Best of our wild blogs: 14 Sep 16

RUMbles with students, science and lanterns!
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Water pollution issue in Singapore
Nature and Us

3 spaces left for the Citizens Action for Tigers Trek – 22 to 25 Sept 2016, Malaysia

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Making sure haze won't cloud exam season

Calvin Yang, Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Sep 16;

With thousands of students taking their year-end examinations, including the written papers for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), from this month, schools across Singapore are not taking any chances with air quality.

Schools told The Straits Times they will hold exams in enclosed spaces with air purifiers in any case, to avoid disruptions if there are abrupt changes in air quality.

South View Primary School's principal, Madam Sharida Batcha Sahib, said the exam venues within the school will allow pupils to "continue with the exams even if there is a sudden rise in the haze level".

"Pupils will also be briefed about the situation so that they will not be distracted when they see us switching on the air purifiers in the midst of the exam," she added.

Earlier this year, the school in Choa Chu Kang held a haze drill to familiarise pupils and staff with what they need to do if haze levels rise.

Lessons on haze are also conducted to raise awareness among the school community.

In the event of school closure, schools such as South View Primary will deploy "home-based learning" packages. These may include online assignments to ensure students are engaged at home.

Last September, schools across the island were closed for a day due to worsening haze conditions. Two O-level exams were rescheduled, affecting about 100 students.

Schools contacted say they have precautionary measures in place in the event the haze situation worsens during normal school days.

Compassvale Primary, for example, will reduce the intensity of physical education lessons and co-curricular activities, and conduct them indoors if necessary.

Mr Chua Choon Guan, the school's principal, said his teachers have been asked to keep a lookout for pupils who are unwell.

In its reply to queries, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said that all school classrooms have been equipped with air purifiers.

Earlier this year, Acting Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said installing air purifiers in classrooms will "further enhance the well-being of our students and staff during a haze situation".

The ministry added that if the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index is in the very unhealthy range of 201 to 300, doors and windows would be closed and air purifiers turned on.

"Schools have been advised to reopen windows or doors periodically or when the outdoor air quality improves to provide better ventilation and relief from thermal heat build-up in the classrooms," said an MOE spokesman.

"As always, classroom fans will be kept on at all times to ensure the thermal comfort of the students."

Madam Sharida said if haze levels rise, those who are not well or have pre-existing health conditions will be moved to air-conditioned rooms with air purifiers. They will be closely monitored and their parents will be alerted if necessary, she added.

MOE is closely monitoring the haze situation. Adding that schools have been briefed on the measures to be taken during a haze situation, it said: "As we approach the examination period, the health and safety of candidates and examination personnel remain the top priority."

Low likelihood of haze in Singapore over next few days: NEA
Channel NewsAsia 13 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: The likelihood of Singapore being affected by transboundary haze is low for the next few days, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Tuesday (Sep 13), with prevailing winds forecast to continue blowing from the south or southwest.

In a media advisory, NEA said a single hotspot was detected in southern Sumatra on Tuesday, and that the low hotspot count was due to a partial satellite pass. It added that no visible smoke plume or haze was observed, and that showers are expected over central and southern Sumatra over the next few days.

As for Singapore, NEA said thunderstorms are forecast in the late morning and early afternoon on Wednesday. The 1-hr PM2.5 concentration over the next 24 hours is expected to stay in Band I (Normal). Overall, the PSI for the next 24 hours is forecast to be in the Moderate range.

As of 6pm, the 24-hr PSI was 52-60, in the Moderate range, and the 1-hr PM2.5 concentration readings were 9-17 µg/m3, in Band I (Normal).

NEA added that given the air quality forecast for the next day, the public can continue with normal activities, while those who do not feel well - especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions - should seek medical attention.

- CNA/xk

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Premature to determine Zika’s impact on tourism, broader economy: MTI

Tang See Kit Channel NewsAsia 13 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: It remains too early to tell if the Zika virus outbreak in Singapore will have any impact on the local tourism industry and, in turn, the broader economy, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Sim Ann in Parliament on Tuesday (Sep 13).

The Government is undertaking “strong coordinated actions” to contain the spread of the mosquito-borne virus and any possible spillover impact it could have on the economy, she said in response to questions from Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) Associate Professor Randolph Tan Gee Kwang and Thomas Chua Kee Seng.

As of Monday (Sep 12), there were 333 cases of locally transmitted Zika infections in Singapore. The first case – a 47-year-old Malaysian woman living at Aljunied Crescent – was confirmed more than two weeks ago.

Economists surveyed by Channel NewsAsia believed that the spread of the mosquito-borne virus will not be a significant threat to the already-struggling economy. Mr Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), agreed but cautioned that it is “still early days” when it comes to determining what the impact might be.

For the tourism sector, Ms Sim said the impact on visitor arrivals “is currently contained”. In addition, discussions with industry players show that “there is no clear indication or trend of decline in arrivals” even as countries including Hong Kong and Australia issue travel advisories for visitors to Singapore following the Zika outbreak.

She added that Singapore “remains a safe travel destination”, and that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has yet to issue travel restrictions to Zika-affected areas.

Nevertheless, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is working closely with industry players to “proactively address concerns from potential visitors”. For instance, STB's frontline operations including its call centres and the Singapore Visitor Centre has been monitoring daily feedback from tourists and actively responding to queries regarding the virus.

For businesses, Ms Sim said that while it is too early to consider Zika-specific measures, companies can tap into existing schemes if they need help.

For example, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) facing short-term cashflow issues may apply for the SME Working Capital Loan administered by SPRING Singapore. The agency is also joining hands with the Singapore Business Federation to help businesses develop business continuity plans to "ensure enterprise resilience in the event that operations are affected".

