Best of our wild blogs: 9 Sep 16

Singapore Bird Report-August 2016
Singapore Bird Group

These banks are pumping billions into Southeast Asia’s deforestation
Conservation news, Mongabay

Read more!

Tengah to live up to its name as the 'Forest Town'

KENNETH CHENG Today Online 8 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Tengah new town in the western part of Singapore is expected to live up to its name as the “Forest Town”.

For starters, it will have a 5km-long and 100m-wide Forest Corridor as part of its landscape as well as hiking trails for nature-lovers, revealed the Housing and Development Board on Thursday (Sept 8)

The corridor, to be developed in collaboration with the National Parks Board, will form part of a larger network of greenery linking the Western Catchment Area with the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. More native rainforest trees will be planted alongside the existing secondary forest species to transform it into a “rich forest habitat”, allowing residents to enjoy nature up-close.

The other option for residents to chill among the greens will be at the heart of town: a 20ha Central Park roughly the size of the Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West. Water bodies such as the Tengah Pond and Forest Stream will be integrated with the park.

Several housing districts within the town will have spaces set aside for community gardening and urban farming. These community farms will also have various recreational facilities such as playgrounds and lawns, doubling as localised parks for residents to mingle with family and neighbours.

A peek into Tengah, the next new HDB town the size of Bishan
Estate will be composed of five housing districts, each with its own unique identity
KENNETH CHENG Today Online 9 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Sprawling over 700ha, the new Tengah estate — which is about the size of Bishan —will not only feature the country’s first car-free town centre, it will also allow residents to get up close with nature.

The masterplan for the newest Housing and Development Board (HDB) town was announced on Thursday (Sept 8) by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong at the HDB awards ceremony.

Infrastructure work is scheduled to start early next year. The first batch of HDB flats is expected to be launched from 2018. Estimated to be fully developed over two decades, the town could comprise up to 42,000 new homes, with public housing making up more than 70 per cent of the units.

Plans to redevelop Tengah — which is currently used as a military training area — were first announced during the Committee of Supply debate in April. The Tengah estate, which has been dubbed as the “Forest Town”, will be about three quarters the size of Punggol.

Tengah will be composed of five housing districts: Plantation, Park, Garden, Brickland and Forest Hill, each to be designed to correspond with a facet of the town’s identity.

For instance, the Plantation District, the first to be built, will have a community farmway running through its housing precincts. It has space dedicated for community gardening and urban farming, and activities such as sales of organic produce may also be held there.

Bound by the Kranji and Pan-Island expressways, Bukit Batok Road and Brickland Road, Tengah has been used as military training ground since villagers there were resettled in the 1980s and 1990s.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, the Ministry of Defence reiterated that it is “supportive of HDB’s development of Tengah New Town”. “Military training in the area will be adjusted accordingly in line with the HDB’s Masterplan for Tengah,” it added.

The town sits on a key eco-corridor linking the western part of Singapore to nature reserves in the Central Catchment area. HDB’s planners drew inspiration from this and set about creating a town “that would be sensitively integrated with the ecosystems surrounding it”.

HDB said it has conducted environmental, topological and hydrological surveys for the area. “Taking into consideration the surroundings, topography and water courses, the plan is to recreate a forest corridor that runs through the town in an East-West direction,” it said. “Where it makes sense to integrate with the town greenery, we could retain some existing vegetation.”

There will be a 100m-wide, 5km-long Forest Corridor that will form part of the larger network of greenery linking the Western Catchment Area and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. A continuous stretch of lush greenery will also run along the town’s periphery to complement it.

At the heart of the town will lie a new 20ha Central Park, which will include an amphitheatre. The park will be integrated with water bodies to provide a picturesque space for recreation.

Central Park will be the centrepiece of green spaces in Tengah, offering a scenic and tranquil spot for residents to relax and enjoy various recreational activities. Photo: HDB

In line with the Government’s efforts to get people to cut back on using cars, Tengah will house the first car-free HDB town centre, although this will be put into effect only when the town reaches critical mass.

Roads and vehicles will run beneath the town centre.

Tengah is set to offer more living and recreational options for those working in the 600ha Jurong Innovation District, with its first phase slated for completion around 2022. The district falls partly within the town’s boundaries.

Describing Tengah as a “big step forward” for HDB town planning, HDB Chief Executive Cheong Koon Hean said that the town would “completely transform the western region of Singapore”, complementing the development of Jurong Lake District, touted as Singapore’s second Central Business District.

An exhibition on Tengah will be held from today to Sept 25 at the Sales Display Area on the first level of the HDB Hub in Toa Payoh.

