Best of our wild blogs: 4 Aug 16

Reefy garden at Changi's rocky shore
wild shores of singapore

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Moving from tension to symbiosis in a distinctive city

EUGENE K B TAN Today Online 4 Aug 16;

For decades now, meticulous urban planning has enabled Singapore to attain a high quality of living, delicately balancing the inherent tension between the economy and the environment, which includes our natural, built and cultural heritage. This will get harder as competing demands grow and land scarcity remains our abiding national fate.

In recent years, the demolition of old landmark buildings and cemeteries to make way for new housing estates and roads, and the growing preference for high-rise buildings over old neighbourhoods, have sparked a bout of national soul-searching.

In a similar vein, the angst, anxiety and anger over the population policy — and whether rapid immigration affects Singapore’s national identity — have raised questions over whether the balance between economic and social concerns has been properly struck.

Can Singapore have economic progress and retain as much of the environment as well as its identity and character? Does one have to trump the other?

To regard the economy and the environment as a zero-sum proposition, comprising two distinct sets of rights, interests and stakeholders, is a false dichotomy. Trade-offs invariably connote domination (where one prevails over the other) or compromise (where both give in to maintain harmony).

Instead, we should aim to attain an optimal, rather than maximising, outcome in our policy choices. In the former, a decision is made on the basis that the economy and environment are collectively not worse off, and overall benefit to society increases. In a maximising outcome scenario, either the economy or the environment is preferred with the other made worse off.

Singapore’s water policy is a good example of making optimal choices despite constraints. If the authorities had traded off water self-sufficiency against other pressing economic imperatives because of land-size limitations, we would not only be less confident of our own national security but would not have forged ahead with developing water technology that we now sell to the world.

This shift requires making policies with a multi-generational horizon and pricing the intangible. With a focus on the long term, extreme pendulum swings in policy options are avoided.

Policymaking, however, is under pressure to move faster in this digital age of instant gratification, answers and solutions. Partly socialised by the “change as modernisation” mindset, Singaporeans also expect rapid economic progress and ever-higher standards of living.

Yet, we also yearn for constancy and familiarity in our surroundings and lament the disappearing heritage — both natural and man-made. We know what we have gained, but we also increasingly question whether we really know what we have lost. How can Singapore reconcile such policy conundrums between long-term and short-term goals, and between progress and preservation?

There are no easy answers. But if the economy constantly trumps the environment, then policy strategies and interventions are not likely to give sufficient weight to concerns of social justice and inequalities since such intangible concerns do not lend themselves easily to placing an economic value on.

Furthermore, the “haves” either own or are better placed to access finance, land and other resources that would render them better placed to benefit from a policy framework that privileges economic-driven cost-benefit analysis.

The abiding focus on economic value often leads to costs being socialised but the benefits privatised. In such a scenario, policy decision-making is unlikely to consider, among other things, time horizons beyond current norms or move beyond pure economic concerns.

Neither would due attention and weight be accorded to intangibles nor would negative externalities be properly accounted for. Not everything, such as biodiversity and social equality, has a ready price tag.

However, if the environment constantly trumps the economy, that would also be problematic as development could be unnecessarily hindered.

An interesting case study is the proposed MRT Cross Island Line (CRL), which has to take into account several issues.

The authorities have to decide whether to build the CRL route directly through the central catchment nature reserve, or around it. The direct-alignment option entails constructing a 2km-long, 40m-deep tunnel beneath the nature reserve.

This translates to savings in travelling time on the CRL, but its environmental effects are uncertain. On the other hand, the skirting alignment will not cross under the nature reserve, but measuring 9km, will require building longer tunnels and extra ventilation facilities as well as additional compulsory acquisition of land.

Although not required, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) was carried out for the first time in MRT construction. The first phase of the study was published earlier this year, noting that construction work could be carried out with “moderate impact” on some parts of the nature reserve. The second phase of the EIA is expected to be completed by the end of this year. With valuable information from the EIA, we can better assess the impact of both alignment options, enabling all relevant considerations to be factored into decision-making.

In this regard, we should adhere to the precautionary principle, which enjoins us, even with the lack of scientific certainty, to respond to identified threats of serious or irreversible damage to the environment or human health by not postponing cost-effective measures that can help prevent or reduce environmental degradation or damage to human health.

How the authorities come to a final decision on the CRL and how much weight is placed on the EIA will be closely watched.

Following an EIA, the developer of the Mandai eco-tourism hub announced last week changes to the development plans to reduce the developmental impact on the area. This could be the start of a putative model for policymaking in the future where environmental studies are conducted for major development projects.

