Best of our wild blogs: 16 Nov 14

Life History of the Full Stop Swift
from Butterflies of Singapore

Things that fly and slither at Pasir Ris Mangroves!
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Night Walk At Upper Seletar Reservoir
from Beetles@SG BLOG

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Malaysia: Cameron Highlands development plan ignored

New Straits Times 15 Nov 14;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: AUTHORITIES believe there are no less than 6,000 hectares of illegally-cleared land here, three times more than stated under a comprehensive development plan for the highlands issued in 2003.

The plan had promised sustainable use of land, allowing agricultural activities to be carried out under a Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL).

The huge extent of illegal clearing was blamed on licence holders who blatantly expand their farms beyond the permitted acreage. The authorities and environmentalists are talking about ravaged hills that had expanded beyond the size of Putrajaya. They include forest reserves.

“Imagine the football pitch in Bukit Jalil Stadium, then imagine 8.4 million of them put together. That is the size of the land encroached on by greedy farmers in the highlands. It is hard to imagine,” said an official involved in investigating the root causes of the environmental problems besieging the highlands.

He, like many others the New Straits Times had engaged in probing into the goings-on in the administration of the highlands, was not sure if the development plan, which was supposed to last until next year, had even been observed.

Malaysian Institute of Integrity president Datuk Dr Mohd Tap Salleh agreed with the NST that if there was going to be any seriousness in arresting the on-going encroachment problem in the highlands, a thorough audit of the highlands’ administration, including the issuance of farming permits, must be quickly carried out.

“Action must be taken against officers who issued TOLs on prohibited areas, regardless of whether they did so under duress or not. There is the 2003-2015 Cameron Highlands Local Plan, so those checking on what has been going on can refer to it to see how TOLs are given,” Tap said.

The NST yesterday front-paged an expose on interference in the administration of the highlands by influential figures, including those using the Pahang palace’s name to push recommendations for land development.

It revealed a highly-confidential document known in the highlands’ business circle as a surat kuning. The NST yesterday tried to get palace officials to comment but they refused.

However, in the evening, Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob, issued a statement to the NST. He agreed with the NST’s suggestion that the state should have an auditing system to cross-check the development of land against what was set in the highlands’ development plan.

“We have the local plans in every district council, in which areas of land categories used are identified and marked. All development programmes need to tally with these plans. Perhaps with the auditing system as suggested, we can improve further.”

He, however, denied that the surat kuning from palace officials was among the root causes of problems in Cameron Highlands.

“This is not true and it’s not fair to the officials. It’s normal for many applicants to get testimonials and recommendations from whom they think can lend support to their applications. The palace officials are merely doing their duty just like a state assemblyman or penghulu (village headmen).

“Testimonials and recommendations from all, including palace officials, are looked into but in the end, the state authorities will decide based on merit,” Adnan said, adding that as menteri besar, he would ensure that all decisions made were fair.

He blamed the influx of illegal foreign workers here as the root cause of destruction as illegal farming would become rampant with a massive presence of these workers.

“Illegal cultivation has become rampant due to the availability of cheap foreign labour. The state has no means to curb this widespread illegal cultivation as it lacks the manpower and facilities to do it,” he said, adding that he welcomed fair reporting, saying it was the state government’s policy to be open and transparent.

“I welcome constructive criticism that can help the state improve and enhance the efficiency of its government machinery.”

However, Adnan found it hard to believe claims that there were 30,000 illegal immigrants here, saying that the number had been “excessively bloated” as operations to nab them had so far only netted 190.

Based on Immigration Department records, he said there were 11,016 legal immigrants here.

The NST was told by enforcers that they believed many illegal immigrants had gone into hiding in the surrounding jungles, waiting for the crackdown against them to wind down.

Meanwhile, the cabinet yesterday agreed to form a joint committee to oversee the implementation of short- and long-term rehabilitation plans for Cameron Highlands.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the committee would be jointly chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Adnan.

“The committee will be responsible for preparing an action plan to rehabilitate the highlands,” said Najib after opening the 2014 Umno Johor Convention in Johor Baru.

