Best of our wild blogs: 22 Feb 16

Central Forest IBA at the Crossroads
Singapore Bird Group

Short Afternoon Walk At Venus Drive (21 Feb 2016)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Moult of Mangrove Tree-dwelling Crab (Selatium brockii) @ Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Monday Morgue

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Cross Island Line: Path around reserve may cost $2 billion more

Adrian Lim, MyPaper AsiaOne 22 Feb 16;

THE alternative alignment that routes the Cross Island Line around the Central Catchment Nature Reserve could add about $2 billion to the rail project's cost, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has revealed.

This 9km "skirting alignment" will require longer tunnels and extra ventilation facilities, compared to the 4km direct route, of which 2km will cut through Singapore's largest nature reserve, it said.

"Besides land and home acquisitions that could affect families, the extra works could incur $2 billion more in expenditure," added LTA's chief executive Chew Men Leong.

In a forum letter published in The Straits Times today signed off by him, it was reiterated that the Government is studying both alignment options and has not decided.

Since a report detailing the environmental impact of site investigation works for the project was released some two weeks ago, green groups have been lobbying for the Cross Island Line - a 50km MRT line that will span from Jurong to Changi - to be built around the reserve, instead of through it.

However, this could entail land acquisition as the MRT tunnels would pass through land occupied by homes, businesses and buildings. Residents in Upper Thomson who could be affected have called for the line to go through the reserve.

In the letter, Mr Chew said the Government will consider all factors, including the engineering feasibility of both alignments, distance and travel time for commuters, cost to taxpayers, and the impact on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and on businesses and families.

Green groups acknowledged that the extra $2 billion and impact on residents are significant but they also called for deeper thought on the issue.

Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society, asked: "What is the long-term cost to Singapore of potentially damaging (the) nature reserve?

"Are we setting the precedent that as long as we pledge to be careful, we can do infrastructure works in protected areas?"

Dr Lum said that rather than view the sum of $2 billion as a cost, it could be seen as an "investment into nature and heritage".

Subaraj Rajathurai, director of Strix Wildlife Consultancy, said: "This island used to be covered by rainforests, today we are down to 3 per cent.

"It has taken eons to evolve and the biodiversity is irreplaceable. Homes, however, can be cleared and rebuilt."

The LTA said the proposed tunnel beneath the Central Catchment Nature Reserve will be about 40m deep and no surface structures will be built.

A second phase of the Environmental Impact Assessment, to be completed this year, will delve into the environmental impact of the construction of both alignments.

Park Byung Joon, adjunct associate professor at SIM University, said skirting around the nature reserve involves "social costs". They include lengthening end-to-end travel time to be around four minutes more.

No decision made yet on Cross Island Line alignment, Govt to study all options
AMANDA LEE Today Online 22 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — With potential impact across a broad spectrum of stakeholders — the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, businesses, home owners, commuters and taxpayers — the Government has “a responsibility” to study both Cross Island Line alignment options thoroughly, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA), stressing no decision on the alignment has been made.

In a letter addressing public concern after the report on phase one of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was released earlier this month, LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong, also offered a glimpse at the future MRT line’s possible cost: The longer option, which will skirt around the nature reserve, could cost S$2 billion more in extra works and result in land and home acquisition.

Debate over the best alignment option for the Cross Island Line and the potential impact on the nature reserve reignited after the EIA report, done by an external consultant, was gazetted on Feb 5.

With strong public interest, the LTA last Friday made the rare move of posting the report online; previously, the public would have to make an appointment to inspect any of the five copies available at the LTA. The report detailed the effects that site investigation work for the line would have on the nature reserve. The two options being studied are a 4km “direct” line that will see 2km of the tunnel run under the nature reserve, and a 9km “skirting” option that goes around the reserve along Lornie Road.

In making the decision on the alignment, the Government will have to consider factors including the engineering feasibility of both alignments, distance and travel time for commuters, cost to taxpayers, the impact on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and impact on businesses and families who may be affected by land acquisition under the skirting option, said Mr Chew.

“Indeed, since the gazette of the EIA, homeowners had asked to meet LTA and voiced their concerns over possible acquisition of their homes. They urged the Government to be objective, and take into account also their concerns,” he said.

If a tunnel were built under the nature reserve, Mr Chew said it would be 40m deep, depending on findings from ground investigations, and there will not be any construction of infrastructure on the surface. The skirting option will require longer tunnels and extra ventilation facilities.

“Besides land and home acquisitions that could affect families, the extra works could incur S$2 billion more in expenditure,” Mr Chew said.

“The Government has a responsibility to study both thoroughly before making a decision,” he said. “Ground investigations and engineering feasibility studies of both alignments have to be completed first.”

He also pointed out that care will be taken during site investigation works to minimise environmental impact. For example, survey and coring work will start outside the nature reserve and no vegetation will be cleared.

“To protect the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, National Parks Board staff will accompany contractors and consultants during all off-trail works,” said Mr Chew.

The LTA also previously said it had reduced the number of boreholes needed for the site investigation work from 72 to 16.

The second phase of the EIA will be completed by the end of this year, and will assess the impact of construction and operation of the future MRT line.

Cross Island Line: Govt studying route impact, has not made decision yet

We thank all writers who have shared their views on the two possible alignments of the Cross Island Line (CRL).

The Government is studying both the underground alignments and no decision has been taken yet. For the 4km direct alignment, 2km of the tunnel will be below the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR), while the other 2km is located outside it. The section of the tunnel beneath the CCNR will be about 40m deep, depending on findings from ground investigations. There will not be any construction of infrastructure on the surface.

The skirting alignment, about 9km long, will require longer tunnels and extra ventilation facilities. Besides land and home acquisitions that could affect families, the extra works could incur S$2 billion more in expenditure.

The two alignments may have different impacts on various stakeholders — the nature reserve, businesses, homeowners, commuters and taxpayers. The Government has a responsibility to study both thoroughly before making a decision. Ground investigations and engineering feasibility studies of both alignments have to be completed first.

