Best of our wild blogs: 17 Nov 15

Field trip to Sisters' Island (14 Nov)
The Leafmonkey Workshop

Birdwatching in Bidadari (November 9, 2015)
Rojak Librarian

The Rail Corridor that will be forgotten
The Long and Winding Road

Talk: Dr Kae Kawanishi on Tigers, Haze and Our Future on Sat 5 Dec 2015
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Singapore calls end of haze this year as Indonesia continues to push peat plans
Mongabay Environmental News

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Haze Subsidy Scheme to cease on Nov 23

This comes with the end of the dry season in the region.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE: The Haze Subsidy Scheme will end on Nov 23, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement on Monday (Nov 16).

This comes with the end of the dry season in the region.

About 50,000 people have benefitted from the scheme since it was reintroduced when hazy conditions persisted. The scheme was first rolled out in 2013, when the Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) hit record levels.

It is designed to help reduce medical costs for haze-related conditions, particularly for children, elderly and lower- and middle-income groups of Singaporeans.

Under the scheme, pioneers pay S$5 while other eligible Singaporeans pay S$10 at participating clinics and polyclinics.

- CNA/dl

MOH to cease haze subsidy scheme from Nov 23 as dry season ends
Today Online 16 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE — With the arrival of rain and a low likelihood of haze for the rest of the year, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will end its Haze Subsidy Scheme from next Monday (Nov 23).

About 50,000 claims have been made under the scheme since it was reintroduced in September when hazy conditions persisted, the MOH said in a statement today (Nov 16).

The scheme was first introduced in 2013 when the haze hit record levels. It’s designed to help reduce medical costs for haze-related conditions, such as asthma, conjunctivitis and allergic rhinitis, for children, elderly and lower- and middle-income groups of Singaporeans.

Under the scheme, pioneers only pay S$5 while other eligible Singaporeans pay S$10 at participating Public Health Preparedness Clinics and polyclinics for haze-related conditions. The MOH subsidises the remaining costs. Public Assistance cardholders get fully subsidised care.

More than 630 PHPCs have participated in the scheme. The number of claims so far is a preliminary estimate as participating clinics have up to one month after the cessation of the scheme to submit their claims to MOH.

The National Environment Agency said yesterday that the haze episode that has afflicted Singapore for a prolonged period this year is likely to be over, while more rain can be expected, in the coming weeks with the onset of the north-east monsoon.

Haze Subsidy Scheme to cease from Monday
Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Nov 15;

As conditions have improved and the National Environment Agency has advised that the likelihood of transboundary smoke remains low for the rest of the year, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will cease the Haze Subsidy Scheme with effect from Nov 23.

Air quality was in the good range yesterday, with the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index standing at 30 to 39 at 6pm.

The Haze Subsidy Scheme was reactivated on Sept 16 to give children, the elderly and lower- and middle-income Singaporeans access to treatment for haze-related conditions. These include asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, conjunctivitis and upper respiratory tract infections.

Under the scheme, pioneers pay only $5 and other eligible Singaporeans pay $10 at participating clinics and polyclinics for haze-related conditions. Public assistance cardholders enjoy fully subsidised care.

The ministry estimated that about 50,000 benefited from the scheme. More than 630 general-practitioner (GP) clinics participated in it this time round.

On Sunday, the NEA said an increase in rain showers over the past two weeks signalled the end of the traditional dry season. It is expecting more rain in the coming weeks with the onset of the north-east monsoon next month.

The last time the scheme kicked in was in 2013, when close to $500,000 in government subsidies was provided for more than 17,000 haze-related attendances at GP clinics and polyclinics.

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HSL Constructor to build Singapore's third desalination plant in Tuas

"At a tender price of S$217 million, HSL Constructor offered the most competitive price for the design and construction of the plant," says PUB.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE: HSL Constructor will build the Republic's third desalination plant in Tuas, the PUB announced on Monday (Nov 16).

In a press release issued on Monday, PUB said that it selected HSL Constructor from an open tender that attracted eight bids.

