Best of our wild blogs: 28 Jan 17

Joyful January at the Sisters Islands Marine Park
Sisters' Island Marine Park

It is the Rooster Year
BES Drongos

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Malaysia floods: Pahang worst affected, Johor struggles to cope

NST TEAM AND BERNAMA New Straits Times 27 Jan 17;

KUANTAN: Pahang now has the highest number of flood victims in the country, with 7,186 people from 1,955 families taking shelter at 116 relief centres in nine districts as of 8am today.

Pahang Civil Defence Force (APM) director Zainal Yussof said the number has increased slightly from 6,830 people at 102 relief centres recorded at 9pm yesterday.

He said Lipis, Jerantut and Rompin are the worst-hit districts, with 2,395 people from 652 families, 1,200 people from 365 families and 1,001 people from 277 families evacuated respectively.

"In Lipis, 29 relief centres have been opened, followed by 18 in Jerantut and seven in Rompin," Zainal said.

In Kuantan, 548 people from 119 families were relocated to six relief centres in the district.

"In Raub there are 277 people from 65 families temporarily relocated to nine relief centres,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Maran, 310 people from 93 families were evacuated to seven relief centres after their houses were inundated by floodwaters.

“In Pekan, 496 people from 114 families are taking shelter at eight relief centres in the district.

"While in Temerloh, 913 people from 244 families are being temporarily housed at 25 relief centres," he added.

Zainal said in Bera, 96 people from 25 families are at seven relief centres in the district.

JOHOR is currently the second worst-hit state, with 6,852 flood evacuees from 1,989 families taking shelter at 69 temporary relief centres in four districts.
State Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said, as was the case yesterday, the highest number of evacuees are in Segamat district, with 4,928 people from 1,464 families remaining at 50 relief centres as of 8am today.

There are 1,490 people from 401 families at 12 relief centres in Tangkak, 415 people from 118 families at five relief centres in Muar, and 19 people from six families at two relief centres in Kluang.

Ayub said two roads are currently inaccessible to traffic due to floods in Segamat district. They are Jalan Jabi-Bukit Tempurung, Jalan Pogoh-Tekam and Jalan Kuala Paya-Balai Badang.

Roads still closed in Kluang district are Jalan Kampung Org Asli Berasan, Jalan Kampung Orang Asli Sedohok, Jalan Kampung Org Asli Air Pasir/Kuala Sengka and Ladang Mutiara.

In Pontian, the collapsed bridge at Jalan Kampung Sungai Pinggan is inaccessible, while in Muar, Km16 of Jalan Muar-Labis and Kampung Bukit Bendar are also inaccessible.

In SELANGOR, Bernama reports that the number of flood victims at three evacuation centres in the Sabak Bernam district increased slightly to 356 people from 107 families as of 8am today, compared with 352 people last night.

According to the Sabak Bernam Disaster Operations Room, the number of victims at Dewan Sri Bernam increased to 164 people (from 48 families), from 160 people last night.

At the evacuation centres at Dewan Parit Baru and Dewan Sri Nakhoda, the number of flood victims remain at 163 people (from 51 families) and 29 people (from eight families), respectively.

In PERAK, Bernama reports that the number of flood victims has risen to 506 people from 145 families at nine evacuation centres, as at 8am today.
According to the Social Welfare Department, through its infobanjir portal, the number increased slightly from 496 people last night.

Manjung district recorded the highest number of flood victims, with 207 people at the evacuation centre at Sekolah Rendah Agama Rakyat Padang Serai, and 12 others at Dewan Kampung Tanjung Ara.

In Hilir Perak, 98 flood victims are at Sekolah Kebangsaan Changkat Jong Batu 8 in Teluk Intan, Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Tukang Sidin (49 people) and Sekolah Kebangsaan Pengkalan Ara (31 people).

Meanwhile in Kinta, 42 victims are at Dewan Sikh Settlement Tanjung Tualang and 24 others at Dewan Serbaguna Tanjung Tualang; while in the Larut Matang districts, the flood victims are at Dewan Orang Ramai Matang Merbau Sungai Tinggi (two people) and Surau Padang Serai Dalam (41 people).

