Dry spells in first quarter gave rise to more fires last year

ROBIN CHOO Today Online 30 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE — The number of fire incidents last year rose 14.2 per cent, from 4,136 cases in 2013 to 4,724 cases. The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) largely attributed the increase to a spike in vegetation fires during the extended dry spell between January and March last year.

However, there was 2.2 per cent decrease in residential fires to 2,888 cases as compared to 2,952 the year before. This due in part to a fall in number of fires involving discarded items, according to the SCDF today.

The SCDF also noted a 17.5 percent rise in rubbish chute and rubbish bin fires, from 1,289 cases in 2014 to 1,514 cases the year before. It remains the largest category of residential fires, constituting 52.4 per cent of total residential fires.

Meanwhile, the total number of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) calls increased by 3.7 per cent. There were 155,781 calls year, up from 150,155 in 2013. The SCDF attributed the increase to the growing demand for ambulance services from an ageing population.

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Malaysia: Good news from Jane Goodall

TASHNY SUKUMARAN The Star 31 Jan 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: There is just not enough good news out there, believes renowned primatologist Dr Jane Goodall (pic).

To combat this, she will be launching her own blog Jane Goodalls All Good News, beginning this April.

It will be sharing stories of hope.

“When people are depressed or feeling sad, they can go to the blog. That’s my antidote,” she told reporters after giving a talk titled “Reasons for Hope”, organised by Roots and Shoots Malaysia, at Berjaya Times Square Hotel here yesterday.

She also shared her thoughts on the legends of Bigfoot, and China’s Yeren – large apelike creatures that are part of folklore.

“These legends are all over the world,” she said, adding that when she visited Ecuador, she had asked the natives whether they had ever seen a monkey without a tail.

“Three different farmers got word to me saying yes, they had seen a monkey without a tail, and it was six foot tall and walked upright. I am a romantic. I want something to be there!” she said.

The newly launched Roots and Shoots Malaysia is a humanitarian and environmental youth programme founded by Dr Goodall, with the support of Berjaya Youth (B-Youth), a youth empowerment initiative set up by Berjaya Corporation.

During her talk, which captivated hundreds in the audience, Dr Goodall encouraged people to take little steps to better the world, as a collective effort from millions would have a large impact.

“Man is the only creature which destroys its own home,” she said, saying there was a disconnect between humanity’s uniquely intelligent brain and its sense of compassion.

Dr Goodall said she was particularly concerned about the deforestation of tropical rainforests and climate change.

“Often these things come down to people power,” she said.

Dr Goodall said she was often inspired by passionate young people and even CEOs who admitted to making mistakes and putting things right.

After the launch, Roots and Shoots head Jyunichi Washizaki said the NGO was looking into collaborations with organisations such as Kiwanis and a selection of high schools to promote volunteerism in 2015.

A grant of RM500,000 was donated by Tan Sri Vincent Tan through the Better Malaysia Foundation to help out Roots and Shoots.

During his speech, Tan joked that Dr Goodall had inspired him to become a vegetarian and that he found her life’s work extremely impressive.

“Her organisation deserves much more financial support,” he said to applause, later joking with her that her efforts would not make her popular with timber tycoons and oil palm barons.

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Malaysia: Benalec in for the long haul in Tanjung Piai

The Star 31 Jan 15;

BENALEC Holdings Bhd is far from done with its reclamation project in south Johor.

Although it has just received approval to commence reclamation work for Tanjung Piai, it still has some 20 years before the whole project is completed.

Analysts say the next crucial step for Benalec is to secure off takers for the Tanjung Piai site and that would be a catalyst for the counter.

AmResearch’s May Hoy Ken believes Benalec’s “real litmus test” starts now. “With the DEIA (detailed environmental impact assessment) approval now secured, investors’ attention will naturally gravitate towards management’s ability to secure the maiden offtakers for Tanjung Piai,” he says.

According to the Tanjung Piai Maritime website, phase one is 1,000 acres, phase two another 1,000 acres and phase three, the remaining 1,485 acres.

An analyst says some buyers may prefer to see the physical development of the reclaimed land such as the set up of the jetty and the progress of work.

“It is crucial for Benalec to secure an off taker for phase one so that they can proceed with the reclamation work. Otherwise, their cashflow will be very tight,” says the analyst.

Kenanga Research estimates Benalec’s cost of reclamation at RM30 to RM35 per sq ft while CIMB Research assumes it will be RM52 per sq ft. Based on a cost assumption of RM30 per sq ft, it takes RM1.3mil to reclaim one acre and RM130mil to reclaim 100 acres.

However, the analyst points out that lower crude oil prices may bring down Benalec’s cost of reclamation because diesel, which accounts for some 20% of the overall cost.

On Tuesday, Benalec announced that it received the approval from the Department of Environment to commence reclamation work for its 1,410ha Tanjung Piai integrated petroleum and petrochemical hub and maritime industrial park in the Straits of Johor.

In its filing with Bursa Malaysia, the company said its 70%-owned subsidiary Spektrum Kukuh Sdn Bhd and Perbadanan Setiausaha Kerajaan Johor received the approval that came with several conditions.

One being that phase one of the proposed project includes the construction of an oil terminal, the construction of a jetty and a bridge linking the island to the mainland and dredging.

Also, the approval is valid for a two-year timeframe.

It is understood that Benalec has already begun work on the project, ahead of analysts’ expectations of work starting in February.

Mak says Benalec is in the midst of finalising its funding options to kick-start reclamation works, which he believes could involve around 100 acres to 200 acres initially.

“As at Sept 30, 2014, the group was in a healthy net cash position of around RM48mil. Furthermore, there are about RM312mil worth of land sales (173 acres) with SPAs (sales and purchase agreements) to be progressively recognised over the next three financial years,” he says.

