Best of our wild blogs: 30 Nov 17

Volunteers needed for Dec 2017 marine litter survey
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

Exciting next step for R.U.M.!
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

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A declining threat? On the trail of the Zika virus a year after hundreds of cases in Singapore

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 30 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE: In a quiet neighbourhood in eastern Singapore, a 47-year-old woman was developing a rash, fever and conjunctivitis. Had the symptoms developed separately, her General Practitioner would have barely batted an eyelid.

But together, the symptoms were indicative of the Zika virus, an illness that was spreading quickly around South America.

Patient A, as she became known, would be the first case of locally transmitted Zika in August 2016. As more people were diagnosed with the disease, which is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, authorities sought to control the mosquito population through regular fogging.

By the end of the year, about 450 people here were confirmed to have caught the virus.

“You have to have all of the stars lined up before you have that kind of transmission that you did last year,” said Emeritus Professor at Duke-NUS’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme Duane Gubler.

Prof Gubler told Channel NewsAsia that epidemic transmission is a “complicated interaction between the virus, the human host and the mosquito”, and all three “lined up” to propagate the virus quickly in a span of four months.

But just as quickly as new clusters appeared, Zika numbers dwindled globally as well as locally.

For scientists and infectious diseases experts, understanding the impact of the virus is a work in progress. With current research maturing over the next six months, Prof Gubler said the hope is to eventually be able to provide more answers than questions.

Until then, the focus for vulnerable countries needs to be on controlling the mosquito population.


Having circulated silently across Africa and Asia since the 1960s, Zika’s large outbreak was first reported on Yap Island, west of French Polynesia.

Prof Gubler said with some 5,000 reported cases, there were no signs of neurological diseases associated with Zika. They include microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with a smaller head due to abnormalities in the development of the brain. Another neurological disease linked to Zika is the Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes temporary or permanent paralysis.

“When the virus got to French Polynesia with over 30,000 cases, then they started to see a few cases of microcephaly,” Prof Gubler said.

By the time it got to Brazil where it infected hundreds of thousands of people, Prof Gubler said the number of babies born with microcephaly rose even more.

Prof Arijit Biswas, a Senior Consultant at the National University Hospital's Women's Centre said there appears to be a link between Zika and microcephaly in a developing fetus.

In Singapore, the Health Ministry told Channel NewsAsia that of the 17 women who were diagnosed with Zika during their pregnancies in 2016, two had their pregnancies terminated while one had a miscarriage.

The reasons behind this were not linked to Zika.

It added the other 14 women gave birth to babies with no signs of microcephaly. Last year, the Health Ministry announced it would monitor the development of these babies until the age of three.

“So far, none of the babies evaluated under the surveillance programme have shown signs of abnormalities and are developing well,” MOH said.

Prof Biswas, who who is also the lead of the Health Ministry's Clinical Advisory Group on Zika and Pregnancy, said the small number of pregnant women affected in Singapore also lowers the probability of having a baby with microcephaly.

Prof Gubler agreed, saying this could explain why in places like Brazil where hundreds of thousands are thought to have been exposed, doctors started to see a rise in the number of microcephaly cases.

Both he and Prof Biswas added another reason for the lack of microcephaly cases in Singapore could be due to genetic variances in the Zika strains.

In September 2016, health authorities and researchers concluded that the Zika virus strains found in the first two locally transmitted cases in Singapore were not imported from the South American strain.

“To our surprise, the Zika strain causing the local outbreak was derived from a local version that has been circulating in South-east Asia since the 1960s,” A*Star’s Bioinformatics Institute’s (BII) Sebastian Maurer-Stroh was later quoted in a publication.

A*Star said an analysis of the strains suggest Singapore’s strain diverged in early 2010, before the rapid spread through Brazil.

The Agency's BII said Zika strains prior to 2013 have not been linked to severe neurological complications.

While there is research to suggest a mutation in the strain circulating in South America could have been the reason for the high rates of microcephaly, Prof Biswas cautioned there is insufficient data on the microcephaly rates among different strains.


For infectious diseases expert Dr Leong Ho Nam, the drastic decline of cases this year came as a surprise. He said he expected the number of cases to rise. Instead, Zika activity, like in the rest of the world, has been low.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said this year’s Zika clusters were contained in “small localised areas” through intensive and targeted vector control operations and community awareness.

After the last Zika cluster in Serangoon North Avenue 1 closed in September, Zika cases have been sporadically appearing after weeks of inactivity. For example, after more than six weeks, a new case was highlighted in the Health Ministry’s weekly infectious diseases bulletin last week, bringing the total to 67 this year. This is a sharp decline from the 453 Zika cases this time last year.

Both Dr Leong and Prof Gubler expect the virus to continue to spread, though it is unclear how rapid its spread will be.

Prof Gubler said he expects Zika to go the way of Dengue and Chikungunya epidemics. All three are transmitted by the aedes mosquito.

“Chikungunya caused a major epidemic in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s and then disappeared and then reappeared in 2004 and spread again over several years,” Prof Gubler said.

“Dengue has done the same thing- it comes and goes. After several years of epidemics, the virus goes underground and it becomes “a silent transmission”, characterized by mildly asymptomatic cases that are not recognised as Zika or as Dengue or as Chikungunya.”

Prof Gubler said that’s because the viruses undergo genetic mutations that cause them to have a lower potential for epidemics and infectivity.

But Dr Leong offered a different explanation, saying that the likely reason for the lack of Zika cases in Singapore could be due to a better control of mosquito breeding. He pointed out there were about 2,500 cases of Dengue this year, compared to more than 12,600 last year.

“But if you look beyond it and postulate and guess, is it because the Zika virus is not able to grow so well in Singapore?” he said.

“If Singapore is very good in controlling mosquito populations, my assumption would be that Indonesia and Thailand may not have set up the tremendous efforts Singapore has. Why aren’t they getting huge outbreaks of Zika?”

Compared to dengue, Dr Leong also pointed out that Chikungunya also does not spread as quickly.

“It thus suggests that the mosquitoes here are not quite adapted to Chikungunya and Zika transmission as compared to Dengue,” he said.

“We must not assume that the mosquito will treat Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya equally. We will assume that like us, some would like to eat more fruits, some would like more meat and some would like more vegetables. So there will be a different propensity for the virus.”

Prof Gubler noted that a Zika vaccine could be about three years from being approved if all goes well.

Aside from the development of a vaccine, Prof Biswas said another interesting outcome of research on the virus is the unravelling of the "mechanism of nerve cell destruction, particularly nerve stem cells".

"One suggested mechanism is the destructive effects of the virus on neural stem cell which play a very active role in the development of fetal brain," Prof Biswas said.

This, he said, could explain how microcephaly characteristics of a small brain can develop in fetuses infected with Zika.

But this same understanding is being explored by researchers in treating other diseases.

"Researchers are also exploring the possibility of using Zika virus in the treatment of brain tumors, utilizing the same nerve cell destruction properties of this virus," Prof Biswas added.


Until then, both experts agreed that mosquito controlling efforts need to be maintained on the island.

To that end, NEA told Channel NewsAsia it conducted more than 575,000 inspections between January and June this year. It said some 1,900 households were fined for mosquito breeding.

It said construction sites found to be breeding mosquitoes dropped from 11 per cent in 2013, to 6 per cent as of June this year, as a result of working with stakeholders.

Still, it said more than 20 Stop Work Orders were issued in the first half of the year.

“With more exposure, the viruses and mosquitoes will learn to adapt to each other. So if you are hungry and there is nothing to eat except vegetables, you end up adapting and liking vegetables,” Dr Leong said.

Another reason for eradicating the mosquito population is the worry that there are other viruses out there that could be transmitted through the aedes mosquito.

“I estimate there’s probably five or six viruses out there that can be transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti that will respond to the same type of pressures- urbanisation and global travel,” Prof Gubler said.

“That can move those viruses around the world. So the only way to prevent the epidemic of those viruses if they emerge is to have good mosquito control because we don’t have vaccines for them, we don’t have other antiviral drugs.”
Source: CNA/mo

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CID holds anti-gang camp on Pulau Ubin for at-risk teenagers

Aw Cheng Wei Straits Times 29 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE - One of the first things Ah Boi plans to do when he gets home is to apologise to his father and to spend more time with him.

"I used to fight with him whenever I did something wrong, came home late or disturbed my younger brother," said Ah Boi, 15, using a pseudonym. .

He described himself as someone who would stay out late with some of his friends from a gang, about 10 to 15 of them.

They would "lepak" at places such as Sentosa, shopping centres and coffeeshops, he said, using a colloquial term used for loitering aimlessly.

On Wednesday (Nov 29), Ah Boi completed a 1½ day camp at Pulau Ubin, organised by the Criminal Investigation Department's Secret Societies Branch to teach at-risk teenagers the dangers of joining gangs.

A talk during the camp, called All Can Escape (Ace), motivated him to mend his relationship with his father.

He heard former inmate Michael Teoh, 52, who shared the story of how he rebuilt his relationships with his stepfather and biological father after he was released from prison in 1988.

Mr Teoh said that his stepfather had kneeled down and asked him for forgiveness for abusing him physically as a child.

