Best of our wild blogs: 26 Feb 16



Tue 01 Mar 2016: 7.00pm – Tony O’Dempsey on “Conservation Engagement in Singapore and the Cross-Island Line”
Otterman speaks

Cross Island Line – ‘A remarkable engagement process between the nature community and LTA, MOT, NParks & MND’
Otterman speaks


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Engaging with stakeholders the way forward

Straits Times 26 Feb 16;

Mr Robin Lim Jit Piow feels that we should make balanced and informed decisions, which may be jeopardised by interest groups advocating extreme views ("Zero impact on nature not realistic in S'pore"; yesterday).

I could not agree more.

What has been overlooked in the coverage of the Cross Island Line (CRL) issue has been a remarkable engagement process between the nature community, the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the Ministry of Transport, the National Parks Board (NParks) and the Ministry of National Development.

Over the past 21/2 years, they have dedicated hundreds of hours of their time and energy over meetings, discussions, site visits, and a careful review of draft documents.

Nature Society (Singapore) member Tony O'Dempsey stood out for his dedication.

The result is an environmental impact assessment (EIA) that brings the risk associated with soil investigation works for the proposed MRT alignments down to an acceptable level.

There is more to come.

Findings from the soil investigation works, which will be closely monitored by experienced ecologists from NParks, will be important in helping us determine how to proceed with an EIA for overall project options.

A decision on the CRL route will be made after engineering feasibility, financial costs, ridership access, impact to residents, possible land acquisition, and, last but not least, impact to Singapore's natural heritage are carefully weighed.

The Nature Society's preferred CRL alignment is to avoid the nature reserve and we have given our reasons.

However, we acknowledge and respect other views, and know the complexities of the planning process.

The LTA reached out to us to make this process more transparent and robust, in hopes of a better outcome for Singapore.

I would like a win-win situation, one where, hopefully, long-time residents will not need to lose homes and where there is no risk to irreplaceable natural heritage.

Through a meaningful engagement process, we may achieve something that is best for the long-term interests of Singapore while minimising (if not eliminating) losses of any form.

Such an extended consultation process is unprecedented in my 20 years of involvement in nature conservation work.

I hope that the CRL discussion process will not be an isolated example of public-people sector engagement.

This could be a model for cross-sectoral interaction, one that welcomes diverse views, encourages meaningful and honest discussions, and one that makes us a more sympathetic, thoughtful and participatory society.

Shawn Lum

President

Nature Society (Singapore)

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


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Singapore, Malaysia to have regular exchanges to monitor water supply issues

Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli and his Malaysian counterpart Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water Maximus Ongkili agreed that climate change presented challenges to all countries.

Channel NewsAsia 25 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: Causeway neighbours Singapore and Malaysia will have regular exchanges to monitor and implement mitigation measures to address water issues, according to the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR).

In a press release on Thursday (Feb 25), the ministry said both Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli and Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water Maximus Ongkili agreed that climate change presented challenges to all countries.

One example is the Linggiu Reservoir, which in recent months has not been able to have "healthy" water levels due to low rainfall. Water levels at Johor's Linggiu Reservoir had dropped to a historic low of 43 per cent last November.

"This can cause salinity intrusion in Johor River, thus disrupting Singapore's abstraction of its 250 millions of gallons per day (mgd) entitlement," said MEWR.

As such, both ministers agreed in principle to the regular exchanges to address this concern and ensure a reliable supply of water for both countries, it added.

Mr Masagos also called on Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar on Thursday, and they welcomed the "excellent" environmental cooperation between both countries, MEWR stated. They also called for greater collective action on tackling the perennial transboundary haze pollution in South-east Asia.

Both ministers reaffirmed their commitment to work together to exchange information and address any potential environmental impact of land reclamation projects in the Straits of Johor, MEWR added.

Mr Masagos also made a courtesy call on Minister of Federal Territories and UMNO Secretary-General Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor.

- CNA/kk

S’pore, M’sia pledge to cooperate to ensure reliable water supply
SIAU MING EN Today Online 26 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — With the risk of not being able to reliably draw water from the Johor River due to the below-healthy water levels in the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor, Singapore and Malaysia have agreed “in principle” to have regular exchanges to monitor and implement mitigation measures to ensure a reliable supply of water for both countries.

During an introductory visit by the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli to Malaysia’s Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water Maximus Ongkili yesterday, both ministers agreed that climate change has presented challenges to all countries.

These challenges include the fact that the low rainfall of recent months had not been able to keep the water in Linggiu Reservoir at healthy levels, said a Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) spokesperson in a press release on the meeting issued yesterday.

Water levels in the reservoir, Singapore’s major water supply source, stood at 49 per cent last month, despite the start of the north-east monsoon season in December.

The low water levels can cause salinity intrusion — or salt water entering the body of fresh water — in the Johor River.

This can disrupt Singapore’s ability to extract and treat up to 250 million gallons of water a day from the river, which is provided for under the 1962 water agreement between Singapore and Malaysia.

Mr Masagos’ one-day working visit yesterday was part of Singapore’s efforts to strengthen its engagement on environmental and water collaborations with Malaysia.

He also called on Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, where they called for “greater collective action on tackling the perennial transboundary haze pollution in South-east Asia”.

Both ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to work together to exchange information and address any potential environmental impact of land reclamation projects in the Straits of Johor, added the MEWR spokesperson.