For the upcoming ground investigations, following our extensive consultations with the nature groups for the first phase of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), we are reducing the number of 10cm-boreholes from 72 to 16, and confining them to public trails and existing clearings. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will complement these with non-intrusive geophysical survey methods and horizontal directional coring that will start from outside the CCNR. As such, no vegetation will be cleared. National Parks Board staff will accompany the contractors and consultants during all off-trail work to ensure that the greatest care is taken to protect the CCNR.

In making the decision on the alignment, the Government will have to consider the full range of factors, including the engineering feasibility of both alignments, distance and travel time for commuters, cost to taxpayers, and the impact on the CCNR and on businesses and families who may be affected by land acquisition under the skirting option. Indeed, since the gazette of the EIA, homeowners had asked to meet the LTA and voiced their concerns over the possible acquisition of their homes. They urged the Government to be objective, and also take into account their concerns.

In response to requests from the public, the findings of Phase 1 of the EIA have been made available on the LTA website from Feb 19. We thank the public for sharing their views and will take into account the diverse concerns of different stakeholders.

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

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$1.3m raised for sperm whale exhibit

Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Feb 16;

Lee Kong Chian museum will use display to educate public on need to keep oceans healthy

Around $1.3 million has been raised for scientific and educational efforts related to the sperm whale carcass found in Singapore waters last July.

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum had initially planned to raise $1 million to mount and maintain the exhibit and support related education and research efforts.

The exhibition will be unveiled at the museum next month.

The money has come from organisations and individuals, some of whom attended a fund-raising dinner at the Singapore Zoo last night. Professor Peter Ng, head of the museum, said he was pleasantly surprised by the amount raised, given that the initial $1 million target was an ambitious one.

"We know it will take half that amount to get the whale skeleton ready in record time and set up a world-class display," Prof Ng told The Sunday Times yesterday at the Jubilee Whale Charity Gala Dinner. "We had hoped to have the same amount set aside for marine education and research programmes."

The museum intends to use the whale to highlight the importance of keeping the oceans healthy.

Sperm whales feed mainly on squid, which have beaks that cannot be digested. Mr Marcus Chua, the museum's curator of mammals and birds, said: "But on top of the squid beaks, we also found plastic trash in the whale's gut. This find will be used in our outreach efforts to highlight how oceans are connected, and the dangers of marine trash to the environment."

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong was guest of honour at the event, which was also attended by Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh and some 200 other guests.

The carcass of the 10.6m-long adult female sperm whale was discovered floating off Jurong Island on July 10 last year - the first time that the marine mammal has been spotted in Singapore waters. It was later dubbed Jubi Lee by staff at the museum , in a reference to the fact that it was found during the nation's Golden Jubilee year.

Since its discovery, museum staff have worked around the clock for months to preserve the skeleton and collect as much data as possible from the carcass.

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Malaysia: It’s so easy to buy and sell wildlife

The Star 22 Feb 16;

EXCLUSIVE: KLANG: Despite all the efforts by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan), it is still easy to buy and sell wildlife in Malaysia, especially with the social media being used as the platform for transactions.

The Star’s reporter set out to buy a Brahminy kite (Haliastur indus), a totally protected species, and was able to get a bird in just two days after fewer than 20 WhatsApp messages.

The eaglet, priced at just RM600, was delivered to the point of sale - a hair salon in a shopping complex here on Friday.

Under Schedule II of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, anyone having a Brahminy kite, also known as “lang merah”, can be fined up to RM200,000, jailed up to 10 years, or both.

The Brahminy kite is a medium-sized bird of prey in the family Accipitridae, which also includes other raptors, such as eagles, buzzards and harriers.

The aborted sale of the hatchling was a reflection of the many illegal wildlife deals taking place in and around Malaysia, particularly the Klang Valley, no thanks to the anonymity of social media.

Before the arranged “sale” of the protected bird on Friday, The Star called Perhilitan officers to inform them of what was about to take place.

Minutes before the transaction, officers moved in on three women at the salon and rescued the bird.

The women, believed to be in their 40s, were detained briefly but let off later as they were found to be only the runners and not poachers or the real sellers.

Like elsewhere in the world, the social media has increasingly become the new battleground for the illegal wildlife trade in Malaysia.

Perhilitan’s deputy director-general I Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim said a special unit devoted to investigating online sales of wildlife monitored social media sites constantly.

“There are groups on our radar but it takes time to research and build a profile as usually it’s a network of people involved in the trade.

“From the main poachers to resellers and runners, they can be family members and close friends,” he added.

One source that The Star spoke to claimed that he was in touch with over 35 WhatsApp groups set up under the guise of discussing mutual interest in wildlife.

“In reality, these groups are formed with the aim of generating market interest for protected species such as slow lorises, Asian leopard cats and even baby tapirs,” he said.

In addition to WhatsApp groups, such protected mammals, birds and reptiles are marketed even more blatantly on Facebook and over e-commerce sites where dealers post fake advertisements of and use code words like “white plastic”, “African materials”, “jelly” (for ivory), “black” (rhino horn) and “red” (bill of the hornbill) to seek interested buyers.

In July last year, Perhilitan officers arrested four men and rescued two juvenile orang utans offered for sale through a social media page used by a group that traded exotic wildlife online.

The arrests and seizures were part of the department’s Ops Taring III, targeting the online illegal wildlife trade.

The critically endangered orang utans were smuggled from Sumatra to Malaysia by two Indonesians who handed them over to two locals, one of whom later advertised the sale of the apes on social media.

Abdul Kadir said ignorance and plain disregard for the law on the part of the buyers were also factors driving the demand and sales of wildlife in Malaysia.

Netting the criminals
TL TAN The Star 22 Feb 16;

UNSURPRISINGLY, social media is the hot method right now for illegal wildlife traders to drum up interest in their animals and solicit new customers.

Popular local Facebook groups for hikers and outdoor lovers have become recruitment grounds for such traders, adding “newbies” into more secluded Whatsapp and other instant messaging groups.

Still, some people are trying their best to disrupt such operations, such as outdoors instructor A.V. Veerak, who first found out when two of his students showed him a slow loris they had purchased online for RM700.

