Best of our wild blogs: 23 Jun 16

Green Drinks: Development of the Lentor (Tagore) Forest
Green Drinks Singapore

Mass coral bleaching on Small Sister's Island
wild shores of singapore

Toddycats @ Pesta Ubin 2016 (Part I): A Celebration of Singapore’s Marine Biodiversity and a plea to Reduce our Plastic Footprint

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Future Economy team looks for novel ways out of land shortage

Soon Weilun, The Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Jun 16;

A SUB-GROUP of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is looking at "innovative" approaches to overcome Singapore's land constraints as the economy is being restructured.

Not only is it considering new technologies to make better use of Singapore's road network, the group is also digging deep into solutions that involve putting utilities underground.

These approaches are crucial because Singapore's economy is maturing and constraints on resources, including land and energy, are "starting to bite", said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

He sits on the CFE, a high-level panel tasked to chart the direction of Singapore's economic restructuring.

He is co-chair of one of the CFE's sub-committees on Future City, which is concerned with the infrastructure needed for the future; Tan Chong Meng, group chief of PSA International, is the other chairman.

Speaking at the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting luncheon, Mr Wong said: "Underpinning all of these ideas is the consistent theme of innovation. That is the way we have to think about the economy going forward."

At the event, he shared "preliminary" recommendations in five areas that the group is looking at.

The first is infrastructure - that which is needed to enhance connectivity, brought about by better technologies.

Mr Wong said that for example, housing estates could be equipped with the necessary infrastructure to facilitate the movement of autonomous vehicles. Such vehicles, called "people mover systems", are already in use in Gardens by the Bay.

These vehicles can very well operate in Singapore's housing estates in 15 years, he said; it is already a work-in-progress.

The second area the Future City sub-committee is looking at lies in going underground to overcome land constraints.

Reclamation projects have helped Singapore expand land area, he said, but the country can do more to exploit the potential for underground developments; putting power stations underground is being considered.

"It costs more, but it will free up surface land for development, and potentially from a cost-benefit point of view, it will be worth doing in the longer term," he said.

The third area the group is looking at is enhancing Singapore's position as a global city. The central business district (CBD) will be expanded after the Pasir Panjang port facilities are moved to Tuas; a second CBD will come up in the Jurong Lake District.

The fourth area is the co-locating related industries. There is potential for Jurong to be a centre for clean technology companies, Woodlands to be the hub for advanced manufacturing, and Punggol, for creative industries, said Mr Wong.

The fifth area would be ensuring the security of key resources.

Singapore is already looking for a site for a second liquefied natural gas terminal, and will maximise space to harness alternative energy sources.

The Housing Development Board has already issued tenders for companies to deploy solar panels on rooftops of housing estates, he said.

Terming these plans as medium- to long-term ones that may not immediately address concerns, Mr Wong said they will take several terms of government to implement.

"These are not five-year plans, but that is a uniquely Singaporean competitive advantage ... We can plan long term and we have been doing so," he said.

'Many options' for future development of Singapore
Minister cites building underground facilities as one solution to overcome land constraints
Wong Wei Han, Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Jun 16;

Underground power substations? Underground reservoirs?

Singapore still has many options for development despite its physical constraints, and one way is to build more infrastructure underground.

This subterranean potential is among the plans the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is studying to make Singapore a vibrant global city and competitive economy, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

"We're always looking at how we can expand our land and space options - and we have them. We have reclamation projects, indeed the Tuas mega port will be on reclaimed land. But we can also go underground," he said.

With projects like the Jurong Rock Caverns - a liquid hydrocarbon storage 150m below ground - Singapore is only "starting to scratch the surface of the potential for underground development".

"There is a lot more that we can do beyond Jurong Rock Caverns. For instance, the utility or power substations that you see around - a lot of them can go underground. It will cost more, but also free up surface land for development."

He cited national water agency PUB's interest in building an underground reservoir as an example.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs CFE's future city sub-committee, was speaking at the annual general meeting lunch of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC).

Building underground facilities has been in focus as the Government looks for long-term solutions to overcome land scarcity here. In March, an underground district cooling network - which produces chilled water for air-conditioning for nearby areas - was launched at Marina Bay.

The Government also hopes to deploy more innovative technologies, such as driverless vehicles to transport goods across industrial estates, replacing the huge fleets of trucks on the roads today, he said.