He also tracked down his biological father who cried and apologised to him for neglecting him when he was a child.

Mr Teoh's descriptions left Ah Boi with powerful images.

"I want to be a better person who spends more time with my family," Ah Boi said.

He took part in the camp as part of a voluntary six-month rehabilitation process called the Streetwise Programme for youths associated with gangs or their activities.

The police identified him as a youth at-risk in May after an image of a gang insignia was posted on his social media account.

According to the Societies Act, it is illegal to join gangs or participate in their activities or pretend to be a gang member.

Ah Boi said that he wanted to join a gang because it was "step cool" - which refers to the act of pretending to be popular. "I was bored," he added.

Another participant, who wanted to be known only as Adam, said that he questioned the friendships he made in a gang after attending Camp Ace.

The Secondary 3 student said that he was not sure if they would support him if he ran into problems with the law.

He heard Mr Teoh recount how his former gang mates would cheat him of his share of a robbery that they had planned.

Adam said: "They will not care about you, they might betray you." He does not plan to contact the members of his former gang any more for fear that he might be drawn into their illicit activities such as running gambling dens.

Both teenagers found the camp's activities tiring but fun. Their favourite part was an obstacle course on the first day, saying it helped them build confidence to face their fears and how to work in a team.

Adam said: "In the past, I had never learnt how to help each other."

Mr Teoh, who is taking part in the camp for the first time, said that he is happy that his experience helped the two boys.

Currently a swim coach, he was charged with first degree murder after a robbery he planned with his friends went awry. Eventually, the charge was reduced to robbery with hurt. He was 17 when he first went to prison.

The father of two said that he has made it his mission to help youths "get back to the right track" after he was released from prison.

He said: "At their age, they are prone to gangs, illegal things that will hurt their future careers."

"I understand their struggles. I've been there. I want to help them understand life better and change their current perspective," he added.

In a statement, a police spokesman urged parents and guardians to guide their children or wards to stay away from wrong company and be wary of negative influences on social media.

He reminded youths that they would be committing a crime whenever they are involved in gang-related activities such as chanting gang slogans and poems.

Those found guilty could be punished with a fine not exceeding $5,000 or be jailed for a period not exceeding three years or both.

Those who want to leave gangs or suspect that someone might be in a gang can call the Secret Societies Branch on 6435-0000.

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OBS’ mission to help youth be more rugged ‘more relevant’ today: PM Lee

Today Online 30 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE — Describing how children are more sheltered and have fewer chances to “rough it out” these days, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that they can learn to be more tenacious and resourceful by going for outdoor adventures with the Outward Bound Singapore (OBS).

Speaking at the institution’s 50th anniversary celebrations on Wednesday (Nov 29), he pointed out that its mission now is “more relevant than ever”, which is to “develop mentally and physically rugged youth to be active citizens inspired to serve the community”.

When former Cabinet Minister Goh Keng Swee set up the school in 1967, he thought it would help to build ruggedness and resilience in young Singaporeans in the early days of nationhood, PM Lee recalled.

Fast forward to today and the need for such training has not waned.

“Our children are growing up in a much more developed and urbanised environment,” Mr Lee said. “There are fewer opportunities to rough it out in the outdoors, and shelter from bad weather is usually just a few steps away. Parents, teachers and schools are also more protective. When our children go ‘camping’ now, they often sleep in the school hall or the classroom, or sometimes on the Floating Platform at Marina Bay. So that sense of nature, the outdoors and adventure is not quite the same.”

While the boys will eventually do National Service, it is “much better if they are already fit, toughened and confident before they are called up”, he added. “We want all our young people — girls as well as boys, to be rugged and tenacious, adaptable and resourceful.”

To that end, the Education Ministry and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth developed the National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan last year. Part of the plan is for OBS to build permanent facilities on Coney Island to take in more students.

OBS has already started some activities on the island, PM Lee said, adding that with the expanded facilities, “every schoolgirl and schoolboy will have the opportunity to go through OBS at least once in their school years”.

Recounting his own experience at the school when he was 15 and among one of the first intakes of students in 1967, Mr Lee said that “OBS was ‘rugged’ in every sense of the word”.

The British Army had been organising holiday adventure camps on Pulau Ubin since the late 1950s before the People’s Association took over. Dr Goh was the association’s deputy chairman then.

The British Army continued to run first official OBS courses and two British majors headed the operations. Many of the instructors were non-commissioned officers from the British Army recruited here, and there were other Singaporean volunteers seconded from the civil service and Vigilante Corps.

The facilities and equipment were very basic and the dormitories were “makeshift”. “We had canoes, sailing dinghies, prismatic compasses and topographic maps, some simple rope and obstacle courses, but not much else,” Mr Lee said.

Pulau Ubin was even more rural then, unlike what it is now with better amenities such as paved roads.

“My coursemates and I found OBS a challenging experience, but we also enjoyed ourselves immensely. Our course lasted 17 days, longer than most of the courses OBS now runs... (We) had to get fit, to learn new skills, to encourage one another along on exercises and adventures. We did map reading and orienteering, and often got hopelessly lost. And we went canoeing (to Coney Island) and sailing (to Pulau Seletar), through sun and rain,” Mr Lee said of that period which “had a lasting impact” on the group and him.

“We were pushed to our limits, physical and as well as psychological. We gained self-confidence, became more resilient, and learnt to work with one another as a team. I think that was what Dr Goh intended.”

Noting that these are lessons that are hard to teach in the classroom, he added: “If OBS does its work well, Singapore will always have rugged youth who embody the OBS spirit ‘to serve, to strive, and not to yield’.”

Pioneer recalls OBS early days as it celebrates 50th year of founding
Noor Farhan Channel NewsAsia 30 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE: While the Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) campus in Pulau Ubin features impressive obstacle courses these days, it was far more spartan when it began 50 years ago.

As one of the pioneering instructors at OBS during its founding days, Mr Mathias Chay has seen the campus evolve.

“My fellow instructors and I would go into the swamps and chop trees, branches and so on to build obstacles,” said Mr Chay, who is in his 70s.

They placed these so-called "agility courses" near the sea so that if trainees were to fall, they would land in the water.

"It was all built by us, made up of the natural elements found around us. I suppose it was not as sophisticated but it did the job,” said Mr Chay at the OBS 50th anniversary celebrations on Pulau Ubin on Wednesday (Nov 29).

“The quarters where the students would stay were actually labourers' quarters. They were built for the workers of the granite quarry nearby,” he added.

Mr Chay also recalled the time when sea expeditions were done using sailboats given to them by the British Army.

“It was one of those old fibreglass boats that were very rudimentary. We called them bathtubs as they were very clumsy,” he reminisced.


One of Mr Chay’s adventure trainees at OBS was none other than Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“The facilities and equipment were very basic. We had canoes, sailing dinghies, prismatic compasses and topographic maps, some simple rope and obstacle courses, but not much else,” recalled PM Lee in his speech at the anniversary celebrations.

"Pulau Ubin then was even more rural than today. There were prawn ponds, granite quarries, a few kampongs, old rubber plantations, lots of mangrove swamp and a bit of a beach. To us, it seemed like a large, unknown continent,” he said.

He said that the 17 days he and his camp mates spent there had a lasting impact on him.

"Today, the mission of OBS – to develop mentally and physically rugged youths to be active citizens is more relevant than ever," Mr Lee added.


Since OBS was formed in 1967, more than 500,000 Singaporeans have been through the course.

OBS instructor Melvin Lam said that current trainees are taught skills like kayaking, trekking, setting up tents and cooking in the outdoors.

“They also stay overnight in the forest. The environment we put them in puts them out of their comfort zone," he said.

Putting the trainees in an unfamiliar environment improves their endurance and resilience, said the 28-year-old, who has been instructing at OBS for a year.

It was such skills which student Haikal Chew learnt on his recent stint at OBS. His fondest memory was leading his team of 60 to kayak around Pulau Ubin.

“The most memorable was the sea expedition, where I was the sea expedition leader. (It) was tough but we made it to our destination and it was meaningful,” said the secondary three student at Woodlands Ring Secondary School.

CEO of National Youth Council David Chua said that there will be more team-based challenges in the high adventure elements of Coney Island when the expanded camp opens there around 2020.

“In the future we can look forward to new programmes not just from Coney Island but to expeditions that will be designed in the northern parts, Eastern parts and southern parts of Singapore,” he added.

At the event, PM Lee also launched the OBS50 anniversary book. It recounts the memories and experiences of former instructors and students at OBS.

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Malaysia: Rainfall warning issued as storm shows no signs of easing

razak ahmad, c.a. zulkifle, and kathleen ann kili The Star 30 Nov 17;

PETALING JAYA: With floods worsening in the east coast, continuous rain now threatens the northern peninsular states as well.

The rains, brought about by the north-east monsoon which started on Nov 13, became so heavy that the Malaysian Meteorological Depart­ment (MetMalaysia) issued a red alert on Tuesday for parts of Kelan­tan and Terengganu.

