Best of our wild blogs: 2 Jul 16

World Environment Day 2016 Saving Gaia Beach Cleanup and video
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

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Disrupting dependence in water, food, fuel

Audrey Tan Straits Times 2 Jul 16;

Planning and innovation are how Singapore intends - in the face of new threats - to put food and water on the table
On the surface, it would seem a no brainer that a large country blessed with mountains, rivers and lakes would have a more ready source of water to rely on than a tiny city state.

And yet this year, in the midst of a blistering heatwave and drought in Malaysia that saw water levels in reservoirs fall to new lows, it was tiny Singapore that supplied additional potable water to Johor to help it tide over a shortfall.

For the record, Singapore is by land area 460 times smaller than Malaysia. The city state's 17 freshwater reservoirs combined are but a fifth the size of Johor's Linggiu Reservoir, which when rainfall is as expected is able to meet 60 per cent of Singapore's water needs.

So how has the city state managed to overturn conventional wisdom on water supply?

The story of how it broke a cycle of water dependence that once threatened its very survival is a tale of determined and astute planning, learning and innovation which, after 50 years of unceasing effort, has wrought a disruption that has won it international acclaim. Today, Singapore is not only steadily moving towards greater self-sufficiency in water supply, but also exporting water purification technology to countries around the world.

Its ambition for security of supply is not limited to water alone but extends to food and energy, two other essentials whose shortfall has long been the bane of small states since their production is usually tied to the amount of land a country controls.

So it is no mean feat that Singapore was last year ranked in the Economist Intelligence Unit's Global Food Security Index as the second-most food secure country, behind the United States.

And yet, this is no time to sit back and relax for climate change and political instability in various parts of the globe pose new threats to supplies of water, food and fuel.

Just how does Singapore hope to further disrupt its dependence in these areas, and what are its chances of success?


Out of sheer necessity, Singapore became an accidental pioneer in the logistics and technology of weather-proof water supply. For that is precisely what Newater and desalination are - water sources that do not depend on rainfall from one year to the next. This quality has turned out to be a great virtue in a world plagued by increasingly unpredictable weather patterns due in part to global warming.

Singapore has four sources of water. The lion's share is raw water from Malaysia, largely from Linggiu Reservoir; followed by Newater or treated used water; then treated sea water or desalination; and finally local catchment water from the reservoirs here.

The recent decline of water levels at Johor's Linggiu Reservoir, which fell from 80 per cent at the start of last year to a record low of 33 per cent last month, has added to the urgency of finding new sources or enhancing the efficiency of recycling and desalination. One other consideration is that Singapore's remaining water treaty with Malaysia expires in 2061.

Singapore's small size limits the amount of rainwater it can harness and store. Going by this measure, it is water challenged. That could be why last August, Washington-based think-tank World Resources Institute (WRI) ranked Singapore among the countries in greatest danger of running out of water by 2040, against a backdrop of climate change and rapid population growth. The ranking was based on an index that measures competition for and depletion of surface water, such as lakes and rivers.


Singapore has had to develop its own sustainable urban solutions for many decades to address constraints such as the lack of land, water and energy, long before sustainability became a megatrend.

MR GOH CHEE KIONG, executive director of cleantech and cities, infrastructure and industrial solutions at the Economic Development Board.
As it is, two-thirds of Singapore's land area is water catchment. The PUB, the national water agency, plans to increase this to 90 per cent of the island by 2060. A future reservoir could be created between Tanjong Pagar and Pulau Brani to retain rainwater from the Greater Southern Waterfront, a new precinct in Marina South.

But what the WRI overlooked was Singapore's ability to treat sea water, which it is surrounded by, and re-use water, thanks to the technology behind Newater and its building of a Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS).

Phase 1 of the DTSS was completed in 2008 at a cost of $3.4 billion. Planning work for Phase 2 began two years ago and tenders for various parts of it are expected to be called from this year.

This is a superhighway to channel used water to a centralised water reclamation plant and allow Singapore to close the water loop. It can then, in theory, recycle 100 per cent of its water infinitely - and go without rain.

That is why water experts here were quick to rubbish the WRI's findings, saying scientific developments will boost the Republic's water security.