The controversial Johor Forest City project has since restarted its reclamation work in March last year.

Last week, Singapore said it was concerned that the reclamation work on some of the Malaysian projects in the Straits of Johor may have commenced without the requisite Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). In cases where Malaysia informed Singapore that the EIAs have been conducted, not all the reports have been shared with Singapore.


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Yishun, Clementi to use fogging to curb mynah nuisance

Efforts by the AVA and Nee Soon Town Council to prune the trees in Yishun and limit the birds' food source have not been enough to deter them from returning.

Channel NewsAsia 26 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: Fogging will be done for selected trees in Yishun and Clementi to manage the mynah population.

It is part of a year-long pilot by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) that started in Yishun on Thursday (Feb 25). It will kick off in Clementi in March.

Residents in Yishun have complained about the noise caused by nearby mynahs. Efforts by the AVA and Nee Soon Town Council to prune the trees and limit their food source have not been enough.

The trees will therefore be fogged with a chemical for five days every two months. The chemical causes temporary irritation to the mynahs, which aims to deter them from coming back. AVA said the fog acts as a sensory repellent and will not harm the birds.

However, authorities also said this is not a long-term solution.

Mr Louis Ng, MP for Nee Soon GRC, said: “It's part of the solution. So I think the key here is this isn't the only thing that we want to do. The other thing we really need to do is to enforce the (rule of not) feeding the birds - the mynahs, the pigeons. Because ultimately, that is the root of the problem. The population is increasing because people are feeding the birds. '

- CNA/ek


New method on trial to repel pesky birds
Samantha Boh, The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 Feb 16;

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) yesterday launched a new method to repel mynahs in Clementi and Yishun. These birds have drawn complaints for the nuisance they cause.

Every two months for the next year, the AVA will be fogging the trees where the birds roost in Yishun Street 71 and Clementi West Street 2 with a chemical repellent.

The chemical - which has methylated soya bean oil and grape extract - causes a brief, temporary burning feeling in the mouths, throats and other parts of the mynahs' faces.

Ms Janet Chia, 29, executive manager of operations at the wild animals section at AVA, said: "While repeated fogging will not affect the birds' health, we hope that the birds will learn to avoid the area."

She said the chemical is not known to have adverse effects on humans or animals, and has been effective in stopping birds from feeding on crops in the United States.

The trial comes as the number of bird-related feedback to the AVA jumped from about 5,700 in 2014 to about 7,300 last year. Complaints about mynahs rose from about 360 in 2014 to about 500 last year.

The AVA and town councils received around 110 complaints in total from residents in Yishun Street 71 and Clementi West Street 2 last year and the year before. Most are about the noise and soiling caused by the birds.

Madam Azizah Salam, 64, a retiree who lives in Yishun Street 71, said bird droppings often dirty cars and common corridors."They can be very noisy in the morning and in the evening too," she said.

The AVA said it will assess the method's effectiveness and determine if it should be implemented elsewhere. It added that a similar trial in 2014 in Jurong West Street 64 found that five consecutive days of fogging kept the birds away for only about two months. Hence the new trials will each last a year.

The trial in Yishun started yesterday, while the one in Clementi will begin next month. Each bi-monthly session involves fogging for five consecutive evenings.

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng said some residents do not want the birds to be harmed, while others want to get rid of them.

"Using this method, which is more humane and doesn't harm the birds, the birds are repelled from this area, addressing both sides of residents' concerns," he said.

Said Ms Chia: "The public should not feed the birds as feeding may encourage the birds to congregate or result in an increase in their population, which could result in related nuisance and hygiene issues."


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Marsh ado about Kranji

CHRISTOPHER TOH Today Online 25 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s natural biodiversity has been in the spotlight in recent months, and perhaps there’s no better time to get in touch with Mother Nature than now.

After all, the opening up of nature trails and environments such as Coney Island in the north-east of Singapore, or the guided tours on the Eco-Link@BKE has given us more options if we want to trade the concrete jungle for more natural environments.

On Saturday (Feb 27), guided tours begin at yet another nature reserve: The newly opened Kranji Marshes. Located next to D’Kranji Farm Resort, it is open from 7am to 7pm, and covers an area of 56.8 hectares (about the size of 60 football fields) in total. However, it is currently separated into two main sections: One that is accessible to the public, which is rather small; and a larger “core conservation area” that is currently off-limits.

According to an NParks staff member at the marshland, this is due to the ecological sensitivity of the area, adding that it would take a while before the conservation area would be open to public on a permanent basis.

NParks’ director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah previously told TODAY this is because the vegetation has not grown back yet, and the wildlife is still coming back. NParks, he added, will assess how the conditions are like before it considers opening the area to the public.

GUIDING THE WAY

The only way to see this area then, is through the guided tours. There are currently two of them each month: An evening walkabout conducted by the NParks, and a morning walk by the Nature Society of Singapore (NSS).

Birds are the main attraction of the marshland. More than 170 species of them can be found there, including birds of prey such as the changeable hawk eagle and the white-breasted sea eagle that you can see soaring high in the sky; familiar birds such as the blue-eared kingfisher and the purple heron; and water waders such as the more common white-breasted waterhen or the purple swamphen, which is one of the 22 threatened species found in the area.

There are also 54 species of butterfly and 33 species of dragonfly. And you’ve also got various reptiles, such as snakes and lizards, as well as various species of fish that inhabit the space.