The department has since lowered it to orange for Perlis, Kedah (Langkawi, Kubang Pasu, Kota Setar, Pokok Sena, Padang Terap, Sik and Baling), Perak (Hulu Perak), Kelantan (Tumpat, Pasir Mas, Kota Baru, Bachok, Tanah Merah, Machang, Pasir Putih, Jeli and Kuala Krai) and Terengganu (Besut and Setiu).

A yellow alert means heavy rain is expected within the next one to three days and if there is continuous rain, it will not last for more than six hours and the rainfall will be less than 60mm.

A red alert signifies continuous heavy rain exceeding 240mm a day.

In Kelantan, the number of flood evacuees went up from nearly 7,000 at 8am yesterday to more than 8,000 five hours later.

Neighbouring Terengganu was also badly hit with more than 2,000 displaced persons seeking shelter.

According to the MetMalaysia website, there are four seasons in Malaysia – the south-west monsoon (May to September), north-east monsoon (November to March) and the inter-monsoon periods.

Separately, Tenaga Nasional Berhad said its emergency response team was ready to work round the clock to help out in flood-hit areas.

The power company said in a statement that the team would work to restore supply cuts caused by the floods as soon as it was safe to do so.

It said operations rooms in affected states would be activated to monitor the situation and channel the latest information on supply cuts.

The Inland Revenue Board (IRB), meanwhile, said its Pasir Mas Revenue Service Centre in Kelantan was temporarily closed.

The centre would resume operations only after the floods receded, the IRB said in a statement.
In the Klang Valley, heavy rains from the inter-monsoon season, which ended early this month, had led to near-capacity water levels in the area’s dams.

The Sungai Selangor, Klang Gates, Langat and Semenyih dams recorded water levels of 100%, according to the Selangor Water Management Authority website.

It’s best not to go out to sea now, say authorities
The Star 30 Nov 17;

JOHOR BARU: Fishermen and others involved in activities at sea have been advised to be on high alert for strong winds and rough waters.

Johor Health, Environment, Education and Information Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the current weather is not favourable for going out to sea, especially for recreational activities and those in small boats.

He said that according to the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia), the north-east winds are expected to hit 40kph to 50kph, with waves recording heights of about 3.5m in the northern Malacca Straits until Saturday.

“Although bad weather has not been forecast for the Johor Straits yet, it is best to stick to indoor activities during the monsoon season,” he said yesterday.

“Strong winds and rough seas are dangerous to small boats, marine recreation and sea sports,” he said.

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Indonesia: 150 Million People Live in Disaster-Prone Areas in Indonesia

NetralNews 29 Nov 17;

BNPB: 150 Million People Live in Disaster-Prone Areas in Indonesia (bnpb)
JAKARTA, NETRALNEWS.COM – Willem Rampangile, Head of the Indonesia National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), says 150 million Indonesians live in disaster-prone areas.

Willem said his side has already mapped the disaster-prone areas in Indonesia. From the map, it can be concluded there are 150 million Indonesian citizens living in disaster areas. He detailed that as many as 60 million people live in flood-prone areas, 40 million people in landslide-prone areas, and four million in tsunami prone areas.

"From Sabang to Merauke, it is all red. The government is aware of this matter, and that disaster risk reduction efforts and prevention plans have been included since the 2015-2016 medium term plans. These have been put on priority by the government," he said on Wednesday (29/11/2017).

He continued that there are now a number of areas affected by hydrologic disasters due to weather. Fortunately, the government has anticipated the condition and made preparations from the beginning before entering the rainy season. Preparedness efforts, among others, include the provision of necessary equipment and logistics including early warning systems and ready-to-use funds distribution.

With the release of emergency alert status, in the event of a priority disaster is the rescue and evacuation of victims and the community, the fulfillment of logistics and health. The government declared ready to cope with disasters both in terms of logistics, health, education and others.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Nov 17

Singapore Raptor Report – October 2017
Singapore Bird Group

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Malaysia: Saving the banteng, the most endangered large mammal in Sabah

Kristy New Straits Times 29 Nov 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A workshop starting tomorrow will kickstart efforts to draft a Bornean Banteng Action Plan for Sabah to be submitted to the state government.

International and local scientists, governmental agencies and industry players are convening to save another iconic species endemic to the State. The banteng is also known as tembadau.

In a joint statement here, the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) that are organising the two-day workshop said recommendations will be given on protecting the Bornean banteng based on findings of a five-year state-wide survey conducted by them.

"Then Action Plan will be drafted based on the proposed recommendations from the workshop.

"It will be validated by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group before being submitted to the State Government for approval," said DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens.

The species is threatened by heavy poaching, habitat loss and forest fragmentation in Sabah where only last month, three banteng were poached by hunters in three protected areas in Sabah in the space of three days.

"At this rate, the species will not survive another 20 years and we will lose it like we lost our Sumatran rhinoceros," he stressed.

According to a survey using camera traps in several protected and unprotected areas statewide, it is estimated there are four or five isolated populations of banteng.

"One is on the west coast, one or two in central Sabah, one in the south-east and one in the north-east of Sabah.

"The total population is estimated to be around 400 to 500 individuals, making the Bornean banteng the most endangered large mammal in Sabah,” added Goossens.

Earlier this year, stakeholders have also convened two separate events to come up with plans for the conservation of the proboscis monkey and Sunda clouded leopard, respectively.

He added that DGFC has also been supported by

Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) since April 2011 with a commitment of RM3.96 million over a period of six years, to conduct research on the three species.

The action plans for the three species are expected to be ready by early 2018.

YSD chairman Tun Musa Hitam has stated that the Foundation will be waiting in anticipation for the submission of the three action plans to the Sabah state government.

The Foundation has also sponsored one Malaysian student, Lim Hong Ye who pursued his Master’s degree at Universiti Malaysia Sabah and graduated this year.

He will present his work on banteng at the workshop tomorrow.

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Malaysia: Something fishy in Semporna - surge in crown-of-thorns population

The Star 29 Nov 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A population surge in crown-of-thorns starfish (pic), which consume corals, is worrying the diving community in Semporna.

Divers noticed the sharp increase at some coral reefs near Semporna, the gateway to the renowned diving haven of Pulau Sipadan and the Tun Sakaran Marine Park.

Local divemaster Pius Angelo Mak said the divers were unsure what they should do to tackle the problem.

“A group of us started picking up these crown-of-thorns starfish about two weeks ago and drying them under the sun to kill them before casting the carcasses into the sea,” Pius said. “We’re not sure if this is right approach but it seemed the right thing to do.”

Sabah Parks watching out for starfish invasion
The Star 30 Nov 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Parks is hoping the crown-of-thorns starfish boom in waters off Semporna will not spread to the islands that it manages.

Its director Dr Jamili Nais said it is aware of the surge in numbers of the starfish, which consumes coral.

Divers have found that the areas affected so far are not within waters protected by Sabah Parks.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed that the creatures will not spread to our areas,” Dr Jamili said yesterday.

The state parks contain important marine ecosystems and are big draws for divers and tourists.

“This is like an illness and we have these starfish affecting our islands once in a while but we have always taken immediate steps to stop their spread,” said Dr Jamili.

Coral reefs are one of the main attractions Sabah has to offer divers.

Dr Jamili said Sabah Parks would also help manage the problem in affected areas if it gets an official request.

Earlier this week, some divers noticed a sharp increase in starfish numbers at several coral reefs near Semporna, the gateway to the renowned diving haven of Pulau Sipadan and Tun Sakaran Marine Park.

Local divemaster Pius Angelo Mak said the divers are unsure of what they should do to tackle the problem.

He said a group of them started picking up the starfish about two weeks ago and drying them under the sun to kill them before casting the carcasses into the sea.

They are not sure if that is the right approach but “it seemed like the right thing to do”.

Researchers from Australia’s James Cook University found in 2015 that a single injection of white vinegar kills a crown-of-thorns starfish within 48 hours without harming surrounding marine life.

It is a much cheaper alternative to the previous lethal injection of bile salts and the researchers noted that starfish-eating animals appeared to savour these “pickled” carcasses.

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Malaysia: Floods getting worse in Kelantan and Terengganu

The Star 29 Nov 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: The floods which hit the east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu have worsened, sending more people to relief centres as heavy rain continued in several areas and the levels of some rivers breached the danger point.

According to the National Disas­ter Management Agency’s Disaster Portal, as of 8pm yesterday, a total of 5,492 victims had been evacuated: 3,726 in Kelantan, 1,750 in Terengganu and 16 in Perlis, which was also affected by floods on Monday night.

On a related matter, Fire and Rescue Department director-general Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim said 47 relief centres have been opened in Kelantan and 41 in Terengganu, as well as one in Perlis to accommodate evacuees.

Bernama reported that evacuees in Kelantan were being put up at relief centres in the districts of Kota Baru, Pasir Mas, Tanah Merah, Pasir Puteh, Kuala Krai, Machang and Bachok.

Kelantan and Terengganu river water levels have now reached danger point, a check on the Drainage and Irrigation Department website Info Banjir showed.

In Kelantan, the Sungai Golok stations at Jenob, Tanah Merah, and Rantau Panjang, Pasir Mas, exceeded the danger level, with water levels of 23.5m and 10.44m respectively at 6pm yesterday.