The public may give their feedback on the town at the exhibition, which will open daily from 9am to 8pm.

Car-free town centre among draws of Tengah ‘forest town’
ILIYAS JUANDA Today Online 9 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Based on Tengah’s key novelty features of being a “forest town” and its projected car-free town centre, property analysts told TODAY that they expect to see a very healthy demand for homes there because of its new town-planning concepts, but the estate would hold its strongest appeal to those who already live and work in the western region.

The new Housing and Development Board (HDB) estate is part of the Government’s efforts to transform the west as a regional district, and is near developments such as the Jurong Lake District, slated to be Singapore’s second Central Business District (CBD), where the future Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail terminal will be.

The first batch of HDB flats is expected to be launched from 2018 and the town — the size of Bishan and set to be fully developed over 20 years — would have 42,000 new homes.

Propnex Realty’s chief executive Ismail Gafoor said that one group most likely to want to live there would be the newly married, the younger generation who have grown up in the area who are tech-savvy and who want to live near their parents.

ERA Realty Network’s key executive officer Eugene Lim shared similar views, saying that this group would appreciate it more than those who live farther in eastern Singapore. He added that it would be interesting to see how HDB works in smart features in its planning.

On the car-free town centre, Mr Alan Cheong, research head at Savills Singapore, said that people would be able to mingle better with “no barrier, no roads” and he wanted to see how architects would plan the layout of shops and commercial zones to enhance the experience of the town.

Prices of Tengah flats should be comparable to suburban new towns such as Punggol, the analysts said. Mr Ismail added that it was likely that Tengah flats would be “at least 20 per cent cheaper” than those in the Bidadari area, given that the latter had a more central location.

The analysts pointed out that Tengah, which lies at the borders of Choa Chu Kang, Bukit Batok and Jurong West, is still a little out-of-the-way for some, and its success in drawing buyers from non-neighbouring estates would also depend on how well the developments pan out in Jurong Innovation District and Jurong Lake District.

Ms Caroline Koh, manager (research and consultancy) at Suntec Real Estate Consultants, said that while the decentralisation of the CBD to Jurong is ongoing, it would “not be easy to convince someone living nearer downtown to move to Tengah”, especially if their workplace is in the current CBD. Mr Cheong said that relocating the workforce from the CBD would also be difficult “unless you build a new MRT line that is an express ride bypassing existing lines, from major employment nodes in the current CBD to Tengah”.

Tengah to get Singapore’s first car-free town centre
KENNETH CHENG Today Online 8 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — In tandem with Singapore’s push to become a car-lite society, the new Tengah HDB town will feature a car-free town centre, a first for the country.

The town centre, dubbed the Market Place, will have roads and vehicles running underneath it, freeing space on the ground level to make it conducive to walking, cycling and other recreational activities.

The absence of cars on the ground will also make for safe and smooth commutes to and from the town centre, said the Housing and Development Board (HDB) on Thursday (Sept 8), as it announced its plans for the town.

Those who live or work in or visit Tengah will be able to use walking and cycling paths on both sides of roads.

To improve the walking and cycling experience, other features such as elevated and underground crossings, shaded paths and rest-stops, will also be planned as part of the park network. There will be easy access to public transport, with most bus stops located within 300m of homes.

The authorities will plan bus services to connect to key amenities within the town and between towns, to nearby MRT stops and to key destinations, including the Jurong Lake District.

Along the wider roads in Tengah will be dedicated bus lanes to enable better traffic flow.

Residential developments will also be within walking distance of an MRT station with the rollout of the upcoming Jurong Region Line, set to be completed in about a decade.

In planning the town, the HDB will provide for future transport networks, and newer forms of travel by autonomous and self-driving vehicles. New-generation neighbourhood centres will be well connected to the transport network and other communal spaces, such as hawker and community centres.

The major facilities situated at its heart — along the Central Park — will include a sports hub, an integrated community hub, and a health and medical-care facility.

With all these within easy reach, residents are not expected to have to venture beyond Tengah to meet their daily needs.

First batch of Tengah HDB flats to be launched from 2018
Channel NewsAsia 8 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: The upcoming Tengah development will feature Singapore's first car-free Housing and Development Board (HDB) town centre, and the first batch of flats will be made available from 2018.

Details of HDB's 24th town, dubbed "Forest Town" as it will be integrated with the area's greenery and biodiversity, was revealed by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong at the HDB Awards ceremony on Thursday (Sep 8).

Mr Wong said: "This will be the first town for smart living in Singapore ... We’ve talked about Singapore becoming a smart city, a Smart Nation ... with IT, with sensors.

