Best of our wild blogs: 1 Mar 16



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wild shores of singapore

Why we should care about protecting MacRitchie's biodiversity
SG Now

Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon in Tampines Eco Green (February 27, 2016)
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Nature reserve highly sensitive, but impact of site investigation works can be mitigated: Desmond Lee

Audrey Tan Straits Times 29 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE - Site investigation works needed to determine how a train tunnel can be built under Singapore's largest nature reserve will have a "small" impact on the area , even though the reserve is deemed highly sensitive.

This is because stringent mitigating measures will be adopted, said Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee in Parliament on Monday.

This was the assessment of the environmental consultants hired to assess the environmental impact of preliminary works for the upcoming Cross Island Line MRT project on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Mr Lee was responding to Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, who asked how the Government intends to mitigate the impact of site investigation works preceding the construction of the MRT line.

Overall, the independent environment impact assessment (EIA) done by consultancy Environmental Resources Management has determined that investigation works in the area would have a "moderate" impact on plants and animals there, but only if measures to reduce impact are strictly implemented.

Otherwise, the soil investigation works could have a large impact on the highly sensitive parts of the reserve, which comprises primary rainforest with ecologically sensitive habitats.

Mr Lee said stringent mitigating measures, developed in close consultation with several representatives of nature groups and the National Parks Board (NParks), have been proposed.

They include the use of enclosures to reduce engine noise and tanks to collect any discharge.

Site investigation works to determine the geological properties of the area will be done through two methods - borehole drilling and geophysical surveys - Mr Lee told the House.

For the former, boreholes about 10cm in diameter will be drilled into existing trails to extract vertical columns of soil samples. Confining this to existing trails will prevent surrounding vegetation from being affected, he said.

Drilling machines will also be modified to reduce noise and prevent spillage of slurry and fuel.

To minimise damage and disturbance to the forest, 16 boreholes will be drilled, instead of the earlier estimate of 72, he added.

To make up for having fewer soil samples, less intrusive geophysical surveys will also be carried out to supplement data collected from the boreholes.

This would involve surveyors going off-trail into the forest to collect data using hand-held equipment, Mr Lee said.

Although such geophysical surveys are of "significantly lower impact" than borehole drilling, he added, there are still concerns that surveyors may inadvertently trample on plants on the forest floor as they move through dense vegetation.

To guard against this, said Mr Lee, the geophysical survey will be limited to a 100m-wide corridor and will not be carried out in sensitive locations such as streams, swamps and dense vegetation.

NParks officers will supervise the surveyors full-time to ensure they adhere to the strict rules for moving around in off-trail forested areas.

All site investigation activities will also be restricted to daylight hours, so as not to affect nocturnal animals, Mr Lee said.

The 50km Cross Island Line to link Changi and Jurong by 2030 was first announced in early 2013, and preliminary plans showed it cutting through primary and secondary forests in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir.

But nature groups, alarmed by the construction and operation of an underground MRT line right across the heart of the reserve, suggested that the line be built around the reserve, along Lornie Road, to minimise environmental harm.

The environmental report has assessed that the impact of soil investigation works along Lornie Road would be "negligible", and "minor" for areas near Venus Drive and a golf course.

Further studies on the total impact of the MRT project are planned and will take four to five years to complete. A decision on the route of the Cross Island Line will only be made after the studies are done.

Biologist David Tan from the Love Our MacRitchie Forest volunteer group said Parliament has not adequately addressed the possibility of the mitigating measures failing, which would be a serious threat to the nature reserve.

"Also ignored is the principle of planning an infrastructural project through the nature reserve," he said


Tests with 'low impact' at nature reserve
Audrey Tan Straits Times 1 Mar 16;

The impact of tests needed to see how a train tunnel can be built under Singapore's largest nature reserve will be reduced to a level that is "as low as reasonably practicable", Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee told Parliament yesterday.

This will be done through adopting mitigating measures to reduce damage and disturbance, he said.

An environmental impact assessment had determined that site investigation works for the Cross Island Line will have a "moderate" overall impact on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera had asked how the consultants arrived at the conclusion.

Mr Lee said consultancy Environmental Resources Management had considered the sensitivity of the nature reserve and magnitude of the impact the work will have.

Referring to a table he distributed to MPs, he told the House that the reserve comprising primary rainforests with ecologically sensitive habitats is considered highly sensitive.

But the magnitude of impact of the investigation works will be "small", he said, as the Government will put in place mitigating measures.

Soil works are slated to start later this year to investigate the area's geological properties. Phase one of the environmental impact assessment had focused on the potential impact of this. Phase two will study the impact arising from the construction and operation of the MRT line that will link Changi to Jurong by 2030.



Mr Lee said the site investigation works will involve drilling boreholes about 10cm wide to extract soil samples, and geophysical surveys. Surveyors will go off-trail into the forest to collect data using hand-held equipment. Though it is less intrusive than the drilling, said Mr Lee, there are still concerns that surveyors may trample on plants.

He said stringent mitigating measures have been developed in consultation with nature groups and the National Parks Board. Among them:

• Geophysical surveys will be limited to a 100m-wide corridor and not be conducted in streams, swamps and dense vegetation

• NParks officers will be deployed to supervise surveyors

• 16 boreholes will be drilled instead of an earlier estimated 72

• Drilling will be confined to existing trails

• Drilling machines to be modified to reduce the noise level and prevent spillage of slurry and fuel

• Works will be done in the day to not disturb nocturnal animals

Studies on the total impact of the project may take more than two years to complete, and a decision on the route will only be made after.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who also raised questions on the issue, said he was glad options are being kept open. Nature groups have raised concerns that an MRT line running under the reserve would cause environmental harm.

Keep an open mind on Cross Island Line: Khaw
Adrian Lim, Straits Times AsiaOne 1 Mar 16;

The 50km Cross Island Line (CRL) will be an important part of Singapore's rail network, with about 30 stations - nearly all of them interchanges to other MRT lines - that will offer commuters many travel options, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said.

Serving residential areas such as Loyang, Pasir Ris, Hougang, Ang Mo Kio, Sin Ming, Bukit Timah, Clementi and West Coast, commuters will make at least 600,000 trips on the CRL every day, he told Parliament yesterday.

But as to whether the underground CRL will be built through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) or route around it - an issue of contention - Mr Khaw said more environmental and engineering studies, along with public consultations, must be done.

These may take more than two years, before a decision on the alignment can be made, he added, in reply to questions from MP Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) about the CRL.

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report to study the effects of site investigation works, released last month, took two years.

Noting the CRL's importance, Mr Khaw said the line - to be completed by 2030 - will "significantly enhance" the MRT network's resilience, and its capacity and usage will far exceed that of the existing North-East Line.

Yesterday, he also revealed that the longer 9km skirt around the CCNR will incur an extra travel time of six minutes, compared with the more direct 4km route cutting through the reserve.

Suggesting that the public has high expectations of train efficiency, he quipped that in a minute of delay, a commuter could post 100 times on Twitter to "flame" the Land Transport Authority and the rail operator.

