Best of our wild blogs: 21 Apr 16

What impacts of massive fire at Jurong Island?
wild shores of singapore

Birdwatching in Ubin (April 9, 2016)
Rojak Librarian

RUMbles in Jan-Apr 2016
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

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150 firefighters in five-hour battle with Jurong Island blaze

ASYRAF KAMIL Today Online 21 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE — For about five hours on Wednesday (April 20), a fire at an oil tank blazed on Jurong Island, with an intensity that led the tank to “fold and buckle”, and more than 150 Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers had to be deployed to the scene of the fire.

There were no casualties but one emergency responder from Jurong Aromatics Corporation (JAC) was treated for heat exhaustion.

The fire broke out at the oil tank in JAC’s large petrochemical complex at Tembusu Road, at about 3pm. TODAY understands that about 35 workers had to be evacuated from the complex.

The cause of the fire remains unclear. However, the SCDF said on its Facebook page that the blaze involved light crude oil, was “not toxic in nature”, and that the affected oil tank was contained within a 100m-by-150m bund wall.

Apart from the 150-plus personnel, the SCDF also deployed about 40 firefighting and rescue vehicles, including a 6,000-gallons-per-minute foam monitor, to control the blaze.

Several ground water monitors and fixed drencher systems were also used to cool down two nearby oil tanks.

In a Facebook post, after the fire had been put out at 7.45pm, the SCDF said that the “operation was a race against time in view of the tank that has buckled and on the need to prevent the intense fire from spreading to its immediate surroundings”.

The National Environmental Agency (NEA), which was notified of the blaze at 3.30pm, noted that the ambient air quality readings taken during the fire were within the normal range.

“The NEA will continue to monitor the situation and will provide updates when necessary,” a spokesperson said in response to TODAY’s queries.

Jurong Island, located off the south-west coast of Singapore, is home to many companies in the petrochemical industry, such as BASF, ExxonMobil, Shell and Sumitomo Chemicals.

Some workers on Jurong Island said they were able to feel the heat from the blaze even though they were several kilometres away.

The fire and thick plumes of smoke from the JAC complex could also be seen from some western areas, such as Jurong and Tuas.

JAC has yet to comment on the fire, and attempts to reach its spokesman were unsuccessful.

According to Platts, which provides information and benchmark prices for the commodities and energy market, JAC filed for receivership in September last year after debt-restructuring talks broke down.

The company has been offline since December 2014, just three months after it started commercial operations amid volatility in crude oil prices.

The last major blaze on Jurong Island took place on May 3, 2007, when an ExxonMobil oil refinery caught fire. Three workers died in the fire, while one was injured.

In 2011, a chemical fire ravaged the Royal Dutch Shell’s refinery on Pulau Bukom, and the SCDF needed 34 hours to extinguish the blaze.

Oil tank catches fire on Jurong Island
The fire at Tembusu Road involves a crude oil tank measuring about 40m in diameter. One person was sent to hospital for heat exhaustion.
Channel NewsAsia 20 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE: An oil tank caught fire on Wednesday afternoon (Apr 20) on Jurong Island, sparking a massive fire-fighting operation involving 150 Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers.

SCDF said it was alerted to the incident at 23 Tembusu Road at 3pm. It was put out at 7.45pm, after nearly five hours of fire-fighting. Channel NewsAsia understands the tank belongs to the company Jurong Aromatics Corp.

Upon SCDF officers' arrival, the in-house company emergency response team (CERT) was already fighting the fire with ground water monitors. One of the CERT members was sent to the hospital due to heat exhaustion.

The storage tank, containing light crude oil, measured about 40 metres in diameter and 20 metres in height. The blaze was also visible from the sea. SCDF said the fumes were not toxic.

According to a witness who works on Jurong Island, the fire happened at around 2.45pm. “It was raining heavily and there was a thunderstorm. We felt the building shake,” he said.

The witness, who declined to be named, added: “We thought it was just lightning but we saw black smoke and flames coming out from a few hundred metres down the road. One of the oil tanks was on fire.”

He said the oil tank was engulfed in flames and half of it had "melted". “Our project manager told us can leave the site if we don’t feel safe. About an hour later, official word was given to our office to evacuate Jurong Island."

At about 5.30pm, the flames and smoke seemed to have died down when viewed from Jurong West, a Channel NewsAsia cameraman reported.

In an update on Facebook at about 6.30pm, SCDF said the tank on fire was contained within a bund wall measuring 100m by 150m, and it said the intensity of the fire had caused the tank to fold and buckle.

SCDF added that fire-fighting operation was expected to be a "prolonged operation". It has deployed a large foam monitor to mitigate the fire, as well as several ground water monitors and fixed drencher systems to cool down two nearby oil tanks.

Photos and videos sent to Channel NewsAsia showed flames shooting up and plumes of smoke filling the air.

SCDF firefighters recount tackling Jurong Island oil tank fire
Nabilah Awang, The New Paper AsiaOne 23 Apr 16;

In her six years as a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer, she had never encountered a blaze quite like this one.