“I asked them and other contacts to add me to such groups, leveraging on the knowledge I could contribute to the outdoors discussion,” said Veerak.

Veerak, who had been monitoring these groups as far back as 2014, said he then began actively infiltrating these groups to monitor and hopefully report such instances of sales to the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan).

“I also engaged an informal team of former illegal wildlife traders, most of them small-timers, and keepers to monitor the going-ons through assumed identities,” he said.

“Quite a few of these traders do their own poaching, or hire professional poachers to get the animals for them,” he added.

Other methods of procuring animals include opportunistic buys from indigenous villagers who can hunt for certain animals as allowed in the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

StarMetro was afforded a first-hand look at some of these closed Whatsapp groups, where new people were added in to such wildlife and animal lover “discussion” groupchats from the hiking and outdoors groups on Facebook.

Exotic pets are a relatively small market, because of the difficulty in keeping pets as well as the questionable legality, and after buying one animal, the individual is not likely to purchase another animal anytime soon, unless it suddenly died and the owner has cash to spare.

Adding these “newbies” helps increase market exposure and potential client base.

Looking through one chatgroup via one of the assumed identities, StarMetro saw a barrage of “cute” wildlife pictures in captivity, from Asian leopard cats, lorises and small-clawed otters to a baby tapir, that were posted to generate interest and sales.

These groups also help in locating new animals for poaching.

Eager newbies, in their enthusiasm to share rare animal sightings, or egged on by the traders or poachers, also can unwittingly divulge important geographical information to track the animal down later.

Some of the newbies also “graduate” from just purchasing a protected species as a pet, to becoming resellers and runners for the main traders.

One thing Veerak noted, for the groups he was monitoring, was the close proximity of traders and runners to each other, ranging from family to trusted friends such as two networks based in Shah Alam and Negri Sembilan.

These networks are also a feature noted by Perhilitan, according to Deputy Director-General I Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim when contacted by StarMetro.

While there is a cybercrime unit set up by the department to monitor these online groups and sales, often the same animal is posted by several different people on different social network groups, all hoping to gain a commission on behalf of the original poacher or seller.

With so many layers of sellers and resellers, tracing back and building up a profile of the main poachers was a painstaking process, said Abdul Kadir.

Nevertheless in 2015, the department managed to hit nearly 100% of the original poachers and sellers targetted in such sting operations, he added.

Still, said Veerak, the public should also be better educated on the sale of protected and totally protected wildlife (Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010), as this trade was also ecologically destructive.

To find out whether an animal species you are buying is protected or not, visit and type in the name of the animal.

A former dealer

Zul (an alias) is jittery while waiting for The Star’s reporter to meet him at a roadside eatery in Bukit Tinggi.

Not much of a surprise, as some of the illegal wildlife traders in the group he and outdoors instructor A.V. Veerak monitors have been issuing threats in their general direction, and you never know when suspicion might fall upon you at the last minute.

Having had a lifelong interest in unusual insects and rare birds, Zul was involved in poaching and trading these animals from 2012 to 2015.

“Certain insects and animals, such as stick insects, Malaysia tarantulas and kumbang tanduk (Atlas beetles), are in high demand among exotic pet owners locally and in Singapore,” he said.

Sought-after birds include buffy fish owls (Ketupa ketupu), the rare Black Baza eagle and other birds of prey.

“When I started out, I was not aware that such actions, trapping and keeping these animals were illegal, but now I have learnt that these are protected or totally protected species,” he said.

A Perhilitan officer holds up the Brahminy Kite hatchling (in basket), which was retrieved during the sting operation.

Speaking as a former trader, Zul explained that usually, the original poacher holding the animal, almost never sells their “merchandise” on open channels such as the open Facebook groups.

“Instead, they will hand over the sale to a secondary seller, who is usually another established person in the market and is trusted, and he or she will get a commission for each sale.

“Sometimes we also use third-party sellers, who are usually the newcomers and more naive ones, to market or become runners for the rare cash-on-delivery (COD) sales.”

Usually though, the preferred method of transaction is for money to be banked into the third-party or secondary sellers’ accounts, and the original poacher then passes the animal to the customer at a pre-arranged location and time.

Both methods have their pros and cons, as gullible buyers have been “gamed” into transferring money for a non-existent animal, while COD means opening yourself up to a possible sting operation.

Dealers, whether primary or secondary, also make use of express bus routes to courier animals to almost anywhere in peninsular Malaysia (see personal experience).

“One reason I stopped, and got in touch with Veerak, was because the forests were getting quieter and quieter, especially the ones I frequented.

“And I also realised that what I had been doing was wrong,” Zul said.

Personal experience

To demonstrate how easy it was to purchase a Schedule II animal, StarMetro contacted one seller who had posted a picture of a Black Baza Eagle (Aviceda leuphotes) for RM250, cash on delivery.

Establishing a cover story that I was from up north and in the Klang Valley for a few days, I was looking to purchase a bird of prey for my fictional boss who was into falconry.

The reply was that the Black Baza had been sold off, and instead could he interest me in new Brahminy Kite hatchlings (Haliastur indus), also known locally as “lang winston” for RM650 a bird, via “postage”.

Postage, according to the dealer, meant getting an express bus to drop off the animal, secured in a package, at a pre-arranged point.

As an assurance, the seller showed screenshots of another animal consignment he had sent to Skudai earlier that day.

After negotiating the price down to RM600 COD, a meeting location was arranged in Port Klang.

The dealer also explained that he was just selling it, and that the bird was actually owned by another dealer.

I was also forewarned that in this business, buyers would be vetted to see if they were genuine or trying to “game” the dealer, or maybe even an enggang (hornbill, slang for Perhilitan personnel going undercover).

A day later, the dealer sent a request to ask if I could drive down to Malacca where the seller was on holiday, to pick up the bird.

This was politely rejected and we stuck to the original arrangements.

As Perhilitan deputy director-general I Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim was kept in the loop of the impending purchase and its role in our news story, he put us in contact with one of his undercover (UC) teams who would then move in to retrieve the hatchling after the writer had positively identified the bird for sale.