“MTI and its agencies will continue to closely monitor developments through the Ministry of Health and the National Environment Agency, and are prepared to develop and activate further support for businesses if necessary,” Ms Sim said.

- CNA/sk

No new Zika cases reported in Singapore on Tuesday
Channel NewsAsia 13 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: There were no new Zika cases reported in Singapore, as at 3pm on Tuesday (Sep 13), according to the National Environment Agency's website.

This is the first time since Aug 27, when the first locally transmitted case was reported here, that no new confirmed case has been reported.

There remains a total of 333 confirmed cases of the virus since Aug 28, the website showed. Of these, 269 - slightly more than 80 per cent of the confirmed cases were from the main cluster in Aljunied, Sims Drive and Paya Lebar Way.

Multi-pronged strategy to tackle Zika: Gan Kim Yong
Linette Lim Channel NewsAsia 13 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: There are 333 people who have tested positive for Zika as of noon yesterday, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in an update to Parliament on Tuesday (Sep 13). This included eight pregnant women, and involved seven clusters. Most of these people have recovered and are no longer symptomatic, he added.

Mr Gan also said that because Zika is a mosquito-borne disease with a majority of those infected asymptomatic, the Government will not isolate or hospitalise Zika patients. Efforts will instead focus on vector control.

Although Zika has been around since 1947, Mr Gan noted that it was only in Feb 2016 that “the World Health Organization declared that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases in Brazil, which are suspected to be linked to Zika, constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern”. The risk of microcephaly, which is a congenital condition that affects the development of the brain, means many pregnant women are "understandably anxious" about the Zika outbreak, he said.

In response to questions by MPs, Mr Gan outlined Singapore’s three-pronged Zika action plan involving preparation, response, and long-term management.


To prepare for Zika, the Ministry of Health (MOH) took several steps, including making Zika a notifiable disease under the Infectious Diseases Act from this January, working with partner agencies to prepare operational plans in case of an outbreak, and stepping up public education and issuing health advisories.

MOH also worked with the National Environment Agency (NEA)’s Environmental Health Institute to put in place a surveillance programme for Zika two years ago. In partnership with about 200 clinics, blood samples from selected patients with symptoms associated with Zika were collected, said Mr Gan. More than 500 samples a month were tested for Zika from this January, and close to 4,000 samples were tested between February and August, before the first confirmed case, he added.


In response to initial cases, MOH undertook screening of patients’ household members, and NEA deployed officers to conduct intensive vector control operations in affected areas. Mr Gan also touched on how MOH and NEA moved to actively detect cases and identify clusters to manage the spread of Zika.

“This active back-tracing was why the number of confirmed Zika cases increased from 1 reported on 27 August to 41 on 28 August. This sudden jump was surprising to some people, who wondered if these cases had in fact been identified earlier but held back by MOH. In reality, the number of confirmed new Zika-positive patients increased only by 5. The other 36 were from our proactive back-tracing of workers at the construction site (at Sims drive),” he told Parliament.

“Through the back-tracing, we also checked the onset of symptoms for each case to determine the epidemiology of the outbreak. The analysis showed that the earliest case had onset of symptoms on 31 July. Some people misinterpreted this as MOH having known of the first Zika-positive case since 31 July. This is not so. As I explained, we only confirmed the first locally transmitted Zika case on 27 August, and we released the information the same evening.”


To manage Zika in the long-term, Mr Gan said that efforts will focus on vector control as it is a mosquito-borne disease. The Government will no longer practice an isolation policy as this has limited effect. “80 per cent of those with Zika are asymptomatic and... there are already mosquitoes in the community already carrying the virus,” he explained, adding that hospitalisation of Zika patients is also not necessary as most cases are mild.

Mr Gan reiterated that subsidized Zika testing is extended to all Singaporeans beyond the affected clusters. He also said that pregnant women will be supported as a special group, given the possible risks to their foetuses in case of infection.

Zika testing for asymptomatic pregnant women is not routinely recommended, but symptomatic pregnant women and those whose male partners are Zika-positive will be provided with free Zika tests at both public and private healthcare institutions if doctors assess that testing is needed, he said. Mr Gan also added that pregnant women who have tested positive for Zika will be referred by their doctors to an obstetric or maternal-foetal medicine specialist for counselling and subsequent follow-up.

“Regular ultrasound scans will be carried out to monitor the development of the foetus. Zika infection does not always result in abnormal foetal development,” he said, adding that microcephaly has been tracked by the National Birth Defects Registry since 1993, and that the MOH will work with our doctors to monitor the outcomes of babies born to women with Zika.


Lastly, Mr Gan touched on public education and research efforts. Zika testing is currently done at the National Public Health Laboratory, NEA’s Environmental Health Institute and major public hospital laboratories, and there is no specific anti-viral treatment or approved vaccine for Zika at the moment.

"There are also ongoing research efforts in Singapore relating to Zika. Testing and
translating these to practical clinical use will take time," he said.

Earlier, the sequencing analysis of the Zika virus found in two patients from the ongoing outbreak revealed that it had sequences similar to the Zika strain which have been circulating in Southeast Asia since the 1960s.

“We cannot tell at this moment whether the viruses found here cause more or less severe disease than those in South America. Future research will be needed to shed light on this,” he said, adding that it is still “early days” to ascertain the long-term trend of Zika infections although the number of cases detected in recent days has been “coming down”.

“The journey in our fight against Zika is likely to be a long one, because of the presence of Aedes mosquitos here. Even if we can control the present outbreak, we will need to continue to guard against imported cases, as the Zika virus is still circulating among many countries, including several in the region. Therefore, as we tackle Zika, life must go on. By working together, we can succeed in managing Zika in the long-term,” he said.

