Chile's salmon farms lose $800m as algal bloom kills millions of fish

Reuters The Guardian 10 Mar 16;

A deadly algal bloom has hit the world’s second biggest salmon exporter, Chile, where nearly 23 million fish have already died and the economic impact from lost production has soared to $800m (£565m), industry and government sources told Reuters.

The dead fish could easily fill 14 Olympic-sized swimming pools, said Jose Miguel Burgos, the head of the government’s Sernapesca fisheries body.

Unusually high ocean temperatures, due in large part to the El Niño weather phenomenon, have fuelled the algal bloom that has affected 37 of the nearly 415 salmon farms operating in southern Chile. Most of the farms are in ocean enclosures or estuaries.

“Temperatures are 2 to 4C above average for this time of the year, there’s a lot of sunlight, a lack of rain and very mild winds, all of which are conditions for the micro algae to appear,” said Burgos.

El Niño leads to hotter sea temperatures in the west Pacific Ocean, which means more rain falls on South America and less in Australia and south-east Asia. But for Liesbeth van der Meer, who heads the Oceana environmental group in Chile, run-off from neighbouring livestock creates concentrations of nitrogen that when mixed with the above-normal temperatures, create the ideal scenario for the algae to grow.

Salmon farms near the southern city of Puerto Montt and the Chiloé island have borne the brunt of the toxic algal bloom.

Producers Marine Harvest, Australis Seafoods, Compania Pesquera Camanchaca, Blumar, Multiexport Foods, Cermaq Group AS and Empresas AquaChile have all seen some of their salmon farms affected, according to data provided by the Economy Ministry and company filings with Chile’s SVS securities regulator.

“The loss is likely equivalent to somewhere between 15 and 20% of Chile’s total production for the year ... the forecast for 2016 was around 750,000 to 760,000 tonnes but now that’s reduced to around 650,000 tonnes,” said Burgos.

The 100,000 tonnes in lost production, which includes Atlantic salmon, Coho and trout, is equivalent to some $800m in exports, he added.

Chile, the second largest salmon producer after Norway, last year exported $4.5bn of farmed salmon, on 800,000 tonnes of shipments.

Additionally, the situation will likely lead to job losses in the sector, according to industry group SalmonChile.

Cutting their losses, producers convert fish that can be saved into fishmeal, while the fish killed by the algal bloom are not destined for human consumption, the group added.

The latest blow to the local industry comes as Chile’s salmon farmers are using record levels of antibiotics to treat a virulent and pervasive bacteria, driving away some US retailers.

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Best of our wild blogs: 16 Mar 16

15-17 Apr: The Sisters Islands Marine Park at ADEX 2016
Sisters' Island Marine Park

Love our MacRitchie Forest Conservation Booth at My Tree House@NLB (12 Mar 2016)
Love our MacRitchie Forest

Launch of the Jubilee Whale Exhibit!
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Coppersmith Barbet in Pasir Ris Park (March 3, 2016)
Rojak Librarian

“Can giant clams see us?”
Neo Mei Lin

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What does the Cross Island Line conversation mean for businesses?

Talk of the town - environmental conversations in Singapore
Angela Foulsham CSR Asia 16 Mar 16;

There has been one thing dominating the environmental conversation in Singapore recently, and that is the Phase 1 Environmental Impact Assessment, or EIA, for the Cross-Island Line that was gazetted by the Land Transport Authority of Singapore (LTA) on 5 February 2016. The assessment of environmental impacts relates to the site investigation works needed for a proposed alignment of a new Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line that would run beneath part of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) and the MacRitchie Reservoir.

The dialogue around the impact of these works, the suitability of mitigation measures available, and the alternatives for alignment are ongoing, with NGOs such as the Nature Society Singapore (NSS) taking a leading role in the discussion. This is fairly predictable for an EIA of such a prominent project, especially one with potential to impact sensitive areas such as the CCNR, but the surprise in this story is that for the first time this report was made accessible to everyone.

Typically in the city-state of Singapore, when an EIA report is gazetted there is a public notice issued and the report itself is made available for viewing by appointment only. Interested stakeholders such as NGOs, academics, environmental professionals or members of the public can then book a time to read the report in full. In the case of the Cross-Island Line Phase 1 EIA, five hard copies of the 1,000 plus page report were made available at the LTA offices, and for the first two weeks of the disclosure period appointments were made and the report reviewed.

But on 19 February this changed when LTA published all four volumes of the EIA report on their website, along with the Executive Summary. On their Facebook page LTA said the move was in response to feedback received, and the report was put online for interested parties who are unable to come to LTA to view the documents.

Public interest in this study seems to be growing, with coverage by the media including the Straits Times and Channel NewsAsia documenting the opinions of prominent voices in the discussion, the various events being held linked to this development, and the milestones in the process such as the unexpected accessibility of the report. Interest in such EIAs isn’t new, but now we are seeing greater involvement and wider conversations not only involving the NGOs and environmental community, but reaching a wider audience.

So what does this mean for businesses? Aside from the discussion reflecting a greater public awareness and participation in environmental issues, such reports that document assessment and decision processes being made widely available is a new step in the disclosure and transparency of information. Increasing consumer, stakeholder, and shareholder awareness of environmental issues and the resulting need for disclosures is a trend that has been widely recognised in the private sector. Perhaps this news-worthy and accessible EIA disclosure is a new marker of the evolution of this trend in Singapore. This new conversation could bring a new dimension to the landscape, pushing beyond mandatory disclosures around issues such as energy management, and sparking a wider debate around the environmental interests for our small island.

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

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Singapore battles to keep a slice of green as conservation and urbanisation clash

By freelance correspondent Kirsten Han in Singapore ABC 15 Mar 16;

Mention Singapore and one visualises skyscrapers and bright lights, perhaps even the opulent Marina Bay Sands Hotel with its infinity pool.

Yet Singapore is first and foremost a tropical island, with pockets of land that still preserve a rich biodiversity.

Extending over 2,000 hectares, the Central Catchment Nature Reserve is the country's largest green lung.

Walking through the forest early in the morning, one can watch monkeys playing and hear the singing of waking birds.

It is cool, quiet and peaceful, as if the entire island is taking a long, slow breath before the relentless humidity of the tropics kicks in.

Yet even such a sanctuary might not withstand Singapore's relentless development. A master plan by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has indicated that a new subway track, the Cross Island Line, could run through the reserve by 2030.

The ensuing debate has once again triggered a clash between conservation and urbanisation.

Significant sites have already surrendered to development. Exhumation in Bukit Brown, the largest Chinese graveyard outside of China, began in 2013, with over 3,700 of the 100,000 graves demolished for a planned eight-lane highway.

