Best of our wild blogs: 1 Apr 16

March for MacRitchie: A month of discovery and public participation to conserve MacRitchie Forest
Love our MacRitchie Forest

Great-billed Heron – hunting and mating calls
Bird Ecology Study Group

An unexpected “Booby” prize
Singapore Bird Group

Wild City – three episodes about wildlife and wild places in Singapore you must watch!
Otterman speaks

Singapore World Water Day – 29 volunteers remove 415.5kg of trash (43 trash bags) @ Sungei Pandan Mangrove [26 March 2016]
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

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Burning smell possibly due to gases blown in from hotspots in northern ASEAN: Experts

That burning smell in the air? 938LIVE speaks with experts to find out what exactly is causing it, and why it seems to be stronger at night.
Lim Jia Qi, 938LIVE Channel NewsAsia 31 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: Scores of people have taken to social media complaining of a burning smell in parts of Singapore in recent days and pondering if it is haze season again. The 3-hour Pollutant Standards Index also hit a new high this year, registering a reading of 91 at 9pm on Thursday (Mar 31), while the 24-hour PSI stayed in the Moderate range at 64 - 79.

While authorities have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of the smell or concretely linked it to haze, atmospheric chemists said it could be caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) blown in from hotspots in the northern ASEAN region.

These VOCs are by-products of combustion, and take the form of gas molecules which cannot be detected by equipment used to measure the Pollutants Standard Index (PSI). And this could be one reason why even as PSI levels remain in the Moderate range, many Singaporeans have noticed a lingering smell of burning.

According to Professor Mikinori Kuwata, of the Asian School of the Environment at Nanyang Technological University (NTU): "Haze is caused by liquid or solid particles suspending in the air. These particles in haze scatter light. So they are responsible for the degradation of visibility. What we are smelling is gas. That's the reason why the current smell is not reflected in the PM2.5 concentration.”

Dr Rajasekhar Balasubramanian, an atmospheric chemist from the National University of Singapore, said the VOCs could contain gases such as sulphur dioxide.

"They could also come along with organic gases. So we have different gases mixed with each other in different concentration, so the air will be different in terms of its smell."

The Associate Professor added that the health impacts depend on how long people are exposed to the gases and its concentration.

Earlier this week, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said there could be a few possible causes for the smell, including transboundary smoke haze from forest and peat fires in the region, the occurrence of local fires or other localised sources of burning.

On Wednesday (Mar 30), the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said it observed "isolated hotspots" in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. "The full extent of the hotspot activities in Myanmar and Thailand could not be determined due to cloud cover," MSS said, adding that in southern ASEAN, wet weather conditions continued to subdue hotspot activities.


The burning smell has been particularly strong for some residents in central and northern parts of Singapore.

"It happened about two weeks ago. Usually it's rather bad when it's about 2am to 3am and it's quite choking," said 23-year-old Eunice Fun, who lives in Bishan.

Dr Rajasekhar said the smell is also stronger at night because the air blown in from hotpots in the northern ASEAN region remains concentrated at a shallow altitude.

He explained that during the day, with warmer ground temperatures, particles and gases move upwards, to a higher altitude, which results in polluted air being mixed with a larger volume of air in the atmosphere. This could explain why burning smells are not as intense during the day.

"But on the other hand, during the evening, you are still bringing the air from an external source but little upward movement. So you are concentrating the polluted air in a smaller volume. The clean air and polluted air are not so well mixed. The smell is more intense in the late evening or late night and early morning," explained Dr Rajasekhar.

- 938LIVE/dl

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More construction firms to adopt new technology to curb pollution

By end-2017, 800 construction sites are expected to use a system to check for silt discharged into public drains.
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 31 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: More construction companies are set to adopt a new technology to curb pollution and cut down on manpower costs.

By end-2017, 800 construction sites are expected to use a system to check for silt discharged into public drains. This is estimated to bring about 100,000 man-hour savings per year for the companies.

Silt is sediments consisting of very fine particles which, if washed into drains, can lead to pollution. Silty discharge is caused by the lack of proper earth control measures at construction sites.

To prevent this, as of February 2016, PUB enhanced its requirement for new construction sites, with site areas of 0.2 hectares and above, to use the Silt Imagery Detection System. The system analyses images from closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras contractors have installed at public drains.