The quest to balance economic growth with environment concerns and social character is not a mere luxury but a growing imperative. As it seeks its place in the league of global cities while promoting a sense of belonging among its residents, Singapore needs to focus more on what it is that makes the city distinctive as well as a home for everyone.

With the benefit of strong state finances combined with relatively sound environmental policies and institutions, Singapore is well positioned to tackle both economic and environmental challenges in a holistic manner without the convenient resort to trade-offs and being held captive by the need to always opt for the lowest-cost option. And if trade-offs are necessary, there must be proper checks and balances to ensure an appropriate balance is struck between competing issues of progress and preservation.


Eugene K B Tan is associate professor of law at the School of Law, Singapore Management University.

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Tackle future challenges with same spirit as Singapore's pioneers: Lawrence Wong

Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 3 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: Major plans to transform Singapore's urban landscape - like the High-Speed Rail linking Singapore with Malaysia and Jurong Lake District projects - are in the pipeline, but along with that, comes new challenges.

The key to tackle these challenges, according to Minister of National Development (MND) Lawrence Wong, is to "continue to press forward with the same spirit as Singapore's pioneers". He was speaking at MND's National Day Observance Ceremony on Wednesday (Aug 3).

Mr Wong added that Singapore's Golden Jubilee may have passed, but its Golden Age still lies ahead.

Awards were given out to MND agencies, as a nod to significant and innovative projects that contribute towards the vision of making Singapore "an Endearing Home and Distinctive Global City".

Twelve projects were chosen this year, including the inscription of Singapore Botanic Gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore's efforts to tackle plankton blooms after the devastating episode which wiped out 500 tonnes of fish in the Johor Straits in February last year, and Urban Redevelopment Authority's car-free zone pilot.

Another project that won was the HDB Greenprint @ Yuhua pilot, which was completed in November last year. Some of the benefits from the pilot are cooler homes, thanks to vertical greenery which reduced the surface temperature of HDB blocks by as much as 7 degrees Celsius. The surround temperature has also been brought down by up to 1.6 degrees Celsius with the aid of green roofs.

In addition, energy-efficient infrastructure like lifts and street lamps, and using solar energy to power common services within blocks, can save 1.81 GWh per year - enough to power up to 370 4-room flats.

Dr Johnny Wong, Group Director (Building & Research Institute), HDB said Yuhua was chosen as it was a mature estate of about 30 years, and there are more elderly residents living in the area.

“We wanted to take up the challenge to see ... if we introduce green features, how can we engage the elderly residents so that they buy into eco-living and let them know how their lives can be enhanced with these green features and how they can help the environment. It’s a little bit easier to when we introduce and educate the younger population. But we also want the elderly to be involved in this movement,” Dr Wong added.

"MND's work has defined and shaped our Singaporean way of life, be it our unique HDB living, our garden city or our beautiful skyline. So, our agencies in the MND family and our policies touch the lives of many Singaporeans, and we should continue this work in shaping our future for the next 50 years", said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

- CNA/xk/dl

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Indonesia: President Jokowi orders pause to cement projects

Ina Parlina The Jakarta Post 3 Aug 16;

Not gonna take it: President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo receives a group of women, known as Kartini Kendeng, and other male protesters at the State Palace in Jakarta on Tuesday.(Courtesy of State Palace)

The people of the Kendeng Mountains in the northern part of Central Java can now breathe a temporary sigh of relief following an order from President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo that further environmental impact analyses would be needed before cement factory operations and mining could start in the area.

Following his meeting with the Kendeng women, who are known in the media as the Kartini of Kendeng and grabbed headlines for planting their feet into cement pulp to protest the construction of cement factories in their area, Jokowi said that the analyses are to ensure that the construction of cement factories in the karst topographical region would not damage the environment.

The residents of Kendeng have been fighting for years to stop the development of the factories they believed would threaten their livelihoods and their sources of water. Some companies, including state-owned PT Semen Indonesia, are expected to open factories in the area soon. Construction of PT Semen’s factory is 95 percent complete.

On Tuesday, Jokowi Widodo ordered relevant ministries to start the study, known as a strategic environmental assessment (KLHS), an environmental assessment that regional administrations have to carry out before issuing permits for land or forest management, as stipulated in the 2009 law on environmental management and protection.

With Jokowi’s order, any future mining activities in the areas can only be conducted after the environmental study yields its final results, although construction of factories in the area can continue.