Singaporeans are now bidding for new apartments in the central neighbourhood of Bidadari, which was once a cemetery for people of different faiths.

With a total land area of just under 72,000 hectares and a growing population of just over 5.5 million, Singapore's city planners are under pressure to develop infrastructure.

The Cross Island Line, which is meant to save commuters up to 40 minutes of travel time, is one of a number of additional Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) links in the works.

By 2030, the LTA predicts the city-state will have a rail density to rival London.

"Commuters will be less affected by a train disruption on an MRT line because they will be able to switch to other lines in the network to reach their destination," the transport authority wrote in its 2013 master plan.

The agency's original idea was to run the line under the reserve by building a four-kilometre tunnel, two kilometres of which would be 40 metres below the forest.

Compromising conservation and development

The reserve is a mixture of secondary rainforest over a century old and primeval, primary rainforest.

Conservationists like the Nature Society Singapore have now suggested an alternative alignment, skirting the area.

David Tan, a researcher at the National University of Singapore, is an avid bird watcher and an active member of the Love Our MacRitchie Forest campaign.

He and his fellow nature lovers conduct guided walks in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, near the MacRitchie reservoir, every two weeks.

"The nature reserve is protected not just out of sentiment, it's protected because it is valuable. It conserves some of Singapore's richest biodiversity, but also provides a lot of services that we would be unable to live without," he said, citing the benefits of water catchment and flood and mosquito control.

He is quick to emphasise that the nature groups are not protesting against the Cross Island Line itself, but merely trying to persuade the Government to adopt an option that accommodates conservation and development.

"It's a compromise already on everyone's part, because even the alternative route will have an impact on nature," he said.

"You're skirting the edge of the nature reserve, all this noise will impact things at the edge as well."

Other considerations have come into the debate. The Government has said the nine-kilometre alternative alignment would add six minutes to the projected commute on the Cross Island Line.

"I am not so sure we can just brush aside the extra six minutes, just like that, because in the mindset of the MRT commuters, an extra half a minute is already terrible," Minister of Transport Khaw Boon Wan said.

According to the authorities, the alternative alignment would cost 2 billion Singapore dollars ($1.9 billion AUD) more.

The cost of the total project has not been revealed, making it difficult to understand the budgetary context of that figure.

Indications that land acquisition might be needed for the alternative route have also caused some uneasiness among residents living near the forest.

Nature Society Singapore council member Tony O'Dempsey points out that despite the authorities' best mitigation measures, future survey work in the area would have a significant impact.

"The probes [used for soil investigation] need to be placed in off-trail areas and connected by coaxial cables by teams of workers," he said.

"It is the continued presence of these workers and their movements in the off-trail forested areas which will cause native animals to flee into the territories of neighbouring species, potentially resulting in territorial clashes and subsequently injuries."

Discussions are ongoing, yet the reality remains that many Singaporeans are not well informed on the importance of the reserve's biodiversity.

To that end, Mr Tan and his colleagues continue their guided walks, bringing urbanites face to face with nature.

"The thing is that the forest we see today is not even pristine anymore," he said.

"We have to bear in mind that when we make conservation decisions, we are already looking at a degraded forest. And the baseline keeps shifting. You degrade it a little bit more, tomorrow when you come in to do an assessment, you're doing it relative to an even more degraded forest."

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

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A whale of an exhibit

Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 15 Mar 16;

The latest attraction at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum - the skeleton of a whale found floating in Singapore waters off Jurong - goes on display from today.

Visitors can get close to the skeleton and see it "eye to eye" - it is displayed in a diving pose with its skull just 1m off the floor.

This is unlike most museum whale skeletons, which are usually hung horizontally near the ceiling.

"We wanted to give the whale a natural pose in a limited space," said museum conservator Kate Pocklington, who was one of five researchers at the museum involved in preserving the skeleton.

The skeleton of the adult female sperm whale takes pride of place in the mammals section of the museum at the National University of Singapore.

The carcass of the 10.6m-long whale was discovered floating off Jurong Island on July 10 last year - the first time the marine mammal has been spotted in Singapore waters.

Museum scientists say it is likely to have died after being hit by a ship, as its dorsal hindquarters had a large wound. Broken backbones were also found below the injury.

It was nicknamed Jubi Lee by museum staff, as it was found during the nation's Golden Jubilee year.

"As an older Singaporean, I am overjoyed by the return of a whale to our natural history museum," said Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh, who was at the official launch of the whale exhibit last night.

The skeleton of a 13m-long Indian fin whale was shown at the old National Museum from 1907 to 1974 before it was given to Malaysia.

"Jubi Lee is even better than the whale we gave away because it was found in our waters, because it belongs to a species seldom found in our waters, and because the skeleton is in perfect order," he added.

The museum's head, Professor Peter Ng, told The Straits Times it was rare for the whale skeleton to be preserved and mounted in just eight months.

"In most countries, the carcass is buried, allowed to rot, and only after several years is the skeleton excavated... We have expedited the process through very hard work - no mean feat. And it did not come cheap."

The museum has raised around $1.3 million for scientific and educational efforts related to the sperm whale carcass. Half of it went to setting up the exhibit, while the other half will be used for marine biodiversity education and research.

Besides marvelling at the size of Jubi Lee, visitors can learn more about its biology, the threats it faced, and how it was discovered.

Plastic cups and bags found in its gut, for instance, will be on display.

Educator Mary Lim, 38, who was at last night's event, said it could teach children about the value of fossils. Her son, Elijah, seven, said of the plastic found in the whale's gut: "It is disgusting and sad that the whale ate them, they look dirty."

Tickets to Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum can be bought at the door - at $16 for adult Singapore residents, and $9 for children. For more details, go to

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Temperatures could reach 36°C in second half of March

Today Online 15 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE — Keep the sunscreen handy in this two weeks: Maximum temperatures are expected to keep at between 33°C and 34°C, and could reach a high of around 36°C on a few days, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said, in its fortnightly forecast on Tuesday (March 15).

The average monthly temperature for March this year is also likely to similar to that for the warmest March on record (29.5°C in 1998), while rainfall is expected to be “significantly below-normal”, the agency added.

The scorching conditions are because of the continuing El Nino phenomenon — characterised by severely dry weather and high temperatures in this region — and the presence of a dry and warm air mass over the region, said the NEA.

Another reason is the occurrence of the equinox, an astronomical event that happens twice a year where the plane of the equator passes through the centre of the sun. Typically happening around March 20 and Sept 22, sunlight hitting the earth when it is around noon is the most intense and contributes to higher daytime temperatures.

The NEA said it is likely to be drier and warmer in the next two weeks, with light and variable winds forecast. Brief thundery showers are expected in the afternoon on four to six days.

