Best of our wild blogs: 3 Feb 15

Wed 11 Feb 2015 @ NUS LT34 – Debby Ng speaks about Himalayan Mutt Project!
from Toddycats!

Ever Wondered What Snail Embryos Looked Like?
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Gasp! The Grey Heron!
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Sneaky Squirrel
from My Nature Experiences

Read more!

URA to decentralise business activities and commercial centres outside CBD

Wong Siew Ying Channel NewsAsia 2 Feb 15;

SINGAPORE: In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia, the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Chief Planner and Deputy Chief Executive Officer Lim Eng Hwee said URA intends to intensify efforts to decentralise business activities and commercial centres outside the city.

Decentralisation is a way to achieve a more sustainable growth by distributing commercial activities to various parts of the island, such as Tampines, Jurong and Paya Lebar – as well as an upcoming one stretching from Woodlands to Punggol, called the North Coast Innovation Corridor.

Q: What is URA's key strategy for the next decade?

A: Broadly and conceptually, we have always talked about decentralising activities, but we think there is opportunity for us to really intensify, to work across all the agencies to make it happen – and in the process create something that is quite unique.

Take Jurong as an example. Before we launched the development, the masterplan in 2008, people's impression of Jurong is: It is near an industrial area; it is not attractive; there is only one shopping mall. With Jurong East today, once you have coordinated effort across agencies, partnerships with the private sector to try to integrate things together, it can take a very refreshing look.

Tampines Regional Centre has achieved a certain critical mass, it right now has a couple of hundred thousand square metres of office space; it has three significant malls. So in terms of serving the residents' needs it is adequate for now, but Tampines is still being developed. We see the Tampines regional centre and Changi Business Park – which is right next to the new SUTD University – as a twin hub that anchors major business and commercial activities.

The location of these two twin centres, in particular the Business Park, is right next to Changi Airport. In time, the next 10 years or so, Changi Airport will be expanded and there will be a lot more activities happening in Changi. The whole of Singapore’s East will be a very significant hub.

Q: Long-term and forward-looking planning has been entrenched in the land use development process in Singapore. How has this enabled Singapore to be more nimble in seizing opportunities?

A: I would say it is a very strategic advantage to Singapore. We were talking to some of the financial institutions and even sharing, doing exchanges with other cities. You realise that for other cities, when it is time for them to seize opportunities and obtain investments to expand, they were hindered by the availability of land. It is not just land – many cities are much bigger than Singapore, so it is not difficult to find land – but having land in a right location, at a right time that allows you to expand your business investment. To us that gives us an opportunity.

Planning is neverending so these are the type of questions we ask ourselves. Among the agencies we sit down together and brainstorm – whether there are new ideas, whether we can leverage on some of these opportunities.

We know in the longer term, the port will be consolidated in Tuas for example, so there must be a lot of opportunities for us not only to take away the freight traffic now in Keppel, Pasir Panjang, where there's haulage in that area. When you consolidate, you take away that traffic and when you have so many trucks moving around serving the port, surely the logistics industry can find some way to extract maximum efficiency. It can create a logistics hub; it can create things which companies can share the services.

Likewise, the same concept can apply to Changi, when we start to grow aviation not just for passengers, but also the cargo, the aviation industry. Whether it is maintenance, repair and operations or logistics companies, when they start to congregate around the airport, again there will be opportunities for us to do something.

In planning what we can do is discuss with agencies, including economic agencies, to look at what some of these opportunities are, and make sure there is land safeguarded for these new ideas to take place.

Q: Were there any "planning mistakes" and what has been done to rectify them?

A: I am not sure if this is a mistake. Often you make certain decisions in the context of the situation at that point in time. One particular area is perhaps in the area of conservation. For obvious reasons, in the 60s and 70s, we were faced with huge challenges - unemployment, the acute housing shortage, and the city centre was so crowded.

The focus was not on whether heritage buildings should be conserved. So you see a lot of massive, comprehensive redevelopment, where so many old buildings were removed. Looking back in hindsight of course, we say some of these unique buildings ought to be kept.

Starting from the 80s, the planners and the decision makers at that point in time started to think about whether we should start to retain these heritage buildings which are important anchors for future generations. The buildings will provide a link for them to identify with their past. So the conservation journey really started in the 80s.

Having kept these buildings is not enough. Having retained them, I think we should now think about how can we help people to understand more of the history behind these buildings. We have to encourage people to start talking about the buildings, and share their personal stories so that the younger generation, when they look at the building, they understand the history behind them. I would not think that the decision made then to demolish the buildings as mistakes – it is really contextual.