The sight of the huge oil tank fire set Captain Clara Toh, 30, the station commander of Banyan Fire Station on Jurong Island, thinking of the need to contain it first, rather than put it out.

"The tank was engulfed in flames and there was a huge fireball above it.

"Then I saw the top of the tank start to cave in. That was when I knew the first thing to do was to contain the fire," she told The New Paper.

By then, the in-house company emergency response team (Cert) was already using ground water monitors to fight the fire that broke out on Wednesday in the Jurong Aromatics Corporation (JAC) petrochemical complex on Jurong Island.

Capt Toh led a team of 16 officers to the fire at 3pm, and there were 150 officers on site within an hour.

SCDF also deployed 38 fire-fighting and rescue vehicles from seven fire stations in the 1st Division HQ.

A section commander from Banyan Fire Station, Sergeant Rahmat Mohamat Haron, 23, told TNP that the station was just a five-minute drive away.

"As soon as the fire engine I was in got out of the station, I could already see the massive blaze coming from the tank.

"There were no explosions, just thick, black smoke," said the full-time national serviceman.

Another section commander from the same station, Staff Sergeant Fazeli Rahmat, 33, added: "When we reached the scene, it was so hot. It felt like we were being cooked."

Capt Toh said the temperature near the tank was about 700 deg C.

The tank could contain up to 2.5 million litres of light crude oil.

An SCDF spokesman said it was about 10 per cent full.

For safety reasons, the tank was surrounded by a 2m-high rectangular bund wall, 100m by 150m.

SCDF brought out its big guns to take on the fire.

A monitor that can shoot out 27,000 litres of foam per minute was set up to fight the fire. It is so powerful that it can fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in about one and a half hours.

Several ground water monitors and fixed drencher systems were used to cool down two oil tanks nearby, as well as a pipeline corridor away from the burning tank.

Lieutenant-Colonel Alan Chow, 39, commander of the SCDF's 1st Division HQ, explained that it was important to contain the fire within the tank and prevent it from spreading to its immediate surrounding.


"The three elements that keep a fire burning are fuel, heat and oxygen.

"So we used the foam to blanket the fire so as to suffocate it and cut off the oxygen supply," said Lt-Col Chow.

He added: "When it comes to oil tank fires, it's better to use foam than water. It's like boiling oil - when you add water, it will actually cause the oil to boil over."

Station commander of Jurong Island Fire Station, Major Benny Ong, 35, who was in charge of overseeing the operation of the large monitor, said: "Because the large monitor uses very high water pressure, we have to co-ordinate with the rest on the ground.

"Sometimes, we have to make the call to close some ground monitors so that the water pressure in the large monitor is not compromised."

Sgt Rahmat and Staff Sgt Fazeli operated the monitor, along with Lance Corporal Sundar Raj Hemath Kumar, 20, a firefighter who joined Banyan Fire Station in January after passing his fire-fighting course.

Lance Cpl Sundar Raj said: "It was the first time I was sent out to such a major incident after I completed my training. I was a little nervous but confident because our training is all based on real-life situations. I was glad it all paid off."

According to Platts, which issues daily price assessments for the energy and metals commodity markets, JAC filed for receivership in September last year after debt-restructuring talks broke down.

The company has been offline since 2014.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, said SCDF.

Lt-Col Chow also thanked the Singapore Police Force, the Jurong Town Corporation and Aetos for helping in the operation.

- Additional reporting by Nurul Asyikin Yusoff

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Public advised to take care as temperatures soar

LOUISA TANG Today Online 21 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE — With the daily average temperature soaring to a record high earlier this week, several Government agencies and ministries on Wednesday (April 20) issued a joint advisory to the public to take precautions to minimise heat-induced illnesses.

On Tuesday, the Changi climate station recorded the highest-ever daily mean temperature of 30.6°C, beating the previous record of 30.2°C which the station recorded last June. On the same day, the Pasir Panjang weather station, which has been operational since 2010, recorded a temperature of 31.3°C.

The highest daily maximum temperature recorded on Monday was 36°C at Choa Chu Kang. The long-term mean monthly temperature for April is 28°C.

For the rest of the week, high temperatures can still be expected although a gradual easing is likely, based on Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) forecasts.

Closer to the weekend, more showers may be expected, which would bring a brief respite to the current warm conditions, said a joint advisory from the National Environment Agency and the Health, Manpower, Education, and Social and Family Development ministries.

The advisory said that temperatures in Singapore are not likely to reach 40°C, as recently experienced in northern Peninsula Malaysia, despite the current warm conditions.

This is because of the moderating effect of the surrounding seas on the temperature.

The general public is encouraged to, among other things, wear loose-fitting and light coloured clothing; drink fluids to stay hydrated; and take more breaks between activities.

Sustained outdoor activities at schools, childcare centres and kindergartens should be minimised during hotter parts of the day (between 11am to 4pm), while staff and students are encouraged to drink enough fluids before, during and after exercise to prevent heat injuries.