Currently, Newater and desalination can meet up to 55 per cent of Singapore's water needs. But PUB says they could together make up up to 85 per cent by 2060, when water demand is expected to double from the current 430 million gallons used daily. Singapore is already building its fifth Newater plant, and PUB had in April called for a tender for Singapore's fourth desalination plant, set to be completed by 2019. PUB is also exploring the possibility of a fifth desalination plant on Jurong Island.

It is this foresight that has allowed Singapore to turn a weak spot into a competitive advantage.

Research in this area is ongoing and to date, PUB has been involved in 467 R&D projects with a total value of $323 million. Singapore has developed more cost-effective and energy-efficient ways to filter water. These technologies have travelled far.

How far? A water purification membrane developed at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is now being tested in the International Space Station. It contains aquaporin, a protein found in all living things, including the human kidney, which speeds up water flow and acts as a gate that allows only water molecules through, filtering out pollutants in the process. And a self-cleaning membrane is being used by a dye factory in Qingdao, China, to clean waste water before it is discharged back into rivers and lakes.

"Singapore's experience," says Professor Ng Wun Jern, executive director of NTU's Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute, "has helped us prepare in advance... We are now in a good position to offer our technologies to meet the needs of other developing countries which are facing water stresses due to climate change, increasing populations from rural-urban migration, and development."


Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its food but does so from more than 160 countries, a diversification strategy that acts as a safeguard against shortages and price volatility. That means even if a country were to impose a restriction or ban on food exports to Singapore, as Malaysia has done with fish exports during festive seasons such as Chinese New Year, Singaporeans can still enjoy food at stable prices.

In contrast to its water strategy where it has moved to reduce imports over time, it has actually cut local food production, phasing out over the last few decades farms where pigs and other animals were once reared, to free up land for housing and industry. The share of land used for agriculture has fallen from 25 per cent in 1965 to barely 1 per cent today.

Yet, Singapore was last year ranked the second-most food secure country, behind the United States, in the Economist Intelligence Unit's Global Food Security Index. Food security is measured in terms of food availability, affordability and quality and safety.

There are only three food items for which the Government has set a target of being partly self-sufficient: eggs for which the target is to have 30 per cent produced locally, fish at 15 per cent and leafy vegetables at 10 per cent. Thanks to R&D, it is moving steadily towards meeting these targets. Last year, Singapore produced 24 per cent of eggs consumed, 10 per cent of fish, and 13 per cent of leafy vegetables.

Singapore can aim for partial self-sufficiency in these three items because they do not require lots of land to produce - egg and leafy vegetable production can be done in layers, and fish farms are offshore, says Dr Cecilia Tortajada, senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Local farmers also receive government help to boost productivity. Between 2012 and last month, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) disbursed more than $15 million to local farms for R&D to boost productivity and capability. "With limited resources and land, there is a need to harness technologies and innovations to produce more with less," says the AVA.

The goal? Intensive farming that maximises space and resources and needs minimal manpower.

The AVA has worked with farm entrepreneur Sky Greens, for example, to do research on a vertical farming system that could offer 10 times the yield, compared to traditional land-based farming. "Our agricultural sector, though small, plays an important role in Singapore's food security as it helps to buffer against sudden supply disruptions," the AVA says.

Dr Tortajada, who conducts research into food security, says: "There is no country in the world that is self-sufficient when it comes to food, as it is more important to invest in diversifying sources of food that are safe and reliable from countries where they grow more readily." On Singapore's strength, she says: "It started planning as early as 1965, which has helped the country stay resilient."


Imagine if Singapore could capture and store every ray of sunshine that falls on the island. In this scenario, the ubiquitous covered walkways may light a way forward.

Scientists at NTU are working on flexible solar panels that can be installed on the curved roofs of these walkways, as well as on building facades and windows. Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of NTU's Energy Research Institute, says innovations like these are ways to overcome land constraints - long cited as a factor limiting widespread solar adoption.