"At a tender price of S$217 million, HSL Constructor offered the most competitive price for the design and construction of the plant," said PUB.

The plant is expected to start operating in 2017 and will add another 30 million gallons, or 136,000 cubic metres, of water per day (mgd) to Singapore's water supply.

Singapore currently has two desalination plants, the 30mgd SingSpring desalination plant, and the 70mgd Tuaspring Desalination Plant.


PUB has also awarded a consultancy services tender for a fourth desalination plant, which will be built at Marina East.

Desalinated water is one of PUB’s Four National Taps, a long term water supply strategy to ensure a robust and sustainable supply of water for Singapore. The other three sources are water from local catchments, imported water from Johor and NEWater.

Desalinated water currently meets 25 per cent of Singapore’s water demand. With water demand expected to increase, PUB intends to increase desalinated water capacity in order to continue to meet 25 per cent of future water demand in 2060.

- CNA/wl

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Malaysia: Flash floods in Johor Baru and Kuala Lumpur

Vehicles submerged and damaged in JB flash floods
The Star 17 Nov 15;

JOHOR BARU: A two-hour heavy downpour caused massive flash floods in the city here, which resulted in dozens of cars and motorcycles being submerged.

Many of the vehicles belonged to Malaysians working in Singapore, who had parked their vehicles indiscriminately around the city.

The badly-hit areas in the flash floods, which started at about 11.30am yesterday, were Jalan Wong Ah Fook, Jalan Meldrum, Jalan Siu Koon, Jalan Siu Chin, Jalan Siu Nam and Jalan Skudai along Danga Bay. Traffic came to a standstill at all major roads leading into the city.

Some basement carparks in the city centre were also submerged.

There were no deaths or serious injuries reported. The floods receded about two and a half hours later.

Florence Goh, 43, who is a managing director with a software company, said that she and her friend had left a bank carpark when they were trapped in rising waters along Jalan Wong Ah Fook.

“We panicked when the currents pushed my car to the side of the road near the Sungai Segget.

“We were quite terrified,” she said, adding that she could not do anything but abandon her car and run to safety.

Goh’s car had to be towed away later.

Another victim, a businessman who wanted to be known only as Eric, said that the water level rose quickly and many vehicles were trapped in basement carparks.

“The main road along Jalan Wong Ah Fook was like a huge river,” he said, and blamed the development work in the city as the reason for the floods.

He added that this was not the first time the city was hit by flash floods.

Amin Said, who works at a money changer, said his employer has suffered RM20,000 in losses after the outlet was hit by floods twice since opening about a year ago.

“Since the Sungai Segget project started, traders having been facing problems,” he added.

In a statement, Iskandar Regional Development Authority said that the floods were not caused by work on the Sungai Segget Rejuvenation Project.

It said the floods were caused by a combination of two factors – the high tide flows into the Johor Baru City Centre coupled with the heavy flow of rainwater as a result of the prolonged rain over the past few days as well as the downpour earlier yesterday.

Traffic comes to standstill as JB city centre goes 'underwater'
CHUAH BEE KIM New Straits Times 16 Nov 15;

JOHOR BARU: Flash floods brought traffic to a standstill at Jalan Wong Ah Fook and its surrounding areas at noon today.

A total of 20 vehicles were stranded in the major thoroughfare in the city when the area was inundated in 1.5m-deep water following the almost two-hour downpour.

No injuries however were reported.

Johor Baru Selatan police chief Assistant Commissioner Sulaiman Salleh said traffic police helped to divert motorists away from the city centre.

He said all roads heading toward the Johor Baru City Square and the Komtar Johor Baru City Centre (Komtar JBCC) were also closed to traffic at the time.

"The rain was exceptionally heavy from 12pm to 1.30pm. This led to flash floods that inundated the area in 1.5m-deep waters," Sulaiman said.

A Fire and Rescue Services Department spokesman said three people were trapped in their cars, but were later brought to safety.