- CNA/ll

Source reduction is key strategy to fight Zika and dengue: Masagos
Lim Jia Qi Channel NewsAsia 13 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) conducted about 748,000 inspections to uncover mosquito breeding habitats between January and July this year and more than 10,000 breeding habitats were destroyed during these inspections, said Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli in Parliament on Tuesday (Sep 13).

Of the 10,000 breeding sites that were destroyed, about half of them were found in homes and about five per cent were in construction sites, said Mr Masagos in his ministerial statement as he outlined strategies to tackle the Zika outbreak in Singapore.

Besides deploying some 850 officers to do inspections island-wide, Mr Masagos said NEA also conducts indoor spraying with insecticide and outdoor fogging within the cluster to kill adult mosquitoes, as well as oiling of breeding habitats to kill any mosquito larvae.

“Zika and dengue are conveyed by the same mosquito – the Aedes aegypti. Our key strategy for dengue control, and now Zika, is source reduction – the detection and removal of breeding habitats and larvae,” said Mr Masagos.

"This integrated vector management strategy is in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s recommendations and remains especially critical now as we are in the traditional dengue peak season," he added.

But Mr Masagos also noted that it would not be wise to conduct fogging indiscriminately outside of the clusters as a preventive measure. That is because fogging is only effective if the chemical has direct contact with the mosquitoes, Mr Masagos explained.

"The overuse or indiscriminate use of chemical treatment may cause the build-up of resistance in the local mosquito population. Fogging should only be used when there are Zika or Dengue clusters or when the adult mosquito population is observed to be high so that we can mitigate the situation quickly," he said.

Enforcement actions and penalties have been stepped up over the years at construction sites, Mr Masagos added.

Between January and July this year, the NEA issued around 50 Stop Work Orders for work sites repeatedly found with poor housekeeping and mosquito breeding habitats. A total of 410 notices were issued to construction companies to attend court and 40 errant contractors were prosecuted for repeat offences.

Even as the NEA has given attention to construction sites, Mr Masagos stressed that a large number of mosquito breeding sites is in fact found in homes.

About 2,200 households were fined between January and July this year as they were found to have mosquito breeding sites.

To mitigate the risk of transmission, the Government has also put in resources for surveillance.

NEA has deployed about 37,000 Gravitraps around Singapore and the number is set to reach 48,000 by the end of the year, said Mr Masagos. Gravitrap allows the authorities to identify areas with a large Aedes aegypti population and take targeted mosquito control measures proactively even if there are no dengue or Zika cases reported.

“This sort of risk-based, preventive surveillance work will go on well ahead of any peak transmission season,” Mr Masagos added.


Several MPs including MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Mr Christopher De Souza, Non-Constituency MPs Mr Dennis Tan and Associate Professor Daniel Goh asked about what steps have been taken by the Government to contain the Zika virus.

In response, Mr Masagos said the current mosquito control strategy has helped suppress dengue over the years and the same strategy has prepared Singapore well to tackle the Zika challenge.

He added that following the Ministry of Health’s announcement of the first locally-transmitted Zika case on Aug 27, around 300 NEA officers, contractors and volunteers have been carrying out vector control efforts and outreach in the affected clusters.

As of Sep 11, more than 31,000 premises in the various Zika clusters have been inspected for mosquito breeding.

“In the Zika clusters, thermal fogging outdoors and indoor spraying of premises have been carried out to kill adult mosquitoes and the drains have been flushed to remove any stagnant water as an added precaution,” said Mr Masagos.

The NEA has also inspected construction sites and workers’ dormitories in the Zika clusters.

A Stop Work Order was issued to the construction site at Sims Drive on Aug 27 to curb the local Zika transmission as the site had failed to maintain satisfactory housekeeping and to eliminate potential mosquito breeding habitats, said Mr Masagos.

Mr Masagos added that the NEA has been working regularly with the Singapore Contractors Association (SCAL) to remind its members to be more vigilant about mosquito control and to look out for any workers with Zika symptoms.

Stricter requirements have been imposed on four dormitories. They are required to check for mosquito breeding and carry out thermal fogging if the mosquito population is high, as well as mandatory residual spraying in their premises on a quarterly basis.


Despite all these efforts, Mr Masagos told the House that Singapore remains vulnerable to dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases for a few reasons.

He cited that Singapore is in a dengue-endemic region and there are four different dengue virus serotypes circulating concurrently and a change in the predominant virus is usually followed by a spike in dengue cases.

The region’s warm climate and high humidity have also supported faster breeding and the maturation cycle of the mosquitoes, said Mr Masagos, adding that these have led to a higher mosquito population and the spread of diseases.

Mr Masagos also cited a large proportion of Singapore's population is susceptible to dengue due to the lack of immunity,

"In many other countries where dengue is endemic, the affected are often children. This is not the case in Singapore, which is good. Our success has, therefore, paradoxically lowered our herd immunity so that disease transmission occurs easily even with a very small mosquito population," said Mr Masagos.

“We must acknowledge that all these extraneous factors make it impossible to eliminate the Aedes aegypti here. Indeed, if we had done anything less, dengue and Zika would have spread throughout the whole island more quickly and thoroughly,” Mr Masagos added.

Mr Masagos stressed that everyone has a part to play in fighting Zika and dengue.

“Everyone – the Government agencies, premises owners, businesses, residents, and the community – has a role in our fight against Dengue and Zika,” he said.

