Best of our wild blogs: 2 Jan 16

Short Walk At Venus Drive (31 Dec 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Birdwatching in Pasir Ris and Tampines Park Connector (December 31, 2015)
Rojak Librarian

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Eco-activist's call to action on climate change

Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 2 Jan 16;

Ms Lastrina’s interest in climate change started in 2012 when she attended a climate leadership workshop in Bogor, Indonesia. It was organised by – an international movement which aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions and reduce its amount in the atmosphere.

The climate change summit in Paris may be over but it is only the beginning for Ms Nor Lastrina Hamid, who wants to inspire many more like herself to take the lead in the fight against climate change.

The 26-year-old was among 20 young Singaporeans at the Paris Climate Conference last month, where she delivered a passionate speech calling for all nations to adopt a legally binding agreement to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 deg C.

"Action, not empty promises, will save our populations from starving, dying of thirst, and perishing in floods," she told country representatives and non-governmental organisations there. "You are responsible for the emissions in the past. We don't want history to repeat itself, stop the carbon colonialism."

Her talk has since been viewed online thousands of times and she hopes to pass on what she has learnt from the talks - where the world agreed to the first universal, legally binding deal to tackle global warming - to inspire more young people.

The historic Paris Agreement has been hailed as a milestone by world leaders, including United States President Barack Obama, as it is the first time that more than 190 developing and developed nations have agreed to drive efforts to keep the global temperature rise to below 1.5 deg C.

Countries will have to review their climate targets, and submit new and stronger action plans every five years.

"I'm generally quite pleased that we have an internationally binding agreement... But at this stage, we have just adopted the agreement... We still need to see how it will come into force," said Ms Lastrina, who has a Bachelor of Business (Management) degree from SIM-RMIT University, and works as a project manager in a company focused on renewable energy.

She said she volunteered to deliver the speech simply because no one among the more than 200 young people there had stepped forward to do so, just hours before the deadline.

However, drafting the speech over the next three days turned out to be a lesson in diplomacy. It was drafted over Google documents, she explained, and there were at least 10 people editing the draft at any one time - all of whom had different ideas on what to say, and how strongly to word it.

There were some who were bent on pointing out that developed countries had a greater responsibility to cut their carbon emissions, while others said the "blame game" which had been going on between developed and developing countries - on who should have greater responsibility in mitigating the effects of climate change - should stop.

In the end, Ms Lastrina decided to focus on what was most important - calling on all nations to come together and make good on their promises. "On the one hand I was glad I could be a part of this, but on the other hand, I was thinking, 'what did I get myself into?'

"But I learnt that just like the Paris Agreement, this speech was something that came about because of our compromise."

In her daily life, she tries to make a difference in small ways. She keeps her shower to no more than 10 minutes and tries not to buy fruits from countries farther from Singapore, for instance.

Her interest in climate change started in 2012 when she attended a climate leadership workshop in Bogor, Indonesia, organised by - an international movement which aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions and reduce its amount in the atmosphere.And she has gone on to spearhead the local arm of - 350 Singapore, which was founded by Young NTUC in 2010.

This year, the Singapore Youth for Climate Action (SYCA), of which Ms Lastrina is a founding member, will roll out a programme where young Singaporeans can learn how climate change is linked to issues like human rights and gender.

Set up by four members aged 24 to 34 a few weeks ahead of the Paris talks, SYCA aims to provide a platform where those who are passionate about climate change can network and act as mentors for others.

The programme will last six to eight months and is likely to start in the first half of this year. Experts will also be invited to talk about climate-related topics.

But Ms Lastrina added that her love for the environment has its roots in her childhood, as her father, uncle and grandfather were all either sea captains or divers.

"I always heard stories about their work out at sea and this built in me a natural and emotional connection with the natural environment," she said.

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What's next for Singapore after Paris Agreement?

Wilson Ang, Straits Times AsiaOne 1 Jan 16;

"Are you crying?" A fellow climate activist-turned-staff of the United Nations asked me as I sat observing the joy in the plenary room when the gavel came down. I just smiled at her while my eyes welled up.

Being present in person at the Paris Agreement was in many ways an emotional experience. Not because of the success it has achieved but, rather, the journey of how it came to be.

A decade ago, my climate change journey began in Singapore, right about the time I started my non-profit, Eco Singapore, that focuses on building a greater green movement in Singapore through working with young people.

This was even before we acceded to the Kyoto Protocol (KP) in 2006. Though it was faint, there was no doubt that interest in the issue was brewing. I had the privilege to be involved in the growth of our local climate movement. Looking back, we can categorise it into three phases.