Employers are advised to schedule heavy physical work or outdoor work to the cooler parts of the day. There should also be shaded areas for work and rest, and cool drinking water provided at convenient and accessible locations.

Residents in children’s and elderly homes — who are more susceptible to heat injury — should stay in well-ventilated rooms and be brought to an air-conditioned room to cool down.

Separately, Chief Army Medical Officer Poon Beng Hoong posted on the Ministry of Defence’s Cyberpioneer Facebook page that the “health and safety of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) servicemen are of paramount importance”.

Adding that the SAF is “accustomed to training in the heat and is well-equipped to manage the risk of heat injuries”, Col Poon said the SAF has established a work-rest cycle guideline to correspond with the different Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) readings, which is a composite temperature of the ambient temperature, wind speed and relative humidity.

In addition to a heat acclimatisation programme, other measures include shorter training intervals when temperatures are high.

Despite the high temperatures in recent days, Singapore is not yet gripped by a heatwave.

In Singapore, a heatwave occurs when the daily maximum temperature is at least 35°C for three consecutive days, and the daily mean temperature throughout the period is at least 29°C, based on readings averaged across three designated stations with long-term temperature records.

Since 1980, Singapore has experienced five episodes of heatwaves, the last one being in 2010. Four of them happened during a very strong El NiƱo, and the longest heatwave lasted for 16 days in April 1983.

Temperatures in Singapore not likely to reach 40 deg Celsius: MSS
However, in light of the significantly warmer temperatures, several Government agencies are urging the public to minimise risk of heat-induced illnesses.
Channel NewsAsia 20 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE: Several Government agencies on Wednesday (Apr 20) issued a joint statement, urging the public to take measures to minimise risk of heat-induced illnesses as Singapore experiences significantly warmer temperatures.

The advisory, sent out by the National Environment Agency, Ministry of Manpower, the Health Ministry, Education Ministry and Ministry of Social and Family Development noted that the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) has recorded very high temperatures in the past few days.

On Sunday and Monday, the daily maximum temperatures recorded at weather stations islandwide ranged between 31.4°C and 36.4°C and between 31.3°C and 35.8°C respectively. The highest daily maximum temperature recorded on Tuesday was 36°C and as of 3pm on Wednesday it was 35.1°C. Both were recorded at Choa Chu Kang.

On Tuesday, the diurnal registered a reading of 31.3°C at Pasir Panjang, the highest daily mean temperature recorded in Singapore so far this year.

At the Changi climate station, the daily mean temperature on Apr 19 was 30.6°C, surpassing the highest ever recorded daily mean temperature of 30.2°C on Jun 22, 2015. The long-term mean monthly temperature for April is 28.0°C.

April is the warmest month of the year, the agencies said. However, despite the current warm conditions, the temperature in Singapore is not likely to reach 40°C as it did in northern Peninsular Malaysia due to the "moderating effect of our surrounding seas on the temperature" they added.

For the rest of the week, MSS forecasts that high temperatures can still be expected, although a gradual easing is likely. Localised thundery showers are expected in the afternoon. Closer to the weekend, more showers may be expected, which would bring a brief respite to the current warm conditions.

Advisory for General Public

To minimise the risk of heat-induced illnesses during warm weather, the public are encouraged to take the following precautionary measures:

Wear loose-fitting, heat permeable and light coloured clothing;
Drink fluids to stay hydrated;
Take more breaks between activities;
Reduce outdoor activities during the hottest time of the day or stay in the shade;
Sponge with cool or ice water;
Plan sport and exercise activities during the cooler hours of the day; and
Watch for early symptoms of heat-induced illness and seek medical attention if the condition persists or worsens.
Symptoms of heat-induced illness include headache, nausea, dizziness, fainting, rapid heart rate, poor concentration, muscle ache, muscle cramps, blurred vision, loss of co-ordination, disorientation or confusion, seizures or fits, vomiting, and decreased and dark-coloured urine. Please consult your doctor if you experience these symptoms.

Advisory for Schools, Child Care Centres, Kindergartens and Homes

Sustained outdoor activities should be minimised during the hotter period of the day and the intensity of these activities moderated. Staff and students are encouraged to drink appropriate amount of fluids to prevent heat injuries, with appropriate rest and water breaks considered.

Centres/homes can consider the following measures when conducting outdoor physical activities:

Encourage children to drink appropriate amount of fluids (preferably plain water) before, during and after exercise to prevent heat injuries. Drinking water should always be made available to the children.
Keep outdoor activities short and with frequent rest breaks during hot weather. Alternatively, these sessions could be conducted in well-ventilated indoor facilities.
Minimise sustained activities in the outdoors during the hottest part of the day (between 11am – 4pm) as the ultraviolet (UV) and heat stress levels are generally high during this period. If activities have to be carried out in the outdoors during this period, additional measures should be put in place, such as appropriate rest periods; water breaks and shades, as well as moderating the intensity of the activities to mitigate the effect of heat.
Voluntary children’s homes and juvenile rehabilitation centres should ensure accessibility of the water point area. The home staff should take additional steps to sprinkle water or create water mist to cool down the hard-court or the venue of recreational or sporting events.

