Best of our wild blogs: 15 Feb 16

pacific reef egrets @ cyrene reef - 09Feb2016

Giant Top Shell (Tectus niloticus) @ Cyrene Reef
Monday Morgue

Read more!

Cross Island Line: Prioritising development over conservation sends wrong message to next generation

ANDRE CHUA TZE MING Today Online 14 Feb 16;

I refer to the article “Impact of Cross Island work on MacRitchie significant without LTA mitigation measures” (Feb 11).

I am writing to express my concern about one of the two proposed alignments for the MRT Line — across the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. I understand the impact of the alignments have been studied, along with the mitigation measures for the possible impact, but in my opinion, the matter should be reconsidered carefully.

As a resident in the western part of Singapore, I was initially pleased that we will have a new way of getting across the country, making more places accessible. Taking into account Singapore’s growing population, it also adds to the necessity for an even more effective transport system.

But there is a cost to this more desirable transport alternative if the MRT line cuts through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

With schools emphasising the importance of protecting the environment, constructing the MRT line across the nature reserve is contradictory to the message of protecting rainforests here, and the lessons on the impact of deforestation and the like.

If the younger generation sees that transport efficiency is placed above the protection of nature, they will have a warped idea of what Singapore’s priorities are. They, the country’s future leaders, may also be confused about where they place their priorities. The consequences of this could be unimaginable.

I implore the authorities to review the decision carefully, for the sake of the younger generation.

No substitute for ‘natural monuments’ at MacRitchie
ALOYSIUS TEO Today Online 16 Feb 16;

I agree that the Cross Island Line should be routed along Lornie Road instead of cutting through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (“MacRitchie route for MRT line an irreversible error”; Feb 13).

Constructing the MRT line along an existing road will improve worksite accessibility and minimise technical challenges.

The Nature Society of Singapore has estimated that this alignment will incur an additional travelling time of four minutes. Is spending four additional minutes on travelling to safeguard our natural heritage too much to ask for?

In recent years, the Government has been advocating a more compassionate, caring and inclusive society. This compassion should extend to the protection of our few remaining natural ecosystems as well.

Increasingly, Singaporeans have expressed their preference for less stress, a slower pace of life and the preservation of green spaces over infrastructure development. Diverting the Cross Island Line away from the nature reserve is an excellent way for the Government and the public to walk the talk.

Not all forests in Singapore are of equal conservation priority. The forests adjacent to the MacRitchie route are the remaining pockets of primary forests in Singapore. Harbouring countless trees older than even our oldest man-made national monuments, these primary forests represent our “natural national monuments”.

Cumulatively, these pockets of primary forests cover a land area of just 120ha. In stark contrast, golf courses occupied approximately 1,500ha of land in 2014.

Site investigation and tunnelling works will introduce disturbances deep into the core of these primary forests. The ability of these forests to recover remains unknown. Till now, researchers have yet to reach a consensus on the timespan needed before recovering forests reattain the diversity and structural complexity of primary forests, if they ever will.

The irreplaceability of the primary forests within the Central Catchment Nature Reserve further highlights the importance of impact avoidance. While it is true that Bukit Timah Nature Reserve also harbours significant patches of primary forests, the steep topography there has shaped a different community of tree species.

In short, there is no substitute anywhere else in Singapore for the primary forests within the Central Catchment area.

I strongly urge the relevant authorities to refrain from routing the Cross Island Line under the nature reserve. Attitude shifts are required, and we should never trade short-term conveniences for the long-term survival of our natural heritage.

Preservation of primary forests should not be main concern
DAVID CHONG CHEE MING Today Online 16 Feb 16;

I refer to “MacRitchie route for MRT line an irreversible error” (Feb 13). As a Singaporean, I treasure the MacRitchie reservoir very much. But preservation of the primary lowland rainforest in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve should not be the dominant concern.

Singapore is a city-state and we need to find a balance between the preservation and the economical use of available land for development. It is necessary to seek a satisfactory compromise between the two opposing forces.

I note that there is an alternative route suggested. But will this incur an exorbitant additional expenditure, taking into consideration the costs of construction, any compensation and redevelopment?

The Land Transport Authority needs to weigh these various factors in coming to its decision.

Cross Island Line work: LTA should detail options
TAN KOK TIM Today Online 17 Feb 16;

I refer to “No substitute for ‘natural monuments’ at MacRitchie” (Feb 16).

