Best of our wild blogs: 10 Dec 15

“The time to act was yesterday, get it done!” Youth @ COP21 (2015 Paris Climate Conference)
Otterman speaks

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Singapore youth delivers speech at Paris climate talks

Today Online 9 Dec 15;

PARIS — Ms Nor Lastrina Hamid of the Singapore Youth for Climate Action (SYAC) delivered a speech on behalf of YOUNGO (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC observer constituency of youth non-governmental organisations) during yesterday’s (Dec 8) high level segment of the Paris climate talks.

This is the full text of her speech:

My name is Lastrina. I am from Singapore, and I have the honour of speaking on behalf of the youth constituency.

As young people, we would like to voice grave concerns that this process is becoming more and more exclusive as we speak. Monsieur Fabius has said that to achieve a strong agreement we need a transparent and inclusive process, not only among the Parties to the Convention, but also with members of Civil Society.

However, in the past week we have seen the opposite. Negotiations have once again been closed to observers, interventions have been limited, and our voices have been silenced. Now that you have finally given us a space to express ourselves, listen to what we have to say:

Last Monday, at the heads of state event, there were numerous calls for climate justice and action. Leaders expressed that “Never have the stakes been so high,” “the fate of humanity is on the table” and that “we are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it.”

They were right. The stakes have never been so high. But if the fate of humanity is on the table, then where is the action you so boldly discuss? Action, not empty promises, will save our populations from starving, dying of thirst, and perishing in floods. You are responsible for the emissions in the past. We don’t want history to repeat itself, stop the carbon colonialism.

We, the youth, demand that parties reach an agreement that closes the ambition gap and keeps the temperature increase below 1.5 degrees. Developed countries must take the lead based on their historical responsibility and their respective capabilities.

We call for a legally binding agreement that is no longer mitigation-centric, but acknowledges the need for strong adaptation measures, a bold loss and damage mechanism, technology transfer, capacity building, as well as finance flowing from North to South. These elements are crucial to help vulnerable communities cope with the enduring effects of climate change in a way that is both just and equitable.

From now onward, youth from all over the world will rise up to hold you to your promises. The time to act was yesterday. 21 years of inaction have passed. We have told you what you need to do.

Get it done.

Paris climate talks: Singapore youths hope to see more environmental activism
ALBERT WAI Today Online 10 Dec 15;

PARIS – The Singaporean youth delegation at the ongoing Paris climate talks are a clued in and engaged lot – they want to see an ambitious agreement with major emitters such as China and India taking on concrete goals and targets.

At the same time, they hope to see more Singaporeans take concrete personal actions to address climate change, they said in an interview today (Dec 9).

The more than 20-strong Singaporean youth activist contingent hails from different walks of life and several networks, including the Environmental Challenge Organisation (ECO Singapore) and Singapore Youth for Climate Action (SYAC), among others.

“Ideally, I would like to see a 1.5°C goal (in the new agreement) instead of 2°C we are using now,” said Nor Lastrina Hamid of the SYAC, who delivered a speech on behalf of YOUNGO (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC observer constituency of youth non-governmental organisations) during yesterday’s high level segment of the talks.

Negotiators are aiming to stop global temperatures rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels but some countries are pushing for a more ambitious 1.5°C target.

“But realistically, I would like to see the five-year review cycle being implemented and also more information about how we are going to operationalise the green climate fund,” added Ms Lastrina, referring to ongoing discussions on a proposed five-year cycle to review countries’ climate pledges and the funding mechanism set up within the UNFCCC framework to help developing countries deal with climate change respectively.

Ms Juliana Chia, a lead activist with Team Young NTUC Affinity Group added: “China and India should have concrete goals and targets that they are going to set and meet, because right now they have the biggest impact (on global emissions).”

For some of the activists, attending the Paris Climate Conference entails significant investment of personal time and financial commitments, with some of them taking leave from their jobs to attend the ongoing talks to negotiate a global climate change framework after the current Kyoto Protocol pact expires in 2020.

They say that while climate change awareness among young Singaporeans is growing, Singaporean youths need to be more proactive in terms of making changes to their daily lives.

“Young Singaporeans do care about it (climate change) but we never had this culture of taking things into our own hands,” said Melissa Chong of the WWF Singapore. Ms Chong was a former environment reporter with Channel NewsAsia.

“We are always very reliant on the government and other people to do things for us. This sense of empowerment that I can change things on my own rarely gets support from other people.”

Wilson Ang, Founder of ECO Singapore which runs a year-long fellowship on environmental issues and takes a small group of youths to attend the negotiations every year, said that “the takeaway for them to attend COP (Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC) is for them to understand the process, understand how the issue relates and hopefully when they leave, they will walk the talk and eventually become champions in their own communities.”

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Malaysia: Sungai Johor Barrage operational by March 30

CHUAH BEE KIM New Straits Times 9 Dec 15;

KOTA TINGGI: The RM80.8 million Sungai Johor Barrage here, built to increase water supply to consumers in Pasir Gudang and Pengerang here will be operational by March 30 next year.

Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili said his visit to the Sungai Johor Barrage in Taman Kota Intan here today was to check on the critical water levels of the Sungai Layang and Sungai Lebam dams which have resulted in water rationing in several districts.

Maximus told reporters after the site inspection that the barrage which is currently 77 per cent completed, can reduce the impact of water shortage when it fully completed in mid-July.

Federal, Johor Governments To Implement Iskandar Malaysia Raw Water Transfer Project
Bernama 9 Dec 15;

KOTA TINGGI, Dec 9 (Bernama) -- The federal and Johor state governments are expected to implement the Iskandar Malaysia Raw Water Transfer (PAMIN) project to meet the demands for raw water in the state.

Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili said the project is a long term plan in overcoming the insufficient water supply, especially in Johor Baharu.

"A comprehensive study will commence under the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP) and the federal government will fully finance the project via an allocation of RM500 million," he told reporters after visiting the construction site project of the Sungai Johor Barrage in Taman Kota Intan, here today.

He said the project would involve the construction of the Ulu Sedili Besar dam construction here and the transfer of raw water from Sungai Sedili Besar to Sungai Johor, Layang Dam and Sultan Iskandar Water Treatment Plant.

He said given the urgent raw water needs, the federal govenrment wanted the Johor state government to submit a proposal on the project as soon as possible.

Works on the project was also expected to be undertaken and completed under the 11MP, he said.


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Singbuild fined S$3,000 for polluting Whampoa River

The construction company illegally dumped a bonding agent into a roadside drain near the construction site for the Viridian condominium.
Channel NewsAsia 9 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: Construction company Singbuild was on Wednesday (Dec 9) fined S$3,000 for illegally discharging a bonding agent into a roadside drain beside a construction site for the Viridian condomimium at Jalan Ampas.

The substance found its way into Whampoa River on Jan 24 and turned the waters white.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said its contractors along with that from national water agency PUB took about 15 hours to clean up Whampoa River, as well as the roadside drain at Jalan Ampas.

"Such bonding agents should be stored in intermediate bulk containers and disposed of off-site by engaging a NEA-licensed toxic industrial waste collector," NEA said.

The agency added that discharging of pollutive matter into drains and canals can cause environmental and public health hazards. The offence carries a maximum fine of S$20,000 upon the first conviction, and S$50,000 for the second and subsequent convictions.

Singbuild was also charged for two other offences - for discharging trade effluent containing the bonding agent into public sewers without PUB's approval and for discharging construction debris into the sewerage system. The company was fined S$2,000 for each offence, which carries a maximum fine of S$20,000.

If members of the public see any pollution in canals and drains, they can notify NEA via its 24-hour call centre at 1800 2255 632, or they can tip off PUB at 1800 2255 782.

- CNA/dl

Company fined $3,000 for polluting public canal near Whampoa River
AsiaOne 9 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE - A construction company has been fined $3,000 for polluting a roadside drain near the Whampoa River, the National Environment Agency (NEA) and national water agency, PUB, announced in a joint press statement on Wednesday (Dec 9).

The statement said that on Jan 24, NEA and PUB were alerted when a stretch of the Whampoa River turned white. The source of the white liquid discharge was traced to a bonding agent used by Singbuild Pte Ltd for the construction works.

Singbuild had discharged the white liquid into a roadside drain beside the construction site of 'The Viridian' at 6 Jalan Ampas. The illegal discharge eventually found its way into the Whampoa River.

A reader also alerted citizen journalism website Stomp, to the incident on Jan 24 at about 10 am. Stomp reported that the water had turned an artificial-looking milky blue.

According to records from the Ministry of Manpower, Singbuild was issued a full stop-work-order on Feb 10. The order was lifted on Feb 24.

The statement added that clean-up operations of the river and the roadside drain took close to 15 hours to complete. Such bonding agents should be stored in intermediate bulk containers and disposed of off-site by engaging a NEA-licensed toxic industrial waste collector.

For polluting the drain and canal, Singbuild was charged under Section 15 of Environmental Protection and Management Act by NEA. It was fined $3,000 for that offence.

Singbuild was also charged under Section 16(1) and 19(1)(b) of the Sewerage and Drainage Act by PUB for discharging trade effluent containing the bonding agent into public sewers without PUB's approval and for discharging construction debris into the sewerage system. It was fined $2,000 for each offence, which carries a maximum fine of $20,000.

Singbuild was required to pay a total sum of $7,000 for contravening three acts.

NEA and PUB said: "Illegal discharge into the public sewers is a serious offence as it can have an adverse impact on the used water reclamation process and also pose health hazards to officers operating and maintaining the public sewerage system."

They also urged the public to contact NEA's 24-hour Call Centre at 1800-CALL NEA (1800-2255-632) or PUB's 24-hour Call Centre at 1800-Call PUB (1800-2255-782) should they witness any pollution in the drains and canals.