- CNA/jq

Sufficient measures to prevent mosquitoes from breeding at construction sites: Masagos
Lim Jia Qi Channel NewsAsia 13 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: There are currently sufficient measures to prevent mosquitoes from breeding at construction sites and the Government should not go overboard by implementing more measures, said Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli after delivering a parliamentary ministerial statement on the Zika outbreak on Tuesday (Sep 13).

Several Members of Parliament raised concerns about potential breeding spots in construction sites and whether more measures should be implemented to curb mosquito breeding.

MP for West Coast GRC Foo Mee Har asked if the Government is considering more stringent measures such as introducing a new regime that requires all construction contractors to engage an authorised pest controller to conduct independent checks and treatments at construction sites.

In response, Mr Masagos said the current measures are sufficient. He cited the Control of Vectors and Pesticides Act (CVPA) which allows the Government to impose Stop Work Orders for worksites repeatedly found with poor housekeeping and mosquito breeding habitats and the presence of Environmental Control Officers on site to ensure proper mosquito control measures in the construction sites.

Since 1999, the NEA has required all construction sites exceeding S$50 million in project value to employ full-time Environmental Control Officers, while sites between S$10-50 million are required to employ part-time ones.

“We should not go overboard by implementing more measures and also adding more costs when we can do things well properly,” said Mr Masagos.

“We have also extended our CVPA to the dormitories. Because I think this is a good precautionary measure although it is not a construction site. The workers live there and they may also spread or transmit to one another. Therefore this CVPA will require the dormitories' owners to step up their housekeeping of the premises,” Mr Masagos added.

Mr Masagos also responded to other questions including should the location of the construction site be considered for more stringent surveillance and if fogging can be done at more areas.

Other MPs asked questions:

Associate Professor Daniel Goh: Whether other than size, should the location of the construction site be considered for more stringent surveillance, namely how close the sites are to the residential areas?

Mr Masagos: The question on whether we should focus more on construction areas near residential sites – Singapore is a very build up area; most construction sites are around homes and therefore it's not the primary factor why we go to the site or not. We have other risk factors. Now, indeed we have extended the coverage to beyond the construction sites to the dormitories where the workers come from.

Dr Tan Wu Meng: There is about one breeding site per 128 homes. On the other hand, about one in nine construction sites have mosquito breeding sites discovered and destroyed. In light of this, would his ministry consider taking an even more robust approach to stamping out mosquito breeding sites in construction sites?

Dr Masagos: I wish the mosquitoes can calculate as well. But mosquitoes don't calculate they just go to where there are humans and where there is water to breed. Whether it's a construction site; home, they should be of equal concern to us. The real difference is accessibility. For construction sites, our officers can come in anytime; they can impose appropriate orders to them to clean up, to step up on their housekeeping.

But we can't say the same for homes. Therefore, even in terms of per home basis, we are actually far, far better than what has been prescribed by the World Health Organisation. We should not rest on our laurels. Every mosquito that hatches, a female mosquito will hatch a further 300 eggs. They grow exponentially if we just leave the breeding untouched, and therefore whether it's home or construction site, we must be as vigilant.

I think we should also educate our constituents that it's not just about the construction sites. We will do our best to suppress the source of breeding if it occurs there. But everyone must do their part to make sure they do the five-step Mozzie Wipeout as a daily habit to ensure that they don't give the mosquitos a chance to breed.

Mr Christopher De Souza: Can fogging be done at more areas? How effective is fogging and are there any side effects to fogging?

Mr Masagos: Fogging is effective if done properly and if done by licensed professionals. We have to fog when there is a cluster. Because it means there are adult mosquitoes infecting the population or to prevent those mosquitoes who are not yet infecting from infecting. So that is the primary reason we do fogging. But we cannot just do fogging. I know everyone likes fogging because it's very optically ... everyone can see it and everyone feels better. But it does not solve the problem. It must be done together with source eradication, whether it’s at construction sites, whether it's at our homes.

Indeed at our homes, whenever the fogging is done, they closed up their homes. And therefore it doesn't get into their homes. The other thing that we could do is misting which means that in some town councils as well as dormitories, we do misting to make the chemicals stick on the wall and they last long. But we can't do this very often either. Because I mentioned just now, there are also side effects of using the same chemical over and over again, so frequently that the mosquitoes may become immuned to those insecticides. And this has already happened. In fact some insecticides are not used at all nowadays because we have overused them.

- CNA/jq

Too early and not productive to assess if Zika is endemic: Gan Kim Yong
Linette Lim Channel NewsAsia 13 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: It is “too early to say” and “not productive” to decide whether Zika is endemic in Singapore, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Tuesday (Sep 13), after delivering a parliamentary statement on the Zika outbreak.

Responding to MP Tin Pei Ling’s question on whether Zika is considered endemic, and if eradication would be possible, Mr Gan said, “Our immediate task is to focus on vector control, to do our level best to try to eradicate as much as we can, if not, to minimise as much as we can.”

“I certainly hope that it will not be endemic, but it is something that we will have to monitor over a long period of time, before we can make a definitive assessment,” he added.

Mr Gan also answered other questions, including those on microcephaly and measures in place for construction sites to report suspected cases to the Ministry of Health (MOH):

Tin Pei Ling: Until there is greater clarity, can regular tests be made available to all pregnant women?

Mr Gan: WHO (World Health Organization) actually did not recommend regular, routine testing for non-symptomatic pregnant women, because there is a very narrow window to test them. You have to test them while they are infected. After a period of time, when they have recovered from the infection, it will be very difficult to detect whether the lady has been infected before. Therefore, the window is very narrow and it is not practical to keep testing… every day, or every week, or every other week. WHO did not recommend testing for those who are non-symptomatic and our Clinical Advisory Group also advised against it. For symptomatic pregnant women, the advice is for them to consult their doctor because each case is different; their risk factors are also different.