Firemen also searched a basement car park of a building in Jalan Wong Ah Fook, which was submerged in flood water to check for victims.

The flash flood receded by 2pm.

An office worker at Johor Baru City Square said the water began to rise about noon and she saw police blocking traffic to Jalan Wong Ah Fook.

"Policemen blocked traffic at Jalan Stesen to prevent vehicles from entering Jalan Wong Ah Fook, which was flooded.

"By 2pm, water receded and I could see cars using the road once again," said the worker, who did not want to be named.

The last major flash flood to occur at the same area was on July 31.

Meanwhile, the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) said an immediate investigation was being conducted to determine the cause of the flash flood.

"Initial investigations confirm that the floods were not caused by work on the Sungai Segget Rejuvenation Project implemented by IRDA," it said in a statement.

"However, the floods were caused by a combination of two factors - the high tide flows into Johor Baru city centre coupled with the heavy flow of rainwater as a result of the prolonged rain over the past few days as well as the heavy downpour earlier today."

It said that the Sungai Segget Rejuvenation Project was aimed at developing a flood mitigation system in order to avoid such floods in the city centre.
It said the Project's Package 2: Development of Flood Mitigation System and Beautification of Jalan Wong Ah Fook involves the installation of new high capacity pumps.

The pumps were scheduled for installation upon the completion of the project in June 2016

"In the meantime, IRDA has taken immediate steps to install suction pumps as a temporary measure to alleviate the problem," it said.

Chaos in Klang Valley
The Star 17 Nov 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Chaos erupted in major parts of the Klang Valley and in Johor after torrential rains lashed some areas, causing flash floods.

Motorists were caught in a gridlock and stranded for several hours when major roads in Shah Alam, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru were flooded after heavy rains yesterday afternoon.

Dozens of cars were also submerged in water, while the KTM Bhd commuter service was cancelled after the tracks at the Batu Tiga station were submerged for several hours. Commuters had to wade through ankle-deep muddy water.

A landslide occurred near Jalan Raja Chulan in Kuala Lumpur and the Kewajipan roundabout in Subang Jaya.

KL Fire and Rescue Department operations director Azizan Ismail said the landslide occurred around 1.30pm when loose soil on a slope slipped down and damaged a nearby restaurant’s gas line.

“No one was injured in the incident,” he said.

He added that the slope was being monitored for further soil movement.

The landslide near the Kewajipan roundabout in Subang Jaya caused a 4km traffic crawl along the Kesas Expressway from 3pm.

The Star Radio Group’s traffic announcer Priscilla Patrick said the crawl was caused by curious onlookers.

“Another major crawl was in Seksyen 13, Shah Alam, where a flash flood had caused a 5km-long traffic crawl from 4.30pm,” she said.

Several flash floods were reported at Persiaran Surian, Petaling Jaya, Jalan Kinabalu near the National Mosque and Jalan Sultan Salahudin near Bank Negara.

The floods receded several hours later.

The radio station also reported that vehicles at the Shah Alam Interchange were caught in a long crawl from Setia Alam after all highway lanes were flooded.

Flash floods were also reported in Section 13, Section 9, U8 and Batu 3 in Shah Alam, causing a crawl along Persiaran Sukan, Persiaran Hishamuddin and Persiaran Kayangan.

At 5pm, the Shah Alam toll plaza at Bukit Jelutong, which leads to the NKVE highway, had to be closed to traffic due to rising flood waters.

Vehicles were seen cautiously making their way through the flood waters to reach the toll plaza while residents in Bukit Jelutong braced themselves for the possibility of rising waters.

Traffic along the Guthrie Corridor Expressway was also backed up from Bukit Jelutong to the Batu 3 Industrial Park.

The drains in SS14 Subang Jaya could not cope with the incessant downpour, causing an overflow into the streets and nearby petrol stations.

Subang Jaya councillor Ken Chia said he was inundated with messages from concerned residents over the rising water levels.

He posted several pictures on Facebook saying residents were demanding that the Subang Jaya Municipal Council take action.

