Best of our wild blogs: 23 Dec 15

Birdwatching in Bidadari (December 20, 2015)
Rojak Librarian

Birdwatching in Bidadari ( November 29, 2015)
Rojak Librarian

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No reported illness from diners at Pulau Ubin

Carolyn Khew My Paper AsiaOne 23 Dec 15;

NO ONE has reported falling sick from dining at food establishments on Pulau Ubin despite authorities having found a deterioration in the water quality on the island.

But all retail food outlets - believed to be fewer than 10 - must now boil water from their wells continuously for at least one minute before using it to prepare food and drinks for sale.

This is according to a joint statement on Monday from the National Environment Agency (NEA), national water agency PUB, National Parks Board and the Singapore Land Authority.

Alternatively, the outlets may also use bottled water or PUB water piped from mainland Singapore.

In response to queries yesterday, an NEA spokesman confirmed there has not been a reported case of food- or water-related health incidents associated with Pulau Ubin in the past five years.

The Straits Times understands the order for food outlets on the island was made after routine checks by NEA on the island.

Without elaborating on what it had found, it said the quality of well water could have deteriorated because of contamination with animal or human waste or surface run-off from contaminated soil.

According to village chief Chu Yok Choon, 70, all residents use well water for their daily needs.

Residents told The Straits Times they drew water from wells in their backyards. One uses a motor pump to fill containers in his home.

Authorities said in its advisory on Monday that water from the taps is drawn from wells and is not potable without further treatment. Signs are up to remind visitors not to drink water straight out of the taps.

In a letter to a retail outlet that was seen by The Straits Times, NEA's director-general of public health Derek Ho said operators of retail food establishments had to comply with the requirement or face "strict enforcement action" if they are found selling food unfit to be eaten because they had not complied.

Goh Lai Guat, 60, who runs an eatery with her sister on Pulau Ubin, said she would use boiled water from now on for washing utensils as well as vegetables before serving meals to customers.

"Before this, we would boil well water only for drinking. But since NEA has told us, we have to change our way of doing things," she said.

Many residents said the advisory would have little impact on them since they already boil the water from their wells before they drink it.

At least one resident, 63-year-old retiree Chua Keng Beng, said he had long switched to using more hygienic bottled water instead.

Other old-timers, like Ahmad Kassim, an 80-year-old drinks stall owner, will have none of that. He draws from two wells just opposite his home.

Mr Kassim boils the water to drink but just to show that he believes it is safe, he took a sip straight from the well yesterday, saying: "I have been drinking the water for 80 years and nothing has happened to me."

Pulau Ubin residents 'not worried' about well water quality
Having to use bottled instead of well water will also not affect businesses on the island as they have always served the former to customers, says one shop owner.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 22 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: The quality of water in Pulau Ubin has deteriorated, and residents and business owners there told Channel NewsAsia on Tuesday (Dec 22) that they will take steps to protect themselves and visitors.

Authorities on Monday had advised the public not to consume water directly from its wells and taps, and use bottled water or PUB water from the mainland instead. They also said well water on the island should be boiled continuously for at least one minute before consumption.

Village chief Chu Yok Choon, said the residents have used the island's well water their whole lives. He has met the authorities, and went to each household to inform them of the advisory.

"We do take precautions when using it. The wells are five metres deep and collect rain and groundwater, but no one draws water directly from them anymore - the water is pumped directly into their taps," said the village chief.

He added that residents always boil the water before usage. "Now NEA says the water is dirty, but we don't know how bad it is. They didn't tell us the condition of the water and how it has deteriorated. We're only told we should boil the water for one minute before using, even if it is just to rinse our mouth," he explained.

Eighty-year-old Mdm Zhou, a shop owner who has lived on Pulau Ubin for 60 years, also said she was not afraid nor concerned about the deteriorating water. She also said she was used to using well water, not bottled water as recommended by NEA.

Another shop owner, Ng Ngak Heng, said she will increase orders of bottled water from 80 to 100 cartons to cater to demand, although she was not worried about the quality of well water.

However, another shop owner who declined to be named, said he did not expect demand for bottled water to increase substantially: "Restaurants here don't provide well water to visitors anyway - they've always sold bottled water, so the deterioration of well water quality won't affect business and doesn't make a difference."

Authorities told Channel NewsAsia on Monday that the Government has been exploring the use of on-site water treatment units to help improve access to potable water on the island.

Mr Chu said he supports the idea because using bottled water all the time is "expensive" and "not feasible because there are many residents (at) Ubin - about 70 households".

There are about 20 wells on the island, and several households would share each well, according to Mr Chu.


