Best of our wild blogs: 5 Sep 16

Magical spaces : Bukit Brown in the rain
The Long and Winding Road

Slender Sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates) @ Bedok Jetty, East Coast Park
Monday Morgue

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Air quality expected to be moderate on Monday; low chance of haze: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 4 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: The Pollutants Standard Index (PSI) for the next 24 hours is forecast to stay in the Moderate range, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Sunday (Sep 4).

As of 5pm, the 24-hour PSI was in the Moderate range at 54-71 and the 1-hour PM2.5 concentration fell within Normal. There were thundery showers over parts of Singapore on Sunday afternoon, said NEA in its media release, adding that showers were also observed in parts of central and southern Sumatra.

Only one hotspot was detected in Sumatra on Sunday "due to a partial satellite pass and cloud cover", the agency said. "There was no visible smoke plume or haze observed," it added.

NEA said that for the next few days, showers are forecast over parts of Sumatra and the surrounding region, and the likelihood of Singapore being affected by transboundary haze is low.

"Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, everyone can continue with normal activities,", it added.

- CNA/hs

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27 new Zika cases reported on Sunday, bringing total number to 242: Authorities

Channel NewsAsia 4 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: There are 27 new cases of locally transmitted Zika virus in Singapore, authorities said on Sunday (Sep 4), bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 242.

In a joint statement, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) said that of these new cases, 25 are linked to the Aljunied Crescent/ Sims Drive/ Kallang Way/ Paya Lebar Way cluster.

A potential new cluster in the Joo Seng Road area was also reported, involving one of the new cases confirmed on Sunday and one previously reported case. The remaining new case confirmed on Sunday has no known links to any existing cluster.

NEA said that it has been continuing with vector control operations in the Aljunied Crescent/ Sims Drive/ Kallang Way/ Paya Lebar Way cluster. As of Sep 3, 62 breeding habitats – comprising 36 in homes and 26 in common areas/other premises – have been detected and destroyed in the area.

It added that vector control operations and outreach efforts in the Bedok North Avenue cluster are also continuing. As of Saturday, 39 breeding habitats – 29 in homes and 10 in common areas/other premises – have been detected and destroyed.

NEA said it would also be carrying out vector control operations at the potential new cluster in the Joo Seng Road area.

- CNA/nc

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Malaysia: Johor water woes critical


PARCHED EARTH: Water shortage caused by El Nino has affected the state and its people for the past two years, write Halim Said and Rizalman Hammim

A GHASTLY sight greets those who are given permission to enter the Congok Dam in Mersing, Johor. Resembling anything but a dam, all one sees is cracked, parched earth dotted with pools of water barely there.

The water level at the dam was at 2.5m and 2.6m this past week — dangerously below the critical level of 3.5m, thanks to the drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon, which has hit Mersing for the past two years.

The drought affected the output at the Tenglu water treatment plant, which relies on raw water sourced from the Congok Dam. The dam relies solely on rainwater to replenish its reserves.

As a result, 40,000 people in Mersing are putting up with a fifth month of water rationing.

This comes in the wake of a four-month water rationing exercise that caused hardship to 600,000 people in Pasir Gudang, Masai and part of Johor Baru last year.

Another 66,000 people in Tanjung Surat, Pantai Timur and parts of Kota Tinggi had also experienced water rationing around the same time due to the low water levels recorded at two dams in the state.

In Mersing, traders, businesses and households are the most affected by the latest round of rationing, as their taps run dry for two days before supply is resumed for a 24-hour period.

Unfortunately, the “back on” supply in certain areas in Mersing was reduced to six hours recently, compounding the people’s hardship.

The situation is as grave as it gets. In an exclusive interview with the New Straits Times last Tuesday, Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar said the recorded rainfall this year was half of last year’s.

The ruler urged industries to use recycled water, and for state authorities to look into adopting Singapore’s water management model.

The city-state is known for its sustainable water management, including its NEWater (treated used water).

With Johor’s water reserves being susceptible to weather patterns, and because 99 per cent of the state’s raw water are sourced from surface water, new sources are needed to cope with the lower rainfall.

The Johor Water Regulatory Body (Bakaj), which is responsible for managing the state’s water resources, said it had been working to protect water catchment areas.