"We can go beyond that to people-mover systems. In 15 to 20 years' time, I think it's very possible to have housing estates with mover systems taking people from where they live to the nearest MRT station," he said, adding that these systems can also be built underground.

Other large-scale projects are under way. The consolidation of port facilities in Tuas will free up land to develop the Greater Southern Waterfront, a new central business district. Another new CBD, the Jurong Lake District, is also in the pipeline.

"These plans will take several terms of government to implement. These are not five-year plans. But this is also our competitive advantage, because we can plan long term. That's the way Singapore was built for the past 50 years."

For all these initiatives, a strong public-private partnership is important, he told around 260 guests attending the lunch yesterday.

SICC, celebrating its 179th anniversary this year, will focus on being relevant to member businesses amid the structural headwinds here, chief executive Victor Mills told reporters at the lunch.

Cost pressures have certainly taken a toll, he said, adding: "Anecdotally, for every one expatriate family being posted to Singapore for work, there are between seven and 12 leaving.

"But Singapore as a brand remains highly trusted for business services. We are still a hub for finance, for contracts, for arbitration. That element of Singapore brand will always be important."

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Changi Water Reclamation Plant to be expanded

Channel NewsAsia 23 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: A tender to expand Changi Water Reclamation Plant, which will help meet future demand for used water treatment, was issued on Thursday (Jun 23), said Singapore's national water agency PUB.

In a press release, PUB said the expansion will be completed by end 2019 and will add another 44 million gallons a day (mgd) to the treatment capacity of the plant. The tender includes civil and infrastructural expansion works as well as the installation of advanced membrane bioreactor (MBR) equipment.

The MBR treatment module will be increased in two phases of 22mgd each, in tandem with used water flow projections, it added.

Commissioned in 2008, the Changi Water Reclamation Plant is touted to be one of the largest and most advanced water reclamation facilities in the world. It has an initial treatment capacity of 176 mgd, and treats about half of the country's used water and produces treated effluent, which is used as feedstock for NEWater production, PUB said.

NEWater currently meets 30 per cent of Singapore's water demand, and this is set to increase up to 55 per cent in the longer term, the agency added.

“With this expansion, Changi WRP will be one of the world’s largest membrane bioreactor facilities. More importantly, it will produce more treated used water effluent for NEWater production and increase our water recycling rate, which will allow us to ensure a robust and sustainable supply of water for Singapore’s future”, said Mr Yahya Abdul Ghani, PUB’s director of water reclamation (plants).

- CNA/kk

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Malaysia: Boulders and loose earth a likely problem when La Nina hits

SIRA HABIBU and ARNOLD LOH The Star 23 Jun 16;

PETALING JAYA: Granite boulders half-buried in hillslopes along roads around the country and slippery, loose earth at the slopes could prove to be a major problem with the onset of La Nina, which is likely to bring heavy rains.

On Penang island, the Public Works Department is facing a major headache.

Engineers have pulled out many loose boulders along Jalan Tun Sardon, a road that climbs the Penang Hill range from Paya Terubong to Balik Pulau and Bayan Lepas, said state department director Salleh Awang.

“The challenge is that many of the boulders farther uphill are on private land.

“The earthwork necessary to extract the boulders could damage the terrain or even the durian trees up there.

“We have told some of the landowners to keep an eye on landslide risks during wet weather,” he said.

An avalanche of granite boulders along the road on May 28 almost killed passing motorists while a boulder – estimated at 20 tonnes and as tall as a man – crushed the left side of a car, trapping the vehicle.

Salleh said his engineers had investigated the rockslide and found that it was a natural incident caused by heavy rain loosening the soil that had lost its protective plant growth during the drought earlier this year.

Slope experts conducted an inspection of Penang’s roads on June 7 and warned of landslide and water hazards along Jalan Teluk Bahang between Balik Pulau and Batu Ferringhi.

“Around the sharp bends on this stretch, water will gather during exceptionally heavy rain. Cars need to go slow there.

“We have sent men to clear all the drains and make sure rainwater runs off smoothly but the steep slopes and fallen foliage can clog the drains quickly in a storm,” Salleh said.

Around the country, PWD has identified 2,576 dangerous slopes on a map of landslide-prone sites along federal roads.

Of the number, 992 have been tagged as the most dangerous and required strengthening jobs, said Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof said.