The National Development Minister noted that many of the smart features have already been introduced in pilot projects across different estates. "For example, we have pilots in Yuhua, in Punggol Northshore, where we use sensors to better manage utilities, where we help households to monitor their elderly parents or relatives who are alone at home.

"So these smart technologies are already in place, but in a more ad hoc fashion and across different pilots in different areas. Having gained experience with these pilots, we are now ready to do a larger scale roll-out town-wide.

"So Tengah, as a new town, will be our first smart living town where all of these technologies can be introduced on a town-wide scale. Residents can benefit from more efficient services, smarter services and greater convenience."

Tengah will comprise five districts - Plantation, Garden, Forest Hill, Brickland and Park. The first batch of flats will be launched in Plantation, and when fully completed, the development is estimated to provide about 42,000 homes - 30,000 units of public housing and 12,000 private ones.

As for the "car-free" town centre, HDB said the roads are planned to run beneath it so that ground-level space is freed up. It will have dedicated walking and cycling paths for residents to commute. It will also be served by the Jurong Region Line, which is estimated to be completed in about 10 years, it added.

The Tengah project was previously described as a "forest town" that would be integrated with the Jurong Lake District, Mr Wong revealed in Parliament earlier in April.

One of the main features will be a 100-metre-wide and five-kilometre-long forest corridor, a collaboration with the National Parks Board. It will form part of the larger network of greenery that connects the Western Water Catchment Area and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and will have hiking trails, HDB said.

There will also be a Central Park spanning about 20 hectares, or the size of Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West. The park will be complemented with ponds and canals, according to HDB.

The road networks in Tengah are also designed to meet future needs, as they could support future forms of mobility, such as autonomous or self-driving vehicles. In addition, most bus stops will be located within 300m of residents' homes, it said.

The Tengah exhibition will be held from Thursday till Sep 25 at the HDB Hub Sales Display Area. It will be opened daily, from 9am to 8pm. The public is invited to visit the exhibition and give their feedback on the development, HDB said.

- CNA/am

Read more!

Zika cases rise to 292 in Singapore; potential new cluster at Ubi Crescent

Channel NewsAsia 8 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: Nine new cases of locally transmitted Zika were confirmed on Thursday (Sep 8), bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 292, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a joint statement.

The authorities added that there is a potential new cluster involving two previously reported cases and a new case, all of whom work in the Ubi Crescent area. One of the previously unlinked cases in the cluster was reported on Sep 7, and his work address was verified on Thursday.

Of the other new cases, authorities said four cases are linked to the Aljunied Crescent/ Sims Drive/ Kallang Way/ Paya Lebar Way cluster; one is linked to the Bishan Street 12 cluster; and another case is linked to the Elite Terrace cluster.

The other two cases have no known links to any existing cluster.

NEA said it will be carrying out vector control operations and outreach efforts at the potential new cluster at Ubi Crescent.

The agency added that it is continuing with vector control operations and outreach efforts in the cluster areas at Aljunied Crescent / Sims Drive / Paya Lebar Way / Kallang Way / Circuit Road / Geylang East Central / Geylang East Avenue 1; Bedok North Avenue 2 / Bedok North Avenue 3 / Bedok North Street 3; Joo Seng Road; Bishan Street 12 and Elite Terrace in Siglap.

NEA said that as of Sep 7, a total of 166 breeding habitats have been found and destroyed in the cluster areas, of which 108 are from homes, and 58 from outdoor areas.

It added that updated information on Zika and details of current clusters are available on its website.

Earlier on Thursday, authorities said that analysis of two locally transmitted Zika cases showed that they were not recently imported from South America. Instead, the virus likely belongs to a strain circulating in Southeast Asia since the 1960s.

- CNA/dt

Zika strain in Singapore similar to ones in SE Asia since 1960s: MOH, A*STAR
Channel NewsAsia 8 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: The Zika virus strains found in the two locally transmitted cases from the Sims Drive-Aljunied Crescent cluster were not recently imported from South America. Rather, these strains have sequences similar to those which have been circulating in Southeast Asia since the 1960s, before they spread to French Polynesia in 2013 and subsequently to Brazil in 2015.

This analysis was according to the sequencing study conducted by the Ministry of Health's National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) and A*STAR's Bioinformatics Institute, with the findings revealed on Thursday (Sep 8).

“What we have demonstrated that is there are enough differences at the gene level to show that (the strain) is not imported from South America”, said Dr Raymond Lin, head of the NPHL, at a press briefing.

In terms of how severe the Southeast Asian strain is and whether it causes microcephaly – a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development – Dr Lin said there is currently no evidence to indicate that it is more or less severe than the South American strain.