The NST had, in its report, also quoted experts as saying that the highlands here was headed for a catastrophe “of an unimaginable scale” in five to 10 years time if illegal land clearing continues unabated.

Environmental group Permata Greenland said the Pahang government must act decisively in revoking TOLs issued to farmers who breached their licence conditions, including those going beyond the permitted acreage in cultivating their land.

“They don’t respect the government’s terms and conditions, and are ungrateful and greedy. The damage they cause will take years to reverse,” said its deputy president, Dr Sharifah Mazlina Syed Abdul Kadir.

She added that the land must then be swiftly rehabilitated and reforestation works be carried out.

The extensive environmental damage to the highlands had been blamed for the carnage seen in recent years. The latest, on Nov 5, claimed five lives and injured four others when mudslides ripped through Bertam Valley, Ringlet and Kuala Terla.

An audit by the Auditor-General carried out two years ago showed that 991.4ha of areas bordering TOL lands had been illegally encroached. This acreage audited involved just three areas — Ulu Tenom, Ringlet and Tanah Rata.

Auditors had also concluded then that the overall management of highland development activities and its impact to the environment were “less than satisfactory” due to the lack of proper preservation of hill slopes, which had led to serious siltation in Tasik Ringlet.

It also mentioned farms that encroached into forest reserves in the area. The size of Cameron Highlands is 77,100ha, of which 6,000ha of it had been cleared illegally. The economy here generates about RM2 billion per annum. Some 30,000 tourists visit the highlands in a week.

‘Floods caused RM8m damage’
New Straits Times 16 Nov 14;

KUCHING: The flash flood in Ringlet, Cameron Highlands on Nov 5 had damaged federal roads which resulted in losses totalling RM8 million, said Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof.

“We will look for funds to repair the damaged federal roads. The losses from the incident are estimated to be about RM8 million.

“The damaged roads have also been cleaned,” he said after visiting the Pan Borneo Highway project site at Batu 10 of Jalan Kuching-Serian yesterday.

Fadillah said although repairs were the responsibility of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and several other ministries, the Works Ministry would also render assistance.

“The Works Ministry will provide technical advice, through the Public Works Department and the Pahang Public Works Department, as well as taking on the task of repairing the affected federal roads.” Bernama

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Malaysia stops fish exports to Thailand, Singapore in anticipation of shortage

The Star 15 Nov 14;

SHAH ALAM: Malaysia has stopped fish exports to Thailand and Singapore from this month in anticipation of a shortage during the Monsoon season.

Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the move involves several types of fish such as cencaru, selar, selayang and kembung.

Thailand and Singapore are the largest importers of fish from Malaysia.

"We have issued a directive that fish is not to be exported until the Monsoon season is over to ensure adequate supply.

"The frozen fish programme of the Fisheries Development Authority (LKIM) and the National Fishermen's Association (Nekmat) will also be activated if necessary," he told reporters after launching the book 100 Birds of National Botanic Garden Shah Alam at Taman Botani Negara here, Saturday.

A total of 1,500 copies of the book were distributed free of charge to schools across the country.

Ismail also said the landslides in Cameron Highlands had not affected the supply and price of vegetables as it only supplied 15% of the country's needs.

"Moreover, the areas affected involved land cleared illegally while the operators were not registered with the Farmers Organisation Authority (LPP)," he added.

The incident in Kampung Raja, Ringlet and Bertam Valley in Cameron Highlands on Nov 5 claimed five lives and displaced 203 people from 47 families. – Bernama

Fish exports halted for monsoon season
New Straits Times 17 Nov 14;

SHAH ALAM: Exports of selected fish have been temporarily halted as a precautionary measure in preparation for the monsoon season.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the ministry had issued instructions to temporarily halt exports of ikan kembung, ikan selayang, and ikan cencaru to ensure an adequate supply for local needs during the monsoon season. The decision will affect exports to Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

“Malaysia normally exports about 30 per cent of its catch of these selected fish. This ban will be in effect until the monsoon season is over.

“If the fish supply runs low, we are prepared to import from overseas,” he said after launching a book titled 100 Birds of National Botanic Gardens Shah Alam at Taman Botani Negara here yesterday.