Besides Penang, the slopes are located in Cameron Highlands, Lojing, Hulu Terengganu, Hulu Perak, Ampang (Selangor), Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, Kundasang and Sandakan in Sabah, as well as Kapit and Miri in Sarawak.

To monitor and repair dangerous slopes, JKR has been carrying out surveys across federal roads, excluding tolled highways.

“However, there are still many high-risk slopes elsewhere,” Fadil­lah said.

It would cost billions to repair and strengthen all the dangerous slopes, he added.

“We are implementing the slope-strengthening programme in phases according to priority and availability of funds,” he said.

The budget for JKR is only to secure the safety of slopes along federal roads.

“For roads under the purview of states and local councils, the cost is borne by the state government while JKR provides technical assistance.”

Fadillah said the Inter-Agency Slope Management committee comprising the Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government Ministry, Mineral and Geosciences Department, Meteorology Depart­ment, highway concessionaires and local governments, among others, was formed five years ago.

Apart from local councils, he said landowners should also bear responsibility in securing the safety of slopes.

Humidity a threat to landslide areas
The Star 23 Jun 16;

PETALING JAYA: Landslide-prone slopes could turn out to be disaster zones in the humid atmosphere and the authorities are zooming in on locations that need urgent attention.

As the weather is beyond control, the Public Works Department (PWD) is watching landslide-prone areas under its jurisdiction.

Science, Technology and Innova­tion Minister Datuk Seri Madius Tangau said the weather had remained humid since last weekend, although it should be dry during the current south-west monsoon season.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia), which is under the ministry, affirmed that the humid weather was caused by low air pressure over the South China Sea close to Malaysia.

The low pressure led to a build-up of clouds, bringing persistent rain.

“This humid climate is expected until mid-week. At the same time, there has been an increase in the intensity of rain,” Tangau said.

A MetMalaysia spokesman said the occurrence of La Nina could only be confirmed after October.

However, most climate models predict that La Nina would most probably occur by the end of the year, she said.

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Indonesia’s outermost islands sinking under palm oil expansion

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 22 Jun 16;

Indonesia’s outer islands that have peatlands are at risk of sinking due to the aggressive expansion of palm oil plantations. This has prompted the government to try and restore the damaged peatland areas on the islands.

The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG), tasked with restoring damaged peatland for the next five years, said the country’s outer islands were on the agency’s list of priority areas to be restored.

In Riau Islands, there are some islands, listed as outer islands, that have peatlands such as Tebing Tinggi, Bengkalis and Rangsang, according to BRG planning and cooperation deputy head Budi Wardhana.

“We know that palm oil expansion has been massive. Therefore, the islands that I mentioned are at risk. Bengkalis Island, for instance, is supposed to have 65 percent of its area protected, but there are so many palm oil plantations there, whether concessions or managed by local people on a small scale,” he said.

Budi said the sinking was caused by the subsidence of soil as the land dried up to make way for plantations.

“Peatland is like tea. When it’s dry, it will rise when water comes. So when the sea level falls, the peatland will be thrown out to the sea,” he said.

Likewise, Gadjah Mada University (UGM) swampland specialist Azwar Maas said the government should prioritize its restoration efforts in outer islands with peatlands as they were in danger of disappearing due to abrasions and subsidence.

“Sea water will come to peatlands and erode them. After that, the peatlands will go to the ocean,” he said.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry said the government had mapped outer islands with peatlands throughout the archipelago.

“We have West Sumatra, Bengkulu, Lampung and East Kalimantan. These are our areas,” the ministry’s environmental pollution and damage control director-general, Karliansyah, said.

The ministry will focus on restoring damaged peatlands on the BRG’s priority list as it will be easier if the ministry teams up with the agency.

“They’re doing restoration at 84 peatland hydrology areas in seven provinces. That’s why we’re asking for their data first so that there’s an agreement [on which areas should be prioritized],” Karliansyah said.

A map by the BRG reveals that 2.7 million hectares of peatland have to be restored over the next five years to prevent recurring land and forest fires. Out of 2.7 million hectares, 2.3 million, or 87 percent, are in concession areas.

The BRG has been able to map out which companies are responsible for the restoration of areas that have been damaged by years of peatland fires.

Most of them are agroforestry companies, with 217 palm oil companies operating across 589,000 hectares of restoration area.

