Best of our wild blogs: 24 Apr 16

Celebrating 13 years of diving in Singapore: Why Reefs Are Relevant
Hantu Blog

The Rise & Fall of a Butterfly Garden
Butterflies of Singapore

Predawn at Berlayer Creek
wonderful creation

Morning Walk At Venus Drive (23 Apr 2016)
Beetles@SG BLOG

6th Parrot Count- Final Report
Singapore Bird Group

Read more!

Sembawang Hot Spring: MINDEF prepared to return land to SLA

The return of the land the hot spring sits on will not impact MINDEF and SAF's operational requirements, said Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye Kung.
Channel NewsAsia 23 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE: With the potential redevelopment of Sembawang Hot Spring into a national park currently being explored, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) has said on Saturday (Apr 23) that it is prepared to return the land occupied by the hot spring to the Singapore Land Authority.

Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye Kung made the announcement at a People's Association event on Saturday. At the event, Mr Ong said that the return of the land will not impact MINDEF and the Singapore Armed Forces' operational requirements.

He also said MINDEF hopes a public agency such as the National Parks Board (NParks) can take over to improve and maintain the place, while putting in amenities such as toilets and adding more greenery. Mr Ong added that putting the place under a public agency means the land need not be tendered out to the highest bidder and become commercialised.

Earlier on Apr 16, the NParks senior director of Parks Development Kartini Omar confirmed the statutory board was working with the Urban Redevelopment, Singapore Land Authority and MINDEF on “the feasibility of using the area as a park”.

This came after Sembawang MP Lim Wee Kiak suggested in Parliament on Apr 12 that the hot spring - one of only two such natural sources in Singapore, with the other located offshore on Pulau Tekong - could be converted into a park and a popular attraction for Singaporeans.

Despite it being on MINDEF land, the Sembawang Hot Spring has been demarcated to allow public access since 2002.

It is currently open to the public daily from 7am to 7pm, and some visitors believe water from the hot spring has healing properties.

- CNA/av

Mindef returning Sembawang Hot Spring land to the state: Ong Ye Kung
Melissa Lin, The Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) has agreed to return back to the State the land that the Sembawang Hot Springs is on, said Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye Kung on Saturday.

The hot spring, the only one on mainland Singapore, currently sits inside a military camp.

"The place is small, rustic and charming, but desperately lacking in amenities, such as a toilet. But it is really not Mindef's mission to look after a hot spring," said Mr Ong, who was speaking at a seminar where Malay youths discussed ideas to shape Singapore's future. "So after some discussion, Mindef has agreed to give up the land, and return it to the State. From there, we hope a public agency such as NParks (National Park Board) can take over, improve the amenities, beautify and maintain it."

He added that putting the place under a public agency means that the land will not be tendered out to the highest bidder and become commercialised. Instead, its rustic charm can be preserved while putting in small conveniences and more greenery.

At the event, Mr Ong, who is also Acting Minister for Education, also spoke about his expectations for Singapore in 2065.

Building Singapore's history and its people's memories and identity is the country's collective national project for the decades and centuries to come, he said.

"I doubt it will be realistic to have a plan for the next 50 years. We can only evolve with the times and the circumstances surrounding us," he said at the event held at Suntec City Convention Centre. "We adapt, and with each adaptation we become more distinctively Singaporean, yet more relevant to the world around us."

In a 35-minute speech to 500 youths, he shared three characteristics he would like to see in Singaporeans: a strong sense of belonging; an emotional attachment to family, friends and fellow countrymen; and a national team spirit.

In building a sense of belonging, Singapore "cannot just bulldoze and build" when developing a place, said Mr Ong, who is also an MP in Sembawang GRC. "We need a piece of old Singapore infused with the new."

He cited his constituency's plans to develop the Sembawang Wellness Hub, which used to house rubber and pineapple plantations and the old Chong Pang market. Today, it is a forested hill where the Admiralty House, a gazetted national monument that used to be the home of the British Admiral that oversaw the Sembawang Naval Base, continues to sit atop. "We are working with various agencies to carefully develop the area. It will be a mistake to clear the entire hill and build it up - it will be utilitarian but characterless," he said.

