Best of our wild blogs: 7-8 Aug 15

How's Beting Bronok over two years?
wonderful creation

The Wild Side of Singapore (SG50)
Bugs & Insects of Singapore

Mangrove Whistler Spotted at Tampines Eco Green
Bird Ecology Study Group

Morning Walk At Zheng Hua Park (07 Aug 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

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Land-starved Singapore exhumes its cemeteries to build roads and malls

The tiny city-state has dug up hundreds of thousands of graves to pave the way for roads, houses and shopping centres. As Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence, conservationists argue heritage need not be sacrificed to progress
Kirsten Han The Guardian 7 Aug 15;

Overgrown and littered with dead leaves, Bukit Brown cemetery does not feature in many tourist guides to Singapore. But its 200 hectares are one of the island’s few green spaces, home to a quarter of the bird species - and the final resting place for more than 100,000 people. Yet its days might be numbered. Over 3,700 of those 100,000 graves have now been exhumed, to make way for an eight-lane highway that will cut the cemetery in half.

This gruesome business is nothing new. In Singapore, hundreds of thousands of bodies have already been hauled up from the ground to pave the way for malls, roads and apartment blocks. The entire city-state of Singapore covers a mere 71,830 hectares, less than half the size of Greater London, so land is always at a premium here - and the needs of the dead generally give way to that of the living.

As the country marks 50 years since independence with a weekend of golden jubilee celebrations, however, questions are finally asked about how to preserve what little heritage Singapore has left. In a city where many buildings are brand-new, cemeteries are a rare link to the past. What’s more, as the exhumations continue, the custom of visiting and worshipping at an ancestor’s tomb – once so integral to Chinese culture – is starting to become unfamiliar to Singapore’s Chinese population.

Authorities say digging up Bukit Brown for the road will ease congestion from the Pan-Island Expressway, the first step towards further development of the area: the Ministry of National Development (MND) is considering converting all of Bukit Brown into housing by 2030. The exhumed remains are either reinterred in smaller plots, or cremated, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA). Relatives can then visit their ancestors at the shared plots or at various columbaria.

Only one cemetery is still open for burial at all: for between S$315 to S$940 (£146 to £435) per adult, you can be buried at Chua Chu Kang cemetery, in a less developed part of western Singapore. But, as with most things in the city-state, there’s an expiry date. Under the New Burial Policy of 1998, you can lease a plot only for a maximum of 15 years. (In Hong Kong, another similarly sized city, the problem is even worse: urns filled with ashes often sit in funeral parlours for months while waiting for the next available spot at a public columbarium, and the maximum burial period is just six years.)

Next to be exhumed in Chua Chu Kang is part of the Chinese section, with graves buried between 1947 to 1975. Relatives have been asked to claim the remains of family members before the end of July next year. The NEA said they did not know about any future plans for the area.

The country’s political leaders have often cited the challenge of balancing competing urban interests. In a statement, an MND spokesperson said: “The government needs to prioritise the use of our land for various needs such as housing, green spaces, utilities, transportation, ports and airports and amenities to support the functions of a nation. ... The bulk of Bukit Brown Cemetery will only be developed in the longer term.”

In 1978, there were 213 burial grounds on 2,146 hectares in Singapore, or about 3.7% of the island. Many were already facing clearance even then. Minister EW Barker told parliament that “over the next few years, all private cemeteries… which have been closed for burials, will be acquired as and when required for development.”

Since then, dozens of cemeteries have been lost. Prime among them was Bidadari cemetery, which served Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sinhalese communities. Many notable people were buried there, including Augustine Podmore Williams, an English mariner on the SS Jeddah, whose story inspired Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim.

Bidadari Cemetery was cleared between 2001 and 2006, in an operation that exhumed 58,000 Christian and 68,000 Muslim graves. In its place, the government is building a new town, complete with an underground, air-conditioned bus interchange and the city’s first underground service reservoir. The first public housing flats will go on sale this September.

Even the city’s main shopping belt, Orchard Road, is built on a former graveyard that was dug up. Ngee Ann City, a looming brown building that’s home to a major department store and up-market boutiques, marks the location of what used to be the largest Teochew community cemetery on the island. Now the gleaming mall generates revenue for Ngee Ann Kongsi, a charitable organisation for the Chinese Teochew community, allowing them to fund programmes in education.

Just a little down the road, Orchard Residences – a fancy private condominium built above the ION Orchard mall – is also built on what used to be Teochew grave sites. Four-bedroom, three-bathroom units in Orchard go for up to S$11m (£5m).