The agency noted that almost all areas of Singapore received below-average rainfall in the first half of March, with the eastern part of the island around Pasir Ris most affected — 4mm of rain was recorded, which is 95 per cent below average.

Daily maximum temperatures last week was between 34.5°C and 35°C.

'Very warm temperatures' expected till end-March: MSS
Over the last two weeks of March, daily maximum temperatures are expected to range between 33°C and 34°C, and could reach a high of around 36°C on a few days, Met officials say.
Channel NewsAsia 15 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: Expect "very warm temperatures" over the coming fortnight, Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said in an advisory on Tuesday (Mar 15).

"During this period, the daily maximum temperatures are expected to range between 33°C and 34°C, and could reach a high of around 36°C on a few days," MSS stated. It said the mean monthly temperature for March 2016 is likely to be comparable to that for the warmest March on record - 29.5°C in 1998.

"The warmer conditions are due the continuing influence of the El Nino and the presence of a dry and warm air mass over the region," MSS added.

Despite the drier conditions, short-duration thundery showers in the afternoon can still be expected over parts of Singapore on four to six days.

MSS said almost all areas of Singapore received below average rainfall in the first half of March. During the second week of March, the daily maximum temperature recorded was between 34.5°C and 35.0°C.

- CNA/ly

The next 2 weeks of March is going to get hotter and drier
AsiaOne 15 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE - Do you think it has been hot since the start of March 2016? Well, it's going to get hotter.

The next fortnight is expected to be drier and warmer than that experienced in the first fortnight of this month, said a media advisory by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

During this period, the daily maximum temperatures are expected to range between 33°C and 34°C, and could reach a high of around 36°C on a few days.

The mean monthly temperature for March 2016 is likely to be comparable to that for the warmest March on record - 29.5°C in 1998.

The warmer conditions are due the continuing influence of the El Nino and the presence of a dry and warm air mass over the region. The occurrence of the equinox is another contributing factor to the warm temperatures during this time of the year.

An equinox occurs twice a year around Mar 20 and Sep 22. During an equinox, with the sun directly overhead around noon, sunlight reaching the earth's surface is most intense and contributes to higher daytime temperatures.

Despite the drier conditions, short-duration thundery showers in the afternoon on four to six days can still be expected over parts of Singapore, due to strong solar heating of land areas and convergence of winds in the surrounding vicinity.

The rainfall for March is expected to be significantly below-normal.

In the first week of March, Singapore experienced occasionally windy conditions with short-duration thundery showers in the afternoon on some days.

Dry and warm conditions were experienced in the second week of the month where the daily maximum temperature recorded was between 34.5°C and 35.0°C.

Almost all areas of Singapore received below average rainfall in the first half of March.

Rainfall was lowest over the eastern part of the island around Pasir Ris, where 4mm (95 per cent below average) was recorded. The highest rainfall of 119mm (15 per cent above average) was recorded over the southwest-central part of Singapore around Queenstown.

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Riau Governor Says Singapore Should Not Worry About Haze

Tempo 15 Mar 16;

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Acting Governor of Riau Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, guaranteed that residual haze originated from forest fires in the region will no longer affect Singapore. Arsyadjuliandi said that authorities have successfully dealt with forest fires previously occurred on the eastern coast of Riau.

"Singapore should not worry, coordination to mitigate forest fire is better compared to previous years," said Arsyadjuliandi, after welcoming members of the Singaporean consulate in his office on Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

Aryadjuliandi explained that the Singapore consulate met with the city administration to discuss land and forest fire prevention.

Arsyadjuliandi explained to the consulates that the fires in eastern coast of Riau had been successfully handled. The city administration had moved in quickly to perform countermeasures, extinguishing the fires


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'No-liability' settlements mooted to tackle haze

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 16 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE — In place of criminal proceedings, could the Singapore authorities allow companies accused of causing or contributing to transboundary haze the option to take remedial action without admitting liability?

Such action, which could involve setting up trust funds for the medical costs of people harmed by the haze or out-of-court settlements, was mooted by an academic yesterday at a seminar on domestic and international law responses to transboundary haze held at the Singapore Management University.

The power to facilitate settlement agreements could reside with the director-general of the National Environment Agency (NEA), adding to the arsenal provided for under Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA), which took effect in September 2014, said Assistant Professor Mahdev Mohan.

Asked if settlement agreements would let errant companies off the hook without any admission of liability, he said they would still be held accountable to the terms of the settlement and NEA must be satisfied with the remedial action. Settlement agreements could at least be a stop-gap measure, said Asst Prof Mahdev, given some challenges in enforcing the THPA previously noted, such as complex land ownership laws in Indonesia.

No company has yet been hauled to court for contributing to transboundary haze, although the NEA issued preventive notices to six companies in Indonesia last year.

Another way of tackling the haze highlighted yesterday was the use of investment treaties: An affected Singapore firm with investments in Indonesia, such as holiday resorts or business contracts, could potentially pursue claims against the Indonesian government for harm suffered, said Mr Mark Mangan, a partner at law firm Dechert. Firms, called “qualifying investors”, could claim for lost income and other damages.

Such action through investment treaties do not require one to identify the fire-starters or pinpoint where exactly the fires are coming from. “It’s enough to say the government itself is not doing enough to stop it,” said Mr Mangan at the seminar organised by SMU’s Centre for Cross-Border Commercial Law. NEO CHAI CHIN

Look into ‘no-liability’ haze settlements with caution
DARREN CHAN KENG LEONG Today Online 19 Mar 16;

I refer to the report “‘No-liability’ settlements mooted to tackle haze” (March 16) and agree with allowing companies accused of contributing to transboundary haze to take remedial action without admitting liability. Caution must be exercised, however.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) should look into such settlements as an instructive and deterrent measure only for companies that have flouted the regulations once, and give them a warning on top of that chance to rectify their mistakes.

Repeat offenders must be subjected to criminal proceedings, and subsequent contributions to the haze situation met with harsher penalties, owing to the destructive environmental and health impact of illegal clearing of land on the locals, wildlife and neighbouring countries.

The NEA should continue to monitor companies that persistently contribute to the haze, to ensure they are held accountable. Also, the law should have more teeth in nabbing companies that flout the rules despite preventive notices issued to them.

The NEA should study areas where the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) can be beefed up, and continue to work with the Indonesian authorities to overcoming the challenges of their land ownership laws.

As for using investment treaties, it would only be a temporary solution, with short-term effectiveness. A tougher stance against errant companies is needed to combat the haze situation, and legal land-clearing techniques must be implemented.

Perhaps there could be a portal for anonymous tip-offs to identify more companies that flout the THPA, so that the authorities can proceed with the appropriate investigations and actions.