The National Park Board plans to preserve 600 of the 761 trees and plant another 1,000 using seeds of trees that were indigenous to Singapore but are no longer around. There will also be a new polyclinic, a swimming pool and a hawker centre that will serve healthier versions of the traditional street food served at the old Chong Pang market. And the forest will remain for residents to stroll, climb and visit the Admiralty House, Mr Ong added.

He also highlighted efforts to build emotional attachments among residents here, such as the recent Indian Cultural Festival that brought together the many Indian communities living here for a combined Indian New Year celebration.

In fostering national team spirit, he said: "When we grow our economy and create jobs, it has to be for everyone, or as many Singaporeans as possible. We do not grow the pie for only the 1 per cent or 5 per cent."

He also addressed worries about technological disruption that will replace workers with robots and computers, noting that such concerns are nothing new. "The steamship, automobiles, airplanes, exploitation of oil and gas to power machines, computers, Internet, smart phones - these have been transforming our lives and economy for a long time," he said.

Each time, old jobs were destroyed but new ones created.

He also pointed to bright spots such as the growth of Asia, the booming consumer markets in China and untapped markets in Singapore's closest neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia. "To ride on the growth... we need good companies and businesses," he said, calling on the youths to work together.

The seminar was organised by the People's Association Malay Activity Executive Committees Council.

Read more!

Malaysia: Haze our own doing

The Star 24 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: If the heat and dry spell were not enough, little hotspots here and there made up of forest fires and open burning, are now causing poor air quality in Malaysia’s central region.

Meteorological Department director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said the haze was originating from within our borders, rather than from Indonesia.

According to the Department of Environment, air quality has plunged in the Klang Valley. Port Klang and Cheras reported unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings.

Air quality in the northern and southern regions, as well as Sabah and Sarawak, reported low moderate to good levels.

Fire and Rescue Department officers said they were working around the clock, putting themselves at great risk to put out the fires, mostly man-made, and hard to get to.

In Selangor, Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general (Operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid said the biggest contributor to the air pollution now was a 12ha forest reserve in Tanjung Sepat, Banting, that caught fire due to illegal pineapple farming activities.

“We have had to use helicopters to water bomb these areas. These people are smart now, they go deep into the forest to do their farming. This is not right and it is contributing to the bad air quality,” he said.

Besides that, Bomba also reported fires in dump sites around the Klang Valley, suggesting that open burning was being done by citizens.

He urged people to stop open burning, saying that fires in dump sites were a hazard to firemen trying to put them out as the department reported another 23 hotspots – all in peninsular Malaysia.

Pahang reported the most fires at 15, of which nine were in Pekan.

Johor reported large fires in Mersing, Segamat and Kluang, while Kedah, Kelantan, Negri Sembilan and Terengganu reported one hotspot each.

Fires are also occurring in neighbouring Riau, which the Meteorological Department said could become a problem for us in May when the south-west monsoon winds bring smog from Indonesia to Malaysia.

In Miri, unscrupulous people have been starting massive fires at night to either clear forest land for agricultural purposes or to get rid of plantation waste although these fires are a threat to the environment and health.

As in the peninsula, firemen here are being hampered by the size of the fires and the fact that they are in hard to reach areas.

Sarawak assistant communications minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin, who visited the Tudan Watchtower, said the Department of Environ­ment would be calling for cloud seeding.

“These fires are in hard to reach forests. We need to carry out cloud seeding urgently.

“If we can induce rain to fall, it will help douse the numerous fires that are raging in various parts of Kuala Baram district and southern parts of Miri district near to Marudi and the Niah areas,” he said.

Folks in Miri breathing smog due to forest fires
STEPHEN THEN The Star 23 Apr 16;

MIRI: Unscrupulous people are resorting to open burning during the night to clear forest land either for agricultural purposes or to get rid of plantation refuse.

Such illegal open burning activities are posing a serious threat to the environment and human health.