Bakaj director Mohd Riduan Md Ali said it spared no effort to ensure water reservoirs and their catchment areas were protected.

He said Bakaj, along with the state government and other water-linked agencies, such as the state water utility SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd, were in talks to find new water sources, including a proposal by the state government to tap underground water via tube wells.

“The state government will make the announcement on the likely location for the tube wells,” Riduan told the New Sunday Times.

He said Bakaj had been proactive in acting against those who disrupted Johor’s water supply system, including through agriculture or industrial activities that encroached into water catchment areas.

Under the Johor Water Enactment 1921, those found guilty of causing blockage or interference to the water supply system related to any dam can be fined up to RM500,000.

Riduan said anyone who wished to set up farms or industries near water catchment areas needed to get a licence from Bakaj.

He said Bakaj had fenced water catchment areas to prevent encroachment since last year.

“We began with the Upper Layang Dam in Masai where we partially fenced the 2,575ha water catchment area. The second phase involving 13km of fencing in the same area will begin by end of the year.”

He said fencing would first be done around critical dams in the state before it was expanded to other catchment areas.

“We have partially fenced the Sungai Pulai water catchment area and this has prevented encroachment.”

Riduan said Bakaj was moving to gazette all water catchment areas under its jurisdiction to further protect them.

“There were cases where the boundary of agriculture land breached the boundary of the water catchment areas.

“With the fencing and the creation of buffer zones between agricultural land and catchment areas, as well as regular checks, we have controlled the situation.”

State lines up projects, may turn to underground water

JOHOR BARU: The Johor government has lined up a number of projects to alleviate the water crisis that has plagued the state for the last few years.

During the tabling of Johor’s 2016 Budget last year, Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said three water treatment plants would be built under a RM430 million allocation by the state government.

The plants will be built in Buloh Kasap in Segamat, Pagoh in Muar and Kahang in Kluang.

He also said all old water pipes would be replaced.

Last October, the state government approved a RM4 million project to transfer additional raw water to two dams hit by critically-low water levels.

Khaled said the project was expected to provide up to 30 million litres of additional raw water per day to the Sungai Layang and Sungai Lebam dams.

The project will transfer between 10 and 15 million litres of raw water per day (mld) via a 15.3km-long network of pipes from Sungai Papan to Sungai Lebam.

Another 15mld will be transferred via a 5km-long network of pipes from Sungai Tiram to the Sungai Layang dam.

In March, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced that the Federal Government had approved a RM100 million allocation for a water transfer project to channel raw water to the Sungai Layang Dam in Pasir Gudang.

Petronas is also developing the RM1.3 billion Pengerang Integrated Complex (PIC) Raw Water Supply Project (Pamer), which would churn out 260 mld.

Of this, 230 mld is for the PIC, while the remaining 30 mld would be supplied to the Sungai Lebam Reservoir to supplement the state’s water supply for public consumption in Pengerang.

The state government is exploring the possibility of using underground water as an alternative source of raw water.
State Public Works and Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad said there was a need for the state to identify new sources of raw water to ensure continuous supply.

“Now, 99 per cent of our raw water supply comes from surface water. With the development that we are experiencing, there is a need for us to find alternative water sources and the two sources that have been identified are rainwater harvesting and underground water,” said Hasni.

He said the proposal to use underground water was made during the Johor Water Forum last year.

“During the forum, Professor Dr Kotaro Takemura from the Japan Water Forum conducted a study and found that several areas in Johor, namely Gunung Pulai and Tiram, have potential big reserves of underground water.

The state government initially planned to send a delegation to the Fukuoka and Kumamoto prefectures in Japan in April this year to explore the technology used to extract underground water.

However, the visit was postponed due to the earthquake in Kumamoto in April this year.

Most recently, the Johor government approved an immediate allocation of RM50 million to alleviate the water crisis in Mersing.

This will allow work to proceed on a 30km water transfer project to help the Tenglu Water Treatment Plant in Sungai Lenggor.

SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Abdul Wahab Abdul Hamid said under the 11th Malaysian Plan, a second dam would be built in Mersing.

Once completed, it will be the biggest dam in Mersing.

A private consultant has been appointed by the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry to prepare a feasibility report on the dam.

About 40,000 people in Mersing have been hit by water rationing for the past five months as severe drought had depleted the water source at the Congok Dam.