Even though solar energy has been touted as the most promising source of renewable energy for Singapore, the sun now accounts for less than 1 per cent of electricity generated. The plan is to ramp up solar energy to 5 per cent by 2020. Most of Singapore's natural gas supply - which powers about 95 per cent of the country's electricity - comes from Malaysia and Indonesia via offshore pipelines as well as liquefied natural gas imported from farther afield and stored at the Jurong Island terminal.

Scientists are also looking into other forms of renewable energy, such as from wind and the tides.

Yet another NTU project at the offshore Semakau Landfill, called the Renewable Energy Integration Demonstrator Singapore, is the region's first micro-grid to integrate multiple renewable energy sources.

Long-term efforts could include an Asean power grid, a planned network to connect the national grids of all 10 Asean countries. It is still in the works even though the idea was floated as early as in the 1980s. The research being done on Semakau in the area of grid integration could pave the way for Singapore to tap various renewable energy sources outside the city state. These could include solar, wind, marine or even geothermal energy from neighbouring countries, says Prof Subodh.

With the Paris Agreement to mitigate climate change by cutting carbon emissions, it is vital that Singapore continue to innovate in this area.

Earlier this year, the Government announced that it will over the next five years pump in $900 million, out of the $19 billion of new public sector R&D funding, into urban solutions and sustainability. These include research into water and clean energy.

As Mr Goh Chee Kiong, executive director of cleantech and cities, infrastructure and industrial solutions at the Economic Development Board, puts it: "Singapore has had to develop its own sustainable urban solutions for many decades to address constraints such as the lack of land, water and energy, long before sustainability became a megatrend."

That has allowed the country to stay ahead of the curve. It is not, however, resting on its laurels but working hard to meet fresh challenges and exploit new technologies.

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Temperatures could hit 35°C in first week of July: MSS

Channel NewsAsia 1 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE: A few days of dry and warm weather conditions can be expected in the first week of July, with daily maximum temperatures reaching a high of 35°C, the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said on Friday (Jul 1).

For other days in the first fortnight of July 2016, the daily maximum temperature is forecast to range between 32°C and 34°C, it added.

MSS said prevailing southwest monsoon conditions will continue in the first fortnight of July, and the low level winds are expected to blow mainly from the southeast or southwest.

It added that for the first half of July, most of the thundery showers due to strong solar heating of land areas are forecast to occur in the late morning and early afternoon on four to six days.

In addition, on one or two mornings, the passage of a Sumatra squall is expected to bring thundery showers with gusty winds to most parts of the island, but rainfall for the whole period is likely to be normal.


Most of Singapore received above average rainfall in June, said the MSS. The area around Jurong received the highest rainfall of 374.2mm - 126 per cent above average, while the area around Admiralty received the least with 116mm, 19 per cent below average.

Heavy thundery showers on Jun 17 also broke records - the rain that fell over Tuas recorded a daily total rainfall of 217mm, the highest ever recorded for the month of June. The previous highest daily total rainfall record for June was 144.6mm on Jun 4, 2011 at Pasir Ris.

In the last week of June, Singapore experienced a few warm days with low rainfall, and the daily maximum temperature reached 35.7°C on Jun 29, the highest temperature recorded for June 2016. On days that there was widespread rain, daily minimum temperatures hit between 22.2°C and 22.5°C.

MSS said that at the Changi climate station, the mean monthly temperature recorded for June was 28.5°C, slightly warmer than the long-term mean of 28.3°C but cooler than the mean temperature of 29.0°C for June recorded in the last three years.

- CNA/av

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Malaysia: Temporary halt to water rationing in Mersing

The Star 2 Jul 16;

JOHOR BARU: Over 15,000 residents in Mersing are in for some festive joy as their scheduled water supply exercise will be temporarily halted this coming Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Syarikat Air Johor Holdings Sdn Bhh chief executive officer Abdul Wahab Abdul Hamid said that they would ensure that there would be no water supply disruption during the 12 days period between June 29 and July 10 (fourth day of Hari Raya).

He added that after that period, the scheduled water supply would resume as previously planned between May 15 and July 16.

“We understand that during the festive season, many people will come back and get together with their families therefore enough water supply is needed during this period.

“During this time, demand for water will increase to about 300% compared to the normal consumption, therefore people must use water with care to prevent disruptions,” he said during a break of fast dinner with the media at Selasih Restaurant, Sri Gelam here recently.