Furthermore, home staff should identify vulnerable groups (such as children under 12 years old, pregnant women, residents who are severely obese, on certain medications, chronic illnesses) for closer monitoring.

In addition, nursing and care staff in children’s and elderly homes should be updated on the various symptoms of heat injuries and be alert to early signs of heat injury. Residents who are more susceptible to heat injury (such as the frail and elderly) should stay in well-ventilated rooms, and if necessary, be brought to an air-conditioned room, where available, to cool down if likelihood of heat injury is high. If symptoms persist or worsen, nursing and care staff should seek medical attention for them.

Advisory for Employers and Employees

Outdoor workers are at an increased risk of developing heat-induced illnesses. Workplaces and employers should implement the necessary precautionary measures and advise their workers on these measures. Measures to be adopted should include:

Ensuring that all workers are properly acclimatised to the hot weather/working conditions;
Scheduling heavy physical work or outdoor work to the cooler parts of the day (early morning or late afternoon) where possible;
Providing shaded areas for work and rest;
Providing cool drinking water at convenient and accessible locations;
Encouraging workers to keep themselves hydrated by drinking sufficient water and to wear loose-fitting and light coloured clothing.
More information is available at the Workplace Safety and Health Guidelines: Managing Heat Stress in the Workplace at:

Advisory for SAF servicemen

To ensure that servicemen train and operate safely even when the outdoor temperatures are high, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has established a work-rest cycle guideline to correspond with the different Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) readings. It is a composite temperature of the ambient temperature, wind speed and relative humidity, Chief Army Medical Officer Colonel Poon Beng Hoong said.

If a localised WBGT reading is high, shorter training intervals will be adopted as core temperatures of the soldiers are likely to rise at a faster rate under weather conditions with higher WBGT readings, he added.

Col Poon also said there are other programmes such as the heat acclimatisation programme to reduce physiological strain for the SAF soldiers when training or operating in hot environment.

- CNA/ly

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Malaysian minister’s call to tap groundwater reserves rebuffed

EILEEN NG Today Online 21 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE/KUALA LUMPUR — A Malaysian Deputy Minister suggested yesterday that the country tap into groundwater reserves to avert a looming water crisis in its northern states, but this was refuted by a water expert, who said any mass-scale move to do so will further deplete surface water levels such as rivers.

Malaysia’s Deputy Minister for Energy, Green Technology and Water, James Dawos Mamit, said the country has vast reserves of untapped groundwater, and utilising it would help as many as 4 million people in the states of Kedah, Perlis, Penang and Perak, which are currently facing a threat of water shortage due to the ongoing drought.

“This is not a fanciful solution. In fact, the state of Kelantan, which draws 70 per cent of its water (from the ground), is a textbook example of how groundwater can be relied on for water security,” said Mr Mamit. “We need to reduce our need on surface water as it is subject to adverse weather conditions such as pollution and the current El Nino phenomenon.”

Groundwater is drawn from underground sources while surface water, on which Malaysia largely depends, is from sources such as lakes and rivers.

According to the World Bank, Malaysia has about 19,396 cubic metres of renewable underground resources per capita, consisting of internal rivers and groundwater.

Mr Mamit said new solutions were needed to cope with increasing consumer demand for water.

“We need to be creative. Most developed countries depend on groundwater supplies, which are not vulnerable to evaporation the way water stored at dams are,” he said.

However, Mr S Piarapakaran, president of the Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia, told TODAY that Mr Mamit’s suggestion is “not feasible”.

He said any large-scale extraction of groundwater will adversely impact river levels as groundwater is usually located near existing river basins. He added that groundwater levels are replenished through rainfall, which entered the soil. The process is known as recharge rate, but rampant logging and clearing of forests have reduced the recharge rate drastically.

Mr Piarapakaran, an environmental engineer, also said groundwater extraction may cause dormant chemicals in the soil to move, and this could cause water contamination. “I really hope the Deputy Minister (will) do his homework and come up with more details before issuing such statements,” he said.

Malaysia has been enveloped in a sweltering heatwave that saw the temporary closure of schools and slowed vegetable production, leading to price hikes. Paddy fields, durian and rubber plantations have also been affected by the severe temperatures, and water levels at dams and water treatment plants have been decreasing.

On Monday, the CEO of Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP), Mr Jaseni Maidinsa, said the Malaysian government needs to come up with an action plan within the next 30 days to deal with the current drought, before the dams and rivers supplying water to Perlis, Kedah, Penang and north Perak dry up. Water rationing has begun in some states, such as Perlis on Saturday and Johor on Monday.

Yesterday, a Democratic Action Party (DAP) Member of Parliament, Charles Santiago, warned that the Klang Valley — which includes the state of Selangor, Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur and the country’s administrative capital of Putrajaya — can face a water crisis in about six weeks as the water reserves in the Sungai Selangor and Sungai Semenyih water dams are dropping. He said in 43 days, the water reserves at the Sungai Selangor dam could drop below its critical level of 40 per cent.