And then there are 109 pulp and paper companies operating across 609,000 ha and 109 companies that produce natural forest products across 59,000 ha.

The BRG also plans to produce a 1:50,000 scale map to identify priority restoration areas and improve the zoning of peat conservation and cultivation areas. The agency has said it will prioritize its restoration attempts in badly damaged areas, such as those that have been burned more than three times.

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Indonesia: Extreme weather persists, blocking access to victims

Lita Aruperes, Ganug Nugroho Adi and Agus Maryono The Jakarta Post 22 Jun 16;

The extreme weather that has devastated parts of Indonesia continued on Tuesday, increasing the death toll as harsh conditions have hampered rescue efforts.

As of Tuesday, floods and landslides in Purworejo regency, Central Java, had killed 37 with seven people reported missing. A significant increase from the 22 fatalities recorded on Monday.

The National Mitigation Disaster Agency (BNPB) said that Purworejo administration had declared a
state of emergency for 30 days until July 18.

The BNPB said current conditions had hindered rescue operations because road access to villages in Purworejo were buried from landslides.

“I also have asked local police to provide bloodhounds to help find the missing people,” BNPB head Willem Rampangilei said.

Similarly, the local administration in Kebumen regency, Central Java, declared a 15-day state of emergency until July 3 after heavy rain fell for eight hours on Monday causing two deaths and six missing.

The Kebumen Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) also reported that hundreds of homes were inundated and four bridges collapsed.

A third state of emergency was declared in Surakarta, Central Java, by Mayor FX Hadi “Rudy” Rudyatmo on Tuesday, although the flooding that inundated 15 villages and three districts in the city had subsided.

Rudy said the government was preparing to repair the damaged infrastructure.

“Much infrastructure is damaged from the flooding and thus has to be repaired. The public works agency is still compiling data on the damaged infrastructure, and we are focusing on cleaning the areas that were flooded,” he said.

According to Rudy, the city’s poor drainage system contributed to the flooding.

In Banyumas, hundreds of residents are at risk of starvation as access to their homes has been cut off by landslides.

Likewise, around 600 people in Watuagung could not evacuate their village because landslides blocked access points.

“If, after one or two weeks, access to the village is still blocked, hundreds of Watuagung residents could begin starving,” a volunteer named Aris said, adding that the village was located in a hard-to-reach location through a narrow and bumpy road.

Banyumas Disaster Mitigation Agency has been trying to evacuate the residents but to no avail.

“The terrain is difficult. We have deployed heavy equipment but we are yet to reach the village. We’re still devising an effective evacuation method,” the agency’s head, Prasetyo, told The Jakarta Post.

According to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) it is predicted all six provinces in Java will see heavy rain with strong winds and thunder.

Willem said people needed to be cautious as the predicted heavy rainfall would likely cause flooding and landslides again.

Floods and landslides also occurred in North Sulawesi, killing one person in Manado.

The victim, Meity Mawuntu, was driving in a Toyota Avanza car with four other people when an electricity pole fell and hit the car.

Electricity blackouts affecting some areas of Manado also occurred as a result of the accident.

Meanwhile, Sangihe Island regency in North Sulawesi was hit by floods and landslides on Monday morning trapping four people. It is still unknown whether they have been rescued.

The BNPB reported that there were 200 people trapped in their homes.

In response, Sangihe Disaster Mitigation Agency, local military and police personnel, a search and rescue team and volunteer groups have established emergency posts and soup kitchens for victims. (wnd)

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Vietnam drought leaves one million in urgent need of food aid - EU

Worst drought in 90 years and seawater intrusion in Mekong River delta destroy fruit, rice and sugar crops
Alisa Tang Thomson Reuters Foundation 20 Jun 16;

BANGKOK, June 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An El Niño-induced drought in Vietnam has left 1 million people in urgent need of food assistance and 2 million people lacking access to drinking water, Europe's humanitarian aid agency said.

The country's worst drought in 90 years coupled with seawater intrusion into the Mekong River delta have destroyed fruit, rice and sugar crops in the world's third-largest rice exporter after India and Thailand.

"The disruption in precipitation patterns has affected the livelihoods, food security and access to safe water of the people of Vietnam," Christos Stylianides, EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, said in a statement.

