Best of our wild blogs: 20 Apr 16

Helicia petiolatus: A Rare Gem in MacRitchie Forest
Flying Fish Friends

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Malaysia: In dire need of water everywhere


KOTA TINGGI: Scheduled water cuts have forced businesses here to scramble for ways to ensure that their operations are not disrupted during the month-long exercise.

Food stall and car wash operator Saidatul Amira Abdul Razak, 23, said she was considering whether to buy a 2,200-litre water tank or use their well to cope.

“I can only think of using the well which we dug last year for water to wash the cars.

“But the dry spell has made the well unreliable.

“My last resort is to buy the tank but because this is quite expensive, I need to make do with mineral water for cooking and the river for my car wash for the moment,” she said when met here.

Rather than taking the risk, poultry farmer Shahnur Nazri, 30, has gone ahead and bought nine 2,200-litre tanks for the 90,000 chickens at his farm in Kg Tuansheh here.

“I cannot depend on the tankers from the water supplier.

“I need all the water in the nine tanks just for my chickens every day,” said Shahnur, who spent about RM600 for each tank.

“One option is to take supply from a canal in Teluk Mahkota to fill up my tanks,” he said.

Majidah Tok Pa, who runs a restaurant in Pekan Tanjung Sedili here, said she needed to use polystyrene cups, plates and utensils to save as much water as possible.

“We are forced to make this trade-off to conserve water. Although it is a bit pricey for us to buy these, I have no choice but to absorb the costs,” he said.

Sub-contractor Zamrul Ahmad, 41, said he expected some of his projects in town to be disrupted as he did not have enough storage for water.

Retiree Nik Ismail Wan Ibrahim, who lives in Kg Sayang with his wife and daughter, said they had been storing water since Sunday and choosing to eat in restaurants.

The scheduled water cut in Lok Heng and Sungai Gembut in Kota Tinggi and Sungai Mersing and Tenglu in Mersing is expected to last until May 15.

Plans in the pipeline to end Sabah's water woes
STEPHANIE LEE The Star 20 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Comprehensive short and long-term plans are already on the table to resolve water problems across the state, said Sabah Special Tasks Minister Datuk Teo Chee Kang (pic).

The plans include tackling water shortages caused by natural disaster, including the current dry spell, he said.

Teo said the state government also approved a Climate Change Mitigation Programme to improve water supply.

The programme studies the effects of climate change and natural disaster on water supply and comes up with a comprehensive risk management strategic plan, he said.

“It will include the exploration of alternative water resources, such as underground water, during a disaster,” Teo said at the Sabah state assembly when answering a question from Datuk James Ratib (BN-Sugut), who wanted to know what steps were being taken by the government to face the dry spell, particularly in rural areas.

Teo added that Sabah is looking to upgrade its facilities to protect and preserve water supply and speed up the gazetting of catchment areas.

“MetMalaysia is installing automatic weather stations in six districts to monitor the situation in Sabah’s interiors,” he said, adding that RM68mil will be spent to improve weather inspection systems.

“This short-term project of MetMalaysia expected to be completed by next year will increase weather forecast accuracy," he said.

No water rationing
EDWARD RAJENDRA The Star 20 Apr 16;

THERE will be no water rationing in Selangor as water levels at its dams have remained consistent.

Selangor Waters Management Authority (LUAS) acting director Nor Zamri Sondor assured residents that water would not be rationed due to the long hot spell brought about by the El Nino phenomenon.

He said cloud seeding operations and transfer of water from 19 alternate catchment ponds in the state to seven dams had proven to be a proactive move in stabilising water levels.

“Our past experience made us plan much earlier and we took measures to address the dry spell including cloud seeding and water transfer from catchment ponds Selangor’s river basin,” he said.

The Selangor river basin can supply up to 800 million litres of raw water a day.

The water level at all seven dams were high especially at Sungai Selangor and Sungai Tinggi dams, which provided nearly 60% of Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya’s water supply.

Nor Zamri added that the water level at most of the dams were sustained at above 70% and the submersible pumps were able to operate in an efficient manner.