Conservationists are hoping to save Bukit Brown from going down this path. They say the cemetery should remain a free, public space, not be converted into an exclusive zone for the rich.

Norman Cho’s great-uncle Tan Kay Tiang occupies one of the graves that will be exhumed in Bukit Brown. Tan died in 1938, many years before his grandchildren – who are now in their 60s – were born. The grandchildren “were not particularly enthusiastic about the exhumation,” Cho said. So he stepped in to claim his great-uncle’s remains and cremate them.

“I did so with his great-granchildren in mind,” he said. “In a way, I try to preserve the memory of the man for his descendants.”

Khoo Ee Hoon, who volunteers to contact the descendants of people buried in Chua Chu Kang cemetery in the hopes that they will claim the remains upon exhumation, says many are not interested. “They no longer feel the anguish or the pain” associated with ancestors from three or four generations back, she said. Although many Chinese Singaporean families continue to visit cemeteries and columbaria during the Qingming festival, many others no longer follow such traditions.

“The whole cemetery culture is already gone,” says Darren Koh, a volunteer guide with All Things Bukit Brown, a group who organise guided walks through the cemetery. “The idea of worshipping or honouring the Earth deity first before you go to the grave, it’s gone. How many people on our tour had actually visited a cemetery before?”

This ever-growing estrangement from the “culture” of cemeteries has led to burial being seen as a waste of space in Singapore. Moreover, now that remains are almost certain to be exhumed eventually, more people are opting for cremation in the first place. In 2011, 80% of those who died chose cremation – almost everyone, in other words, except for people whose religions specifically dictate burial, such as Muslims, Baha’i and Parsees.

The activists of All Things Bukit Brown (they call themselves Brownies) hope to increase awareness of the cemetery’s ecological diversity and historical wealth, so Singaporeans can better decide if the space is worth conserving when it faces being dug up even further. The history contained in places like Bukit Brown is what gives Singaporeans a sense of belonging, Koh says.

“The difference between a home and a luxury suite at the W Hotel are the memories,” he said. “If you keep digging up all the memories that remain in a particular location, it may be the most beautiful place in the world but it will become a hotel room.”

It’s easy to see what Koh means about memories about Bukit Brown: the graves, which date back to 1833 and are arranged following Chinese beliefs in feng shui rather than in strict rows, are home to businessmen, manual labourers, industrialists and revolutionaries. “So much history is left uncovered here. If we lose all of this, will we ever get it back again?” Koh said.

Conservationists argue that Singaporeans shouldn’t always be required to choose between preserving cemeteries and the country’s development. Citing the example of how cemeteries in other cities such as Kuala Lumpur have been converted to heritage parks, Koh says alternative solutions can always be found, allowing Singapore to continue advancing while also preserving its history.

As we walk towards the old gates of Bukit Brown, now ringed by a construction site, Koh gestures with his walking stick towards the remaining tombs. “Romantically put, until the last grave is dug out I think we’ll still guide, because there’s a lot of history that we want to make sure we can save.”

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Malaysia: Johor starts month-long water rationing on Aug 16

ZAZALI MUSA The Star 7 Aug 15;

JOHOR BARU: SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd will start scheduled water rationing to 641,495 domestic and industrial consumers in three districts from Aug 16 to Sept 15.

The one-month exercise is implemented following the water levels at the Sungai Layang dam in Masai, Pasir Gudang and Sungai Lebam dam in Kota Tinggi had reached critical levels.

"The main objective of the exercise is to ensure that we are able to sustain the water level at the two dams from dropping further," SAJ corporate communications head Jamaluddin Jamil said in a press statement here released on Friday.

The Sungai Layang dam supplies water to 575,000 users in Pasir Gudang and Masai mostly industrial users and parts of Johor Baru.

The Sungai Lebam dam channels water to about 66,495 users in Mukim Tanjung Surat, Mukim Pantai Timur and parts of Kota Tinggi.

Jamaluddin said the water level at the Sungai Layang dam had dropped to 19.10m (critical level) from 23.50m, and Sungai Lebam dam from 14m to 9.63m.

"The present dry spell is causing the water levels in Sungai Johor and Sungai Layang to fall, the two rivers act like the feeders for the two dams," said Jamaluddin.

He said although heavy rains were recorded in several parts of southern Johor in the last few days, they did not help to fill the two dams.

Jamaluddin said the scheduled water rationing would be stopped if the water levels at the two dams return to the normal readings.

Affected consumers are advised to use water wisely and avoid wastage in view of the current situation at the two dams.