More should be done to conserve the environment and protect people’s health through the joint commitment and work of the Singaporean and Indonesian authorities to clamp down on errant companies.

Criminal court procedures must still follow, to send a strong signal to companies about the consequences of contributing to haze, as it is unfair when neighbouring countries are affected.

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Haze episode cost Singapore estimated S$700m last year: Masagos

"We know where the hotspots were when the haze occurred. we need to have the cooperation of our counterparts to give us these names officially," says the Environment and Water Resources Minister.
Olly Barratt, Channel NewsAsia 15 Mar 16;

LONDON: Last year's haze episode - caused by forest fires in Indonesia and exacerbated by a severe El Nino effect - cost Singapore an estimated S$700 million of losses, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli on Tuesday (Mar 15).

Mr Masagos, who is in London attending The Sustainability Summit organised by The Economist, stressed the importance of bilateral cooperation, among other issues like corporate and consumer responsibilities, to tackle the problem.

”We cannot have just one approach to address the problem. One of these approaches that we're trying to commit is the bilateral cooperation between Indonesia and Singapore," he told Channel NewsAsia.

"In this aspect, we have been asking them to officially provide us the names of the directors of companies, as well as the locations where these fires have occurred, so that the companies can be put to task, particularly if the haze has affected Singapore.

“We know where the hotspots were when the haze occurred. We know from the NGOs, but we need to execute this legally. Therefore, we need to have the cooperation of our counterparts to give us these names officially.”

Mr Masagos added that this is not the only way to address the problem. “Their own action in putting some of these companies to task in court is exemplary,” he said.

“However, we are disappointed that the outcome has not been what everyone has hoped for. But I know they are still pursuing the matter, and I hope the Indonesian justice system and legal system will bring these people to task.”


Besides haze, Mr Masagos, who was invited to speak as a panelist at the conference, spoke about Singapore's efforts to balance development and protecting the environment, as well as the country's success in no longer relying heavily on Malaysia for water.

The minister also spoke about the importance of meeting the commitments to an agreement inked at a climate change conference known as the COP21 inked in Paris last year. “For now, the COP21 has got no other commitment than just promises to be kept,” said Mr Masagos. “But we foresee by 2020, things will shift.”

He added that there will probably be calls for penalties for countries that make promises, but do not keep them. “Therefore, it's important for Singapore, among other things, to try and be on track to meet these commitments that it has made during COP21 conference,” Mr Masagos said.

“This is important for the future of the Earth. This is something we all share. And if we do not meet our commitments, we all know that climate change will bring higher temperatures for everybody, and more intense and bad weather that we have to cope with if we do nothing.”

- CNA/xk

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Malaysia: No need for water rationing yet -- Minister

MARTIN CARVALHO The Star 16 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Though facing hotter and drier weather due to El Nino, there is no need for water rationing at the moment, said Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili (pic).

The Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister said there is enough supply in dams nationwide which are being monitored daily.

"Water rationing is decided by the operator at the state level and needs approval from the state government.

"The state will then need to get the nod from the ministry.

"So far, no state has applied to carry out water rationing," he told reporters at Parliament lobby on Wednesday.

He said close attention will be given to states that usually face a prolonged dry spell.

"Some states usually face a longer dry spell and we will have to monitor this very carefully.

"The sensitive areas are usually Johor, Selangor, Kedah and Penang," he added.

Asked on the water levels in dams, Dr Ongkili said several reservoirs had recorded drops but they are yet to reach the critical level.

He also said that close monitoring of the water level at the dams was crucial to determine if cloud seeding is necessary.

The hot and dry weather is expected to continue until the end of March due to the El Nino phenomenon, when sea temperatures usually rise by 0.5 to 2 degrees Celsius and rainfall drops by between 20 and 60 per cent for most areas in the country.

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Malaysia: Elephant translocation affecting Orang Asli

The elephant in our room

BELUM: Since 2010, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) has translocated 36 elephants into the state park. According to the orang asli, this is causing an increase in human-elephant conflict (HEC).

The translocation has doubled the elephant population in the area, and the orang asli are complaining that the elephants are encroaching on their land, destroying their homes, eating their crops and forcing them to flee their settlements.

The Star’s R.AGE video team witnessed the destruction first-hand while filming a documentary on the issue.

An elephant wandered into the village the team was staying at, seemingly foraging for food. The men of the village started making loud noises and lighting bonfires to scare off the animals, while the women and children boarded their boats to take refuge in the middle of the river.

The elephant briefly charged at the R.AGE team, only to veer away into the jungle after a few seconds, snapping trees in its wake.

The R.AGE team visited seven villages during the trip, and all told similar stories of HEC.

Another village was forced to completely abandon their homes and flee into the hills in the dead of night, after two elephants started rummaging through their huts for food.

“I woke up and saw the trunk of the elephant inside my house. We immediately jumped out of bed and ran into the jungle.” said Kederi, one of the villagers. His house was nearly torn in two.

Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, a Spanish elephant conservationist based in Malaysia, is hesitant to blame translocation for HEC, but admits it is not the best solution.

“Translocation can be used in some cases, but it needs to be the last resort,” said Dr Campos-Arceiz.

He added that translocated elephants might get stressed in an unfamiliar environment, causing them to develop an aggressive response to people.

"The elephant is confused, it’s not in its natural environment. Stuff like crops become a much more attractive resource when you are under stress, and you don’t know where the good feeding grounds are," he said.

When approached for comment, Perhilitan recommended the orang asli report any cases of HEC to the department.

“We strongly urge the orang asli to lodge a report at the nearest Perhilitan district office or call us via the care-line or our mySMS service,” said Muhamad Aminuddin Ahmad, the Perhilitan district officer. “If we do not receive a report, we cannot take action.”

However, the Jahai people cannot make these reports as they don’t have telephones, and their villages are three hours away from the nearest town.

Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) coordinator Dr Colin Nicholas said those in charge weren’t taking enough initiative to help the orang asli.

“Perhilitan is not being proactive enough to find out what’s happening on the ground,” he said.

He added that it costs about RM200-300 for the orang asli to travel to Gerik town and lodge a report. “And even then, no action is taken.”

Universiti Malaya anthropologist Kamal Solhaimi Fadzil, who has conducted extensive research among orang asli communities in the Belum-Temenggor area, suggested a radical solution to the HEC issue.

“They should set up a joint task force, which includes representatives from the community, so one can deal with community issues such as human-animal conflict, while the other deals with issues like poaching and illegal encroachment,” he said.

As for the orang asli, Dr Campos-Arceiz stressed that they should be trained to protect themselves and their crops from the elephants, as there is "no such thing as too many elephants".