“Our cloud seeding operations using hygroscophic seeding began early in 2015 where 410 cloud- seeding activities were carried out with RM5mil allocation. Knowing that 2016, could put a strain on the dams, we doubled our efforts with the transfer of water from alternate catchment ponds,” he said.

He said in 2016, Selangor allocated RM16mil for cloud seeding, transfer of water from alternate catchment ponds and other water operations.

“From January to April, we carried out 130 cloud seeding operations,” he added.

Hygroscopic seeding helps enhance rainfall using a fine spray of salt generated by pyrotechnic flares.

Concerns over Selangor’s water supply have been the foremost issue on people’s minds as northern parts of Perlis from Wang Kelian, Kaki Bukit, Titi Tinggi, Beseri and Abi as well as Johor in the south had begun water rationing.

Some residents who called up StarMetro on whether there would be water rationing in the state, want the Selangor government to keep them informed about the water supply situation given the hot season.

Selangor Environment Association president M. Varatharajoo praised LUAS for doing a good job in providing treated water.

He, however, advised the people to use water sparingly to complement the state’s efforts to conserve water at the dams.

Nor Zamri said the alternate catchment ponds were part of the Hybrid off River Augmentation System.

“Cloud seeding is done over some catchment areas and river basins to increase water supply. Selangor has enough water resources and water levels at the dams remain adequate. Water usage per capita is high at 235 litres a day.

“As such, we urge consumers to take measures to save water to ensure continuous supply,” he added.

As of April 18, the capacity of water reserves in most dams exceeded 70% - Batu Dam (72.39%), Semenyih Dam (71.12%), Langat Dam (73.38%), Klang Gates Dam (64.75%), Sg. Selangor Dam (67.35%), Tasik Subang Dam (87.93%) and Sg. Tinggi Dam (76.88%).

Islanders risking their lives for water supplies

KOTA KINABALU: Getting water for their families has become a daily risk for villagers in remote Tambisan island in the east coast Lahad Datu district.

Earlier this month, a villager cheated death when his boat capsized after being hit by strong waves while he was rowing across a narrow channel to transport water to the island.

Despite the dangers, the islanders remain undeterred and continue to transport water from the mainland to the only village there using their perahu (small boat) loaded with 800- or 1,400-litre tanks.

Tungku assemblyman Datuk Suhaili Said said the villagers knew that this way of transporting water was dangerous.

“But they have no choice as there is no water at all in Pulau Tambisan,” he said yesterday.

He said Tambisan’s population comprised about 200 families, most of whom were subsistence fishermen.

The island also has a police station and a school that serves children from the mainland.

Suhaili said there had been no rain in the area for several months, adding that existing wells in Tambisan had dried up.

The assemblyman said he had donated funds for a well on the mainland and a pump, pipes and hoses for the villagers to draw water.

“They still have to transport the water across the channel, which can get choppy and unsafe. But they have no choice,” he added.

Suhaili said he had appealed to the authorities to drill tube wells on Tambisan for long-term water supply in the island.

Assistant Infrastructure Development Minister Datuk Ghulam Khan said the tube well proposal for Tambisan was being studied.

Meanwhile, inter monsoon rains that brought relief to most parts of Sabah a week ago are showing signs of tapering off with isolated showers in the west coast area.

Meteorologists are forecasting rain over various parts of Sabah in the next 72 hours.

Getting water remains a struggle for many islanders in Banggi, Jambongan, Sebatik and other smaller islands.

State agencies providing assistance have sent supply to Banggi but villagers are still lamenting the difficulty in transporting water from Banggi’s main settlement of Karakit to other villages.

“It is too expensive for many people to charter a vehicle to collect water from Karakit. We hope the government can help,” said Banggi islander Salma Marais.

Schools in Jerantut and Kuala Krai are closed today
The Star 20 Apr 16;

KAJANG: Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid said schools in the Jerantut and Kuala Krai districts will close today and tomorrow due to the heatwave.

He said the temperature in these two places had exceeded 37°C for the past 72 hours.

The Education Ministry said in a statement yesterday this would involve 30 secondary and 89 primary schools.