This extra six minutes could not just be "brush(ed) aside", he said.

While Mr Ng said the skirt-around alignment would serve more commuters, Mr Khaw replied that residents in the area are already served by the Circle Line and future Thomson-East Coast Line.

Additionally, he said this alignment would require longer tunnels and ventilation facilities on the surface. This would cost $2 billion more and could result in land acquisitions.

For the direct alignment option, 2km will be deep below the CCNR at about 40m - or 12 storeys - below ground level, and there will be no structures built at the surface level, the minister noted.

In a separate query, Mr Ng also asked for the total cost of the CRL project, and which houses and buildings will be acquired.

Mr Khaw replied that it was still too early to know these details, and a second phase of EIA, to look into the impact of construction and running of trains through the nature reserve, will be done.

He urged Singaporeans not to take a biased approach to the issue, adding that some comments on the first EIA were "very toxic".

Referring to the movie Zootopia he saw with his granddaughter, he said the film's protagonist, a female rabbit, had to fight off stereotypes and prejudices in her mission to be a police officer.

"Keep an open mind. I think go with the facts. Keep an open mind and look for the evidence," he said.

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


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Cross Island Line to have about 30 stations, with 600,000 trips made daily: Khaw

Adrian Lim Straits Times 29 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE - The 50km Cross Island Line (CRL) will be an important part of Singapore's rail network, with about 30 stations - most of them interchanges - that will offer commuters many travel options, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said.

Spanning from east to west and serving residential areas such as Loyang, Pasir Ris, Hougang, Ang Mo Kio, Sin Ming, Bukit Timah, Clementi and West Coast, commuters will make at least 600,000 trips on the CRL every day, Mr Khaw told Parliament on Monday.

He was replying to a question from Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) about the two proposed alignments of the CRL - one of which will cut through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) and the other to skirt around it.

Mr Khaw said that no decision has been made on which alignment will be chosen.

But noting the CRL's importance, he said the line will "significantly enhance" the rail network's resilience, and with 600,000 trips a day, its capacity and usage will far exceed that of the North-East Line. The CRL is expected to be completed in 2030.

Mr Khaw said that the longer 9km route around the CCNR will incur an extra travel time of 6 minutes, compared to the more direct 4km route that will go under the nature reserve.

Suggesting that commuters have high expectations of train efficiency, Mr Khaw quipped that in a minute of delay, a commuter could post 100 times on Twitter to "flame" the Land Transport Authority and the rail operator.

The six minutes of extra travel time, he said, could not be simply "brushed aside".

Dispelling the notion that the skirt-around would serve more residents, as it would go through estates in Upper Thomson, Mr Khaw said residents are already served by the Circle Line and the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line.

Additionally, he said this alignment would require longer tunnels and hence ventilation facilities on the surface. This option could incur around $2 billion more in expenditure, and could result in land acquisitions, he added.

For the 4km direct alignment option, 2km will be deep below the CCNR at about 40m or 12 stories below ground level, and there will be no construction of infrastructure at the surface level within the CCNR, Mr Khaw said.

He said that more environmental and technical studies will be carried out, and only after that will an informed decision be made.

This will take into account the "potential impact on the nature reserve, the travelling distance and time for commuters, the cost to taxpayers, and the potential acquisition of homes and businesses", he added.


Khaw fleshes out plan for new 30-station MRT line
Adrian Lim, The Straits Times AsiaOne 1 Mar 16;

The 50km Cross Island Line (CRL) will be an important part of Singapore's rail network, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said.

Nearly half of its 30 stations from east to west will be interchanges to other MRT lines, offering commuters many travel options, he added.

Mr Khaw told Parliament yesterday that the line will serve residential areas such as Loyang, Pasir Ris, Hougang, Ang Mo Kio, Sin Ming, Bukit Timah, Clementi and West Coast, and commuters will make at least 600,000 trips on it daily.

But as to whether the underground CRL will be built through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) or route around it - an issue of contention - Mr Khaw said more environmental and engineering studies, along with public consultations, must be done.

These may take over two more years, before a decision on the alignment can be made, Mr Khaw said, in reply to questions from Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) about the CRL.

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report to study the effects of site investigation works, released last month, itself took two years to complete.

Mr Khaw said the CRL, which is expected to be ready by 2030, will "significantly enhance" the MRT network's resilience, and its capacity and usage will far exceed that of the existing North-East Line.

He also said the longer 9km skirt around the CCNR will incur an extra travel time of six minutes, compared with the more direct 4km route running underneath the reserve.

Alluding to high public expectations of the MRT, Mr Khaw quipped that in a minute's delay, a commuter could post 100 times on Twitter to "flame" the Land Transport Authority and the rail operator.

This extra six minutes could not just be "brushed aside", he said.

Mr Ng said the skirt-around alignment would serve more commuters, but Mr Khaw replied that residents in the area are already served by the Circle Line and the future Thomson-East Coast Line.

Mr Khaw also said a skirt-around alignment would need longer tunnels and ventilation facilities on the surface. This option would cost $2 billion more and could result in land acquisitions.

But for the direct alignment option, 2km will be deep below the CCNR at about 40m - or 12 storeys - below ground level, and there will be no structures built at the surface level, Mr Khaw said.

Mr Ng also asked for the total cost of the CRL project, and which houses and buildings will be acquired.

Mr Khaw replied that it was still too early to know these details, and a second phase of EIA, to look into the impact of construction and running of trains underneath the nature reserve, will be done.

He urged Singaporeans not to take a biased approach to the issue, noting that some comments on the first EIA have been "very toxic".

"Keep an open mind, go with the facts. Keep an open mind and look for the evidence," he said. Parliament resumes today.


Two more years before decision on Cross Island Line: Khaw Boon Wan
The transport minister said it may take two more years to complete the environment and technical studies, as well as public consultations to reach a decision on the Cross Island Line project.
Channel NewsAsia 29 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: It may take two more years to complete the environment and technical studies, as well as public consultations needed for the Government to reach a decision on the Cross Island Line project and its exact alignment, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

The studies and consultations will “adequately factor in all views”, taking into account “the potential impact on the nature reserve, the travelling distance, the time for commuters, the cost to taxpayers, and the potential acquisitions of homes and businesses”, said the Coordinating Minister for Instrastructure, responding to questions on the Cross Island Line in Parliament on Monday (Feb 29).

The Cross Island Line had attracted much public debate after the first phase of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was released earlier this month, particularly from green groups concerned that part of the line may cause disruption to environment near the central catchment reserve.

Mr Khaw emphasised that two possible options are still being evaluated – a 4km “direct” option that will see 2km of the line going 40 metres or 13 stories below the central catchment reserve, and a 9km option that skirts the area, which may cost an additional S$2 billion.

He added that even though the first option goes directly under the central catchment reserve, there will be no construction at the surface level, while the second option – which requires a longer tunnel – will need ventilation shafts to be constructed at the surface. Land acquisitions may also be needed for the latter option.