The EU's humanitarian arm ECHO said it would provide 2 million euros ($2.3 million) in funding for emergency relief.

"This EU contribution will help provide life-saving assistance to affected families at this critical time, ensuring that their basic needs are met," Stylianides said.

Saltwater has encroached up the Mekong Delta up to 25 km (15 miles) further than average years, the ECHO statement said.

"Although the government had taken preparedness measures and launched some initiatives in anticipation, the scale of the current disaster has become much worse than initially foreseen, surpassing the local capacity to respond," the statement said.

Weather forecasters have warned of the possibility of a La Nina weather event, the counterpart of El Nino, which could bring intense rains to Vietnam in the second half of 2016.

(Reporting by Alisa Tang @alisatang, editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit to see more stories)

El Nino drought leaves millions hungry and in need of drinking water in Vietnam
South China Morning Post 21 JUn 16;

An El Niño-induced drought in Vietnam has left one million people in urgent need of food assistance and two million people lacking access to drinking water, Europe’s humanitarian aid agency said.

The country’s worst drought in 90 years coupled with seawater intrusion into the Mekong River delta have destroyed fruit, rice and sugar crops in the world’s third-largest rice exporter after India and Thailand.

“The disruption in precipitation patterns has affected the livelihoods, food security and access to safe water of the people of Vietnam,” Christos Stylianides, EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, said in a statement.

El Nino is an abnormal warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific that occurs once every three to four years.

A strong El Nino would normally cause drought in wide swathes of Southeast Asia, with Indonesia and the Philippines bearing the brunt of the drought. The 2015/16 El NIno is the worst since the 1997/98 edition, which just happens to be the worst Nino in recorded history.

The EU’s humanitarian arm ECHO said it would provide €2 million (US$2.3 million) in funding for emergency relief.

“This EU contribution will help provide life-saving assistance to affected families at this critical time, ensuring that their basic needs are met,” Stylianides said.

Saltwater has encroached up the Mekong Delta up to 25 kms further than average years, the ECHO statement said.

“Although the government had taken preparedness measures and launched some initiatives in anticipation, the scale of the current disaster has become much worse than initially foreseen, surpassing the local capacity to respond,” the statement said.

Weather forecasters have warned of the possibility of a La Nina weather event, the opposite of El Nino, which could bring intense monsoon rains to Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia in the second half of 2016.

Aside from rice, Vietnam is the second biggest producer of coffee in the world.

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Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific bans shark fins

Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 16;

HONG KONG: Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said Wednesday (Jun 22) it will ban carrying shark fins and products on all its flights, a victory for conservationists concerned for endangered species of the predator.

The southern Chinese city is one of the world's biggest markets for shark fin, which is viewed by many Asians as a delicacy, often served as a soup at expensive Chinese banquets.

Animal rights campaigners have been pushing Cathay for a carriage ban on shark fins for years. Other airlines including Thai Airways and Philippine Airlines banned the item in recent years.

"On the issue of shark's fin, with immediate effect we are happy to agree to ban the carriage," Cathay Pacific said in its statement.

The airline confirmed to AFP that the ban extended to all shark products on both cargo and passenger flights.

In its statement, the airline also announced that it has not approved any shipments for shark's fin in the past year, since it instituted a policy that any requests for such shipments must be assessed by an external panel of acknowledged experts.

The policy had been slammed by activists, though the airline said it was "agreed with two highly respected international shark conservation agencies".

"Based on our procedure for assessing whether shark products are sustainably sourced, we have rejected all 15 shipment requests for shark-related products in the last 12 months," said Cathay Pacific.

Marine conservationists praised Cathay on its decision, with one saying that it would make the city "proud".

"It's high time that Cathay took the stand. It would make Hong Kong people proud," Hong Kong-based Aquameridien conservation foundation executive director Sharon Kwok told AFP.

"More Hong Kong businesses need to follow the lead," said Kwok, who has been pushing for the ban for years.

Hong Kong's government in 2013 said it would stop serving shark fin at official functions as "a good example", following years of lobbying by conservation groups.

Environmental group WWF said 457 tonnes of shark products were imported into Hong Kong by air in 2015, a 31 percent drop from 2014.

More than 70 million sharks are killed every year, according to the WWF. Huge quantities are exported annually to Hong Kong, and most of those fins are then sent on to mainland China.

