 site 15 times since January.

“Sometimes it takes 24 hours to put out the peat fire and it is dangerous.

The situation is bad and has affected the health of some of his officers.

“Each time when we get a call, we rush to the site and put out the fire. Three of my firefighters were admitted in the hospital due to the side effects of over inhaling smoke from the peat fire.

“We are not complaining but we hope the issue is tackled soon, otherwise we will be wasting our resources,” said Zaidi.

How it started

The riverbank at Taman Sri Manja, Petaling Jaya has been subject to continous peat fire since March.

In February, StarMetro reported that parts of the riverbank at PJS3 and PJS4 was, for over a decade, used as an illegal dumping ground for construction waste.

Most of the ‘unwanted’ waste was dumped into the river at night and the activity continued on, as the authorities were slow to resolve the matter.

Later that month, firefighters had to deal with a fire at the dumpsite, which took them nine hours to douse the blaze.

Besides the dumping of the construction waste into the river, scavengers contribute to the problem by burning rubbish at the riverbank.

Breathing problems

Taman Sri Manja Flats Resident’s Association chairman Sabtu Atan said residents were directly affected by the peat fire as the three-block flats were 200m away from the site.

“The wind blows the smoke in the direction of the flats and it gets worse at night.

“This has been ongoing for about two months and we have been inhaling hazardous smoke.

“Our clothes which we hang outside to dry, also smells of smoke,” said Sabtu adding that the rubbish was most likely burned at night.

Mohammad Ibrahim, 66, who has been living at the flats for over 10 years, said the smoke from the peat fire was causing health problems to his children.

“Some of my children are coughing non-stop after inhaling the smoke.

“It is a health hazard to the residents here, especially those who have asthma, as this will worsen their condition.

“Authorities should come together and address the problem once and for all,” he said.

Residents were also furious that the dumping of bulk waste has not stopped.

A factory manager in the area, who wished to remain anonymous, said the dumping of waste even took place during the day, nearby his factory.

“We have witnessed lorry loads of construction waste being dumped beside our factory, almost on a daily basis.

“We have even seen lorries bearing the MBPJ logo that comes here to dump waste.

“We do not dare confront the culprits as we fear they may retaliate.

“We are thankful to StarMetro for highlighting the plight as most of the residents and legal business owners are tired of complaining to the authorities.

“We hope there will be an end to this pollution,” he said as he shared some photographs taken of the dumping activity.

The factory manager added that since early March, the culprits had been seen burning the rubbish too.

This resulted in peat fires in the area, and even factory workers were said to be suffering from breathing difficulties because of the smoke.

“I hope the state government will take the lead and put an end to this situation.

“We realise there are a lot of government departments involved in tackling the decade-old problem.

“If there are many departments involved, would it not be easier to overcome the problem instead of playing the blame game?,” he asked.

Resident Dominic Koo claims to have seen trucks loaded with empty bottles at the river bank, recently.

First-hand look

Based on public complaints over the acrid smoke, StarMetro staked out at the area to observe and get an idea of how the peat fire had affected residents.

On April 23, reporters discovered three peat fire locations along the riverbank in Taman Sri Manja.

The peat fire continued to burn non-stop during the seven hours we were there.

The burning took place behind a shack, believed to be an illegal waste dumping station, and the route to this area was secluded from the main road.

In the afternoon, children could be seen loitering at the site.

However, entry to the larger waste dumping site in PJS3, Kampung Medan, was restricted with drum barriers, controlled by a group of illegal operators.

The entry to another illegal dumping site under the Kesas highway, was also blocked with boulders.

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