Another dam that is under construction in Kahang, near Kluang, will be completed under the 11th Malaysia Plan.

Sustaining our water resources
New Straits Times 4 Sep 16;

AVOIDING CRISIS: In the face of climate change and an increasing demand from a growing population, the country must manage its water resources efficiently to prevent water scarcity, experts tell Suzanna Pillay and Audrey Vijaindren

IN four years, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Johor, Pahang, Kelantan, Kedah, Sabah and Sarawak will face high water stress levels if we do not change the way we manage our water.

Although it is unlikely that the country will run out of water, the Association of Water and Energy Research (Awer) believes that if we continue with our current trend of logging and pollution, we will run out of good quality raw water by 2020.

“Are we willing to pay the price for treating heavily polluted water?” its president, S. Piarapakaran, asks.

“We need to accept that drought is part and parcel of our climate. In addition, a drastic increase in population and economic activity density make it harder to meet the increasing demand for treated and raw water.

“This is a major phenomenon in the world. Water resources are usually far away from demand zones with high population density. What we need to manage is the demand for water.”

Awer presented some of its findings and solutions to tackle these issues during the Finance Ministry’s Budget Focus Group meeting several weeks ago.

The association is hoping its suggestions will be adopted so that Malaysia can prepare for and tackle water issues.

“Water shortages happen because of low rainfall and the failure to protect water catchment areas,” Piarapakaran says, adding that some states allow water catchment areas to be converted into plantations.

“There are also cases where flood mitigation dams are used as raw water sources for water treatment plants, a purpose which they are not designed for.”

Other reasons for water shortages, he adds, include the shutting down of treatment plants because of pollution to their raw water sources.

“Our main problem is in managing our water sources. We have the tendency to convert water catchment areas into plantations. Oil palm and rubber trees may have green leaves, but they cannot function as a water catchment facility,” he says, citing Gemencheh Dam in Negri Sembilan as a good example of this.

The dam, he adds, fails to function because its catchment area is converted into a plantation.

“A back pumping system costing more than RM30 million was constructed to pump murky water from Sungai Jelai to the dam.

“Murky water will cause higher siltation which, in turn, causes the dam to become shallow faster.

“Why should we pay for the failure of state governments to protect water catchment areas? The water catchment area for the Langat 2 Water Treatment Plant and Water Reticulation System in Selangor is facing the same problem.”

The failure to increase waste water discharge standards in tandem with development also causes water woes.

Piarapakaran says the Department of Environment must study waste water discharge standards based on pollution loading factors.

Centre for Environment, Technology and Development chairman Gurmit Singh describes the water management system in the country as “fragmented”.

“We are in this situation because we have badly managed our surface water resources. On top of that, we have the dichotomy between the federal and state governments.

“Most state governments have failed to protect and maintain their water catchment areas. This compromises and adversely affects our reservoirs and water supply. We rely on surface water, but much of it is being wasted through badly maintained and burst pipes.”
But, he says Malaysia has not reached the stage where it needs to resort to underground water sources.

Gurmit calls for more efficient irrigation practices, as this will mean more water for consumers.

He also suggests that industries be supplied with raw, not treated water.

“They do not need high-quality water because they mainly use it for cooling purposes.”

Water issue causes sleepless nights for ruler
New Straits Times 4 Sep 16;

SULTAN of Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, in an interview with the New Straits Times last week, revealed that water is a big issue for Johor.

“Yes, it is a very big issue. We are not managing our water.

A few years ago, I had cautioned my government about an impending water crisis.” The ruler said the biggest mistake Johor ever made was to privatise Syarikat Air Johor.

“Don’t blame my menteri besar; he came later. Now, me and my MB are cracking our heads to solve this problem. It is an issue that causes me sleepless nights.”

Sultan Ibrahim also said the recorded rainfall this year was half of last year’s. “You can ride a bicycle in the Congok Dam in Mersing.

The two dams there have dried up. There is no rain. There is even water rationing in Mersing town. So, we had to take a bit of water that was meant for Singapore.”

He said the state did not have to look further than Singapore to learn how to manage water. “Don’t be shy. Why must we look to faraway countries to learn? It would be a waste of government money.