On the supply of vegetables during the rainy season, Ismail said the public need not worry, as the stock of vegetables was enough to cater to local demand.

He said the mud floods in Cameron Highlands had not affected supply, as the farms that were inundated were illegal.

“Only some parts of Cameron Highlands are affected. These are not included in our considerations and calculations, so we do not have statistics of the amount of produce they yield.”

He said even if the amount of produce from these illegal farms was not considered, the country still had enough vegetables for local use.

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Malaysia: ‘Climate change can affect food security’

SUZANNA PILLAY New Straits Times 16 Nov 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: THE impact of climate change will make it more difficult to secure food security for all in time to come, said Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

“We will see much more impact of natural disasters, like floods and droughts, on food production and this will bring more stress to food markets.

“Due to the impact of climate change, there will be much more uncertainty in food and crop harvests, and also in food markets, where prices will be more volatile all the time, moving up and down.”

Da Silva, who was here recently on a working visit, said genetically-modified crops could be a very important consideration in the future due to climate change and growing population.

“We may need such technology to feed the additional two billion people expected by 2050.”

He said food security was an important issue because insecurity could lead to conflict, violence and stress.

He said lack of available land for farming also contributed towards food insecurity.

“We recommend that a country produce part of their food locally and not rely on imports alone, but it has to be noted that some countries cannot do it.”

He said it was encouraging that more and more countries in the Asia-Pacific region were committed to the goals set in the zero-hunger challenge, which was launched in the region last year, in response to the call made by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon at the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Conference.

The goals include 100 per cent access to adequate food all year round and ensuring adequate nutrition for children under 5.

“An estimated 162 million children below the age of 5 are stunted, 51 million wasted or acutely malnourished. Today, more than 800 million people still suffer from undernourishment.

“Two-thirds of them live in Asia, including nearly 65 million in Southeast Asia. Hunger affects some 12 per cent of the world’s population, or nearly one in eight people.

“So, while we make a push to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger and malnutrition by 2015, as set out in FAO’s Millennium Development Goals, we also need to look ahead and be even bolder in our ambitions towards our real goal to end hunger in the world. ”

Da Silva said the other goals included achieving responsible consumption.

“Currently 30 to 50 per cent of what the world produces are lost or wasted, which puts a lot of pressure on the natural resources we use to produce food.”

A report by the FAO last year said 1.3 billion tonnes of food were wasted every year.

As hosts of the FAO Asia-Pacific Regional Conference in 2016, da Silva said Malaysia had the opportunity to strongly contribute to food security and tackle food loss and waste at national level. Last year, Malaysia was recognised by the FAO as one of 15 developing countries that had held hunger rates below five per cent since 1990.

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Indonesia: Jakarta claims to be better prepared to tackle floods

Fardah Antara 15 Nov 14;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Jakarta is notorious for its traffic jams and floods during the rainy season, which usually begins late in the year and lasts until February or March.

In January 2014 alone, when the season reached its peak, floods claimed 23 lives, displaced tens of thousands of people and inflicted losses amounting to some one trillion rupiah in Jakarta.

Last year, Jakarta suffered material losses worth Rp20 trillion, or US$2 billion, as a result of floods.

Now, as the capital city is hit with the monsoons again, Kampung Pulo, East Jakarta, was reported to have been hit by floods over the last three days (November 11 to 14). Flood waters rose to heights between 30 centimeters and two meters.

However, the acting governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, earlier said that the metropolitan was ready to face floods. He was optimistic that Jakarta would be flooded for no longer than one day.

"We are better prepared now as compared to previous years. I have ordered the head of sub-districts in Jakarta province to dredge the river basin (to ease the flow of water into the sea)," Ahok noted recently.

Jakartas Public Works Office has reinforced the existing dams and also installed several water pumps, particularly in areas like North Jakarta that are prone to be the first to be struck by the floods.

The city administration conducted a variety of efforts to address the issue, including normalization of rivers, reservoirs and waterways, as well as the demolition of illegal buildings located along the banks of rivers and reservoirs.

"Water pumps have been repaired and installed as a precaution against rising water levels that can cause flooding. The pumps can be operated optimally," he assured.