Prior to 2006, traces of the climate movement emerged across three main domains - scientific research, media and industry - that laid the bedrock for progress. In research, climate scientists here began investigating the causes and impact of climate change, and organised public forums to share their findings in the early 2000s.

Gradually, an increasing number of articles appeared in the mainstream media highlighting the key issues and providing environmentalists with a platform to voice their concerns. One independent media source, EnergyAsia, went one step further in 2005.

It organised a series of three public forums on climate change, to deepen understanding and to stimulate discussion on government efforts in climate change.

Support from industry was not far behind. That same year, Senoko Power, the largest energy producer in Singapore, organised the first nationwide climate change awareness campaign, called the National Weather Study Project, for schools.

The inaugural event saw the participation of over 180 primary and secondary schools, and junior colleges, with 279 project submissions involving over 1,000 students.

Through involvement in my personal capacity in some of these initiatives, I saw first hand the huge disconnect between the issue and reality then.

But with Singapore acceding to the KP and indicating commitment to combating climate change, the foundations laid earlier allowed young people to swiftly take the driver's seat in the coalescence- building phase of the movement.

Through Eco Singapore, I had opportunities to work with many young champions. Between 2006 and the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit, the work of young people took centre stage in concerted advocacy and mass mobilisation.

Efforts included the gathering of over 1,000 youth leaders to reach out to 30,000 members of the public through working with the World Wide Fund for Nature's Earth Hour in the heartland yearly.

There were also institution-wide campaigns, such as the National University of Singapore Fights Climate Change that reached out to its student population. Businesses, too, also organised screening sessions for their employees to watch the climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth, through campaigns driven by young employees.

Local advocacy efforts were made through a series of consultation forums, such as the biennial National Youth Environment Forum held in 2006 and again in 2008 by our volunteers, with outcomes submitted to the relevant ministries for consideration.

Internationally, we also began taking young Singaporeans to the climate negotiations annually. There, our youth played a key role in shaping the international youth climate movement, institutionalising young people's engagement at the United Nations climate talks.

The annual pilgrimage of young Singaporeans to these talks continues to grow, with more organisations seeing the value of such engagement.

These were exciting times for us young people as the issue gained unprecedented traction through the media and mass mobilisation efforts. It fed our idealism. All these successful initiatives and reassurance by our policymakers helped garner an expectation of stronger political commitments not only by our Government, but also the world, at the Copenhagen Climate Summit.

Alas, the summit failed us. The unsuccessful brokering of a global deal bred distrust among countries. Relationships with the private and people sectors also festered.

Perhaps the most recent development of the movement can be viewed as a form of retaliation in response to this failure. Instead of waning in the uncertain future, the movement responded by taking matters into its own hands and galvanised the world to move towards greater grassroots- and private sector-driven solutions.

In Singapore, businesses such as Unilever took corporate social responsibility to the next level, by setting more ambitious climate impact targets and working closely with its supply chain to achieve them.

Apart from a rise in the number of grassroots-driven campaigns, it should be duly noted that these initiatives went beyond the usual environmental organisations.

A prominent example is Singapore's labour movement, Young NTUC, championing the cause through the establishment of 350 Singapore, a local chapter of the global climate campaign, and its trademark event, RUN350, to encourage individual habitual change through sports.

Singapore also saw more partnerships between the people and private sectors, such as developer City Developments' E-Generation Challenge, and tech firm Ricoh's Eco Action Day.

In retrospect, it was the Copenhagen failure that helped fuel a stronger and more pragmatic bottom-up-driven movement. This provided policymakers with motivation and support to lay the necessary building blocks for the successful Paris outcome last month.

It took us a while, but we have the Paris Agreement now. Many like me would consider this a success, largely because it signals to the world that there is now stronger political commitment to combat climate change together.

It should give businesses and investors the confidence to go beyond experimental small-scale solutions, towards ones that are scaleable and can be duplicated.

This outcome document, a product of compromises and minimum commitments, can be seen as a starting point in building a sustainable future. It will be a tool that the people's movement can use as a baseline to hold our governments accountable, and then build on more ambitious goals.

The momentum for Singapore's climate movement is set to grow with this agreement. And, for many reasons, this is necessary to drive overall societal change that is needed.

Despite the decentralised nature of the movement, there is still a need to consciously guide its trajectory and harness it as a constructive force for the betterment of Singapore.