In part two of the interview the URA Chief Planner discusses prospects of building underground and what the URA is doing differentiate Singapore from other cities.

- CNA/dl

Read more!

Malaysia: Improvements Needed for Future EIA - WWF-Malaysia

WWF Malaysia 2 Feb 15;

29 Jan 2015, Kota Kinabalu: WWF-Malaysia is urging the government to adopt best practices to improve the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) system to better protect the environment. Noting the recent disagreements between three parties concerned with regards to the shrimp aquaculture development in Pitas, WWF-Malaysia believes that the cause of the disagreement goes beyond misunderstanding and miscommunication of the EIA review process.

Citing the two Stop-Work Orders previously issued to the Pitas project contractors, WWF-Malaysia acknowledges the good work that the Environment Protection Department (EPD) had already put in to ensure environmental safeguards.

However, WWF-Malaysia noted that there are several improvements that could be undertaken for a better EIA system.

At present, EIA consultants are all chosen and paid-for by the developer. As the saying goes, “He who pays the Piper calls the Tune”. This represents poor governance and may give rise to conflicts of interest. Findings and recommendations of EIA reports may look independent. But in effect many are geared to serve the paymaster’s interest.

“One solution is for EPD to be the ‘paymaster’ or at least to be seen as one. To implement this, the developer should channel the fee for the EIA to EPD and the department should pay the EIA consultant only upon recommendations of the EIA review panel. This would not entirely solve the problem since ultimately the EIA would still be paid by the developer but it would considerable reduce the issue of conflict of interest,” said Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma, Executive Director / CEO of WWF-Malaysia.

“To promote better accountability, EIA consultants should not be responsible for monitoring their own work, but the Government should instead empower EPD with the responsibility to act as the independent monitoring body,” he added.

Mindful that EPD is facing significant resource constraints, WWF-Malaysia calls on the Government to allocate more resources to EPD to enable the department to effectively carry out its EIA-related functions.

“We should urgently seek to achieve a more independent and transparent EIA system and to improve monitoring and enforcement of the relevant laws to minimise disputes for future EIAs,’ said Dato’ Dionysius.

WWF-Malaysia also stressed the value of complying with other guidelines in the EIA review process, such as offer letters by the Land and Survey Department (LSD), where for example, it is a legal requirement that for land classified as a mangrove swamp or forest, a riparian buffer zone of 100 meters measured landwards from the first mangrove vegetation in the water, shall be conserved totally and no drainage channel may be constructed over such zone. “In such matters, the LSD should also be included and actively involved in the EIA approval and monitoring process”, Dato’ Dr. Dionysius said. “The responsibility of monitoring should lie with multi-stakeholders.”

On commenting about the Pitas shrimp farming project, Dato’ Dr Dionysius stressed on the importance of balancing financial benefits to the local community with ensuring sufficient natural coastal protection provided by mangrove forests. “Having witnessed a great number of natural disasters occurring nationwide, such as floods over the past few weeks, we should be more stringent about the possible impacts of large scale projects on the environment. Mangroves also have an ecological function in providing nursery and breeding ground for marine resources such as fish and shrimp that provide for the livelihood of the people in the area,” he said. Another issue of contention is that the position of the shrimp farming project happens to be very close to the proposed Tun Mustapha Park (TMP). Malaysia has a commitment to ensure integrity of TMP under the Coral Triangle Initiative for Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF), a 6-nation collaboration. Safeguarding the area from further degradation is therefore of utmost importance.

Read more!

Indonesia: Floods hit Dompu, Bima in West Nusa Tenggara

Antara 2 Feb 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Floods have submerged thousands of houses in Dompu and Bima districts of West Nusa Tenggara Province.

The regional disaster mitigation offices of Bima and Domu, with the assistance of the military and police personnel, have set up flood emergency command posts and evacuated flood victims to safer places, a spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBN) noted in a statement on Sunday.

In Dompu, some four thousand houses in 10 villages in Dompu and Woja sub-districts were flooded, remarked Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

Flash floods, reaching a height of up to four meters, were triggered by the Laju, Silo, Soa, Raba Baka, and Toi rivers overflowing their banks following incessant downpours.

The flood-affected villages in Dompu sub-district were Bada, Potu, and Karijawa, while Simpasai, Kandai II, and Waonduru villages in Woja sub-district were inundated by the floods.