The President has tasked Presidential Chief of Staff Teten Masduki to lead the study that also involves a number of ministries, including the Environment and Forestry Ministry, and local administrations in the area.

“Probably the study will wrap up after one year,” said Teten, who accompanied Jokowi during the meeting and has previously engaged in a meeting with the Kendeng people.

“The result of the study will become a reference for us all, whether the local administrations, the central government, investors, or the locals,” Teten added.

Both Jokowi and the Kendeng farmers, according to Teten, engaged in a discussion in the Javanese language during the meeting.

Jokowi also urged Semen Indonesia to start conducting comprehensive dialogues with the Kendeng people and the local administrations.

Responding to Jokowi’s decision, representatives from the Mt. Kendeng Society Network (JMPPK) said that people from the area to be affected by the cement plants, people in Rembang, Pati and Grobogan, could now play a larger role deciding the fate of the mining activities in the karst region.

“The local residents are ready to engage in dialogue [with all relevant parties],” said one of the Kendeng farmers, Gunretno.

Gunretno said that the Kendeng people had never been consulted regarding the plan to open cement factories in the area.

Semen Indonesia corporate secretary Agung Wiharto said his firm would wait for official notification from the government before making any decision related to the Kendeng issue. The company plans to conduct trial operations in October this year before commercial production starts next year.

Other cement firms such as PT Sahabat Mulia Sakti, a subsidiary of the big cement company PT Indocement, PT Vanda Prima Listri and PT Imasco Tambang have announced plans to build cement plants in Pati, Grobogan and Blora.

In November 2015, Semarang State Administrative Court (PTUN) annulled the plans to construct a cement plant in Pati as they violated the regional regulation on spatial planning. However, other development plans are still being processed.

Jokowi Meets Cement Factory Protesters, Implements Strategic Environmental Assessment
Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 3 Aug 16;

Jakarta. Months after an unusual two-day demonstration against a planned cement factory construction at the State Palace, Jakarta, several female protesters and representatives finally met President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to discuss the future of their Mount Kendeng homes in Rembang district, Central Java, on Tuesday (02/08).

In April, nine brave women encased their feet in cement blocks and were determined to meet the president since. The women were famously dubbed as kartini Kendeng, (women from Kendeng). Last week, the women continued to protest against the cement plant construction by setting up a makeshift tent outside the State Palace in Jakarta.

Jokowi met 17 representatives from Kendeng, along with an academic from Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB), Dr. Soeryo Adiwibowo, at the State Palace.

Although the discussion did not lead to a permanent halt of the construction of the cement plant in Kendeng, Jokowi finalized a decision to perform a strategic environment assessment (SEA) in the Mount Kendeng area to facilitate the integration of environmental issues and ecological sustainability.

The implementation of the SEA will then be coordinated by the Presidential Staff Office, where the Ministry of Environment and Forestry will take part as the committee head.

During the assessment process, targeted to be sorted in a year, the government has promised that all mining permits will be suspended.

According to the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH), the government has also committed to engage in a multi-party discussion throughout the entire assessment process.

“We know that the decision does not cancel the mining permit and stop the construction, but with the [strategic environment] assessment, we are convinced that the Mount Kendeng area will not be destroyed only for the sake of a cement plant construction or for any other extractive industries,” LBH said in a statement on Wednesday.

The people of Kendeng have stated they will continue to fight to conserve their homes and environment.

Government urged to issue regulation on karst ecology
The Jakarta Post 6 Aug 16;

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) urged the government on Friday to issue a government regulation on karst ecology to ensure the preservation of karst areas.

“The regulation should be a legal 'umbrella' for karst areas and for utilization of karst resources for common interests without violating human rights,” Komnas HAM commissioner Muhammad Nurkhoiron said, adding that the government started consulting the commission about the regulation in 2015.

Komnas HAM recorded that around 8 percent of 1.9 million kilometers of Indonesia’s land was karst terrain, and social conflict often occurred over developing and utilizing karst regions and resources due to a lack of transparency between companies and local people about the utilization of such regions, he added.

As an example, the people of the Mount Kendeng area in the northern part of Central Java have been fighting for years to stop the development of cement factories they believe would threaten their livelihoods and their sources of water.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo ordered a postponement in the development of the factories on Tuesday and an evaluation carried out.