In KELANTAN, Bernama reports that the situation remains largely unchanged, with 360 people still staying at 11 evacuation centres as at 8am today, up slightly from 343 people last night.

The flood victims are from the Kuala Krai, Gua Musang, Pasir Puteh and Tanah Merah districts.

According to the Social Welfare Department's infobanjir application, 239 people (from 59 families) are at seven evacuation centres in Kuala Krai; Gua Musang 78 people (from 19 families) are at two centres; 25 victims (from five families) are at a centre in Pasir Puteh; and 18 people (from four families) are at a centre in Tanah Merah. Meanwhile, the portal, reports that the water level in Sungai Kelantan at the Krai Steps in Kuala Krai dropped to 25.30 metres, from 25.67 metres last night, but it is still above the danger level of 25 metres.

The water level in Sungai Golok, Rantau Panjang, increased slightly to 9.42 metres from 9.22 metres last night. The danger level is 9 metres.

In SABAH, Bernama reports that 45 people remain at evacuation centres in the north of the state as of 6.30am today,

The victims, comprising 10 families, are at an evacuation centre at Dewan Kampung Binsulung, in the sub-district of Paitan, said Chief Secretariat of the State Disaster Management Committee Colonel Mulliadi Al-Hamdi Ladin.

He said the water level at Sungai Labuk, Beluran, remains at 2.55 metres and the weather is fine.

Mulliadi said seven evacuation centres in Paitan and Pitas were closed yesterday after evacuees returned to their respective homes.

In SARAWAK, Bernama reports that the number of people affected by floods in the districts of Beluru, Niah and Marudi remains at 5,084 people from 769 families since last night – but none has been evacuated.

Sarawak State Disaster Management Committee secretariat chief from the Malaysian Civil Defence Force, Major Ismail Mahedin said the victims are from 22 long houses.

However, none of the victims has been evacuated, as only the routes to their homes are inundated by floods, and there is stagnant water under their longhouses, he added.


Kelantan flood damage costs top RM30 million: Rural Ministry
BERNAMA New Straits Times 27 Jan 17;

BACHOK: The Rural and Regional Development Ministry has estimated the cost of damage to infrastructure in Kelantan due to the floods at over RM30 million. Its deputy minister, Datuk Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub, said this exceeds the sum estimated earlier, as the flood proved to be bigger than last year's.

"Definitely a lot of basic facilities like village roads, drains, kindergartens and community halls have been damaged in the flood," he told reporters after opening the Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Pak Badol Parent-Teacher Association's annual general meeting here yesterday. At the event, Ahmad Jazlan also handed out aid of basic necessities to 141 flood victims in Bachok.

He said all Federal Village Security and Development Committee (JKKKP) chairmen in Kelantan need to do a survey and list damaged facilities in their respective areas.

"A report on this should be submitted to the ministry's (branch) office in Kota Bharu for assessment, and repairs to be done as soon as possible," Ahmad Jazlan said.

He said when doing the survey, the JKKKP chairmen must set aside political interest, as what is more important is the people's interest.

Ahmad Jazlan added that if anyone goes against this instruction, the ministry would not hesitate to take appropriate action them. - BERNAMA

Expect some rain and storms despite improving weather
The Star 28 Jan 17;

PETALING JAYA: Weather and flood conditions nationwide are improving except for Kelantan, where some districts are still having heavy rainfall.

According to the Social Welfare Department Infobanjir website, there were heavy rains in Gua Musang, Kuala Krai and Jeli yesterday, with eight areas recording more than 60mm of rainfall as at 5pm.

In Sarawak, only five areas experienced similar rainfall while Tasik Banding in Perak received 107.5mm.

Other flood-hit states like Johor, Pahang, Sabah and Selangor did not receive as much rainfall in any district.

Dangerous water levels, how­ever, were recorded at six rivers in Pahang as at 5pm, followed by Johor (four rivers) and Kelantan (three).