Residents have to breathe in smog for long periods of time especially during the night and early morning due to incidents of open burning in northern Sarawak.

The Fire and Rescue Department is working round-the-clock to extinguish the fires but their attempts are being hampered by the scale of the raging fires as well as poor road access.

State assistant minister for communications Datuk Lee Kim Shin (pic) said the Department of Environment will request for cloud seeding operations.

"We will need to carry out cloud seeding urgently. This will hopefully induce rain to help snuff out the numerous fires that are raging in various parts of Kuala Baram district and the southern parts of Miri district near Marudi and the Niah areas," he said during a visit to the Tudan Watchtower here.

He also called for stricter surveillance to nab the culprits responsible for these open burnings.

Miri city still shrouded in haze
STEPHEN THEN The Star 24 Apr 16;

MIRI: Miri city continues to be shrouded in a veil of haze caused by smog from wildfires raging in the outskirts.

As of Sunday noon, the city skyline from Canada Hill looks blurry.

The South China Sea fronting the town was no longer visible.

On Saturday night, the haze enveloping the city was thick and choking.

Parts of northern Sarawak and Brunei are seeing raging forest fires in plantations and forested land caused by unscrupulous open burning.

Schools to be closed if API over 200
The Star 24 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Schools will be closed if the haze continues to worsen, says Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid.

He said schools would be closed if the API exceeded 200.

With the haze expected to worsen this week, the ministry has set up an operations room to monitor the situation.

“We’ll receive daily reports from the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry on the haze from tomorrow and then we’ll decide whether there is a need to close schools.

“The Cabinet committee on the haze is chaired by the Natural Resources and Environment Minister (Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar),” he told a press conference after St John’s Institution’s academic excellence award ceremony here yesterday.

There will also be no replacements if the closure lasted less than five days.

Marine police: It’s business as usual despite conditions
The Star 24 Apr 16;

Rayani Air founder blasts employees planning takeover
KLANG: The haze has slowed down the marine police’s speed but not the frequency of their patrols along the coast of Selangor.

Port Klang Marine police operations commander DSP Ahmad Shafiki Hussin said yesterday the hazy weather in the past three days affected the usual clear visibility of between 500m and 2km at sea.

“My officers have reported that visibility had been reduced to between 100m and 200m in the morning. Therefore we have to reduce the vessels' speed to 10 times slower than our usual speed while patrolling the waters,” he said.

However, DSP Ahmad Shafiki said this did not mean that the frequency of their patrols had decreased.

“We have special measures to deal with situations like this in our operating procedure.

“The measures include protecting our assets and personnel under trying situations.

“Although it has become more complex to deal with because of the haze, it is not an excuse for us to slow down or cut back on our surveillance and enforcement.

“It's business as usual for us,” he added.

Read more!

Malaysia: Hot weather takes its toll on Kelantan rivers

The Star 24 Apr 16;

GUA MUSANG: The hot weather over the past three months has taken its toll on most rivers in the state, including Sungai Ketil near here.

Sungai Ketil, a popular picnic spot, has become so shallow that stones which are normally hidden underwater is now showing.

Local resident Mazila Shariff, 36, said she had never seen the river this shallow before and was worried it would affect water supply to the district.

“This river is among the cleanest here. We depend on raw water from the river.

“It is also a favourite spot for us to cool ourselves in this hot weather,” she said yesterday.

Another regular visitor Mohd Firdaus Mohd Naim, 21, said the heat had reduced the number of visitors to the river.

“It used to be deep and the water was very clear. There were also many rapids that attracted people from far and near to come for a picnic,” he said.

He said he and his friends had been coming to the river almost daily to cool themselves in the past three months.

“The river is becoming shallower by the day. But the weather is so hot we are still taking dips in the shallow water,” he said.

In Ipoh, the water level at the Bukit Merah reservoir is at a critical level at 5m.

State Infrastructure, Public Utili­ties, Water and Energy Committee chairman Datuk Zainol Fadzi Paha­ru­din said 8.5mm rainfall was recorded at the Cerapan Kg Sempe­neh station on Friday night but it was not significant to improve the water level.