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) should provide information on a range of questions in response to the concerns that have been raised.

These include the length of the MRT line should it run under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and the construction cost per kilometre of such an alignment, in contrast with that of going around the area.

The LTA can also share the potential of each alignment option with regard to serving human activities.

In terms of environmental concerns, the planned depth of the tunnel and its expected impact on the surface of the nature reserve — during construction and when it is operational — should be made public. What is the minimum depth for the tunnel to not adversely and irreversibly affect the greenery at ground level?

What price will Singapore pay to balance progress, conservation?
MANORAJ RAJATHURAI Today Online 17 Feb 16;

I refer to “No substitute for ‘natural monuments’ at MacRitchie” and “Preservation of primary forests should not be main concern” (Feb 16). In time, as Singapore’s population grows on this little island-nation, land scarcity will reach a point so critical that we will eventually have to look at all land available to us, including the catchment areas where most of our forests are found.

If we do not, we may face overcrowding on a scale not seen throughout much of the world, for the sake of keeping nature alive.

Singapore’s progress, perhaps one of the most rapid in the world, in one of the smallest areas in the world, creates a tremendous strain in terms of infrastructure development, from industrial estates to housing and transport, and keeping the people moving and happy at the same time. This is a juggling act, not helped by the scarcity of land and resources. What has been achieved in the political, economic and social spheres here is remarkable.

But sustaining this balance over the next 50 years is a greater challenge, given the competition for labour, resources and land.

Will watchwords such as preservation and conservation resound as much when we are faced with the need to grow this country even further and higher, and to meet the people’s needs at the same time? Achieving a balance between the two agendas will become increasingly difficult.

Tough and unpopular choices may lie ahead. Perhaps in some areas a compromise could be reached, but at what price? This is the question that bears asking.

Love of nature versus speedier commute: Keep it in perspective
CALVIN PANG Today Online 19 Feb 16;

I have been taking the MRT for many years, as the Bishan Station is only a short walk from my home. I am thankful that the Government has been building more lines and I am looking forward to the new Cross Island Line, which can take me to other parts of Singapore.

Like many Singaporeans, I love being close to nature and enjoy going to the beautiful reservoirs and parks on the weekends with my children. Nevertheless, I also value the possibility of speedier travel when the line is finally complete. I will be an old man by then, and I hope I can still move around. But my children and my grandchildren can enjoy the fruits of the labour.

I do not envy the Land Transport Authority (LTA), which has to make a tough decision on which alignment the line will take. I am glad to hear that LTA will be doing site investigations so that a considered decision can be made.

While the Central Catchment Nature Reserve is best left undisturbed, it is not possible to expect there to be zero impact from the entire construction exercise. On one hand, nature is priceless, on the other, we know MacRitchie will not disappear if the tunnel cuts through the nature reserve.

In other words, things have to be put in perspective.

Other considerations such as the longer travel time for all commuters for the years to come and the “disturbances” caused to people living around the other alignment should be borne in mind. From the green perspective, we must also not neglect the fact that additional energy will be needed to operate the trains for the long term if the longer alignment for the MRT line is chosen.

Singapore is a garden city. Today, we have this green city to live in because our forefathers emphasised the importance of it despite conflicting demands for the limited land in Singapore. In the 50 years of rapid development, we could have ended up as a concrete jungle in the name of progress, but we did not.

I believe the authorities will do the due diligence to ensure that the final alignment will be in the best interests of the public at large, and is something future generations will benefit from.

Benefits of MRT line skirting nature reserve outweigh costs
Straits Times Forum 17 Feb 16;

I agree with senior transport correspondent Christopher Tan that it is not wise for the Cross Island Line to cut through the nature reserve ("Cross Island Line debate misses elephant in room"; Feb 16).

First, the environment will be affected. Phase 1 of the Environmental Impact Assessment mentioned that the construction of the Cross Island Line will have moderate impact on the nature reserve and that its effects can be mitigated if appropriate measures are taken.

However, no matter how many precautions the contractor takes to mitigate the effects, there will still be some damage done to the nature reserve.

Second, the alternative alignment proposed by the Nature Society will present an opportunity to serve those who are currently not served by the MRT network.

Skirting the nature reserve will bring convenience to people and serve as many people as possible.

This will also help achieve the Government's aim of having eight in 10 households being within a 10-minute walk of a rail station by 2030.

The Land Transport Authority is concerned that the alternative alignment will lead to higher construction costs.