After some final reconnaisance, placement of the UC team to prevent runners and briefing on code phrases, the writer walked into the meeting point which was a non-descript hair salon.

Inside the salon, after identifying myself as the purchaser, the bird was brought around for inspection.

Upon visual confirmation that this was indeed the kite hatchling as posted in a picture, I asked for directions to the nearest cash machine to withdraw money, and exited.

Less than a minute later, the Perhilitan UC team moved in.

As the Perhilitan personnel were taking down details of the salon employees and securing the bird, the writer’s cellphone began ringing and the numbers that flashed on the screen were confirmed by Veerak as belonging to the seller as well as the bird owner operating in Klang.

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Malaysia: Evacuees rising as Sarawak floods worsen

The Star 22 Feb 16;

KUCHING: The flood situation in Kuching, Serian and Samarahan worsened with the number of flood victims evacuated to relief centres increasing to 4,381 yesterday afternoon.

Sarawak Civil Defence Department public relations officer Siti Huzaimah Ibrahim said the number of relief centres had also increased to 27, providing shelter to 4,381 individuals from 1,221 families.

She said the number of relief centres opened in Kuching and Bau remained at eight each, while in Serian, the number remained at five and in Padawan, one.

In a statement here, she said two more relief centres were opened in Samarahan this afternoon, bringing the total number of relief centres to five, all of which were in Kota Samarahan.

Meanwhile, search efforts are still underway to locate a young man who went missing while trying to cross the river during the floods in Kampung Maag, Siburan, about 30km from here.

Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department’s assistant director of operations Farhan Sufyan Borhan said the rescue team, along with the police and Sarawak Civil Defence Department, were now searching for Judus Jalina, 20, who was reported missing due to the rising floods situation on Saturday. — Bernama

Flood victims in Sarawak increase to 7,931
BERNAMA New Straits Times 22 Feb 16;

KUCHING: The number of flood victims in Sarawak has risen to 7,931 comprising 2,033 families, compared to 5,769 from 1,527 families, last night.

Sarawak Civil Defence officer Siti Huzaimah Ibrahim said the number of relief centres had also been increased to 47, from 31 yesterday.

As of 6 am today, the Kuching Division has opened 24 relief centres in Kuching district compared to eight last night, and nine in Bau district.

In the Serian Division, seven relief centres remained open in Serian district and one in Padawan district while in the Samarahan Division, six remained open in Kota Samarahan district.

Siti Huzaimah said the weather in the divisions concerned has improved as of this morning, compared to the last three days. -- Bernama

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Malaysia: Forest fires raging in northern Sarawak

STEPHEN THEN The Star 21 Feb 16;

MIRI: Wildfires have razed an area the size of 200 football fields in the Kuala Baram district in northern Sarawak the past few days.

Two huge fires are still raging near populated residential estates.

Miri Fire and Rescue Department chief Supt Law Poh Kiong said the department carried out 30 rounds of aerial water bombing Sunday morning but strong winds were not doing much to help.

"The wildfires have turned into forest fires and since the smoke is very thick and dense we have to halt the water bombings for now. This morning we carried out 30 rounds of bombing," he said.

The cause of the latest forest fires are being investigated but northern Sarawak is now hit by a very hot spell.

Forest fires in Sarawak rage on, Kuala Baram records hazardous API reading
STEPHEN THEN The Star 22 Feb 16;

MIRI: The Air Pollutant Index in the Kuala Baram district in northern Sarawak hit hazardous levels on Monday, with a reading of 334 at 9am, as forest fires rage on.

Big fires close to the Industrial Training Institute here have resulted in dense smoke that has been carried by strong winds even into Miri City, some 20km away.

State Communications Assistant Minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin told The Star that the fires are very near to the API station operated by the Department of Environment.

“The areas affected by the dense smoke are recording high API readings.

“Fire fighters are on the ground doing all they can to control the flames,” he said.

An area the size of 200 football fields has already been scorched and now there are two huge fires still raging near populated residential estates.

Miri fire chief Supt Law Poh Kiong said the department will resume aerial water bombings Monday with helicopters.

The department has already carried out 60 rounds of aerial water bombings over the past 48 hours but the fires have grown to at least one square km in size due to strong winds.

The cause of the latest forest fires is still being investigated.

Northern Sarawak is presently in the midst of a very hot spell.

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Indonesia: Plastic bag charge comes into force in 22 cities simultaneously

Antara 21 Feb 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) -From Sunday, February 21, shoppers in 22 cities will have to pay for plastic bags they use to take home their purchases.

Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya officiated the new policy simultaneously applied in 22 cities during the commemoration of National Trash-Free Day in the Hotel Indonesia Circle, here, Sunday.

"Pre-paid plastic bag system is now tried in 22 cities, such as Jakarta, Bandung, Balikpapan, Makassar and Surabaya. The system is being administered by provincial and municipality governments," the minister said.

The central government is facilitating and supporting local administrations to reduce plastic trash by applying the pre-paid plastic bag system, she noted.

The ministry has suggested that a shopper should be charged minimum of Rp200 per bag, but many cities will charge much higher to encourage shoppers to bring their own bags from home.

The Jakarta administration, for instance, has decided to charge Rp5,000 per bag in every shopping place, including in mini-markets and traditional markets.

Balikpapan in East Kalimantan Province will charge Rp1,500 per bag and Makassar in South Sulawesi Rp4,500 per bag.

Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil said his city could receive economic benefit worth Rp1 billion per day or Rp360 billion per year from the pre-paid bag policy.

The system will be tried for six months and evaluated in every three months.

Indonesia to reduce up to 1.9 tons of plastic garbage
Antara 21 Feb 16;

Bekasi, West Java (ANTARA News) - Indonesia plans to reduce its plastic garbage by up to 1.9 tons in a year through its garbage reduction program.

"The program will be implemented simultaneously across 22 cities in Indonesia, starting from February 21 in conjunction with the National Waste Care Day," head of the Directorate of Waste Management of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Sudirman, said here on Saturday.

He said national garbage production in a year has reached 64 million tons.