"The Cross Island Line is a massive project and the Government will decide on its entire alignment only after making a total assessment, including financial viability, technical feasibility and other relevant considerations. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is only one of the many studies which we need to undertake to help us determine the best alignment for the stretch of the line in the vicinity of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve," said Mr Khaw.

MORE PUBLIC CONSULTATION NEEDED

MP for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng wanted to find out the total construction cost for the line, and how much more – in percentage terms – the “skirting” option would cost.

“A short answer to both questions is: I don’t know yet,” said Mr Khaw.

He added: “In this particular instance, because of the interest of nature groups and the sensitivity of the possible impact of any work of this part of the (Cross Island) Line on the nature reserve that the issue now surfaces.

“For the next leg of the studies, if we are allowed to proceed with the site investigation, we will be doing much more public consultation, and that will allow us, LTA, to firm up on many of the answers to many of the questions that have yet to be answered.”

The 50km Cross Island Line, which will be the eighth MRT line in Singapore, will link Singapore’s eastern and western areas, from Changi to Jurong.

Mr Khaw said the line is expected to see 600,000 trips daily, and will have a higher capacity and greater usage compared to the existing North-East Line. Almost every other station on the 30-odd station line will be interchange stations, he added.

- CNA/ll

Cross Island Line travel time will take 6 minutes more with skirting route: Khaw
Nurul Azliah Yahoo News 29 Feb 16;

Choosing the skirting alignment for the construction of the Cross Island Line (CRL) tunnel at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) will cost commuters six minutes of additional travel time, said transport minister Khaw Boon Wan in parliament on Monday (29 Feb).

Khaw was responding to questions posed by Nee Soon GRC MP and wildlife activist Louis Ng on the environmental impact for the construction of the 50-km CRL, and whether the transport ministry would opt for the skirting alignment at the CCNR to cater to more residents.

“I’m not sure if we can brush aside extra six minutes just like that because for the MRT commuters, extra half a minute is terrible,” Khaw said.

“Because when the train has a disruption and there’s an extra one minute of delay, within that one minute (commuters) send out maybe 100 tweets to flame LTA or SMRT,” he added.

“In the real industry, they define disruption as anything that causes delay of more than five minutes, and six is more than five.”

The government has yet to decide whether to choose the 4km direct alignment or the 9km skirting alignment. In the first option, the route cuts through the CCNR by way of an underground tunnel, while in the second option, the line would be constructed underground along the perimeter of the reserve. The CRL is expected to be operational by 2030.

Khaw also said that the CRL, which will connect commuters from Changi to the Jurong Industrial Estate, will have more than 30 new stations with 600,000 daily trips made.

At almost every other station, commuters can switch to another line, which will “significantly enhance” the resilience of the network, Khaw said.

He reminded the House that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) focuses on just a section of the CRL, while the ministry has a duty to study the total impact of the line. This includes a study on environmental impact, effect on taxpayers and potential home acquisitions.

The government has no estimation on the total cost of the project currently as more studies have to be made, Khaw said. Such studies usually take four to five years for to be completed, he added.

On whether Singapore should opt for the skirting alignment to serve the residents living in the vicinity, Khaw said that the existing Circle Line and the upcoming Thomson Line will be available to serve them.

Changes to ground investigation methods to reduce environmental impact

Desmond Lee, senior minister of state for the ministry of national development, told Parliament that drilling machines used to create boreholes to collect rock and soil samples have been modified to reduce noise levels.

Ground investigators will be required to conduct checks only during the day so as to avoid disturbing nocturnal animals in the reserve. These investigators will also be required to use handheld equipment to manually collect data in the forests to make up for the planned reduction in the number of boreholes from 72 to 16.

The geophysical survey has been limited to a 100-meter wide corridor, and will not be carried out at streams, swamps and dense vegetation, said Lee.

Investigators will be supervised by the National Park Board to make sure they adhere to the measures, he added.

Cross Island Line a key node, so keep open mind: Khaw
Almost half of CRL’s 30 stations will serve as interchanges, says Transport Minister
LAURA PHILOMIN Today Online 1 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE — When completed around 2030, the 50-km Cross Island Line (CRL) — whose alignment is at the centre of a spirited public debate — will be a key part of Singapore’s MRT network, running through housing estates such as Pasir Ris, Hougang, Ang Mo Kio, Clementi and West Coast.

Almost half of the CRL’s 30 stations will serve as interchanges and commuters will make at least 600,000 trips daily on the line, based on preliminary estimates, revealed Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan in Parliament on Monday (Feb 29).

Describing the CRL as a “massive project”, he called on Singaporeans to keep “an open mind” and “go with facts”, as the authorities mull over a host of factors — including financial viability and technical feasibility — before deciding on the entire alignment. The process may take two more years, said Mr Khaw, who is also the Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure.

Debate over the best alignment option for the CRL and the potential impact on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve reignited after an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) EIA report was released last month.

Nee Soon GRC Member of Parliament Louis Ng tabled a question in Parliament, asking Mr Khaw what main factors are taken into consideration when deciding whether the CRL would pass under the nature reserve, and whether the Ministry of Transport would consider the alternative alignment along Lornie Road, “which will allow the MRT line to serve more residents and commuters in that vicinity” and protect the nature reserve and primary forest.

In response, Mr Khaw said that, while environmental groups have urged the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to align the line such that it skirts around the nature reserve instead of tunnelling under it, both the direct and skirting alignment options will have to be carefully considered.

The Government will take into account factors such as impact on commuting time.

The longer 9km route around the nature reserve would incur an extra travel time of six minutes over the more direct 4km route, which will go under the nature reserve. “I’m not so sure we can just brush aside six minutes just like that. For MRT commuters, (an) extra half a minute is terrible,” said Mr Khaw, who clarified that the extra travel time was longer than the four minutes previously estimated.

On the view that the skirting alignment could serve more residents, Mr Khaw pointed out that the area would already be served by the Circle Line and the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line. “As the alignments can have a different impact on the environment, commuters, taxpayers, businesses and home owners, the Government has a responsibility to study both options thoroughly,” he said.

Noting that the capacity and usage of the CRL will be higher than the North East Line, Mr Khaw added that the new line — which will connect to other lines — will significantly enhance the resilience of the MRT network by providing commuters with “many more routing options”.

“There are many questions that remain unanswered. So what I urge of Singaporeans is this — keep an open mind, go with the facts … and look for the evidence,” he said.

Last week, TODAY reported that following the unprecedented release online of the Cross Island Line Phase One EIA, government agencies will consider doing the same for future reports, especially if there is significant public interest involved.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Senior Minister of State (National Development and Home Affairs) Desmond Lee reiterated how the LTA involved the nature groups in the process from the start, after they had raised concerns about the potential serious environmental impact that the CRL may have on the nature reserve. Over more than two years, the LTA consulted the nature groups extensively in preparing for Phase 1 of the EIA, Mr Lee said.