If it detects silt discharge or image problems, which could be due to CCTV downtime, it sends out alerts.

Currently, 265 CCTV cameras at 178 construction sites are connected to the system.

Previously, contractors had to continuously monitor their CCTV cameras, which is time-consuming and manpower-intensive. Since 2013, contractors of sites of 0.5 hectares and above have been required to implement CCTV cameras at public drains to monitor treated rainwater discharge to ensure that it is not silty.

Through a Government scheme called the Technology Adoption Programme, PUB worked with A*STAR's Institute for Infocomm Research to develop the Silt Imagery Detection System. To date, more than 1,000 companies have benefited from 1,800 technology adoptions under the scheme.

The system will also be shared with Government agencies involved in development projects, as well as other major private developers to raise awareness and promote self-regulation among industry players. This will take place within the next 12 months in phases.

Said Dr Koh Poh Koon, Minister of State for Trade and Industry: "The detection by a camera device is remotely done without definite human interface. The image can be captured and transmitted through a central server so it allows actually one person to monitor sites across the entire island through the use of a smart technology that leverages internet connectivity.

"In terms of scaling up this project, if the algorithm can be tweaked to detect other things, for example, debris, rather than just silt, maybe solid debris accumulating in drains, we could potentially widen it to monitoring drainage systems across the town, where we can look for rubbish accumulation, dead leaf accumulation within our drainage system, and therefore detect areas that could be a dengue breeding site, for example.

"So I think it's a matter of just applying the technology creatively to solve current existing problems."

- CNA/ek

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Dedaces-old love affair with the sea

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singpaore celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. A veteran tells Constance Goh why he continues working in the maritime industry despite losing a brother at sea
CONSTANCE GOH The New Paper 31 Mar 16;

He has always enjoyed being out at sea.

Captain Irinjalakuda Gopalkrishnan Sangameswar's love affair with it started at 16 when he joined as a deck cadet in 1968.

He eventually rose to the rank of captain in 1979.

"Every day was a different experience and I loved the exciting nature of my job," Captain Sangam, as he is known by his colleagues, said.

"Getting to meet people from different countries is definitely another plus point," said the 64-year-old.

But about nine years after he started sailing, tragedy struck.

On July 3, 1979, Indian bulk carrier MV Kairali and all 51 crew on board went missing at sea and were never found. Among the crew was Captain Sangam's younger brother, who was 25.

Captain Sangam's mother was so worried that she asked him to quit his job. She told him: "I don't want to lose another son."

But he loved being out at sea and was reluctant to move to a desk job. Three years later, in 1982, he finally acceded to his mother's wishes.

So he joined the marine department of the then Ministry of Communications, which is now the Ministry of Transport.

The marine department merged with the National Maritime Board to form the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) on Feb 2, 1996.

MPA celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Captain Sangam, who has two children, said he thought that being desk-bound would not be as interesting, but he was proven wrong.

At MPA, he has played a major role in coordinating search-and-rescue missions. Ships would send out distress signals and his job was to send help.

On rare occasions, this meant informing the Republic of Singapore Air Force so that a helicopter would be sent to pick up sick or injured passengers.

Captain Sangam has also led many oil spill investigations.

The most notable was in 1997 when Thai-registered Orapin Global collided with Cyprus-flagged tanker Evoikos 8km off Sentosa island, spilling 28,000 tonnes of oil.

"It was the biggest oil spill to ever happen in Singaporean waters and the effects of pollution would have been dire if we had not cleaned it up in time," said Captain Sangam.

It took 400 personnel and 60 anti-pollution craft two to three weeks to clean up the spill.

In the investigation, Captain Sangam traced the ships' movements before, during and after the collision. He also read the communication charts and interviewed the captains and officers of both ships.

Both captains were found to be at fault and they were jailed and fined.


Today, as senior assistant director of the training standards department in the shipping division of MPA, Captain Sangam shares his expertise with younger generations of aspiring seafarers.

He comes up with assessments that help to certify new seafarers. This is in partnership with the Singapore Maritime Academy, a maritime training institution in Singapore Polytechnic.

"The younger generation needs to learn the importance of keeping them (seafarers) safe so that they can see another sunrise," he said.