Just don’t expect the animals to be on display for your entertainment. If you go around noon, the chances of seeing them are less (with the possible exception of the reptiles — some of the lizards, such as the changeable lizard, can be seen catching a few rays).

The best times to see these animals are the early morning (7am to 10am) or evening (5pm to 7pm). That’s when they usually come out to feed. However, you’ll need a keen eye to spot them. Most of the animals are very shy and wary of humans, so you’re advised to keep very, very quiet when you’re on the trail.

(Plus, those timings are certainly not going to be as hot as when we dropped by at 11am earlier this week, to our detriment.)

ON A WALKABOUT

The walk starts from the main entrance, called Kranji Gate, and wends down a paved road that runs along a stretch called Neo Tiew Woods for about a kilometre (it ought to take about 15 to 20 minutes, 25 minutes if you take a leisurely stroll).

It’s also very wheelchair-accessible. There are two rest stops along the way — Weaver Shelter and Woodpecker Shelter — where you can take a breather and learn more about the wildlife in the area, thanks to information signboards that are posted up.

Along the way, you can spot various common birds such as the common myna, the black-naped oriole and the Pacific swallow.

From the second stop (Woodpecker Shelter), it’s a hop, skip and jump to Marsh Station. Here, two hides have been built, which allows you to observe the wildlife without frightening the animals. A 10.65m-tall tower (Raptor Tower) allows you get a bird’s eye view of the area. (We’re talking about a low-flying bird, of course.)

Unfortunately, the view to the north-west isn’t at all inviting, thanks to the construction in the area, which the NParks said was to create more farmland. So it’s best to focus on the northeast, where the Turut Woods and West Marsh are located; or the south-east region, which looks out into Kranji Reservoir, and the Peng Siang and Tengah rivers. It is also a great spot to snap an image of the sunset.

Unlike the mangrove areas of nearby Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (which is about a five to 10-minute drive away), the Kranji Marshes, as its name implies, constitutes marshland and swamps, so you’re advised to stay on the trail. There are grassy areas that look like you can step on them, but don’t be surprised to find your feet suddenly submerged, said the NParks staffer.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

Also, you have to be prepared to expect the unexpected. While we were there for example, a kingfisher swooped down in front of us to pick up what looked like a brown leaf off the ground before dropping it again. It turned out to be a baby bird — it didn’t even have feathers yet, just down covering its small body. The chick was in obvious pain, and in all probability, had very little chance of surviving. Despite our urbanisation, it’s the law of the jungle in places like these; and we, as humans, don’t really have a say in it.

But that’s why it’s important to listen to your guides, who not only offer information about the area but also tips on etiquette (the big one being don’t leave anything behind but your footprints; and don’t take anything but photographs).

Compared to its larger cousin nearby, aka Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, the Kranji Marshes might seem a little tame. (Indeed, we met some students from the university who said they were “a little disappointed” that the public area was so built up and manicured.)

That said, thanks to its accessibility, it is a good way for city slickers to dip your toes into the larger world of nature. And once you’ve navigated that, you can pop over to Sungei Buloh and make a day of it.

***

HOW TO GET THERE

There is a small car park that can accommodate 20 cars, 10 motorcycles and 10 bicycles. Alternatively, you can take the MRT to Kranji and catch the Kranji Express bus from there. (The bus operates daily from 8.30am to 5.45pm and also makes stops at Sungei Buloh.)

***

THINGS TO BRING

1. A pair of binoculars — the better to see wildlife with.

2. A camera with a zoom lens.

3. A hat. A must-have.

4. Sunglasses. Optional, but we advise it as it can get quite bright and hot.

5. Wear comfortable walking shoes and light clothing. Those who don’t want to get sunburnt might want to consider wearing long-sleeved shirts or loose long pants.

6. Water — lots of it.

7. A poncho or raincoat (in case it pours).

***

2 GUIDED WALKS TO CHOOSE FROM

1. NPARKS’ EVENING CHORUS AT KRANJI MARSHES, March 12 and 26, 4.30pm.

NParks is offering its Evening Chorus At Kranji Marshes walk, which will be conducted on the last Saturday evening of every month. The approximately 3km guided walk will take visitors on a two-hour journey, from 4.30pm to 6.30pm. Registration for the March 12 walk opens March 4, 8am; and for the March 26 walk on March 18. To register, email your particulars (full name, contact number, email address and up to three other participants) to NParks_KMGuidedWalk@nparks.gov.sg. Places for the walks will be allocated through balloting. Each walk can only take 20 participants. Successful registrants will be notified by email a week before the walk. The walk will be cancelled in the event of rain.

2. BIRDWATCHING AT KRANJI MARSHES

The Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) will also be organising monthly tours. As with the NParks walk, only 20 participants are allowed.

You need to register at www.nss.org.sg. All registrations are subject to confirmation and successful registrants will be notified by email. This month’s tour is all filled up and no date for the March walk has been set.


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Satellite-based ERP system to be rolled out from 2020

VALERIE KOH Today Online 26 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — The Republic on Thursday (Feb 25) moved a step closer to developing a world-first second-generation Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system using satellite technology, as the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced the award of a S$556 million tender to a consortium comprising NCS and MHI Engine System Asia (MHIES-A).

The new system, which will be rolled out progressively from 2020, paves the way for distance-based road pricing, but the authorities stressed Thursday that there are no plans yet to tweak the road pricing regime — although this will be reviewed “sometime down the road”, as LTA chief ­executive Chew Men Leong put it.