While LTA’s EIA consultant has rated the sensitivity of the nature reserve as “high”, the impact due to the site investigation was “small” due to the adoption of stringent mitigating measures proposed. These include reducing the number of boreholes to be drilled from 72 to 16, and limiting a geophysical survey to a 100m-wide corridor and away from sensitive locations such as streams, swamps and dense vegetation. National Parks Board officers will also be on site to supervise surveyors to minimise damage from trampling on plants, Mr Lee added.

CLARIFICATION: In an earlier version of this article, it was reported that most of the CRL's 30 stations will be serving as interchanges. The Ministry of Transport has clarified that the number of stations to serve as interchanges is almost half.


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




CROSS ISLAND LINE: The skirting alignment option will cost about S$2 billion more to build. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan says more investigations need to be carried out and urges the public to "keep an open mind". http://bit.ly/1T3Mn05
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Sunday, 28 February 2016


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NEA 'regularly monitors' resistance of mosquitoes against fogging: MEWR

But fogging is just a small part of the NEA's mosquito control strategy, with the elimination of breeding habitats the most effective method, says Senior Minister of State, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources & Ministry of Health Dr Amy Khor.
Channel NewsAsia 29 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) regularly monitors the insecticides used in anti-mosquito fogging, to ensure the chemicals used are effective, Dr Amy Khor said in Parliament on Monday (Feb 29).

Dr Khor - Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources as well as the Ministry of Health - was responding to a question from Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Yee Chia Hsing, who asked if the chemicals used in fogging are alternated to prevent the build up of resistance.

Dr Khor said that the NEA currently does not practise alternating chemicals as a standard procedure.

She added that fogging - which is carried out in a "selective and targeted" manner - was "only a small part" of the mosquito control strategy.

"Source reduction, or eliminating potential mosquito breeding habitats, is the most effective method to reduce the mosquito population. It is much easier to detect and kill mosquitos at the larval stage than to undertake fogging to try to eliminate them after they hatch," she said.

"I urge everyone to continue to do his part to keep the mosquito population in check."

- CNA/av


To tackle Zika threat, more screening and anti-mosquito efforts: MOH
These measures include expanding Zika virus testing capability to more public hospital laboratories and stepping up the testing of blood samples from patients with fever and rashes and suspected dengue.
Channel NewsAsia 29 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) will introduce additional measures to tackle the Zika virus, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor told Parliament on Monday (Feb 29).

This move comes in light of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders in Brazil a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has had an ongoing surveillance programme for Zika since 2014, and before the WHO declaration, MOH and NEA had stepped up measures to reduce the risk of the virus taking root here, Dr Khor said.

For instance, Zika virus infection has been added to the list of Notifiable Infectious Diseases under the Infectious Diseases Act since Jan 26.

MORE TESTING CAPABILITIES, COLLABORATION

With the WHO declaration, MOH is introducing more measures to tackle Zika, Dr Khor said. The ministry will be expanding Zika virus testing capability to more public hospital laboratories, while NEA is stepping up the testing of blood samples for Zika from patients with fever, rashes and suspected dengue.

Given the suspected link between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly in newborns, MOH has also set up a Clinical Advisory Group on Zika virus infection and pregnancy to provide expert advice on the management of pregnant women with Zika virus infection.

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) also requires that donors with a history of travel to outbreak areas defer from donating blood for 28 days upon return, Dr Khor said.

As recommended by the WHO, surveillance for microcephaly and Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) has been enhanced, to pick up any unusual trends. MOH is also looking at potential areas for collaboration and research with the relevant institutions on Zika virus diagnostics, transmission, and the association with microcephaly and GBS, she added.

Should there be a case detected here, NEA and other agencies under the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force, such as the Manpower Ministry and PUB, will intensify search and destroy efforts to control the Aedes mosquito population at the implicated sites to contain any potential spread, the Senior Minister of State for Health said.

She also noted that as Zika is transmitted through the same Aedes mosquitoes that transmit dengue, vector control remains the mainstay to prevent transmission of the Zika virus.

DRAIN MAINTENANCE TO PREVENT MOSQUITO BREEDING

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli also weighed in on the issue of vector control. He gave the assurance that drains are regularly inspected and cleaned to prevent water stagnation and mosquito breeding.

He said those with minor damage will be repaired promptly, but if it is severe the drain will be upgraded as soon as possible.

"PUB and NEA will continue to keep our drains and waterways clean and in good condition, so as to better protect Singaporeans from floods and vector-borne diseases like dengue," said Mr Masagos.

- CNA/kk/hs


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Sun Electric brings solar power to local businesses

RUMI HARDASMALANI Today Online 1 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE — Providing an environmentally friendlier and potentially cheaper alternative to electricity fired by coal or natural gas, home-grown Sun Electric kicked off its first live distribution of solar power to local businesses on Monday (March 1). The solar-powered electricity is distributed through Singapore’s power grid and supplied by solar energy generators installed in collaboration with JTC Corporation (JTC) and SPRING Singapore.

Solar power will cost up to 15 per cent less than conventional electricity, according to Mr Eugene Lim, MD Finance at Sun Electric — the first solar energy company to obtain an electricity retail licence in Singapore. It also launched an array of clean energy products under SolarSpace, a platform that enables consumers in cities to buy solar energy, even if they do not have a roof of their own to install solar panels.

“Smaller consumers of energy such as SMEs can now do their part for the environment and sustainability by adopting clean energy,” said Dr Matthew Peloso, the company’s CEO, at a press conference.

The programme, said Dr Peloso, allows rooftop owners to capture sunlight striking their roof, and sell it to energy consumers in their city. Rooftop owners can install solar panels and generate energy while tracking their contribution to their city in real-time, and customers who buy the energy can monitor their usage easily on Sun Electric’s platform. He also announced the launch of Sun Electric in the United States, Japan, Australia, and the Philippines with “strategic partners abroad”.

Anticipating demand growth, the company is in the process of raising US$50 million (S$70 million) and exploring options such as debt or ­equity funding, including a potential listing, in Singapore.

The funds raised will be deployed in expanding the company’s solar-power generation capacity from 0.5MW per year currently to 20MW by the end of this year. It has the in-built ability to ramp up capacity to 100MW per year, added Dr Peloso.

“By the second half of 2018 we aim to open the electricity retail market to full retail competition. This will empower the remaining 1.3 million small consumers, mainly households, with more option on how to better meet their electricity needs,” said Mr Loh Khum Yean, chairman of the Energy Market Authority (EMA).

Market interest in clean energy, said Mr Loh, has been growing significantly in Singapore, where the ­total installed solar PV capacity rose from 1.5MW in 2009 to 43.8MW by the end of last year, enough to power around 14,000 four-room flats a year. “We ­expect the strong growth of ­solar to continue as technology improves and cost goes down,” he added.

Seven local companies, including The Chope Group, Sky Tower on Sentosa, Pilatique, Seagift, Lotto Carpets Gallery, Absolute Living, and Duta Holdings, are the first set of clients receiving electricity from the solar energy generators installed on JTC rooftops in Tuas South under the test-bedding programme.