- See more at:

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Malaysia: Haze caused by peat fire adds to Sabah’s hardship

The Star 1 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: A fast spreading peat fire in the Binsuluk Forest Reserve area in south-west Sabah has caused haze to blanket parts of the state’s west coast.

This is in addition to the dry spell that has already caused hardship in many parts of the state.

Sabah Fire and Rescue Services Department director Nordin Pauzi said some 100 firemen have been sent to the Binsuluk area, about 130km from here, to put out the peat fires that have already spread into the forest reserves.

Efforts have been ongoing to control the peat fire since early March after it was spotted in areas close to the reserve.

Apart from that Binsuluk peat fire, he said firemen were also attending to over a hundred distress calls in the state.

The haze caused visibility in the Kota Kinabalu area to drop to three kilometres while Labuan recorded eight kilometres. Other areas like Sandakan, Kudat and Tawau recorded more than 10km visibility. No flights were disrupted.

Sabah Meteorological Depart­ment acting director Lim Ze Hui said five localised hot spots in Beaufort, Bongawan (Klias peninsula) and Kota Belud were spotted since late Wednesday.

He added that they did not expect any immediate rain in the west coast of the state though there have been isolated showers in Sandakan.

Sabah’s dry spell since early February has affected traditional water sources from streams, wells and gravity water feeds.

Firefighters put out fire at Gunung Korbu
RAJA KHALIDATUL ASRIN New Straits Times 31 Mar 16;

SUNGAI SIPUT: Firefighters managed to put out forest fires at the Gunung Korbu forest reserve with the help of plantation workers and forestry staff about 6pm today.

State Fire and Rescue Department spokesman said the fires occurred at several spots and had affected more than eight hectares of the forest reserve on the foot of Gunung Korbu, the second highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia.

He said the department had dispatched 16 firefighters to the scene after they received information on the forest fire on Tuesday.

"We received help from 10 forestry staff and seven plantation workers to control and put out the fire using jet shooters and fire beaters apart from digging fire breakers in the affected areas," he said here today.

He said the team was led by Fire and Rescue Department officer Ruhisa Harris.

Inter-monsoon season expected to bring respite from heat
The Star 1 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: Inter-monsoon rains expected this month will provide a much-needed respite from the heatwave.

A Meteorological Depart­ment official said the wet weather should help lessen the El Nino effect.

“It is a misconception that the hot spell will go on until the middle of the year,” said the official who declined to be identified.

When the rains start, however, would depend on wind conditions, he said.

The heatwave continues to broil Chuping in Perlis and Alor Setar, Kedah, in the north, with temperatures recorded there yesterday at 38.6°C and 37.9°C, respectively.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Madius Tangau said most west coast states in peninsular Malaysia also recorded high temperatures.

Langkawi holds the record, having had no rain for the past 45 days, he said. This is followed by Arau (Perlis), 40 days; and Seberang Prai Tengah (Penang), 31 days.

National Water Services Commission (SPAN) chairman Datuk Ismail Kasim said water supply was dwindling in parts of Pahang, Kedah and Perak.

“El Nino can lead to reduced rainfall of between 20% and 60%,” he said in a statement yesterday, adding that this has led to a significant drop in river and dam levels.

Reduced water levels in Sungai Pahang have led to a 10% reduction at the Lubok Kawah treatment plant. The Jelai and Batu 9 treatment plants in that state were also down by 15% and 33%, respectively.

Ismail said more than 6,000 consumer accounts in Lipis and Batu 9 Halt were also affected.

In Kedah, three plants – in Lubuk Tupah, Merbok and Gurun – had to reduce their supply of treated water by between 50% and 69%.

According to Ismail, Syarikat Air Darul Aman was channelling water from treatment plants in other states to make up the deficit.

In Perak, the Taiping Headworks treatment plant had to cut supply by 43%.

Ismail called on the people to be “prudent in their use of water”.

Illnesses on the rise as heatwave takes down more people
The Star 1 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The extremely hot weather is taking its toll on the people, with the number suffering from heat-related illnesses doubling in the last two weeks.

“Don’t mess with the heat. If people have a heat-related illness, they must seek treatment from a doctor quickly. Patients can die from heatstroke,” said Hospital Kuala Lumpur Emergency Department head Datuk Seri Prof Dr Abu Hassan Asaari Abdullah.