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Guidelines for retrofitting green building features to be implemented

The Singapore Green Building Council and the Building and Construction Authority will develop a standard energy performance contract template for building owners and firms.
Channel NewsAsia 9 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: To help owners overcome initial financial barriers in retrofitting their buildings with energy-efficient features, the Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC) and the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) will develop a set of contractual guidelines for such projects.

The standard energy performance contract (EPC) template will clearly state key conditions of the agreement between the building owner and the contractor retrofitting the building, said BCA and SGBC in a joint news release on Wednesday (Dec 9). This is so that “building owners can better focus on the critical component in any EPC: The amount of energy savings guaranteed”, said the agencies.

In the EPC template, the firm must guarantee specific energy savings for the building over a set period, either in monetary terms or as a saving percentage. The firm can either provide financing for the necessary retrofitting works, or the building owner can finance the retrofit. For the first option, the building owner need not incur financial expenditure to start saving energy, said the authorities.

The EPC template complements the Building Retrofit Energy Efficiency Financing (BREEF) scheme by BCA, which offers financing to building owners, Management Corporation Strata Titles (MCSTs), Special Purpose Vehicles and EPC firms for energy efficiency retrofits, said BCA and SGBC.

The standard template will be available for purchase from SGBC in early 2016. EPC firms certified under SGBC’s Singapore Green Building Services labelling scheme will also use the contract in their projects.

- CNA/xq

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Famous Instagram Tree in Punggol will have to go: HDB

The Housing and Development Board says "parts of the tree are falling off without warning" and advises visitors of the Punggol Waterway Park to stay away from it before its removal on Dec 16.
Channel NewsAsia 9 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: A tree that has become popular with Singapore shutterbugs will be removed next Wednesday (Dec 16) "in the interest of public safety", said the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

In a Facebook post, HDB said it had recently checked on the tree located in Punggol, and arborists certified it dead.

"Although we recognise that this is the popular Punggol Instagram tree, we would advise park visitors to stay away from it as parts of the tree are falling off without warning," HDB said.

It urged followers on Facebook to tell their friends "so they can stay safe" whilst enjoying other scenic spots at the Punggol Waterway Park.

Netizens bid farewell to popular Instagram tree which will be removed next week
Today Online 10 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — Couples have posed beside it during wedding shoots and dates, while local shutterbugs have often used it as a backdrop for their creative endeavours. Now, it is time to say goodbye to the iconic Punggol tree — affectionally dubbed the #InstagramTree online.

Despite its popularity on one of the world's biggest social media networks, the Punggol tree will be removed by the Housing Development Board (HDB) in the interest of public safety next Wednesday (Dec 16). Since the HDB made the announcement on Facebook yesterday, some people have taken to social media to post photos of the tree and bid their farewells.

It's goodbye to popular 'Punggol Lone Tree'
Lee Min Kok, The Straits Times AsiaOne 12 Dec 15;

A tree in Punggol that is dear to many a photographer and couple will soon be removed.

On Wednesday, the Housing Board said in a Facebook post that it will remove the tree next Wednesday, citing public safety concerns as parts of the tree have been falling off without warning.

The HDB said arborists had recently checked the tree, which is on a small hill along a waterway, and certified that it was dead.

"Although we recognise that this is the popular Punggol #instagram tree, we would advise park visitors to stay away from it," it added.

The tree, which belongs to the fast-growing Albizia species originating from eastern Indonesia, was struck by lightning in July and lost half its branches.

Dubbed the "Punggol Lone Tree", it is popular with photographers and couples for the unique backdrop it provides. More than 1,400 photos of the tree have been tagged #instagramtree on the social media platform.

Despite the tree's withered state, people have still been making trips to see it.

Accounts manager Christy Goh said the tree holds fond memories for her. "I had my wedding photos shot there last year, and it's such a shame that it will be gone so soon," said the 32-year-old.

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Malaysia: Heavy rain next week

ROYCE TAN The Star 10 Dec 15;

PETALING JAYA: Heavy rain is expected in the east coast states of peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak next week.

According to the Malaysian Meteorological Department, heavy bouts of rain are forecast to last more than a day due to a cold surge.

Its spokesman Dr Hisham Mohd Anip said the exact day of the occurrence could not be determined yet as the weekly wind forecast changed almost daily.

“Cold air coming from mainland China due to a burst of high air pressure will most probably occur next week.

“People in Sabah, Sarawak and the east coast states need to be on their guard due to this weather phenomenon.

“The rainfall intensity in Sabah and Sarawak might reach up to 100mm a day, while it is around 50mm for the east coast states,” he said yesterday.

A rainfall intensity of 50mm is moderate and 100mm is considered heavy.

Dr Hisham said there would be a smaller number of cold surge occurrences during the north-east monsoon season this year due to the El-Nino phenomenon.

He said on average, there would be around five cold surges each season but this year, only two or three were expected.