Solar-generated electricity distributed through Singapore's power grid
Seven local SMEs - including The Chope Group, Pilatique, Seagift and Sky Tower on Sentosa - have been receiving solar energy via Sun Electric's solar energy generators on JTC rooftops in Tuas South.
Olivia Quay Channel NewsAsia 29 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: Sun Electric, the first solar energy company to obtain an electricity retail license in the Republic, announced on Monday (Feb 29) the first live distribution of solar-generated electricity to its seven local customers through the Republic's power grid.

Since a month ago, seven local SMEs - including The Chope Group, Pilatique, Seagift and Sky Tower on Sentosa - have been receiving solar energy via Sun Electric's solar energy generators on JTC rooftops in Tuas South, under its test-bedding programme.

Monday also marked the official launch of Sun Electric's first clean energy products under its SolarSpace programme. SolarSpace is a platform that allows consumers in metropolitan cities, like Singapore, to buy solar energy even if they do not have their own roof to install solar panels.

There are four tailored SolarSpace platform packages - SolarFlex, SolarLite, SolarPeak and Solar100 - which vary according to the blend of clean energy required by individual consumers.

"Our programme allows rooftop owners to capture sunlight striking their roofs, and sell it to energy consumers in their city," said Sun Electric CEO Dr Matthew Peloso. "Smaller consumers of energy, such as SMEs, can now do their part for the environment and sustainability by adopting clean energy. Our programme was developed to change the way cities obtain energy, and to allow cities to harness clean energy that can be obtained from their environment."

Sun Electric will take its SolarSpace platform technology overseas this year, to countries like the USA, Australia, Japan and the Philippines.

Dr Peloso said: "When it comes to carbon emissions, many people think that Singapore is small, and the effect this small city state has on the world is negligible. We think this new programme will change people's minds about the ways cities adopt clean energy. Singapore, with its foresightedness and reputation for innovation, can be a leader for clean energy and electricity connectivity."

- CNA/av

Singapore feeds first solar power into retail grid to reduce emissions
JACOB GRONHOLT-PEDERSEN Reuters 29 Feb 16;

Singapore on Monday announced it had begun to feed solar power into its retail electric grid for the first time, as it seeks to reduce emissions and prepares to fully liberalize its electricity market.

Singapore, one of the sunniest cities in the world, generates almost all its power from imported natural gas, with solar fuelling less than 1 percent.

In countries like Germany and Japan, rooftop solar panels have helped boost capacity and bring record levels of renewable energy into the power mix.

Under Singapore's plan, commercial and industrial power users can purchase solar-generated power from the power grid. The power is generated through rooftop solar panels owned and operated by Singapore's Sun Electric, the first solar company given an electricity retail licence, it was announced at an event held by Sun Electric and Singapore's electricity regulator, the Energy Market Authority (EMA).

Building owners can agree to place Sun Electric panels on their sites and the power generated can be sold onto the electric grid.

"The EMA will continue its efforts to facilitate the entry of independent electricity retailers," said Loh Khum Yean, chairman of EMA.

Singapore aims to fully liberalize its electricity retail market in the second half of 2018.

Singapore's installed photovoltaic capacity has increased from just 1.5 megawatt (MW) in 2009 to 43.8 MW by the end-2015, enough to power around 14,000 four-room flats.

The government aims to increase capacity to 350 MW by 2020, or about 5 percent of projected peak electricity demand, up from less than 1 percent now, according to EMA.

At the Paris climate change summit in December, Singapore pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 36 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

(Reporting By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)


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Malaysia: Firemen battling large Cameron Highlands forest fire

SYLVIA LOOI New Straits Times 1 Mar 16;

IPOH: Around 10 hectares of forest near Kampung Raja in Cameron Highlands is currently in flames.

A Fire and Rescue Department spokesman said a distress call was received at 1.47pm today over the fire that occurred at KM45 of Jalan Simpang Pulai-Cameron Highlands.

"When we arrived, the fire had spread.

Strong winds blowing at the area made our rescue operations difficult," he said, adding that the site was located 150m above sea level.

Seven Orang Asli, said the spokesman, also rendered their services during the operations.

"Communications in the area was poor making it difficult for us to get information on the rescue operations," said the spokesman.

He noted that firemen are still at the site to ensure the fire does not spread further.

Hillside forest catches fire in Perak
IVAN LOH The Star 29 Feb 16;

IPOH: Some 10ha of hillside forest near KM45 of Jalan Simpang Pulai-Cameron Highlands caught fire.

Receiving a distress call at about 1.45am Monday, the Fire and Rescue Department rushed to the site near Kampung Raja to put out the blaze.

However, a department spokesman said firemen were having trouble putting out the fire due to strong winds.

"We are also having difficulties with the hilly terrain.

"The affected area is about 152m from the foot of the hill," the spokesman said.

All personnel from the Simpang Pulai fire station have been deployed to the site, led by its chief Rozmi Che Hamat.

About seven orang asli were also involved.

Firemen halted its operation at 11pm, but would continue to monitor the situation.


Fire and Rescue Department monitoring current dry spell
ROYCE TAN The Star 1 Mar 16;

PETALING JAYA: The Fire and Rescue Department is keeping close tabs with the Malaysian Meteorolo­gical Department on the dry spell.

Its director-general Datuk Wira Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim said it was just the early stage of the dry season and it was not expected to last long.

“There are a few occurrences of forest fires but it is not that serious.

“We have enough personnel to face any situation. We’re monitoring closely.

“If the situation becomes more serious, I will get the personnel nationwide to be on standby and maybe we will even freeze their leave until everything is under control,” he said yesterday, adding that there were around 14,000 firemen in service nationwide.

In terms of equipment, Wan Mohd Noor said the department was also well prepared with additional pumps, hoses, generator sets and lighting systems purchased last year.

He advised members of the public to stop open burning and smokers not to simply throw their cigarette butts.

“A fire will not start by itself. Most of the time it is due to human activities.

“The fire spreads really fast during this season especially so let’s be more responsible to prevent this from happening,” he said.

On Sunday, The Star reported that the country’s fire alert map was covered almost entirely in red – the highest warning – for the coming days.

A map of the Malaysia Fire Danger Rating System, under the “Fine Fuel Moisture Code”, has nearly all parts of the peninsula in red, with the exception of a few places, including Kuching, which ironically, is currently hit by floods.

Although there may be occasional rains, these are not heavy enough in the dry season.

Red represents extreme ease of ignition and flammability of grasslands and bushes.

Large portions of Sarawak and Sabah are now also covered in red on the map.

Only a few parts of the peninsula’s east coast, south of Sarawak and northern Sabah are spared.


State dept freezes all leave for firefighters
The Star 1 Mar 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The leave of 900 firefighters in Sabah has been frozen in light of the spike in open burning throughout the state due to the ongoing dry weather.