“From what we see, the viruses are very similar. There might be fine differences, there might be more mutations but currently there is no evidence at all to suggest that it's less severe or more severe; whether there is less or more likelihood of getting microcephaly,” said Dr Lin.

“The correlation of virus strains with specific clinical manifestations will take long-term, careful epidemological studies as well as experimental studies in research laboratories,” he added.

Zika was first detected in a rhesus monkey living in 1947 in the Zika Forest of Uganda, Africa. The infection was later identified in humans in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania in 1952, NPHL and A*STAR said at the briefing.

On how the findings would help develop a vaccine against the Zika virus, Dr Lin said: “If we know that a large part of it is very similar to the virus in other parts of the world, it’s important to know whether the vaccine developed in one part of the world can be used here.”

Dr Sebastian Maurer-Stroh, Senior Principal Investigator of A*STAR's Bioinformatics Institute, said knowledge about the various strains could also help in future testing of vaccines and various treatment strategies.

“When we talk about the Asian version or the South American version – these viruses are still very similar. So it also means that our immune response will be quite similar to them. It has implications if someone develops a vaccine against the Brazilian strain, it should also work against the Southeast Asian version. So this also relates to natural immunity of people,” said Dr Maurer-Stroh.

But he also emphasised that more research needs to be done to understand the implications of the virus.

The findings will be made available on public databases for the benefit of the global scientific community, including the World Health Organisation.

Eight new cases of locally transmitted Zika were confirmed on Wednesday (Sep 7), bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Singapore to 283, according to MOH.

- CNA/kk

More research needed on how Zika spreads in Singapore and its effects
TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 8 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Scientists here will conduct more clinical and epidemiological studies to see how the Zika virus spreads among the population and how it affects individuals, given that there is little research on the virus in the region.

This comes after they established that the strain of Zika virus that infected two patients in the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive cluster in Singapore is different from the one circulating in Brazil.

In the latest update at a press briefing on Thursday (Sept 8), researchers revealed that sequencing of the virus was done on three live Zika cases here: The patient who had travelled to Brazil before falling sick — the first imported infection detected here in May — and two from the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive cluster.

They found that the strain of the imported case is similar to the strain found in South America, but for the two locally transmitted cases, they are similar to the Zika virus strain that has been circulating in South-east Asia since the 1960s. This was before the virus had spread to French Polynesia in 2013, and to Brazil later in 2015.

Associate Professor Raymond Lin, head of the Health Ministry’s National Public Health Lab, which did the sequencing with researchers from A*Star’s Bioinformatics Institute, said there is no answer right now on whether getting infected by a virus of the South American strain would cause a more severe condition compared with the Asian strain, or vice versa.

Pointing out that the virus strains are “very similar”, he added: “There might be fine differences, there might be more mutations, but there is no evidence at all currently to suggest that it’s less or more severe, or whether there’s less or more likelihood of (the babies of infected mothers) getting microcephaly (born with a small head) ... We need time and more studies to do that.

“In future we need to continue monitoring it so that we can see what’s the direction of the Zika virus epidemic, how it’s spreading across the region or not, or in Singapore, and how it changes with time.”

Work needs to be done with other researchers who have other skills, for example, so that they may study how the virus affects the immune system, among other things.

Knowing the range and distribution of virus strains would be useful in the future testing of vaccines — different vaccines may work for different strains — and in finding treatment strategies.

Assoc Prof Lin hopes that the continued sequencing work and surveillance will “keep us on our toes” in monitoring any changes. “We certainly hope that something we can identify has an impact on treatment or prevention,” he said.

The sequences done by researchers here will be made available on public databases to help track the global spread and evolution of the Zika virus.

Free insect repellent for pregnant women at all CCs from Saturday: PA
Today Online 8 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Pregnant women will be able to get insect repellent for free at all community clubs across the Republic from Saturday (Sept 10), the People’s Association (PA) said on Thursday (Sept 8).

The PA has 30,000 bottles of 30ml travel-sized insect repellents available for collection.

Each pregnant women can collect one bottle at any community club. She will need to show their maternity appointment card.

This comes amid news of a surge in demand for anti-mosquito products, following the Zika outbreak in Singapore.

One bottle can last for about three days of regular application by one person, and should “tide pregnant women over until the repellents are replenished at the retail stores”, added the PA.

PA's chief executive director Ang Hak Seng said: “While we have stepped up our efforts to rally the community to work together to eradicate Zika at source, we also wanted to do more for our mothers-to-be. We have quickly worked with the relevant agencies to secure insect repellents for them to help allay their immediate concerns.”

Read more!