For traffic updates, follow the team at or @mytraffic on Twitter, or log on to

Selangor exco member in charge of infrastructure Zaidy Abdul Talib said the cause of the severe floods in Bandar Puncak Alam was due to excess rainfall.

“Accumulated water due to heavy rains in the area could not flow out and the retention ponds were filled with overflowing excess water,” he said in a statement.

According to Zaidy, short-term measures would be carried out including cleaning up all water outflow conduits.

“The long-term measures that will be taken will include deepening of retention ponds to contain more water during heavy rainfall,” he added.

In Johor Baru, several major roads in the city were cut off, with police saying that floodwaters rose as high as 1.5m at some places when the floods occurred after 1.30pm following a downpour.

In Kuching, about 400 villagers of Kampung Peninjau Baru in Bau were trapped for more than two hours when their village was flooded after Sungai Sarawak Kiri overflowed its banks at 2pm.

However, no villagers were evacuated as the floods receded several hours later.

Evacuees return home to be greeted by muddy mess

KLUANG: Villagers who were forced to evacuate their houses at Kampung Paya Palembang due to the floods have returned home to clean up the muddy mess.

They are also trying to salvage other belongings before the skies open up again.

Odd job worker Zainuddin Kamsin, 50, said most of his belongings were destroyed by the floods.

“It happened so fast. I could only take some essential items, clothes and toiletries before rushing to the relief centre. We are back today to clean up the mess and shift items such as furniture, wardrobe, refrigerator and washing machine to higher ground as we anticipate another round of floods,” he said.

Retiree Mazalan Mohd Nordin, 57, said he had to clean up his house despite an operation on his right leg several months ago.

“It is better to clean up now when the water has receded and before the mud hardens,” he said.

Factory operator Ramnah Ahmad, 49, said she did not expect the flood waters to rise so fast after a two-hour downpour.

“Usually, our neighbourhood will be flooded after three days of rain,” she said.

Kluang district officer Mohd Fuad Radzuan said the authorities were monitoring the Machap dam and river level closely.

He said they would assist villagers leave their homes if the rainy spell persisted.

Johor Social Welfare Department deputy director Datuk Daud Arbah said flood victims were provided with enough essential items during their stay at relief centres.

“They are only allowed to return home after getting permission from the local authorities,” he said, adding that they could go back temporarily to retrieve important items.

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Malaysia: Heavy rain expected to lash Pahang from Nov 24 to 28

The Star 17 Nov 15;

KUANTAN: Heavy bouts of rain are expected to lash Pahang from Nov 24 to 28 with high tide occurring between Nov 26 and 29.

This phenomenon will bring with it serious floodings and Kuantan, Pekan and Rompin are among to be the hardest hit.

Pahang Crisis Relief Squad of MCA chief Datuk Chang Hong Seong said all CRSM members in the state had been put on standby and given a briefing on the situation.

Chang said based on information from the authorities, heavy rainfall would also hit Pahang from Dec 11 to 18, and from Dec 24 to 30.

“We were also told that high tide will occur between Dec 11 to Dec 15, and from Dec 24 to 29.

“So we are not taking any chances. We have done the necessary preparations and will be on the ground to assist residents to evacuate if there is a need,” he said in an interview.

Chang said their main focus would be in Kuantan, Kuala Krau, Bera and Temerloh which saw massive floodings last year and resulting in several areas totally cut off.

He said six food suppliers in Kuala Krau had been identified and a new fibre boat costing RM20,000, was ready to be used.

Chang said this year, the state CRSM would be divided into two zones and better co-ordinated with 165 teams in the state ready to be deployed.

He said they would also get in touch with other rescue agencies to provide assistance to the victims in terms of supply of necessities and giving moral support.

The Meteorological Department had forecast that Pahang would get the highest rainfall with possible floods, especially during high tide.

The situation is expected to last until January with continuous heavy and intermittent rainfall lashing out between three and five days.