At the start of March, the dams had a capacity of 95.47 per cent and 93.19 per cent respectively.

However, the levels in the dams currently stand at 66.73 per cent and 70.65 per cent respectively. “On a daily basis, the Sungai Selangor and Semenyih dams are diminishing at a rate of 0.62 per cent and 0.47 per cent,” said Mr Santiago. with agencies

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Malaysia: Klang Valley’s API spikes briefly

The Star 21 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: The air pollution index (API) briefly spiked to unhealthy levels in several parts of the Klang Valley and Negri Sembilan. But, it was not caused by hotspots in Indonesia.

The Department of Environment (DOE) confirmed that the hazy conditions yesterday was due to local sources of pollution along with a decreased humidity of up to 60%.

“The increase in API readings is because of open burning, vehicle emissions and drier weather due to the effects of El Nino,” a DOE spokesman said yesterday.

Last year, transboundary haze due to the practice of slash-and-burn to clear land for oil palm plantations in Indonesia had resulted in smog over much of Malaysia.

The air quality reached unhealthy levels and resulted in many school closures in several states.

Yesterday, the API readings in Shah Alam and Banting climbed to 151 and 101 at 3pm before falling back to moderate levels (below 100) an hour later.

The API readings in Batu Muda, Kuala Lumpur reached 111 at 5pm and 121 in Nilai during the same period.

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Malaysia: Pollution from catfish farm almost causes water crisis in Malacca

The Star 21 Apr 16;

MALACCA: Serious pollution from a giant catfish farm in Batang Melaka in Alor Gajah nearly caused a water crisis in this Unesco Heritage City.

But it’s not all-clear yet for consumers as the Department of Environment (DOE) monitors the water safety of Sungai Batang Melaka.

The water situation is compounded by the declining levels at the three major dams – Durian Tunggal, Asahan and Jus – due to the heatwave.

Sungai Batang Melaka is one of the main sources of Malacca’s water supply system that is interconnected with six other major reservoirs in the state, including the three dams.

Yesterday, the state government ordered the farm to close tempora­rily with 3,000 fish shifted to ano­ther facility following the improper discharge of effluents into the river, which caused the ammoniacal nitrogen level to be 17 times higher than permitted.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron said the contamination had caused a 48-hour water disruption to 22,000 households in Alor Gajah a few days ago.

“Several factories producing food items were also forced to halt ope­rations when the water quality deteriorated,” he said.

Idris explained that the catfish farm was using 2,000kg of chicken carcasses per day for feed and because of the current dry spell, the effluents could not be diluted, cau­sing the ammonia level to reach a critical mark.

Such contamination can lead to health complications for consumers, such as kidney diseases.

“A water crisis was averted thanks to prompt action by the relevant authorities,” he said.

“We need to clean up four reservoirs after the contamination reached a very critical level.”

Idris also questioned why no action was taken against the farmer when the pollution had happened for some time.

“This could have led to a water crisis much worse than the Malacca drought of 1991,” he said.

The latest pollution was the se­cond case in the state in months. In August, a spate of pesticide spills resulting from uncontrolled agricultural activities around the Durian Tunggal Dam was blamed for contaminating it. The incident almost caused water disruption when the supply had to be pumped out and replaced with fresh water.

Following that, Idris proposed a maximum compound of RM100,000 on farmers who continued to cultivate plots near dams and reservoirs and restricted the use of pesticides.

Meanwhile, Housing, Local Go­­vern­­­ment and Environment Com­mittee chairman Datuk Ismail Othman said rehabilitation work at the affected waterway along Sungai Batang Melaka had been completed.

“DOE is keeping a close watch on the water quality, and we hope that it will be all over in the next few days,” he said.

Fishermen raise a stink
R. SEKARAN The Star 20 Apr 16;

GEORGE TOWN: The discharge of raw sewage into the Batu Ferringhi River has allegedly contributed to marine pollution which is threatening the livelihood of 600 coastal fishermen.

Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) said the river which flows into Teluk Bahang sea has been polluted over the last three months and fishermen have stopped going out to sea because their main catch of fish and prawns has dropped drastically.

“Fishermen earning RM200 per day in the past can now get only RM30 to RM40,” said CAP president S.M. Mohamed Idris.

“They decided to stop fishing as their meagre income was insufficient even to cover repair to their damaged nets,” he added.

Mohamed Idris added that the water in Batu Ferringhi River was not only black and oily, but also silty and stinky.

“Fish like pomfret and threadfin have dwindled while other types of fish such as gelama, tengkerong, grouper and snapper have been found dead due to the pollution.”

CAP urged the Penang City Council (MBPP), the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) and the Department of Environment (DOE) to take immediate action to address this problem.

Meanwhile, Indah Water Konsortium Sdn Bhd (IWK) which is operating a plant at Sungai Batu Ferringhi said it was working closely with the DOE to monitor the quality of effluent discharge from its plant.