The Sungai Nerus station at Kampung Langkap in Setiu, Terengganu, recorded a water level of 21.73m at 6.30pm yesterday, exceeding the danger level of 21.5m.

More than 6,700 people evacuated due to Kelantan floods
Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah New Straits Times 29 Nov 17;

KOTA BARU: Twenty-eight people from Tumpat were evacuated last night after their homes in Kebakat were hit by floods.

The evacuees, from six families, were moved to the Sekolah Kebangsaan Kebakat, which had been converted into a flood relief centre.

According to the state government's flood portal, the number of flood evacuees in Kelantan stands at 6,719 people as of 7.30am today.

The victims, from 2,052 families, are now seeking shelter at 97 relief centres in nine districts.

Pasir Mas recorded the highest number of victims of 2,237, followed by Kota Baru (1301) and Tanah Merah (970).

The other affected districts are Bachok, Jeli, Kuala Krai, Machang and Pasir Putih.

As of 7.30am, the water level at Sungai Golok in Rantau Panjang was measured at 10.66m, which is 1.66m beyond its danger level of 9m.

The water level at Sungai Golok in Jenob meanwhile was recorded at 23.52m (danger mark 23.50m).

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Indonesia: Eleven dead as floods and landslide hit East Java

Agence France-Presse Jakarta Post 28 Nov 17;

At least 11 people have died in severe floods and landslides in Pacitan, East Java, an official said Tuesday.

A landslide killed nine people at Pacitan and two people died in floods triggered by heavy rain in the same area.

Thousands of homes were flooded and 4,000 people forced to evacuate them, said a spokesman for the national disaster mitigation agency.

The extreme weather will continue to hit the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali, the spokesman added, warning people to be prepared for floods, landslides and tornados.

The agency said it urgently needs blankets, clothes and inflatable boats for affected areas.

The country is often hit by landslides and floods.

Twelve people including three children died in a landslide on the holiday island of Bali in February.

In September last year almost 30 people died in devastating floods and landslides in Garut, West Java.

Flood hits Central Java, forces thousands to evacuate
Ganug Nugroho Adi The Jakarta Post 29 Nov 17;

Thousands of residents in Surakarta, Central Java, are being forced to evacuate after floodwater engulfed hundreds of homes following heavy rains that have been falling since Tuesday morning.

In Sukoharjo, homes in Karangwuni and Tegalsari villages in Weru district were flooded after the Siluwur River burst its banks.

“More than a 100 homes, several schools and hundreds of hectares of farming land are flooded,” Weru district head Samino said Wednesday.

He added that the Sukoharjo administration and the Klaten Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) were still trying to evacuate residents from their homes as the water level was still high.

Bayat, Klaten, also faced a similar situation where the Dengkeng River overflowed and flooded the surrounding area.

In Wonogiri, floods and landslides have hit 14 subdistricts since Tuesday morning.

“This is the worst flooding in the last 10 years. There are no casualties but 2,000 residents have been evacuated to temporary shelters,” Wonogiri Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Bambang Haryanto said on Wednesday. He said in December 2007, floods killed 17 residents of Tirtomoyo subdistrict.

This year, the flood blocked roads that connected Wonogiri-Pacitan and Wonogiri-Tirtomoyo, he added.

At least 11 people died after the Cyclone Cempaka hit Java Island. The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) issued a warning on Monday that the cyclone had formed off the southern coast of Java and was ready to hit Java and Bali islands. (hol/ebf)

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Thai police arrest 16 protesting against coal-fired power plant

Reuters 28 Nov 17;

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai authorities have arrested 16 people who were protesting against the construction of a coal-fired power plant, drawing criticism of the military government from rights activists and environmentalists.

The planned power plant in the southern province of Songkhla will consist of two 1,000-megawatt units, and is part of a power development plan to 2036, but activists object to its expected environmental and health impact on communities in the area.

The 16 protesters were arrested on Monday as they traveled from Thepa district, the site of the plant, to the provincial capital to present a petition to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was due in the city on Tuesday for a meeting.

“This incident shows the true face of Thailand’s military dictators, who have committed a long list of abuses and repressions since the May 2014 coup,” Sunai Phasuk, Thailand researcher for U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.

Six protesters were injured in a scuffle with police, said anti-coal activist Supat Hasuwannakit.

“The use of force was uncalled for,” Supat told Reuters.

A few police officers were injured, police said, adding that the 16 had been charged with blocking traffic, assaulting authorities, and resisting arrest. Police have requested that a court detains them.

Tara Buakamsri, country director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said in a statement the action against the protesters reflected a “complete failure” by the government to promote a peaceful and inclusive society.

“The Thepa power plant has no legitimacy to be built,” the group said.

The first unit of the power plant is due to begin operating in 2021.

Its environmental health impact assessment was completed in August and is pending approval by the National Environment Board.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Pracha Hariraksapitak; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat

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Shell doubles up on green spending and vows to halve carbon footprint

Anglo-Dutch giant to spend $2bn on wind power, biofuels and electric cars as it bows to shareholder pressure by setting new company climate change target
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 28 Nov 17;

Shell has doubled its spending on clean power and bowed to shareholder pressure by promising to halve the carbon footprint of the energy it sells by 2050, as the oil giant said it was stepping up its ambitions on green energy.

The Anglo Dutch firm is increasing capital expenditure for its new energies division, to $1bn-$2bn (£750m to £1.5bn) a year for 2018-2020, up from a previous plan of up to $1bn a year by 2020.

But the spending on wind power, biofuels and electric car infrastructure will still account for a small fraction of the giant’s planned $25-30bn annual investment. Shell has $5bn-$6bn a year pegged for deepwater drilling and $2-3bn a year allocated for shale oil and gas.

The company’s new climate change target aims to cut the net carbon footprint of its products in half by 2050, and around one-fifth by 2035.

“It is making sure that the products within society have an overall lower carbon footprint. That is the longterm way of making sure our business remains a relevant business in the face of the energy transition,” said Ben van Beurden, Shell’s chief executive.

The carbon target is similar to one put forward by shareholder activists at the company’s AGM earlier this year, which the board opposed and defeated.

Shell said the goal addressed the spirit of the shareholders’ proposal but the company’s chosen methodology meant it did not have “negative side-effects” of the resolution. “We could see a kernel of truth and relevance in there,” said Van Beurden.

The Dutch activist shareholder group behind the proposal, Follow This, welcomed the new target.

“We applaud Shell’s ambitious decision to take leadership in achieving the goals of the Paris climate agreement to limit global warming to well below 2C,” said the group’s founder, Mark van Baal.

Shell said it would grow its new energies division through its existing businesses and by acquiring companies, as it has done recently by buying electric car charging firms Ionity and New Motion.

Van Beurden defended the level of spending on green energy. “Is the investment we are going to put in new energies enough? Let’s see, we have to start somewhere,” he said.

Wind and biofuels would have a key role, he said. “We will systematically improve, we will grow this business up to be a very significant part of the future of the company, otherwise you can’t even get to a 20% reduction of a carbon footprint.

“But we have to do it in a disciplined way. If we destroy value in this process, no one is going to be served.”

However, the company said hydrocarbons would still be at the heart of its business and the global energy landscape over the next two decades.

“Oil and gas will remain an important part of the energy system [up to 2030], no credible forecast says otherwise,” said Van Beurden.

On the idea that some of its assets would be stranded by governments taking action on carbon emissions as part of the Paris climate deal, he said: “I think we will have very limited, if any, stranded assets [in the 2020s].”

The chief executive said that the firm sees underlying reasons that the oil price could go even higher than where it stands now, at just over $60 per barrel, but in the meantime the price could be unpredictable.

“I think we will see an era of volatility,” he said, adding: “You may argue the fundamentals point to a slightly higher oil price than we see at the moment.”

As expected, Shell also announced it was would begin rewarding shareholders in cash rather than issuing more shares.

“Ben van Beurden has delivered an early Christmas present for Shell shareholders,” said Nicholas Hyett, analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, of the scrapping of the scrip dividend which was introduced after Shell bought gas behemoth BG Group for £35bn in 2016.

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We are all responsible for our planet

Arnoud De Meyer For The Straits Times 28 Nov 17;

Singapore can improve on its approach to use of plastic bags, recycling waste and sustainability.
Two rather alarming reports were published earlier this month about the state of our planet.

The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the average temperature on earth is rising faster than expected, and that the consequences are unpredictable, given the non-linear nature of the effects of warming. Separately, a group of United States agencies released a report saying that global warming is real and the consequence of human activities.

The concerned citizen and scientist in me wondered what we can do about it. The first reaction is, of course, to look at the government and wait for its actions. But the point I want to make today is that we all can take action.

I was reminded of a conversation I had a few months ago with a group of European exchange students at the Singapore Management University (SMU). I asked them about their experiences at the university and here in Singapore.

As usual, I received quite a few positive comments about the country. I thus challenged them to name one thing that Singapore could do better in. I was surprised when one of them blurted: "This country still lives in the 20th century when it comes to selective waste collection and sustainability". To prove his point, he added: "You know, they still use styrofoam here; and you get plastic bags in the supermarkets!"