The higher ridership from the alternative alignment will help to cover the costs incurred in building the line.

Ian Tay Ke Yang

Conservation has incalculable benefits for S’pore
AMOS MAXIMILIAN LEE Today Online 20 Feb 16;

I refer to the letter “Preservation of primary forests should not be a main concern” (Feb 16), which makes a good point about the balance needed between conservation and economical use of land.

But I would argue that the current situation in Singapore is one of imbalance, where there has been too much focus on development, with often marginal plans for conservation.

Can we truly call ourselves a green city when thousands of species of flora and fauna could be affected?

We cannot think of conservation in purely dollars and cents; much of its benefits are intangible. Cleaner air, recreation, biodiversity and scenic beauty are benefits that cannot and should not be calculated in monetary terms.

Projects such as the Cross Island Line are big and need to be deliberated over carefully.

Alternatives, even if they are more expensive, need to be considered, as the consequences of our actions now are irreversible for many generations.

There are already numerous examples of deforestation in the Amazon and Kalimantan and we do not need to contribute to this wanton destruction.

Our forests may be puny in comparison, but for our tiny size, they are of huge significance.

There is really no need to disturb our primary forests, which should be left untouched for our collective future.

Avoid tunnel vision in MRT debate
Straits Times Editorial 23 Feb 16;

Exchanges over the impact of possible MRT tunnel construction under a nature reserve echo the tensions evident during the Senoko nature debate in 1994 and the Chek Jawa controversy in 2001. Both were similarly characterised as a contest between the intrinsic value of the nation's precious little natural heritage and the intrinsic value of beneficial development in a land-scarce city. To see the Central Catchment Nature Reserve debate in the same light would not be entirely wrong but the larger issue is the handling of tensions when multiple competing interests surface over a major decision yet to be made.

Significantly, it was the green question that served as a catalyst for such wider self-examination by the State. The Senoko case saw a technocratic response to a ground effort to save a nesting ground for 200 bird species - space planners wanted for 17,000 new homes. That was apparently resolved by weighing the pluses and minuses objectively. A different result was possible only if activists could persuade 17,000 housing upgraders to opt out of the waiting list for the sake of the birds. Chek Jawa, less than 10 years later, saw a policy reversal after the facts were deeply contested between a public agency and environmentalists. Tipping the balance were ground surveys by volunteers that saved the biodiversity from being trampled, had it been used for military purposes instead. Having gone a further 15 years down the road, one might ask if the approach of the authorities has changed materially.

Housing, defence and transport are all large imperatives that might dictate an instrumental ordering of competing interests by planners. Yet, after Chek Jawa, even civil service leaders have acknowledged that "Singaporeans want a bigger say in policies… (and) the public sector will have to adapt to these changing circumstances", as a public agency chief had noted. However, in the latest case, the Land Transport Authority left some wondering about its willingness to engage the public, by originally making a crucial environment assessment report available only by appointment at its office, till March 4.

Clearly, the issues raised as a whole go beyond the technical. But by the same token, those against any work under the forest have not given enough weight to the depth of the tunnelling to be done - about 40m underground depending on further analysis. Nature aside, there is a call for homes and businesses to be preserved by avoiding an alternative alignment of the MRT Line that would go around rather than under the nature reserve. There are also issues of longer travelling times and incremental building costs of $2 billion.

The green legacy matters, of course, but the latest debate should also help to clarify broad terms of preservation amid necessary change that are supported by Singaporeans.

Zero impact on nature not realistic in S'pore
Straits Times Forum 25 Feb 16;

The debate over the impact of the Cross Island MRT Line on nature and on residents highlights the need to have moderate and diverse views, so that a balanced and informed decision can result.

There are some arguments raised in the debate that we should all be mindful of.

Mr Subaraj Rajathurai, director of Strix Wildlife Consultancy, was quoted as saying that "homes, however, can be cleared and rebuilt" ("$2b extra cost if MRT line skirts reserve"; Monday).

Unless we are residents of affected areas, we should not make such judgments.

Such an argument gives the impression that homes can be easily rebuilt, but the lives of those affected may be altered forever, and the life of those residents as they knew it may never be rebuilt.

Stakeholders such as the Nature Society (Singapore) should also moderate their views.

The society's Mr Tony O'Dempsey called for the construction of the MRT line to have zero impact on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve ("Call for 'zero impact' on nature reserve"; Feb 14).