“This affects 41,665 students comprising 38,849 in primary and secondary schools with the rest in pre-schools,” said the statement.

The ministry said students would be excused from attending classes, with no replacement school day required, but staff would still have to be in school to carry out other duties which did not involve teaching.

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Shop to sell 'unwanted' food for $1

Lydia Lam, My Paper AsiaOne 20 Apr 16;

What happens to food that is still in good condition but is close to its expiry date? It is often wasted, which is why The Food Bank Singapore is setting up a shop where such items are sold for $1 each.

The non-profit organisation is launching The Food Pantry, a shop space that will sell consumable items, which have less than two months of shelf life, for that sum, regardless of brand or product type.

The store will start operating from Monday at Sims Avenue and will sell donated items such as canned foods, biscuits, beverages, sauces and confectioneries.

"You never know what you are getting as our donations are very varied," Nichol Ng, co-founder of The Food Bank Singapore, told My Paper.

Plans to sell fresh fruit and vegetables that are unwanted as they are considered "ugly" - though they are perfectly edible - are in the works too.

"It's a platform for us to raise awareness on food wastage reduction and change the way consumers shop," said Mr Ng.

The store, which is comparable to the size of a provision shop at about 500 sq ft, is more thrift shop than supermarket, he added.

The outlet will also double as a drop-off point for those who wish to donate food.

Donors are encouraged to give packaged food that is unopened and with at least a week of shelf life.

Asked where the money from the transactions will go to, Mr Ng stressed that The Food Bank Singapore is not using this as a fundraiser.

"All money raised will be used to cover manpower, utilities, rental and other packaging expenses," he said.

"If there should be ever any excess, it will go back to supporting our usual operations to manage donations."

Established in 2012, The Food Bank collects, stores and distributes donated food to beneficiaries such as family service centres, homes, soup kitchens and other voluntary welfare organisations.

When contacted, a spokesman for the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said the safety of a food product is not dependent solely on its expiry date.

"Food products that are not properly stored or handled can be unsafe to consume even if their expiry dates have not passed," she said.

"It is paramount that consumers check the food product for signs of spoilage such as odour or bulging packaging before consumption."

She added that food products should not be consumed if there are any concerns about their safety.

For more information on good food safety practices, go to:

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Malaysia: Tapir deaths on roads continue to rise

FERNANDO FONG New Straits Times 19 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malayan Tapirs (tapirus indicus) are literally being driven to their graves as the number of tapirs killed by vehicles continue to soar on Malaysian roads.

Tragic road deaths have become more frequent as more tapirs are wandering onto roads and highways due to increased habitat loss brought about by human activities including deforestation and illegal trade.

Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE), Datuk Hamim Samuri said a total of 35 deaths caused by collision with vehicles were recorded between 2010 and 2015.

The Wildlife and Natural Parks Department (Perhilitan) also received 68 tapir-related complaints during the period.

It is estimated that only 1,100 - 1,500 tapirs remain in the wild in Peninsular Malaysia.

Hamim said the ministry is aware of the development and have come up with solutions by implementing the Safe Tapir Crossing (STC), an initiative by Perhilitan to reduce road-kills.

By putting up road signs, tranvers bars (animal crossing guard) and amber lights at identified crossing spots, it will help provide a safe way for tapirs to get from one side to the other.

“There are also special programmes to relocate tapirs to safe forest havens, to carry out research and conservation programmes and a special plan called The Malayan Tapir Conservation Action Plan (MaTCAP) which lays out the strategy for more efficent conservation in the next 10 years.

“The government had also allocated RM1.18 million in the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020) for the purpose of tapir conservation,” he said.

Samuri, who is also Ledang MP, was speaking during the launch of the Malayan Tapir Awareness Campaign which started today at Publika shopping mall in Sri Hartamas.

The exhibition is being held until May 8, featuring an exhibition of 3,000 miniature clay tapirs made by school children across the country.

35 Tapirs Die In Accidents From 2010-2015
Bernama 19 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR, April 19 (Bernama) -- As many as 35 tapirs were recorded to have died in road accidents between 2010 and 2015, according to Deputy Human Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Hamim Samuri.