“Based on our standard operating procedure, we have started to reduce supply to irrigate padi fields, and if the situation does not improve, the supply may be stopped.

“However, for the time being, water supply for domestic use is not affected,” he said.

Pahang spends RM60,000 daily to pump water into treatment plants
The Star 23 Apr 16;

KUANTAN: The Pahang government spends RM60,000 a day to ensure a reliable supply of water at three water treatment plants at Lipis, Temerloh and Pekan following the drought brought on by the El Nino phenomenon.

State Secretary Datuk Seri Muhammad Safian Ismail said for the past two weeks the government had to incur expenditure on pumping water from other areas to ensure the water treatment plants had sufficient water supply.

"Pengurusan Air Pahang Berhad (PAIP) had to fork out RM20,000 daily for each treatment plant to pump water from nearby rivers as the raw water intake is running dry," he said.

Two months ago, he said, the state government had applied for a RM27 million allocation from the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (MOSTI) to carry out cloud seeding to increase water level at the Pahang River basin, but to date they have not received any reply.

Safian said although water levels at all dams were still normal, cloud seeding was crucial especially at Pahang River basin areas to ensure water was flowing to the intake.

Nevertheless, he added there were no plans for water rationing as the situation was still under control.

Meanwhile, Gambang Water Park management was prepared to shut down the water theme park operations temporarily should the state government issue a notice, in a bid to save water.

Bukit Gambang Resort City assistant manager, Paris Koh said so far they have not received any news on the matter adding that the management would consider other alternatives if the water situation worsened.

Koh added that despite the hot weather, there was no significant increase in number of visitors to the theme park between February and April this year, compared to the corresponding period last year. - Bernama

Cloud seeding successful in several areas
The Star 23 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The cloud seeding operations based at the Subang Airport and Penang will be continued as usual and has succeeded in producing rain in several areas.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Madius Tangau said the areas were Timah Tasoh Dam (in Perlis), Ahning Pedu, Muda and Beris dams (in Kedah), Teluk Bahang dam in Penang, Bukit Merah dam and Air Kuning and the catchment areas of Bukit Larut, (Perak), the Sepri and Gemencheh dams in Negri Sembilan and Durian Tunggal dam in Malacca.

"Meanwhile, as for the target area over the Air Hitam Dam, Penang, cloud development has been observed after seeding," he said in a statement here Saturday.

He said the Kuala Krai Meteorological Station recorded a reading of 37.1 degrees Celsius at 4pm today.

He said till yesterday (Friday), three areas recorded more than 10 days without rainfall, namely Kota Baru and Machang in Kelantan (20 days) and Kudat, Sabah (12 days).

Meanwhile, Klang and Kuala Selangor, Selangor and Kota Tinggi, Johor recorded 10 days without rainfall. - Bernama

Rainy days help maintain Penang dams
BALVIN KAUR New Straits Times 23 Apr 16;

GEORGE TOWN: The few days of rain in Penang has helped maintain the water level in the state’s two functioning dams.

PBA Holdings Sdn Bhd (PBAPP) chief executive officer Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa said the water level at the Air Itam dam and Teluk Bahang dam stands at 57.2 per cent and 58.7 per cent, respectively.

“The level is the same as what we had announced two days ago. “This shows that the input and output is the same.

“If we can maintain this input and output, we can last longer than predicted for the Super El Nino phenomena or June 2016,” he told reporters after the World Water Day 2016 celebration at the Air Itam Water dam here today.

Jaseni said he also urged the Federal government to continue implementing large-scale cloud seeding in the northern region.

Heatwave forcing people to change lifestyle
The Star 24 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: No place in the peninsula has been spared the soaring temperatures; everywhere, people are being forced to change their lifestyle to cope.

In Kuala Terengganu, students Navin Francis Thilagaratnam, Lid­­wina Teo and Nurul Ariesha Noore­zan are struggling to keep cool.

Navin said he really felt the brunt of the rising temperatures especially since it had not rained much for over two months there.