He added that the water level at Congok dam was last recorded at 3.63m compared to its critical level of 4.88m while the Sungai Mersing water level recorded at 12.08m compared to its warning level of 11.70m.

“Although the water level at Congok dam is below the critical level, it is supported by a back up supply by Sungai Mersing.

“We have also begun pumping water from Sungai Jemari that acts as a feeder river to the Congok dam since June 13 to improve the water level,” he said.

He added that so far other areas in the state were stable and would not be facing any water disruption, especially during the festive season.

Pahang villages to expect low water pressure this Raya
New Straits Times 1 Jul 16;

KUANTAN: With many expected to return to their hometowns for Hari Raya Aidilfitri, some Felda settlements and traditional villages in Pahang are expected to experience low water pressure.

Pahang Water Management Bhd (PAIP) in a statement today, said that in order to ensure enough water supply during the festive period, it has prepared 200 static tanks for the purpose.

“PAIP has also prepared 30 water tankers, which will be mobilised in the event of a death.

“Priority also would be given to critical areas such as dialysis centres, elderly care centres and schools,” the statement read.

As for the areas that are currently experiencing water supply disruption due to the El-Nino phenomenon namely in Temerloh, PAIP would continue to deploy its static tanks (15) and water tankers (three) to the affected areas.

For complaints and enquiries, the public can contact the 24-hour PAIP customer service centre at 09- 573 9999 or visit

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Indonesia: Fire razes forests near Lake Toba

Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 1 Jul 16;

Forest fires that broke out in the tourist resort area of Lake Toba this week have been made worse as a result of extreme dry weather and strong winds.

Slash-and-burn activities have been blamed for many of the fires.

Karo Regency Forestry Office head Martin Sitepu said the forest fires started on June 27 and continued for almost every day over the past week in the Sipiso-piso tourist area, located at the border area between Simalungun and Karo regencies in North Sumatra.

He added that his office and members of the community managed to extinguish fires in Sipiso-piso but the next day a fire appeared in Kodon-Kodon village, Karo regency, and on Wednesday the fire expanded to other areas in Tongging village.

“Today is Siosar village’s turn. Various efforts have been made to extinguish the fire, but the extreme weather and very strong wind caused difficulties,” Martin told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

He said the wildfires were man-made. Martin said during the current dry season a lot of people carried out burning activities in their farms. He, however, said they failed to control the fires, so they spread from their farms and reached the protected forest driven by strong winds.

Martin claimed that none of the residents and plantation companies had been brought to court for the forest fires in the Lake Toba area due to a lack of sufficient evidence to bring the fire starters to trial.

Dolok Sipiso-piso Green Forum (Forsidos) leader Hanson Munthe said the lack of prosecutions was proof of the country’s inability to prevent such fires and that forest fires in the region had been taking place annually but the perpetrators had never been brought to justice.

He added that the forest fires in the Paropo and Sipiso-piso areas currently spanned 20 hectares and the authorities should already know who the culprits were because the sources of the fires were in protected areas.

“The law must be enforced to address forest fires in the Lake Toba region, failing which I fear that in the not too distant future, the entire forests around Lake Toba will already have been damaged,” said Hanson.

The 2015 Kalpataru environmental award recipient Marandus Sirait, of Toba Samosir regency, expressed concern about the current condition of forests in the Lake Toba region because nearly 50 percent of the forested areas around Lake Toba had been razed in the course of the past 20 years, such as in Samosir, Simalungun, Karo and Toba Samosir regencies.

“Around 50 percent of forests in a number of areas around Lake Toba have been damaged due to fires and forest conversion,” said Marandus.

The damaged forested areas were located in Ajibata, Lumbanjulu and Bonatualunasi districts in Toba Samosir, Tele district in Samosir and Gersang Sipanganbolon district at the borders of Parapat, Toba Samosir and Simalungun regencies.

Recently, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited the Lake Toba area and instructed all related ministers to speed up the development of the Lake Toba resort area in North Sumatra to transform it into the “Monaco of Asia”.

Jokowi told the North Sumatra provincial administration and all regencies around Lake Toba to work together with relevant ministries in developing the area as an international tourist destination.