For today, all states in the peninsula are expected to see isolated rain and thunderstorms at different times of the day, according to the Meteorological Department.

Pahang, Penang and Kedah are the three states that are expected to experience isolated rain in the morning, afternoon and night.

All the three states have also had to deal with flood problems over the last two months.

Sabah looks to be relatively dry as only Sandakan and Tawau will experience isolated rainfall during the festive period.

In Sarawak, rainfall can be expected in the morning in all areas except for Sri Aman, Limbang, Miri and Sibu but there will be isolated and scattered thunderstorms throughout the state in the afternoon and evening.

However – only Kapit, Kuching, Samarahan and Sri Aman will experience more thunderstorms at night.

In Arau, those affected by the floods, especially the Chinese community celebrating the Chinese New Year today, have been advised to follow the directive by the authorities if they are told to evacuate much earlier, said Datuk Seri Dr Shahidan Kassim.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department said this was important to avoid greater risk during the flood season.

“Residents in affected areas should always be aware of warnings of heavy rain and must be prepared to move out earlier, if directed to do so,” said Dr Shahidan after handing over aid in conjunction with the Chinese New Year to 635 less fortunate residents from the Chinese community at the Arau service centre in Kubang Gajah, Perlis yesterday.

He said flood victims, especially from high-risk groups such as pregnant women, senior citizens and chronic disease sufferers, were also urged to look after the cleanliness and seek treatment quickly, if needed.

Shahidan also expressed satisfaction with the National Disaster Management Agency’s coordination to tackle flood problems nationwide.

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Indonesia: One dead as floods hit Central Sulawesi

Ruslan Sangadji The Jakarta Post 27 Jan 17;

Heavy rains have poured down on Central Sulawesi for the last two days causing flooding in several areas and claiming one life in Buol regency on Friday.

Central Sulawesi Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Bartholomeus Tandigala said several areas in Buol had been inundated by floodwaters as high as two meters. “One person died in a landslide,” he said, adding that his agency is still counting the number of houses affected.

Changes in land use, from forest to oil palm plantations, and sea abrasion contributed to the heavy flooding in Buol, according to Bartholomeus. “There are many forests that have been damaged,” he told reporters.

Ten districts and 48 villages are affected by floods in the regency. “Only five districts in Buol are unaffected,” he added.

The agency has encountered difficulties trying to reach the victims due to the high water level, Bartholomeus said. “The BPBD has been trying to channel aid since Thursday night,” he added.

Natural disasters loom large in Sulawesi
The Jakarta Post 27 Jan 17;

Natural disasters are looming large in some parts of Sulawesi, as floods have inundated hundreds of houses in Gorontalo and landslides have hit North Sulawesi.

The number of districts hit by flooding has continued to increase in North Gorontalo regency, Gorontalo province, with almost 500 houses in seven districts inundated as of Friday.

“The houses are swamped by 30 to 80 centimeters [of water],” the North Gorontalo Disaster Mitigation Agency’s (BPBD) emergency section head Nurdin Humolungo told

Nurdin said the BPBD had encountered challenges such as landslides in Tolinggula district when distributing aid and evacuating victims from their homes amid flooding in the regency since Thursday.

On Thursday, landslides also hit Tambulinas, where a main road between Manado and Tomohon in North Sulawesi is located.

“Some 40 meters of the road is blocked by stones, soil and bamboo. We are still waiting for two excavators to clear the road of big stones,” Tomohon BPBD head Robby Kalangi said on Friday.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has issued early warnings for several cities and districts in North Sulawesi on expected heavy rains and landslides.

Bad weather is expected to hit North Sulawesi until February.

Meanwhile, the Central Sulawesi BPBD also urged residents to remain on alert regarding extreme weather that was expected to hit the province.

Floods have also hit the northern part of Central Sulawesi, Antara news agency reported.

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Indonesia: Bali Enterprise Believes Government Subsidies Needed to Combat Plastic Pollution

Kaysee Watson Jakarta Globe 27 Jan 17;

Jakarta. As Bali continues its plight against plastic pollution, Avani Eco is setting the standard for completely sustainable and eco-friendly products.