He said the threats to the animal's natural habitat such as land-clearing, farming and new settlements projects were the factors causing the tapirs to move into areas close to human dwellings.

"As such, the ministry has undertaken various efforts to protect, conserve and ensure sustainability of the wildlife, including implementing the 'Safe Tapir Crossing' programme by putting up signboards of tapir crossings at locations which are often used by the wildlife.

"A total of 24 signboards for tapir crossings, 37 transverse bar sets, and 24 amber light units have been put up in four locations in Johor last year at a cost of RM180,000 under the Central Forest Spine (CFS) project," he said in his speech at the launch of tapir awareness campaign at the Publika shopping centre here today.

He added that 260 animal crossing signboards had been put up throughout Peninsular Malaysia so far.


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Malaysia: Red jellyfish influx worries Pulau Ketam fishermen

The Star 20 Apr 16;

PORT KLANG: Swarms of red jellyfish have invaded the waters of Pulau Ketam here, and fishermen are crying foul over the extra work it takes to separate them from their daily catch.

Ong Ah Soi, 54, who has been a fisherman for almost 40 years, said it was the first time he was seeing the beaches and waters of the fishing village island turn so red.

“There were so many that I could see them floating in the water. I could even see them from my home. We started seeing them about two weeks ago and now there are more. When the tide is low, the beach becomes very red,” he said yesterday.

Ong said he and the other villagers were anxious, with some worrying if it was a sign of impending disaster in the area.

Asked if he was worried, Ong said it was “pointless to worry about unknown things”.

However, some fishermen have reported bigger catches for them at sea since this month.

The only drawback, Ong added was that many red jellyfish have been found in the nets and had to be separated from the catch to be thrown back.

Malaysia Fish Traders Association president Kee Oi Sing, whose fish centre is based in Sungai Besar in Sabak Bernam, some 100km from here, said the sighting of red jellyfish along the waters of Tanjung Karang, Sekinchan right up to Sungai Besar was normal.

“Our areas here also have the same occurrence now.

“We came across the same thing before this. It is a seasonal phenomenon and people need not be too worried,” he said.

However, the retired fisherman said the red jellyfish sighted this time were much more in numbers, and probably brought about by the strong ocean currents and monsoon winds due to the weather.

“The jellyfish could be from the Indian Ocean before they arrived in the Strait of Malacca following the currents and winds,” he said.

““We expect this occurrence to go away within two to three months’ time.”

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Indonesia: Public warned as fires destroy 700 ha of forest, plantations in Riau

Rizal Harahap and Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 19 Apr 16;

The general public were warned about the possibility of massive forest and land fires on Monday, after fires ravaged a total 700 ha in Meranti Islands regency, Riau province, over the past three months.

Acting head of the Meranti Islands Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) M. Edy Afrizal, said the worst fires occurred in March, during which over 500 ha were burned.

“All nine districts across Meranti Islands regency experienced forest and land fires. What was different from one district to another was simply the area burned,” Edy said, Monday.

He said that the fires had burned through rubber and sago plantations belonging to residents as well as an industrial forest that belonged to PT Sumatera Riang Lestari (PT SRL), a concession company in Parit Jawa village, Tanjung Kedabu subdistrict, Rangsang Island.

Of the 100 ha of land burned in Tanjung Kedabu, 30 ha had belonged to PT SRL, Edy said.

“We are still waiting for further instruction regarding the burned land in the concession area,” said Edy, adding that there had been a regulation stipulating that burned concession areas would be taken over by the government preceding the revocation of licenses.

He also said that, as of Sunday, all the fires had been extinguished due to the rains that had fallen across almost the whole of the Meranti Islands.

However, he called on the community to remain on alert and immediately report any sign of fire to the BPBD. That way fire could be extinguished as soon as possible.

“We also call on companies to be cooperative. Please report concession area fires to the BPBD immediately,” Edy said.

He also reminded them not to clear land using burning methods. Meranti is dominated by peatlands which, he said, caught fire with relative ease.