The number of people with heat illnesses increased from 14 in mid-March to between 25 and 30 yesterday, he added, after the launch of the first National Continuous Medical Education/Continuous Professional Development Conference 2016 yesterday.

The event was launched by Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya.

Dr Abu Hassan said those who suffered from heat exhaustion comprised mainly police and military personnel, security guards and construction workers.

“We advise that they reduce their exposure to the sun and drink more water,” he said.

Signs of heat illness include a rapid heart rate, weak pulse and cramps. A body temperature of above 39°C can lead to heat exhaustion and subsequently, within an hour or two, a heatstroke.

In an interview with The Star, Dr Abu Hassan said the heat could also aggravate the condition of patients with illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.

He added that those below the age of five and above 60 were also in the high-risk group for heat illness.

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Malaysia: Wildlife crossing in the works for East Coast Expressway

The Star 1 Apr 16;

Plans are underway to build a crossing along the East Coast Expressway for tigers, elephants, tapirs and other wild animals.

Deputy Works Minister Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin said it was agreed at a Feb 16 meeting with the Wildlife and National Parks Department to open an underpass for wild animals.

“A suitable location for the animal crossing is being identified for the purpose,” she said in reply to a question by Wan Hasan Mohd Ramli (PAS-Dungun).

She said the proposed crossing was in response to recent accidents involving wild animals and livestock which had strayed onto the highway.

“Between Feb 1 last year and Feb 29 this year, a total of 133 accidents involved wild animals and livestock, with one fatality.

“This number represents 12% out of the 1,094 accidents along the highway,” she said.

Although the Malaysian Highway Board has taken steps to fence the area, she said there are cases of the fences being damaged or cut by locals living along the 184km stretch of the expressway.

“Some of the locals cut the fencing to create illegal access to the highway,” she said, adding that cattle and buffaloes were responsible for most of the accidents.

She said steps were being taken to improve monitoring of the highway which included erecting barbwire fencing and installation of CCTVs at high-risk areas.

Che Mohamad Zulkifly Zulkifly Jusoh (BN-Setiu) suggested criminal prosecution against errant livestock breeders who allowed their animals to stray onto the highway.

Rosnah said the jurisdiction to prosecute offenders was with the respective district councils and police.

She accepted a suggestion from Datuk Shamsul Anuar Nasarah (BN-Lenggong) that more CCTVs should be set up along the highway as the accidents had resulted in RM27.8mil in losses last year.

Rosnah said recordings from the CCTVs could help identify the culprits responsible for damaging or cutting the highway fencing.

There were recent calls for a wildlife crossing along the express­way after an endangered Malayan tiger was killed on Feb 5 after being struck by a car, near kilometre 321 of the highway at about midnight.

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Indonesia: Agency to restore over 800 thousand hectares of peatland areas

Fardah Antara 31 Mar 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Two months after its establishment, the Indonesia Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) has claimed that it is now initiating on-field activities to restore over 800 thousand hectares (ha) of peatland areas spread across four districts.

"The (restoration) cost is estimated to reach Rp12 million per ha for five years," BRG Head Nazir Foead informed the press here, Thursday.

The World Bank and the Center for International Forestry Research had estimated the restoration cost to reach between Rp6 million to Rp36 million per ha, he remarked.

Foead explained that the agency had completed the mapping of the peatland areas in the districts of Meranti Islands in Riau; Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra; and Pulang Pisau in Central Kalimantan, which need restoration work.

Of the 834,491 ha areas, 77 percent lie within cultivation areas while 23 percent are located in protected areas.

During the last two months, the agency had been busy recruiting personnel and outlining ravaged peatland areas that should be prioritized for restoration and identifying 100 villages whose peatland areas need to be developed further, he explained.

The identification process was carried out in cooperation with the environmental affairs and forestry ministry, the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas), the Information and Geospatial Agency, and NGOs.

Moreover, the agency also continues to work on formulating standard operational guidelines and procedures for preparing infrastructure to provide water to restore and maintain peatlands and nurseries; to conduct replanting activities; and to install borewells.

The locations for conducting the restoration work have been identified and decided based on four criteria: peatland, condition of soil cover, the presence of canals and their impacts, and the history of forest fires over the past five years, according to BRG deputy in charge of planning and cooperation Budi Wardhana.