"Around 14 percent of the garbage comprises plastic, weighing 8.9 million tons," he said, after his speech at "Public Dialogue: Boosting the Use of Garbage Gas as Electricity Energy and Development of Regional Dumping Site" at Bantargebang integrated garbage management plant here on Saturday.

He said efforts to reduce the plastic garbage were in line with the governments National Mid-Term Development Plan to reduce national garbage by around 11 percent in 2016.

"One of the efforts is aimed at reducing plastic bags via this program," he said.

Sudirman said the plan would be carried out in stages, with the retail shopping centers being the first target.

He said later the consumers would be required to pay Rp200 per bag to carry their groceries.

"The policy will certainly be implemented in stages at traditional marketplaces," he said.

If the evaluation showed that plastic garbage dropped has significantly, then an increase in the price of plastic bag can be considered, he said.

The proceeds from the sale of plastic bags will later be accumulated and ploughed back into the retail shops economy to be used to support community welfare programs, he said. (*)

If the program is successful, the government will issue a ministerial regulation on this environmentally friendly policy.(*)

Indonesia to launch national trash-free movement
Antara 20 Feb 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Government is to launch the Indonesia Trash Free Movement 2020 during the commemoration of the trash-free day which falls on February 21.

President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and some 35 communities will declare the national movement on the Hotel Indonesia Roundabout, Jakarta Sunday, Director General of trash and waste management of the Environment and Forestry Ministry Tuti Hendrawati Mintarsih said here Saturday.

"President Joko Widodo will participate to promote the movement campaign by having a teleconference with four city mayors and asking the attendants to do kerja bakti (community service)," Mintarsih said.

As many as 706 local communities all over Indonesia also stated their support to the national movement in which they can elaborate the movement in a website ( and social media using #bebassampah2020 tagline.

During the launch of the movement, the government will also conduct a socialization of a policy trial on a plastic bag charge conducted in 22 cities and the entire regions of Jakarta.

The government has issued a regulation on plastic bag charge which oblige modern retailers to charge customers for plastic bags starting Sunday.

The policy is aimed at reducing the use of plastic bags. "That Indonesia will no longer become the second largest plastic garbage producer after China," Mintarsih said.

The movement has gained a lot of support, founder of Greeneration Indonesia Bijaksana Junerosano said.

"Various communities in Indonesia are enthusiastic about joining the movement. Some are willing to clean the garbage in the ocean, rivers, mountains or in cities," Junerosano said.

Meanwhile, official data from the ministry said that Indonesia will generate 68 million tons of garbage in 2019, which is 14 percent or around 9.52 tons of it is plastic garbage.

A study conducted by a research team, led by Jenna Jambeck from the University of Georgia, stated that more than half of the plastic waste that flows into the oceans comes from five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, along with Sri Lanka.

China was said to become the major contributor of worlds plastic waste with 8.82 tons per year of mismanaged plastic waste, while Indonesia sits at second place with 3.32 tons per year.

Shoppers say goodbye to free plastic bags
Corry Elyda, Indra Harsaputra, Hotli Simanjuntak and N. Adri, The Jakarta Post 22 Feb 16;

After a year of preparation, Indonesia kicked off on Sunday the implementation of a new policy that requires modern retailers to charge customers for plastic bags in the country’s biggest concerted effort to reduce plastic waste.

The policy, launched to coincide with National Waste Awareness Day, has been implemented in seven major cities — Jakarta, Bandung, Bogor, Banda Aceh, Surabaya, Tangerang and Balikpapan — which together are home to almost 10 percent of the country’s 250 million people.

The plastic bag tax is expected to eventually be implemented in a total of 23 major cities.

In Jakarta, consumers have given the policy a warm welcome.

Christin, a 36-year-old housewife, was not surprised when a cashier at a convenience store in Palmerah, West Jakarta, said that she had to pay Rp 200 (1.5 US cent) to get a plastic bag for the bottle of mineral water she had just bought.

“Oh, let me just put it in my bag,” she said, while zipping open her handbag and putting the mineral water in.

Christin said she had learned about the new policy from WhatsApp groups and the news.

“I think the policy is good for our environment,” she said.

In Surabaya, the country’s second largest city, 30-year-old Rita Sugiharto also expressed her support.

“I hope the program remains sustainable as it will prevent people from throwing away plastic bags carelessly,” she said.

Data from the Environment and Forestry Ministry shows that people consume up to 9.8 billion plastic bags every year in Indonesia, with 95 percent of those being made with plastics that take a considerable length of time to break down naturally.

In February last year, the ministry issued a circular stating that retailers should start charging for plastic bags. The call was prompted by petitions both online and offline, which attracted 70,000 signatures.

In Banda Aceh, Mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin said her administration would implement the policy in stages in a number of supermarkets and traditional markets.

Separately, the Balikpapan municipal administration in East Kalimantan expected the program to reduce the amount of garbage in the city by 50 tons daily.

Indonesia bag levy aims to cut pollution
Avantika Chilkoti in Jakarta, Financial Times 21 Feb 16;

Indonesia, the world’s second-biggest plastic polluter, has imposed a new levy on plastic bags — but experts say it is a tiny step towards ridding the nation of the biggest visible blight of its land and waters.

The country ranks second only to China as the world’s largest plastic polluter, according to a University of Georgia-led study of coastal countries last year. The result is clogged waterways and threatened marine life, hurting the country’s fishing and tourism industries.

The new levy on plastic bags, 9.6m of which handed out every day, came into effect on Sunday in 23 cities and regions, including the capital Jakarta, Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city and Denpasar in Bali. It is due to be rolled out nationwide in June.

Activists warn that the levy may fail to deter shoppers and could be ignored by small retailers given ingrained habits and a poor history of enforcing environmental rules. The scheme follows more piecemeal moves in other emerging markets, including parts of China and India, where official curbs on the use of plastic bags have had little effect.

On Sunday evening, hours after the new policy came into force, teenagers buying snacks didn’t a blink an eyelid at the Rp200 additional charge for a bag at one popular 7-Eleven store in central Jakarta, where a sign at the cashier warned customers of the new regulation. Meanwhile, smaller convenience stores in the area continued handing out carrier bags free of charge.