Here are the three areas that our movement should look into:

From the outset, initiatives implemented have been focused on generating awareness and deepening knowledge. Awareness aims to get people to see there is a problem while knowledge allows them to see how their actions affect the environment and to change accordingly.

What is needed next is to move from awareness into action. Because interests that motivate us vary, the movement should look into creating multiple pockets of motivation.

This could come in many forms, from direct financial incentives to the creation of small interest groups within residential estates or community spaces.

As the movement grows, there is a need to avoid overlapping efforts. This is especially important for Singapore because of its size and limited resources. It currently does not have a central body to coordinate efforts; and such a body may impede the movement if not done properly.

This should be worked out. While existing groups and individuals continue their good work, they must make time to look into how they can be more targeted and work with each other.

The biggest challenge in coordination efforts lies in getting individuals and groups to cast aside differences and compromise, as they work towards the common cause.

Diversity is another key characteristic of the movement. Made up of a wide range of interest groups, which includes activists, businesses, researchers and the media, it has at its disposal access to the various stakeholder groups and their resources.

Despite signing the new deal, it must be recognised that the Government cannot combat climate change by itself; the movement must fill this gap by harnessing its resources and working with the public sector in an effective manner.

It is always easy to point fingers and take the moral high ground. Instead of just being a voice for what is morally right, viable alternatives and policy recommendations through proper research should be put forward.

Examples include the saving of Chek Jawa in 2001 and, more recently, the position paper of the Nature Society (Singapore) on the development of the Cross Island Line.

The movement must work with the Government to implement recommended plans and policies. This also applies to existing and future governmental plans that may need further improvements to build a more climate-resilient Singapore.

Compared to Copenhagen, where the world walked away with uncertainty, Paris gave hope and momentum for positive change. We have come a long way, but the real work has only just begun.

It will take all stakeholders to work together to forge a greater movement that will truly bring about a more sustainable future.

It took us a while, but we have the Paris Agreement now. Many like me would consider this a success, largely because it signals to the world that there is now stronger political commitment to combat climate change together.

It should give businesses and investors the confidence to go beyond experimental small-scale solutions, towards ones that are scaleable and can be duplicated.

About the writer

Mr Wilson Ang, 33, is the founder of environmental youth group, Eco Singapore.

He has been active in the local climate movement since 2005 and, in 2008, started leading Singapore youth delegates to international climate negotiations, including the most recent one in Paris.

During the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2009, he represented young people involved in the climate movement around the world through Youngo - the Youth Constituency to the UNFCCC.

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Last 3 months of 2015 sees rise in cases of acute respiratory infection: MOH

One doctor says the number of patients with acute respiratory infections is expected to increase in the next two months.
Channel NewsAsia 2 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: Statistics from the Health Ministry showed there were more than 38,000 cases of acute respiratory infections from September to December 2015.

That's an increase of about 20 per cent, compared to the previous year. One Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic says they saw about 80 cases in November and December - a 20 per cent increase.

The clinic also said it's seeing more patients coming for flu vaccinations.

One doctor said the number of patients with acute respiratory infections is expected to increase in the next two months.

"In the northern part of the world, winter has come and that starts an increase in cases of respiratory infection and that includes influenza A and B,” said Dr Jim Teo, a specialist and respiratory physician based in Mt Alvernia Hospital and Parkway East Hospital.

“As more people travel overseas from Singapore, they do bring back all these viruses and we do see them being transmitted through the society. That's why we see a slow increase in the number of such cases."

- CNA/ek

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Cleaning up after New Year celebrations

Many said they brought spare plastic bags to clear their own litter. However, not everyone felt the same way, with litter still spotted after celebrations.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 2 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: After New Year celebrations ended and the crowds dispersed, work began to clean up the mess left behind.

Some revellers attended the celebrations with home-cooked food, while others came with snacks and burgers from fast food joints.

In the days leading up to the New Year celebrations, the National Environment Agency had put up several Facebook posts reminding the public to do their part to keep the country clean. It seems like the message has resonated with many.

Many said they brought spare plastic bags to clear their own litter. Others pointed to nearby bins and said that they would definitely clean up after themselves when they were done as it was “our duty”.

However, not everyone felt the same way, with litter still spotted after celebrations.

Littering has been a persistent problem in Singapore.

In January last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong lamented on the amount of rubbish left behind by those who attended the Laneway Festival held at Gardens by the Bay.

- CNA/ek

Welcoming 2016 in Singapore: Celebrations in town, heartland
AsiaOne 2 Jan 16;

The rain could not keep Singaporeans away as they turned out in full force at countdown parties around the island to ring in the new year.