It is true that in most European countries, styrofoam packaging is being phased out and plastic bags are hardly available in supermarkets. If you want to get such bags, you have to pay a rather hefty sum. Most of his friends voiced support for his observation.

I was heartened to some extent when they said that at least at SMU, there was a possibility for selective waste collection and composting of food waste for use in SMU's garden.

I countered their assertion by pointing out that the National Environment Agency organises quite a number of campaigns, such as Keep Singapore Clean, Clean and Green Singapore, and Energy Efficient Singapore.

However, the exchange students felt that although the government agencies are taking action, citizens here are not very engaged when it comes to sustainability.

I do agree with them that we cannot leave the responsibility for sustainability to governments alone.

The issue is so overwhelming that all of us need to work together. Citizens and businesses need to take on more responsibility and be more proactive. We cannot have a short-term egocentric view, but have to take it upon ourselves to ensure the long-term viability of our planet for the coming generations.

We all need to decide together how we want to live together tomorrow, and that will require action today. We cannot keep kicking the can forward when it comes to actions to preserve our environment!

It sounds like an impossible task, but well-known development economist Jeffrey Sachs, who recently delivered a lecture at SMU, pointed out that it is still possible to reverse the global warming trend.

He argued that we have to make a few very challenging transitions: a demographic transition to limit the growth of the world population, an energy transition away from carbon-based fuels, an ecological transition so that we grow our food without exhausting our natural environment, and a governance transition so that long-term objectives take priority over short-term purely financial objectives. He also pointed out the key word is collaboration: between governments, but also between the government, business and civic society.

In September, we had also welcomed the former prime minister of the Netherlands, Mr Jan Balkenende, as a speaker at SMU. He was here in his role as chairman of the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition. This is a group comprising well-known Dutch companies such as AkzoNobel, DSM, Heineken, KLM, Philips, Shell and Unilever.

These multinationals share the conviction that long-term financial and economic value and success are inextricably linked to minimised environmental impact, social progress and inclusiveness. They go beyond this conviction and carry out studies, report on their actions and initiatives, and take the lead to provide governments with advice on how to push the sustainability agenda.


They realise that they cannot act alone, because doing so would put them in a very unfavourable competitive position; but by acting together, they can engage in pre-competitive collaboration and undertake effective dialogue with stakeholders.

Why should companies take such a proactive role? Perhaps because sustainability is a good business driver: It helps them to build their reputation and it may create new profitable business models. But there is more.

Governments have a limited geographical reach. We may work hard on preserving our environment here in Singapore, but that will have little effect if similar actions are not taken by our neighbouring countries. Multilateral governmental initiatives are of course the solution, but agreeing on these initiatives takes much time and effort, and the implementation is always a big challenge.

Companies, on the other hand, are in a very different position. Their supply chains stretch over many countries, and they often have a deep understanding of all the externalities that our consumption here in Singapore creates.

The products in our supermarkets may look sustainable, but how much water had to be used to raise the shrimp or fish in Vietnam or Indonesia? How much carbon dioxide was produced to transport the fruits and vegetables from South Africa or New Zealand to Singapore?

Companies have much better insights into how much the real cost of producing such goods has been shifted to others or to future generations. They are certainly well-placed to take action to reduce the unwanted externalities.

But will they do so? The evidence suggests that it is not impossible. Under public pressure and scrutiny, they have for example, limited child labour in the textile industry and reduced slash-and-burn practices to create oil palm plantations.

Companies such as Heineken that produce a lot of beer in Africa have invested in ensuring that more than 60 per cent of the agricultural materials that go into their beer are locally sourced.

Companies could also create a circular economy where materials are re-used as much as possible. This stands in contrast to the linear production and consumption model that is about "take resources, make products and dispose the used product".

We in Singapore can be rightly satisfied that we recycle more than 50 per cent of our waste, but we mainly burn it for energy production and dump the non-incinerable waste and incineration ash into the Semakau Landfill. It is a good step in the right direction, but we could do so much more, by re-using products and components.

This can be achieved only through long-lasting design for reuse, maintenance, repair, remanufacturing, refurbishing and recycling. These are tasks which companies need to assume leadership in, and they excel in that role.


Can we leave it all to the Government and companies? I am convinced individuals can also make a real contribution as citizens and consumers. There are at least three areas where each of us can make a difference: education for awareness, consumption choices and waste handling.

Let me return to my interaction with SMU's exchange students mentioned earlier. When they expressed their surprise about the continued use of styrofoam packaging and plastic bags in the supermarkets, one should not assume that they have a natural inclination for sustainability. It is just that they are used to it. They were raised in an environment where selective waste collection is widely practised.

In northern European cities, families often have up to 11 containers for different types of waste. These students know they have to bring bags to the supermarket or have to pay for them. And they have been made aware of the impact of plastic on the environment.

Many of them know the mantra: It takes one second to produce a plastic bag, about 20 minutes to use it, and perhaps decades if not centuries to get it out of the environment. It is all about education. Not the type of education in universities or schools, but the one at home, in the family where they can see and emulate role models of sustainability in action.

As consumers, we also have a very important role to play. Through our choices, we provide a signal to the suppliers of what we want. Do we really need that fruit or vegetable that has travelled thousands of kilometres, when similar food is available from our neighbours? Do we make careful use of all that we buy? Sometimes we don't have all the information but there are certain kinds of certification by independent organisations that can help. Let's be open to such information.

Finally, what do we do with products when they have been used? Do we simply throw them away, or do we ask ourselves whether they can be recycled or be used by others?

The selective collection of waste in Europe has resulted in a reduction of the total amount of waste per family per year. Many families have used food waste to produce compost, either individually per house, but often collectively with neighbours in the building. Clothes or small electronic products are now far more often sold through second-hand shops.

Let's not rely on governments alone to take action. We should all take charge of our planet, and to paraphrase President Emmanuel Macron of France, let's all work together to make this planet great again. All of us can contribute to that goal!

The writer is president of Singapore Management University.

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Wilmar becomes first palm oil company to link bank loan to sustainability performance

TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 27 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE — Wilmar International has become the first company in Asia as well as in the palm oil industry to take a loan with interest rate pegged to its sustainability efforts.

If the performance milestones are met, ING bank will reduce its interest rate for part of the loan in the following year, a joint press statement by Wilmar and ING said on Monday (Nov 27). When contacted, a Wilmar spokesman declined to disclose how much this amounts to.

The statement said that Wilmar has partnered with ING to convert a portion of its revolving credit facility of US$150 million into the “sustainability performance-linked loan”.

Wilmar’s performance will be tracked by Sustainalytics - a company that does sustainability and governance rankings and research - based on environmental, social and governance indicators.

Mr Ho Kiam Kong, Chief Financial Officer at Wilmar, said: “We believe that incorporating sustainability metrics into every aspect of our business, from daily operations to corporate financing, is key to creating value for our stakeholders.”

The statement said “the concept for this sustainability loan heralds a new approach for the green loans industry by encompassing not just environmental, but also social and governance aspects”.

Since March, ING has offered eight clients such loans. These include businesses in health technology, food and beverage, as well as the gas and electricity industries.

While loans linked to sustainability performance are relatively new, other forms of sustainability-related financing have been around for a while. For example, banks have issued green bonds which finance eligible businesses that contribute to a low-carbon and sustainable economy. According to the International Chamber of Commerce, green bond issuance nearly doubled to US$95.6 billion last year

Earlier this year, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said it was looking at developing a set of recommendations for banks and financial institutions to adopt sustainable financing. This includes getting lenders to conduct more thorough screening of firms and their sustainable practices before issuing loans. Some of the recommendations could include better financing companies which are engaged in sustainable practices through green bonds or other incentives.

The Association of Banks in Singapore has also begun reaching out to banks to help them understand the issue, such as how they can screen companies before issuing loans.

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Malaysia: AG report - Land encroachment polluted dams

The Star 28 Nov 17;

MELAKA: Raw water supply in Melaka dams, especially in the Durian Tunggal Dam in Alor Gajah and Jus Dam in Jasin, were found to have been polluted as a result of land encroachment activities.

The Auditor-General’s Report 2016 (Series 2) said there were 721 violations of raw water quality regulations reported at nine water treatment plants between 2014 and 2016.

Chemical fertiliser, sand mining, catfish farming and rubber and oil palm plantation activities were identified as the main contributors of the pollution.

“If those activities were left uncontrolled, the functions of raw water in catchment areas will be jeopardised, causing deterioration in the environment,” said the report, which was released yesterday.

The report proposed that the state Water Regulatory Body does a detailed study on the quantity, quality and alternative sources of raw water to ensure optimum and sufficient supply, and also carries out monitoring and enforcement activities in dam areas to prevent further pollution. — Bernama

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Malaysia: Floods force almost 1,000 people in Terengganu from their homes

Bernama New Straits Times 28 Nov 17;

KUALA TERENGGANU: Floods which hit Terengganu following three days of heavy rain have sent 936 people from 308 families to 32 evacuation centres in five districts.

According to the State Disaster Management Committee secretariat, the Hulu Terengganu district is the worst-affected, with 515 people at 20 relief centres.