Malaysia: Johor govt plans to build desalination plant

Low Sock Ken Sun Daily 8 Sep 16;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: The Johor government, through a joint venture with the private sector, plans to develop a desalination plant near Forest City as an alternative water resource, said state Public Works, Rural and Regional Development committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad.

It will be the largest desalination plant in the nation if implemented, he said in reply to a question from Hamimah Mansor (BN-Penawar) at the state legislative assembly in Kota Iskandar here today.

He said the state needed to explore more water resources like rainwater harvesting and ground water to alleviate the water crisis that has affected the state for the last few years.

The Johor Water Regulating Body has suggested that four tube wells be built in Mersing and Kota Tinggi districts next year to ease the water crisis, he added.

Earlier, Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin told the assembly that water resources projects will be the main focus of next year's budget.

"We have completed the Johor water resources study 2010 to 2060, but the implementation also depends on the approval from the Federal government," he said, and urged the people to adopt the right attitude when using water.

Meanwhile, Bernama quoted Khaled as saying that Johor continues to record commendable economic growth and is among the highest compared with other states in the country amid the challenging regional and global economy in recent years.

He said the state recorded an average gross domestic (GDP) growth of 6.1% for the 2011-2014 period, 0.7% higher than the 5.4% achieved at the national level.

From 2010 to 2015, Johor was far ahead of other states such as Selangor and Penang when it brought in investments in the manufacturing sector of close to RM86.3 billion, he said.

"Since 2013, Johor has taken the top spot with the highest investment in the manufacturing sector. Cumulatively, including the services sector, investments in Iskandar Malaysia alone hit RM208 billion, out of which 51% have been realised," he said.

Water master plan for Johor

ISKANDAR PUTERI: The state government has outlined a master plan on water management to ensure that Johor will have a sufficient water supply in the long term.

Mentri Besar Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin said a study on water resources for Johor from 2010 until 2060 had been completed and its recommendations would be implemented next year.

The master plan would address issues on water-related problems, including finding new sources of water and overcoming supply disruptions, he told Dr Boo Cheng Hau (DAP-Skudai), who wanted to know the measures taken by the state government to address water pro­blems, including efforts to overcome supply disruption in the Mersing and Kota Tinggi districts.

State Public Works, Rural and Regional Development committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad said Johor would explore new water resource possibilities to ensure sustainable water supply.

Among the options include explo­ring groundwater reserves and large scale rainwater harvesting, he said replying to a question from Hami­mah Mansor (BN-Penawar).

Hasni said the Johor Water Regulatory Body (Bakaj) had early last month visited Fukuoka and Kumamoto prefectures in Japan to study the groundwater and desalination models there.

He said the 780,000 residents of Kumamoto city were supplied with groundwater, adding that the state authorities as well as experts from Japan would conduct an in-depth study on possibility of groundwater as a new water source for Johor.

Hasni said there was a need to explore alternative water sources in view of an increase in demand resulting from new developments and river pollution.

“We also urge the industry to be more innovative in managing their usage by investing in recycling technology,” he said.

He said Bakaj proposed the construction of four tube wells next year costing RM2mil in Mersing and Kota Tinggi, which constantly face water crisis.

Read more!

Indonesia: Leuser ecosystem must be included in Aceh spatial plan -- Expert

Arif Gunawan Sulistiyono The Jakarta Post 8 Sep 16;

Leuser ecosystem, a UNESCO world heritage site that covers thousands of hectares of protected forest in Aceh and North Sumatra, must be included in the Aceh spatial plan regulation (Qanun RTRWA), former environment minister Emil Salim has stated.

The esteemed professor at the University of Indonesia made the statement in his capacity as an expert witness in legal proceedings pertaining to the Aceh government’s decision to exclude the Leuser ecosystem from the 2013 Qanun on spatial planning.

“The Leuser Ecosystem is one of our national strategic areas and is regulated under national law. Therefore, it must be included in the qanun”, Emil said on Tuesday at the Central Jakarta District Court. Acehnese—grouped under GeRAM—sued the home minister, Aceh governor, and Aceh’s council speaker.

The establishment of the Leuser ecosystem, he explained, dates back to 1920 when Acehnese leaders rejected the Dutch colonial government’s plan to convert the forest and open up mining and plantation companies.

“The Leuser ecosystem is one of the world’s 25-most important and unique ecosystems,” said Emil.

Nurul Ikhsan, coordinator of GeRAM, said the defendants had violated national law by passing the qanun without including the ecosystem. “What the plaintiffs want is not any material gain, what we demand is only that the defendants include the Leuser ecosystem in the Aceh spatial plan.” (ags)

Read more!