Meanwhile, national chairman Datuk Lua Choon Hann said CRSM is ready to go to Johor, Tereng­ganu, Kelantan and Cameron Highlands.

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Malaysia: Compensation mulled for Pasir Gudang folk affected by water rationing

RIZALMAN HAMMIM New Straits Times 16 Nov 15;

JOHOR BARU: The state government is considering providing compensation to residents affected by the ongoing water rationing in the Pasir Gudang area.

State Public Works and Rural and Regional Development Executive Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad said there have been concerns raised by residents that the rationing had led to extra expenditure on their part, such as having to buy vessels to store water.

"We are considering providing compensation, maybe in the form of rebates or other incentives, to show that we understand their difficulties.

I will raise the issue in the exco meeting next week," said Hasni. He said around 20,000 households are affected by the rationing, which began in August and was recently extended until December 15.

The rationing was imposed to preserve the water levels at the Sungai Lebam dam in Kota Tinggi and the Sungai Layang dam in Masai, which have dropped to critical level.

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Malaysia: Northern Sabah sees surge in ‘monkey malaria’ cases

STEPHANIE LEE The Star 17 Nov 15;

KOTA KINABALU: A new strain of malaria has been found to be spreading across northern Sabah.

Incidences of infections by the strain – Plasmodium knowlesi – have increased alarmingly over the past decade and it is now the main cause of human malaria in the state.

A research programme called the Monkeybar project has started work to determine the spread of the new type of malaria by collecting blood samples from 10,000 people in 170 villages in the districts of Ranau, Pitas, Kota Marudu, Kudat and Pulau Banggi.

For now, it is known that P. knowlesi can cause a severe form of malaria and there have been multiple deaths due to it here.

A state Information Department statement said this type of malaria is carried by macaques and can spread to humans by infected mosquitoes.

The Monkeybar project is a five-year programme with the Health Ministry, the Kota Kinabalu Infec­tious Diseases Society, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, University of Malaya and the Sabah Health Department.

Other partners are the Wildlife Department, the Danau Girang Field Centre, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Glasgow University, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Menzies School of Health Research in Australia.

Investigators are also working closely with the Kudat, Kota Marudu, Pitas and Ranau district hospitals and health clinics.

Dr Timothy William, the Malay­sian principal investigator for the study, said this was the largest survey of its type and would give researchers new information on people who are affected by malaria.

“We hope to get a better understanding of the types of environments where malaria is likely to occur,” he said.

Kimberly Fornace, a researcher from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “This will help us predict areas that have a higher risk and target public health interventions.”

The survey started in September and blood samples have been collected from over 7,000 people to date.

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Malaysia: Sarawak to host transboundary haze workshop next year

NURADZIMMAH DAIM New Straits Times 16 Nov 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: A workshop on transboundary haze will be held in Sarawak next year.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the state was selected as it is usually the first to be affected by the haze.

The workshop, he said, is part of ongoing efforts to tackle the recurring haze problems.

"Transfer of technology will also be done as Malaysia has expertise which can be shared with Indonesia. The methods that we can share with Indonesia on its peat lands are the installation of irrigation systems, as well as water blockage and tube wells at peat soil areas to ensure that it will remain wet to prevent fires. There were also proposals to install watchtowers in peat lands."

He said the Indonesian government had also given its assurance that it would sign the bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to address the issue with Malaysia as soon as possible.

He said Indonesia had also shown its commitment by ratifying the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution document in January.

Other efforts, he said, were improving the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) in Singapore for information-sharing among members for coordinated efforts to put out forest fires when they occur; and the incorporation of the Alert Levels, Trigger Points and Actions on Fire Suppression incorporated in the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

"We want to focus on these efforts before we can address the questions on law enactment."

On suggestions for Perak’s Kuala Gula bird sanctuary to be listed as a Ramsar site (sites designated under the Ramsar Convention or the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat), Junaidi said cooperation with the state government as the owner of the land is needed.