More detailed mapping of those locations is currently being carried out.

Further, the restoration activities will be decided based on the peatland status, the underground hydrological and topographical conditions, cultivation activities, and socio-cultural condition of the local communities, he added.

BRG deputy in charge of construction Alue Dohong explained that the estimated cost at Rp12 million will only cover the hydrology restoration work, and it does not as yet include peat revegetation activities.

"Some Rp8 million to Rp10 million per ha will be needed to conduct peat revegetation work," Dohong revealed.

Foead explained that as BRG was a newly formed body, hence its funds were derived from the environmental affairs and forestry ministry, and several donors.

The BRG has proposed the allocation of funds in the State Budget for its activities.

As a whole, the agency has set a target of restoring between two and three million ha of peatland areas.

The task will be carried out through cooperation with several institutions and ministries such as the environmental affairs and forestry ministry, the public works and housing ministry, the agriculture ministry, the agrarian and spatial layout ministry, and the Bappenas.

Indonesias peatland areas are estimated to reach 20.6 million ha, or some 10.8 percent of its total land area. Of this, approximately 7.2 million ha, or 35 percent, are located on Sumatra Island.

Peatland areas help to preserve water, mitigate flooding, prevent sea water intrusion, support biodiversity, and control climate change through carbon absorption and storage.

President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) installed Nazir Foead, former conservation director at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), as head of the BRG on January 20.

The agency, which has been set up based on Presidential Regulation Number 1 of 2016, is chiefly tasked with preventing forest fires that particularly occur in peatlands and to restore such areas gutted by forest fires, particularly on Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands.

While announcing the establishment of the agency on January 13, Jokowi, who described Foead as a competent and experienced figure, assigned the body to immediately draft an action plan to demonstrate to the world that Indonesia was committed to handling the damage caused to peatland areas.

After graduating from the University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Foead began his career at WWF in 1992 and has since then dedicated himself to forest conservation efforts.

He was member of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and deputy chairman of the Permanent Committee of the Environment and Climate Change during the period between 2011 and 2013. He was appointed as head of the Indonesian Program at Climate and Land Use Alliance in 2014.

The appointment of the environmental activist to lead the initiative has been lauded by Greenpeace.

"If peat protection regulations are sufficiently strengthened, Nazir will be in a position to save the countrys precious tropical peatland landscapes, thereby helping to reduce fires and carbon emissions," Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Teguh Surya noted in a statement on January 15.

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US environmentalists sue to overturn approval of GMO salmon

U.S. health regulators are facing a lawsuit from a coalition of environmental organizations seeking to overturn the government's landmark approval of a type of genetically engineered salmon to be farmed for human consumption.

Channel NewsAsia 31 Mar 16;

CHICAGO: U.S. health regulators are facing a lawsuit from a coalition of environmental organizations seeking to overturn the government's landmark approval of a type of genetically engineered salmon to be farmed for human consumption.

The Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth and other groups allege in the lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) failed to consider all of the environmental risks of the fish when the agency approved it in November.

The FDA also cleared the product, made by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, without having the proper authority to regulate genetically engineered animals produced for food, according to the complaint.

The agency declined to comment on the lawsuit on Thursday. Its approval of AquaBounty salmon followed a 20-year review and was the first such approval for an animal whose DNA has been scientifically modified.

AquaBounty is confident the FDA's approval will stand, Chief Executive Ron Stotish said in a statement. The agency was "extraordinarily thorough and transparent in the review and approval of our application," he said.

The company has said its salmon can grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon, saving time and resources.

However, the FDA approval process included "an extremely limited environmental assessment" that did not fully evaluate the potential for AquaBounty salmon to escape from the facilities where they are grown, among other risks, according to the lawsuit.

The legal challenge comes as the U.S. food industry is facing increased pressure from consumers to provide more information about the use of genetically engineered ingredients.

General Mills Inc and other major food companies are rolling out new disclosures on products to comply with a Vermont law that will require labels on foods made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Major retailers, including Kroger Co and Target Corp, have already said they do not plan to stock AquaBounty salmon on store shelves. It is not yet available for sale.

Activists worry the FDA's approval of the salmon will serve as a precedent for other genetically engineered food animals.