Indonesia: Primates from UK released into the wild in Bandung

Arya Dipa The Jakarta Post 8 Sep 16;

The Aspinall Foundation has released two primates repatriated from Howlett Wild Animal Park in Kent, the UK, into the Patenggang Lake conservation area in Bandung regency, West Java.

The surili (Prescobytis comate) are a brother and sister pair named Lala and Lili.

Lala and Lili are the fourth batch of surili from Aspinall’s Back to the Wild program. Surili are endemic to West Java.

“This is the first time we released surili at Patenggang,” the Java Endemic Primates Rehabilitation Center’s animal caretaking head, Sigit Ibrahim, said on Wednesday.

The center has worked with the Forestry and Environment Ministry since 2010 to support the release of primates into the wild. The primates are usually repatriated from wild animal parks or are confiscated pets.

Sigit said surili needed nine months of preparation before being released into the wild. During the preparation time, the animals are taught to identify predators, and their bonds with humans are gradually severed.

The Aspinall Foundation has rehabilitated at least 100 primates endemic to Java. Of the total, 74 have been released into the wild, including eight surili.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) includes surili on its endangered animals list. It estimated there were no more than 2,500 surili remaining in 1999. (evi)

Read more!

Indonesia: Govt Neglects People's Right to Health in Dealing With Wildfires

Alin Almanar Jakarta Globe 8 Sep 16;

Jakarta. The government has been negligent in the way it managed public health risks associated with forest burning, because it mainly focused on extinguishing the fires, a human rights watchdog said.

According to government data, the annually recurring problem of land and forest fires afflicted more than half a million people with health problems in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan last year. At least 23 have died as a result.

Members of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) observed the situation last year and concluded that the government had violated citizens' right to health.

There has been no thorough examination by the government of the definite impact of haze on human health, which is needed for recovery efforts, Komnas HAM commissioner Siti Noor Laila said.

"For instance, there has been no comprehensive explanation on what diseases haze-affected people could expect to develop in the future," Siti said during a press conference in Jakarta on Thursday (08/09). "Medical staff should have been conducting ongoing research."

The number of people suffering from respiratory infections as a result of wildfires in Riau province has continually increased over the past three years, according to data Komnas HAM obtained from local nongovernment organizations.

More than 43,000 people were diagnosed with respiratory disease last year, compared to around 27,000 in 2014 and nearly 20,000 the year before.

"Millions of people are at risk of developing serious diseases if preventive efforts by the government remain minimal," Komnas HAM commissioner Sandrayati Moniaga said. "Some have already died and there should be no more casualties."

Described by observes as the worst on record, last year's wildfires also destroyed vegetation on millions of hectares of land and resulted in financial losses worth billions of dollars.

Komnas Ham to Evaluate Effectiveness of Law Enforcement in Forest Fire Cases
Alin Almanar Jakarta Globe 8 Sep 16;

Jakarta. The National Commission on Human Rights, or Komnas HAM, will evaluate the effectiveness of law enforcement in Indonesian forest fire cases over the past decade, amid public controversy over premature termination of investigations into some cases, the human rights watchdog said on Thursday (08/09).

Citing lack of evidence, the Riau Police terminated their investigations into 15 out of 18 plantation companies that are reportedly responsible for the 2015 forest and peatland fires. Three companies were brought before the court.

"It is clear that companies should be held responsible if fires occur within their concession areas," Komnas HAM commissioner, Siti Noor Laila, said.

"Whether the land is burned intentionally or unintentionally, the companies should abide by the regulation," she said referring to the 2015 presidential instruction on the improvement of management of forests and peatland.

Under the instruction, regional administrations are ordered to instruct plantation companies to have the requisite facilities to prevent land and forest fires, as poor compliance was the major cause of rampant forest fires, with some companies lacking even the most basic equipment to manage forest fires.

Despite facing protests from environmental activists, police have defended their move to terminate investigations saying that the fires occurred on disputed land. Therefore, those who should be held responsible remains unclear, since blame cannot be attributed.

"We will evaluate law enforcement in cases of wildfires, including the termination of their investigations. Law enforcement in such cases tends to be discriminatory," another Komnas HAM commissioner, Sandrayati Moniaga, said.

Land and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan were an annual recurring problem in the country over the past decade.

Described by observers as the worst on record, the wildfires last year destroyed vegetation on millions of hectares of land, afflicted more than half a million people with health problems and resulted in billions of dollars in economic losses.

Meanwhile, activists from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) have launched their own investigations into the cases and filed new police reports against the 15 companies. Walhi has found that three of the 15 companies have also been implicated in cases of illegal logging, but the police have terminated their investigations in 2008.