"A study was conducted to look for possibilities for the site to be included in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) which will boost conservation efforts and promote the place as a tourism spot. We hope the Perak government can help us so that Kuala Gula can be declared a Ramsar site," he said.

On a question on smuggled ivory, Junaidi said a committee would be set up to audit the 3,472 ivories confiscated and stored by the Wildlife Department.

"The ivory are currently being kept at the department's vault room. Once the audit is completed, they will be disposed, hopefully by mid of next year," he said.

On bauxite mining in Pahang, he said while the report by Department of Environment on the water sample taken from the nearby rivers showed low contamination of heavy metals, ongoing monitoring and frequent discussions between federal and state governments are being carried out.

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US, Indonesia launch new partnership to manage, protect forests 16 Nov 15;

The US government, through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Center for International Forestry (CIFOR), has launched a partnership to address critical environmental issues related to forestry management and biodiversity protection in Indonesia.

The USAID Indonesia Mission says the partnership will include collaborative research and scholarships for emerging Indonesian leaders to attend US universities.

It further says the collaborative research will focus on producing solid scientific data and analysis that will help government, private industry and non-governmental organizations develop better policies and strategies to reduce deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions caused by palm oil production.

The effort is timely given, especially due to the recent forest fires in Indonesia, which result in air pollution and the destruction of wildlife habitats.

“We believe this partnership will help generate the unbiased science that decision makers can use to create solutions in improving forest sustainability,” USAID Indonesia Mission director Andrew Sisson.

USAID says it has invested US$5 million in the partnership.

“Half of the funds will be used for research; the rest will be used to send 15-20 Indonesians to the United States over the next four years to complete master’s degrees in specialties related to forestry management, biodiversity conservation and land use planning. The first cohort will be recruited in late 2015 to commence study in 2016,” it states.

USAID further says it has asked CIFOR to develop and manage the scholarship program.

“We are very excited to be working with CIFOR at such a critical time. Environmental issues affect every Indonesian and, in terms of climate change, every person on this planet,” Sisson said.

“We are especially delighted to design a program that involves both research and capacity building for the next generation of Indonesian leaders,” he added. (ebf)(+)

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Indonesia: Wonogiri, Central Java still experiencing water crisis

Ganug Nugroho Adi, 16 Nov 15;

Rain has yet to fall in several districts across Wonogiri regency, Central Java, enabling the water crisis to bite deeper.

Up until the middle of November, rain has hardly fallen in five districts, namely Eromoko, Giritontro, Giriwoyo, Paranggupito, and Pracimantoro.

“It has started raining in other areas, but not in the five districts, situated at the southern part of Wonogiri, where rain has fallen just two or three times. The reservoir has not been filled so residents are still facing a clean water shortage,” Wonogiri Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Bambang Haryanto said on Monday.

He said the BPBD Wonogiri was striving to meet people’s clean water needs by dispatching 14 water tanks with a capacity of 6,000 liters each to the five districts every day.

“Besides the five districts, we still have to meet the clean water needs of other drought-hit areas, such as Manyaran district. Around 2,000 people desperately need clean water,” said Bambang.

He further said the BPBD Wonogiri had received information from the Semarang Climatology Station that for areas in Central Java, rain fell in the first and second dasarian -- a meteorological time period consisting of 10 days – in November. For a few areas in the eastern part of Central Java, rain will come only in the first and second dasarian in December.

“It is forecast that rain will fall in southern Wonogiri in the first and second dasarian of next month,” said Bambang.

He said the BPBD Wonogiri had extended the emergency drought standby status in the regency -- which was initially due to expire on Oct.31 -- to Nov. 30 after it was first declared in July. The decision was made because as of the middle of November, rain intensity had been low.

“As many as 18,169 family heads or around 67,320 people in eight districts still face a clean water crisis,” said Bambang.

From July to October, the BPBD Wonogiri dispatched 3,628 tanks of clean water to eight districts. Each tank contained in between 6,000 and 8,000 liters of clean water, which was provided by various institutions and individuals.