Their lawsuit seeks to prohibit the FDA from taking further action on the fish or any other genetically engineered animal for human consumption until Congress grants an agency clear authority over such products.

The case is Institute for Fisheries Resources et al v Sylvia Mathews Burwell et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 16-cv-01574.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Richard Pullin and Andrew Hay)

- Reuters

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WHO sees scientific consensus on Zika as cause for disorders

Stephanie Nebehay and Julie Steenhuysen Reuters Yahoo News 1 Apr 16;

GENEVA/CHICAGO (Reuters) - Researchers around the world are now convinced the Zika virus can cause the birth defect microcephaly as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can result in paralysis, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

The statement represented the U.N. health agency's strongest language to date on the connection between the mosquito-borne virus and the two maladies.

The WHO also reported the first sign of a possible rise in microcephaly cases outside Brazil, the hardest-hit country so far in an outbreak spreading rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean. Neighboring Colombia is investigating 32 cases of babies born with microcephaly since January, and eight of them so far have tested positive for the Zika virus, the WHO said.

This number of microcephaly cases reported in Colombia so far represents an increase over the historical annual average of about 140 cases.

"Based on observational, cohort and case-control studies, there is a strong scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of GBS (Guillain-Barre syndrome), microcephaly and other neurological disorders," the WHO said on Thursday.

In its previous weekly report, the WHO had said Zika was "highly likely" to be a cause.

The WHO in February declared the Zika outbreak an international health emergency, citing a "strongly suspected" relationship between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly.

Although Zika has not been proven conclusively to cause microcephaly in babies, evidence of a link was based on a major spike in Brazil in cases of microcephaly, defined by unusually small head size that can result in severe developmental problems.

Brazil's health department this week reported 944 confirmed cases of microcephaly, and most are believed to be related to Zika infections in the mother.

Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, was not surprised by the WHO's statement.

"The evidence is just so overwhelming," said Hotez. He said the link to Guillain-Barre has also been pretty clear.

"The only lack of clarity," Hotez said, "is the percentage of pregnant women infected with Zika who give birth to a baby with microcephaly," which appears to be much higher than what was seen in a previous outbreak in French Polynesia.

While Guillain-Barre is a concern, Hotez said, "the overwhelming emphasis needs to be on preventing microcephaly in babies."

In recent studies, researchers have seen evidence of the virus in brain cells of stillborn and aborted fetuses. They also have seen signs that the brain had been growing normally, but that growth was disrupted and the brain actually shrank.

Scientists have been closely monitoring for possible microcephaly cases outside Brazil to rule out environmental factors in Brazil as a cause. Colombia has been following the pregnancies of women infected with Zika after seeing widespread transmission of the virus since October.

The latest WHO report reflects an increase in microcephaly and other fetal abnormalities in Colombia, where 56,477 suspected cases of Zika infection have been reported, including 2,361 laboratory-confirmed cases.

The two most important factors that predict where we're going to be start seeing microcephaly cases are presence of the mosquito that carries Zika virus and poverty, Hotez said.

He is worried that Haiti will be hard hit. "The Gulf coast in the U.S. is similarly vulnerable."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will convene a conference in Atlanta on Friday to prepare for a coordinated U.S. response to Zika. Health officials are girding for an increase of Zika cases, especially in southern states, as the U.S. mosquito season starts.

Six countries where Zika is not known to be spreading by mosquitoes have reported locally acquired infections, probably through sexual transmission, the WHO said, naming Argentina, Chile, France, Italy, New Zealand and the United States.

To date, 13 countries or territories have reported increased incidence of Guillain-Barre or laboratory confirmation of a Zika virus infection in people with the rare autoimmune disease, it added.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Julie Steenhuysen and Bill Berkrot; Editing by Will Dunham and Grant McCool)

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1 billion Asians will face severe water shortages by 2050

Léa Surugue, IB Times UK Business Insider 30 Mar 16;

Countries in Asia will face severe water shortages by 2050 if current environmental, demographic and economic trends remain unchanged.

This is the conclusion that MIT scientists have reached, after running different simulations of future climatic scenarios in the region.

Published in the journal PLOS One, their study points out that water shortages are not simply the results of climate change and environmental stress.

Other factors should be taken into account, if people are to have the best possible access to the precious natural resource.