Its senior manager (corporate communications) Shahrul Nizam Sulaiman said the plant would be much more effective when upgrading works are completed next year.

“However, other sources could have contributed to the pollution at Batu Ferringhi such as food stalls, car wash, individual septic tanks and other activities,” said Shahrul.

He added that IWK would be working closely with the other authorities on river water quality modelling to identify the sources of pollutants.

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Indonesia: “Zero deforestation” champion creates new risks for Indonesia’s forests and peatlands

WWF 20 Apr 16;

A new study by twelve international and Indonesian NGOs shows that in spite of its high-profile commitment to “zero deforestation”, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) is building one of the world’s largest pulp mills in the Indonesian province of South Sumatra without a sustainable wood supply.

As country representatives gather on April 22 to sign the Paris climate change agreement, this analysis of APP’s mega-scale pulp mill project suggests that Indonesia and China’s largest pulp and paper producer may fail to fulfill its “zero deforestation” commitments and pledges to tackle climate change made in 2014 at the New York Declaration on Forests and in 2015 at the Paris COP-21.

The mega-scale pulp mill will add significant challenges for Indonesia to prevent catastrophic fires in the region and to achieve its international climate change commitments, according to the organizations co-authoring the study, which include WWF, Wetlands International, Rainforest Action Network, and Indonesia’s Anti- Forest Mafia Coalition.

“APP has not publicly released a credible plan showing its plantations can grow enough wood for all three mills over the long term,” said Aditya Bayunanda, Forest Commodity Leader for WWF in Indonesia. “If faced with shortages of fiber, we are concerned that APP could default on its ‘zero deforestation’ commitment and resume using large volumes of wood from natural forests at its Sumatra mills,” cautioned Bayunanda.

The analysis in the report indicates that the company’s current planted area, even under a high growth rate scenario, will not be sufficient to supply APP’s two existing pulp mills in Indonesia and the new mill at installed capacity levels. The company has stated it would import wood in the case of shortages, but the report indicates this would involve considerable extra cost and could impact the mill’s profitability.

The OKI Pulp & Paper Mills project, approaching $3 billion in investment, will expand APP’s wood demand in Indonesia by over 50%, with much of this coming from plantations on high-carbon peatlands. The mill is primarily financed by $2.5 billion in loans from China Development Bank and ICBC Financial Leasing, putting financial pressure on APP to run the mill at full capacity.

In 2013, APP made a set of sustainability commitments that included “zero deforestation” in its supply chain and “100% sustainable plantation wood for pulp.” Five months after making these commitments, the company announced it would build the OKI mega-scale pulp and paper mill.

The study details major risks to the productivity of pulpwood plantations established to supply the new mill, including catastrophic fires, peatland subsidence and flooding, social conflict, and pests and diseases. Indonesia’s massive fires in 2015 heavily damaged these plantations. An analysis cited in the report found that 293,000 hectares within four APP supplier concessions burned in the 2015 fires. This included 86,000 ha of planted Acacia – or 26% of the group’s planted land base in South Sumatra -- leading an APP official to acknowledge the group now faces “a shortage of pulpwood supply.”

Finding that 77% of the group’s South Sumatra concession area is on high-carbon peatlands, the report questions whether APP’s plantations will be able to sustain intensive pulpwood production over the long term. When drained to establish plantations, these peatlands become highly susceptible to fire. Over time, many areas will also face flooding problems, as draining peatlands causes subsidence, which gradually lowers the ground surface level and can result in prolonged flooding. A 2015 study on peatland plantations on the Kampar Peninsula, also in Sumatra, showed that subsidence and associated flooding would make many pulpwood and palm oil plantations unviable within decades, resulting in degraded landscapes with little or no economic use.

“Peatlands in South Sumatra are generally shallower then on the Kampar peninsula, and APP’s plantations will therefore subside to flooding levels much quicker. In fact, flooding during the wet season is already happening in parts of the plantations, raising critical questions about how long OKI’s plantation base can remain productive if peatland drainage continues,” said Marcel Silvius, a peat expert at Wetlands International.

APP has, by its own count, several hundred conflicts with local communities whose lands overlap with the company’s pulpwood concessions in five provinces. Land conflicts, as well as damaging community livelihoods, can undermine plantation productivity by causing disruption of operations, damage or destruction of planted areas, loss of concession area, and in some cases, violence. For the last three years, APP has committed to negotiating with communities to resolve conflicts, but the process has only resulted in partial agreements with three communities, according to the report.

“It is essential that APP respect community land tenure and use rights to address the legacy of harm and conflict caused by its plantations,” said Aidil Fitri, of Hutan Kita Institute, an NGO from South Sumatra that has worked closely with communities in conflict with APP supplier plantations. “We are concerned that the pressure to secure wood for the OKI mill will push APP to expand its plantations without following proper procedures for the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities.”