“To supply clean water for 67,320 people, we need 538 tanks worth Rp 94.1 million [US$6,838.55]. The longer the drought stays with us, the bigger the clean water budget will be,” said Bambang.

Separately, Pracimantoro district head Warsito said Pracimantoro residents had been experiencing impacts of the dry spell since April.

He said as many as 24,364 people or 6,250 family heads in Pracimantoro had experienced the clean water crisis. (ebf)

Read more!

El Niño: food shortages, floods, disease and droughts set to put millions at risk

Agencies warn of unchartered territory as strongest-ever El Niño threatens to batter vulnerable countries with extreme weather for months
John Vidal and Damian Carrington The Guardian 16 Nov 15;

The UN has warned of months of extreme weather in many of the world’s most vulnerable countries with intense storms, droughts and floods triggered by one of the strongest El Niño weather events recorded in 50 years, which is expected to continue until spring 2016.

El Niño is a natural climatic phenomenon that sees equatorial waters in the eastern Pacific ocean warm every few years. This disrupts regular weather patterns such as monsoons and trade winds, and increases the risk of food shortages, floods, disease and forest fires.

This year, a strong El Niño has been building since March and its effects are already being seen in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Malawi, Indonesia and across Central America, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. The phenomenon is also being held responsible for uncontrolled fires in forests in Indonesia and in the Amazon rainforest.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization warned in a report on Monday that the current strong El Niño is expected to strengthen further and peak around the end of the 2015. “Severe droughts and devastating flooding being experienced throughout the tropics and sub-tropical zones bear the hallmarks of this El Niño, which is the strongest in more than 15 years,” said WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud.

Jarraud said the impact of the naturally occurring El Niño event was being exacerbated by global warming, which had already led to record temperatures this year. “This event is playing out in uncharted territory. Our planet has altered dramatically because of climate change,” he said. “So this El Niño event and human-induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways which we have never before experienced. El Niño is turning up the heat even further.”

In 1997, the phenomenon led to severe droughts in the Sahel and the Indian subcontinent, followed by devastating floods and storms, which killed thousands of people and caused billions of dollars of damage across Asia, Latin America and and Africa.

The WMO said countries are expected to be much better prepared for a strong El Niño now than they were in 1997, but governments and charities are warning of serious food shortages and floods.

“While difficult to predict, the El Niño this year looks set to be the strongest on record. This is a real threat to people’s lives, health and livelihoods across the world, which will see increased calls for humanitarian assistance as people struggle to grow crops, face water shortages and disease,” said a spokeswoman at Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID) in London.

“Fragile states like Yemen and South Sudan are already struggling with war and the threat of famine. Without increased humanitarian support, El Niño will make a difficult situation even worse,” she said.

“In Ethiopia and the Sahel, the impact of changing weather patterns is already visible. Outbreaks of diseases such as dengue fever, cholera and malaria are possible, so it is essential that health systems are shored up to respond.”

Rice and grain harvests have already been hit hard by severe droughts, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), which expects 2.3 million people in Central America and many more in east and southern Africa to need food aid. Rice shortages are expected in Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and south-east Asia.

“The weather phenomenon, among the strongest on record, is likely to cause more floods and droughts, fuel Pacific typhoons and cyclones and affect more areas if it continues strengthening as forecast over the coming months,” said the UN children’s agency, Unicef, in a statement last week.

Unicef said it expected 8.5 million people in Ethiopia to need food aid and several million more in Somalia and Kenya. In Zimbabwe, the number of people in need of food aid was expected to reach 1.5 million by the time of the January to March “lean season”, according to the agency.

El Niño could leave 4 million people in Pacific without food or drinking water
Read more
One of the worst-affected countries is likely to be Malawi, where the worst drought in almost 10 years is expected to cause a further increase in severe malnutrition next year.

In South Africa, livestock has been dying as a result of drought, and water restrictions have been imposed in Johannesburg, and other areas.