More importantly though, the company has crossed a major milestone in the group’s quest to reposition Tanjung Piai as a future oil hub, he adds.

Tanjung Piai’s deep water depth and close proximity to the Jurong Petrochemical Hub puts it in a prime position to tap into spillover demand for oil storage from the various MNCs that are currently operating in Singapore, Mak adds.

CIMB says Benalec signed a development agreement with the state of Johor some two years ago, which gave the company the right to reclaim land at two sites in south Johor, namely Tanjung Piai for 20 years and Pengerang for 10 years.

Assuming that the average reclamation cost is RM52 per sq ft, a fair RM65 per sq ft selling price, and that works begin in 2015, Benalec could stand to gain RM566mil in net profit over five years, says CIMB.

“This is equivalent to double the group’s 2015 forecasted net profit. Our RNAV (revised net asset value) estimate factors in outstanding reclamation works in Malacca and potential new reclamation works representing just 20% of Tanjung Piai’s 1,000-acre,” says CIMB.

The research house is optimistic on Benalec’s chances to regain some lost ground in the long-delayed land reclamation contracts in south Johor.

However, all eyes are on the still-pending land sale of 1,000 acres of reclaimed land to 1MY Strategic Oil Terminal Sdn Bhd (1MYSOT). The 1MYSOT deal is for the reclamation and sale of 1,000 acres in Tanjung Piai for the construction and operations of a crude oil and petroleum storage facility together with a private jetty.

“The binding term sheet has been extended by an additional six months expiring June 11. While waiting for the terms and conditions of the sale and purchase agreement with 1MYSOT to be finalised, we expect Benalec to continue discussions on the sale of other parcels of land to be reclaimed with potential buyers while initial works commence,” says Affin Hwang Capital.

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Indonesia: Group Urges End in Trading of Indonesia’s Endangered Primates

Dyah Ayu Pitaloka Jakarta Globe 30 Jan 15;

Jakarta. Environmental group Protection of Forest and Fauna, or ProFauna, celebrated Indonesian Primate Day on Thursday with a nationwide campaign advocating for an end to the trade of primates in Indonesia, particularly those that are endangered.

The group said three protected primates are widely traded as pets in Indonesia, mainly through online forums and chatrooms: the Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus), the Javan lutung (Trachypithecus auratus) and the silvery gibbon (Hylobates moloch).

All three “are popular with buyers because they are considered cute,” ProFauna spokesman Swasti Prawidya Mukti said.

The Javan slow loris is listed as “critically endangered” by International Union for Conservation of Nature due to rapidly declining habitat and poaching.

The same organization listed the Javan lutung as vulnerable and the silvery gibbon as endangered.

The three species is protected by law, but this has done little to actually protect them, Swasti said, such as enforcement of poaching laws.

“The trade [in protected primates] is no longer done in markets, but has moved online,” she said, adding that the primates are usually sold as babies, and often had their teeth clipped by poachers; adults, particularly lorises, can be quite aggressive.

Protected primates usually fetch between Rp 3 million and Rp 5 million ($240 and $400) online, while non-protected one like the long-tailed macaques sell for around
Rp 300,000.

ProFauna has lobbied several major online forums in Indonesia to ban users from trading endangered species, with mixed results.

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Millions of poor farmers to benefit from new type of insurance: study

Chris Arsenault PlanetArk 30 Jan 15;

Millions of poor farmers to benefit from new type of insurance: study Photo: R Narendra
Farmers winnow paddy crops at a field in Gudem Kotha Veedhi village in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh January 20, 2015.
Photo: R Narendra

Governments from Mongolia to Nigeria are creating new forms of insurance to protect the developing world's small farmers, who are suffering especially badly from extreme weather events made worse by global warming, a new study said.

Obstacles like poor infrastructure and lack of financing have been partly overcome in several countries, and insurance is now available to millions of small farmers, said the study released on Wednesday by Columbia University and the research group Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

More farmers are able to obtain coverage than before due to a switch to index insurance from traditional indemnity insurance, where the size of payouts is based on specific losses faced by a client.

The new index model allows farmers to buy insurance so they receive a payout if the amount of rainfall in a given period increases or decreases beyond acceptable levels, or if average crop yields in a certain region drop below an acceptable level.

It was not viable for traditional insurers to assess and cover many small farms with low margins, as it was not worthwhile to investigate claims, the study said.

"This shift could change the lives of millions of smallholder farmers across the globe, who face increasingly erratic weather due to a changing climate," Dan Osgood, a Columbia University professor who co-authored the study, said in a statement.

Mongolia, for example, has adopted an index insurance system for livestock, linking more than 15,000 nomadic herders to commercial insurance and a government disaster safety net.

In India, where more than half the population is employed in agriculture, rainfall variations account for more than 50 percent of the fluctuations in crop yields, the study said.

Weather-based insurance, currently used by more than 12 million farmers, offers a crucial cushion to protect them against financial collapse due to crop failure.

In Nigeria, more than 6 million farmers will be benefiting from one crop insurance plan by the end of this year, said senior agricultural ministry official Débísí Àràbà.

The scheme allows farmers to buy insurance for the equivalent of $2.50 and offers a payout of up to $100 if their crops are destroyed by fires, floods or other disasters.

Government officials need to physically assess damage to crops in order for farmers to receive a payout under the current plan, he said, but the state is trying to move that process onto the internet.

"We want to improve the technology so farmers can take a picture of their (damaged) crops and send it in," Àràbà told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We want to reduce the overhead costs of transactions and create greater private sector involvement... so farmers have access to the widest possible sweep of insurance products."

(Reporting By Chris Arsenault; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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