To watch the R.AGE documentary on the elephant "attacks" in the Royal Belum State Park:

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Malaysia: Continuous spraying of herbicide keeps dangerous introduced weed manageable

TASHNY SUKUMARAN The Star 16 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: A dangerous weed that was sweeping the nation last year is now contained and controlled.

“We have to continuously control the weed by spraying certain areas before the plant blooms,” said the Agriculture Department’s Plant Biosecurity Division head Faridah Aini Muhammad.

Parthenium hysterophorus, or congress grass, dubbed the “worst weed of the century” due to its ability to destroy native flora and crops and cause scarring rashes, was first discovered on our shores in Selangor in 2013.

It was later spotted in nine other states, forcing the authorities to take immediate action.

“People still report in if they see it, and we take action. However, it is under control – it has not spread over more land,” she added.

She said there were also more stringent conditions placed on the import of livestock and agricultural machinery, as it is suspected that the weed entered the country through this channel.

Currently, Kedah is home to the biggest infestation with 23.77ha, followed by Perak with 18ha.

Sabah is the least affected with just 0.09ha.

The other affected states are Perlis (2.68ha), Penang (2.8ha), Negri Sembilan (11.7ha), Malacca (4.05ha), Johor (3.6ha) and Pahang (1.19ha), bringing it to a national total of just 70.4ha or about 50 football pitches.

“It is still found mostly tepi jalan (by the roadside). But because of continuous spraying of herbicide we can keep it manageable, even with its large seed bank.”

Besides using herbicides to hold the weed at bay, the general public can use salt water in a 1:4 ratio of salt to water to destroy the weed.

Similar in appearance to ulam raja, Parthenium hysterophorus is classified as a dangerous pest under the Plant Quarantine Regulations 1981 and can quickly propagate.

It produces hundreds of thousands of seeds during its four-week life cycle, and the seeds can lie dormant for up to 10 years.

Anyone caught spreading or transporting the eczema-causing weed into or across Malaysia risks a RM10,000 fine or two years’ jail or both.

The Star first revealed that this weed was sweeping the nation in December 2014, with people in parts of Kedah reportedly suffering from itchy red rashes.

The highly allergenic plant can cause severe skin disease and hay fever.

It is also toxic to livestock such as goats and cows, causing fevers, ulcers, anorexia and intestinal damage.

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Malaysia: Heat wave damaging ocean corals, drying up freshwater lakes

ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 15 Mar 16;

KUALA TERENGGANU: The El Nino heatwave is causing corals at sea to be bleached and damaging them, while freshwater lakes are drying up.

The high temperatures are threatening marine life to the extent that fishermen and farmers rearing seafood produce in ponds, lakes and rivers are seeing a noticeable drop in their catch.

In short, there will be scarcity of seafood for marine life as well as humans.

Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Nor Aieni Mokhtar said the bleaching of the fragile coral reefs, which are usually based up to six metres in depth, would result in their decay.

“This in turn will increase the acidity of the sea water and damage other marine food like algae and plankton.

“Prolonged high temperatures will eventually destroy other marine life and its habitat,” she said.

Nor Aieni said, when marine life is destroyed, it would have a chain effect for the fisheries and aquaculture research and development, while related commercial industries would also suffer.

“Marine research institutions like us will be inhibited in obtaining enzyme extracts to carry out studies on anti-microbiotic properties that are vital for discovering new drugs and preserving marine life,” she said at the ‘International Conference on Natural Products 2016’ at Permai Hotel, recently.

The conference was organised by UMT’s Institute of Marine Biotechnology and the Malaysian Natural Product Society. Nor Aieni said El Nino had a greater impact on salty seas as compared with freshwater owing to the rich minerals, flora and fauna readily available in the ocean.

She said while nature would eventually bring about a balance by naturally acclimatising to the environment, it would take a long time for marine life to be rehabilitated. On another note, Noor Aieni said that UMT, in collaboration with other varsities, was able to collate over 1,000 databases related to marine biotechnology which helped to carry out research and development of extracts for new drugs and medicines to treat diseases.

“But I hope researchers will consider preserving the marine habitat by not damaging corals, sponges and other marine life.

“At the same time, I urge commercial entities not to cash in on marine life by depleting its supply once a clinical drug becomes popular,” she said.

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Malaysia: Rubber plantations in danger if hot spell continues beyond May

NUR AQIDAH AZIZI New Straits Times 15 Mar 16;

KUALA PILAH: Rubber plantations are in danger of being affected by low productivity if the current hot weather continues.

The current weather, said Malaysian Rubber Board (MRB) Director-General Datuk Dr Mohd Akbar Md, is still considered bearable for rubber trees, which can withstand high temperatures.

“At the moment, we can see that the rubber trees are starting to lose leaves.

But this is still considered normal as rubber trees normally shed their leaves from October to January.

Shedding leaves is also a way for rubber trees to withstand the hot weather and ensure its survival,” he said.

Mohd Akbar said, if the hot weather persists until May, it would have a negative impact on the rubber trees.

“Hot weather will prevent rubber trees from continuing with its photosynthesis process,” he told a press conference today at the Kompleks Rakan Muda Kuala Pilah, here today.

Mohd Akbar said rubber plantations in the country was badly affected in 2007, which resulted in a 10 per cent decline in rubber production due to the haze.

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Indonesia: Govt promises better response to forest fires

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 15 Mar 16;

The government has promised a swifter responses to annual forest fires, including declaring a state of emergency sooner.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said on Monday that the government would be able to keep this year’s forest fires under control as it had learned from past experiences.

“When there’s a problem, we declare a state of emergency immediately. We already have a policy [to announce a state of emergency],” he told The Jakarta Post.

By declaring a state of emergency, the government could immediately disburse funding and other resources to manage forest fires, Luhut said.

He added that the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Ministry would be coordinating the attempts to manage this year’s forest fires, as stipulated by a presidential decree on forest fires.

The retired army general said that one of the main reasons why last year’s forest fires escalated so rapidly and razed up to 2.6 million hectares of land was because of the government’s slow response.

“To be honest with you, we declared a state of emergency very late. We had very little understanding of the peatland situation at that time,” Luhut said.

He said the government would not repeat the same mistakes this year as the number of hotspots had increased recently in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“This year, some areas have already been impacted by El Niño,” Luhut said. “Now, we are making preparations as early as possible.”

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) detected 151 hotspots on Sunday, with 76 hot spots in East Kalimantan and 45 hot spots in Riau. There were also 11 hot spots in Aceh, seven in North Kalimantan and two each in Central Sulawesi, Gorontalo and South Sulawesi.