In true Singaporean fashion, partygoers eager to snag the best spots had camped out from Thursday afternoon at Merlion Park, across Marina Bay's new Jubilee Bridge, and in the heartland in Bedok, Sengkang and Woodlands, despite persistent showers that came and went throughout the afternoon.

An estimated 300,000 poncho-clad and umbrella-toting revellers at the Marina Bay countdown party were rewarded when the overcast sky cleared up for a spectacular firework display at midnight that lasted about eight minutes.

Photography enthusiast Francis Chia, who had set up his camera there since 3pm, said: "It's a special occasion today and it marks the end of our Golden Jubilee year."

As the clock struck midnight, sprays of gold, red and green lit up the night sky above the Fullerton Hotel and the Marina Bay Sands to loud booms that could be heard as far away as Orchard Road.

At the Marina Bay floating platform, more than 10,000 people were treated to a mini Adam Lambert concert at a ticketed countdown party.

The singer and his band surprised many in the audience when they played on for another 40 minutes after the firework display and the live telecast ended.

The mood was no less euphoric in the heartland.

Over at Sengkang Riverside Park, about 5,000 residents of Ang Mo Kio and Sengkang ushered in the new year with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who stole the show from an Elvis Presley impersonator when he arrived at 11pm.

In the final hour of 2015, the participants set a new Singapore record, using 1,600 light sticks to complete a formation of the word "Love".

Mr Lee, who was mobbed by residents eager to have their picture taken with him, said: "I wish everybody a very happy 2016: good health, prosperity, peace and happiness within your family."

At the Countdown @ North party in Woodlands, residents were on their feet for a zumba workout and entertained by local celebrities such as singer Sufie Rashid. Some 8,000 people were at the event, capped by a 10-minute firework display.

Over at Bedok, families shared an intimate celebration as they bonded over nostalgic carnival activities and were treated to variety performances throughout the evening.

As partygoers dispersed just after midnight at Marina Bay, some 300 cleaners sprang into action to clear empty drink bottles, cigarette butts and other litter strewn across the ground.

While some 350 bins were placed in the area, they were inaccessible at times due to the crowd control barricades, said Chye Thiam Maintenance's cleaning supervisor, Mr Gavaskar. "They said: 'No choice.' So they just threw their rubbish on the floor," he added.

However, student David Kwok, 23, was among those seen cleaning up after themselves. "It's only right to pick up your own trash. It isn't a lot of effort if we all do it, and it will definitely help the cleaners."

It took a total of seven hours to clean up the entire area, with about 30,000kg of rubbish collected, according to a spokesman for the Marina Bay Singapore Countdown.

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Malaysia floods: More people evacuated in Sarawak

The Star 2 Jan 16;

KUCHING: More people have been evacuated from flood-hit Sarawak, with the number of evacuees up to 975 at noon from 523 in the morning.

Sarawak Department of Civil Defence public relations officer Siti Huzaimah Ibrahim said the evacuees were being housed at two relief centres in the Kuching Division and five centres in the Samarahan Division.

“In the Kuching Division, 60 people were at SMK Tabuan Jaya and 245 at the Stapok community hall,” she said yesterday.

Siti Huzaimah said the relief centre at SMK Bako, which housed 78 evacuees in the morning, was closed at noon after the occupants left for their homes.

In Samarahan, 130 people were being accommodated at SK Tambi­rat, 62 at the Kampung Jaie community hall, 75 at the Samarahan community hall, eight at SK Hj Bujang Rangawan Putit and 395 at SK Bradek.

Samarahan Department of Civil Defence officer Ahmad Shah Fikri Darus said that although the number of evacuees in Samarahan had gone up, floodwaters in the division were receding as the heavy rain had stopped. – Bernama

74 flood victims in Johor evacuated to relief centres
ZAZALI MUSA The Star 2 Jan 15;

JOHOR BARU: Seventy-four flood victims from Segamat and Tangkak in Muar have been evacuated to relief centres in the two districts.

According to a spokesman from the State Flood Management Department, 52 people from 16 families have been transferred to the Kampung Orang Asli community hall in Segamat Kecil.

Twenty-two other victims from five families are, meanwhile, being sheltered at the flood relief centre in SK Sailing, Tangkak in Muar.

'Red' warning issued in east coast states, Johor
SIM BAK HENG New Straits Times 2 Jan 15;

KUALA TERENGGANU: The Meteorological Department has issued a “red” warning due to the prevalence of strong winds and rough sea conditions in Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Johor. The conditions are dangerous for shipping, ferry services, fishing, as well as any form of water activities at the seaside.