The 22-year-old student from Gong Badak said he missed his hometown which was cooler and breezier while Teo, 21, no longer finds it comfortable to stay in her room at her hostel.

“I have been going to the library more often for the air-conditioning there,” she said, adding that she found it more comfortable to complete her assignments there.

To keep cool, she has also been taking more showers.

Nurul Ariesha, 20, copes by applying more sunblock to protect her skin.

“This searing heat has not only given me headaches but caused discomfort to my skin,” she said.

Executive Irdina Syamimi Alias, 24, said Kuala Terengganu was so hot that she was having difficulty sleeping as she kept sweating

“I can’t sleep well. So nowadays, I try to wake up earlier to have a long shower,” she said.

Up north in Alor Setar, Muhammad Omar Husaimi, 42, said his children were no longer allowed to play outside.

“It’s too hot outside,” said the father of three who also makes sure his children drink enough water daily and take regular showers.

“I don’t want them to get heat rash because of this weather.”

Cheryl Anne, 38, is also complaining about the soaring temperatures around Ipoh.

“I make sure my children stay indoors as much as possible and stay hydrated at all times,” she said.

Malaysia warns of extended spell of hot, dry weather
Today Online 25 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR — The Malaysian government has warned that the dry and hot spell could stretch to September, resulting in depleting water reserves, more forest fires and worsening haze.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Wilfred Madius Tangau told TODAY that the hot weather would continue for the next five months due to the changing south-west monsoon winds. The monsoon season is between May and September.

“Now, we are experiencing the inter-monsoon season. Beginning from May right up until September, we will have the south-west monsoon.

“This will be a dry season,” the minister told TODAY in a brief phone call on Sunday evening (April 24), confirming a report in Malay Mail Online on Sunday in which Mr Madius had first made the warning.

Earlier, Malay Mail Online cited him as saying that the prolonged hot season will cause water reserves to diminish and increase forest fires.

“This will cause water reserves at dams to deplete. The winds from Sumatra will carry hot air and haze between May and September,” he was quoted as saying. “Cloud seeding activities will continue especially in Perlis, Kedah, Perak, Johor and Sabah.”

Six dams nationwide — Bukit Kwong (Kelantan), Beris (Kedah), Muda (Kedah), Padang Saga (Langkawi, Kedah), Timah Tasoh (Perlis) and Labong (Johor) — have recorded water levels below 50 per cent, according to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.

Perlis, Kedah, Penang and Perak have 25 more days to go before they run out of water reserves. Chuping in Perlis, having experienced chilly weather at 22°C in 2014, recorded 37°C on Saturday. More lakes and rivers, including the Bukit Merah lake in Kerian, Perak, and Sungai Pinang in George Town have almost completely dried up as the country faces its worst dry spell since 1998.

Last month, Mr Madius told Malaysian media that the heatwave was expected to last until June instead of April.

Various industries have expressed concern over the situation while farmers and fish breeders said they have recorded losses due to the heat.

Rice farmer Abdul Talib Taib, 64, of Kampung Padang Lalang in Jerlun, Kubang Pasu, said he had never felt heat as bad as this but he could withstand it, as long as he could still get water for his field. “Seeding should have started mid-March, and we are well into April, and May is coming. Still, we cannot plant. Of course, my income is affected,” said the man who has been planting rice for 45 years.

Banting Fire and Rescue Department chief Jaslizad Jalil said the hot weather has made it difficult for them to extinguish forest fires in Kuala Langat. He said there was lack of water in the area as Sungai Langat had dried up.

Air quality deteriorated as five areas in the Klang Valley recorded unhealthy Air Pollutant Index readings on while visibility levels in certain areas were reduced to 1.5km, said the Meteorological Department.

An environmental expert said the weather could hit 40°C if the heatwave continued. Universiti Malaya Geography Department climate expert Prof Azizan Abu Samah said although there will be some rain during this period, the rainfall will do little to increase water levels at dams nationwide.

“With dams reaching critical levels, we could see more water rationing exercises being carried out,” he said, adding that the annual padi harvest would be severely affected.