In Central America, one of the most severe droughts on record has led to 3.5 million people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador needing food aid, said the WFP. Peru and Ecuador expect more than 2 million people to be affected.

“Another dry spell in 2015, this time exacerbated by El Niño, has again caused significant losses during the first crop cycle, the Primera season,” the WFP’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean,Miguel Barreto, said. “This has hit small producers and their families who were struggling to recover from the previous year’s drought, and the number of people in need may increase soon.”

Last week, the Indonesian government said that rice growing areas of Java had been hit badly by drought.

“The world is much better prepared for this year’s El Niño, but the socio-economic shocks will still be profound,” said a spokesman for the World Health Organisation.

Researchers expect the risk of major fires in the Amazon basin to increase. More than 11,000 forest fires have been observed in the Amazonas province of Brazil this year, a 47% increase over the same period last year, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The storms that usually keep the jungles of southern Mexico and Central America wet shift northward to California and the southern US during strong El Niño winters.

Britain has pledged to provide £45m of emergency support for 2.6 million people and food for up to 120,000 malnourished children in Ethiopia and elsewhere. But it appealed on Monday to other countries to support humanitarian efforts and disaster preparedness efforts.

“All DfID offices are very much alive to the risks El Niño poses. Country teams from Ethiopia to Kenya to Bangladesh are working hard to ensure help is there for those suffering as a result of El Niño.

“In some places, this might mean boosting resources for existing projects while in others the effects may need to be monitored for longer to ensure the best response,” DfID said.

'High impacts' from globally stronger El Nino
Matt McGrath BBC News 16 Nov 15;

The El Niño weather event is expected to gain in strength before the end of this year, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

In its latest update, the WMO says the 2015 occurrence will be among the three strongest recorded since 1950.

Severe droughts and significant flooding in many parts of the world are being attributed to this El Niño.

The WMO warn these impacts are likely to increase and this event is now in "uncharted territory".

El Niño is a naturally occurring weather episode that sees the warm waters of the central Pacific expand eastwards towards North and South America.

The phenomenon, which happens every two to seven years, usually peaks late in the calendar year, although the effects can persist well into the following spring.
This year's El Niño seems to be following that pattern.

According to the WMO, the peak three month average water surface temperatures in tropical Pacific will exceed 2C above normal.

It is the strongest event since 1998 and is expected to be among the three most powerful ever recorded.

Variable impacts

El Niño tends to see higher global temperatures than normal but its regional impacts are highly variable.

This year has seen active hurricanes in the eastern Pacific. In South East Asia, El Niño has been associated with a drought which helped increase wildfires in Indonesia and caused a dense haze in parts of the country.

Pelagic red crabs move northwards in California during an El Niño

El Niño is also believed to have played a role in reducing the impact of this year's monsoon in India.

In East Africa, enhanced rainfall is expected between October and December. Southern Africa is experiencing prolonged dry weather amid worries over the survival of crops and cattle.

"Severe droughts and devastating flooding being experienced throughout the tropics and sub-tropical zones bear the hallmarks of this El Niño, which is the strongest in more than 15 years," said WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud.

The authorities in California are expecting that El Niño will bring extremely wet conditions to the state in the early part of 2016. Sandbags are being stockpiled, storm drains are being cleared and extra staff are being taken on to deal with possible flooding.

While stressing that El Niño is not the only factor driving global climate patterns, the WMO says that the implications of the weather system in a warmer world are uncertain.

"This event is playing out in uncharted territory. Our planet has altered dramatically because of climate change, the general trend towards a warmer global ocean, the loss of Arctic sea ice and of over a million square km of summer snow cover in the northern hemisphere," said Mr Jarraud.

"So this naturally occurring El Niño event and human induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways which we have never before experienced," he said.

"Even before the onset of El Niño, global average surface temperatures had reached new records. El Niño is turning up the heat even further," said Mr Jarraud.
Scientists are meeting in New York this week to try and increase our understanding of El Niño and to predict the anticipated global socioeconomic shocks.

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