Read more!

Pushing a parasite from land to sea through coastal development

Increases in coastal development and precipitation pave the way for pathogens
University of California - Davis Science Daily 6 Sep 16;

Higher levels of rainfall and coastal development increase the risk of disease-causing organisms flowing to the ocean, according to a study. The work advances earlier work by tracking the parasite T. gondii to see how human-driven land-use change and rainfall might be impacting pathogen movement from land to sea.

Coastal waters near heavy human development are more likely to receive land-based "pathogen pollution," which can include viruses, bacteria and parasites, according to a recent study from the University of California, Davis.

The study said higher levels of rainfall and development increase the risk of disease-causing organisms flowing to the ocean.

The study, published recently in Nature Scientific Reports, adds to years of work by a consortium of researchers led by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The scientists were called upon to help decipher the mystery in the late 1990s when a parasite hosted by cats, Toxoplasma gondii, caused deaths in sea otters along the coast of California.

Wild and domestic cats are the only known hosts of T. gondii. The parasite can shed its infective egglike structures, called oocysts, in their feces. In soil, freshwater and seawater, these hardy oocysts can survive for over a year in some cases, infecting animals and people.

The latest study advances earlier work by tracking the parasite to see how human-driven land-use change and rainfall might be impacting pathogen movement from land to sea.

"This isn't just about Toxoplasma," said lead author Elizabeth VanWormer, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis at the time of the study. "Humans, pets, stray animals, livestock and wildlife can all shed pathogens that can be carried from land to sea in runoff after rainstorms. The way we develop our urban and rural coastlines -- adding people, domestic animals, and hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt -- can increase the flow of these pathogens into estuaries and oceans."

Development and Climate Change Affect Runoff

From 1910 to 2010, California's human population, the majority of which resides in coastal counties, expanded from 2.4 million to more than 37 million, with close to 50 million people expected by 2050. The growing human population reshaped large areas of the California coast, converting natural habitat to residential, industrial and agricultural uses.

Natural environments like forests, grasslands and wetlands can help filter out pathogens like T. gondii before they reach the sea. However, a paved or tilled landscape promotes the flow of contaminated runoff into waterways, storm drains and, ultimately, the ocean.

Using census and land-use records, the authors estimated that development between 1990 and 2010 increased oocyst delivery from coastal watersheds to the ocean by 44 percent.

Climate change may also exacerbate the journey of pathogens to the ocean. Changes in rainfall or in the intensity of storm events can alter the level of contaminated runoff. Oocyst runoff rose by 79 percent between years of low and high precipitation. When increases in development and climate variability are combined, oocyst runoff more than doubles.

Reducing Coastal Pathogen Pollution

"Human-driven changes can increase pathogen runoff, but we also have the power to reduce coastal pathogen pollution through actions like conserving wetlands and riparian areas along waterways, reducing paved surfaces in our developed lands, and reducing the amount of poop left in the environment from pets and free-roaming domestic animals," VanWormer said.

Journal Reference:

Elizabeth VanWormer, Tim E Carpenter, Purnendu Singh, Karen Shapiro, Wesley W. Wallender, Patricia A. Conrad, John L. Largier, Marco P. Maneta, Jonna A. K. Mazet. Coastal development and precipitation drive pathogen flow from land to sea: evidence from a Toxoplasma gondii and felid host system. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 29252 DOI: 10.1038/srep29252

Read more!

Humans have destroyed a tenth of Earth's wilderness in 25 years – study

Experts warn there may be no unspoilt places left within a century as report shows an area twice the size of Alaska has been lost since 1993
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 8 Sep 16;

Humans have destroyed a tenth of Earth’s remaining wilderness in the last 25 years and there may be none left within a century if trends continue, according to an authoritative new study.

Researchers found a vast area the size of two Alaskas – 3.3m square kilometres – had been tarnished by human activities between 1993 and today, which experts said was a “shockingly bad” and “profoundly large number”.

The Amazon accounted for nearly a third of the “catastrophic” loss, showing huge tracts of pristine rainforest are still being disrupted despite the Brazilian government slowing deforestation rates in recent years. A further 14% disappeared in central Africa, home to thousands of species including forest elephants and chimpanzees.

The loss of the world’s last untouched refuges would not just be disastrous for endangered species but for climate change efforts, the authors said, because some of the forests store enormous amounts of carbon.

“Without any policies to protect these areas, they are falling victim to widespread development. We probably have one to two decades to turn this around,” said lead author Dr James Watson, of the University of Queensland and Wildlife Conservation Society.