Alex Yam: Can we ascertain the origin of the local transmission? What is the number of known Zika microcephaly cases in Singapore since tracking began in 1993?

Mr Gan: It is very difficult to determine (the) first case… because Zika is not transmitted from person to person. For an epidemiology study, it is very difficult to trace… because there is an intermediary, vector, and that is the mosquito, and we are unable to trace the mosquito for obvious reasons. And therefore, we do not know who the first, so-called ‘index case’ is. It is also quite clear, to be careful not to identify the person with the earliest symptoms on 31 July as first case… because 80 per cent of the patients actually do not have symptoms.

Zika is not the only cause of microcephaly. Microcephaly can be due to a number of factors. It could be due to genetic and environmental factoss, such as Down syndrome, exposure to drugs and alcohol… rubella, as well as other infectious diseases. So even before we detected the first case of Zika, microcephaly cases were present in Singapore. Over the last five years, we have on average, between 5 to 12 microcephaly cases per 10,000 live births in Singapore. For those patients with microcephaly, we continue to provide support and manage them the same way as we manage children with congenital conditions.

Daniel Goh: What processes are in place to ensure construction sites, contractors will report high numbers of workers who display symptoms of Dengue or Zika infections to MOH in timely manner?

Mr Gan: The key gatekeeper is our primary care system. We work through our GPs, when they notice unusual trends, whether if its Zika or any other infection… so our frontline GPs are the most important. When they see cases they have doubts about, or when they see patterns that are unusual, that they cannot explain, they usually alert MOH and we work together with them to find out the truth. This is how we discovered the locally-transmitted case in the first instance.

- CNA/ll

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New dengue cases in Singapore fell to 242 last week

Channel NewsAsia 14 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: The number of new dengue cases in Singapore fell to 242 in the week from Sep 4 to 10, down from 310 cases the previous week, according to latest figures published on the National Environment Agency (NEA) website.

A total of 11,603 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore this year, surpassing the 11,286 cases recorded in the whole of 2015. Another 50 cases were reported between Sunday and 3pm on Tuesday.

Seven people have died of the disease so far, with the latest fatality a 79-year-old man who lived in Eastwood Drive near Upper East Coast Road. There were four dengue fatalities in the whole of 2015.

There are now 64 active dengue clusters in Singapore – up from 59 the previous week – including 13 classified as high-risk. The biggest cluster is in the area near Bedok Rise, where 60 cases have been reported, including seven in the past fortnight.

Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said on Tuesday that NEA conducted about 748,000 inspections for mosquito breeding habitats between January and July this year in a bid to manage the spread of dengue and to tackle the Zika virus.

“Zika and dengue are conveyed by the same mosquito – the Aedes aegypti. Our key strategy for dengue control, and now Zika, is source reduction – the detection and removal of breeding habitats and larvae,” said Mr Masagos.

Singapore reported its first case of locally transmitted Zika late last month and has since confirmed a total of 333 cases.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong outlined on Tuesday a three-pronged approach involving preparation, response and long-term management to combat the spread of the mosquito-bourne virus.

- CNA/am

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PUB taking measures to reduce midges near Pandan Reservoir: Masagos

Channel NewsAsia 13 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: National water agency PUB has noticed an increase in non-biting midges emerging around Housing and Development Board blocks near Pandan Reservoir and have stepped up measures to control the population of the pests, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said on Tuesday (Sep 13).

In a written Parliamentary response to Member of Parliament Foo Mee Har, Mr Masagos said the increase in the population was largely due to the intermittent hot and wet weather.

PUB has been "actively monitoring" the midges population in the area and has stepped up measures to reduce inconvenience to nearby residents, he added.

These measures include regular removal of the midges' eggs from the reservoir’s floating structures, increasing the frequency of application for a biological liquid larvicide along the reservoir perimeter from three times to five times per week, as well as increasing the dosage of the larvicide to kill the insect larvae and increasing the frequency of fogging and misting around the reservoir to kill the adult midges.

PUB has also installed bright spotlights at the Pandan Reservoir pumping station to attract adult midges at night and deter them from flying into nearby residential areas, the minister said.

"We will continue to monitor the situation closely and adjust our measures accordingly," he added.

Mr Masagos said that PUB had also taken measures to keep residents in the area informed of the midges situation, including conducting a dialogue session in August to address their concerns and distributing educational brochures.

Despite the nuisance posed by non-biting midges, Mr Masagos stressed that the insects are harmless to human beings.

"They are a natural part of the aquatic ecosystem and are food for fishes and birds ... they neither bite human beings nor spread any disease," he said, adding that the authorities seek residents' understanding and tolerance should they find the midges in their homes.

Non-biting midges thrive near water bodies such as canals, ponds and reservoirs, and swarms of the small flies have been previously reported in Singapore during warm months. In June this year, residents and shop owners near Bedok Reservoir also noticed an increase in the number of midges entering their homes and shops.

- CNA/mz

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Malaysia: We breathe easier this September Clearer skies due to Indonesia’s action

The Star 14 Sep 16;

PETALING JAYA: It has been a sunny September with mostly clear skies so far, unlike the hazy days during the same period last year.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said Indonesia took steps to lessen the hotspots in the country.

“The Indonesian government took prevention and mitigation measures and early intervention to suppress fires. This has helped ease the impact of transboundary haze.

“In addition, the favourable (wet) weather condition and the beginning of La Nina contributed to low hotspot counts in Indonesia,” Wan Junaidi told The Star.

He said Indonesia had done what was part of its three-year Plan of Action in Dealing with Trans-boundary Haze Pollution.