This is an extreme view because, living in land-scarce and densely populated Singapore, this is not realistic.

On the Nature Society's website, there is no mention of zero impact. Its mission statements are clear and easy to accept:

•To promote nature awareness and nature appreciation

•To advocate conservation of the natural environment in Singapore

•To forge participation and collaboration in local, regional and international efforts in preserving Earth's biodiversity

Zero impact is something that is not enforceable in Singapore, so we should not make such a call any more.

The fact that we spent $17 million on the Eco-Link@BKE - to restore the ecological connection between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, which were separated because of the construction of the Bukit Timah Expressway - and $1 billion on Gardens by the Bay shows that the Government wants to preserve our natural environment and allow future generations to enjoy various nature attractions.

Strong lobbying by green groups has, to some extent, been too extreme, resulting in an unbalanced view presented to the public.

Let's allow the Government to do its thorough assessment and make a balanced decision that prioritises serving the larger community.

Whatever the outcome, I hope for a better and more efficient transport system.

The building of the Cross Island MRT Line is the right decision and must go ahead.

Robin Lim Jit Piow

Related links
Love our MacRitchie Forest: walks, talks and petition. Also on facebook.

Read more!

Young nature-lovers gather at Coney Island to discuss conservation

Today Online 15 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — Running ecological literacy programmes in schools, and organising a flora and fauna treasure hunt competition — these were some ideas floated by young nature-lovers during an SGfuture engagement session yesterday on how to keep Singapore environmentally sustainable.

Held at Coney Island, the event, which was organised by Outward Bound Singapore, saw 35 participants taking part in a focus group discussion on the Republic’s environmental issues after they went on a guided tour of the recently opened Coney Island with National Parks Board volunteers.

Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Mr Baey Yam Keng, who joined the young nature enthusiasts, said: “As youths are the future leaders who would see Singapore through SG100, it is important for them to be aware and proactive in conserving the environment.”

One of the participants, Mr Steven Cheng, who is president of EarthLink NTU, a green group at Nanyang Technological University, said: “I believe that while youths are aware of Singapore’s environmental causes, not many are taking action. This is why sessions like these are important.”

Read more!

Singapore firms make waves worldwide in water treatment

ANGELA TENG Today Online 15 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — With the world placing a greater focus on environmental protection, Singapore’s homegrown water and wastewater treatment firms are making big waves outside of the Republic, helping to solve water problems for countries all over the world.

According to International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, the Government agency driving Singapore’s external economy, the Republic has a vibrant cluster of more than 100 local water companies that have built up expertise across the water and wastewater treatment sectors. Their track record exhibits a global footprint, with numerous projects in Asia, the Middle East and even further afield to Latin America and Africa.

From wastewater treatment to decentralised water management and the cleaning of industrial wastewater, Singapore companies have been tackling water problems globally.

In the municipal water space, homegrown company WaterTech has built, owns and operates several wastewater treatment plants in China, said Mr Kow Juan Tiang, group director of environment & infrastructure solutions at IE Singapore.

Meanwhile, the Silua Tek village in India, located near Jabalpur in the state of Madhya Pradesh, enjoys clean water supply, wastewater treatment and total sanitation thanks to companies such as Ecosoftt that deal with decentralised water management.

Singapore companies also have strong capabilities in industrial wastewater management, and are able to assist industrial players in meeting increasingly stringent discharge standards, added Mr Kow.

For example, Century Water has expertise in providing solutions for pharmaceutical firms and Flagship EcoSystems has built a textile wastewater treatment plant in Bangladesh.

Global reach

In an interview with TODAY, Mr Theron Madhavan, CEO of Flagship EcoSystems, said the company was set up nearly 11 years ago during a “period of strong political and social interest” in seeing companies adopt an environmentally responsible approach to business.

Two years after it was incorporated, the company expanded into Indonesia and subsequently Bangladesh, where it built and now operates the largest central effluent treatment plant in the country.

Revenue for the entity in Bangladesh, which has been operational since 2012, has increased by almost 270 per cent, said Flagship Ecosystems.

Further opportunities abound in India, China, South Korea and Malaysia, said Mr Madhavan.

“Both India and China have in recent years seen greater pressure from the state in clamping down on discharge of untreated effluent into waterways,” he said. “There has also been increasing pressure from buyers and end users demanding that suppliers operate in an environmentally responsible way. This has led to a growth in demand for solutions to help companies achieve their environmental objectives, presenting opportunities for us.”