“The biggest challenge is how to educate people to participate in this program, how to make people understand that plastic bags take a long time to decay,” says Tuti Hendrawati Mintarsih at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in Jakarta. “We are trying to change people’s mindset, to encourage people to bring their own bag when shopping.”

Official data suggests Indonesia produced 64m tons of garbage last year, 15 per cent of which was plastic waste. That compares with 49m in neighbouring Vietnam, which has a population just over one-third the size of Indonesia’s.

The government expects the scheme, limited to formal retailers at first, to reduce the total plastic waste produced in Indonesia this year by 1m tonnes — roughly one-tenth of the total and almost three times the weight of the Empire State Building.

Jakarta has been in talks with the Indonesian retailers association, Aprindo, to set the price for each plastic bag at between Rp200 ($0.01) and Rp500, all of which will go towards unspecified environmental campaigns — a lack of detail that has been attacked by green groups.

According to Yuyun Ismawati, an Indonesian environmental engineer and expert on waste management, the new measures are unlikely to prove effective unless the government also curbs producers’ use of excessive packaging and overhauls the
waste management system, given the country is still reliant on scavengers to sort household rubbish.

“I don’t think it’s fair putting the responsibility on the public to be responsible for the bag,” she says. “This is the beginning but there are a lot of issues that need to be looked at by the government if they want to take this seriously.”

In emerging markets like Indonesia, where much of the public shop in informal stalls and customers are used to receiving everything from groceries to traditional satay and iced teas tied up in plastic bags, the government faces major challenges in policing small traders and explaining the new charge to shoppers.

“I disagree with this policy entirely, plastic bags should be part of services from the store,” says Nevro Inef, 22, at the popular Hero supermarket in central Jakarta. “We do our shopping here and we deserve to get a plastic bag for free.”

Additional reporting by Taufan Hidayat in Jakarta

Indonesia launches campaign to reduce use of plastic bags
According to guidelines issued by the Environment Ministry, retailers should charge consumers up to Rp5,000 (US$0.37) for each plastic bag used.
Sujadi Siswo Channel NewsAsia 21 Feb 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia on Sunday (Feb 21) launched a nationwide campaign to reduce the use of plastic bags, with guidelines for retailers to charge consumers up to Rp5,000 (US$0.37) for each plastic bag used.

Although still under trial and not officially legislated yet, 23 cities and regions in the country have already started charging for plastic bags.

According to guidelines issued by the Environment Ministry, retailers should charge consumers between Rp200 and Rp5,000 for each bag. Jakarta’s municipal government has said it wants retailers in the capital to charge the maximum Rp5,000.

Indonesia is the world’s second-biggest user of plastic bags after China, with around 9.8 billion plastic bags used in the country each year.

The figure is expected to rise significantly together with the country’s burgeoning middle-class that currently stands at around 74 million people and is expected to double by 2020.

Retailers’ association APRINDO said its 100 members used nearly 11 million plastic bags last year. Its target is to reduce the figure by 20 per cent by 2020.

The campaign’s biggest challenge is to convince small retailers in traditional stores and markets, which account for 90 per cent of the country’s retail sector.

Major cities in Indonesia are facing waste management problems with limited landfills. The government has said it plans to build several plants to turn the waste into energy.

- CNA/cy

Indonesians Welcome Pay for Plastic Bag Policy
Shenny Fierdha Chumaira Jakarta Globe 22 Feb 16;

Jakarta. Indonesians have been quick to embrace the new policy of paying for plastic bags each time they purchase groceries, saying the environmental benefits outweigh the hassle of bringing their own bags.

“I agree with the policy and many advanced countries such as the US and those in Europe actually have implemented it a long time ago. It makes their number of plastic consumption really low,” Aini Mutiah Sabrina, a teacher in the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar, told the Jakarta Globe on Monday.

She added that like many of her peers she often brings her own reusable canvas bags from home.

“If I forget to bring my shopping bags, I will not buy anything unless it is really necessary.”

The policy, implemented in 22 cities across Indonesia, was rolled out on Sunday in a bid to cut down waste.

Indonesia ranks second among the world's largest plastic waste producers, behind only China, using 187.2 million tons each year, according to a study published last year in the journal Science.

The policy will run as a trial for six months, before being implemented elsewhere if proven successful, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said.

Although the ministry recommends charging customers Rp 200 per bag, the actual costs are decided by provincial and city governments.

But some are skeptical charging such a low sum will significantly reduce plastic waste — which takes dozens of years to decompose in the overflowing landfills across the country's major cities.

“The government could instead shut down plastic manufacturers and give them proper training to do business other than plastic,” travel agency owner Ria Pratama of Bogor, West Java, told the Globe.

Support mounts for bag charge policy despite shaky legal basis
Ni Komang Erviani, Ganug Nugroho Adi and Arya Dipa, The Jakarta Post 23 Feb 16;

Modern retailers in several major cities across the country have expressed a willingness to support and maintain the sustainability of the newly introduced plastic bag charge policy despite the absence of any legal standing with regard to the program in the respective regions.

The policy, launched on Sunday to coincide with National Waste Awareness Day, has initially been implemented in seven major cities — Jakarta, Bandung, Bogor, Banda Aceh, Surabaya, Tangerang and Balikpapan — which, combined, are home to almost 10 percent of the country’s 250 million people.

It is expected that the plastic bag charge is to eventually be implemented in a total of 23 major cities.

With the exception of Bandung, none of the allocated cities have a bylaw or other legal standing with regard to plastic bag reduction.

This, however, has not discouraged modern retailers from joining the campaign.

In Denpasar, Bali, the management of Tiara Dewata, the island’s oldest supermarket chain, said it was ready to implement the program despite the absence of official information from local authorities.

Tiara Dewata spokesperson Gusti Ayu Sriani said that the supermarket had implemented various plastic programs to raise the public’s awareness on the dangers of plastic.

The supermarket already charges an additional fee when customers ask for extra plastic bags. In addition to this, customers who bring their own shopping bag with them to the supermarket are offered points that can be exchanged for gifts.

“It wasn’t easy to introduce the program,” Sriani said over the weekend.