Setiu has 185 people at five relief centres; Dungun has 138 people at four centres; Marang has 59 people at two centres; and Besut has 39 people at one centre, it said.

The website stated that as of 8am, several rivers in the state have breached their danger levels.

Sungai Telemong in Kuala Ping, Hulu Terengganu is at 20 metres; Sungai Nerus in Langkap, Setiu is at 22.12 metres; and Sungai Marang at the Pengkalan Berangan Bridge, Marang is at 3 metres.

The situation is expected to worsen as downpours are forecasted in several areas today. -- Bernama

Kelantan floods worsen; 1,563 people evacuated to relief shelters
Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah New Straits Times 28 Nov 17;

KOTA BARU: The flooding situation in Kelantan which began on Saturday has worsened, with evacuees recorded at 1,563 as of this morning.

According to the state’s flood portal, the victims, from 436 families, are taking shelter at 28 relief centres in the districts of Pasir Mas, Pasir Putih, Bachok, Tanah Merah, Machang, Kuala Krai and Kota Baru.

Meanwhile, four rivers in the state have risen to their warning level, while another has breached its danger mark as of 7am.

Sungai Golok in Rantau Panjang is continuing to rise, having breached its danger level following non-stop rain since Saturday.

It was recorded at 10.06m as of 7am, which is 1.06m above its danger level.

Other rivers which are above their warning marks are Sungai Galas in Dabong, which is at 35.05m (its warning level is 35m); Sungai Lebir in Tualang at 32.36m (warning level: 31m); Krai Steps at 23.05m (warning level: 22.50m) and Jenob at 22.57m (warning level: 22.50m).

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Greenpeace slams Indonesia palm oil industry on deforestation

AFP 27 Nov 17;

`Greenpeace slammed Indonesia's palm oil industry Monday for failing to live up to a pledge to halt deforestation, as the lucrative sector faces possible restrictions in Europe over environmental concerns.

Palm oil is used in everything from soap to frozen pizza, but a consumer backlash has forced dozens of the world’s largest food and drink manufacturers to address its ecological impact.

Vast swathes of rainforest are destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, threatening endangered species and pushing indigenous people off their lands.

International corporations, including Unilever, Kellogg and Mondelez, have pledged to adopt environmentally friendly supply chains by 2020.

But Greenpeace said in a report published on Monday that large palm oil traders are failing on that commitment.

The environmental group found that most of the 11 major traders operating in Indonesia did not have strict systems to monitor the origin of their goods and were not calling out non-compliant producers.

"Broadly, the palm oil industry has agreed to end deforestation. The issue -- and it is a critical one -- is only two of the 11 (traders) we looked at was actually able to say when they are going to end deforestation," Richard George, a UK-based forest campaigner at Greenpeace, told AFP.

None of the firms contacted by AFP replied to requests for comment on the report.

The Greenpeace report comes against the backdrop of mounting concerns about palm oil's environmental impact.

The European Union, the world's second largest consumer after India, passed a resolution in April calling for tougher environmental standards for palm oil linked to deforestation.

Indonesia and Malaysia -- the world’s two largest producers -- have been lobbying against the resolution.

Both countries have slammed possible EU import restrictions as unfair, and a move that would harm millions of mostly small-scale farmers.

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Indonesia: Government initiates rejuvenation program for North Sumatra's palm oil plantations

Antara 27 Nov 17;

Serdang Bedagai, N Sumatra (ANTARA News) - The government has initiated a program to rejuvenate palm oil plantations in North Sumatra spread across 9,109.29 hectares in 12 districts.

Serdang Bedagai, Langkat, South Labuhan Batu, Labuhan Batu, Asahan, Batubara, Simalungun, North Labuhan Batu, North Padan Lawas, Padang Lawas, Deli Serdang, and Central Tapanuli are the districts outlined for the implementation of the program.

"The province has a total of 470 thousand hectares of palm oil plantations, of which at least 350 thousand hectares need to be rejuvenated. Despite the wide area, we should rejuvenate the trees to increase their productivity," President Joko Widodo noted in his speech in Dolok Masihul Sub-district of Serdang Bedagai District, North Sumatra, on Monday.

Widodo said the trees aged between 25 and 30 years were not productive and should be rejuvenated.

The government, through the People`s Palm Oil Replanting Program, is providing funds to farmers to conduct replanting activities in their palm oil plantations.

"Palm oil is the green gold of our country, as Indonesia is one of the biggest producers of palm oil not only in Asia or South Asia but also globally," the president noted.

He said Indonesia also produces raw materials needed to manufacture soaps, cosmetics, margarine, cooking oil, and pharmaceuticals.

Palm oil is also one of the raw materials for producing biodiesel fuel used in vehicles.

Widodo remarked that Indonesia is aiming to become the producer of palm oil derivative products.

"The industrial management of palm oil should be improved. We should boost ways to manage, preserve, and replant the fields," Widodo noted.

Besides this, the government had rejuvenated palm oil fields in South Sumatra Province that are located in Musi Banyuasin District, spanning 4,100 hectares, in last October.

The total area of palm oil plantations in Indonesia reaches 11.9 million hectares, of which at least 4.6 million hectares belong to the private sector.

Palm oil trees to be rejuvenated are aged over 25 years and produce less than 10 tons of palm oil fruits per year.

Reported by Desca Lidya N
Editor: Heru Purwanto

President plants palm tree for North Sumatra`s rejuvenation program
Antara 27 Nov 17;

Serdang Bedagai, N Sumatra (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo symbolically planted a palm oil tree in Kota Tengah Village, North Sumatra, Monday, to launch a government program to rejuvenate palm oil plantations of smallholders in the province.

Palm oil is the green gold of Indonesia, as it offers several benefits to improve the living standards of the Indonesian people, particularly those engaged in palm oil plantations, the president told palm oil growers attending the function.

Indonesia is the world`s largest palm oil producer, he said, adding that palm oil can be used as a raw material to produce soaps, cooking oil, and various products that will have a positive impact on the country`s foreign exchange earnings.

"Until now, palm oil has also been used as a raw material to produce biodiesel," he said.

To participate in the palm oil replanting program, farmers are required to hold land certificates. This means the farmers on whose lands palm oil trees will be planted must hold a certificate, he explained.

To this end, the government has helped palm oil growers secure land certificates without wasting time, he said.

By holding land certificates, palm oil growers will be able to cultivate their land, he said.

Indonesia is now listed as the world`s largest producer of crude palm oil (CPO) and along with Malaysia contributes some 85 percent of the global CPO production. In 2015, Indonesia and Malaysia had each produced 31.28 million tons and 21 million tons of CPO.

Based on the 2010 roadmap for the development of the downstream palm oil industry, Indonesia`s CPO output is projected to reach 40 million tons in 2020. In line with the roadmap, the country`s CPO production is expected to increase by an average of 6.8 percent per year.

To maintain its status as the world`s largest CPO producer, Indonesia needs to expand its palm oil plantations, and above all, rejuvenate its old palm plantations.

Editor: Heru Purwanto

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India: 53 students selected for dugong scholarship

The Hindu 27 Nov 17;

The Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which has launched ‘Dugong recovery project’ in coordination with the State Fisheries department and introduced ‘dugong scholarship’ programme to elicit the support of the fisherfolk, has selected 53 students – wards of fishermen for a monthly scholarship of Rs. 500 each.

The WII, which was making collective efforts for the implementation of the project and the conservation of dugongs in Gulf of Mannar, has shortlisted the students after conducting written examinations in Ramanatahpuram, Pudukottai and Thanjavur districts in June – July, K. Sivakumar, Scientist, WII, and project inspector, said.

The scholarship programme was aimed at getting the support of the fishing community, which was one of the main objectives of this project, he said. The selected students would be given the scholarship for two years with effect from June this year, he said. In all, 779 students had appeared for the examination — 316 from class XI and 463 from class IX from 20 different schools from the three coastal districts, PVR Prem Jothi, Marine Biologist, WII, said.

The top 14 students were felicitated by P.C. Tyagi, Principal, Chief Conservator of Forest.

The toppers were facilitated at the International Consultative Workshop conducted by WII and UNESCO on “Pilot Testing of Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) Framework for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) including Coastal and Marine World Heritage Sites of India”, held at Thoothukudi recently.

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Best of our wild blogs: 27 Nov 17

17 Dec (Sun): FREE workshop just for youths on marine outreach!
wild shores of singapore

The Story of Shells – Part 1
Mei Lin NEO

Juvenile Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) being scavenged by Weaver Ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) @ Pasir Ris
Monday Morgue

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'Closed loop' urban farm in Queenstown tackles food waste with insects

Wendy Wong Channel NewsAsia 26 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE: As the Government ramps up efforts to reduce food waste and raise awareness of the problem, one urban farm in Singapore has been trying to lighten this load with the help of an insect.

Set up earlier this year, Citizen Farm in Queenstown has been using the black soldier fly to help grow its vegetables, as food for its fish and to help tackle food waste - the first in Singapore to incorporate these insects as part of farming practice.

The "closed loop" farm runs on a circular economy approach, by feeding the insect larvae with food waste from restaurants and supermarkets, turning this into nutrient-rich fertiliser.