The analysis defined wilderness as places that are “ecologically largely intact” and “mostly free of human disturbance”, though some have indigenous people living within them. The team counted areas as no longer wilderness if they scored on eight measures of humanity’s footprint, including roads, lights at night and agriculture.

The largest chunk of wilderness in the Amazon basin shrank from 1.8m sq km to 1.3m sq km, while the Ucayali moist forests in the west of the Amazon, home to more than 600 bird species and primates including emperor tamarins, was badly affected. The trajectory of loss in the world’s biggest rainforest was “particularly concerning”, the authors warned, given it happened despite deforestation rates slowing.

In Africa, none of the lowland forest in the western Congo basin is now considered globally significant wilderness, the study found. WWF believes the area is possibly home to more gorillas and chimpanzees than other area in the world.

The study said that wilderness was being loss faster than pristine places were being designated as protected areas, at 3.3m sq km versus 2.5m sq km.

Professor William Laurance of James Cook University said: “Environmental policies are failing the world’s vanishing wildernesses. Despite being strongholds for imperilled biodiversity, regulating local climates, and sustaining many indigenous communities, wilderness areas are vanishing before our eye.”

The study said the reason was that such areas are “assumed to be relatively free from threatening processes and therefore are not a priority for conservation efforts”.

The ramifications of remaining wilderness being corrupted were wide-ranging and irreversible for both people and wildlife, Watson said.

“There are four reasons why we need to protect these places. One is biodiversity, the second is carbon, the third is the poorest of the poor are living in them, and the fourth is this is a reference point for nature, of pre-human environments,” he told the Guardian.

The Earth’s remaining wilderness areas are strongholds for many of the land-based mammals on the red list of endangered species, which was updated this week to reveal that four of the world’s six great apes are now critically endangered.

Losing forests in these areas could also affect leaders’ efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change, the study said, because of the amount of carbon stored in trees and peat.

Rewilding plans by conservationists, similar to efforts to reintroduce wolves, lynx and other species to the UK, could also be harmed by the loss of wilderness, because the world risked losing a true picture of what certain ecosystems looked like.

“Without concerted preservation of existing wilderness areas, there will be a diminished capacity for large-scale ecological restoration,” the authors wrote.

Watson said unique ecosystems were being lost, and there was no turning back. “What is critical about this paper is when you erode these wildernesses, they don’t come back, you can’t restore them. They will come back as something else, but you can’t restore them,” he said.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology on Thursday, predicted that if current trends continue there could be no globally significantly wild areas left in “less than a century”.

However, the mapping exercise found that there is still 30m sq km of wilderness globally, 23% of the world’s land area. Strongholds include the boreal forests of northern Canada, Australia’s deserts and western woodlands, some lowland forests in Asia and parts of central Africa.

“They are the jewels in the crown. We have obligation to protect them in same way as we do species,” said Watson.

Stopping or slowing the loss of wilderness will require governments to put in place national strategies that recognise their value, the authors said. One Brazilian programme that supported the creation of protected areas to save carbon and help indigenous people was singled out as the type of project that could help address the decline.

But the authors admitted that: “[such] positive examples are too few, and we argue that immediate action to protect the world’s remaining wilderness areas on a large scale is now necessary, including in global policy platforms.”

Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory, said: “This paper is a powerful reminder of the key role forests play on climate targets, and should be taken at heart by policymakers. Despite the recent drop in deforestation rates, Brazil is still the tropical country that most loses forests every year.

“Our Paris pledge on deforestation is shamefully weak - we are comformed with ending only illegal deforestation only by 2030 and only in Amazonia - and we don’t even have a plan for achieving that little. Brazil will ratify the Paris agreement next Monday. If the government is serious about meeting the deal’s long-term goal, it should be talking about zero deforestation.”

Mike Barrett, WWF-UK’s director of science and policy, said: “This vast scale of loss in global wilderness is having grave impacts. As we seemingly enter the Anthropocene era, this report further signifies humanity’s immense impact and the effects that is having for wildlife and people alike.”

He pointed to the recent red list update which showed the situation of giant pandas improving, but said: “While flagship species and habitats have an important role in tackling the biodiversity crisis, this alone won’t solve the problem. We need significant changes in how we value our planet as at present we’re taking relentlessly from our oceans, rivers, forests and wilderness.”

The study comes as the world’s top conservationists conclude their meeting in Hawaii this week on dozens of motions for protecting wildlife, including restrictions on the trade in the pangolin, the world’s most trafficked animal, and calls on governments to keep harmful activity such as oil drilling out of protected areas.

Later this month governments are due to attend a major meeting in Johannesburg to discuss the legal trade in endangered species, including the fate of the current international ban on the trade in ivory.

Read more!