Outdoor educational institution Outward Bound Singapore (OBS), which sees about 10,000 participants every year, is also located on Pulau Ubin. It said its water supply is not affected as it has its own reservoir.

The reservoir holds about 30,000 cubic metres of water - about the size of 10 swimming pools - and it has been in operation since 1995. It is situated in the middle of OBS' two campsites. The reservoir consists mostly of rainwater and the water is pumped to both locations for use.

"We have our own water treatment plant, filtration systems and all that, so the water is treated and managed by OBS, and all water that is coming into our campuses is treated and potable,” said OBS’ director of Training and Operations B Elamaaran.

Every day, OBS staff members test the pH, acidity, alkaline and chlorine levels in the water that is pumped into the campus. Its maintenance contractors also come each month to do a review. On top of that, NEA does quarterly checks to determine the water quality there. But while its water supply is safe, OBS has no plans to provide water to Ubin Village.

"The current reservoir, the capacity is limited, and it's enough to sustain just OBS operations for Camp 1 and Camp 2. So there are no plans, and there never was, to help give water supply to Ubin Village. Also, we don't have drinking pipes or water pipes laid all the way to the eastern side for that to happen,” said Mr Elamaaran.

The OBS campus and Ubin Village are about 8 kilometres apart, according to staff. OBS added it has an arrangement with the authorities to get water from the mainland when water levels are low, or when there is a water crisis.

- CNA/hs

No ripples of unease over Pulau Ubin’s water quality issue
TOH EE MING Today Online 22 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — There are creatures that might prove disruptive to the daily lives of Pulau Ubin residents, such as wild boars and mosquitoes, but water contaminants are seemingly not some of these, especially when residents do not have much information on these microbes.

Despite the latest advisory issued by Government agencies that the quality of the water in the island’s wells has deteriorated, Ubin residents who spoke to TODAY say they have already been taking precautions in ensuring they have clean water, and do not see it as a major cause for concern.

While most of those interviewed make it a habit to boil the water before drinking or using it to cook and wash dishes, crab catcher Quek Kim Kiang, 63, said he had been drinking straight from the well by his house — and he would continue to do so despite the advisory.

“If they can confirm that the water is undrinkable, or can give concrete evidence on how it has been contaminated, (I might listen) … The only thing I’m worried about is the well water breeding mosquitoes,” he said.

A joint media statement by the National Environment Agency (NEA), national water agency PUB, the Singapore Land Authority and National Parks Board, had advised residents to boil well water for at least a minute before consumption, and suggested alternatives such as using bottled water or PUB water from the mainland.

NEA has not responded to questions from TODAY on what contaminants were found in the water. Village chief Chu Yok Choon, 70, said that there are about 20 wells on the island, and several households would share each well.

The prevailing sentiment among the Ubin residents is that they see no real need to change their ways.

Madam Ong Siew Fong, 72, said she boils water for drinking or washing vegetables. “We’ve been living here all our lives, and we’re still fine … We haven’t heard of anyone falling sick because of the water yet,” she said in Mandarin.

She has relied on electric generators for years to pump water from a 2m-deep well by her home at Wei Tuo Temple. The well water is stored in about three large storage tanks for her family, and then channelled to the taps at home.

On occasion, she recalled, the water supply would be affected when wild boars damage the pipes. To mop the temple grounds or water plants, she uses collected rainwater.

Van driver Ong Kim Cheng, 57, said: “We’re used to it … As long as we ensure water is boiled properly, I’m not that scared.”

Likewise, Madam Ng Ngak Heng, 66, a store owner, said she was not worried about declining water quality, though she might order more bottled water for customers, or use it to wash crockery.

For Madam Yeo Hui Qing, 60, who runs a bicycle rental shop, she said it is too costly to keep using boiled water for daily activities such as washing her face. “It might be good if the Government can supply water directly to us, or if they do some water treatment for us.”

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Malaysia: ‘Stay off bush meat this Xmas’

The Star 23 Dec 15;

KOTA KINABALU: As poaching and the consumption of wildlife tend to spike during the festive seasons, WWF Malaysia is calling on people to stay off bush meat this Christmas and New Year holidays.

The conservation group said it would be a great gift this Christmas for everyone not to consume bush meat to further preserve wildlife.

“This Christmas, let us all be good stewards of God’s creation by not hunting, purchasing or consuming exotic meat.

“Together, we can aramaiti (party in Kadazan) responsibly by being part of the solution for wildlife conservation,” said WWF spokesman Leona Liman in a statement here yesterday.

A survey by WWF-Malaysia in Sabah in 2013 showed that 56% of those interviewed consumed wildlife meat while 14% admitted that they had bought such products before.