APP has pulped timber from more than two million hectares of natural forest to feed its two existing mills in Sumatra, according to Eyes on the Forest. For many years, the group has been criticized for destroying forest ecosystems, displacing rural communities from customary lands, and contributing to global warming by developing high-carbon peatlands. But APP’s sustainability commitments in 2013 neutralized a global campaign against the company and provided a supportive environment during which it built its new mill. However, there is growing concern that OKI’s mega-scale pulp mill will lock-in a much more expansive resource footprint than APP has had until now.

“In evaluating purchasing and investment options, buyers and investors should require truly independent assessments to verify APP’s sustainability performance and fiber supply plan,” said WWF’s Bayunanda. “Without verifying sustainable operations through such assessments, there is a risk that buyers will be associated with the next wave of deforestation in Indonesia,” he emphasized.

Co-authors: Koalisi Anti Mafia Hutan, Woods & Wayside International, Hutan Kita Institute, WWF, WALHI, Wetlands International, Eyes on the Forest, Auriga, Forest Peoples Program, Jikalahari, Elsam, Rainforest Action Network

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Indonesian universities launch project against slash-and-burn farming

The training aims to educate locals that open burning is not the only way to clear land for their crops.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 20 Apr 16;

KOTA BARU, Indonesia: A US$200,000 project aimed at encouraging communities in Indonesia to stop burning their land has been launched by two local universities.

The university of Riau and South Kalimantan on Monday (Apr 18) signed an agreement to conduct training for local communities across 11 villages that aims to educate locals that open burning is not the only way to clear land for their crops.

No hotspots were detected during the programme’s 10-month pilot run at Indragili Hilir in Riau province last year.

"They (the villagers) are burning their land because it’s the easiest way to clear the land and this has been the tradition for generations," said Samsul Bahri, Head of Sejakah Village, Kota Baru, South Kalimantan.

“Moving forward, we forbid them to do this anymore. We told them about regulations, and the possibility of them being convicted. In the past there were no sanctions, so it wasn't a problem for them to burn (trees).”

The 6-month fire prevention programme, which will run from May until October this year, is part of an effort between both universities and palm oil company Minamas Plantation, which aims to implement a zero-burning policy.

The plantation is a subsidiary of Sime Darby with about 273,000 hectares of land in Indonesia.

“You can see there are no fires happening (now) whereas prior to this there were quite a number of fire outbreaks in that same vicinity," said Roslin Azmy Hassan, President Director of Minamas Plantation.

The project will see academics and students from both universities train the villagers, as well as provide expertise to help them better manage their land and sustain their economy. Some methods include teaching villagers how to use by-products to produce handicraft, in order to enable them to sustain their livelihood without doing any open burning.

However, six months might not be enough to change the behaviour and habits of the villagers, according to Dr Ahmad Kurnain, programme coordinator of Lampung Mangkurat University.

"This initiative is just the first step. Later on, we will design a programme to send final year undergraduates to be involved," he said. "Secondly, to change behavior we need to give alternatives to the villagers, and to show them that burning practices causes more harm than good."

Stakeholders believe community engagement is a long term strategy that will reap benefits, with plans to extend the fire-prevention programme to other plantations across Indonesia in the near future.

- CNA/yt

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Indonesia: Almost all reclamation in Indonesia illegal, claims environmental group

Elly Burhaini Faizal Jakarta Post 21 Apr 16;

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) has revealed that almost all reclamation projects in Indonesia, including projects in Jakarta, Bali and Makassar, have violated bylaws on zoning of coastal areas and small islands.

The environmental group says there are currently 14 reclamation projects in the country: Four projects have been completed, four are underway and the remaining six projects are still in the pipeline.

“The Tangerang reclamation plan is the gravest, as it is aiming to reclaim 7,500 hectares of land,” Walhi campaign manager Edo Rakhman said in a discussion in Central Jakarta on Wednesday.

“However, public attention has tended to focus on reclamation projects in Jakarta, Bali and Makassar, because those cities are categorized as national strategic zones.”

According to Walhi, the ongoing Jakarta and Makassar projects will cover 5,100 ha and 4,000 ha, respectively. Two other projects are taking place in Palu, Central Sulawesi, of 24.5 ha, and in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, of 5,130 ha.

Meanwhile, the Bali project, which is still at the planning stage, will cover 700 ha. Reclamation is also planned in Kendari (17.5 ha), Lombok (1,250 ha), Bitung (2,000 ha) and South Aceh (6,305 ha).

“Almost all of the reclamation projects are problematic as they are going on without the presence of or contradict bylaws on zoning of coastal areas and small islands,” Edo said.

He added that the Makassar reclamation project involved at least 14 companies, including Ciputra Group. Through its subsidiary, PT Ciputra Surya, the group is working together with PT Yasmin Bumi Asri to form a joint venture, Ciputra Yasmin, to develop CitraLand City Losari Makassar.

Meanwhile, the Bali reclamation project began on December 2012 when the island's governor granted private investor PT Tirta Wahana Bali Internasional (TWBI) permission to develop and reclaim Benoa Bay as part of an integrated tourist development area.