Komnas HAM staff member Mimin Dwi Hartono noted that an energy and mineral resources ministerial decree issued in 2011 on karst regions did not stipulate the utilization and preservation of such areas. Therefore, it is believed that the issuance of a government regulation would minimize conflict between local people and enterprises. (wnd/bbn)

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Indonesia: Managed turtle breeding helps maintain wild population

Ruslan Sangadji The Jakarta Post 3 Aug 16;

With an output of about 10,000 baby turtles a year, the breeding of green turtles in the regency of Tolitoli in Central Sulawesi is seen as a promising move to maintain the population, said a local officer.

“In the near future, we will release some 100 of the baby turtles to the sea,” Tolitoli Fisheries and Maritime Agency head Hardiyan said on Monday.

He said the breeding of the green turtles in the regency was conducted in cooperation with locals people over awareness that the population of the reptiles was continuing to decrease over time because of illegal hunting.

He said his office had allocated some Rp 32 million this year to empower the people of Sese village, North Dampal district, Tolitoli, to breed green turtles.

The funds, he said, came from the state budget of the Coastal and Marine Resource Management Center and were handed over to the local community group that was given full authority to disburse them.

“The budget was for the maintenance of the green turtle population in the village,” Hardiyan said.

There are currently four regions in the regency that have been breeding green turtles. The other three are Galumpang village in Dakopemean district, Lingayan Island and Ogotua village in North Dampal district.

The green turtle breeding on Lingayan Island, one of the outmost islands in Tolitoli, was conducted because its population of the protected animals was declining and neared extinction because of extensive illegal hunting.

“The turtles are caught for trade,” said Bachtiar, chairman of Lingayan Environment Lovers.

He said the hunting of green turtles was extensive in the regions because both their eggs and meat could be sold for high prices. He predicted that between five and seven turtles were killed every month for that purpose.

He said during the seasons when green turtles laid eggs on beaches, people usually got ready on shore to wait for the reptiles.

“They usually use fishing rods with special hooks to catch the turtles,” he said.

Other turtle species that have been hunted because of their high economic value included the hawksbill sea turtles on one of Tolitoli’s outermost islands. They are hunted for their eggs, meat and scales.

“My prediction, the perpetrators [will be found to have] come from Kalimantan and Donggala regency,” he said.

Hendro, a naval officer at the Tolitoli Naval Base, said he often found green turtles traded openly. “Two months ago we seized four green turtles from a broker here,” he said.

Lingayan Island directly borders with Malaysia. With 64 families living on it, the island has been in the list of underdeveloped subdistricts despite its rich potential.

Apart from turtles, Lingayan is also the habitat of a bird species resembling the maleo, which locals call the molong. The bird is black and is as big as a maleo. It is currently estimated to only have about 50 left in its population.

The breeding of the green turtles in Tolitoli regency, Central Sulawesi, has shown a promising yield, currently producing more than 10,000 baby turtles a year, a local officer said.

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Sri Lanka success whets international appetite for mangrove conservation

Pioneering national programme to protect Sri Lanka's coastal mangroves could be extended to another island country
Amantha Perera Thomson Reuters Foundation 3 Aug 16;

KALPITIYA, Sri Lanka, Aug 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sri Lanka's pioneering nationwide programme to save its damaged mangrove forests is bearing fruit a year on, prompting the U.S. conservation group backing it to look for another island country to launch a similar effort.

Duane Silverstein, executive director at California-based Seacology, a non-profit that protects island habitats, said he was planning to visit a candidate island state in the Caribbean in the next month.

"This project, if it happens, is most definitely inspired by the success (in) Sri Lanka," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, declining to name the potential project site as negotiations were ongoing.

From the late 1980s into the 1990s, the destruction of Sri Lanka's mangroves had official sanction, as the government handed out public land to large companies to clear for shrimp farms along the northwest coast.

"We were helpless - there was nothing we could do. Earth movers would come in and clear tracts overnight that had taken hundreds of years to grow," said Douglas Thisera, director of conservation at the Kalpitiya-based Small Fishers Federation of Sri Lanka (Sudeesa), which is partnering on the mangrove scheme.

Hundreds of acres of ecologically important mangroves in northwest Puttalam district - around 40 percent of the area's forests - were cleared and replaced by large ponds, Thisera said.

But the threat ended last year when Colombo designated more than 37,000 acres (some 15,000 hectares) of coastal mangroves as protected, making it illegal to cut down the delicate forests.

"It should have been done a long time back," said Thisera, popularly known as the "Mangrove Master", surveying large craters left by shrimp farms dotting the Puttalam lagoon now abandoned due to disease or business failure.