There will be an 18-month migration period during which both the current and new ERP systems will co-exist. LTA said that during the transition period, motorists can expect no change to the current charging regime. “Right now, the focus is to actually develop (and) operationalise the next-generation ERP system,” Mr Chew said. “We’ll make the decision in terms of how road-pricing should be going forward, after the system has gone live.”

Nevertheless, he highlighted the fact that the system “has the ability to provide the option... to look at how we can charge motorists based on the distance (they travel on) priced roads”. “And that opportunity exists because of the technology that is in place,” he said.

LTA deputy chief executive (infrastructure and development) Chua Chong Kheng added: “We also want to make sure the motorists get some time to get used to the system, understand the inferface and how it works. Otherwise you have too many changes immediately, it’s also not good for the motorist.”

After the transition period, ERP gantries will be phased out and temporary visual cues may be put up to help motorists adapt to the new system. Under the new system, the In-Vehicle Unit (IU) will be replaced by an On-Board Unit (OBU), preloaded with location and tariff tables.

The Government will bear the costs for a one-time replacement for Singapore-registered vehicles. Apart from displaying travel advisories and alerting motorists to charging points, the OBU – roughly the size of a smartphone - could also be used to pay for roadside parking, checkpoint tolls and the use of off-peak cars electronically. “Our coupon system will become a thing of the past,” said Mr Chew. Payment can be done via CEPAS cards, credit cards, virtual payment accounts or GIRO.

The new system will have island-wide coverage. In areas where the satellite coverage is weak, such as tunnels, beacons will be used to augment signal strength.

The winning bid was selected from an initial shortlist of three bidders via a two-envelope process where the bids were assessed on quality and price factors, among other things. A consortium of Watchdata Technologies and Beijing Watchdata System eventually failed to make the cut after its proposal fell short on the quality criteria.

The bid from the consortium of NCS and MHIES-A was selected over the one submitted by ST Electronics (Info-Comm Systems), which was priced at S$1.26 billion.

“When you look at the two proposals, you have to look at the one that has the highest value for money,” said Mr Chew. “NCS and MHIES-A have a slight edge in terms of the overall proposed prices.”

MHIES-A is a wholly owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which developed and implemented the current ERP system, while NCS has been maintaining it.

In a press release, the winning consortium said the next generation ERP system - which makes use of advanced satellite technology for congestion management - would be the “first-of-its-kind to be implemented nation-wide in an urban environment”.

In 2008, the authorities had revealed that each three-lane ERP gantry cost S$1.5 million. LTA reiterated yesterday that the current ERP system, which was implemented in 1998, is nearing the end of its lifespan and will become increasingly expensive and difficult to maintain. Speaking in Parliament in 2014, then-Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said that the annual operating cost of the system had risen by 80 per cent over the last decade.

The idea of a “next-generation” ERP system was first mooted here by the authorities more than a decade ago. Over that period, the accuracy of the Global Positioning System has improved tremendously, making it viable for implementation. Industry players had previously told TODAY that Government tests in 2006 showed the margin of error in certain areas was up to 50m. Today, sub-metre accuracy is attainable. The maturing of technology also means that such systems are now less costly.

In 2014, the LTA shortlisted the three consortia for the tender to develop the satellite-based ERP system. The move came after an 18-month system evaluation test in Woodlands Avenue 12 that concluded in December 2012.

New ERP system ‘will offer flexibility in charging’
AMANDA LEE Today Online 26 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — Motorists reacted to the impending roll-out of a new satellite-based Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system warily, saying they would want to see clearer signage near the zones where ERP charges apply, as well as what the charges are.

Landscaping supervisor Angie Ng said conspicuous signs could be placed about 1km away from the ERP zone to alert drivers. “Big signs can alert me earlier, in case I want to make a detour to avoid ERP charges,” said the 54-year-old who has been driving for the past 20 years.

The charges should also be prominently displayed at every ERP zone, with Mdm Christina Li, 55, an office worker, noting that it would otherwise be difficult to know how much she was paying and keep track of how much she needs to spend every month.

Salesman Andrew Koh hoped to have more information on how the system would be implemented on the ground, which could have implications for processes like filing claims for ERP charges with employers. “With the new system, is there a way to claim from the company?” said the 60-year-old.

SIM University senior lecturer Walter Theseira said the main benefit of a satellite-based system is increased flexibility in road charging. “Flexibility is generally a good thing because it means charges can be varied more finely in response to congestion and demand. For motorists, this potentially means a smoother traffic flow,” he said.

To help motorists get used to the system, SIM University adjunct associate professor Park Byung-joon suggested having a smartphone app which provides GPS navigation that can help direct drivers away from ERP areas. He also pointed out that drivers could pay their ERP charges on a monthly basis and online payment could be made available to drivers for convenience.

Concerns over privacy under the new ERP system were also raised previously when it was first revealed the authorities were adopting it, and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) had assured it had factored this into the design of the new system. The necessary safeguards will be incorporated in the system such that only data necessary to perform relevant functions will be collected, an LTA spokesperson had said previously.

Separately, under the new ERP system, there will be automatic payment for off-peak car owners who drive during the peak periods. Banker Jonathan Yang, who owns an off-peak car, welcomed the move. “(It saves) us the hassle of buying the e-coupons as well as preventing incidents where we forget to buy after using the car,” said the 27-year-old.