Wild animals most widely reported to be eaten were bearded pig, sambar deer and turtle eggs, as well as pangolin, snake, crocodile, monitor lizard, monkey, civet and barking deer.

This was despite the fact that turtles, said Liman, were a totally protected species and no killing, consumption or sale was allowed in Sabah.

Overhunting, illegal hunting and trade in wildlife meat and parts had contributed to the decreasing numbers of wild animals in Sabah’s forests, she added.

“Thousands, if not more, of them are slaughtered by illegal hunters every year – for their own reckless consumption, illegal wildlife trade and even sport hunting.

“Traps laid by poachers are completely illegal and not only cause long and excru­ciatingly painful deaths but sometimes, other wild animals that were not targeted also get trapped by mistake.

“In some cases, these heartless hunters even use explosives to kill our wildlife,” she said.

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Indonesia: Govt mulls establishment of new body to manage climate funds

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 22 Dec 15;

As pledges to help Indonesia tackle climate change pour in, the government is mulling over several options to compile and manage the funds.

Currently being considered are several options, including establishing a new permanent agency in place of the existing Indonesian Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF), an ad hoc body that manages climate funding for Indonesia.

The National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) said on Monday that the government had not decided whether the current climate funding mechanism, under the ICCTF, would be continued or not.

The ICCTF pools and coordinates funds from various sources to support and finance climate change programs and policies. The ICCTF is one of only two nationally managed trust funds in the world dedicated to fighting climate change, making it a model for many middle-income and developing countries.

“There’s no certainty at the moment,” Bappenas weather and climate deputy director Syamsidar Thamrin told reporters at the ICCTF office in South Jakarta.

In the wake of prolonged forest fires this year and a global pledge in Paris to cut emmissions, the US, Australia and the European Union have disclosed plans and funding to help Indonesia with its climate change efforts.

Last month, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said that the ministry was discussing several options for climate change funding with Bappenas and the Finance Ministry.

She added that the current funding mechanism was still too complicated as the implementation on the field was hampered by Finance Ministry regulations.

Climate Change Mitigation Board chairman Sarwono Kusumaatmadja recently said that the government, through the Finance Ministry, was planning on establishing a management body (BLU) to manage the country’s climate change funding.

According to Sarwono, the establishment of a separate institution was needed, despite the country already having the ICCTF, in order to accommodate the diverse types of financing needed to address climate change, both in terms of funding targets and sources.

While Siti previously said that the government might strengthen the ICCTF instead of establishing a new body, she said on Monday that there had been a push for change.

“There has been agreement among ministers that the climate change funding mechanism should be put directly under the Finance Ministry [instead of the current mechanism under Bappenas],” she said.

Siti added that the deliberation on the future of Indonesia’s climate change funding mechanism should be completed as soon as possible as the country needed funding assistance if it wanted to achieve its target of reducing emissions by 29 percent by 2030 as well as increasing renewable energy sources to 23 percent by 2025. Currently, renewable energy makes up 3.64 percent of Indonesia’s total energy portfolio.

Syamsidar said that it was better for the government to strengthen the ICCTF than establish another body.

“The ICCTF has been running for a long time and has experience in the field. Meanwhile, the other [option] is just about to be established. In our experience, a new institution will take time to be fully operational. Rather than waiting for a new institution, which is still uncertain, the ICCTF should be strengthened so that the immediate needs in 2016 can be met,” she said.

Syamsidar also pointed out how the ICCTF had succeeded in gaining trust from international donors, such as the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the UK Climate Change Unit (UKCCU) and the Danish International Development Agency (Danida).

“The ICCTF currently receives US$11 million from those three agencies. The fund will be used for our operations starting in 2016,” she said.

About $5 million of those funds come from USAID. Syamsidar said that Indonesia should have been able to pool more funding if only it had more people capable of making quality project proposals.

“We are still lacking in terms of drafting good proposals. We have the potential but when we want to pitch [for climate change projects], we have to be believable in our presentation,” she said.

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Indonesia: 7,000 Residents of West Aceh District Evacuated After Flood

Heavy rains struck most of northern Sumatra on Tuesday, leading to flooding in West Aceh district. (Antara Photo/Irsan Mulyadi)
Jakarta Globe 25 Nov 15;

Jakarta. Thousands of people in Aceh have been left homeless after torrential rain inundated the northern Sumatran province on Tuesday, an emergency official said.

Joni Nuriyanto, chief of the West Aceh District Disaster Mitigation Agency, or BPBD, said on Wednesday that his office had deployed teams to help distribute aid to more 7,000 residents of 12 subdistricts in the area. Some homes are submerged in up to a meter of water.

"All teams are also monitoring areas that may be trapped in water," Joni said as quoted by Kompas.