Another global company, mainboard-listed Hyflux, specialises in water treatment and has operations and projects in the Asia Pacific, Middle East, Africa and the Americas. The company, founded by Ms Olivia Lum, currently the group’s executive chairman and group CEO, began out of a small office at Tampines Industrial Park. It now employs about 2,500 staff. The group is now 25 years old and has a market capitalisation of S$380.9 million.

Last month, Hyflux won a US$50.4 million (S$72.5 million) contract through its wholly owned subsidiary to design, manufacture and supply a seawater reverse osmosis and sulphate removal facilities package in Khurais, Saudi Arabia.

The group said in its latest results statement that the projects in the Middle East, North Africa and Singapore will be the main revenue contributors in the next few years.

Local institutions are also producing water treatment providers.

NanoSun, a local start-up born at a lab in Nanyang Technological University (NTU), last year clinched a S$4.3 million joint venture with a Chinese state-owned enterprise to treat industrial wastewater in the eastern city of Qingdao in Shandong province.

The company had previously only conducted laboratory research and had not considered the extent of the value of the technology until a meeting with Chinese officials in 2014.

The China Commerce Group for International Economic Cooperation saw the vast potential of NanoSun’s self-cleaning, 3D-printed membrane water filter technology in China, where rapid industrialisation is driving demand for extensive wastewater treatment.

In just three years since it was founded in 2013, the previously five-man show now has 25 staff members globally.

“China remains the main focus for NanoSun, and we have been receiving much interest in our water treatment systems. Most recently, a sugar producer from India approached us to develop a more efficient and powerful water treatment system,” said Dr Darren Sun, co-founder of NanoSun and associate professor at NTU’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Singapore’s reputation as a global water hub

Many local water treatment companies said Singapore’s reputation as a green city and global water hub is a reason why they are able to get ahead of competition globally.

The environment and water industry is identified as a key growth industry for Singapore. In 2006, the Government committed S$330 million to fund innovation and capability development in the industry, according to the Economic Development Board. In 2011, it allocated an extra S$140 million, bringing the total amount committed to S$470 million.

“In the water industry, Singapore’s geographical size often takes a back seat. The country’s reputation as a green city and a global water hub means that by being a Singapore company operating in the water space, Flagship is viewed by its business partners as experts and leaders in the industry,” said Mr Madhavan.

Co-founder of NanoSun, Mr Wong Ann Chai added: “Over the years, Singapore has come to be recognised as a global hydrohub, and Singapore-developed solutions are much sought after. NanoSun is one such example and our 3D-printed TiO2 membranes are well received, particularly in emerging markets such as China and India. Leveraging on Singapore’s strengths in connectivity, logistics and a skilled workforce, we will be able to effectively manage global operations from Singapore.”

NanoSun’s Dr Sun credits the achievement of the company to the Government’s foresight to invest in water technologies.

“The advanced water technology that we have in Singapore was developed by hundreds of scientists working over the past two decades and is not by chance. It comes only because there was foresight by the Singapore Government, which invested heavily in water technology.”

Read more!

Malaysia: Expert Denies Cockle Landings On Beach Indicate Tsunami

Bernama 14 Feb 16;

KUANTAN, Feb 14 (Bernama) -- Contrary to what many believe, the phenomenon of thousands of cockles washed up at Pantai Mempisang in Tanjung Gemuk, Rompin and Pantai Sura, Dungun in Terengganu this week is not an indication of a tsunami.

According to the dean of the School of Fisheries and Aquaculture at Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT), Prof Dr Mazlan Abd Ghaffar, the phenomenon is closely linked to big waves and coastal erosion.

"In December last year, there were also reports of mussels on Pantai Mempisang and during that time, there were big waves and heavy rain.

"It is the same this year at the Sura and Mempisang beaches, it is related to strong monsoon winds and big waves, combined with coastal erosion.

"This has caused the hairy cockle species which live close to the beach which is partly muddy, to be washed up the beach by strong currents," he told Bernama here Sunday.

He said the hairy cockles (scientific name Anadara Pilula) were commonly found in coastal areas and related to other cockle species like the Anadara Granosa, Anadara Indica and Anadara Inequiualuis.

"This is different from the signs of the tsunami in Penang in December 2004, because normally, (the signs) occur one hour before the sea water recedes drastically, causing many marine life to be washed ashore," said Mazlan.