“Despite Mada (Muda Agriculture Development Authority) releasing water from irrigation dams for padi farmers to grow off season, we will still see lesser yield of crops,’’ he said.

According to Prof Azizan, the government had been warned about the weather pattern last year.

“I told the authorities about the long dry spell in June last year. However, the way we are reacting to the situation now shows the lack of comprehensive plan to tackle the issue.

“Any endeavour to absorb or dampen the effects of El Nino should have been done six months ago,’’ he said.

Prof Azizan suggested the authorities to look into alternative methods of extracting water. “It is still not too late. We should be looking at ground water extraction as an alternative source of water supply. The authorities should also look into treating alternative water source for domestic use instead of irrigation works.”

Prof Azizan said once El Nino is over, the country could also be facing flood problems.

“Predictions for La Nina, which would set in by September or October, are expected to bring above than average rainfall that would replenish water sources nationwide. However, if heavy rains continue for a long period, we could face major floods,” he said.

Malaysian news agency Bernama said that the water supply for domestic use was still enough for another month in the hot and dry water, citing Perlis drainage and irrigation department director Abdul Najib Abdullah.

In neighbouring Kedah, which is dubbed the rice bowl of Malaysia for its rice fields, many farmers are still waiting to start seeding their fields that had all dried up in the heat. AGENCIES

Read more!

Malaysia: El Nino = more snakes caught inside homes

Current spell biting even harder for residents
The Star 24 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: Snakes driven out from their natural habitat by the current hot spell are proving to be a handful for residents and home owners.

For the past week, Taman SEA SS23 Rukun Tetangga vice-president Anson Tan said security guards and supervisors had alerted him of snakes found within the residential area.

“A snake was found under the car of one of the residents parked at a playground at around 11.30pm on Tuesday,” he said.

“Another resident found a two-foot long snake in his kitchen. But he killed it himself before reporting it to me,” said Tan, adding that he had sent out messages to all residents to be careful as workers from a petrol station in the residential area had also reported finding snakes in their premises.

The El Nino had seen an alarming number of snakes caught inside homes, buildings and close to human habitat over the past two months in the country.

The Civil Defence Department recorded 3,780 such cases in March and 3,708 in February nationwide.

Read more!

Malaysia: Interview with Environment Minister -- water, pollution, climate change

Fighting clean
CHRISTINA CHIN The Star 24 Apr 16;

In conjunction with Earth Day on Friday – when Malaysia signed the United Nations’ COP21 environmental agreement in New York – Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar talks to Sunday Star about solving Malaysia’s water woes and championing nature.

ON a mission to solve Malaysia’s perennial water woes, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar made Sunday Star’s front page on April 3, promising a new law to govern our precious water resources. The Bill, which will standardise water management processes nationwide, will include recommendations for states to gazette all their water catchment and water sources.

But that’s not the only legal change he’s bringing. Eight months in office, he’s been busy sharpening the “teeth” of environmental regulations that no longer bite. Armed with a slew of new, tougher laws, he means business.

A firm believer that development and environment must go together, the 70-year-old who keeps clued in on the buzzing social media scene via his officers and family, says the ministry is all for quality of living. He dreams of a clean, environmentally-friendly Malaysia without needing to drag people to court.

“We must understand the value of the environment and realise that we’re all responsible to protect it,” he insists.

Describing himself as an emotional poet whose inspiration strikes especially hard when he’s down, he shares how a Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) study loan rejection years ago resulted in a poem which he still keeps. He hopes to publish an anthology of his compositions but for now, the focus is on creating a greener nation for future generations.

Last year, 42% of our 477 rivers were either slightly polluted or polluted. What’s happening?

The majority of our rivers are still clean. Compared to 2014, the number of slightly polluted and polluted rivers dropped by 17 and 14 respectively. If the drought is so severe as to affect water reserves, the pollution might get worse as pollutants discharged into the water bodies cannot be diluted and the flow might become slower or stagnant.

What is the ministry doing about it?