We must have recycled water for industrial use.” The ruler said there were industries in Pasir Gudang which consumed a lot of water, amounting to nearly RM4 million of water a month. “They get water, but the housing estate next door has no water.

How do the people feel (about this)? You can’t simply transfer water from one river to another.

“While we want development, we must take care of nature to ensure that future generations are not affected.

I have asked companies to work with the state to come up with solutions to overcome the water issues affecting Johor immediately.”

Preventing a water crisis
New Straits Times 4 Sep 16;

COMMUNITIES in Johor and Perlis are reeling from a water shortage following a prolonged drought that has affected their livelihoods and the way they live. They have to endure several months of large-scale water rationing exercises because of the low water supply while the authorities take steps to secure additional sources. Traders, businesses and households in Johor complain that the rationing scheme has hurt their earnings while padi farmers in Perlis — those managing padi fields covering 7,800ha — report losses because the dry spell has prevented them from completing the first planting season. It is tempting to believe that these two states and others in a similar predicament have weathered some dry years and that when the rainy season returns reservoirs throughout Malaysia will be brimming with water again, allowing us to happily return to old practices.

But experts warn that those days are gone forever and frequent dry spells are no longer an emergency but a permanent reality. Part of the problem is El Nino, the climate pattern that puts extra heat into the atmosphere. But much of it is a result of years of mismanagement of water resources, besides increasing demand from a growing population. Environmentalist Gurmit Singh blames poor surface water resources management for Malaysia’s current troubles. The failure of many state governments to safeguard their water catchment areas is disturbing. It is unlikely that Malaysia will run out of water but the Association of Water and Energy Research cautions that the country will not have access to good quality raw water by 2020, if present-day logging and pollution trends persist. And, the price for treating heavily polluted water is high indeed. Malaysia is relying on surface water for now but leakages, badly maintained and burst pipes lead to much wastage.

We have to accept the fact that a protracted period without rain or with little rain is part and parcel of the climate here. The competing demands for water from industry and households in Malaysia require the relevant authorities to evaluate the current strategies that have been adopted to meet these requests. An expanding population means that Malaysia’s water needs will only go up, even as climate change will most likely make water scarcer. A thorough examination of the way we are dealing with water issues is long overdue. The solution should not only involve taking measures to quickly respond to situations of water shortage but also prioritising actions that would boost water supply in the short and long terms. The authorities’ response to any occurrence of water shortage should extend beyond their usual declarations of calamity and promises of preventing a repeat. The best move is to embark on sustained programmes that would enable Malaysia to attain water sufficiency in the near future. These should include water-wise campaigns to help consumers develop good habits and be Scrooge-like in their use of the precious commodity. This takes us back to our schools. A child who learns how to save water will inspire others to do the same at home and later in life. Lack of action will mean an unprecedented water crisis. It is a tough task, but there is simply no other option.

No end in sight for despondent Mersing folk

JOHOR BARU: When residents of Mersing were first hit by a water shortage, they braced themselves for several dry days.

What they did not expect, however, was for those dry days to last five months.

Restaurant operator Nita Halini Mohamed, 40, who lives in Jalan Endau, Mersing, said her business suffered a slump as the water supply had gone from bad to worse over the past few months.

“We thought rationing in Mersing would be the same as in other areas and would improve in due time, but we were wrong.”
Nita collects up to 20 buckets of water a day.

“I need clean water for my restaurant and the water shortage has affected my business.”

Mersing is the latest district in the state to be hit by a water crisis, following a prolonged drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon, which caused water level at the Congok Dam to dip way below the critical level.

Last year, residents in Pasir Gudang, Masai and part of Johor Baru were affected.

Residents in parts of Kluang are midway through a month-long rationing because of the low water level of Sungai Sembrong Kiri, which supplies raw water to the Sembrong Timur water treatment plant.

Another Mersing resident, Rohani Mohd, 40, said she had experienced four days without water supply, even though the rationing roster stated that water supply would resume every third day.

“I live in Kampung Seri Pantai, which is on higher ground. Most areas like mine are not getting enough supply due to low water pressure.”

She had been relying on water storage tanks at home, and had to call SAJ Holdings, the state water utility, for additional water supply.

Kampung Benaung Mersing resident Razila Affandi, 25, said her neighbourhood relied on water from water tankers because of low pressure.