On the whale found at the Pantai Rambah Recreation Park beach near Pontian on Monday, he did not discount the possibility it could have been injured and separated from its herd.

"The whale could have been hit by a boat or propeller, causing it to be injured and its navigation system affected. This might caused it to go astray near Pontian.

"But it is amusing that certain parties connected this to emotional disturbance as one of the reasons for the whale's death...the autopsy showed it died because its lungs were filled with mud."


Read more!

Malaysia: Sabah's Tagal system – a tourism catch

STEPHANIE LEE The Star 15 Feb 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s unique Tagal system and the people’s way of life here have caught the attention of Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.

Nazri, who was in Tamparuli district for tourism activities such as white water rafting, said he was impressed with how the locals here still preserve their native practices despite the rapidly changing world.

“From my visits to the many pla­ces here today, including the Kiulu River and village as well as the Poturidong Tagal, I can see that the people here are very proud of their culture,” he said.

Nazri said the Tagal system was also a unique way of taking care of nature by not fishing at certain times or in certain restricted zones.

Tagal means “do not” or “no need” in the Kadazandusun language.

It is a simple yet effective traditional approach to good stewardship of the river and those caught breaching this law can be fined.

“The many traditions and the way of living, dating back to centuries ago, are still being used here and this is amazing,” he said yesterday.

Nazri said he was also impressed with how Sabahans were not ashamed of their heritage or language by naming villages and even tourism events based on local names, such as the Kiulu white water rafting and Poturidong Tagal.

“And again this is another attraction that I am sure people around the world would be very interested to see and experience themselves.”

He said Sabah, being rich in culture and natural resources, was truly the gem of tourism in Malaysia.

“Tourism and culture are important elements for tourism and Sabah has it all and I will personally see that the ministry provides assistance and support to community based activities to lure more visitors here.”

Nazri said they were also propo­sing the use of “back to nature” as this year’s tourism campaign theme.

Toward this end, he promised to do all that was necessary to bring more tourists to Malaysia, specifically Sabah this year.

“I want to work with all the airlines in the world to promote Sabah and our country,” he said.

‘Tagal hutan’ approach towards forest conservation in Sabah
RUBEN SARIO The Star 15 Feb 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is adopting community-based enforcement to safeguard its forest resources in a one-day workshop.
The course will focus on the “tagal hutan” community-based enforcement and how it can be used as a conservation tool for native culture as well as natural resources.

“The discussions will tackle the fundamental question on whether this practice can be used through the development of a policy or legal framework,” said Jaringan Orang Asal secretary-general Jannie Lasimbang.

'Tagal' in the Kadazan language means prohibition and the system maintains harmony between users and the natural environment. The spirit behind the system is collective ownership and responsibility, sustainable use of resources and maintaining balance of life.

The workshop will delve into the potential of “tagal hutan” as a means to address issues of inclusion of indigenous communities in conserving and sustainably managing their resources as they have done for generations.

“It will look at past examples and the impact, both positive and negative, of turning this practice into law,” said Jannie, noting that Sabah had widely adopted the tagal system for many rivers with successful results.
The workshop will be held on Feb 17 at the Kota Kinabalu Forestry Department office at Lok Kawi near here.

The department is jointly organising the workshop with the Sabah Social Forestry Working Group of which Jaringan Orang Asal is a member.

Read more!

Indonesia: After floods, health crisis emerges, regions struggle

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb and Hotli Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post 14 Feb 16;

Floods that have submerged a number of regions in Indonesia over the past week have begun to result in major health consequences for local residents, as hundreds in the affected areas report the quick spread of respiratory and other diseases.

In West Sumatra, at least 250 residents within the Pasaman regency reportedly suffer from gastritis, acute respiratory infections (ISPA) and/or skin diseases after heavy downpours brought floods to the Rao and Panti districts, home to more than 2,000 people.

Pasaman Health Agency head Desrizal said on Saturday that all the patients had received treatment at Puskesmas (local community health centers).

“There is a possibility that the diseases have emerged due to shock and anxiety,” he said, adding that the agency had also set up health posts in the affected districts to provide emergency medical aid.

Meanwhile, in South Sumatra, residents of the North Musi Rawas regency have been struggling with the widespread skin diseases that emerged after floods inundated some parts of the region earlier this month.

M. Kosim, who lives in Muara Rupit subdistrict, said he and his family members had been suffering from itchy skin over the past week, adding that, after they began to scratch, red, pus-filled spots had also appeared on their skin.