“The wet spell is expected to last only until the end of the month with generally fair weather from January to March,” he said.

The public can get the latest updates on the weather through its website or Facebook page at or its Twitter handle @malaysianmet.

Meanwhile, Fire and Rescue Department director-general Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim said the department was already on standby and ready for any eventuality.

He said there were some 14,000 personnel nationwide and they were prepared to be deployed for rescue operations.

“Since Nov 15, we have already set up operation centres to monitor the flood situation in the country.

“Our personnel also keep tabs of weather forecasts daily and are in constant contact with the Meteo­rological Department,” said Wan Mohd Nor.

He added that the department had purchased 50 additional rescue boats this year, bringing the total number to 600 boats nationwide.

“We have also bought 100 lorries to facilitate evacuation exercises and 200 generator sets to be used for lighting and charging cellphones in the event of power failures due to flooding.

“These generators will also be sent to flood relief centres,” he said.

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Philippines: Boy dies of red tide poisoning in Leyte

GMA News 9 Dec 15;

A boy in Carigara town in Leyte died on Tuesday supposedly after eating tahong (mussel) dish, a television report said Wednesday.

"Unang Balita" reported that local officials have imposed a ban on collecting and eating shellfish and other marine products in the town due to red tide infestation.

The report did not give details on the death of the 7-year-old boy, but said local fishery officials have tightened their monitoring on the collection of shellfish and issued stern warning against eating tahong and other seashells.

Several provinces in the Visayas are dealing with the worst case of red tide infestation to hit the region since 2013, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said Tuesday.

GMA 7 news program "24 Oras" reported that the following areas were the worst affected:

Capiz: Roxas, Pila, Sapian
Aklan: Altavas, Bataan, New Washington
Bohol: Dauis
Iloilo: Gigantes Islands
Western Samar: Leyte, Biliran

Mati in Davao Oriental had also been hit.

The red tide may have been caused by the long dry spell and changes in temperature, the BFAR said. — GMA News

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Wall of trees being planted across Africa to halt desert

Associated Press 9 Dec 15;


Map shows Great Green Wall pan-African planting project fights desertification; Senegal towns now... Read more

MBAR TOUBAB, Senegal (AP) — It seems like Mission Impossible: Stop the Sahara Desert from spreading farther south, its incursion into arable land fueled by climate change and overgrazing.

But tree by tree, a Great Green Wall is being planted across a belt of Africa to fight back, though the success of the Herculean effort depends in large part on about a dozen countries making a concerted effort and on funding.

Under plans launched in 2007, the Great Green Wall will be an arc of trees and plants running 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles) across Africa — from Senegal along the Atlantic all the way to Djibouti on the Gulf of Aden.

The 15-kilometer (9-mile) wide wall is a part of a wider initiative meant to help reduce seasonal winds packed with sand and dust, slow land degradation and the encroaching desert, and to improve the health and lives of those living nearby.

So far in Senegal, the country furthest along in the project, 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres) has been planted along a line of 150 kilometers (93 miles), that will eventually extend to 545 kilometers (340 miles) covering about 800,000 hectares (1,976,800 acres), according to Senegal's national agency for the project.

In Senegalese villages like Mbar Toubab, market gardening is now possible, allowing women like 38-year-old Aissata Ka to make more money as agriculture and economic opportunities blossom where acacia trees now grow.

"Agriculture is easier for us," said Ka, who lives in Mbar Toubab in Senegal's north. "With livestock, the herd can die at any moment, and you are then condemned to live as a nomad. Here, with agriculture, we don't need to move."

Ousseynou Toure, an expert with the Program of Local Development in Senegal that advises the government, named another benefit.

"It has also helped the health of children by reducing the dust and winds," he said

Senegal's successes have come from not only working with communities, but with researchers to be sure the trees that will thrive most are planted.

Land degradation advances quickly with changes in the climate, and must be stopped to preserve the ecosystem and restore the natural order of things, Toure noted.

He stressed that the project must continue to be linked with social services so that any gains can be maintained.

Each of the 11 countries that the wall is supposed to pass through decides what its needs are for the initiative and how it maintains each section, he said. So if one country's policies shift and they don't maintain their part of the swath of trees, it could impact neighboring countries, Toure said.

The project, launched by African leaders, is being strengthened through intergovernmental meetings and agreements over the years with support from the United Nations and other organizations.

Mohamed Adow, senior climate change adviser for the international development agency Christian Aid, says it's important that such regeneration projects respect the rights of locals and are supported by communities.

"Selecting the right species (of trees and plants) and developing the right community-based forest management systems are vital to avoid simply ending up with a line of forest plantations that are resented by local people and subject to illegal logging and wood collection," he told The Associated Press in an email.

As the climate conference in Paris wraps up, Toure said that he hopes the project remains a priority.

African leaders at the Paris talks described the Sahara Desert encroaching on farmland, along with forests disappearing from Congo to Madagascar and rising sea levels swallowing homes in West African river deltas. They said the fight against desertification is a priority.