The number of open burning incidents – including forest and bush fires – had jumped from 188 in January to 431 between Feb 1 and Feb 24, said state Fire and Rescue Services Department director Nordin Pauzi.

According to the department’s statistics, the highest number of calls on open burning were in the west coast Papar and interior Keningau districts totalling 66 and 65 respectively in February.

The department also responded to 41 calls on open burning within the Kota Kinabalu area during the same period, 39 calls in Penampang and 36 reports in Papar.

“The open burning around Kota Kinabalu and Penampang are usually near housing area while those in Papar and Keningau are adjacent to farms,” Nordin added.

He said most of the open burning in Sabah comprised bush fires totalling 218 in February, forest (150) and illegal waste burning (14).

The Meteorological Services Department had classified large swathes of Sabah, Sarawak and the peninsula as being susceptible to grasslands and bush fires due to the dry weather.


Firemen, Orang Asli bring Cameron Highlands forest fire under control
SERI NOR NADIAH KORIS New Straits Times 1 Mar 16;

IPOH: A round-the-clock effort by firemen and Orang Asli volunteers finally brought a raging fire at a 10-hectare forested area near Kampung Raja, Cameron Highlands under control this morning.

A Simpang Pulai Fire and Rescue Department spokesman today confirmed that the team had successfully completed their task at 11am today.

He said 12 firemen were sent to the scene after they received the information on the forest fire about 2pm yesterday.

He said, with help from seven Orang Asli volunteers, the team managed to control the fire from spreading further about 9pm.

"Our team has checked the area again at 10.15am today and they were satisfied that the fire had been totally put out.”


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Malaysia: More landslides in Sarawak last month

The Star 1 Mar 16;

KUCHING: The abnormally heavy rainfall in southern Sarawak in February caused at least 194 landslides and embankment failures.

Just released statistics show 79 incidents on state roads and two on federal roads over Chinese New Year.

In two more major rain spells between Feb 19 and 27, another 111 landslides and embankment failures occurred on state roads, and two on federal roads.

Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof (pic) told reporters yesterday the Puncak Borneo area, comprising mainly Bidayuh settlements and Padawan Ring Road, were most “critical”.

He also said the number of rain-related disasters in February was the most ever for Sarawak “because of the volume of rain”.

“The landslides were mostly small and minor, not the big ones, but whatever it is, we need to treat the problems. We have to do mitigation and repair works. We can’t let these problems get bigger,” Fadillah told reporters after a Malaysian Construction Academy graduation ceremony here.

Cost estimates were not yet available.

“What we have done so far is temporary work, just to clean up. We’ll need to come up with designs to redo whatever needs to be done to prevent future failures,” he added.

Aside from the landslides, 81 sections of state roads and 14 federal roads were also cut off by floods in February.

All affected areas were in Kuching, Serian, Samarahan and Sri Aman, roughly 200km apart.

In last month’s three floods, the second and third episodes were more severe. In the middle of the month, some 8,000 were evacuated at the height of the waters.

In last weekend’s incident, rainfall of over 300mm caused floods at Sarawak General Hospital, state police headquarters and an inner city fire station ­– all built on high ground and which have never been flooded before.

The state capital’s drainage system are designed for 150-180mm of rain, while the average is 90mm.

The Works Minister conceded funds for Sarawak’s flood mitigation projects have not been sufficient over the years.

“As far as Kuching is concerned, flood mitigation studies have been done. It’s a question of implementation, and in implementation, we need the Government to ready the funds,” Fadillah said.

He said mitigation projects had not been built at the same quick pace of infrastructure development like housing and commercial estates.

Meanwhile, according to the Fire and Rescue Department, three flood relief shelters remained open yesterday for 29 families and a total of 74 victims.

All were in Serian. The shelter at Sacred Heart Church has been open since Feb 27.


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Malaysia: Significant changes planned for 'green' laws

PATRICK LEE The Star 29 Feb 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Significant changes to Malaysia's green laws may be presented in Parliament this year, with an aim to better protect the country's flora and fauna.

"What I'm looking at is for all these laws to be realised within 2016," Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told reporters here.

He said this after meeting with Forestry Department officials at their headquarters, where suggestions to amend green laws were raised there and then.

Some of these changes may include making loggers to help replant forests they've cut, and giving forest rangers jurisdiction over animal traps, which wildlife officers naturally focus on.

Junaidi said these changes were being thought of in light of a 50% forest cover pledge that has Malaysia has made in previous years, including at the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015.

He added that land and forest use – an area controlled by states and not the Federal Government – could make it difficult for Malaysia to keep this pledge.

Future laws may make it a must for loggers to replant trees
PATRICK LEE The Star 1 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Green laws in the near future may make it compulsory for loggers to replant trees immediately, to replace those they have cut down.

The idea was among others mooted as part of an international pledge to make sure that a 50% forest cover is kept.

“Whoever clears the forests has to replace (replant) the forests. Immediately,” Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told reporters here yesterday.

“If one state wants to do a mini-hydro (project) and it inundates or destroys 3,000 hectares of forest ... we want that to be replaced with 3,000 hectares (somewhere else),” he added.

Dr Wan Junaidi was speaking after meeting Forestry Department officials, and suggested ideas that might be drafted into environment laws. He said Malaysia had earlier pledged 50% forest cover at arenas such as the COP21 United Nation climate change conference.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement once signed, he added, also requires the country to keep its biodiversity intact.

The ideas included giving the department the responsibility to check up on poachers’ animal traps, which wildlife officials look for.

He also hoped they would be presented before Parliament this year, said Dr Wan Junaidi, adding it was not enough for them to be official policy alone.

“If we (have) no force of law behind it, it is very difficult for KP (forestry director-general) to enforce,” he said.

He, however, said his ministry had “a lot of” laws to go through, adding that it might be more than what the Dewan Rakyat could handle this year.

In a related matter, he said the ministry was also looking at missing drones to scout for possible poachers and other forest-related theft in every state.

A press release handed out after the event showed that RM140,000 has been allocated for this purpose, with the drones to be used this year.

On the Sarawak floods, he said the ministry was studying ways on handling the rising waters there.

An early proposal he said, involved a 6km river-wide channel that would cut through two main roads, take five years to build and cost RM1.6bil.

When asked about The Star report on illegal wildlife sales over social media, Dr Wan Junaidi said it was not “rampant” or that big a problem.

He, however, implied that the law was not really deterring people from selling wild animals, and the Government might have to look at the law again.


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Malaysia: Banteng in danger of extinction in Sabah

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 1 Mar 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Bornean Banteng, the cattle known for their “white socks” will likely be Sabah’s next species to become extinct if conservation efforts are not stepped up.

“Conservationists estimate that only 500 bantengs or wild buffalo are left in the wild,” said Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

“My fear is that the banteng, which is sought for its meat and horns, will become extinct in our lifetime,” he said.

He voiced concerns that these cattle could suffer the same fate as Borneo rhinoceros.