Next-generation ERP system was more than a decade in the making
Today Online 26 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — The new satellite-based Electronic Road Pricing system that will cost over half a billion dollars and will be operational from 2020 has been more than a decade in the making.

Work on it began around 2002, but it was only in 2006 that the Land Transport Authority was able to complete trials using the Global Positioning System. Back then, it was reported that the margin of error in some areas went up to 50m.

A subsequent trial in 2007 found that the accuracy rate on highways was above 90 per cent but in the city centre, it dropped to around 30 per cent. When it called for a system-evaluation test in June 2011, the LTA cautioned that a new generation ERP system was “still some years away”.

An 18-month trial in Woodlands Avenue 12 was concluded in December 2012. In October 2014, the LTA announced that such a system was finally technologically feasible and called for a tender.

The results of the 2014 tender were announced Thursday (Feb 25). The winning bid was made by a consortium made up of NCS and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Engine System Asia. According to the LTA, this bid had the highest quality score and the lowest bid price among the three proposals.

Distance-based ERP model will allow more flexibility in managing vehicle use: Analysts
A shift to a new satellite-based Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system will help transfer vehicle usage costs through ERP rather than through Certificates of Entitlement, says a transport analyst.

Kenneth Lim Channel NewsAsia 25 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: The distanced-based model for the new Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system will give authorities more flexibility in managing vehicle use, transport analysts told Channel NewsAsia.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) on Thursday (Feb 22) announced that it has awarded the tender to build the next-generation, satellite-based Electronic Road Pricing system to the consortium of NCS and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Engine System Asia (MHI).

"What we really want to see is the drivers, the car owners, be more careful in making their decision, be more mindful of the congestion that they are contributing to the traffic system,” said Professor Lee Der Hong from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering from the National University of Singapore.

“So in order to achieve this, the ERP 2 system has this potential to get people to move away from the very rigid mindset, which is the ‘one-time payment’ mindset, so that we can practice more flexible car ownership control, to transfer the vehicle usage costs through the ERP system, rather than the conventional Certificate of Entitlement."

"We will set a clear target or clear direction that we're moving into a car-light society and we'd like to discourage people to use their private car and use more of the public transportation or alternative mode of transportation,” said Dr Park Byung Joon, an adjunct associate professor at SIM University.

“And if we really want to achieve that and if people keep using the car the way they do before, which is to keep driving into the congested area in the peak hour, then it's not just whether they will pay more, they should pay more."

He added that several details need to be buttoned down, including how the ERP charges are calculated. "Are we charging the same money when a person is using a congested road and non-congested road, and non-peak hour and peak hour? This has to be ironed out," said Dr Park.

Motorists Channel NewsAsia spoke with agreed that more information is needed on the eventual charges.

One person who declined to be named cited concerns about potential security and privacy issues, as the system will be able to locate vehicles and calculate the distance travelled. "People will know when you leave your house, when your house is empty and all. I think it's a very big concern."

- CNA/ek


Gantries to make way for islandwide ERP by 2020
Christopher Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 Feb 16;

Singapore has cleared the way for its next-generation Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system, which will have islandwide coverage and the ability to charge according to distance travelled.

It will be built by local company NCS and Japan's MHI Engine System, Land Transport Authority chief executive Chew Men Leong announced yesterday.

The new system will replace the current gantry-based ERP system in place since 1998. It will be rolled out from 2020.

There will be an 18-month transition period between the old and new systems, when motorists will swop their current in-vehicle unit for a sophisticated, smartphone- size on-board unit.

Among other things, this unit will be able to alert drivers of priced roads well in advance, before turn-offs to alternative routes. It will also inform them of charges and provide real-time traffic information. LTA said drivers armed with this information can better decide when to drive, which route to take or leave the car at home and take public transport instead.

The Government will foot the bill for the first on-board unit.

During the transition period, motorists can expect no change to the current charging regimen. After the transition phase, LTA will look into the option of distance-charging, as the technology is in place.

If LTA goes down that road, it could mean significantly higher ERP charges for road users with high mileages, such as taxi drivers, deliverymen and bus operators.

Mr Chew said there was no timeline for the implementation of distance-charging. But other functions of the new system will be available from day one. These include real-time traffic information, coupon-less streetside parking and automatic payment for offpeak car owners who drive during peak periods.

This means the system, which uses satellite navigation technology, has islandwide coverage. In places where coverage may be weak, such as in tunnels or under viaducts, signal beacons will be in place.

Mr Chew said the winning bid was superior to the one submitted by ST Electronics, the other bidder. At $556 million, it will cost less than half the $1.2 billion that ST Electronics had sought.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der- Horng said that when the new road-pricing system is in place, Singapore can rethink current methods of curbing car demand.

"It can help us do away with the current buffet-style certificate of entitlement (COE) system and move towards an a la carte system based on actual mileage clocked."

"Currently, our COE system actually encourages vehicle owners to drive as much as they can since the (big) payment has already been made," Professor Lee said."It is just like we tend to eat more than we should at buffets."


New ERP system to be rolled out from 2020
Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, AsiaOne 26 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE has cleared the way for its next-generation Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system, which will have islandwide coverage and the ability to charge according to distance travelled.

The deal has been awarded to local company NCS and Japan's MHI Engine System, Land Transport Authority chief executive Chew Men Leong announced yesterday.