Industries and sewerage treatment systems must comply with our discharge standards. The public are our eyes and ears. We’re making the “guided self-regulatory approach” mandatory for industries.

They must have an environmental agenda at all levels of the organisation so that everyone from top to bottom is responsible. A competent person to ensure that discharge or emissions do not negatively impact the environment must be appointed.

All sewerage treatment system operators must monitor and carry out regular maintenance checks. We can’t afford to shut down our drinking water treatment plants because of high ammonia concentration levels in the river. Indah Water Konsortium (IWK) has over 6,000 sewage treatment plants nationwide. Of that, almost 5,000 need to be upgraded this year.

The Government must now decide whether to grant IWK a moratorium.

They haven’t done it because the capital investment needed is RM6bil. These plants were built before the Environmental Quality Sewerage Regulation 2009 was passed.

A lot of money is involved but water discharged into our rivers can cause pollution so we must improve the quality. Water rates are already so cheap, so please stop complaining and pay your IWK bill.

Tell us about the National Water Resources Bill.

We have the National Water Resources Policy but it’s very general and it’s not binding on the states which controls the forests, rivers and water. So, we need a law.

Water protection falls under the concurrent list (authority of both state and federal governments) but because of politics, the Federal Government will never be able to fully enforce its will on the states.

This law, to be tabled next year, gives us a water management template so we can tell the states: “Listen, we have a law now. Please follow it.”

It’s not that we don’t want the states to earn money or develop their economy but we want sustainable use of forest products. My forestry director-general is studying every inch of forest taken by the state or by anybody.

Forests cleared should be replaced by land at least five times bigger than the original area because a sustainable forest sustains water catchments. The early settlements used rivers as a source of life. We take it for granted. We’ve become wasteful, polluting instead of protecting.

Luckily, we’re still able to undo the damage – but at a cost. We have had to introduce so many programmes just to restore the rivers to become a source of life again and make it safe for people to enjoy.

Our environmental control is not good enough. That’s why we’re losing water. Simple. Our people don’t observe the law. They don’t protect the rivers. We’ll look into increasing our water catchment buffer zones but land is under the state authority so we have to engage them.

Are we building more dams?

Let’s look at this in a comprehensive way. First, we need to consider whether building a dam or rehabilitating the old ones is beneficial and cost effective. When you build a dam, you flood several areas. You must study how these areas, which include forest reserves, are going to be impacted.

Whenever a dam or mini-hydro project is to be built, my forestry director-general must be involved in the planning to make sure we don’t lose our forests. We have 54% of forested areas that act like sponges to retain water but it’s depleting because of economic activities and development.

We’re losing storage capacity. We cannot compare water management in Malaysia with Singapore or Hong Kong. These countries don’t use forests as a means of developing the country economically and socially. We use it to move forward. So, we must use a different model to manage our water.

People talk about protecting the rivers but look at how much rainwater is wasted. We retain less than 20% of our annual rainfall. That’s a lot of fresh water lost. We’re looking at retaining rainwater but this is not yet a government policy.

I’d like every township to have their own water storage because it’s cheaper to harvest rainwater than to channel it to another district or state.

We’re identifying strategic locations nationwide to have water storage but we’re not ignoring the rivers. We can have water storage by digging a huge pond, as simple as that.

Besides retaining water, it can be adapted for multiple uses including generating power and for commercial and recreational use so it’s not wasting space. I’ll look into a holistic way to make sure that Malaysia will not suffer because of insufficient water like what Australia went through in 1995.

Our average water consumption is too high. We must regulate it – perhaps by installing showers that don’t feel like torrential rain, to reduce your bath water. The mechanism must be institutionally introduced rather than voluntarily.

Water’s a big priority for you. Why?

If COP21 (21st conference of the parties of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change) is unsuccessful, island cities like Christmas Island, Maldives, Seychelles – all the Pacific islands, will be flooded. And in 2100, 20% of land mass in Malaysia will be flooded because of melting icecaps.

Last year, Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang were flooded. (But) there wasn’t enough water in Selangor, Johor and Sarawak, and the northern states were dry.