“We are allowed 100 litres of water a day during collection days. Collecting water is a daunting task.”

Razila was shocked to learn that water supply had now been reduced to only six hours every three days under the rationing.

“I hope that the state government knows that Mersing is facing a serious water shortage and is working to ease the people’s suffering.”

Sani Ahmad, 54, from Pasir Gudang, said he hoped he did not have to experience another round of rationing after more than four months of putting up with disrupted supply.

“It is a big hassle for most of us, especially the elderly.”

A food stall operator in Taman Sri Lambak, Kluang, who wanted to be known only as Misiah, said it was hard to run an eatery without water.

“What are we going to do when we need to clean up the food stall? How are we to wash the dishes?”

Endau assemblyman Datuk Abd Latif Bandi urged residents in Mersing to be patient as the state government was taking short- and long-term measures to address the water shortage there. Endau is one of two state constituencies in the Mersing parliamentary constituency.

Latif, who is state Housing and Local Government Committee chairman, said the RM50 million project to transfer raw water to the Tenglu water treatment plant was under way and would be completed in six to seven months.

SAJ Holdings chief executive officer Abdul Wahab Abdul Hamid said it was working around the clock and was deploying water tankers to ensure water supply reached every consumer in the district.

He said the current capacity of Congok Dam was one million cubic metres, but the Federal Government planned to double the capacity and the tender process for this upgrade would start in two months.

He said this was in addition to the new dam that would be built by the Federal Government in Mersing as a long-term measure to solve the water supply issue in the district.

Education is the best solution

MANAGEMENT of water, the conflict of interest between state and federal agencies, privatisation of water distribution and high usage by consumers are major factors of water issues.

“When it comes to protecting water sources, such as the highlands and water catchment areas, we have failed miserably,” says Malaysian environmental non-governmental organisations’ chairperson and EcoKnights president Yasmin Rasyid.

“Everyone — the government, media and public — does not fully understand that water availability is highly dependant on our forests. The more we clear our forests, the less rainwater will be retained.

“Another problem is that the water issue has been politicised.”

She says during the height of the Selangor water crisis two years ago, consumers were still using an average of 250 litres of water per person daily, despite the rationing plan implemented by the state.

Only 30 per cent of that number were for actual consumption, such as cooking and drinking.

A report published by the Malaysian Nature Society Selangor branch in 2009 revealed that in Southeast Asia, Selangor’s water withdrawal per capita for domestic consumption was higher than all countries in the region at 91.6 cubic metres per capita. (See table).

Yasmin believes rainwater harvesting is crucial to tackle water issues, but it can work only if everyone is on board.

“It’s not effective if only 100 people do it. But, imagine if 15 million people harvest rainwater and save 50 per cent of storm water, that will reduce our reliance on piped water by 50 per cent. We are not just saving on water bills, but also reducing the risk of flooding.

“Selangor needs to enforce this so that industries will harvest rainwater for non-potable uses.

“Malaysia does not have data on when it will run out of drinkable water. Tokyo has reserves enough to last for decades if water is cut off from the city. Singapore also has reserves. They are adapting to climate change. This shows their resilience.

“But we don’t even know how much groundwater we have that can be used. This is how unprepared we are. It’s shameful because we have abundant rainfall, yet we fail to manage our water resources well.

“Water tariffs need to be revised or even increased to force consumers to manage their usage wisely. Selangor should not be giving away free water.

“There is also a need to address this at a national level. Rivers travel through states — we need to look at the river ecosystem as a whole and not divide its management according to states.”

Malaysian Water Partnership special project committee member Amlir Ayat concurs.

“A lack of education on water management is the main cause of water woes in the country. There’s insufficient emphasis on the importance of sustainable water management and ethics. People are not taught or given enough information on how to use water wisely.”

This, he says, leads to overconsumption and wastage. Increased water pollution from uncontrolled industrial and development activities is also a major concern.

Amlir is convinced that water demand management is one of the best approaches to minimising water consumption and pollution in the country, especially in Selangor.

“There is actually enough water in Selangor. However, ignorance and apathy will lead to water scarcity.

“Lembaga Urus Air Selangor, the state’s main water management authority, has done a good job, but it needs the support of other agencies to ensure sustainable water management in Selangor is achieved.”