“Once a fire has begun within a peatland area, it can be very difficult to extinguish,” he said, reminding people of the severe forest and land fires in the region in 2014.

Meanwhile the executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment’s (Walhi) West Kalimantan chapter criticized mass media for failing to raise awareness of issues regarding forest and land fires during the recent period of respite.

He said that mass media tended to raise the issue of forest and land fires only when the resulting haze was already thick and neighboring countries had begun to complain.

Spokesperson for the Environment and Forestry Ministry, Novrizal, expressed similar criticism, saying that mass media could play a role beyond times of severe fire.

He said that if the media were to play a constructive role, both in the context of prevention and as a responsive act, it would significantly help to control forest and land fires in Indonesia.

According to the ministry’s website, the total area burned in West Kalimantan in 2015 was 995 ha, a significant decrease compared to the 2014 fire season which saw 3,556 ha burned due to forest and land fires. The total area of the province is 147,307 square kilometers.

The site also indicates that forest and land fires in Riau burned 2,643 ha in the same year, followed by Jambi with 2,217 ha.

According to World Bank research, the forest and land fires caused Rp 221 trillion in state losses in 2015. The figure equals 1.9 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, twice the amount of the reconstruction fund required as a consequence of the 2004 Aceh tsunami.

Separately, Greenpeace Indonesia campaigner Zamzami said that, in collaboration with Global Forest Watch, his organization had developed an interactive map called Peta Kepo Hutan (forest curiosity map) last year, which anyone, including mass media, could access through the Greenpeace website.

“This interactive map was developed to push mass media and youth involvement, to make them more sensitive to environmental issues including the emergence of hot spots that, through the map, can be detected within 24 hours,” he said.

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As drought deepens, African nations struggle to get globe's attention

Ryan Lenora Brown Yahoo News 19 Apr 16;

The sky above Ramoso Pholo’s fields is a glossy, postcard blue, drenching light over his neatly planted rows of corn, beans, and sunflowers. From a distance, it looks bucolic, but up close it is anything but.

For the past six months, Mr. Pholo has been waiting for clouds to blot this shimmering horizon and rains to soften his bone-dry fields. Instead, his neat rows of sunflowers have withered, and his corn stalks – normally as tall as he – are frozen waist-high.

“I have been farming my entire life and this is the worst season I have ever seen,” he says, cradling the head of a slumping sunflower. “About 99 percent of my crops are damaged – this year will be a total failure.”

The drought may be the worst Pholo has ever seen, but if forecasters are right, it may not be the worst he ever lives through. For climate scientists, the massive drought sweeping southern and eastern Africa since last year is an ominous signal of how climate change is driving extreme weather, threatening already vulnerable communities where climate and livelihood are closely intertwined.

The current dry weather, parched rivers, and crop failures here, the likes of which have not been seen in at least three decades, are linked to El Niño – a periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean – whose current iteration is one of the strongest ever recorded. El Niño is a natural phenomenon, occurring on average every three to five years and flip-flopping weather patterns in much of the world. But scientists say that rising greenhouse gas emissions are ratcheting up the incidence of super-charged El Niño years like this one. By the end of this century they’ll likely occur every 16 years instead of every 28 – and Africa, the world’s poorest and most ecologically fragile continent, will bear much of the brunt.

That urgency is compelling both innovative and pragmatic thinking on the continent. Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia have developed so-called “green economy” strategies meant to couple emissions cuts with industrialization and development. Low-resource shifts like promoting drought-resistant maize, developing early warning systems that transmit weather information to farmers via cellphone, and boosting agricultural insurance plans are gaining popularity.

But in an ironic twist, that progress may be decreasing the global support that many nations still need – and demanded most recently at the COP21 conference in Paris from the developed countries they hold responsible for many of the damaging effects of climate change.

“There really are some climate justice issues involved,” says Bruce Campbell, director of research on climate change, agriculture, and food security with the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research. “[Adaptation] is going to cost a large amount of money and it’s not really the fault of developing countries.”