Last year, 150 hotspots were identified in Kalimantan and Sumatra on Sept 12, according to numbers provided by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC).

The ASMC data showed that the number of hotspots in Kalimantan and Sumatra dropped to 134 on the same date this month.

It also showed that there was an average of 40 hotspots daily in the week of Sept 6 to 12, compared with 200 hotspots daily in the same week last year.

“In September last year, we experienced severe haze due to uncontrolled and prolonged land and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan as a result of extreme dry weather conditions brought about by a strong El Nino phenomenon,” Wan Junaidi said.

However, he cautioned that there were still active hotspots in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“We expect to be totally free from haze after October as the wind will blow from the north east and because of the start of the rainy season,” he said.

He said Malaysia was also taking measures under the National Haze Action Plan to prevent hotspots.

Among the actions taken were preventive measures on open burning and forest fires, daily patrols in fire prone areas such as peatland and dump sites, and close monitoring on air quality status.

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Indonesian Ulema Council issues edict forbidding Muslims from burning land

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 13 Sep 16;

JAKARTA: The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has issued a fatwa or religious edict that forbids Muslims from burning their land.

The Council described the fatwa as a moral movement aiming at changing behaviour.

“The act of burning forests and land, which can cause damage, environmental pollution, economic losses, affect health, and other negative impacts is haram (forbidden),” said Professor Huzaemah Yanggo, chairperson for fatwa from the Indonesian Ulema Council, at a media conference on Tuesday (Sep 13).

The Council is confident that the new religious ruling can help change behaviour on illegal land burning.

It has instructed clerics and religious teachers to spread the message that the traditional practice of clearing land by farmers is against the teachings of Islam.

A booklet explaining the fatwa will also be distributed to the community.

The Council received a request from the Environment and Forestry Ministry to look into issuing a religious ruling on forest fires in January this year.

This was after massive forest fires in Indonesia in 2015, one of the worst periods on record.

Between March and July this year, the Indonesian Ulema Council conducted research and assessment before finally releasing the religious ruling on Tuesday.

The Council took reference from the Koran, and consulted various stakeholders before coming up with the fatwa.

“We understand that material punishment is not enough, what more with formal punishment. What is more important is moral (pressure),” said Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister.

The Council also plans to get the support of the international community on the fatwa.

- CNA/nc

Indonesian Islamic council issues fatwa on forest fires
Reuters 14 Sep 16;

Indonesia's highest Islamic council has issued a fatwa on burning land and forests, a government official said on Wednesday, in an effort to halt the toxic smog that blankets the region each year.

The fatwa is not legally binding but is aimed at discouraging plantation companies and farmers from clearing land using slash-and-burn methods in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

"There was a meeting between the environment minister and the Indonesian Clerics' Council, which issued fatwa no 30/2016 about forest and land burning law," said ministry spokesman Novrizal Tahar.

"The point is that an act (of burning) that causes environmental damage, according to (the council) decision, is illegitimate."

The council was not immediately available for comment and it was unclear why it had waited so long to make the ruling.

Every year, Indonesia faces criticism from its neighbors Singapore and Malaysia over the smog, euphemistically known as "haze", and its failure to stop the fires from being lit.

Last year's fires were among the worst in the region's history, with billions of dollars worth of environmental damage, weeks of flight and school disruptions and thousands suffering from respiratory disease.

(Reporting by Berndatte Christina Munthe; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Indonesia: 140 hotspots detected in West Kalimantan

Antara 13 Sep 16;

Pontianak, W Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - A total of 140 hotspots indicating forest, peatland and plantation fires, were detected in West Kalimantan Province, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) reported.

"The 140 hotspots were detected by the Modis satellite, with Terra and Aqua sensors owned by NASA, on Monday (Sept 12)," BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said here Tuesday.

Most of the fires were from slash-and-burn activities to clear land for farming and plantation in the Sekadau, Ketapang, Landak and Sanggau districts.

The Himawari satellite on Tuesday afternoon also detected smoke or haze in the districts of Ketapang and Sekadau in West Kalimantan Province and in the Katingan District in Central Kalimantan Province.

A joint team of forest fire task force comprising personnel from the military, police, local BNPB offices, local authorities and volunteers, have been working to put out the fires.

The BNPB has deployed two water bombing helicopters, Bolco and Bell 214, as well as one Indonesian Air Forces Casa aircraft, to help create artificial rains.

Efforts to extinguish wildfires have been intensified following the forest fire emergency status declared in 10 districts in West Kalimantan.

Some 3,500 personnel have been deployed for the effort.

The 10 districts are Kubu Raya, Mempawah, Landak, Bengkayang, Sanggau, Sekadau, Sintang, Melawi, Kapuas Hulu and North Kayong.

A total of 600.6 hectares of forest and land areas have been gutted by fires in West Kalimantan.

Of the total areas, 509 hectares are land belonging to local farmers, 1.6 hectares are plantation area, and 90 hectares conservation area.

Lack of water and slash-and-burn methods are among problems hampering efforts to put out and prevent wildfires.

In the meantime, the Terra and Aqua satellites of NASA detected 37 hotspots in five provinces across Sumatra Island on Sunday.

The number of hotspots increased significantly from only three on Saturday, Slamet Riyadi, spokesman of the Pakanbaru meteorology station, said.

Of the 37 hotspots, 25 were found in Bangka Belitung, six in South Sumatra, three in Lampung, two in Bengkulu, and one in Riau.(*)

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Indonesia: Govt to continue reclamation project despite court ruling

Callistasia Anggun Wijaya and Ayomi Amindoni The Jakarta Post 14 Sep 16;

The government has given a green light to the controversial reclamation project of Islet G in Jakarta Bay to resume despite the ruling of the Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN) that had ordered a halt to any construction activities on the artificial island.

Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan and Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, along with representatives from the Environment and Forestry Ministry, held a meeting on Tuesday on the reclamation project at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry where Luhut serves as an acting minister.

"There was no problem with the PTUN's ruling because it was not yet final and binding," he told journalists on Tuesday after the meeting.

In a court ruling issued on June 31 in favor of local fishermen in Jakarta Bay, the PTUN ordered the developer of Islet G, Muara Wisesa Samudra, a subsidiary of property giant Agung Podomoro Land, to halt its reclamation activities because of the environmental damage and social impacts it was causing, as well as its lack of legal standing. The court also ordered Ahok to revoke the city’s permit for the development, issued in December 2014.

Furthermore, Luhut said that the government would make a detailed announcement on the issue on Thursday. Tuesday's meeting had several changes in the schedule. Luhut and Ahok were first scheduled to hold a 1 p.m. meeting, but then postponed it to 5:30 p.m and moved it to Luhut's office before announcing that the meeting was again postponed. The meeting proceeded at 7:30 p.m. and was moved to the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry office.

Previously in the State Palace, Luhut said the decision was taken after conducting thorough studies on the project. The government would also prioritize the welfare and livelihood of as many as 24,000 local fishermen in Jakarta Bay in accordance with the order of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.

"Don't say that we will not take care of the fishermen. We will even provide them [with better facilities] with funds from the local administration and from the reclamation projects," Luhut said at the State Palace prior to his meeting with Ahok, adding that he urged the public not to politicize the issue.

The previous coordinating maritime affairs minister, Rizal Ramli, announced in June that the developer of Islet G had committed gross violations as the construction of the artificial island was taking place on top of underwater electricity cables and in shipping lanes. Thus, the government decided the developer should halt the construction, as it would also contribute to environmental damage and disturb vital strategic projects and ship traffic. (rin)

Mounting Protest Against "Island G" as Reclamation Project Set for Restart
Alin Almanar Jakarta Globe 13 Sep 16;

Jakarta. Dozens of students rallied in front of the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs office in central Jakarta on Tuesday (13/09) to protest the on again-off again reclamation project off the northern coast of the capital.

The demonstration came after hints from the Chief Maritime Minister Luhut Pandjaitan that development on island G, one of the 17 artificial islands in the disputed project, will be restarted after months of being suspended.

The University of Indonesia (UI) students insisted that the project poses grave impact on the environment.

"The project has already damaged the coastal ecosystem," Arya Ardiansyah, head of the UI student committee, said in the rally.

Arya said a joint committee comprising officials from the Office of the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, the Environment and Forestry Ministry and the Maritime and Fisheries Ministry has already conducted an examination which reveals the damages.

According to the committee, island G's development has led to environmental degradation, disturbed shipping activities and damaged electrical cables and gas pipelines.

The findings led Rizal Ramli, the chief maritime minister four months ago, to suspend the development of the island temporarily.

Tuesday's protesters also insisted that the reclamation project could not proceed as it is still subject to a legal dispute.

A panel of judges at the State Administrative Court four months ago annulled the gubernatorial decree allowing the development of island G, in favor of a petition to stop the construction from a group of fishermen in North Jakarta.

"If the government presses ahead with the reclamation project, it will violate the law," Arya said.

Having replaced Rizal two months ago, Luhut hinted last week that development on island G will begin again soon, arguing that he had found no reason to continue the suspension after examining the case.

Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama has also staunchly defended the reclamation project, amid mounting opposition from environmental activists and local fishermen.

"The northern coast of Jakarta should not be privatized for business profits," Arya said.

Indonesia to resume work on 'Giant Sea Wall' to save sinking Jakarta
Channel NewsAsia 14 Sep 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia will resume land reclamation that will help prevent Jakarta from sinking below sea level, a cabinet minister said, five months after work was suspended due to regulatory and environmental concerns.

Greater Jakarta, one of the world's most densely populated cities, sits on a swampy plain and is sinking at a faster rate than any other city in the world.

Jakarta has focused its attention on bolstering its defences with a 15-mile sea wall and refurbishing the crumbling flood canal system.

The government decided late on Tuesday to allow work to continue on a key phase of the "Giant Sea Wall", which aims to shore up northern Jakarta while revamping the capital's image into a Singapore-like waterfront city.

"If this Giant Sea Wall is not done, that will create a big impact on Jakarta with regards to salt water penetration," Coordinating Maritime Minister Luhut Pandjaitan told reporters on Tuesday.

Included in the master plan is the building of 17 artificial islands off Jakarta's northern coast, where property developers plan to build shopping malls and attractions similar to Singapore's Sentosa Island.

But work on that project was suspended in April following disagreements between the government and the Jakarta governor over who had authority to issue permits. Some fishermen have also protested against reclamation, saying it would reduce their catch.

In response, the government plans to offer them fishing permits in waters near the Natuna Islands.

The suspension in April also threatened to delay Indonesian property developer PT Agung Podomoro Land's multi-billion-dollar Pluit City, comprising apartments, offices and shopping malls on parts of artificial land it was constructing.

"We are still waiting for government direction," said Justini Omas, the company's corporate secretary. "Previously, we had planned that construction of the island would be done in 2018."

Earlier this month, former Agung Podomoro executive Ariesman Widjaja was jailed for three years for bribing a member of the Jakarta provincial assembly to influence the regulation for the land reclamation, media said.

- Reuters/rw

Study on Jakarta's giant sea wall to be wrapped up in October
Antara 14 Sep 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Study on Jakartas giant sea wall project called National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) will be wrapped up next month, the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) said here on Wednesday.