The social enterprise housed in Bali aims to provide eco-friendly alternatives to products used daily by locals and tourists including takeaway containers, straws and coffee cups.

Avani Eco cofounder and chief green officer, Kevin Kumala, said Bali is only the tip of the iceberg but the perfect starting point in promoting fully sustainable products.

"When you talk about Bali, of course you talk about its beaches," Kevin said.

"It's happening in front of our very eyes how terrible the plastic epidemic taking place in our beaches has become."

From January to October 2016, Avani Eco successfully replaced over 130 metric tons of hazardous materials with eco-friendly alternatives.

However, Kevin said this is not enough with more than 3,500 tons of plastic waste thrown away daily in Bali.

"In a perfect utopia, the government needs to do something about this."

"The Indonesian government needs to be educated in terms of the availability of technology in reducing plastic waste," he said.

One of Avani’s most popular inventions is an eco-bag made from cassava root, which can be completely dissolved in boiling water — and still safe to drink.

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Blasting the Rapids in Thailand

Dan Southerland Radio Free Asia 27 Jan 17;

Thailand, after suspending action for more than a decade, has decided to support China’s blasting of rapids in the Mekong River.

China wants to remove rocks and islets in the Mekong in order to clear the way for large cargo ships, effectively turning Southeast Asia’s longest river into a Chinese trade and shipping lane.

Thailand’s military government meanwhile has plans to build a multimillion dollar freight transport hub in the country’s northern province of Chiang Rai. The aim is to link Chinese shipping with Thai land transport.

The city of Chiang Rai would be promoted as a logistics hub for Thailand and both China and neighboring Laos. Construction is scheduled to begin next year, according to The Bangkok Post.

The Post says that the blasting will cover a 392-mile route from the China-Myanmar border to Luang Prabang in Laos.

But nongovernmental groups in Thailand argue that the loss of the rapids will further damage the Mekong’s declining fish stocks, which have long been the major source of protein for villagers living near the river.

Pianporn Deetes, Thailand campaign coordinator for the NGO International Rivers, said that the ecosystem in question is one of the most complex in the world. It includes many fish species, rapids, whirlpools, and sand dunes as well as vegetation supporting farmers, fishermen, and wildlife.

The rapids and rocks provide sanctuaries and breeding grounds for migratory fish. They also provide a refuge for the endangered giant catfish.

Deetes said in an interview that to place commercial shipping ahead of the needs of millions of farmers and fishermen depending on the Mekong for their living would be “senseless .”

She said that export products from China can reach Thai markets within 24 hours by road and that existing shipping by smaller cargo ships is working well. In addition, she noted that China has plans to build a railroad inside Laos that will be able to carry freight to Thailand.

Thai villagers protest

Over the past year, Thai villagers living along the Mekong have boarded Chinese survey boats to protest plans to destroy the rapids located near their homes.

Living on the Thai side of the Mekong, which forms a border between Laos and Thailand, the villagers have demanded that the survey boats halt their work.

At the same time, a group of Thai villagers led by a Thai teacher called Kru Tee filed a lawsuit in Thailand calling for a judgment against several Thai government agencies regarding the negative environmental and social impacts created by Laos’s Xayaburi Dam.

The plaintiffs argued that the hydropower dam wouldn’t have been economically viable without an agreement by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) to purchase 95 percent of the electricity generated by the dam.

The case came under investigation by Thailand’s Supreme Administrative Court, but according to Thai media, it was rejected in late December, 2015.

A history of debate

In the year 2000, China, Laos, Burma, and Thailand signed an agreement to allow the blasting of rocks and reefs in the Mekong River.

According to a report by the Worldwatch Institute based in Washington, D.C., blasting began in December 2002.

But in 2003, after completing an early phase of the project, China halted the dynamiting due to a Thai border dispute with Laos over the location of the two countries’ shared water boundary.

Thai officials feared that changes in the flow of the river resulting from the blasting could shift the location of the Thai-Lao border, which is supposed to be set at the lowest elevation within the river.