Ahok further explained that they faced challenges in relocating the people who lived in the illegally constructed houses along the river banks. The government is trying to relocate the people by building low-cost apartments across various areas in Jakarta, but the construction work has yet to be completed.

He added that there were a number of areas in Jakarta that were difficult to protect against flooding. "These include areas such as South Jakarta and North Jakarta. The two regions are still not properly protected because the river is yet to be normalized optimally. There are still illegal buildings along the banks," he noted.

Despite the challenges, he was optimistic that future flooding could be tackled properly.

"I believe that the Jakarta city administration can handle flooding properly. The management of flooding is much better. So the floodwaters that hit Jakarta will recede fast and will not stay for longer than one day," Ahok said on November 12.

In October, Ahok blamed corruption for the flooding that hits Jakarta almost annually.

Corruption is the root problem behind the fact that all the available facilities were not being utilized effectively, he said.

"There are a lot of smart people, and a lot of money to spend," he remarked.

When first I came to the city hall (as the vice governor), the city had Rp41 trillion. This year, Jakarta has nearly Rp80 trillion. I am very confident the root problem is corruption and nothing else," he affirmed.

If corruption is eradicated, all problems can be resolved easily, including the issue of how to cope with flooding, he added.

Ahok pointed out that he suspected the involvement of a lot of cheating in the process of handing over a project to contractors to tackle Jakartas flooding issues, with officials in charge of the project more interested in illegal commissions.

He believes that they may have to stop allocating the job of preventing floods to the private sector.

"With the money that we have, why should we not buy all the equipment we need and do the job ourselves?" he questioned.

To prevent flooding in the city, Ahok stated that he would focus on strengthening the existing dykes by buying equipment used in river dredging.

Furthermore, the Head of the Jakarta Disaster Mitigation Office (BPBD), Bambang Musyawardana, confirmed that better preparations are in place to tackle the floods that might hit the capital city during the rainy season.

"So far, we have carried out various measures to fight flooding, including structural and non-structural mitigation efforts among others," he said on November 12.

Structural mitigation preparations included construction of infrastructure needed to deal with flooding, such as river normalization, dams, pump installation, and absorption wells, he affirmed.

"Most of them are now under construction," he added.

While Jakarta could not complete all dam constructions this year, as they were being developed in stages for several years, 80 percent of pump installation works have been completed.

As part of non-structural mitigation preparations, the Jakarta BPBD has organized various trainings for the public in anticipation of floods, he stated.

The training workshops were attended by teachers, students and volunteers, he said.

Musyawardana earlier noted that a disaster warning system would be installed soon at five flood-prone urban villages to anticipate flooding during the rainy season.

He pointed out that the devices would be installed in Rawa Buaya, Kampung Melayu, Bidara Cina, Petogogan, and Ulujambi.

"Technically, the devices will be installed at 15 locations in each urban village," he stated, adding that the devices, equipped with sirens and loudspeakers, were a grant received from the Japan Radio Company.

"We received the devices from Japan. They will be installed as soon as possible," Musyawardana added.

Moreover, the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) is preparing a map of areas in Jakarta that are prone to floods during the rainy season.

Basarnas needs such a map for assigning tasks, supervision, and flood victim evacuation, agency spokesman M Yusuf Latif said on November 14.

Based on this map, Basarnas will provide material assistance, such as rubber boats, life vests, and helicopters, needed in case of flooding, he affirmed.

The agencys officials reminded residents of Jakarta, as well as those of other parts of the country that are prone to floods and landslides, to be even more alert now that the rainy season has begun.

Furthermore, the National Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) predicted that the season will be at its peak in December, January and February.

Indonesia began to experience its rainy season this November.

Floods were also reported in Aceh, West Sumatra, Bengkulu, Riau, and West Java.

In Silaut sub-district, South Pesisir district, West Sumatra province, one villager was killed and at least 841 houses were flooded on November 12, following the incessant rains that lashed the area.

In Aceh Darussalam province, seven districts were hit by floods. These included Aceh Besar, Aceh Jaya, West Aceh, Southwest Aceh, Nagan Raya, South Aceh, and Aceh Singkil.

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