French President Francois Hollande has said France will invest billions of euros in coming years for renewable energy in Africa, to increase Africans' access to electricity and for adaptation to climate change. France's development aid will also focus on the Great Green Wall, the protection of Lake Chad and the Niger River, among other projects, Hollande said.

Conflicts in some countries like Mali, which has Islamic extremist fighters, could delay progress in the planting of the tress, noted Gilles Boetsch of the French National Center of Scientific Research.

Still, Papa Sarr, the technical director of Senegal's National Agency of the Great Green Wall, said that while the project is still young, the level of revegetation and the subsequent financial benefits for locals are "cause for optimism."


Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.

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India: Don’t just blame climate change: Chennai floods were a manmade disaster

Nikita Sud, Associate Professor of Development Studies, University of Oxford
The Conversation 10 Dec 15;

The city of Chennai – a coastal metropolis of 8.7m people and capital of India’s Tamil Nadu region – has been flooded by an extreme weather event. The city experienced incessant rain, in what has been its wettest November for over a century: December 1 broke local records, with 490mm of rainfall.

The results have been catastrophic: the Adyar and Cooum rivers overflowed, 35 major lakes breached their banks and large parts of the city – including the international airport – were submerged. Schools and hospitals were shut down, electricity and electronic networks were unavailable for days, and life was turned upside down not just for residents, but also for flagship IT and automobile companies such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, Cognizant, Yamaha, Renault Nissan and BMW India.

The confirmed death toll from the flooding is 270 and rising, and a trade body has estimated that monetary losses will be in the region of Indian Rupees 15,000 crores (£1.5 billion). While the flood waters have now receded, health epidemics ranging from malaria to cholera and typhoid may well be imminent.

It is widely believed that Chennai’s misery was brought on by climate change, and that such extreme weather events are going to increase in frequency and impact. World leaders have blamed the event on global warming, even as the COP21 climate change conference plays out as expected in Paris. As the climate battles rage in the natural and political worlds, Chennai represents the human dimensions of disaster.

The human hand

Climate change is not the only guilty party: the scale of the disaster at Chennai was magnified by a rampant disregard for town planning, and the basic principles of ecology and hydrology. To name just a few of the violations: the international airport is built on the floodplain of the Adyar river; the Mass Rapid Transit System sits atop the Buckingham Canal; the government allowed buildings to be erected over more than 273 hectares of the Pallikarni marshland to the south of the city; and the city’s famed Information Technology and Knowledge Corridors encompass wetlands and marshlands that would normally act as a sink for flood water.

Modern states have always used urban and infrastructure planning as a way to control and exploit nature’s more unruly tendencies: whether it’s water flowing down a river, waves battering the coast or food sources growing on the land or in the sea. There have been countless examples: from the colossal web of transport lines and ports built throughout colonial East Africa and South Asia, to the extensive damming of the Tennessee River System, which inspired similarly ambitious projects in the Mekong River Basin and the Narmada Valley.

Competition is king

But the planning distortions of contemporary Chennai show that the state can take it too far, especially when it is attempting to meet the demands of a growing population and a competitive economic climate. Since economic liberalisation in 1991, Tamil Nadu has competed with other sub-national units in India – as well as productive regions in neighbouring countries such as China – to attract private investment. In the words of a retired Tamil Nadu bureaucrat, whom I interviewed for my research in 2012:

Companies are like bridegrooms. If they are bringing an iconic brand into the [sub-national] state, they come with a huge list of demands, the primary one being land. In the case of [an automobile manufacturing company], we had large, vacant … plots, which we could transfer to them in a short period. In addition, they wanted road, rail and port access. They wanted to be near a metropolis. They wanted all sorts of social infrastructure, like land for an international school and sporting facilities for families of executives… Overall, there were 80-90 parameters related to land, tax concessions and clearances for water, electricity, etc.
With increasing competitive pressures on states, land and natural resources become pliable reserves for meeting the exacting demands of national and international capital. But recent events in Chennai are a reminder that nature is flexible only to a point. It does strike back.

Dodgy dealings

While governments work formally with private entities to change the face of our cities, there is also a great deal of informal development going on behind the scenes. Private firms, India’s booming real estate industry, and middle class consumers work with unregulated brokers, middlemen, government touts, moonlighting officials, political strongmen, and various other intermediaries to acquire and build on land. The government acknowledges that there are 150,000 illegal structures in the city, and that 300 tanks and lakes have simply been built over. The actual number of breaches is probably much higher.