The government has allocated Rp 21 trillion (US$1.6 billion), Rp 10 trillion of which is from the state budget and the rest from the private sector, for the cost of developing the area.

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Indonesia: Divers Spot Badly Injured Whale Shark in Bali

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 1 Jul 16;

Jakarta. The authorities are trying to locate a badly injured whale shark that was spotted by divers in the Nusa Penida marine conservation area in Bali earlier this week.

A picture of the shark was circulated on various social media sites after tourist divers Marketa Olmerova and Aldrich Olmer found the giant fish swimming slowly and bleeding heavily on Wednesday (29/06).

The two divers noticed five cuts around the shark's fins and abdomen, presumably caused by a speedboat propeller. They reported their discovery to dive operator and marine foundation Coral Triangle Center (CTC), which is located on Nusa Penida.

The news also caught the attention of the Klungklung district's Marine and Fisheries Agency, as well as the Denpasar Center for Coastal and Marine Resources (BPSPL), which prompted the authorities and the CTC to launch an attempt at rescuing the severely injured fish, as reported by environmental news outlet Mongabay Indonesia.

"Yesterday we found a whale shark, but it was not the injured one. It is still on the loose," the CTC's Nusa Penida coordinator Wira Sanjaya said on Friday. "We are currently monitoring the situation on a daily basis, and cooperating with veterinarians for medical treatment."

According to Wira, they have issued a code of conduct for divers and boat operators to ensure proper handling of such situations in future.

"The whale shark is still a baby, so we're afraid it won't be able to survive," Marthen Welly of the CTC's Learning Site Center told Mongabay.

There are usually several whale sharks present in the Nusa Penida area during this time of year, coinciding with their annual migration. Whale sharks were also spotted in Gorontalo and Sulawesi since last month, state-run Antara news agency reported.

The sharks are a protected species in Indonesia and the authorities are looking at the establishment of a public education program to promote conservation efforts.

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Indonesia: West Kalimantan Government Joins APP and Belantara Foundation for Sustainable Development Project

West Kalimantan government signs a memorandum of understanding with pulp and paper company Asia Pulp and Paper and its affiliate organization of Belantara Foundation for a sustainable landscape development project. (Photo courtesy of APP)
Phoebe Sudargo Jakarta Globe 1 Jul 16;

Jakarta. The West Kalimantan government signed a memorandum of understanding with pulp and paper company Asia Pulp and Paper and its affiliate organization Belantara Foundation for a sustainable landscape development project, APP said in a statement on Wednesday (29/6).

The MoU involves a series of projects focusing on prevention of forest fires, protection of forest and peatlands, as well as local social welfare development in the province.

One such projects includes a sustainable energy development made of Philippine Tung’s (Reutealis trisperma (Blanco) Airy Shaw), locally known as Kemiri Sunan’s fruit.

The biodiesel pilot project, as initiated by the West Kalimantan government, will involve West Kalimantan Forestry Office, APP, Belantara Foundation and Tanjungpura University.

“The development of Philippine Tung plantation has multiple goals: to increase land productivity, local people’s income, environmental sustainability and renewable energy supply,” Agus P. Sari, chief executive of Belantara Foundation, a foundation established by APP to seek and manage funding to support a number of landscape scale conservation projects in Indonesia's Sumatera and Kalimantan islands, said in the statement.

The project will turn 5,000 hectares of land within Production Forest in Landak, Mempawah and Kubu Raya districts into a Philippine Tung plantation, and would fall under Tanjungpura University’s care. The project is expected to produce 30,000 to 40,000 tons of diesel annually.

APP has been involved in several environmental projects in West Kalimantan, including Desa Makmur Peduli Api (DMPA), a forest fire prevention project.

“Sustainable development that is both beneficial for the environment and local people always been the goal of our Forest Conservation Policy [FCP]” Aida Greenbury, APP’s managing director of sustainability, said.

APP pledges to donate $10 million to the forest fire prevention project over the course of fiver years and commit to creating 500 sustainable villages that are less dependent on agroforestry economic.

APP has also built more than 5,000 dams for further forest fire prevention.

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