Mangrove trees grow in saltwater, forming a vital part of the natural cycle in coastal lagoons. Fish and other marine creatures like prawns use the deep roots as breeding areas.

The forests protect coastal communities from abrupt tidal shifts and storms, while slowing shore erosion.

Mangrove swamps also store carbon, helping to curb planet-warming emissions - another reason to keep them intact.

Sri Lanka's countrywide protection initiative, praised as the first of its kind in the world, has gained momentum in the past year, experts say.

"Sri Lanka is showing the world that it is possible to conserve mangrove forests while also improving the lives of local people, restoring wildlife habitats, and helping to ameliorate climate change," said Dhammika Wijayasinghe, secretary-general of the Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO, at the opening of a flagship mangrove museum on July 26.

Sudeesa, which is hosting the museum at its main office in Chilaw, plans to conduct tours there for at least 20,000 school children who will come to learn about the nearby mangroves, as well as conservation training for adults.

"We hope that other countries with mangrove forests will follow Sri Lanka's lead and replicate the success of this model," Wijayasinghe added, speaking on the first International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem.

According to Seacology, which partners with the government on the mangrove programme, around half the island nation's identified mangrove forests have now been surveyed and marked out with posts, up from zero when the project began.

Those who live alongside mangroves say no value was given to the forests in the past.

"People would go in and just cut them to use as firewood," said widow Anne Priyanthi, 53, who lives near Puttalam lagoon.

Thisera said the destruction was partly due to lack of awareness. "But poverty also played a big role," he added.

A survey by the Fisheries Ministry some two years ago found the average monthly income among fisher families was around $16, while just over half lived below the national poverty line.

Thisera said that without tackling poverty, efforts to protect mangroves would be futile, "because people just look at them as free cooking fuel".


Since the conservation scheme began, the government has enacted laws and provided manpower to protect the forests, with the navy sending personnel to plant over 36,000 mangrove trees.

The plan aims to set up 1,500 community groups to look after existing mangroves, and to replant around 3,000 hectares within five years.

Seacology has launched an island-wide push to reforest degraded areas, raise public awareness, and provide economic assistance to local people to raise them out of poverty.

It aims to help more than 15,000 people, half of them widows and the rest school dropouts, living close to the 48 lagoons where mangroves thrive.

In the last year, more than 190 women have received micro-loans to start small businesses.

Priyanthi from Puttalam is one of them, setting up a pig farm with an initial loan of LKR 10,000 ($68.70). She then applied for a further LKR 75,000, and now earns about LKR 25,000 per month, which is enough to pay for her children's education.

The women and others benefiting from the project also act as community leaders in conservation work.

Silverstein said the success of the Sri Lanka programme so far had enabled Seacology to raise $3.4 million from private donors and the World Food Programme to fund it fully for five years.

The biggest challenge was when recent floods destroyed seedlings in a nursery, he added.

Sudeesa's Thisera said building community awareness about the advantages of protecting mangroves, after generations of neglect, was a tough task - as would be maintaining interest in conservation after the funding runs out.

($1 = 145.55 Sri Lankan rupees)

(Reporting by Amantha Perera; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit

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Vietnam probes harmful waste dumping from Taiwanese firm

Associated Press Yahoo News 3 Aug 16;

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnamese police have launched an investigation into the illegal dumping of harmful waste material from a Taiwanese steel company already under fire for massive fish deaths in what officials say was the country's worst environmental disaster.

Bui Dinh Quang, deputy police chief in Ha Tinh province where a unit of the Formosa Plastics Group is located, said a local company was the target of the investigation after police last month caught the company burying the industrial waste at a private farm.

About 390 tons of the waste was buried in two places, including on the private farm in Ha Tinh province, Quang said.

He said tests by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment confirmed the waste contained harmful levels of cyanide.

Quang said Formosa and its executives will also be investigated for signing a contract with the local company, which was not authorized to handle harmful industrial waste.

Formosa acknowledged in June that it was responsible for the pollution that killed large numbers of fish off the central Vietnamese coast, and pledged to pay $500 million to clean it up and compensate affected people.

The government in a report to the National Assembly last month said the disaster harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen in four central provinces.

An estimated 115 tons of fish washed ashore along more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) of Vietnam's central coast in April, the report said. The pollution sparked rare protests across the country.

Formosa's $10.6 billion steel complex in Ha Tinh province includes a steel plant, a power plant and a deep sea port and is one of the largest foreign investments in Vietnam.

Toxins including cyanide and carbolic acids were released into the sea during a test run of the plant.

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