“We need to do a lot more. Our rhinos are practically extinct. We have only three left and they are not healthy enough to reproduce,” he said when launching a book titled Upin: A Bornean Banteng co-authored by Jaswinder Kler, Penny Gardner and Dr Benoit Goossens.

Masidi said everyone had a role to play including ensuring an orderly distribution of land for agriculture and other development to avoid fragmentation of forests.

“We have to ensure there are ample forests (for wildlife to thrive) through orderly management of land for other purposes,” he said, explaining that 60% of Sabah forests were fragmented.

“We have to do what is right rather then popular as we have to ensure that Sabah’s flora and fauna are conserved as they are our tourism selling point.”

It was important, he said, not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. He said the state government, through various NGOs, corporate donors as well land owners, was working towards restoring forest corridors to link various fragmented forests in efforts to ensure the survival of Sabah wildlife.

The state did not want to use mandatory land acquisition laws as it preferred to work with land owners to be part of the effort to rebuild the forest corridors, he added.

He urged conservationists to increase efforts to educate the public and the young generation on the importance of preserving flora and fauna in the state.


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Indonesia: Govt to revise wildlife law as protected animals face extinction

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 1 Mar 16;

After the deaths in rapid succession of Sumatran elephants and other protected animals over the past few years, the government and the House of Representatives have agreed to revise the natural resources conservation law to place heavier sanctions on hunters and traders.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said on Monday that the government and the parliament were in the process of revising Law No. 5/1990 on natural resources and ecosystem conservation.

“The law is outdated,” she told reporters at her office. “Right now the revision is in progress, being drafted by us and House Commission IV [overseeing forestry, agriculture, plantations and fisheries] and we have started to promulgate [the revision].”

The government felt the urgency of the revision after seeing that most cases of animal trading and hunting resulted in prison time of less than one year for perpetrators, and fines of less than Rp 100 million (US$7,476), Siti said.

Acccording to WWF Indonesia, the harshest prison sentence that has ever been given to a perpetrator of illegal wildlife trafficking is only two years.

“On the other hand, a big elephant tusk can go on sale for hundreds of millions of rupiah,” WWF Indonesia communication and advocacy director Nyoman Iswarayoga told The Jakarta Post.

Therefore, he added, it was important for the House to include the revision in next year’s National Legislation Program (Prolegnas).

“The revision is currently sitting on the waiting list [for this year’s Prolegnas]. So, it’s important to upgrade the status of the revision to make it a priority,” Nyoman said.

Besides including harsher punishments, the revision should also update the list of protected animals, according to WWF wildlife and landscape Ecologist Sunarto.

“There are frequent changes in taxonomy and naming of animals in Indonesia. There are also animals that weren’t threatened [when the law was issued in 1990] but now are,” he told the Post.

Excessive land conversion and massive wildlife hunting have recently driven wild animals in Indonesia to the brink of extinction, a phenomenon dubbed by Sunarto as a “silent forest”.

“I believe that the state of wildlife in Indonesia is in emergency. Elephants, for instance, have been facing extinction since 2012,” he said.

At least 152 Sumatran elephants, which are included in the critically endangered species category by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), have died since 2012, according to data from the Indonesia Elephant Conservation Forum (FKGI).

The FKGI also noted that Sumatran elephants were already gone from 13 out of 56 regions of their natural habitat in Sumatra.

At the moment, the population of Sumatran elephants has shrunk to 1,300, a 50 percent decline in 10 years.

At the current rate, Sunarto predicts that they could be gone from the face of the earth in less than 10 years.

Therefore, he said that the revision of the law itself was not enough, reasoning that the problem was deeply rooted in Indonesian culture.

“There lacks a sense of guilt among the public [when it comes to animal violence]. From childhood, we are taught to be hostile to animals by throwing rocks at them or catching them if they run across the yard. We see them as threats even if they do nothing besides crossing the yard,” Sunarto said.

Excessive land conversion has further aggravated human-wildlife conflicts. As the territory of wild animals becomes increasingly limited, they begin entering human settlements.

Sunarto said that Indonesia had the highest number of human-elephant conflicts in Asia.

The prevalence of human and elephant conflicts in Indonesia stands at 1.2 percent, followed by Thailand (0.4 percent) and Vietnam (0.2 percent). Sri Lanka, meanwhile, boasts a very low number of human-elephant conflicts as a result of its populations’ high esteem for the endangered species.


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Indonesia: West Kalimantan on high alert for floods

The Jakarta Post 1 Mar 16;

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has issued an early warning regarding rain that is predicted to be accompanied by strong winds and thunder across West Kalimantan in early March.

All 14 regions in the province are expected to experience light to medium rain, resulting in the threat of medium-level floods.

The warning came after earlier floods inundated a number of regencies in the province, including Ketapang, Landak, Bengkayang and Melawi, with an average depth of over 1.5 meters.

“Should heavy rain fall again, it is likely that more flooding will occur,” M. Soje of Melawi said on Monday, in response to the warning.

Levee Breaks After Hours of Rain, Flooding Homes in Bekasi
Mikael Niman Jakarta Globe 29 Feb 16;

Bekasi. Various parts of Bekasi in West Java were flooded on Sunday (28/02) when a levee broke in the city, situated on the eastern outskirts of Jakarta, following several hours of rain.

The breach was reported at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Kali Bekasi Dam in the Margahayu area of East Bekasi, where two rivers, the Cikeas and Cileungsi, converge.

"The water entered our homes chest deep," Slamet, a resident of Margahayu, the worst-affected area, said on Monday.

Also affected were Teluk Pucung in northern Bekasi, which was submerged by up to 1.5 meters of water; Central Kaliabang (70 centimeters); Jatirasa (50 cm); and Harapan Baru (30 cm).

The water started to recede in the early hours of Monday as officials from the city's Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) raced to stop the breach temporarily with sandbags.

"Our officers are coordinating with the authorities [BPBD] to prepare an emergency post and obtain inflatable rubber boats to assist flood victims," Bekasi District Police spokeswoman First Insp. Puji Astuti said.

While no fatalities had been reported, more than 700 families were affected by the flooding. Some of them have opted to stay with relatives in other parts of the city.

Medium-intensity rain, which lasted approximately six hours, started falling at around 5 a.m. on Sunday over much of the Greater-Jakarta area. Rain also fell in the West Java districts of Karawang, Subang, Purwakarta, Cianjur and Sukabumi – the source of many rivers that flow through the capital.

The rain caused water levels of several dams to rise with some reaching critical levels.


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Australia: Far North Queenland’s Lizard Island hit by worst coral bleaching in almost 15 years

DANIEL BATEMANThe Cairns Post 1 Mar 16;


NDER STRESS: A diver surveying coral bleaching at Lizard Island, where a large part of the reef flat has been affected.PICTURE: AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM

THE worst coral bleaching to hit Lizard Island in nearly 15 years has scientists worried about how badly the Great Barrier Reef will be affected by warmer waters in coming weeks.

Researchers estimate 80 per cent of coral on the reef flat surrounding the island, about 220km north of Cairns, is showing signs of bleaching.