Meanwhile, China had undertaken an environmental impact study which concluded that the impact of the blasting would be negligible.

But a Thai environmental watchdog group and scientists who reviewed the Chinese findings said that the study’s analysis was deeply flawed. They said, moreover, that it was based on a field investigation that had lasted only two days.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC), which is supposed to review major changes in the flow of the Mekong, has called for a halt to the plan to blast more rapids until a more complete study can be made. But the MRC’s findings are not binding, and China isn’t a member of the commission.

The new blasting is not likely to commence until three years from now under a framework that called for a first phase from 2015 to 2020. That phase has required a survey and another assessment of the project’s impact.

But some critics argue that even the smaller ships that currently carry cargo down the Mekong are already causing erosion of the riverbanks along parts of the river.

“Without the blasting of more rapids, local people feel the shipping traffic is already very destructive,” said former Thai Senator Kraisak Choonhavan, who has studied the issues involved for several decades.

Scaling Back Lao Dams
Dan Southerland Radio Free Asia 30 Dec 2016;

Farmers and fishermen in downstream countries are complaining about the impact of Mekong River dams located upstream in both China and Laos.

But a think tank now has a plan to reduce the damage done to crops and fish stocks by hydroelectric dams. Its focus is on Laos, Southeast Asia’s poorest country, which it says could benefit from scaling back on some of its planned dams.

The Stimson Center, a nonpartisan research center in Washington, D.C., says in a recent report that Laos may be able to mitigate the damage by creating an efficient national power grid and by turning to other sources of power.

Brian Eyler, Stimson’s director for Southeast Asia, says, “…there’s still time to make strategic choices regarding water-energy planning in Laos that can minimize to some extent the effects of dams on downstream environmental flows.”

However, he adds, “this isn’t to say that what has been completed so far is sustainable or of low impact.”

We still don’t know, he says, whether efforts to mitigate the loss of fish stocks and vital sediment blocked by two existing Lao dams, the Xayaburi and Dan Sahong Dams, will work.

Eyler also points out that key tributaries of the Mekong in Laos, such as the Ou River, are already blocked by dams which further divert fish and sediment.

The fish are vital sources of protein in Laos and farther south in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. And the sediment is needed to replenish riverbanks, riverbeds, and farmland.

An underreported story

The scale of dam building in Laos is far greater than most people realize. But it gets little media coverage outside the Mekong region.

Compared with local people in five other countries sharing the Mekong who speak out and in some cases even organize protests against hydroelectric dams, the Lao people are at a disadvantage.

Laos lacks environmental groups that can draw attention to the plight of the rural people who are displaced or otherwise affected by dams.

A reporter recently in Laos for Radio Free Asia quotes a villager living near the Ou River, or Nam Ou, as saying “the government does nothing for the people, but if I complain, the authorities will just laugh at me, and I’ll end up in jail.”

“It’s not like Thailand here,” the villager says, referring to civil society and environmental groups based in neighboring Thailand.

In Thailand, a group of 37 people living near the Mekong have initiated a legal action against Laos’s Xayaburi Dam. Others are protesting the blasting of rapids on the Mekong aimed at clearing the way for large Chinese ships to travel down the river.

Despite warnings from environmental groups, Chinese engineers began blasting rocks and reefs in the Mekong years ago under an agreement signed by China, Laos, Burma, and Thailand.

But the work downstream is not complete.

In Thailand, protesters have boarded Chinese survey boats and demanded that they halt their work and leave the Mekong’s rapids and riverbanks undisturbed.

Such an action would be unthinkable in Laos.

Foreign developers, banks, and firms benefit

The Stimson Center asserts that the energy infrastructure in Laos is “highly inefficient and mostly constructed for the benefit of neighboring countries.”

The Lao government, for its part, has stated that its aim has been to gain wealth and alleviate poverty by becoming “the battery of Southeast Asia.”

But the Stimson Center argues that the current hydropower system in Laos favors the needs of investors, which are short-term and driven by the bottom line over those of the state.