Amlir says the country may run out of clean, drinkable water in 10 years if the current trend continues.

He says the 4E approach needs to be adopted:

ENFORCEMENT — the use of legal means to control, minimise and stop pollution, especially in industrial and commercial sectors;

ENGINEERING — the use of technical or engineering methods, such as pollutant traps and river water treatment plants;
ECONOMIC or fiscal approaches — giving incentives for industries or commercial entities to apply green technology to reduce water pollution or consumption; and,

EDUCATION — the most important and inexpensive approach is also the most effective in the long term.

Amlir says in many developed countries where water consumption is low and water pollution is manageable, water education has been taking place for decades.

“Almost all water issues are due to a lack of understanding and awareness. Education is the main solution.”

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Malaysia: Padi farmers hit hard by drought

ILI SHAZWANI New Straits Times 4 Sep 16;

EARLY this year, Perlis was hit by the El Nino phenomenon, resulting in the worst water crisis ever since 1993.
The prolonged dry and hot season had caused the water level at the state’s sole water reservoir, the Timah Tasoh Dam, to plunge below the critical level (26.5m), forcing the authorities to embark on a water rationing exercise in April.

This exercise involved 13,000 domestic users in the northern parts of the state, such as Kampung Melayu, Kampung Kolam, Kampung Kok Mak and Jalan Batu 16, who had to cope with water disruption for almost a month.

Even after the dry spell ended with heavy rain a few days a week, the water level at the dam rose only to 27.07m, with a storage balance of 44.9 per cent on Sept 1.

Perlis Irrigation and Drainage Department (DID) director Abdul Najib Abdullah said the water level was still low, which meant it was only sufficient for domestic use and, hence, the department had to postpone the release of water for irrigation purposes.

However, he said, the department as well as other agencies were looking into measures to overcome the water crisis, such as the construction of additional tube wells to prepare for next year’s dry spell.

“We have finished the construction of two additional tube wells at Sungai Jarum and Sungai Pelarit near the Timah Tasoh Dam, at an estimated cost of RM400,000.

“All that is left is the installation of pumps, which are expected to be ready in a month.

“With the additional tube wells, we can pump groundwater if the water level drops to 26m and channel it to the dam to cater to domestic and irrigation demands in the northern parts of the state,” he said.

The department is planning to build more tube wells in the state next year, depending on the allocation provided by the government.

Water operator Syarikat Air Perlis, like other agencies, depends on DID to ensure sufficient water supply in the dam for distribution to domestic users.

Its chief executive officer, Abd Hamid Saad, said one third of the water supply in Perlis, which is for the northern part, came from the Timah Tasoh Dam, while the remaining areas, such as Kangar and Arau, depended on the Pedu reservoir.

“There is nothing much we can do with regard to the water reserve in the dam, but on our part, we are increasing the number of static tanks and tanker lorries to supply clean water to residential areas, in the event of a water crisis in the future,” he said.

Hamid did not dismiss the possibility of water rationing exercises during the drought, if the water level at the Pedu Dam was no longer sufficient to meet the needs in the areas involved.

At present, the water reserve at the Pedu Dam reservoir stands at 49.2 per cent capacity, with a water level of 87.28m, 20.21m above the minimum level.

The water crisis did not affect only domestic users but also padi farmers, especially those outside the Muda Agriculture Development Authority (Mada) areas, as they have to depend on rainfall to start the crop planting process due to insufficient water supply at the reservoir for irrigation purposes.

State Agriculture Department director Zulkefli Amin Mat Jusoh said many padi farmers, who had padi fields covering 7,800ha, suffered losses this year as they could not proceed with the first planting season due to the prolonged drought.

He explained that the water in the dam could only be released to the padi fields outside the Mada areas across the state once the water supply reached an optimum level of 29m.

“Usually, there are two crop planting seasons in the state. The second season, which should be going through the ploughing process by now, is the main season.

“However, the inadequate amount of rainfall in certain areas had hindered some farmers from preparing their padi fields for the second planting season.

“This poses major problems because the delay could negatively impact the yields and economy of the farmers as well as the state,” he said.

For the time being, he said, the department was looking into other solutions to help the affected padi farmers, apart from the construction of tube wells.

Zulkefli said the department was discussing the potential of planting alternative crops, such as maize, outside of the padi season with relevant authorities and the farmers to cover the losses, should they experience the same difficulties next year.