“We try our best to explain its purpose to our customers.”

While Denpasar and Makassar, in South Sulawesi, were among the first cities to implement the program on Feb. 21, last week both cities confirmed that they would postpone due to paperwork issues.

The Denpasar administration’s Environment Agency head Anak Agung Bagus Sudharsana said the municipal administration would introduce the policy later this week after signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with five retail companies, including Tiara Dewata.

In Bandung, retailers have also pledged their support for the policy.

“One of our challenges surrounds how we educate our outlet cashiers about the program,” said Muhammad Afran, a spokesperson for PT Sumber Alfaria Trijaya, the company that owns minimarket chain Alfamart and grocery store Alfamidi.

Bandung’s 2012 bylaw on plastic bag reduction only stipulates that retailers have an obligation to provide customers with environmentally friendly plastic bags; it mentions nothing about charging customers extra for using plastic bags.

In February last year, prompted by online and offline petitions that attracted 70,000 signatures, the Environment and Forestry Ministry issued a circular stating that retailers should start charging for plastic bags.

Under the policy, customers shopping in malls, department stores, supermarkets and other modern retailers must now pay Rp 200 (1.5 US cents) for each plastic bag.

The fee, however, is subject to change if and when a local administration issues a bylaw or other official regulation regarding the implementation of the policy in its jurisdiction.

Meanwhile in Surakarta, Central Java, the municipal administration on Sunday distributed 5,000 free cloth bags to local residents in an attempt to educate the public about the plastic bag tax policy.

Mayor FX Hadi Rudyatmo said that his administration had secured commitments from modern retailers in Surakarta to jointly implement the policy, which is currently in trial stage in the city.

“We will soon seal their commitment in an MoU,” he said.

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Indonesia: Residents struggle with huge losses after floods, landslides

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb and Nurni Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post 22 Feb 16;

Lusi Andriyani, a resident of Koto Baru subdistrict in South Solok regency, West Sumatra, could not hide her sadness as she recounted how a recent flash flood had destroyed her rice crop in two separate locations.

On one side of the village, floods left a meter of mud covering a hectare of her fields, and destroyed two-month-old rice plants on the other side.

“We had expected to harvest the rice in May to pay the expenses for our haj pilgrimage this year,” Lusi said on Sunday.

“But it seems that God has another plan for us.”

A series of floods and landslides triggered by heavy downpours hit 11 regions in West Sumatra on Feb. 7 and 8, killing nine people and damaging over 1,700 houses.

The floods also inundated 3,000 houses, 265 kiosks and dozens of school and government buildings, paralyzing activities in the affected regions.

Other regions were cut off after the disasters caused damage to roads in 56 places, as well as 45 bridges.

Other affected property included 4,888 hectares of rice fields, 599 hectares of plantations, 110 fish ponds and 42 irrigation facilities.

Given the scale of the damage, the provincial administration said last week that it would not be able to redress the impact without support from the central government.

Acting West Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Zulfiatno said that according to provisional data, the losses caused by the disasters reached up to Rp 224.4 billion (US$16.6 million). The figure, however, could change at anytime as assessment was ongoing, he added.

“It is impossible for our regional or provincial budgets to cover such losses,” Zulfiatno said on Friday, adding that aid from the central government was urgently needed to help restore the affected regions.

Of the affected regions, South Solok is the worst-hit regency, with losses estimated to reach Rp 109 billion, followed by Limapuluh Kota regency with Rp 79.6 billion in losses and Pasaman regency with Rp 32.5 billion.

Emergency response activities are still ongoing in a number of badly hit regions, while aid is pouring into the province and heavy machinery is still working to restore riverbanks and clear sand from public facilities and people’s houses.

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 has subsequently triggered floods in several provinces, including Aceh, North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Riau and Central Java.

In Riau, floods hit three regencies — Kampar, Rokan Hulu and Kuantan Singingi — earlier this month, forcing authorities in the three regencies to declare an emergency status.

In East Java, floods from the overflowing Kalikemuning River in Sampang submerged thousands of houses across the regency on Feb. 11, leaving at least one person dead.

The Sampang BPBD has described the floods as the regency’s most disastrous to date.

Meanwhile in North Sumatra, victims of a recent flood in Binjai municipality are appealing for aid.

The Binjai flood inundated five districts, namely Binjai Kota, East Binjai, West Binjai, North Binjai and South Binjai.

Apart from inundating hundreds of houses, the flood also submerged a number of public facilities including schools and places of worship.

One local man, Idris, 72, has been sheltering in a mosque with his wife since floods swept away his house three months ago.

“No aid has been forthcoming so far, not even from the local administration,” he said.

“I don’t know what to do. I want to rebuild my house and live a normal life like before, but I don’t know how.”

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A malaria crisis looms

NIRMAL GHOSH Straits Times The Star 22 Feb 16;

DR Aung Pyae Phyo drives his old car at breakneck speed from Mae Sot up the winding road between gently undulating bean and sugar cane fields, now mostly harvested and bare, to the village of Wang Pha, where the Moei River, narrow and deep, marks the Thai-Myanmar border.

The 39-year-old Myanmar national, who studied medicine at Rangoon University, is now working at the Mae Sot-based Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) and doing his PhD on drug-resistant malaria. SMRU is a field station of the Faculty of Tropical Medicine of Mahidol University in Bangkok, and is part of the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (Moru) supported by theBritain-based Wellcome Trust.

On the 25km drive to Wang Pha, where Dr Aung works at its SMRU clinic, he talks non-stop, excited about his work. And, shaking his head, he remembers well the case of the 29-year-old patient who, on Nov 26, visited the clinic from Myanmar.

The man had malaria, a disease caused by parasites transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito. The parasite in this case was falciparum – the most lethal.

The treatment for malaria is straightforward – a drug called artemisinin which is administered in combination with a partner drug. Artemisinin kills most of the parasites quickly; and over a longer period, the partner drug mops up what’s left of them. This has worked for years, driving down the number of malaria cases.