Chennai is by no means the only city where space is more often allocated informally than through the “logic” of planning. Privatisation of the commons, filling of water bodies, encroachment on ecologically sensitive wetlands and the illegal alteration of maps to reflect these changes is evident in my field sites in east, west and south India. This is a translation of a quote from a Kolkata land broker, interviewed in 2014:

Changing a pond record is backdoor work, and this is totally illegal. Every time it is changed, it happens under the table. The government office will have to be managed. All buyers (e.g. real estate developers) have a setting arrangement in the government office, and they all have a civil lawyer…. Politics also plays a role in our work … if there is a pond to be filled politicians will not leave us. They will demand Indian Rupees 10 lakhs to 20 lakhs (£10,000 to £20,000)… Besides, how will you fill the pond? You need mud, sand, and ash. Organisations affiliated to the locally powerful political party will supply this.

As Chennai emerges from the water and takes a fresh look at itself, poorer residents and slum settlers will probably be the first to be evicted, in order to free up illegally acquired space for development. But if the city teaches us one lesson, it is that we are in this together. We are reaping what we have sowed as consumers, voters, home owners – not to mention the role of politicians, government officials and private companies. To pass the blame would be as shortsighted as world leaders blaming each other for climate change.

"We destroyed unique flood carriage systems"
B. KOLAPPAN The Hindu 9 Dec 15;

If only Chennai’s unique macro, medium and micro drainage systems had been effectively maintained, the people of this expanding metropolis would not be undergoing the misery caused by the historic floods. Professor S. Janakarajan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, who is an expert on water management and disaster risk reduction, agrees that Chennai’s current woes are the result of a “man-made disaster.”

According to him, the construction of storm water drainage system should have taken into consideration factors such as average rainfall during the north-east monsoon, which is around 780 mm. Since this was not done, these storm water drains have poor carrying capacity, which has further been reduced due to lack of maintenance.

Chennai can’t be seen in isolation, but together with Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram and Chengalpattu as these areas constitute a single important watershed. “The geographical location, topography, rainfall pattern and drainage system in these districts are hydrologically integrated,” he said adding that it was wrong to blame Chembarambakkam lake alone for the current flooding.

Calling for a holistic approach, Mr Janakaraja pointed out that as per the tank memoir prepared by the British, there are 3,600 tanks in these districts and the surplus from around 20 tanks have also contributed to inflow in Chembarambakkam.

Prof Janakarajan, who has made extensive studies about Chennai’s water bodies, said besides natural macro drainages like Adyar, Cooum, Kosasthaliyar and the man-made Buckingham canal, there are around eight medium drainage canals here. These include the Otteri Nallah, Virugambakkam / Arumbakkam canal, Kodungaiyur canal, Captain Cotton canal, Velachery canal, Veerangal Odai and Mambalam canal. These canals provided a very effective drainage system for the city before they were encroached.

The major rivers of Chennai are unique and had the huge flood carrying capacity. Currently they are reduced to half.

Prof Janakarajan indicated that the flood plains and wetlands of the city have very crucial hydrological functions such as to hold flood water, to prevent seawater intrusion and also to serve as a huge bird sanctuary. But these are encroached and remain in a pathetic state today. “Most of the IT companies and other major constructions on the Old Mahabalipuram Road are on flood plains and wetlands,” he pointed out.

Chennai could have avoided floods: CSE
The CSE director general said rampant construction across the city led to the blocking of natural flood discharge channels of the lakes
Business Standard 4 Dec 15;

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said Chennai could have fared better if it had protected and preserved its natural water bodies and drainage channels.

CSE director general Sunita Narain in a statement said: “We have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that our urban sprawls such as Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Srinagar etc have not paid adequate attention to the natural water bodies that exist in them. In Chennai, each of its lakes has a natural flood discharge channel, which drains the spillover. But we have built over many of these water bodies, blocking the smooth flow of water. We have forgotten the art of drainage. We only see land for buildings, not for water.”

It was further stated destruction of wetlands in Chennai is a major concern. Wetlands are rarely recorded under municipal land laws, so nobody knows about them. Planners see only land, not water and greedy builders take over.

"A number of cities including Chennai are both water-scarce as well as prone to flooding. Both problems are related – excessive construction, which leads to poor recharge of groundwater aquifers and blocking of natural drainage systems," says Sushmita Sengupta, deputy programme manager with CSE’s water team.

"While Chennai has been struggling to meet its water needs and has been even desalinating sea water at a huge expense, it allowed its aquifers to get depleted.”

CSE’s research shows that Chennai had more than 600 waterbodies in the 1980s, but a master plan published in 2008 said that only a fraction of the lakes could be found in a healthy condition.

CSE quoted the state’s Water Resources Department and said the area of 19 major lakes has shrunk from a total of 1,130 hectares (ha) in the 1980s to around 645 ha in the early 2000s, reducing their storage capacity. The drains that carry surplus water from tanks to other wetlands have also been encroached upon.

The analysis also shows that the stormwater drains constructed to drain flood waters are clogged and require immediate desiltation. Chennai has only 855 km of stormwater drains against 2,847 km of urban roads. Thus, even a marginally heavy rainfall causes havoc in the city.

However, Chennai’s human-made drainage is no replacement for its natural drainage systems.