These happened just a few months apart. See the paradox? We must make sure that the generation to come has the necessary infrastructure for water security so they will not blame us for not doing enough.

I told my director-general, National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia, Drainage and Irrigation Department, Forestry Department and Environment Department: “Show me what we can do to assure future sustainability first. We talk about money later.”

We must be prepared for bad times. Climate change will happen.

Has Cameron Highlands recovered from the illegal clearing?

We don’t have authority to enter and carry out replanting and rehabilitation works. We need the state’s permission to enter. We’ve done some work but not as much as I would have liked. My ministry has the technical expertise but the state must assist.

There must be a dedicated area for planting. Strictly no planting on sensitive elevated areas. Divide the land into plots and assign it to genuine planters so the state can have better control over what goes into the rivers.

Only then you provide facilities and infrastructure like road access.

Calling for better bauxite mining regulations, the Red2Green protesters walked over 360km from Kuantan to Parliament to present its memorandum to you on March 28. Are you acting on it?

The memorandum is nothing new. The moment it happened, I got things moving. I was already talking about the mining, transportation, stockpile and port management because if a proper standard operating procedure had been in place, it wouldn’t have been so bad.

My ministry is in charge of coming up with the regulations. We’ve done it. We worked on having an integrated stockpile area, dedicated roads and port area, allowing only fully-covered lorries to prevent dust and spillage, the number of lorry trips and amount of bauxite allowed to be transported – we have the complete guideline but it is for the state and the other related ministries to implement.

I walk past the port and they say: “YB, the port management is all good.” But when I flew over it in my helicopter and took photographs, I saw spillage where they said there was no more. They haven’t done what I asked.

The Federal Government only makes policies and gives guidelines and technical advice. The rest must be done by the state. Licensing is by them.

You were previously Deputy Speaker and Deputy Home Minister. This portfolio is a different ballgame. How are you coping?

I was a policeman and a lawyer before. So my previous duties were not new. My current ministry is very technical so I’ve to put in much more effort to learn. It’s easy to love nature.

Managing and improving what had been damaged isn’t as easy. But I’m a fast learner and my retention’s not too bad. Because of my legal background, I came in and said: “Let’s look at all the laws.”

Everything must start with the law. Lord Denning (a foremost British judge and jurist) said your rights end when the rights of others begin.

The law tells you where it begins and ends. That’s why you need it. If people don’t understand why they shouldn’t throw rubbish into the river, we must guide them with the law. And if they don’t listen, they must be punished.

The Environmental Quality Act 1974 – currently under review to strengthen our pollution prevention and control efforts – cannot handle what we have now especially when people become smarter, trading between the narrow margins of right and wrong.

When I joined the ministry, I signed off on the legislation giving the Environment Department director-general power to ask for an Environmental Impact Assessment report if he considers a project sensitive and likely to cause pollution. It’s a very powerful law that my predecessors were afraid of signing because it could hurt the economy.

Imagine if every time you want to develop something, you need a report. But my only consideration is protecting the environment. If companies want to make money, they must spend a bit on the environment.

Growing up in Kampung Pendam, Sarawak, was the love for nature instilled at a young age?

My father was the first conservationist I know. He would bring injured birds and animals home, treat and release them into the wild. My grandmother said: “Don’t cut the tree. It’s not for you. It’s for the birds to perch. And when they do, you’ll get pahala (reward).”

So it’s how I am. My three children are like that too. I had to convince my second daughter that chicken, goats and cows are created by God for us to consume. She didn’t want to eat lamb because she said piercing into the cute animal with steel and grilling it over a fire was cruel.

With a collection of over 7,000 books, do you still find time to read?

I’m still reading but no more novels since 2000. I read the heavy stuff – government documents and political, economic and financial books. I read about what’s happening in the world.

My seven-year-old granddaughter is like me. She’s already reading Percy Jackson. Quite thick. And she speaks like a politician. She calls Donald Trump a “modern Hitler”, asking me why he doesn’t read and learn from Mandela. Can you believe it?

Read more!