Floodwaters also submerged Dompu Public Hospital, forcing the evacuation of all patients to higher grounds.

In Bima district, Delu and Jala villages in Bolo sub-district and Monggo village in Madapangga sub-district were inundated following incessant heavy rains since Saturday (Jan. 31).

Bima District Head Syafrudin HM Nur had visited the flood victims.

Relief aid in the form of instant food, blankets, and necessities for infants was sent to the flood victims.

Currently, several provinces are experiencing flooding and landslides as the rainy season peaks between January and February.

"As predicted earlier, floods will continue to intensify as we enter January. Rainy season in January has the potential to trigger floods and landslides," Nugroho stated recently.

The National Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has forecast very high-intensity rains to potentially occur in January-February 2015, in Central Javas northern coastal areas, western and southern Banten, Aceh, South Sulawesi, Gorontalo, North Sulawesi, Papua and West Papua. (*)

Read more!

Drought-hit Pakistan turns to solar water treatment

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio PlanetArk 3 Feb 15;

Worsening drought has led to over 80 percent of water resources in Pakistan's southern Tharparker district becoming unfit for people to drink, a new study says.

That has led to plans by the Sindh provincial government to invest 5.4 billion Pakistani rupees ($53 million) in installing 750 solar-powered reverse osmosis water purification plants across the sprawling desert district, to help get safe drinking water to the region's over 1.5 million people.

All of the facilities are expected to be set up and working by June this year, the government said.

Residents living near a first plant, inaugurated in January in the Misri Shah area of Mithi, the district headquarters of Tharparker, say it is transforming life in the parched region, where vanishing rain and drying groundwater supplies mean most available water is now saline or too high in fluoride.


"It is really hardly less than a miracle for us that we can now drink sweet and clean water, for the first time in my entire life," said 45-year-old Rekha Meghwar of Mithi, as she turns on the water plant's tap to fill her pitcher.

Billed as the 'Asia's largest (by capacity) solar-powered water purification plant', the facility will treat 3 million gallons of water daily, enough to meet the water needs of 300,000 people in Mithi and in 80 adjoining villages, according to officials in the Mithi town municipal office.

Constructed at a cost of 400 million Pakistani rupees or $4 million, the plant is expected to particularly benefit women, who currently often must fetch water from far-away hand-dug wells.

Sunita Bheel, a woman waiting in line for water from the new Mithi plant, said women in the area often walk two kilometers a day to fetch water from a hand-dug well owned by a landlord outside the village.


Local people said having water available for themselves, and their livestock, may stem increasing waves of migration from the area.

Anil Kumar, who lives in Morrey-Jee-Waand village, a few miles from Mithi, said 80 percent of people in his village and in seven other villages around it migrated last September to other areas in the region with supplies of dam water in an effort to find potable water for themselves and their livestock, and to seek jobs after crops failed.

"But they are now gradually returning to their villages when they learn about the sweet water (plant)," said the 65-year-old guar farmer, who looks after the property and belongings of neighbors who have migrated.

Today, Kumar rides every other day on his mule, strapped with two empty 30-liter drums, to the filtration plant to bring back water, he said.

Access to useable water is a key problem in drought-hit Tharparkar. Barely 5 percent of the population has access to clean and disease-free potable water, according to a study by Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) and the Pakistan Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR).

One reason for this has been worsening fluoride contamination of underground water sources as less water recharges the drying system. The study found that the fluoride level at many locations in Tharparkar is at dangerous levels of over 13 mg/liter compared to the 1 mg/liter considered normal.

Excessive fluoride intake, from sources with more than 1.5 mg/liter of fluoride in the water, can cause problems such as bone deformation, dental problems, and damage to the kidneys and thyroid.


Tharparkar depends heavily on rain-fed ground water, as it has no rivers. It receives an average annual rainfall between 200 and 300 millimeters, 80 percent of it during summer monsoon season, which runs from July to September. The rainfall recharges groundwater that must then last for the other three quarters of the year.

Since 2011, however, average annual rainfall each year has been less than 50 percent of normal, straining further already depleting groundwater resources, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

"Given the current grim state of water woes, establishment of water purification plants is a welcome move," said Abdul Hafeez, the country manager at WaterAid - UK, a global water charity.

But water shortages in the area could be solved even more effectively by tripling the amount of rainwater harvesting going on in the district, he said.

(Editing by Laurie Goering)

Read more!