A CSE analysis shows that there are natural canals and drains that directly connect the city with wetlands, waterbodies and rivers such as the Cooum and the Adyar that run through Chennai. The Cooum is supposed to collect surplus water from 75 tanks in its catchment area within the Chennai Metropolitan Area, while the Adyar is supposed to carry the surplus water of about 450 tanks in its catchment area and also from the Chembarambakkam tank (which is not in its catchment).

Chennai floods a wake-up call for India
SHASHI THAROOR Today Online 9 Dec 15;

Even as world leaders were meeting in Paris to address climate change, the city of Chennai (formerly Madras), the capital of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, reeled under the onslaught of the heaviest rainfall in 104 years.

The city, home to five million people, has virtually shut down, with roads flooded and nearly 5,000 homes under water. More than 450 people have died. Air and rail services have been suspended, power and phone lines have been disrupted, and hospital patients are succumbing as life-support equipment fails. Victims had to be rescued in boats by India’s army and air force.

It is difficult to imagine India’s fourth-largest city — schools, colleges, IT companies, factories and commercial establishments — being brought to a halt. And yet, global automakers such as Ford, Daimler, BMW, and Renault took the unprecedented decision to halt production at their local factories.

The venerable Chennai newspaper The Hindu failed for the first time in 178 years to bring out a print edition, because its employees could not get to work (although it gamely produced an online issue).

Inevitably, many linked the flooding in Chennai to the talks in Paris, seeing the devastating rains as proof of the catastrophic consequences of human action on the world’s weather. More such disasters, they suggested, are inescapable unless world leaders in Paris take decisive action to limit global climate change.

“We are feeling climate change’s fast-growing impact now,” said India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pointing to Chennai and calling upon industrialised countries to do more to mitigate global warming.

Indeed, scientists predict that India will become significantly hotter over the next few decades, and therefore more prone to a range of weather-related calamities such as droughts, floods, crop failures, and cyclones. Chennai, they say, is just a warning.

But another factor arguably offers a more proximate explanation for what went wrong.


It is normal for India’s east coast around Chennai to suffer heavy monsoon rains at this time of year. And, although this is the most severe precipitation to hit the region since 1911, the flooding was also the result of human error: The irresponsible and unplanned urbanisation that has transformed India in recent decades.

In virtually every affected area, the flooding can be linked to ill-planned construction, which has taken place without regard to hydrology or Chennai’s natural ecosystems.

Norms set by the Environment Department of Tamil Nadu have largely been ignored, because politicians make common cause with builders in the name of development.

Drainage courses and catchments have been fair game for developers. Bypass roads and expressways have sprouted up without regard for data on water flow in the city.

The result has been rapid degradation of water bodies. Because construction has occurred with scant regard for the provision of adequate waste disposal and sewage systems, the city’s rivers and canals have become garbage dumps, so choked that they can no longer serve as effective conduits to channel rainwater to the sea. Likewise, the destruction of crucial wetlands and inadequate infrastructure to contain flooding means that rainwater runoff has nowhere to go.

The same phenomena can be found in dozens of Indian cities. Urbanisation is inevitable: An economy of 1.2 billion people cannot employ two-thirds of them in agriculture and hope to grow; rural people will inevitably move to cities to seek work and better lives.

India’s urban population has risen from 10 per cent at independence, less than seven decades ago, to almost 40 per cent today. It will not be long before a majority of Indians live in cities. But those cities cannot all grow the same way Chennai has.

Many Indian cities have a higher population density than Chennai, and a similar catastrophe in Kochi or Thiruvananthapuram could lead to much higher casualties. India needs to rethink its city drainage systems, rework its disaster-management institutions, and ensure that monsoon rainwater can drain out of its cities in the shortest possible time.

The Chennai tragedy is a wake-up call to India. The disaster could have been avoided if strict measures had been taken to preserve water bodies and respect environmental imperatives.

If India gets its priorities right, it will heed the lessons of this horror and create urban space only in environmentally sustainable ways. If Chennai is seen as a one-off event, an “act of God” rather than an error of man, further disasters will be unavoidable.

In line with the Modi government’s slogan, “Make in India”, the country is planning to build a hundred “smart cities” to bring high-tech growth to urban centres. But India’s cities must be smart in a low-tech sense, too.

The lesson of Chennai is that we cannot let more construction, urbanisation, and manufacturing erode our natural resilience to familiar monsoon weather events. “Make in India” must not become the unmaking of India.


Shashi Tharoor, a former United Nations under-secretary-general and former Indian Minister of State for External Affairs and Minister of State for Human Resource Development, is currently Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs and an MP for the Indian National Congress.

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Global warming threatens jewels of nature, civilisation

William West AFP 9 Dec 15;

A warming climate is one of the principal menaces to the dazzling, 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) coral reef system off the coast of northeastern Australia, known as the Great Barrier Reef

From the glimmering coral of the Great Barrier Reef to Mount Fuji and the canal-crossed city of Venice, global warming may spell the final ruin of some of the most precious jewels of nature and civilisation.