“Actually there have been forest fires in Riau and East Kalimantan for the past three weeks with a fluctuating number of hot spots. The number of hotspots in East Kalimantan is the highest compared to other regions in Indonesia. This is an anomaly because in the past, there were relatively less forest fires in East Kalimantan than in other regions,” BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Sunday.

He said that forest fires started to reappear this year as some regions were suffering from dry weather.

“Riau is entering this year’s first dry season from now until April. But the current dry season is not as dry as the upcoming second dry season from July until September,” Sutopo said.

Besides Riau, other regions, such as the eastern coast of North Sumatra, have been affected by the dry season this year.

“Other regions that we need to pay more attention to are the eastern part of Riau, eastern part of North Sumatra and central part of South Sulawesi,” Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) head Andi Eka Sakya said in a press statement.

Meanwhile, the dry season will start in other regions in May, affecting 65.8 percent of Indonesia, and end in late October, he added.

Besides promising a swifter response to forest fires, Luhut said that the government had prepared other measures, including utilizing village funds.

“At the same time, we have a program relating to how to use the village funds to prevent forest fires. The village fund is important to reduce the gap between the haves and have nots,” he said. “In 2016, we have transferred 36.7 percent of this year’s village funds. This money can be utilized by forest fire-free village programs.”

Luhut added that the funding allocation would increase from year to year, with this year’s allocation increasing by up to US$100,000 per village from $60,000 per village last year.

Nearly all forest fires in Jambi are intentionally started: Governor
Anton Hermansyah, 15 Mar 16;

Jambi Governor Zumi Zola has claimed that nearly all forest fires in his province are intentionally started as part of land-clearing efforts.

"In Jambi, only a small percentage of fires occur naturally. During the last three months, we have already caught five people for burning attempts," Zumi said in Jakarta on Monday.

Forest fires have returned to the province on account of a lack of rainfall. The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Jambi station head, Nurangesti Widyastuti, said the fires may worsen if rain did not fall in the coming days.

The provincial government’s efforts to fight forest fires include deploying officials and residents to extinguish the fires, banning the slash-and-burn method for land clearing and recommending the revocation of licenses for companies found guilty of forest burning, said Zumi.

"We are monitoring forest continuously. We are fining and charging owners of companies who still adopt the slash-and-burn method," Zumi said.

In cooperation with the local legislative council (DPRD), the Jambi government has issued a bylaw prohibiting the slash-and-burn method for land clearing.

"We have a program that provides each district with one excavator. But implementing the program is hard as we are short of funds," Zumi said.

The local government has also urged private companies to help combat forest fires.

“For the plantation companies, this is the right time to implement CSR [corporate social responsibility] programs and not just give charity,” he added.

Jambi was among the provinces most affected by last year’s forest fires, which spread haze to neighboring Singapore and Malaysia and caused serious health problems. (bbn)

Minister prefers traditional blocking canals to prevent forest fires
Anton Hermansyah, 15 Mar 16;

Public Works and Public Housing Minister Basuki Hadimulyono says he prefers the traditional method of constructing blocking canals to modern methods.

"A blocking canal constructed by the people is more sustainable than the ones constructed with concrete," said Basuki in Jakarta on Monday. He said that the material could easily be found near peatland.

Blocking canal construction is carried out to maintain moisture in peatland to prevent fires.

Traditional blocking canal construction methods use wood and sacks as canal walls, while newer methods involve the construction of a concrete or fiberglass canal wall, Basuki explained on Monday.

The government has intensified the development of blocking canals in Kalimantan and Sumatra forests, particularly in the peatland areas, to prevent forest fires during the dry season. Last year’s forest fires on two of the country’s main islands caused serious health problems, disrupted flights and spread haze to Singapore and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) chairman Nazir Foead said that his institution considered the use of fiberglass in its construction of blocking canals because it was light and durable. He said that concrete blocking canals were not suitable for peatland.

"There are small and medium enterprises [SMEs] that can make fiberglass, including in Riau. The canal blocking program will empower local SMEs," Nazir told

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Indonesia: Sumatra warned over emergence of forest and land fires

Antara 15 Mar 16;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency-Pekanbaru Station detected 42 hotspots in five provinces of Sumatra Island on Tuesday, of which 31 were found in six districts of Riau Province.

The agencys head, Sugarin, stated that 11 other hotspots, which were recorded by the Terra and Aqua satellites on Tuesday at 5 a.m. local time, were found in the provinces of North Sumatra, South Sumatra, Aceh, and Riau Islands.

The number of hotspots in Riau Province has increased from 24 to 31 over the past two days. Of the total 31 hotspots, 11 were found in Meranti Islands, nine in Bengkalis, seven in Pelalawan, two in Indragiri Hilir, and one each in Siak and Rokan Hilir, he revealed.

According to Sugarin, 10 out of the 31 hotspots in Riau Island were believed to be forest and land fires, with confidence level of over 70 percent.

In response to the appearance of these hotspots, Head of the Disaster Mitigation Agency of Bengkalis Districts Fire Brigade Division Suiswantoro revealed on Monday that several hotspots in the district were caused by the extreme weather during the dry season and the acts of irresponsible people who employ the slash-and-burn method for land clearing.

The hotspots were found in the sub-districts of Bantan and Bengkalis, he said.

The hotspots were detected in the palm plantation area of Muntai Village. However, Suiswantoro said he had yet to ascertain the total affected area, but most of the hotspots were found in peatlands.

He further added that his men had been making efforts to extinguish the fires.

Both the district and provincial governments responded to the discovery of hotspots in certain areas of Riau. The provincial government had even declared an emergency alert status, indicating the need to expedite the efforts to prevent and handle forest and land fires.

Last year, thick haze arising from forest and land fires affected Riau and several other provinces in Sumatra Island, crippling commercial flights and triggering acute respiratory infections among several people.(*)

Peat Fires Destroys 310 Hectares of Land in Meranti
Tempo 14 Mar 16;

TEMPO.CO, Pekanbaru - Fires across Riau's Eastern coastal peatlands have continued to burn - with at least 310.25 hectares of peat land destroyed in Meranti, along with 50 hectares of residents' sago crops.

Riau Province Disaster Mitigation Agency's (BPBD) Head of Emergency Response, Mitra Adhimukti, said that the fires have been reported across several districts, including the district of Rangsang, Merbau and Tebing Tinggi. "The hot weather and gusty conditions have made it easier for the fire to spread," Mitra said on Monday, March 14, 2016.

According to Mitra, a joint-squad consisting of the Indonesian National Police (Polri) and the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) personnels - aided by volunteers - have been deployed to fight the spreading flames, but officials on the ground said that their progress is hampered by the absence of water sources at the location of the fires, as well as the squad's rudimentary and outdated equipments. "We are concerned that the fires may well spread into populated areas," said Mitra.