Once the larvae transform into pupae, the insects are fed to jade perch fish which the farm rears. The fish subsequently secrete waste that becomes fertiliser for its vegetables.

Leftover agriculture waste - or produce that cannot be sold - is fed to the larvae, which then produces waste that becomes fertiliser.

The farm currently produces around 150kg of vegetables and fish a month, and goes through the same weight of food waste a day for its insect farm, which currently houses about 10kg of the black soldier fly's pupae.

According to head of Citizen Farm Darren Ho, the fly is also "easy to manage" as it does not transmit diseases, possesses a short life cycle of about six weeks and is a "shy insect" as it avoids human habitats.

Singapore generated 791,000 tonnes of food waste last year - about two bowls of rice daily - and this is set to grow along with the country's size and affluence.

Mr Ho told Channel NewsAsia that the purpose of such farming is to look at waste as a "resource" instead.

"The purpose of closed loop farming is to look at waste as a resource which we can then utilise to be looped back into our food cycle," said Mr Ho. "Food waste is something Singapore has in copious amounts."

"It is an issue to take them (food waste) out of the equation - so why don’t we take that to put it back into the food system through urban farming today, as urban farming becomes a lot more widespread in our economy?"

There are also wider benefits to running such a closed loop system in Singapore as opposed to conventional farming, according to Professor William Chen, the director of the food science and technology programme at Nanyang Technological University.

Benefits include cutting out the need to add chemical fertilisers to the soil and saving on the cost of fish feed, which can contribute to up to 50 per cent of a farm's operating costs, said Prof Chen.

"In Singapore we have very limited natural resources. We only allocate less than 1 per cent of land for agriculture and we import 90 per cent of food," said Prof Chen. "So closed loop farming provides a very attractive alternative in terms of sustainability of food production, because we rely less on land and use less water and energy."

"Therefore this actually contributes significantly to our goal in enhancing food security in Singapore."

He noted that the technology was not a new one that had come "out of nowhere" but one that had been used in neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Thailand for more than a thousand years.

"(For example), in rice paddy fields, the farmer will keep the ducks or fish. So it’s already closed loop because the fish would take the discharge from the duck and the fish discharge will become fertiliser for the rice," he said.

Citizen Farm said it has plans to sell the insect as pet food and animal feed in the near future if this is approved by the authorities.

"The insect is very versatile – they can eat virtually anything including food waste," Prof Chen said. "The insect has similar nutritional profile as other animal proteins. So the insect grow on this food waste can be nicely fit into this closed loop farming practice."

Source: CNA/nc

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Malaysia: Johor government to acquire water services company SAJ Ranhill

Halim Said New Straits Times 26 Nov 17;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: The Johor state government will soon sit in a meeting with SAJ Ranhill Sdn Bhd to embark on a move to gain full control over the water company operation in the state by acquiring the majority shares in the company equity.

State public works, rural and regional development committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohamed said the move to increase the state government shares in the water utility company was to reposition itself in the state water management operations in terms of having power to control and obtaining rights in decision making relating to the water development in the state.

Hasni said at current the state do not have a say in SAJ Ranhill operations as it only holds 20 per cent shares of the company equity which limits its power to monitoring, and restricted to regulating the water supply and distributions in the state only.

"If the move to increase the state government shares via full acquisition of its equity or at 51 per cent of the shares, it will be purely base on revisioning our business planning with SAJ Ranhill and not a hostile takeover," he told the press during a break at the 13th State Assembly meeting.

Hasni said the matter was raised during the assembly meeting in response to Bukit Permai and Rengit assemblymen questions on the state water operations since the last water restructuring exercise between SAJ Ranhill and the Johor government made almost a decade ago.

Hasni said the state government is also open to options.

He said SAJ Ranhill president and chief executive officer Tan Sri Hamdan Mohamad will probably attend the meeting.

"The meeting will include Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin and I, as the outcome of the decision will also look into the water consumption of the Johor consumers," he said.

Hasni said with the insertion of state government as main shareholders in the equity will give autonomous power for the government to regulate the state water tariff and development spending on state water assets and resources.

He also said the move was to safeguard the state government water assets and resources from external takeover should SAJ Ranhill plans to sell off its shares in future.

"However the move would require a review and subjected to an approval from the National Water Service Commission (SPAN) for the state government to have full control over SAJ Ranhill water operation in the state," he said.

SAJ Ranhill cannot supply water to Forest City, Johor State Assembly told
The Star 27 Nov 17;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: The Johore state assembly today debated that water supply services company, SAJ Ranhill Sdn Bhd, might supply water to the developer of the Forest City project in Gelang Patah.

Forest City is a 1,386 hectare mixed development project, which includes a smart city on man-made islands along the Johor Straits.

Datuk Tengku Putra Haron Aminurrashid Tengku Haamid Jumat (BN-Kempas) said such a move would be against the state's government's decision that the developer source its own water supply for the project.

"I understand that the state government has conveyed this decision to the developer. Forest City has to draw water from a desalination process or through other mechanisms deemed fit.

“This will allow the state government to accord priority to domestic households,” he said, adding that rumours were rife that Forest City would obtain water supply from SAJ Ranhill.

“If there is truth in the rumour, then this just goes to show the developer's irresponsible attitude and total disregard for the state's government's clear directive to source its own water supply,” he said in the Johore state assembly here today.

He also said Johoreans should not suffer at the expense of the developer's profit-oriented motive which could spark a water crisis in the state.

Tengku Putra Haron revealed that the Forest City project, when completed, required more than 600 million cubic meters of water, daily, which was almost equal to Johor Bahru and Pasir Gudang's daily water supply.

Based on the high demand for water supply, he was concerned that SAJ Ranhill Sdn Bhd may compromise on domestic household supply.

"I am worried that this can create a very serious water crisis if the issue is not delved into deeply,” he added.

Tengku Putra Haron Aminurrashid also urged the state government to take control of SAJ Ranhill Sdn Bhd via a mandatory takeover for fear that it may fall into the hands of a foreign party.

He suggested that the state government, which had cash reserves close to RM4 billion, acquire SAJ Ranhill Sdn Bhd from its majority shareholder, Ranhill Holdings Bhd

"It's possible that the major shareholder may sell SAJ Ranhill Sdn Bhd to a foreign party. If that happens, we will lose control of not only our water industry but our national sovereign asset,” he pointed out.

Johor assembly hears concerns over Forest City's water supply
Straits Times 27 Nov 17;

ISKANDAR PUTERI - A Johor politician told the state assembly on Monday (Nov 27) that the Johor government had told developer of the Forest City project to source for its own water supply.

Tengku Putra Haron Aminurrashid Tengku Hamid Jumat, an assemblyman for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, was quoted by Bernama news agency as saying that if Forest City does not get its own supply from desalination or by other means, it could spark a water crisis in Johor.

This was the first time that the issue of how Forest City would get its water supply was raised, with the government assemblyman using unusually blunt language.

The giant project involves the raising of four man-made islands totalling 1,386 ha in the Johor Strait facing Tuas.

The project is majority owned by China's Country Garden Holdings. Its other shareholders are the Johor government and Johor's Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar.

When fully completed, it is meant to house some 700,000 people.

Datuk Tengku Putra said the project, when completed, would require more than 600 million cubic meters of water daily.

This was almost equal to the amount supplied daily to Johor Baru city and its neighbouring Pasir Gudang district, Bernama quoted him as saying.

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"I understand that the state government has conveyed this decision (of water supply) to the developer. Forest City has to draw water from a desalination process or through other mechanisms deemed fit," he was quoted as saying.

"This will allow the state government to accord priority to domestic households," he said, adding that rumours were rife that Forest City would obtain water supply from the state's main water company SAJ Ranhill.

He told the state legislature, as reported by Bernama: "If there is truth in the rumour, then this just goes to show the developer's irresponsible attitude and total disregard for the state's government's clear directive to source its own water supply."

He added that Johor residents, totalling 3.6 million people, should not suffer at the expense of the developer's profit-oriented motive which could spark a water crisis.

He said he is concerned that SAJ Ranhill may compromise on domestic household supply.

"I am worried that this can create a very serious water crisis if the issue is not delved into deeply," he was quoted as saying.

Mr Tengku Putra urged the state government to take control of SAJ Ranhill via a mandatory takeover for fear that it may fall into the hands of a foreign party. He did not elaborate.

He suggested that the state government, which had cash reserves close to RM4 billion (S$1.31 billion), acquire SAJ Ranhill from its majority shareholder Ranhill Holdings.

"It's possible that the major shareholder may sell SAJ Ranhill to a foreign party. If that happens, we will lose control of not only our water industry but our national sovereign asset," Bernama quoted him as saying.

Kempas assemblyman urges Johor govt to assume control of SAJ Ranhill
Halim Said New Straits Times 27 Nov 17;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: A Johor state assemblyman has called for the state government to take full control of SAJ Ranhill Sdn Bhd.

At the 13th Johor State Assembly Meeting yesterday, Kempas assemblyman Datuk Tengku Putra Haron Aminurrashid said the state government should push for compulsory acquisition amid fears that the integrated water supply company may fall into foreign hands.