- CNA/AFP/hs

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Bangladesh declares lightning strikes a disaster as deaths surge

SYFUL ISLAM Reuters 22 Jun 16;

DHAKA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Bangladesh has seen a near-record number of deaths this year from a phenomenon that appears to be worsening with climate change: lightning strikes.

So far this year, 261 people have died from lightning in the country, putting the South Asian nation on track to beat last year's 265 deaths. Most lightning deaths usually occur during the warm months of March to July.

India has seen a similar surge in lightning deaths, with 93 people killed just in the past two days, officials said.

The problem has prompted Bangladesh’s government to add lightning strikes to the country’s list of official types of disasters, which includes floods, cyclones and storm surges, earthquakes, drought and riverbank erosion, among others.

As a result, the government now compensates lightning strike victims or their families with sums between 7,500 and 25,000 taka ($95 to $310). Through mid-May the government had paid 1.5 million taka ($18,400) in claims this year to families of 81 people who died because of lightning.


Scientists say warmer conditions associated with climate change are causing more water evaporation from the land and ocean, increasing clouds and rainfall and the potential for lightning storms.

“The months of April, May and June are the hottest in Bangladesh and the moist air quickly rises upward to meet with dry north-westerly winds to cool and form large storm clouds,” Dipen Bhattacharya, a physics and astronomy professor at Moreno Valley College in California, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Some specialists think that as the world warms up, we should expect more explosive lightning events … rather than a gradual increase,” he said.

During the three-day period of May 12 to May 14, 67 people died from lightning strikes in Bangladesh. Altogether, 132 people died in May after being hit by lightning, according to the Foundation for Disaster Forum, a Dhaka-based disaster preparedness network.

Altogether, 1,476 people have died from lightning in Bangladesh since 2010, Bangladesh Meteorological Department data shows.

According to a 2014 University of Berkeley study, lightning strikes are expected to increase by 12 percent for every degree Celsius of warming, with a 50 percent rise in lightning expected by the end of the century.

According to Bangladesh’s Met Office, prior to 1981, the country saw lightning strikes on average nine days each May. Since that time, the country has seen strikes an average of 12 days each May.


Experts in Bangladesh and internationally say the rise in fatal lightning strikes may also be related to the country’s population growth and to deforestation, which has led to the disappearance of many tall trees that earlier would have drawn lightning strikes.

Now fatalities often involve farmers using metal farm equipment in open fields, or people standing near metal cell phone towers or electrical power towers, experts said.

Some said they believed cell phone use also might be leading to more lightning fatalities, but other experts said that link is unlikely.

Lightning continues to kill people who take shelter under trees during electrical storms as well, they said.

Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that it would not be wise to blame the rise in deaths directly on climate change.

But A.Q.M. Mahbub, an earth and environmental science professor at the University of Dhaka, said rising global temperatures over the last century were driving a range of changing weather phenomenon, including stronger tropical cyclones, thunderstorms, floods, droughts and heatwaves.

“The increased numbers of lightning strikes may be due to global warming but it needs further research to be confirmed,” he said.

He said the United States, which once saw 200 to 300 lightning deaths a year, had managed to dramatically reduce that toll by making people aware of the risks of standing in open areas during thunderstorms.

In Bangladesh – or anywhere where storms threaten - “people should take shelter immediately in any (building) and farmers should flatten themselves to the soil when they meet any possibility of thunderstorm to avoid incidents,” he said.

(Reporting by Syful Islam; editing by Laurie Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit

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Indian farmers demand action as lightning kills 93 people in two days

Storm in eastern state of Bihar kills at least 56, while 37 die in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkand and Madhya Pradesh as monsoon rains sweep country
Vidhi Doshi The Guardian 22 Jun 16;

Farmers in east India are calling for action from the government after at least 93 people died in lightning storms across the country in two days.

A storm in Bihar state killed at least 56 people and injured another 28, mostly in rural areas, and authorities said a further 37 people had died in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkand and Madhya Pradesh.

Lal Babu Usvaha, a farmer from Kanti Butiya village near the city of Muzaffarpur in Bihar, said: “Work is work. We can’t stop because of the weather. We have to keep working in the fields. But we feel scared when we see so many clouds, so much electricity in the sky.”

Usvaha said the government should help farmers working in the fields, who make up a large proportion of the thousands of Indians who die in lightning strikes every year. “We need help, but what will the government do? What has the government ever done for farmers? We have so many problems, but they don’t care.”