For more information please contact SAJ Info Center at 1 800 88 7474 or SMS at 019-772 7474 or e-mail at

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Indonesia: Riau now haze free 7 Aug 15;

Most of Riau is now clear from haze caused by forest fires thanks to a recent spike in rainfall.

"The visibility in several cities and regencies in Riau is quite good this morning; between 3 and 5 kilometers. No more haze is around," said Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) analyst Ardhitama as quoted by Antara news agency on Friday.

He added that there are no more hotspots in Riau and that the potential of forest fires in Pekanbaru is much lower now due to the medium to high intensity of rain that has been falling relatively frequently.

“Most areas of Riau is in dry season. The transition season will be in the middle of August, while the peak of the rainy season will be at the end of August,” he said.

Most of the Riau region, including its capital city Pekanbaru, was hit by a harsh dry season that delivered almost no rain for the last three months causing forest fires and a thick haze that disrupted residents' daily activities. (edn/kes)(+++)

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Myanmar flood death toll climbs to 88

The death toll has risen to 88 from 74, according to Phyu Lei Lei Tun of the social welfare ministry, although this could climb again as relief teams reach isolated areas, some of which remain cut off more than a week after the disaster struck.
Channel NewsAsia 7 Aug 15;

NYAUNG DON: The death toll from severe flooding across Myanmar has risen to 88, officials said on Friday (Aug 7), as rising waters swallowed more homes in low-lying regions in some of the poorest parts of the country.

More than 330,000 people have been affected by torrential monsoon rains that triggered flash floods and landslides, cutting off communications as the deluge engulfed roads and destroyed bridges.

Residents have raced to bolster sand-bag defences along the Irrawaddy river in the southwest as floodwaters swell the mighty waterway, swamping dozens of villages as the waters drain from further north.

"Nothing like this has happened before, but I am not the only one suffering," said Soe Min Paing, a fisherman from Kyauk Taing village in Nyaung Don township, whose home has been inundated.

The death toll has risen to 88 from 74 on Thursday, according to Phyu Lei Lei Tun of the social welfare ministry, although this could climb again as relief teams reach isolated areas, some of which remain cut off more than a week after the disaster struck.

Impoverished western Rakhine state has suffered the highest number of fatalities so far, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported, with at least 55 killed after Cyclone Komen tore across the Bay of Bengal last week.

The heavy monsoon downpours have caused devastation across large parts of South and Southeast Asia in recent weeks, claiming hundreds of lives and displacing millions.

In Myanmar, where 12 out of 14 states and regions have suffered flooding, international aid has stepped up in recent days following an official government request for help.

Myanmar's previous junta government was accused of indifference in its sluggish response to Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, a crisis which left nearly 140,000 people dead or missing.

The quasi-civilian government which replaced outright military rule in 2011 has been eager to show it is mobilising.

But many of those affected by the flooding appear not to be relying on government help, either trying to cope alone or turning to local monasteries or community groups.

Authorities have insisted that crucial elections set for November 8 will go ahead despite the disruption caused by the floods even as they try to assess the scale of the damage.

More than 200,000 acres of farmland have been ruined and large numbers of animals killed as well as the thousands of homes lost, according to state media.

Fears are also growing over malnutrition as some of the worst-hit areas are among the country's poorest, according to the UN's World Food Programme.

"Thousands of people have lost homes, livelihoods, crops and existing food and seed stocks. Food security will be seriously affected," WFP Country Director Dom Scalpelli said in a statement.

In a statement released Friday the European Union announced the EU and its Member States would donate an extra €4.5 million (US$5 million) in emergency aid to Myanmar in response to the government's appeal for international assistance.

- AFP/ec

In flooded Myanmar, government clears path for aid workers
ALISA TANG Reuters 7 Aug 15;

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Myanmar's government has smoothed travel for aid workers to flood-hit areas of the country, even giving them lifts by helicopter, boat and plane - in sharp contrast to the restricted humanitarian access after a massive cyclone in 2008.

After Cyclone Nargis, which ploughed across Myanmar's southern delta region in May 2008, killing nearly 140,000 people, it took three weeks for the then-military government to grant access to international aid workers, and even then under tight restrictions.

The current monsoon floods, that began in late June, have prompted an urgent response from Myanmar's reformist government which appealed for international help on Monday, days after the crisis escalated with lashing rains.

"The fact that the government has made a call for international assistance is an indication that they're more receptive to support from the international community," Patrick Fuller, regional spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The floods, which have killed 88 people and affected 330,000 across the country, are the first big test of the ability of the reformist government – which came to power in 2011 - to coordinate humanitarian assistance.