These are five sites at risk:

- Great Barrier Reef -

A warming climate is one of the principal menaces to the dazzling, 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) coral reef system off the coast of northeastern Australia, known as the Great Barrier Reef.

Home to thousands of species of fish and other creatures, the world's largest coral reef is highly sensitive to many of the climate changes that will accompany a warmer planet: rising seas, warming waters, storms, and greater ocean acidity.

Higher temperatures threaten to accelerate reef decay -- bleaching the coral and depriving it of nutrients, leading finally to its demise.

"If conditions continue to worsen, the Great Barrier Reef is set to suffer from widespread coral bleaching and subsequent mortality, the most common effect of rising sea temperatures," said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the University of Queensland's Global Change Institute.

- Venice -

The historic city of Venice is already sinking at a rate of 10 centimetres (four inches) a century as its lagoon expands and sediment settles, according to UNESCO.

In the 20th century, it lost an extra 10-13 centimetres due to industry using water from the lagoon, the UN cultural and scientific body says.

Further threatening the Italian city with its trademark waterways, is global warming raising the sea level.

Under a scenario of moderate warming, Venice could sink another 54 centimetres by 2100, UNESCO says, warning: "If nothing is done it could be flooded every day."
- Mount Kilimanjaro -

The glaciers of Tanzania's dormant volcanic Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain at 5,895 metres (19,341 feet) above sea level, have existed for more than 10,000 years.

Yet they have lost 80 percent of their surface in the 20th century because of the impact of climate change and changing human activity such as people inhabiting the area.
With 50 centimetres (20 inches) in depth melting away each year, the Kilimanjaro ice field could disappear within 15 years, UNESCO warns.

- Machu Picchu -

Peru has placed Machu Picchu, the Incan city of the Andes, under close watch as the Salcantay glacier, which lies to the south, melts.

The melting glacier could alter water supplies and affect animal and plant species around the ruins of the citadel, many of which are already threatened with extinction according to the Peru's national meteorological and hydrological service.

In a warmer world, the ancient site would be exposed to a higher risk of forest fires or storm-triggered avalanches and flooding, experts say.

- Mount Fuji -

Snow-capped Mount Fuji -- its peak rising 3,776 metres (12,389 feet) above sea level -- is an iconic image of Japan.

But the lower reaches of permafrost have receded up the mountain and now begin 3,500-3,700 metres above sea level, according to a study published in 2011. In 1976, they reached down to the 3,200-metre mark.

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UN targets food wastage in fight against global warming

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is encouraging the public and governments to support food-saving measures and legislation that will help businesses manage food waste better.
Channel NewsAsia 9 Dec 15;

BANGKOK: Food waste and global hunger go hand-in-hand but disposed food also contributes to global warming.

Each year, US$1.3 trillion worth of food is wasted. This is equivalent to throwing out every fifth bag of shopping the developed world buys, uneaten.

The United Nations has pledged to cut food waste by 50 per cent by the year 2030, as part of its agenda for sustainable development. It warns that if this target is not met, there will be insufficient food to feed the world's growing population.

“By the middle of the century we need to increase food production by about 60 per cent to feed the current and growing population,” said Kaveh Zahedi, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) regional director for Asia and the Pacific.

“One way of doing that is by ensuring there is less food wasted, because otherwise you have to expand your agricultural land, which means more deforestation, more devastation of pristine land to try and reach our agricultural needs.”

Figures collected in Singapore suggest that the average household wastes up to 130kg of food per year. At the same time 90 million people worldwide rely on food relief.

To raise awareness about food waste, UNEP and Australian NGO Oz Harvest gathered gourmet chefs in the heart of Bangkok to show the public that wasted food is not always bad food.

The chefs successfully fed up to 2,000 people entirely on food waste, such as rice originally meant to be used as animal feed.

Oz Harvest says all rescued food must be safe and handled by food professionals. Most of what constitutes waste is actually food that is visually unappealing, rather than rotten.

“Everyday supermarkets, delis, hotels, boardrooms, producers, manufacturers and growers have food that they deem is not what we as consumers want to buy,” said Ronni Kahn, CEO and founder of Oz Harvest. “That food will get picked up from the supermarkets and all of those places and delivered, real time, directly to vulnerable people.”

Public awareness is only the first step to reducing waste. Oz Harvest says rescuing food saves businesses the cost of sending waste produce to landfill sites, but governments need to introduce a framework for these businesses to follow.

“We can reduce taxes and encourage spare food, extra food, what would normally go into food waste to be given away,” said Zahedi. “This just shows you the potential for what we could do if we had legislation in place that could promote it.”

It is not just about reducing hunger. UNEP says research shows that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest carbon emitter behind China and the United States.

While programmes like this are successful in countries such as France and Australia, the challenge in Asia is to educate the public about the benefits of reducing food waste, not just savings to our pockets, but the environment too.

- CNA/ec

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