It’s a project-by-project approach, the center says, that’s unlikely to meet Laos’s revenue goals.

In its report, the think tank notes that in Laos many hydropower dams and transmission lines are currently being financed and built by Thai developers and Chinese state-owned banks and enterprises. These commercial projects are backed by nonconcessional loans.

This is in contrast to earlier years when the World Bank and Asian Development Bank offered Laos low-interest loans.

Meanwhile, Lao officials are reported to be struggling to decide how to deal with an anticipated surplus of electricity in 2017.

The Stimson Center says that for Laos “the main obstacle to selling electricity to Vietnam or further afield” is the lack of a reliable national grid infrastructure. This is what Laos needs, it says, to respond flexibly to fluctuating power demands in nearby countries.

The Stimson report also proposes the integration of Laos’s solar and wind projects. Located relatively close to the equator, Laos offers ideal conditions for solar power.

The Stimson report also calls for the United States to play a greater role in supporting efforts to balance Laos’s hydropower development with concerns for the environment, food security, and other uses of water. This would involve more technical aid and training in “human capacity building.”

While welcoming the proposal for more assistance to Laos and the concept of an efficient and reliable power grid, some experts are skeptical that top-level Lao officials will embrace the plan.

But Stimson is taking the long view.

Impact on Cambodia

Meanwhile, to the south of Laos, Cambodian fishermen complain that upstream dams in China and Laos have disrupted vital fish migrations, causing a drop in the fish population in Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake.

The Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, is often described as the heart of the Mekong.

A representative for five Cambodian communes working with a fisheries protection team told a Radio Free Asia reporter several months ago that the Mekong’s flow into the Tonle Sap has been unpredictable over the past five years.

The building of dams inside Cambodia by foreign developers has also stirred criticism from Cambodian villagers being displaced by the dams.

In one case, villagers told the RFA reporter that government officials were bringing in policemen and soldiers, who were threatening arrests or imprisonment of those defending their ancestral lands.

Possible solutions in the Mekong Delta

South of Cambodia, parts of Vietnam’s fertile Mekong Delta became disaster areas this year as a result of El Nino-induced drought, climate change, bad rice farming practices, rising sea levels, and the intrusion of salt water.

In addition, Vietnamese farmers complain that upstream dams, including those in both China and Laos, have begun reducing the level of sediment that once replenished the Delta’s riverbanks.

In effect, the heavily populated Mekong Delta combines into a perfect storm everything that could go wrong for a downstream state.

David Brown, a freelance writer specializing in Vietnamese issues, recently concluded an in-depth, four-part series exploring the threats faced by the Delta as well as possible ways to overcome them.

Brown, a former U.S. diplomat, reports that on the potentially positive side that the Vietnamese government now has a Mekong Delta Plan (MDP) based on several years of work by Dutch and Vietnamese officials.

According to Brown, the planners conclude that efforts to try to produce more and more rice and other exportable crops are “unsustainable.”

They recommend building dikes around the heart of the Delta, building a canal big enough to move water south and west of the Mekong’s upper branch, conserving fresh water in aquifers, building reservoirs, and restoring mangrove barriers to absorb salt intrusions.

Finally, Brown’s report recommends that farmers focus on agribusiness and extracting more value from smaller and more diverse harvests that can be marketed through co-operatives.

What does the future hold?

Quoting environmentalists and United Nations experts, Radio Free Asia reported two months ago that Vietnam and other nations in the Mekong region must brace for increases in extreme weather events, such as the El Nino weather phenomenon.

Dams built hundreds of miles upstream from Vietnam will also continue to have a negative impact on Vietnamese farmers and fishermen. And, based on RFA reporting from the Mekong region, much of this impact is now irreversible.

Adding to uncertainty about the future for the Mekong Delta are reports from Chinese scientists and others who say that glaciers in far-off Tibet, the location of the headwaters of the Mekong, are melting more rapidly than expected.

This could result in fluctuations in water levels far downstream that have never been seen in the past.

Dan Southerland is RFA’s founding executive editor.

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