Mike Bruce, spokesman for Plan International, said there had been no reports of the government hindering access for international aid agencies or their staff.

Under normal circumstances, international staff of aid agencies working in Myanmar need travel authorizations to go to various parts of the country, and that process can take days, if not weeks, said Pierre Peron, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"They (government officials) have understood that in a crisis like this, you need to be able to get staff to the affected areas as quickly as possible, and humanitarian staff may be coming from other countries, in surge," Peron said.

"They are facilitating those travel authorizations (to allow) staff to get on planes and travel to locations that they need to go to... it is much easier and much quicker."


Peron attributed the faster response to a new emergency operations center set up last year, and recent drills with U.N. agencies, non-governmental organizations and the government.

The operations center - set up with support from the United States and Japan - has helped with travel authorizations and has played a critical role in managing the vast amounts of flood data, Peron said.

"It can often be quite chaotic when you get lots of information from different sources and different parts of country," he said.

"Being able to prioritize and collate that information to be able to use that to respond most effectively and be sure you're coordinating the most important humanitarian needs - that is an important role the EOC is playing."

Peron said the practice exercises, with earthquake and cyclone scenarios, put in place contingency plans and identified relevant contacts at government ministries.

"If you need a helicopter to get to a certain place, do you know who to speak to to get that to happen? Thanks to the simulation exercises, we do," Peron said.

Aid workers were bracing for secondary flooding in the low-lying southern delta region as flood waters flowed into the area, swelling rivers to dangerously high levels. Authorities on Thursday urged people to leave the delta.

The U.N. children's agency UNICEF appealed for $9.2 million to fund humanitarian assistance for children affected by the floods, many of them already poor and vulnerable.

The World Food Programme, the U.N. agency that provides food assistance, said the delta region would experience flooding in three to five days.

"We are still in the midst of this disaster," Fuller of IFRC said, adding that the number of people affected was likely to rise.

(Reporting by Alisa Tang, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit

Myanmar president urges people to leave delta as floods rise

Myanmar's president urged people to leave a low-lying southern delta region on Thursday with rain water that has inundated much of the country flowing into the area threatening further flooding as rivers reached dangerously high levels.

The widespread floods that were triggered last week by heavy monsoon rains have killed 81 people, according to Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

President Thein Sein told people living in the Ayeyarwady delta region to seek shelter as swollen rivers rose higher.

"It's best to evacuate to a safe place in advance since natural disasters can't be stopped once they start," he said in a speech broadcast on state television.

About 6.2 million people, 12 percent of Myanmar's population, live in the region, a southwest area where the Ayeyarwady and other rivers branch out into a delta leading to the sea.

Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, despite being near the delta has not experienced flooding.

A Reuters witness in Nyaungdon, a town in Ayeyarwady Region, said some villages were flooded on Thursday with only roofs visible above the water and residents feared waters would rise.

The delta is the country's major rice producing hub, but Soe Tun, Secretary of the Myanmar Rice Federation, said much of the paddy in the area had been spared from flooding.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, 101,000 acres (409 sq km) of paddy in the Ayeyarwady Region have been flooded, but just 180 acres were destroyed.

Country-wide, the impact on a agriculture has been far greater. According to the ministry 1.17 million acres of paddy field have been flooded, with 152,500 acres destroyed.

The government appealed for international assistance on Monday and supplies had started to arrive from abroad.

The call for help marked a change from 2008 when the then-military government shunned most outside aid after a cyclone killed 130,000 people, most in the same delta region.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who earlier in the week toured flood hit areas, said international aid and donations needed to be organized to increase effectiveness.

"Generous donations which are uncoordinated tend to go astray or to prove less effective than they might be if they were part of a well laid plan," she said in a video on Facebook.

Kyaw Moe Oo, a deputy director from the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, said Yangon was not at risk from floods, but the department was monitoring water levels at reservoirs and dams around the city.

(Writing by Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Malaysia: Floods won’t be as bad as last year

The Star 8 Aug 15;

BESUT: Floods remain in the year-end forecast for several states, in­­cluding those in the east coast.

However, it would not be as bad as last year, said Malaysian Meteo­ro­logical Department director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail.

She said the department would provide the latest wea­ther forecast to enable the pu­blic to prepare.

“From October, the department will hold a briefing with state au­thorities on the weather situation,” she told reporters at the Besut community level disaster management programme at the SMK Kuala Besut here yesterday. — Bernama

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