He also expressed hope that Mada could expand its coverage in Perlis to address the water supply problems for irrigation.

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Malaysia: Crazy, hazy daze: sequel 19

S.JAYASANKARAN The Star 3 Sep 16;

The good news is that the haze this year won’t be as bad as last year. The bad news is that the condition won’t go away any time soon. In short, it won’t kill you this year. Not yet anyway.

“We are certain this year things will be better,” Indonesia’s disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho told reporters on Monday, referring to a 61% reduction in hotspots seen in 2016.

At least they got the name of the agency right.

Even so, it appeared they’d got some things right because they were looking at prevention. In short, the Indonesians were busy preventing fires. In fact they were among the busiest people on Earth who were not too busy to tell you how busy they were.

They were busy because they knew how bad things could get. Last year’s fires were among the worst on record, straining relations between Indonesia and its neighbours. In fact, the pollution last year was so bad that if it weren’t for our lungs, there would have been no place to put it all.

It cost Jakarta at least US$16bil in economic losses. That’s 1.9% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product, according to the World Bank.

It cost Singapore US$517mil in economic losses last year, according to the city-state. Kuala Lumpur prudently did not disclose the state of its losses but it was noticed that doctors and pharmacists went about grinning from ear-to-ear owing to the spike in asthma patients and medications, respectively.

You would think that any country, beset by complaints from its neighbours for a straight 18 years, would have attempted educating its fire-starters not to light any more fires during the dry season.

There were ways about it too. They might, for instance, try persuasion through cutting-edge Malaysian technology like BRIM.

They might even try intimidation through even more cutting-edge technology from Singapore called the ISA, a reminder that brought reminiscent tears to the eyes of the more sentimental elements among the Royal Malaysian Police.

But no cajoling, persuasion or intimidation will work, apparently. “There is no way we can completely eliminate or end the forest and land fires in Indonesia, because they are very much linked to the behaviour of communities that light fires,” Sutopo said, referring to farmers who use fires to prepare land for crops and clear it for plantations. “There are still fires, so prevention needs to be improved.”

You had to hand it to the Indonesian fire-starters: they had thought many times about stopping their fiery habits but, no, they weren’t quitters.

Empirically speaking, the haze was a zero sum game along the lines of I-win-you–lose. Example: on Monday, Singapore got a break from the haze that hit the island state last week, as shifting winds pushed the smoke from Indonesia’s Sumatra island northward over Malaysia.

The people in Riau, Sumatra where the Air Pollution Index hit 2,000 last year felt especially aggrieved that the Malaysians and Singaporeans kept complaining that their age-old practice of setting fires to clear the land for planting was bothering them. “It’s bothering them?” they asked indignantly. “Well, it’s killing us.”

Ultimately however, it may boil down to where you stood economically on the subject of pollution. Asked by reporters in 1979 on the subject of increasing auto emissions in the United States, Lee Iacocca, the then chairman of Chrysler Corp replied famously: ”We have to pause and ask ourselves: how much clean air do we need?”

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Indonesia: Man hunted for killing sun bear

Jakarta Post 3 Sep 16;

The authorities are hunting a resident of Sambas, West Kalimantan, following a recent post on Facebook showing a picture of a sun bear, an endangered species, with its throat cut.

The photo had a caption that read, “Who will buy this animal?”

Previously, on Aug. 12, the same Facebook account also hosted a picture of a man carrying the dead body of a sun bear with a caption that read, “It is fortunate to have caught a sun bear in the early morning”.

West Kalimantan’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency head Sustyo Iriono said the picture was allegedly taken in Bintulu, Sarawak, Malaysia. However, the man who posted the picture is reportedly from Sei Nilam village, Jawai district, in Sambas regency.

The agency investigating the case found the Facebook account reportedly belonged to a man identified as Joko, using the pseudonym Rosi Kuale.

“The team has visited Joko’s parents’ house in Sambas. His parents had no idea about the Facebook posts,” Sustyo said, adding he had reported the finding to the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

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Giant pandas rebound off endangered list

BBC News 5 Sep 16;

The giant panda is no longer an endangered species, following decades of work by conservationists to save it.
The official status of the much-loved animal has been changed from "endangered" to "vulnerable" because of a population rebound in China.