A wide variety of corals are bleaching but the branching, bushy and plate corals – which are highly sensitive to bleaching – are the worst-affected.

The Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station director Dr Anne Hoggett said the station recorded similar levels of bleaching in 2002.

“We haven’t got a white fields of coral year but we’ve certainly got some corals that have gone completely white and a very large number that are fluorescing; they’re on their way to becoming bleached,” she said.

“We’ve got utterly perfect weather for bleaching here at the moment.

“It’s hot, it’s calm and it’s clear.

“That’s the worst possible combination for the corals.”

Sea temperatures have been up to 1.5C above average for this time of year at Lizard ­Island, and are expected to peak on the Great Barrier Reef later this month.

Researchers have warned the current El Nino weather patterns are mirroring those that caused widespread coral bleaching along the Reef in 1998.

Dr Hoggett believed the bleaching at Lizard Island would likely become worse in coming weeks.

She said it was particularly bad for the island’s reef ecosystem, which was still recovering from a recent crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak, and two major cyclones.

“It’s quite serious. We’re all worried about this coral bleaching,’’ she said.

“We had fingers and toes crossed hoping it wouldn’t happen, but it is happening ­exactly as predicted.”

Coral bleaching occurs when corals expel tiny algae that live inside them, mainly because of thermal stress.

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies director Professor Terry Hughes said Lizard Island so far appeared to be the worst-hit location throughout the Great Barrier Reef this year.

“We’re quite close to the time of the year where the temperatures will start to peak and then drop,’’ he said.

“That should be the end of the bleaching, so it really comes down to what the local weather will look like in the next two weeks, whether bleaching will happen at a particular place or not.

“So we’re sort of down to the wire in terms of the summer maximum temperature upon us.”

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority reef recovery director Dr David Wachenfeld said reports of low level bleaching in the northern sector of the marine park was not surprising, given the hot and often still conditions.

“It’s consistent with El NiƱo weather conditions,’’ he said.

“The weather over the next two to four weeks will be critical, as March is considered a high-risk period for mass coral bleaching.

“To alleviate thermal stress on corals, we need sea surface temperatures to come down.

“To achieve that, we ideally need a good deal of rain and cloud cover.”


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UK consumes far less than a decade ago – 'peak stuff' or something else?

Patrick Collinson and Adam Vaughan The Guardian 29 Feb 16;

The amount of “stuff” used in the UK – including food, fuel, metals and building materials – has fallen dramatically since 2001, according to official government figures.

The Office for National Statistics data released on Monday reveals that on average people used 15 tonnes of material in 2001 compared with just over 10 tonnes in 2013.

The figures look at the total amount of biomass (crops and livestock fodder, wood and fish), coal, oil and gas, metal and non-metallic minerals such as construction materials used in the UK every year.

Some of the biggest decreases have been in metal ore consumption, in part because the amount of metal required to manufacture modern domestic goods such as fridges and washing machines is far lower than in the past.

UK households have also abandoned buying many resource-intensive goods common in the recent past – such as metal-heavy video recorders and hi-fi systems, vinyl records, CDs and books – as they shift to digital consumption.

In 2000, British households bought 126m CDs but this tumbled to just 54m last year, while cassettes are heading for the history books, with sales falling 99.9% since 2000.

DVD chain Blockbuster, which once operated 528 stores on Britain’s high streets, closed the last ones in 2013, pushed out by the rise of digital services such as Netflix.

The figures will spark fresh speculation that Britain and other developed economies have hit ‘peak stuff’, although some critics pour scorn on the quality of the ONS’s environmental accounts.

In January, Ikea said the appetite of western consumers for home furnishings had reached its peak and consumption of many familiar goods was at its limit.

Household spending on physical goods, including furnishings, clothing, cars and gadgets, decreased between 2002/03 and 2014, said Chris Goodall, an author of books on climate change. Households now spend more on services than physical goods, he said.

“Part of the reason for the reduction in UK material use is the growing impact of digitisation. But we are also tending to eat less food and use less water, for example.

“And across a wide range of industries, the economy is tending to use a smaller weight of materials as a result of better efficiency and because homes and offices now have pretty much all the equipment they need,” he said.

Consumption of paper and cardboard began to decline in 2001, the amount of household waste produced by each person in the UK began to fall in 2003, and consumption of water began to go down from 2004, all at a time of rising population and GDP.

The ONS figures suggest that consumption of raw materials per head in Britain is now among the lowest in Europe, behind only Spain. But Goodall added that countries across the globe are using less.

“We’re beginning to see the same in China. Steel and cement – by far the most important inputs to the economy in terms of weight – have peaked. And since China represents about 50% of world steel consumption, this has a global impact.”

Even the total weight of biomass consumed in the UK has fallen, despite a rising population. The ONS said that in 2000 the UK chomped and burned its way through 188m tonnes of crops, fish and wood, compared with 172.5m in 2013, the last year for which figures are available.

Fossil fuel consumption peaked in 2001 at 283m tonnes. In 2012 it was 249m tonnes, although this was an increase on the lows of 2008-09.

But the country’s environmental accounts can be interpreted in many ways. The switch to a service-based economy rather than a manufacturing one means Britain consumes far fewer materials and energy for every unit of economic output compared with economies such as Germany.

The amount of materials and energy that goes into making, say, an Adele music download or a shipping insurance policy in Britain are tiny compared with making a car in Germany, so it means that for each unit of economic output Britain uses relatively fewer material resources.

The ONS suggested that the link between material consumption and economic growth is “decoupling”, with Britain having become more efficient at increasing output while using fewer resources.

The ONS said: “Over the 2000 to 2013 period, resource productivity (the relationship between economic activity and material consumption) in the UK has positively increased, rising 59.4% from £1.87 per kg in 2000 to £2.98 per kg in 2013, reflecting the shift away from manufacturing towards financial and other service industries.”

But other data show British households gorging on consumer goods. Car sales hit an unprecedented 2.63m in 2015, while Primark’s UK sales have accelerated to more than £5bn as shoppers load their baskets with skinny jeans and playsuits. So are the British really consuming less?

One expert said the amount the UK consumed has increased since the turn of the millennium, but the ONS counted only raw materials and not finished products that are imported.

“The trend is upwards since 2001, if you look at the data sets they leave out. The idea that we consume less than a decade ago, as the ONS suggests, is misleading,” said Tim Jackson, professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey.

“It leaves out substantial amounts of material that we consume. For example, it includes metals to make cars, but it doesn’t include metal in imported cars.

“There are indications of saturation in some markets, such as with Ikea on furnishings. You do see these micro trends of peak stuff, but the idea we’re living in a peak stuff world is nuts.”

A closer analysis of the ONS figures shows a big drop in consumption of non-metallic minerals used by the construction industry, such as sand, gravel, limestone and gypsum. This collapsed from 321m tonnes in 2000 to 212m in 2013. It may be that part of the decline in overall raw material consumption stems from Britain’s chronic inability to build enough homes more than anything else.


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