Winds are expected to blow at more than 60km per hour (kph) while waves could be higher than 4.5m.

Department director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said the department had sent out a warning to the relevant agencies, such as the Marine Department, fishermen associations and ferry operators, among others, about the wind and choppy sea situations.

She said the water level in coastal areas of the east coast states was expected to rise too. “We have revised our warning to the third level, or red warning, today (yesterday).

“Picnickers should avoid swimming activities in coastal areas, or do it at their own risk,” she said in an interview.

For a red warning to be issued, the wind speed must be more than 60kph and the wave height must be more than 4.5m.

It is the most dangerous of the three types of warnings issued.

For the second level, or “orange” warning, the wind speed must range between 50kph and 60kph, while the wave height must range between 3.5m and 4.5m.

For the first level, or “yellow” warning, the wind speed must range between 40kph and 50kph, while the wave height must be between 2.5m and 3.5m.

Che Gayah said a red warning had been issued for the waters at Condore, Reef North and Layang-Layang, while orange warnings had been issued for the waters at Samui, Tioman and Bunguran up until today.

“The situation is too dangerous for shipping activities and offshore oil platforms. We will revise the warning level from time to time on our website,” she said.

Checks at several seaside stretches showed that many picnickers were still playing in the waters.

For example, Tok Jembal beach here was dotted with picnickers, despite the strong winds and waves.

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Indonesia: Raja Ampat to have diving center to attract more tourists

Antara 2 Jan 16;

Raja Ampat, W Papua (ANTARA News) - The Tourism Ministry said it would build a diving center in the regency of Raja Ampat, West Papua, this year to attract more tourists to one of the countrys major tourist destination areas.

The diving center would facilitate divers and tourist wanting training in diving.

"In 2016, as a prize, a diving center would be built in Raja Ampat," Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said here on Friday.

The minister pledged to turn out 50 dive masters in Raja Ampat from local people.

He said in order to boost development of Raja Ampat as a major tourist destination expansion of the airport of Mandira in the district of Waigeo had been approved by President Joko Widodo.

Meanwhile, deputy for development of tourist destination and industry Dadang Rizki said the diving center would be built in Waiwo.

Construction of the diving center is being prepared but the project would be completed this year , Arief said, adding, meanwhile training would take place to turn out 50 dive master. (*)

President Jokowi visits Piaynemu Bay in Raja Ampat
Antara 1 Jan 16;

Raja Ampat (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and First Lady Iriana visited Piaynemu Bay in Raja Ampat District, West Papua, on Friday.

The head of state and his entourage departed from Waiwo Pier in Waisai Sub-district at around 8 a.m. local time aboard a speedboat.

A speedboat ride from Waisai to Piaynemu Bay takes 1.5 hours.

After arriving in Piaynemu, Jokowi scaled 300 steps to reach a hilltop to witness the string of isles scattered across the bays clear waters.

Tourism Minister Arief Yahya and Head of the Presidential Staff Office Teten Masduki were among those accompanying the president.

Acting District Head of Raja Ampat Elyas Sroyer stated that there are around 1.8 thousand isles in Raja Ampat District.

Therefore, ships or boats are crucial means of transportation in the region, he added.

Raja Ampat, which literally means "Four Kings," is located in the Coral Triangle, the heart of the worlds coral reef biodiversity.

The seas around Raja Ampat Islands are home to the richest varieties of species in the world, including 75 percent of all known coral species.

The Raja Ampat archipelago encompasses 15 thousand square miles of land and sea off the northwestern tip of the Indonesia province of West Papua.

Its four large islands --- Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati, and Misool --- shelter a vast array of terrestrial species and valuable forests.

The region includes the Pacifics most important Leatherback Turtle nesting site, The Nature Conservancy writes on its website.

Offshore reefs protect some 1,427 species of fish and more than 550 species of coral.

Some of these reefs have proven to be particularly resilient, and include coral-building resources that help sustain the entire Coral Triangle, making its protection all the more vital.

Rajaampat and Komodo named world best places for snorkeling
Antara 3 Jan 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Rajaampat in Papua Barat and the Komodo National Park in East Nusa Tenggara have been named worlds best snorkeling places, an official quoting a CNN survey, said.

"Indonesia has two top places at once - Rajaampat as the best and Komodo second best snorkeling destinations in the world, Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said here on Sunday.

The two Indonesian destinations put behind the islands of Galapagos ranked third by the survey, the minister said.