"Study is still in process. There has been no conclusion," Bappenas chief Bambang Brodjonegoro said, adding the result of the study would be reported to the president.

Construction of the project will be carried out in three phases . Phase A is to strengthen the system of the sea and river wall already existing . Construction of this phase is to be completed in 2017.

Work in Phase B is to start in 2018 building offshore walls in the western side of the Jakarta bay to be completed in 2025.

Construction of project in Phase C is to start after 2025 building sea walls offshore eastern side of the Jakarta bay.

The plan is there will be reclamation and construction of 17 islands in the Phases B and C, Bambang, who is also Minister of National Development Planning, said.

The study by Bappenas is important as it will determine the designs and distance between the man made islands from the land, he said.

The developers are required to prepare environmental license by considering the existence of the sea walls, he added.

However, island reclamation is not the focus of attention, but the need to build the giant sea walls as sea water intrusion already reached the National Monument (Monas) in the center of the capital city, he said.

"In Monas, salted water is already mixed with fresh ground water. It would be very dangerous for Jakarta in the future, especially with the climate change. The waves would be higher, and there would be more rob flooding in North Jakarta. Therefore, the giant sea wall is vital," he said.

Bambang said apart from preventing rob flooding and sea water intrusion , the sea walls are expected to result in improvement in the quality of groundwater in Jakarta.

"Concrete wall would be built round the Jakarta bay . The water that flows toward the land could provide a new source of clean water for us, helping Jakarta in drinking water supply," he said.

When asked about statement of the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Natural Resources Luhut Panjaitan that Jakarta bay reclamation projects could be continued, Bambang said "I dont know if he has other sources.

Bappenas is concerned with studying the importance of the giant sea wall project for Jakarta, he said.

Reclamation is already in progress in the Jakarta bay building 17 man made islets by big property companies.

Luhuts predecessor Rizal Ramli ordered to stop work in the project but Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) disputed the decision resulting in moratorium.

The statement by Luhut that work could continue to build the Jakarta reclamation project drew strong protest from a group of people including students and fishermen.

Defending the project, Ahok has said the reclamation project is the answer to Jakarta bays pollution problem as the mega project would help restore contaminated water and fix the environment of the capitals coastal areas.

The city administration had discussed the projects with the director general for coastal and small islands at the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, Ahok claimed.

From the 17 planned small islands, eight have already acquired permits and began construction.

Ahoks statement is in contrast with environmental experts and activists who believe that the reclamation project threatens the Jakarta Bay environment.(*)

Reclamation Project Serious Breach of Environmental Standards: Walhi
Alin Almanar Jakarta Globe 14 Sep 16;

Jakarta. The government's decision to continue with the development in one of the artificial islands off the northern coast of Jakarta is a serious breach of environmental standards, environmental group Walhi said.

Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan announced on Tuesday (13/09) the suspension on development on the so-called "Island G" will be officially lifted this Thursday.

Island G is one of the 17 artificial islands listed in the troubled North Jakarta reclamation project.

The decision came four months after Luhut's predecessor Rizal Ramli suspended the development of the island, based on findings that it would degrade the already fragile environment of the northern coast.

Edo Rakhman of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) concurred with the findings, saying: "The potential for sedimentation will get bigger. Fishing areas will be even more limited. The pattern of sea currents will change. And biodiversity will be adversely affected."

"The development violates environmental laws, it will destroy Jakarta's coastal area and the islets around it."

The laws Edo referred to are the 2009 law on the protection and management of the environment and the 2007 law on the management of coastal areas and islets.

The laws require that any development in the area be preceded with an environmental impact analysis.

A decree issued by the Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya in May stated that reclamation procedures on Island G had deviated from what was recommended in the environmental impact analysis.

Luhut meanwhile said his ministry had thoroughly examined the environmental impacts of reclamation before deciding to continue with the project.

"Just wait for the details on Thursday," Luhut, who currently also serves as the caretaker energy and mineral resources minister, said.

Mounting Protest Against Restart of North Jakarta Reclamation Project
Alin Almanar Jakarta Globe 13 Sep 16;

Jakarta. Dozens of students rallied in front of the offices of the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs in Central Jakarta on Tuesday (13/09) to protest against the on-again off-again reclamation project off the capital's coast.

The demonstration came after hints from Chief Maritime Minister Luhut Pandjaitan that development on Island G, one of the 17 artificial islands in the disputed project, will be restarted after work was suspended several months ago.

Students from the University of Indonesia (UI) insisted that the project will have a grave impact on the environment.

"The project has already damaged the coastal ecosystem," Arya Ardiansyah, head of the UI student committee, said in the rally.

Arya said a joint committee comprising officials from the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs, the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has already conducted an examination which reveals the damages.

According to the committee, Island G's development has led to environmental degradation, disturbed shipping activities and damaged electrical cables and gas pipelines.

The findings led former chief maritime minister Rizal Ramli to suspend the development of the island temporarily four months ago.

The protesters also insisted that the reclamation project should not proceed as it is still subject to a legal dispute.

A panel of judges at the State Administrative Court earlier annulled the gubernatorial decree allowing the development of Island G in favor of a petition to stop the construction from a group of fishermen in North Jakarta.

"If the government presses ahead with the reclamation project, it will violate the law," Arya said.

Having replaced Rizal two months ago, Luhut hinted last week that development on Island G will begin again soon, arguing that he had found no reason to continue the suspension after examining the case.

Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama has also staunchly defended the reclamation project, amid mounting opposition from environmental activists and local fishermen.

"The northern coast of Jakarta should not be privatized for business profits," Arya said.

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