"It's not just a climate change issue," co-author Adam Schlosser emphasizes. "We simply cannot ignore that economic and population growth in society can have a very strong influence on our demand for resources and how we manage them. And climate, on top of that, can lead to substantial magnifications to those stresses."

The extent of the damages in Asia could indeed be very important. The scientists find that median amounts of projected growth and climate change in the next 35 years would lead to roughly 1 billion more people becoming "water-stressed," compared to today.

Different possible scenarios

To better understand how population growth and economic development interact with climate change, leading to water stress, the scientists used a model previously developed by the MIT, the Integrated Global Systems Model (IGSM).

The IGSM is based on projections of population growth, economic expansion, climate, and carbon emissions due to human activity. Keeping some variables constant, the scientists looked at different possible scenarios for 2050, in different Asian nations, including India and China.

They called one of their proposed scenarios the 'Just Growth' model, because they held climatic conditions constant and only evaluated the effects of economic and population growth. In the 'Just Climate' model, the researchers reversed the experiment, keeping growth constant. Finally, a model called 'Climate and Growth' completed the research, by looking at the impact of all factors taken together.

"This model gave us a unique ability to tease out the human and environmental factors leading to water shortages and to assess their relative significance", Schlosser says. He points out that a combination of all these factors can lead to the most severe water shortages, impacting millions of people.

Particularities between countries

The IGSM model allows researchers to look at how, under the same variables, scenarios change according to countries. This is particularly useful to come up with country-specific strategies, in order to avoid water stress.

"For China, it looks like industrial growth [has the greatest impact] as people get wealthier," lead author Charle Fant explains. "In India, population growth has a huge effect. It varies by region."

Study's authors say other variables should be examined, such as water supply networks into and out of the different areas, and the way population is distributed around said supplies. Further research by the team will also investigate to what extent changing water-use practices can have.

"We are assessing the extent to which climate mitigation and adaptation practices – such as more efficient irrigation technologies – can reduce the future risk of nations under high water stress," Schlosser concludes.

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Nature Protects People

Kathy Baughman McLeod, Managing Director, Coastal Risk & Resilience, The Nature Conservancy
National Geographic 31 Mar 16;

This week, I’m in South Florida with partners from local government, the private sector and the international community to highlight the vital role that nature plays in protecting people in Miami-Dade County and coastal communities around the world.

Miami-Dade is one of the most economically vulnerable locations on the planet. With over $345 billion in assets and 2.6 million people at risk due to flooding and sea level rise, powerful solutions are needed in order to keep the county safe.

Seawalls and breakwaters often come to mind as disaster preparedness tools, but these are not the only options. Coral reefs, mangroves, wetlands, and sand dunes are the first lines of defense and increasingly recognized for their ability to slow waves, reduce flooding, and protect coastal people and property.

A healthy coral reef can reduce 97 percent of a wave’s energy before it hits the shore, and just 100 meters of mangrove trees can reduce wave height by 66 percent. These nature-based solutions are cost-effective, self-maintaining and adaptable to sea-level rise. And they also offer other benefits to communities that traditional “grey infrastructure” solutions simply can’t, including improved water quality, fish production and new ecotourism opportunities.

The old adage applies: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. My colleague Rebecca Scheurer, Director of the Red Cross Global Disaster Preparedness Center, puts it this way: “we spend millions of dollars on the response side and were we to invest more of those resources on the front end we’d save more people. It’s as simple as that.”

That’s why The Nature Conservancy, Red Cross, and other partners, are coming together to help at risk governments, communities and business, like those in Miami-Dade County, to understand how investing in natural systems before a disaster can help reduce loss of life and property.

Miami-Dade County has already invested millions of dollars in natural and coastal area protection along with parks, trails and other open spaces to help build resilience and actively address our changing climate. And as the Miami Herald reported in Miami-Dade turns to nature to combat sea level rise, we feel there is more to be done. In fact it’s the sort of work that can be replicated in coastal cities globally.

The bottom line is that nature reduces risk and nature protects people. And that can change the world.

Kathy Baughman McLeod (@KBMcLeodFLA) is Managing Director for Coastal Risk & Resilience at The Nature Conservancy. For more information about nature-based solutions and risk reduction strategies visit:

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