Toward the end of 2015, CNN (Cable News Network) of international edition, held a survey involving a number of maritime experts in selecting their respective snorkeling favorites.

Their responses were summarized in an article titled "11 of the worlds best snorkeling destinations", Arief said.

Topping the list of 11 places is Rajaampat in Papua Barat, Indonesia, a habitat of 75 percent of types of coral known in the world . Ranked second is the National Mark of Komodo in East Nusa Tenggara.

The Galapagos islands in Ecuador was ranked third followed by Coral Triangles in Asia Pacific, the Philippines, Silver Bank of the Republic of Dominica, Palau in Micronesia, Greet Barrier Reef in Australia, the Solomon island , Isla Holbox in Mexico, and Kealakekua Bay in Big Island, Hawaii.

The minister attributed the finding and promotion of potential touri9st destinations in the country to hard work of all related agencies.

"Intensive promotional campaigns have begun to bear fruit," he said.

Arief said the branding of "Wonderful Indonesia", has jumped from the 100th in ranking to the 47th in 2015 putting behind the "Amazing Thailand" ranked the 83 and the branding "Trully Asia Malaysia" in the 96th .

He said all Indonesians should be aware of the countrys tourism potentials and together create and maintain supporting climate to develop the country tourism industry.

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Current El-Nino may be strongest on record

Nirmal Ghosh, Straits Times AsiaOne 31 Dec 15;

The current El Nino phenomenon, which has spawned drought across much of the Asia-Pacific, wildfires in Australia and powerful storms in the United States, is perhaps the strongest ever measured and is peaking this month, experts say - and global warming may be exacerbating its effect.

"It is one of the top three El Ninos of the last 100 years," Bangkok-based Mr Sanny Jegillos, senior adviser for crisis prevention and recovery at the United Nations Development Programme, told The Straits Times.

Mr Jerome Lecou, a climate expert at French weather service Meteo France, went further. "It is probably the most powerful in the last 100 years," he told news agency Agence France-Presse.

Accurate measurements have existed only since the mid-20th century.

The previous strongest El Nino recorded was in 1997-98. Back then, the phenomenon raised air and sea temperatures, killing an estimated 16 per cent of marine coral reefs.

It also triggered record rain in California and severe drought in Indonesia. Tens of thousands died in related events.

This time, the cyclical phenomenon is even stronger and has so far wreaked havoc mostly around the Pacific Rim and parts of south Asia.

"It has peaked and we will see adverse impacts in the next few days," Mr Jegillos said.

Heavy rain has, in recent days, triggered floods and mudslides in Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina, leaving over 150,000 homeless.

In the central and south-western US, severe weather including tornadoes has claimed at least 43 lives this month.

This winter, California, Arizona and New Mexico will get more than their normal share of winter storms,Professor Dave Gutzler, a climatologist at the University of New Mexico, predicted this week.

The recent flood disaster in Chennai, on south India's east coast, when much of the city including its international airport was under water in the first week of this month, was also attributed to El Nino.

Meteorologist Sivananda Pai and his colleagues at the India Meteorological Department in Pune, India, had issued their first warning as early as October, when they worked out that the seasonal storms forming in the Bay of Bengal were not going to move north as usual, but due west instead under the influence of El Nino - a belt of warm air and ocean.

The storms normally pick up energy on their way north, and hit the coast of eastern India, Bangladesh or Myanmar as full-blown cyclones, Mr Pai said by phone.

But because they did not traverse so much open sea on their westward path, they did not pick up speed.

Instead, when reaching land, they dumped torrential rain, inundating Chennai for days.

"When the temperature of the air increases, the moisture-holding capacity of the air increases; then there will be more rain," said Mr Pai.

"That is why people are also talking about climate change."

"The combination of record warmth one year followed by an El Nino the next is unique and the climatic implications are uncertain," aid agency Oxfam said in October.

"If 2016 follows a similar pattern, we are entering uncharted waters."

In the Australian state of Victoria, where more than 100 homes were razed in a Christmas Day bush fire, the authorities have warned that some blazes would continue to burn as temperatures were set to soar again as high as 38 deg C in the lead-up to the new year.

Mr Jegillos sounded a warning, especially about Papua New Guinea. "For Papua New Guinea, many of its farmers are subsistence farmers and there is food insecurity anyway, and El Nino has been severe on their crops.

"Even if the next monsoon season in October-December is normal, the impact on agriculture, the eco-system and water resources has been severe enough for them to face problems until 2017."

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