The new system will replace the current gantry-based ERP system that has been in place since 1998. It will be rolled out from 2020. There will be an 18-month transition period between the old and new systems, when motorists will swop their current in-vehicle unit for a sophisticated, smartphone-sized onboard unit.

Among other things, this unit will be able to alert drivers of priced roads well in advance (before turn-offs to alternatives).

It will also inform them of charges and provide real-time traffic information.

Armed with this information, LTA said drivers can better decide when to drive, which route to take or to take public transport instead. The Government will foot the bill for the first on-board unit.

During the transition period, motorists can expect no change to the current charging regimen. After the transition phase, the LTA will look into the option of distance-charging, since the technology is in place to charge motorists based on the distance they travel.

If LTA goes down that road, it could mean significantly higher ERP charges for road-users who clock high mileages, such as taxi drivers, deliverymen and bus operators.

Mr Chew said there was no timeline for the implementation of distance-charging. But he said other functions of the new system will be available from day one. These include real-time traffic information for every road user, coupon-less streetside parking and automatic payment for off-peak car owners who drive during peak periods.

This means the system, which uses satellite navigation technology, has islandwide coverage. In places where satellite coverage may be weak - such as in tunnels or under viaducts - signal beacons will be in place.

Mr Chew said the winning bid was superior to the one submitted by ST Electronics, the other bidder. At $556 million, it will also cost less than half the $1.2 billion that ST Electronics had sought.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said with this new dynamic road-pricing system in place, Singapore can in fact relook current methods of curbing car demand.

"It can help us do away with the current buffet-style COE system and move towards an a la carte system based on actual mileage clocked," Prof Lee said.

"Currently, our COE system actually encourages vehicle owners to drive as much as they can since the (big) payment has already been made," he added. "It is just like we tend to eat more than we should at buffets."


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Daily school cleaning for students ‘a good lesson in social responsibility’

SIAU MING EN Today Online 26 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE — Before Xingnan Primary School encouraged nine-year-old Annissa Ong and her schoolmates to develop good cleaning habits by helping to tidy their classrooms and the canteen every day, she would simply leave her plate and utensils at the dining table after her meals at home.

Now, the Primary Four student would not only help her mother with washing dishes, but also clean up after her six-year-old brother after meal times, said her father Ong Boon Leong, 40.

Such good life-habits are what the Ministry of Education (MOE) hopes to cultivate among the young with its move to have all schools involve their students in the daily cleaning of the school environment by the end of this year.

All primary and secondary schools, junior colleges and the centralised institute will have to set aside at least five to 10 minutes of their students’ school hours each day for cleaning activities, said the MOE, which had looked at similar cleaning practices from the education systems in Japan and Taiwan. Schools here will have the flexibility to decide the type of cleaning activities — such as sweeping the floors and dusting classroom tables — and when the cleaning can be carried out, such as before the first lesson or during recess.

Areas to be cleaned include classrooms and common areas, such as canteens and corridors.

Students will not be expected to clean toilets, which are handled by the school cleaners. In Xingnan, for example, every class is rostered daily to do toilet checks, and provide feedback to the school’s operations manager.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of a visit to Xingnan Primary School, Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said getting students involved in daily cleaning is a good way to get them to learn about personal and social responsibility.

They can have fun while cleaning, but in the process also pick up some good habits, he said.

“Over some period of time, I’m sure our kids will learn to take care of themselves, learn self-reliance and be able to not just do these good things in school, but be able to go out in society (and show) some graciousness,” he added.

Before this, some schools already have their own cleaning activities and programmes, although these may not always involve daily cleaning or the participation of all students.

Those that have already incorporated some cleaning time within their school hours include Xingnan, where students have been asked since 2013 to clean up after themselves before the end of recess and the school day.

At Park View Primary School, music will also be played five minutes before the end of each school day to signal the start of the classroom cleaning routine for all students.

Xingnan student Nadya Adriana, 11, said even though the daily activities will help to make her school environment cleaner, “irresponsible” students must also play their part by not leaving their rubbish lying around.

Annissa felt that more brooms might be needed in every classroom now that everyone will be involved with the cleaning.

Her father, Mr Ong, said he noticed how his daughter was slowly starting to realise the importance of cleanliness. “She started to ask her mum how to wash spoons, forks and plates after dinner … I realised the school did a good job (in teaching) the students,” he added.


Daily cleaning 'cultivates good habits for life'
Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, AsiaOne 26 Feb 16;

Taking a cue from Japan and Taiwan, students in primary and secondary schools here, as well as those in junior colleges, will have to spend at least a few minutes each day cleaning classrooms, canteens and corridors by the year end.

The aim, said the Ministry of Education (MOE) yesterday, is to help them cultivate good habits for life.

Highlighting how many schools already include five to 10 minutes of cleaning by students, MOE said this will be made compulsory across all schools by the year end. Schools are free to decide on what these daily activities should be, and when they take place.

Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng, who yesterday visited Xingnan Primary School, where pupils clean up after recess and at the end of the school day, said getting students involved in daily cleaning is a good way to get them to learn personal and social responsibility.

Mr Ng, who joined the pupils in tidying up the classroom, explained that when children follow a routine, they can "cultivate good habits and make them a part of their lives".

The Public Hygiene Council (PHC) and Singapore Kindness Movement will also help in outreach efforts.