On the other hand, the Jakarta reclamation project was initially a part of the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) plan, more popularly known as the Great Garuda, which aims to build a seawall to keep water out of the city and to help slow subsidence.

The land reclamation was later taken over by the Jakarta city administration, involving the construction of 17 artificial islets developed by private companies off the north coast of the capital.

Kenzo, another researcher at Walhi, said the Jakarta reclamation project would damage the coast and harm the ecosystems of nearby islands. (vps/ebf)

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Half Australia's Great Barrier Reef coral 'dead or dying': scientists

COLIN PACKHAM Reuters 20 Apr 16;

Australian scientists said on Wednesday that just seven percent of the Great Barrier Reef, which attracts around A$5 billion ($3.90 billion) in tourism every year, has been untouched by mass bleaching that is likely to destroy half the coral.

Bleaching occurs when the water is too warm, forcing coral to expel living algae and causing it to calcify and turn white. Mildly bleached coral can recover if the temperature drops, otherwise it may die.

Although the impact has been exacerbated by one of the strongest El Nino weather systems in nearly 20 years, scientists believe climate change is the underlying cause.

"We've never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before. In the northern Great Barrier Reef, it's like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once," said Professor Terry Hughes, conveyor of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, which conducted aerial surveys of the World Heritage site.

"Our estimate at the moment is that close to 50 percent of the coral is already dead or dying," Hughes told Reuters.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches 2,300 km (1,430 miles) along Australia's northeast coast and is the world's largest living ecosystem.

"There were some who said that the worst had passed. We rejected that, and they were wrong," Environment Minister Greg Hunt told reporters. "Let it be known that this is a significant event. We take it seriously."

U.S. President Barack Obama embarrassed Australia 18 months ago by warning of the risk of climate change to the reef during a G20 meeting.

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee last May stopped short of placing the Great Barrier Reef on an "in danger" list, but the ruling raised long-term concerns about its future.

Australia is one of the largest carbon emitters capita because of its reliance on coal-fired power plants for electricity.

Despite pledging to cut carbon emissions, Australia has continued to support fossil fuel projects, including Adani Enterprises Ltd's proposed A$10 billion ($7.7 billion) Carmichael coal project in the Galilee Basin in western Queensland.

"It’s not good enough for them to say they care about the reef while they keep backing the coal industry and avoid tackling climate change,” said Shani Tager, a Greenpeace campaigner.

The findings will likely place pressure on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ahead of an expected federal election on July 2.

Turnbull is an advocate of carbon trading and supports progressive climate policies, but has left some disappointed over a failure to strengthen his party's commitment to addressing climate change.

($1 = A$1.28)

(Additional reporting by James Regan; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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India says 330 million people suffering from drought

One of the government's most senior lawyers PS Narasimha told the Supreme Court that a quarter of the country's population, spread across 10 states, have been hit by drought after two consecutive years of weak monsoons.
Channel NewsAsia 20 Apr 16;

NEW DELHI: About 330 million people are suffering from drought in India, the government has said, as the country reels from severe water shortages and desperately poor farmers suffer crop losses.

One of the government's most senior lawyers PS Narasimha told the Supreme Court that a quarter of the country's population, spread across 10 states, have been hit by drought after two consecutive years of weak monsoons.

Narasimha said the government had released funds to affected regions where a crippling shortage of rainfall has forced the rationing of drinking water to some communities.

As summer hits India, reports of families and farmers in remote villages walking long distances to find water after their wells dried up have dominated local media.

Narasimha gave the figures on Tuesday, after an NGO filed a petition asking the top court to order Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to step up relief to the hardest-hit areas.

The figures come as high temperatures hit parts of eastern, central and southern India in recent weeks, with scores of deaths reported from heatstroke.

Hundreds of mainly poor people die at the height of summer annually in India, but temperatures have risen earlier than normal, increasing concerns about this year's overall toll.

"We had never recorded such high temperatures in these months in more than 100 years," special relief commissioner in Orissa state P K Mohapatra told AFP.

India's meteorological department on Wednesday issued a heatwave warning for Orissa and two other states, with temperatures forecast to top 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in the coming days.

All schools in Orissa are closed until next week because of the heat, while protests have been held further north in a West Bengal city over water shortages.

"Several hundred residents of the city of Howrah on Monday blocked an arterial road to protest inadequate supply of water," said Baren Das, an official from Howrah's municipal corporation.

Politicians have come under fire for water wastage as they travel to drought-affected regions, with footage on Tuesday of water tankers in Karnataka state spraying a dusty road ahead of the chief minister's arrival, sparking outrage.

A court this month ordered the Indian Premier League to move some cricket matches from drought-hit western Maharashtra state over concerns that water would be wasted in maintaining the grounds.

Officials have forecast an above-average monsoon this year, offering hope for struggling farmers who rely heavily on the annual rains. India's agriculture sector employs about 60 per cent of the population.

- AFP/ec

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