The Head of Meranti's Agency for Agriculture and Forestry, Mahmud Murod, said that the high incidence of fires in Meranti - aside from the fact that the area is dotted by peatlands, some reaching deep below the top soil - might be an indication that the fires were deliberately set by irresponsible parties, wishing to clear out forested areas to be repurposed for agricultural purposes. Furthermore, continued Murod, the majority of reports originate from fields and orchards belonging to local residents. "We have yet to receive any reports of fires breaking out in fields and forests that are owned by large corporations," Murod said.

Murod also said that peat fires will continue to happen in Meranti, as long as the government continues to move at a glacial pace to reform its' management of Meranti's peatlands. "There are currently 480 illegal irrigation canals built over Meranti's peatlands - all of these drain freshwater from the fields into the sea, which further dries out the area that is already prone to fires to begin with," Murod said.

"The central government needs to step in, as Riau's Administration does not have the means to deal with these illegally-dug canals," continued Murod, who said that Riau's Administration have proposed to seal off the canals to the Ministry of Environments and Forestry, but have yet to receive any response from Jakarta.

In recent months, continued Murod, the central government have indeed moved to aid the restoration of the area's peatlands through the Peatland Restoration Agency, which was forced by President Joko Widodo - but the Agency have yet to come up with a concrete action plan to deal with the situation in Meranti.

"All we want to do is to seal of the canals and ditches to ensure our peatlands remain moist, and to prevent it from drying out," said Murod. "We have to attack the root causes of the fires, instead of mitigating the aftermath of the disaster after it has happened - it is a waste of energy."


Forest burning continues in Lake Toba area
Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post 16 Mar 16;

Deforestation around Lake Toba in North Sumatra continues despite the central government’s plan to turn Southeast Asia’s biggest lake into one of the country’s 10 major tourist destinations.

Over 5 hectares of forest in Harian district, Sianjur Mula-Mula, Samosir regency, were reportedly razed by fire in recent days.

Tumpal Sijabat of Samosir suspected that the fire may have been deliberately lit to clear land for plantation purposes. “The fire has been burning for a week but efforts to extinguish it were very slow, so the whole forest has already burned,” he said on Monday.

Similarly, Marandus Sirait of Toba Samosir regency expressed concern over the condition of forests in the Lake Toba area, saying that most of the area had been damaged because of land clearing and illegal logging.

Marandus, who is also a recipient of the 2015 Kalpataru Award in the environmental pioneer category, said that deforestation was evident in Ajibata, Lumbanjulu and Bonatualunasi districts in Toba Samosir regency, Tele district in Samosir regency and Gersang Sipanganbolon district on the border of Toba Samosir and Parapat, Simalungun.

“It’s shameful to see the damage, especially because the government in the near future will turn the area into an international tourist destination,” Marandus told The Jakarta Post earlier this week.

He said he had repeatedly protested deforestation in the area but was never listened to. He even returned in 2013 the Wana Lestari Award he received from the forestry ministry in 2010 as an expression of protest.

He said serious measures had not been taken by local administrations to preserve forests in the area following the central government’s plans to make it a world-class tourist destination, the ground-breaking of which was recently conducted by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

“What will happen to Lake Toba if the forests are barren? One thing is for sure, it will no longer be cool and it will be less beautiful,” said Marandus, who manages the 45-hectare Eden Park property belonging to his family in Toba Samosir.

Samosir administration spokesperson Lemen Manurung admitted that there had been forest fires in Sianjur Mula-Mula and Pangururan but said they had been extinguished.

“According to information, the fire has been extinguished, but if it is still there we will check on it,” Lemen said.

Responding to a question regarding preparations to make Lake Toba a world-class tourist destination, Lemen said the administration was still waiting for a government decree on the establishment of the Lake Toba authority body.

“It’s the body that is tasked with coordinating the development of Lake Toba,” he said.

Jokowi visited the area two weeks ago to instruct relevant ministers regarding the acceleration of the development of the area into the “Monaco of Asia”.

He asked the North Sumatra administration and the administrations of all regencies in the area to work in synergy with the relevant ministries.

The government has allocated Rp 21 trillion (US$1.6 billion) for the development, Rp 10 trillion of which is from the state budget, with the remainder from the private sector. Most of the funds are allotted for infrastructure development.

The infrastructure to be developed includes a 116-kilometer toll road. With the new road, traveling to Parapat, on the shores of Lake Toba, from the provincial capital Medan, which currently takes five to six hours, will only take 90 minutes.

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Indonesia: Thousands face food shortage in Wonogiri

The Jakarta Post 16 Mar 16;

Thousands of people in three villages in Paranggupito district, Wonogiri, Central Java, have been suffering from food shortages caused by a lack of water from low rainfall in the area.

Haryanto, the district chief, said Tuesday the three villages were Gudangharjo, Songbledek and Gunturharjo.

“The rain came late in southern Wonogori. While other areas are in the peak season for rain, here in Paranggupito the rain did not fall every week. Once there was even no rain at all in 14 days,” the Haryanto said.

He said he had asked the government for help since the harvest in the district was not sufficient for the residents’ needs.

Meanwhile, Songbledek village head Sutoto said about 5,000 residents in the village needed food aid since they had failed to harvest their paddy and corn plants because of the lack of water.

“The number of people suffering a food shortage could reach 15,000 if we include other villages,” Sutoto said.

He said rain rarely fell in his village and there was even no rain at all for three weeks in January.

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Sea level rise projected to displace 13 million in U.S. by 2100

Will Dunham Reuters Yahoo News 14 Mar 16;

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of people who could be displaced in U.S. coastal regions due to rising sea levels this century as a result of climate change is much higher than previously thought, with more than 13 million Americans at risk with a 6-foot (1.8 meters) rise including 6 million in Florida, scientists said on Monday.

The researchers assessed sea level change scenarios by 2100 from the U.S. Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for coastal states along with population growth trends and projections in high-risk areas.

With a sea level rise of 3 feet, locations forecast to house 4.2 million people would be at risk of inundation while a doubling of the rise would bring the number to 13.1 million.

With densely populated coastal locales, Florida faces the greatest risk, with up to 6.06 million residents projected to be affected if sea levels rise 6 feet, followed by Louisiana (1.29 million people at risk) and California (1 million).

Other states that could be heavily impacted in such a scenario include: New York (901,000 at risk), New Jersey (827,000), Virginia (476,000), Massachusetts (428,000), Texas (405,000), South Carolina (374,000) and North Carolina (298,000).

"As the sea level rises, coastal parts of Florida will be inundated," said University of Georgia geography professor Deepak Mishra, one of the researchers.