Kosim claimed that dozens of people in his village were also experiencing a similar condition.

“We have received some medicine from the Puskesmas, but it doesn’t work,” he said on Saturday, as quoted by Antara news agency.

After a prolonged dry season, the rainy season finally arrived in many parts of the country in December and has since intensified.

A series of heavy downpours have subsequently triggered floods in several provinces, including Aceh, North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Riau and Central Java.

In West Sumatra, at least seven people have died over the past week due to floods and landsides triggered by heavy rains.

On Saturday, search and rescue team members in South Solok regency managed to recover the body of a 2-year-old child after a landslide had buried a house in Alam Pauh Duo district the previous Monday, killing the child and five other family members.

In Riau, floods have hit three regencies: Kampar, Rokan Hulu and Kuantan Singingi. Leaders of the three regencies have declared an emergency response status, saying they were overwhelmed with carrying out anticipative measures.

Meanwhile in East Java, floods from the overflowing Kalikemuning River in Sampang had submerged thousands of houses across the regency since Thursday and have killed at least one local resident.

The victim, 14-year-old Faisal Sipli, was swept away by the river’s strong current on Thursday. His body was finally found two days later.

Sampang Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Wisnu Hartono said the flood had been the region’s biggest to date.

“We have experienced some floods in the past, but never this big,” he told Antara.

In Aceh, at least three regencies – East Aceh, North Aceh and Bireun – have been hit by floods triggered by heavy rains and overflowing rivers.

The North Aceh BPBD reported on Saturday that at least 4,000 residents had moved to public facilities, like schools and mosques, or moved to relatives’ houses after floods submerged seven districts in the region.

Meanwhile in Bireuen, Jeunieb district is reported to be the worst-hit area in the regency as it was engulfed by up to 1-meter-high floodwaters.

“Many villagers have fled their homes to stay in the district’s capital so as to avoid the worsening situation,” Jangot Tungko subdistrict bead Apriadi said.

Newly Elected West Sumatra Governor and Deputy Visit Disaster Areas
Antara 14 Feb 16;

Jakarta. Newly elected West Sumatra Governor Irwan Prayitno and his deputy Nasrul Abit on Sunday (14/02) visited South Solok and Limapuluh Kota – two of the province's districts worst affected by the recent floods and landslides.

Heavy rains since Feb. 5 contributed to the floods that have triggered landslides in 10 districts throughout the province last weekend. Pasaman district also suffered heavy damage.

“I am checking on the residents of South Solok, while my deputy [Nasrul] is in Limapuluh Kota. The disasters have cost [financial losses of approximately] Rp 100 billion [$7.4 million]. We are now focusing on how to distribute emergency aid to the affected residents,” Irwan said in the provincial capital Padang on Sunday, as quoted by state-run news agency Antara.

The aid provided includes instant food, medicine, clothes and children’s necessities such as infant formula.

According to North Sumatra Provincial Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) chief Zulfiatno there are several areas in both South Solok and Pasaman districts that are still inaccessible due to damaged roads. He gave no further details.

“The National Disaster Mitigation Agency [BNPB] therefore sent us a helicopter to help reach these isolated areas by air. Before the chopper arrived, we distributed emergency aid by motorcycle. Based on the temporary data, there are about 8,000 people living in those areas,” Zulfiatno said.

Read more!

Corals bleaching in Fiji

Coral bleach impact
Mere Naleba Fiji Times 15 Feb 16;

HIGH sea temperature, which causes coral bleaching in certain parts of the Coral Coast in Sigatoka, has caused the fish mortality rate on the shallow reef flat area to be 25 to 30 per cent.

According to Reef Explorer director Dr Victor Bonito, who is a reef ecologist, said corals in Votua, Votua Lailai and Namada Village had been fully bleached.

He said coral bleaching happened rapidly within a span of one week.

Reef Explorer Fiji Ltd is a community-based research and development business founded in Fiji to promote coral conservation. The organisation is based in Votua Village along the Coral Coast.

"We went from last week to having little to no signs of coral bleaching and this week corals are fully bleached and we've got 25-30 per cent mortality on the shallow reef flat area already," Dr Bonito said.

"There is nothing we can do to prevent coral bleaching from happening, as it is one of the impacts of climate change."

He said Fijians should be educated on building a resilient reef system and to reduce local threat.

"A resilient reef system would mean that it (reef) can fight back and recover from this. Now this is really important," Dr Bonito said.