PHC chairman Edward D'Silva said the move was not a response to anything in particular. "During my time, all schools had area cleaning. We cleaned classrooms, toilets and corridors," he added. "We hope to promote the good values that we used to have before."

The ministry had looked at similar practices from education systems in Japan and Taiwan. In these places, cleaning the school compound is a daily routine for students. Many schools do not employ cleaners or janitors.

Ms Lee Bee Wah, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for the Environment and Water Resources, also told The Straits Times that schools in Taiwan even find ways to motivate students to clean up, including letting them decorate their classrooms and toilets. Students also sometimes compete to see who can sort the trash faster.

"In Singapore, many people, especially younger people, are used to maids or cleaners cleaning up after them," she said. "If we don't arrest this trend now, our littering problem will only get worse."

Serangoon Junior College principal Manogaran Suppiah said getting students involved with the cleaning would give them a sense of ownership of their school space.

Second-year Meridian Junior College student Goh Shu Yi, 17, said that even without such organised cleaning activities, she and her schoolmates already pick up after themselves. "It is something we do because it is a good habit," she said.

Primary 5 pupil Nadya Adriana, who studies at Xingnan, said she usually helps by sweeping the floor or wiping the whiteboards during recess or before dismissal.

"If we don't keep the classroom clean, we might not be able to concentrate during lessons," said the 11-year-old.


Experts laud move to have students clean schools
Calvin Yang, Alexis Ong, Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Feb 16;

(From left) Primary 1 pupils Lim Jun Xi, Goh Zi Shan and Aliyah Dinie of Xingnan Primary School cleaning their classroom on 25 February 2016.

A move to make all schools include cleaning activities by the end of the year could bring long-term benefits to both students and the community, according to education experts and sociologists.

The scheme will help build character, cultivate a sense of ownership and spill over to the home environment.

Last Thursday, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that students in primary and secondary schools here, as well as those in junior colleges, will have to spend at least a few minutes each day cleaning classrooms, canteens and corridors.

The aim, according to the ministry, is to help them cultivate good habits for life. Schools are given the flexibility to decide on what these daily activities should be and when they take place.

Dr Kang Soon Hock, who heads the social science core at SIM University, said that when students actively participate in the daily clean-up activities, they will learn to take responsibility. The cleaning activities also give them opportunities to work with their classmates.

Dr Timothy Chan, director of SIM Global Education's academic division, believes such cleaning duties help students to learn to live in communities. "Participating in cleaning the school environment is one effective way to learn how to live together," he said. "Through such activities, students will look at cleanliness not just as a condition, but also as an attitude."

However, Dr Chan added that the activities have to be planned carefully by the schools.

"In order to alleviate parents' concerns, schools may consider excluding certain areas from being cleaned by students, such as unsheltered areas," he said.

Prior to Thursday's announcement, many schools had already included five to 10 minutes of cleaning work by students.

At St Joseph's Institution, students follow a roster of classroom cleaning duties. Tasks include cleaning the whiteboards, sweeping the floor and taking out the trash.

At Haig Girls' School, pupils will, among other tasks, clean the canteen after recess and pick up litter in the classroom between lessons.

In the past, there would be tissue paper and food packets on the floor in common spaces like the canteen, said principal Constance Loke.

She added: "Pupils are now more conscious about picking up litter and the common spaces in the school are much cleaner."

Some schools have implemented more cleaning initiatives this year.

At Meridian Junior College, students have to ensure a classroom is ready for use before every tutorial. This includes cleaning the whiteboards and arranging the classroom furniture neatly at the start and end of every lesson.

Principal Lim Yan Hock said: "It ensures that each student starts the lesson not only with a clean working environment, but also one that is clutter-free."

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said the cleaning tasks will allow students to appreciate their school and estate cleaners and, for some, their domestic helpers.

"For too long, we've been expecting a clean environment to exist by other people's effort and toil," she added.

"There's no better way to impart values and build character than by rolling up your sleeves, getting your hands dirty and doing the work together."


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Malaysia: Fire destroys 2.4 hectares of forest in Hulu Kerian

BERNAMA New Straits Times 25 Feb 16;

LARUT: Fire destroyed 2.4 hectares of forest in Bukit Bintang Hijau, Kampung Baru Basong in Hulu Kerian near here yesterday.

Selama Fire and Rescue Station head Fauzi Razali said the 11.50 am incident was believed to have started from the hill top and spread to the foot of the hill about 600 metres from a settlement.

“Firefighters responded promptly to stop the fire from spreading to the high voltage electrical substations near the affected area.

“The fire was brought fully under control at 4.30 pm,” he said when contacted here today.

He said the cause of the fire was still under investigation. Fauzi said four forest and scrub fires were reported here so far this month.

Hence he advised residents not to carry out open burning as the hot weather could lead to fires. --Bernama


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Indonesia: Poaching of endangered hornbill continues amid global demand

Bambang Muryanto, The Jakarta Post 26 Feb 16;

Hunting of the helmeted hornbill, or rangkong gading as the endangered species is locally called, continues unabated due to the high price that the bird’s casque fetches overseas.

Yokyok “Yoki” Hadiprakarsa, the director of Rangkong Indonesia, said hunting of the bird could still be witnessed in hard-to-access forests of Central, East and North Kalimantan, close to the border with Malaysia.

“Hunting of the helmeted hornbill has not stopped until now, and it is even becoming more and more organized, so that the poachers cannot be easily nabbed by law enforcement authorities,” Yokyok told The Jakarta Post, recently.