The agency also called on all residents of West Aceh district to remain vigilant, with the weather agency predicting more heavy rain throughout the week.

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El Niño lowers early production outlook in Southern Africa

FAO actions aim to minimize impact on agriculture
FAO 22 Dec 15;

22 December 2015, Rome-Crop and livestock production prospects in Southern Africa have been weakened by the El Niño weather phenomenon that has lowered rains and increased temperatures.

A reduced agricultural output would follow on last year's disappointing season, which has already contributed to higher food prices and "could acutely impact the food security situation in 2016," according to a special alert released on Tuesday by FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS).

The season for planting maize in Southern Africa has already experienced delays, while crops sown stand to be negatively affected due to inadequate rains and higher temperatures. "It's the sixth week of the cropping season now and there's not enough moisture in the soil," said Shukri Ahmed, FAO Deputy Strategic Programme Leader - Resilience.

The region's small-scale farmers are almost entirely dependent on rain, rendering their output highly susceptible to its variations. While El Niño's impact depends highly on location and season - the impact of El Niño on agricultural production appears more muted in northern areas - past strong episodes have been associated with reduced production in several countries, including South Africa, which is the largest cereal producer in the sub-region and typically exports maize to neighbouring countries.

FAO had already warned in March that the current El Niño would be strong -- and it now appears to be the strongest episode in 18 years. It will peak at the start of 2016, before the usual harvest time for farmers in Southern Africa.

"Weather forecasts indicate a higher probability of a continuation of below-normal rains between December and March across most countries," according to the GIEWS alert.

South Africa has already declared drought status for five provinces, its main cereal producing regions, while Lesotho has issued a drought mitigation plan and Swaziland has implemented water restrictions as reservoir levels have become low.

Increasing prices intensify risks

The likelihood of another poor season is troublesome as it comes on the heels of a poor one that has already depleted inventories, tightened supplies and pushed up local prices. The Subregional maize production fell by 27 percent in 2015, triggering a sharp increase in the number of people already vulnerable to food insecurity in the region.

"Maize prices in southern Africa are really getting high," said Shukri Ahmed. "Moreover, currencies in the sub-region are very weak, which together can exacerbate the situation."

While the drought affects many crops, including legumes, which are an important contributor to local nutrition, maize is grown by 80 percent of the subsistence farmers in the subregion.

Wholesale maize prices are up 50 percent from a year earlier in South Africa, while retail maize prices have doubled in Malawi and Mozambique. As households are already reeling from the previous poor harvest devote more income to basic needs, their access to critical farm inputs - such as seeds and fertilizers - is jeopardized.

Beyond southern Africa, GIEWS analysis of El Niño-related conditions also points to agricultural stress in northern Australia, parts of Indonesia and a wide swathe of Central America and Brazil.

El Niño's effect is also being felt elsewhere in Africa, with FAO field officers in Ethiopia reporting serious crop and livestock losses among farmers and pastoralists.

This month, FAO also issued a warning that there is an increased risk of Rift Valley fever (RVF), especially in East Africa. Outbreaks of RVF, which primarily affects sheep, goats, cattle, camels, buffaloes and antelopes, but can also be lethal to humans, are closely associated with periods of El Niño-linked heavy rainfall, which bolster habitats for the mosquitoes that carry the disease. The options to counter the possible human and animal disease threats include the use of insect repellents in households and vaccination of animals in target areas, but quality vaccines are needed as well as teams to be sent to the field immediately.

Action Plan for Southern Africa

To reduce the adverse effects of El Niño, FAO has already triggered several interventions across southern Africa that are also building on existing programmes following last season's reduced production.

"FAO is working on a twin track approach with governments and other partners across the subregion to address both the immediate and longer term needs. Appropriate crop and livestock interventions intended to minimize the effects are already being up-scaled," said David Phiri, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa.

The focus of immediate interventions includes supporting farmers by providing drought tolerant crops, seeds and livestock feed and carrying out vaccinations. The Organization is also supporting longer-term resilience-building approaches among vulnerable groups, including the rehabilitation of irrigation systems, improving farmers' access to rural finance, and supporting wider use of climate-smart agricultural technologies. Several countries have already produced national plans that address the impact of El Niño on agriculture.

Innovative interventions implemented in southern Africa in recent years have been particularly successful. Many of these good practices, including the rapid expansion of market-based interventions, non-conditional cash transfers and vouchers, adoption of climate smart technologies for both livestock and crop production systems, have been used to good effect in other crises.

"We are grateful for the contributions made by the development partners so far, but there are still significant funding shortfalls. We will need to rapidly adopt and scale up the innovations that have proved successful in the past," said Phiri.

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