"Sea level rise is the phenomenon that makes climate change a reality for millions of people worldwide.

The sheer volume of people at risk of displacement and becoming climate refugees is the main threat."

The projections of the number of people who could be displaced are up to three times larger than previous estimates, added University of Georgia demographer Mathew Hauer, the study's lead author.

"These results suggest that the absence of protective measures could lead to U.S. population movements of a magnitude similar to the 20th century Great Migration of southern African-Americans," the researchers wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change, referring to the movement of more than 6 million black people from the rural South during an era of institutionalized racism to cities of the North, Midwest and West from the 1910s until 1970. The researchers said more than a quarter of residents of major urban centers such as Miami and New Orleans could face coastal flooding.

Three counties could see the displacement of 80 percent of their population: Florida's Monroe County, site of the Florida Keys; and North Carolina's Hyde and Tyrrell counties.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Alan Crosby)

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Environmental risks killing 12.6 million people, WHO study says

One in four deaths avoidable as enviornmental factors contribute to over 100 diseases, with air pollution responsible for 25% of strokes and 19% of cancers
John Vidal The Guardian 15 Mar 16;

Nearly one in four deaths are linked to unhealthy environments and are avoidable, a new World Health Organisation study – the first major assessment of environmental risk since 2006 – has shown.

It suggests environmental risks now contribute to more than 100 of the world’s most dangerous diseases, injuries, and kills 12.6 million people a year – nearly one in four or 23% of all deaths.

Of these, two-thirds or 8.2m deaths are from non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as strokes, cancers and heart illnesses, a significant rise in 10 years, say the authors.

While the number of deaths from infectious diseases, including diarrhoea and malaria, have fallen since 2006, those from NCDs linked to indoor and outdoor air pollution, climate change and exposure to synthetic chemicals have increased, the WHO report says.

The two biggest global environmental killers are strokes (2.5m a year), heart disease (2.3m), and unintentional injuries such as road accidents which kill 1.7 million people a year. Cancers linked to the environment kill 1.7 million people, respiratory diseases 1.4 million, and diarrhoeal diseases 846,000.

“A healthy environment underpins a healthy population,” says Margaret Chan, WHO director general. “If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young.”

Many of the deaths are linked to poverty and rapid urbanisation, says the report, with indoor and outdoor air pollution increasingly significant.

“Decreases in air quality have been observed in many low- and middle-income cities around the world in recent years. Increased exposure to air pollution will mainly increase NCDs, but also respiratory infections in children under five years,”says the report.

“Modern risks, like ambient air pollution and unsafe use of chemicals, tend to increase in countries undergoing rapid development, before control over such factors is improved when full transition to high-income societies is made.”

Air pollution and rapid industrialisation in China, India and elsewhere in south-east Asia and the Pacific regions is now a major cause of deaths and illness, the report finds. The massive rise in industrial production, urbanisation and car ownership has lifted these regions to the top of the global unhealthy environment league table with 7.3m deaths a year. Most, says the report, are attributable to air pollution.

“Air pollution was associated with increased hospital admissions and deaths from stroke. The evidence for an association between stroke and both short-term and prolonged increased exposure to fine particles (PM2.5) is increasing. Also, short-term exposure to increased ozone levels was associated with stroke incidence. In 2012, 25% of the global stroke burden was attributable to ambient air pollution,” it says.

Cancers are now a leading cause of death worldwide, says the WHO, with one in five of all people and one-third in industrialised countries expected to develop the disease in their lifetimes. Around 19% of all cancers are estimated by the WHO to be attributable to environmental factors.

Smoking is the greatest risk for developing lung cancer, but more than 20 other environmental and occupational agents are proven lung carcinogens in humans.

Air pollution, for example from indoor burning of coal or biomass, was associated with substantial increases of lung cancer risk. Lung cancer caused nearly 1.6m deaths in 2012 and was the largest contributor to cancer related mortality.

About 18% of all heart disease was linked to household air pollution. About 35% of the total burden of heart disease was attributed to the environment.

However, great improvements to water supplies, sanitation and waste in Africa and other developing countries have been made in 10 years. Better access to immunisation, insecticide-treated mosquito nets and essential medicines have all reduced deaths from the environment, says the WHO.

“Total environmental deaths are unchanged since 2002, but show a strong shift to noncommunicable diseases,” say the authors. “The last decade has seen a shift away from infectious, parasitic and nutritional diseases, not only in terms of the environmental fraction but also the total burden.

“This shift is mainly due to a global decline of infectious disease rates, and a reduction in the environmental risks causing infectious diseases. A higher share of people have access to safe water and sanitation, and a lower share of households use solid fuels for cooking.”

But the death toll from infectious diseases is still very high, largely because of increased populations.

“Diarrhoeal diseases are one of the main contributors to global child mortality, causing 20% of all deaths in children under five years. WHO recently estimated that 58% of all cases of diarrhoea in low and middle income countries could be attributed to inadequate drinking-water (34%), sanitation (19%) and hygiene (20%).

“Malaria is estimated to have caused 584,000 deaths in 2012, mostly among African children. About 42% (28–55%) of the global malaria burden could be prevented by environmental management,” say the authors.

But rapid urbanisation my be leading to a rapid increase in other mosquito-born-diseases, says the report. “Dengue fever is the most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne viral disease in the world. Rapid urbaniation, unreliable drinking water supply services, increased population mobility and global trade are important determinants of the resurgence of the disease.”

But some of the greatest environmental risks come from everyday activities. People falling down was said to be the second cause of death from unintentional injuries with 690 000 deaths in 2012. Each year, 37m falls are severe enough to seek medical attention.

A further 372,000 people are believed to have drowned in 2012, with drowning the leading ‘injury’ in children under five years.

In addition, about 268,000 deaths occur each year due to burns from exposure to fire, heat or hot substances; the vast majority occurring in low and middle income countries.

Other causes of environmental deaths include 193,000 deaths from unintentional poisonings by chemicals or other noxious substances, including drugs, and toxic vapours and gases, lead poisoning from informal recycling or gold extraction, or from industrial emissions.

Road accidents are now the largest cause of injury deaths, causing 1.25m deaths per year. Almost half of all deaths on the world’s roads are among those with the least protection – motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians.

Environmental risks to health are defined as “all the physical, chemical and biological factors external to a person, and all related behaviours, but excluding those natural environments that cannot reasonably be modified.”

“There’s an urgent need for investment in strategies to reduce environmental risks in our cities, homes and workplaces,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO director, department of public health, environmental and social determinants of health. “Such investments can significantly reduce the rising worldwide burden of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, injuries and cancers, and lead to immediate savings in healthcare costs.”

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