The helmeted hornbill, a bird with a wingspan of 90 centimeters, is one of 13 similar species found in Indonesia. Its habitat is the lowland forest of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Birdlife International notes that the bird can also be found in Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore.

The bird was the favorite topic at a recent conference of Indonesian bird lovers and researchers in Yogyakarta.

Yokyok said hunting of the helmeted hornbill flared significantly since 2012. According to Rangkong Indonesia’s records, around 6,000 of the birds are killed in West Kalimantan each year.

Yokyok added that confiscations of the much sought-after bills of the helmeted hornbill by law enforcement authorities in the US and China revealed that most of them came from Indonesia, which features the biggest population of the bird due to the country’s vast tropical forests and poor law enforcement.

He said that some 80 percent of the 2,343 bills seized were from West Kalimantan. “This is very ironic, because the protected bird is also the symbol of the province of West Kalimantan.”

Yokyok explained that the casque on the bill of the hornbill was heavier than the rest of the bird, which could reach up to 3 kilograms. Made of ivory, it contains a high amount of calcium and is considered to be superior to elephant tusk. In China, the bill is used in traditional medicine or carved into decorative art.

“The price is calculated per gram, with a kilogram of a rangkong bill priced much higher than a kilogram of tusk, which already costs tens of millions of rupiah,” he said.

During a survey in eight different habitats in Sumatra and Kalimantan in 2015, Yokyok directly spotted the bird in just two locations.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) listed the helmeted hornbill as critically endangered in late 2015 due to the sharp decrease in the species’ population.

Subyantoro Tri Pradopo of the West Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said his office had conducted numerous operations against poaching of the bird. In 2015, it arrested two suspects who were sentenced to a year in prison.

He said the birds were typically smuggled overland to Serawak in Malaysia. The problem, he said, was that his office only placed officers at official border posts.

“In fact, many new border posts have been opened under the border area development program,” said Subyantoro, who currently studies in Yogyakarta.

He also said that the helmeted hornbill poaching network was difficult to detect, because it operated very carefully.

Chairman of the Indonesian Ornithology Association Ign. Pramana Yudha said some 17 percent of the country’s 2,000 bird species were on the brink of extinction.

“Our people still do not care enough about bird hunting,” he said.


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Health experts press for urgent, integrated approach to tackle dengue

ALISA TANG Reuters 25 Feb 16;

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Health experts called on Thursday for urgent action to tackle the "global dengue pandemic", and said the number of cases was expected to spike in some countries this year, partly because of the El NiƱo weather phenomenon.

The experts, from several organizations, urged governments in the region to support collaborative efforts to combat the spread of dengue in Asia, which had the highest incidence of the disease in the world.

One impetus for the call to action is Sanofi Pasteur's new Dengvaxia vaccine that has received approval in Mexico, Brazil, El Salvador and the Philippines, said Dr. In-Kyu Yoon, director of the Dengue Vaccine Initiative (DVI), adding that other vaccines were in the development pipeline.

With dengue experts on its staff and board, DVI - one of the groups behind the call - is part of the Seoul-based International Vaccine Institute and has received support from Sanofi Pasteur to raise awareness about dengue vaccination.

"The dengue problem won't just go away and won't be helped by half measures. If countries and regions want to tackle the issue effectively, it will take a huge commitment on the part of individual countries and regions, groups of countries, to address it," Yoon said.

Experts have said Dengvaxia is not perfect and does not protect equally against the four different serotypes of dengue, but is a tool that can be part of an integrated approach for prevention of the disease.

Other drugmakers including Japan's Takeda and U.S. Merck are also working on dengue vaccines but are several years behind.

VACCINE PART OF INTEGRATED APPROACH

Sanofi Pasteur said last year studies it had carried out had shown the vaccine protected two-thirds of the participants.

Protection against severe dengue reached 93 percent, while prevention of hospitalization due to the disease reached 80 percent in the volunteers, who were aged nine and above, it said in a statement.

"There's a lot of thought that perhaps if we have a vaccine, that we'll be able to ease off on doing other parts of the overall effort, for example, vector control, surveillance, some of these other things," Yoon said by telephone from Colombo, where he was attending a dengue conference.

"The fact is, really it will require all aspects. That is part of the call to action - it needs to be an integrated approach. There is no magic bullet... it is a tool that can be in a country's toolbox."

Dengue - which causes flu-like symptoms and can develop into the deadly dengue hemorrhagic fever - is the world's fastest-spreading tropical disease, with the annual number of cases increasing 30-fold in the last 50 years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The disease is endemic in 128 countries - compared with nine countries experiencing severe dengue epidemics prior to 1970. Asia has the most cases, with 67 million people infected per year, researchers say.

The experts called on countries, if they register the vaccine for use, to develop and implement vaccine programs that are monitored and evaluated for safety.

They also urged governments to "accelerate effective dengue prevention and control interventions".

There is no dedicated treatment for dengue, also known as breakbone fever, and patients are generally asked to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take medication to bring down fever and reduce joint pains.

LINKS

Sanofi supports Dengue Vaccine Initiative: http://www.reuters.com/article/sanofi-dengue-idUSLDE71K19A20110221 or http://www.sanofipasteur.com/en/articles/sanofi-pasteur-and-international-vaccine-institute-partner-against-dengue.aspx


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