Globally, there were 214 million new cases of malaria last year, which killed an estimated 438,000 people, mostly little children. Africa accounted for 90% of the deaths, followed by South-East Asia with 7%. Since 2000, deaths from malaria have declined by 85% in South-East Asia.

MUST USE: Dr Nosten (right) and Dr Aung (left) have highlighted the danger of multidrug- resistant malaria - and its rapid spread.
Frontlines: Dr Nosten (right) and Dr Aung are worried about the danger of multidrug-resistant malaria and its rapid spread. — The Straits Times/Asia News Network
Nowadays, SMRU’s four clinics, strung along the Thailand side of the border, do not get many malaria cases; last year they registered 369.

But this case – just three months ago – was different. Two oral doses and one injection of an artemisinin/partner drug combination, and then a dose of an old remedy, quinine, failed to remove the parasite from the young man’s blood.

He had arrived in the morning. “At dinner that evening he was okay,” Dr Aung remembers. “He ate the food. Then just a couple of hours later, he became confused. And then he died.”

Dangerously off the radar

Malaria as a life-threatening tropical disease has fallen off the media radar in recent years as other tropical, mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and Zika have been on the rise.

Zika, in particular, has caught global attention in recent months with the outbreak in Brazil thought to be linked to a rash of microcephaly – or abnormal smallness of the head often related with incomplete brain development – cases among newborns.

Dengue has become a fact of everyday urban life across South and South-East Asia and is bound to get worse as the conditions that the virus thrives on spread – more urbanised environments, greater and more rapid mobility of people, and faster breeding of mosquitoes on a warming planet, meaning more mosquitoes.

Malaria, by contrast, has seen a steady decline. Yet, that masks the deadly booby trap of drug resistance that has been building up and, if it gains ground, could kill millions.

The dreaded multidrug-resistant parasite is spreading in Myanmar and Cambodia, raising red flags among those in the scientific and medical community working in the field. Researchers have found that the resistant parasite has one particular molecule that they call a “marker” and named K13.

If the genome of the parasite were laid out like a map, K13 – a mutation – would be present in one section of it.

In the scientific equivalent of dark clouds building up on the horizon, more and more blood samples from malaria patients and carriers are showing up with K13 markers.

“Before 2008, SMRU had 1% to 2% of blood samples with K13,” said Dr Aung. “In 2013, they had 85%.”

Additionally, once treatment begins, the doctors time the clearance of the parasite from the bloodstream of an infected person. On the Thai-Myanmar border, they have found it takes longer and longer. Last year, the amount of time it took for the parasite to be cleared from the bloodstream of patients there converged with that for patients in Cambodia, where the drug-resistant parasite had emerged earlier, said Dr Aung.

“In 2012, we thought we would be the same as Cambodia – the cradle of drug-resistant parasites – in five years. But it has taken less time.”

A paper published last February in the medical journal Lancet –co-authored by more than 20 researchers and scientists, and funded by the Wellcome Trust, Moru and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – concluded from a study in Myanmar that artemisinin resistance extends across much of the country.

Overall, 39% of 940 samples had a K13 mutation, the study showed. In Homalin, an area in Sagaing region 25km from the Indian border, 21 out of 45 – or 47% – of parasite samples had K13 mutations.

The race to eliminate the parasite

Two drugs are being developed to counter the parasite, and SMRU is helping to test them. But the best estimate is that the drugs will be available in four to five years; they could take even longer to be actually deployed and used. And this is only if all goes according to plan.

“It seems everything is okay,” Dr Francois Nosten, 59, head of SMRU, said in an interview at his office in Mae Sot. “You see there is no case of malaria in the clinic, and you think everything is fine. But what history tells us is that when this parasite becomes resistant, then sooner or later, the number of patients is going to increase again.

“We are in a race, because the only thing we are pretty sure of is if the parasite is too resistant to drugs then patients won’t get better, they will continue to transmit the disease, there will be more and more cases, and eventually more and more people will die.”

Historically, the malaria parasite’s resistance to drugs has always first emerged in South-East Asia and spread to South Asia and on to Africa.

The fear is that this history is repeating itself.

SMRU has started a pilot malaria-elimination programme which involves old-fashioned slogging through mosquito-infested forests, navigating among rebel militias and gaining the trust of remote rural communities.

The programme covers 300,000 people in 1,200 villages across four townships of eastern Myanmar and Karen state. The tactic: Treat the entire population, whether or not they have malaria symptoms.

“The rationale is if you want to stop the spread of resistance and control the programme early on, you have to get rid of the last parasite,” said Dr Lorenz von Seidlein, who runs the Targeted Malaria Elimination Programme at Moru in Bangkok, which partners with the SMRU on the border. “No more transmission means no more resistance.”

Dr Nosten hopes that by the end of this year, it will be clear whether the programme has worked or not – and why – so that it can be replicated elsewhere if it was successful.

But these scientists in the field, who are seeing drug resistance building first-hand, are frustrated at the lack of attention to the looming problem.

Looming emergency

“Here we are on the edge of the cliff, but where is the international outrage, where is the political leadership and dynamism?” asked Prof Nick White, 64, chairman of Well-come Trust’s tropical medicine research programmes in South-East Asia, and a world authority on malaria.

“It’s the third time around,” he said, referring to two previous surges of malaria as the parasite developed resistance to earlier drugs.

“But I’m not sure we are going to win this one. There isn’t enough political interest.

“We can see this looming emergency but until it’s around, the newspapers, the politicians, the donors, I’m afraid, unfortunately, international agencies won’t react.”

What the experts at Moru and SMRU want is “a more concentrated effort”, said Dr von Seidlein. “If people would react to what is happening in the field and focus their efforts, go to the sites and try to ramp up control, perhaps you could control it.”

In his rudimentary office at the SMRU clinic on the border, where Myanmar workers and families cross the river into Thailand in the hundreds and thousands every day, Dr Aung was straightforward.

He logged into his computer and pulled up the data on the patient who died last November. The lines on the graph showed clearly how the parasite was almost unaffected by the treatment. He shook his head again.

“If we have more cases like this, we are doomed,” he said. — The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Nirmal Ghosh is The Straits Times’ Indochina Bureau Chief.

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