The change was announced as part of an update to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
But the update also brought bad news. The eastern gorilla, the world's largest primate, is now endangered.

Efforts by China, which claims the giant panda as its national animal, have brought its numbers back from the brink. The latest estimates show a population of 1,864 adults.

There are no exact figures for the numbers of cubs, but estimates bring the total number of giant pandas to 2,060.

"Evidence from a series of range-wide national surveys indicate that the previous population decline has been arrested, and the population has started to increase," said the IUCN's updated report.

"The improved status confirms that the Chinese government's efforts to conserve this species are effective," it added.

But the rebound could be short-lived, the IUCN warned. Climate change is predicted to wipe out more than one-third of the panda's bamboo habitat in the next 80 years.

"And thus panda population is projected to decline, reversing the gains made during the last two decades," the report said.

It added: "To protect this iconic species, it is critical that the effective forest protection measures are continued and that emerging threats are addressed."

John Robinson, a primatologist and chief conservation officer at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told the AFP news agency: "When push comes to shove, the Chinese have done a really good job with pandas.

"So few species are actually downlisted, it really is a reflection of the success of conservation," he told the AFP news agency."

A surge of illegal hunting has taken the eastern gorilla in the other direction, reducing its numbers to just 5,000 across the globe.

Four out of six of the Earth's great apes are now critically endangered - the eastern gorilla, western gorilla, Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan.

"Today is a sad day because the IUCN Red List shows we are wiping out some of our closest relatives," Inger Andersen, IUCN director general, told reporters.

The number of eastern gorillas has declined more than 70% in the past two decades.

The IUCN Red List includes 82,954 species, both plants and animals. Almost one third, 23,928, are listed as being threatened with extinction.

Giant panda no longer 'endangered' but iconic species still at risk
WWF 4 Sep 16;

In a welcome piece of good news for the world’s threatened wildlife, the giant panda has just been downgraded from ‘Endangered’ to ‘Vulnerable’ on the global list of species at risk of extinction, demonstrating how an integrated approach can help save our planet’s vanishing biodiversity.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced the positive change to the giant panda’s official status in the Red List of Threatened Species, pointing to the 17 per cent rise in the population in the decade up to 2014, when a nationwide census found 1,864 giant pandas in the wild in China.

“For over fifty years, the giant panda has been the globe’s most beloved conservation icon as well as the symbol of WWF. Knowing that the panda is now a step further from extinction is an exciting moment for everyone committed to conserving the world’s wildlife and their habitats,” said Marco Lambertini, WWF Director General.

“The recovery of the panda shows that when science, political will and engagement of local communities come together, we can save wildlife and also improve biodiversity,” added Lambertini.

While the panda’s status has improved, other species are under increasing threat, including the Eastern gorilla, which is now listed as critically endangered primarily due to poaching.

WWF’s panda logo was designed by the organisation’s founding chairman, the naturalist and painter Sir Peter Scott in 1961. Twenty years later, WWF became the first international organisation to work in China.

Ever since, WWF has been working with the government on initiatives to save giant pandas and their habitat, including helping to establish an integrated network of giant panda reserves and wildlife corridors to connect isolated panda populations as well as working with local communities to develop sustainable livelihoods and minimise their impact on the forests.

These efforts have seen the number of panda reserves jump to 67, which now protect nearly two-thirds of all wild pandas. They have also helped to safeguard large swathes of mountainous bamboo forests, which shelter countless other species and provide natural services to vast numbers of people, including tens of millions who live alongside rivers downstream of panda habitat.

“This reclassification recognises decades of successful conservation efforts led by the Chinese government and demonstrates that investment in the conservation of iconic species like giant pandas does pay off – and benefits our society as well as species,” said Lo Sze Ping, CEO WWF-China.

“Everyone should celebrate this achievement but pandas remain scattered and vulnerable, and much of their habitat is threatened by poorly-planned infrastructure projects – and remember: there are still only 1,864 left in the wild.”

After decades of work, it is clear that only a broad approach will be able to secure the long term survival of China’s giant pandas and their unique habitat, made even harder by climate change impacts. It will require even greater government investment, stronger partnerships with local communities and a wider understanding of the importance for people of conserving wildlife and the landscapes in which they live

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