Saffan Kumar, another farmer, said: “We can’t stay at home and we can’t go out. We’re stuck. We are willing to do anything, if the government can help us. We’re prepared to do what they say.”

Lightning strikes are relatively common in India during the June to October monsoon, which hit the southern coast earlier this month, but this week’s toll is particularly high.

Rakesh Kumar Singh, the secretary of a Bihar farmers’ collective called Jan Nirman Kendra, said Tuesday’s storm began at about 3pm in the district of Samastipur. “I was driving, and the light in the sky was so bright that I couldn’t see anything,” he said. “But I was too scared to stop, so I kept driving. It was as though there was a war happening in the sky.”

In the village of Panchayat Chowk, a coconut tree was felled by lightning, killing a man. Another man has gone missing in the village. Singh said: “Before the rains came farmers were worried about drought. Now that it’s raining, they are working in the fields all day, and the rain can start at any time. The farmers know not to stand under trees or in open fields, so they run to the nearest shelter they can find.

“There are many more deaths all around Bihar, and the famers are very worried,” he said, adding that years of perceived government inaction meant many farmers had lost faith in it to help them.

“There are hundreds of thousands of farmers in Bihar … The government can’t do anything. Whatever has to be done, we will have to do ourselves.”

The government has announced that it will give 400,000 rupees (£4,000) to each of the lightning victims’ families to provide relief. Other relief funds may also be accessible to injured farmers, depending on the severity of their injuries.

More than 2,500 people were killed by lightning in India in 2014, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, the most recent figures available.

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'Zombie corals' pose new threat to world's reefs

Scientists discover corals that look healthy but cannot reproduce, dashing hopes such reefs could repopulate bleached areas
Damian Carrington The Guardian 22 Jun 16;

Zombie corals, which look healthy but cannot reproduce, have been discovered by researchers, dashing hopes that such reefs could repopulate areas destroyed by bleaching.

Scientists have also found that a common ingredient in sunscreen is killing and mutating corals in tourist spots.

The new evidence of harm to corals comes as the most widespread coral bleaching event in recorded history is sweeping the world’s oceans. Water temperatures have been driven up by a run of record-breaking hot years, caused by climate change and the El Niño phenomenon. Very warm water causes corals to lose the algae that normally live inside them and help them feed.

Corals in every major reef region have already experienced severe bleaching. About 93% of the reefs on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have been affected, and almost a quarter of the reef is now dead. Corals are hotspots of biodiversity and crucial nurseries for fish, upon which 1 billion people rely for nourishment.

The new research, presented at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Hawaii, sampled 327 coral colonies across the Caribbean to assess the reproductive ability of apparently healthy elkhorn coral, which is a threatened species.

In some places, including two sites in the Florida Keys, the coral had no eggs or sperm and therefore zero ability to reproduce. The scientists said this indicates these elkhorn corals are are essentially walking dead and will eventually die out, dubbing them “zombie corals”.

“It’s pretty discouraging,” said John Fauth, at the University of Central Florida and one of the team. “This is not good news.”

However, two samples from the more remote St Croix area found the coral had 100% reproduction ability. “Basically the places with the heaviest tourism had the most severe damage,” Fauth said.

Another study Fauth was part of found that oxybenzone, a common UV-filtering compound in sunscreen, is common in Hawaii, Florida and the US Virgin Islands.

The chemical kills coral but also causes DNA damage in adult coral and deforms the larval stage, making normal development unlikely. An earlier study showed that the highest concentrations of oxybenzone were found on the reefs most popular with tourists.

The new work found that concentrations of oxybenzone peak at the high tide. “We think aerosol sunscreen is to blame,” said Fauth. When someone sprays sunscreen on, much of it falls on the beach, he said, so the high tide comes collects the lost spray and washes it back out to sea.

The research also showed the toxic effects to coral, sea urchin embryos, shrimp larvae, and fish larvae exposed to preservatives, UV absorbers and microbeads from personal care products.

“We have to act now,” Fauth said. “It is simple things like not using chemicals that harm our coral. Wear rash guards or go without sunscreen during dives. And it is making a serious commitment to conservation and management of our reefs. We want to do everything we can to ensure that the underwater beauty we see today is around for generations to come.”

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