"There are two things that we need to do. One is to reduce our local threat so it is reducing the problem of overfishing, water pollution, mud and sedimentation on our reef."

He said another factor to consider was to protect fish species such as the parrot fish (ulavi), sivisivi, ta, surgeon and rabbit fish because those were the herbivores of the ocean, meaning they fed on plants and grazed on algae on the reef.

"So these fish play an important role and particularly right now when we have all these dying of corals, what's going to happen is - this fish is going to be able to keep eating the algae and keep the reef clean, so that new corals can recover and grow back," he said.

"Or if not, what's going to happen is that algae will occupy that space and then it will end up in a jungle of algae in the corals. Now this has been a problem along the Coral Coast in Fiji where overfishing has led to the depletion of herbivores and we have algae overgrown in much of our reef areas."

Read more!

21st Century US 'dustbowl' risk assessed

Jonathan Amos BBC S13 Feb 16;

US scientists have modelled how a 1930s-like "dustbowl" drought might impact American agriculture today, and found it to be just as damaging.

But the research shows the effects to be very sensitive to temperature, meaning the potential losses would be far worse later this century if Earth's climate heats up as expected.

A repeat of 1930s weather today would lead to a 40% loss in maize production.

In a 2-degree warmer world, it becomes a 65% reduction, the team projects.

"The 1930s were really extreme and, yes, the chances of the same precipitation distribution happening again are small," explained Joshua Elliott, from the University of Chicago's Computation Institute.

"But the temperature distribution wasn't any more extreme than we've seen in 2012 or 1988, for example.

"And what we see at higher temperatures is that these crops - maize and also soy - are so sensitive that an average year come mid-century could be as bad as 1936, even with normal precipitation," he told BBC News.

Dr Elliott was speaking here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He has been taking part in a discussion session on so-called "food shocks", where the failure of key crops can lead to rapid global price hikes.

Dr Elliott is a member of a joint US-UK taskforce that last year assessed the resilience of the world's food system. The fall-out from extreme weather was deemed to be a major concern, especially if future climate change is not moderated by a reduction in the emission of heat-trapping gases from the burning of fossil fuels.

Looking at the production of the major grains - rice, wheat, maize and soybeans - the taskforce's scientists found that the chances of a one-in-100-year production disruption was likely to increase to a one-in-30-year event by 2040.

Implementing reforms that would enable the system to cope better in the future was seen as a priority.

Northern shift

One factor that does not help is the way that production of some of these important crops is highly concentrated.

The US, for example, is the leading producer in the world for maize, with most of it grown in just Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois.

But Dr Elliott said this concentration would have to be broken up, that a different and more varied approach would be needed if more extreme weather became the norm in the decades ahead. Maize might be better grown further north than the traditional Midwest states, he suggested.

"It's most likely they will have to start growing other crops.

"Maybe by mid to late century, Iowa will be known as the cotton state rather than the corn state, because cotton will basically have been eradicated out of much of the southern states because the temperature thresholds will have blown way past what cotton can handle there.

"Assuming there is enough water in Iowa, because cotton is a very thirsty crop, it could become the cotton state."

Kirsty Lewis, from the UK's Met Office, is looking at the weather connections between important "breadbaskets".

The US Midwest is the dominant hub for maize, but the northeastern plains of China are not too far behind.

How likely is it that both regions could suffer bad growing seasons in the same year?

A search through the meteorological records would seem to suggest that whenever one stumbles, the other seems to do OK.

Dr Lewis is now running multiple simulations on a climate model to test whether there really is some sort of teleconnection between the two.
"Is there a physical mechanism why that's the case, or is it just by chance?" she asks.

"They may be physically linked, possibly by larger-scale drivers to do with ocean temperatures - that kind of thing. But will this change in the future; and if it doesn't, can we be sure we understand why the pattern will continue?"

For Tim Benton, from the UK's Global Food Security Programme, a change of attitude is required on the part of all the players in the global food system, to recognise that extreme weather is going to be an ever-present threat in the future.

"How do we build resilience? Well, we need to understand better what the risks are, and that's a research question and lots of people around the world are doing that now," he said.

"We can also adapt agriculture and plan more for the bad years.

"Rather than seeing bad years as something that's rare and unlikely, we should go into each season with an expectation that 'average weather' doesn't exist anymore. It's either too hot, or too wet, or too cold or too dry.

"An average summer is very difficult to find these days."

Read more!