Across southern and eastern Africa, the drought drew attention first to the fragility of the agricultural economy – which employs a greater proportion of the population than farming does anywhere else on earth. In South Africa, for instance, the failure of commercial farms shifted the country from a grain exporter to a grain importer, inching the regional powerhouse ever closer to recession. And as farmers toppled, so did the economies built around them.

Pholo, for instance, typically employs 50 local people to help harvest his crops; this year he’ll be lucky if it is half that. He also leases his farmland from villagers, who in turn receive monthly bags of maize meal and an annual cash payment. In December, for the first time, he wasn’t able to pay out. And in this economically choked corner of the country’s rural northwest, such agreements are many people’s only buffer against destitution.

“I’m very worried because if it doesn’t rain there will be no food and no work,” says Tumelo Kgotle, a farmhand who supports seven dependents.

He says he knows the drought is severe in part because people have begun to eat yellow maize – a crop typically reserved for livestock and long a bellwether of food shortages here. In Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, maize prices are up by more than 50 percent over last year.

To a large extent, the international community already knows what it needs to do to reduce the level of devastation to African agriculture in future extreme weather events, Mr. Campbell says. Countries and regions need to invest in better early warning systems, sturdier insurance for farmers, and more drought resistant crop varieties.

But while “there are many successes on the continent … they’re always just pieces of the full solution,” he says.

The effects have trailed out far beyond the continent’s farming communities. In Zimbabwe and Zambia, for instance, the dangerously low levels of the Kariba hydroelectric dam prompted massive electricity shortfall. (In October, Zambian President Edgar Lungu went so far as to call for a national day of prayer to arrest his currency’s precipitous backslide – triggered in part by the power scarcity.)

And in tiny Lesotho, one-third of whose population struggles with malnourishment and HIV, drought began compelling some of the hungry to stop vital medications that must be taken with food.

Then there is Ethiopia. The country has made massive strides in its own drought relief capabilities since a 1980s drought and famine that killed nearly a million people. But some 10 million Ethiopians still require “urgent humanitarian assistance” as a result of the current drought, according to the World Food Programme, and less than half of the $1.4 billion in needed international assistance has been funded to date.


But Ethiopia’s drought threatens the economy in far less obvious ways, according to Berouk Mesfin, a senior researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa. For instance, it is straining rickety rural health systems and, as in Zimbabwe, sources of hydroelectric power.

“There could also be significant political implications,” he says. “The current government has staked its legacy … on attracting significant foreign investment.”

Drought relief may also become a pawn in national politics, says Ngonidzashe Munemo, a political scientist at Williams College in Massachusetts. In Zimbabwe, for instance, doling out food aid to supporters may be among the most effective tools President Robert Mugabe can leverage to hold onto power.

“That’s your most powerful resource in times of drought,” Mr. Munemo says. “Because it doesn’t have any standing drought relief programs, Zimbabwe is very open to political manipulation around aid distribution.”


Africa’s recent drought has generated relatively little global attention – for reasons that may not be entirely negative, according to Victor Chinyama, chief of communication at UNICEF Zimbabwe. In the 1980s and ‘90s, he points out, African droughts engendered a vast, paternalistic sympathy based on the assumption – not entirely incorrect – that the countries in crisis could not help themselves.

Now, he says, “so much has gone into building the capacities of our health systems that we rarely get to [extreme stages] of malnutrition. In a sense it is a positive story because the level of aid needed isn’t as great as 30 years ago.”

That increased resilience comes in many forms – from better drought monitoring to more highly functional aid distribution. But it can be a double-edged sword: UNICEF recently warned that only 15 percent of its requested $155 million for drought relief in southern Africa had been funded.

African countries attempting to green their economies have faced similar difficulties. Ethiopia, for instance, has laid out an ambitious plan to ramp up hydroelectricity, energy efficiency, reforestation, and sustainable agriculture. But it is struggling to find the $150 billion in outside investments it needs.

Back in South Africa, Pholo says he remains cautiously hopeful – for either government intervention or good rains, whichever comes first. “It will take me three years to recover, at least,” Pholo says, surveying one of the weed-choked fields he didn’t even bother to plant this year. “That's if the rains start tomorrow.”

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