He said that with a cash reserve of almost RM4 billion, the state government can afford to acquire SAJ Ranhill through its majority shareholder, a public-listed company Ranhill Holding Bhd for a fraction of the amount.

“However remote this may be, there is still a possibility that Ranhill is sold by its majority shareholder to investors from a neighbouring country. In such a situation, we would lose control over not only of the water industry but also a national treasure which symbolises our sovereignty.

“If this happens, we could also subject the state to the possibility of economic sabotage by the competing foreign country. This would put to a halt to the state government’s aspiration of being an economic powerhouse in Southeast Asia,” he said.

Tengku Putra said the state government can make an offer to Ranhill for this to take effect, failing which, the state government should seek for a compulsory acquisition of the company under the provisions of the Water Services Industry Act 2006.

Under Section 114 of the Act, the federal government through the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water can exercise its rights and powers as well as any other relevant acts, statutes or regulations to assist the state government in the compulsory acquisition of the water company.

This includes invoking Section 114 of WSIA in order to address issues of national interest to ensure security, sustainability and viability of the water supply industry in Johor.

“It is time for the state government to restore the ownership of the Johor water company to the people of Johor and that it should be done without delay,” he added.

Tengku Putra also called for a forensic audit on the water tariff between the state government and SAJ Ranhill as provided for under the Water Supply Agreement 2009.

He said that under the agreement, the state government is selling water to SAJ Ranhill at a much lower rate than that to Petronas for the Pengerang project.

“If the same rate is imposed, the state government could have collected an additional revenue of millions of ringgit which can be distributed for the development of the state and the people,” he said.

Tengku Putra also raised the issue of SAJ Ranhill possibly offering to supply water to the developers of Forest City, saying that this goes against the state government’s decision for the project to find its own water resources.

“I understand that the state government had informed the developers that they have to seek their own water resources either through desalination process or through other mechanisms deemed fit by the developers. This will enable the state government to prioritise the use of water resources for the domestic needs. The rakyat must come first.”

Ranhill says no plans to sell SAJ Ranhill
The Star 27 Nov 17;

It issued the statement on Monday to refute a news article entitled “Johor government to acquire water services company SAJ Ranhill”.

“On behalf of the board of Ranhill, the company wishes to clarify that the company is not aware of the proposed acquisition by the Johor state government.

“The company has no intention to divest its present equity stake of 80% held in SAJ Ranhill Sdn Bhd,” it said.

Providing water to Forest City goes against state’s decision

zazali musa The Star 29 Nov 17;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: A Barisan Nasional lawmaker raised the issue of SAJ Ranhill Sdn Bhd offering to supply water to the developers of Forest City project during the Johor state assembly sitting.

Datuk Tengku Putra Haron Aminurrashid Jumat (BN-Kempas) said this goes against the state government’s decision for the project to find its own water resources.

“The state government had informed the developers that they have to seek their own water resources through desalination process or through other mechanisms deemed fit by the developers.

“This would enable the state government to prioritise the use of water resources for domestic needs.

Tengku Putra Haron said the state would be exposed to the possibility of a water crisis as Forest City requires about 600 million cubic litres of water daily.

He said the amount was equal to the water demand for all areas in Johor Baru and Pasir Gudang.

Tengku Putra Haron added that his constituency and several districts in the state were subjected to water rationing exercise last year because of a water crisis in Johor.

He had called upon the state government to take over water operator SAJ Ranhill through compulsory acquisition amid fears that the integrated water supply company might fall into foreign hands.

Tengku Putra Haron said with a cash reserve of almost RM4bil, the state government could afford to acquire SAJ Ranhill through its majority shareholder, public-listed Ranhill Holdings Bhd.

However remote the possibility may be, Ranhill could be sold by its majority shareholder to investors from a neighbouring country.

In such a situation, the state would lose control over not only the water industry, but also a national treasure which symbolises Johor’s sovereignty, he added.

Tengku Putra Haron said if this happened, Johor could also be subject to the possibility of economic sabotage by a competing foreign country.

He said this would put a halt to the state government’s aspiration of being a new economic powerhouse in the region.

Concerns aired over Forest City water supply
Johor politician warns of water crisis if project does not source for its own supply
Straits Times 28 Nov 17;

ISKANDAR PUTERI • A Johor politician told the state assembly yesterday that the Johor government had told the developer of the Forest City project to source for its own water supply.

Tengku Putra Haron Aminurrashid Tengku Hamid Jumat, an assemblyman for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, was quoted by Bernama news agency as saying that if Forest City does not get its own supply from desalination or by other means, it could spark a water crisis in Johor.

This was the first time that the issue of how Forest City would get its water supply was raised, with the government assemblyman using unusually blunt language.

The project involves the raising of four man-made islands totalling 1,386ha in the Johor Strait facing Tuas. It is majority owned by China's Country Garden Holdings. Its other shareholders are the Johor government and Johor's Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar. When fully completed, it is meant to house some 700,000 people.

Datuk Tengku Putra said the project, when completed, would require over 600 million cubic metres of water daily - almost equal to the amount supplied daily to the city of Johor Baru and the neighbouring Pasir Gudang district.

"I understand that the state government has conveyed this decision (of the water supply) to the developer. Forest City has to draw water from a desalination process or through other mechanisms deemed fit," he added.

"This will allow the state government to accord priority to domestic households," he said, adding that rumours were rife that Forest City would obtain its water supply from the state's main water company SAJ Ranhill.

He told the state legislature, as reported by Bernama: "If there is truth in the rumour, then this just goes to show the developer's irresponsible attitude and total disregard for the state government's clear directive to source for its own water supply."

He added that Johor's 3.6 million residents should not suffer at the expense of the developer's profit-oriented motive which could spark a water crisis.

He also said he is concerned that SAJ Ranhill may compromise on domestic household supply.

"I am worried that this can create a very serious water crisis if the issue is not delved into deeply," he was quoted as saying.

Mr Tengku Putra urged the state government to take control of SAJ Ranhill via a mandatory takeover for fear that it may fall into the hands of a foreign party. He did not elaborate.

He suggested that the state government, which had cash reserves of close to RM4 billion (S$1.31 billion), acquire SAJ Ranhill from its majority shareholder Ranhill Holdings. "It's possible that the major shareholder may sell SAJ Ranhill to a foreign party. If that happens, we will lose control of not only our water industry, but also our national sovereign asset," he said.

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Malaysia: Annual monsoon season pounds Terengganu with torrential rain, strong winds

ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 26 Nov 17;

KUALA TERENGGANU: As the year end school holiday began, so did the annual monsoon season.

As reports of flooding in parts of Besut, Kuala Berang and Marang came in, other parts of the city centre experienced uprooted trees and rising water levels.

The state’s main rivers – Sungai Terengganu, Sungai Ibai, Sungai Kemaman, Sungai Setiu and Sungai Berang – are swelling up.

The Drainage and Irrigation Department reported that Sungai Chalok in Setiu had burst its banks at 7.47m high, which is above its 7m safe level, while Sungai Nerus at Kampung Pangkal recorded 20.57m (above its safe level of 20m).

Torrential rain has lashed the state since Saturday and the weather continues to be bleak as strong winds and thunderstorms continue to pound the state intermittently.

A trader at the exposition, Farhan Jusoh, 45, said that while a large number of the canopies were damaged, the heavy rain also resulted in losses as items such as toys, clothes, bags, shoes, souvenirs and food items were damaged.

“Many of us suffered losses and being small time traders, it will be difficult to get by,” he said.

Another trader, Aishah Yusof, 56, said she had to ‘close shop’ as virtually all her food was spoilt.

“This was a very bleak business outing for me and my family. We had looked forward for some brisk business during the school and year-end holidays.

“I hope the authorities will look into our plight,” she said.

Over at Marang, a Civil Defence Force spokesman said that senior citizen Norizan Abu Bakar, 80, had called in at 9.30am to report of uprooted trees in the neighbourhood.

Some of the large trees had fallen near the villagers’ homes but no serious damages or injuries were reported as at press time.

“We immediately despatched a team of six personnel on a Isuzu Delta lorry, equipped with chainsaws and ladders, to the scene.

“The affected areas were Taman Lot Marang, Wakaf Tapai, Kampung Kelulut, Medan Jaya, Alur Limbat, Kampung Kubu, Pengkalan Berangan and Kampung Rusila,” said the spokesman.

He added that clearance work was done by midday.

Meanwhile, Terengganu Civil Defence Force director Lt Col Che Adam Abdul Rahman advised the public to refer to the authorities for accurate and timely information on the monsoon floods.

He said that although waters were rising at rivers, the situation was still under control.

“The state’s integrated rescue teams are on standby to respond to any emergencies.

“We advise those living in low-lying areas to be prepared to be evacuated if the situation warrants, as continued heavy rain is bound to cause floods at these areas,” said Che Adam.

Additionally, the Malaysian Meteorological Department issued a severe weather warning over Terengganu and Kelantan till Wednesday.

The department expected adverse weather to continue over Tumpat, Pasir Mas, Kota Baru, Bachok, Pasir Puteh, Machang, Tanah Merah, Jeli, Kuala Krai and Gua Musang in Kelantan and over the whole of Terengganu.

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