Best of our wild blogs: 26 Mar 17

Night Walk At Bidadari Cemetery (24 Mar 2017)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Butterfly of the Month - March 2017
Butterflies of Singapore

Singapore in untypical light
The Long and Winding Road

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Water price hike ‘absolutely necessary’ but should been explained better: PM Lee

Today Online 25 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE — Before announcing the water tariff hike last month, the Government perhaps should have spent more time explaining the rationale and what it would be doing to help households cope, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged on Saturday (March 25).

By doing so, people “would not have been so surprised”, he said. However, he stressed that raising the price of water was “absolutely necessary”.

“We cannot avoid it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t do it,” said PM Lee, who was speaking at a ceremony to mark the completion of the makeover of the Pang Sua Pond in Bukit Panjang.

In his speech, PM Lee also explained that even if the price of water was not raised, Singapore would still have to pay for the “expensive investments” which national water agency PUB has been ploughing in reservoirs, desalination factories, sewage treatment plants, pipelines and pumping stations, among other things.

“It’s better to pay for (them) through the water tariff – those who use the water, pay for the water, rather than from general taxes,” said PM Lee, citing taxes on income, cars, and goods and services as examples.

He reiterated that water is a strategic issue and a matter of national security – right from the beginning when the nation came into existence, and even until today.

“It’s one of the things which (Singapore’s founding Prime Minister) Mr Lee Kuan Yew used to be obsessed with right from the beginning and right to the end of his life,” said PM Lee. “And as a nation, we have to maintain his attitude towards water - the attitude that has brought us here. We got water security now because of our obsession. And by keeping this focus, we can stay secure into the future.”

Even though Singapore has developed the four “national taps” - local water catchments, water from Johor Baru, NEWater and desalinated water – Singapore “will never have ‘more than enough’ water”, Mr Lee stressed.

“(Water is) crucial to Singapore’s safety (and) existence. It’s fundamental to our survival,” he said.

PM Lee added: “We will never have the luxury of not having to save water, not having to make every drop count. Every national serviceman understands what this means. And every Singaporean, boy or girl, man or woman, also needs to remember this.”

He pointed out that Singapore’s demand for water will go up as its economy grows. At the same time, climate change and Johor’s own growing population and water needs would affect the Republic’s supply of water.

Last month, the Government announced a 30-per-cent increase in the water price – to be phased in over two years. This was the first time in 17 years that water tariffs were raised.

PM Lee noted that the announcement “provoked a strong reaction from Singaporeans”. There was also a vigorous debate in Parliament, where several Ministers spoke about the issue.

“After the discussion, people now understand it better,” he said. PM Lee noted that the hike was “not the only thing we are doing”. The Government is educating households on water conservation, encouraging industries to recycle more water, and supporting research into new techniques and materials that would produce NEWater more cheaply.

“But we also have to price water properly because it’s scarce. It’s not cheap to produce and consumers need to know how precious it is everytime you turn on the tap,” said PM Lee. “And we need to discourage ourselves from using more water than we absolutely need to all of the time.”

PM Lee stressed that if water ever becomes a vulnerability for Singapore, “we will all be in very serious trouble”.

Referring to PUB’s Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters programme, PM Lee urged Singaporeans to remember the serious purpose behind “all these beautiful things” they see.

Calling on Singaporeans to “take nothing for granted” in the country, he added: “We don’t believe that we have to keep people away from water to protect (it). We would like people to get close to the water, enjoy it, take care of it, so that we can value and conserve it for ourselves and for our children.”

Hike in water price 'absolutely necessary': PM Lee
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 25 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: The 30 per cent increase in the price of water is "absolutely necessary", as it is a "scarce" resource and "not cheap to produce", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday (Mar 25).

Mr Lee noted that the announcement, made by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget statement "provoked a strong reaction from Singaporeans".

"In retrospect, perhaps we should have spent more time explaining this before announcing the increase, then people wouldn't have been so surprised," he said.

But the increase is "absolutely necessary", he added, underlining just how precious water is as a resource. National water agency PUB is also investing in various infrastructure like NEWater and desalination plants, pipelines and sewage treatment plants.

"If the water tariffs are not enough to pay for these, PUB would still have to build all this, and we would still have to pay for this. But instead of paying for it through the water tariff, we would have to pay for it through our taxes and I think it's fairer to pay for it through the water tariff. Those who use the water pay for the water, rather than from general taxes and we use the GST or your income taxes, or your car taxes to pay for water."

As the economy grows, the country will need more water, said Mr Lee, adding that climate change will also cause the supply of water to be less predictable.

And as the population in the Malaysian state of Johor continues to grow, this means that the resource will come under pressure due to a corresponding growth in demand, he said.

Singapore draws more than half of its water supply from Linggiu Reservoir. Water levels there hit record lows in recent months.

"We've got to treat water very, very seriously. It's one of the things which Mr Lee Kuan Yew used to be obsessed with. Right from the beginning and right to the end of his life, and as a nation we have to maintain this attitude towards water", said Mr Lee.

"We've got water security now because of our obsession. And by keeping this focus, we can stay secure into the future. If we ever let water become a vulnerability for Singapore, I think we will all be in very serious trouble", Mr Lee cautioned.

Mr Lee was speaking at the official opening of the revamped Pang Sua Pond in Bukit Panjang. S$6.8 million was pumped into transforming the pond under PUB's Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters programme.

Some 3,000 residents gathered to mark the revamp, which took more than two years to complete.

MPs for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Vivian Balakrishnan, Christopher de Souza and Liang Eng Hwa were at the opening, as well as MP for Bukit Panjang SMC Teo Ho Pin.

- CNA/dt

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Rise in new tuberculosis cases in Singapore last year

Channel NewsAsia 24 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: Tuberculosis (TB) remains endemic in Singapore, with the number of new cases of active TB among Singapore residents rising in 2016.

In a press statement released on World TB day on Friday (Mar 24), the Ministry of Health (MOH) said that there were 1,617 new cases of active TB in 2016 - slightly higher than the 1,498 new cases recorded in 2015, with older age groups and males continuing to make up a significant proportion of these new active TB cases.

MOH added that there were 41.1 new TB cases per 100,000 population in 2016, compared to 38.4 cases per 100,000 in 2015.

Latent TB infection is "not uncommon" in Singapore's population MOH said, with rates of up to 30 per cent in older age groups, as TB had been prevalent in Singapore until the 1970s.

Most of the new TB cases (81.3 per cent) among Singapore residents were from those born in Singapore. Of the 1,617 new cases in 2016, 68.8 per cent were 50 years old and above, and 65.9 per cent were male.

There were also 142 relapsed cases of TB among Singapore residents in 2016.

In addition, MOH said that the emergence of multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) - which is more difficult to treat and has lower cure rates - remains a serious public health challenge. In 2016, Singapore had three new cases of MDR-TB who were Singapore-born residents. The death rate for MDR-TB is as high as 30 to 40 per cent.


MOH stressed that the spread of TB is preventable and that the disease is curable.

"There is no need for work places or other places where a recently diagnosed active TB case has visited to be closed," MOH added. "Persons diagnosed with active TB are placed on treatment, and appropriate medical leave, and rapidly become non-infectious once treatment starts."

"Hence, there is no further risk of exposure in the workplace. Workplace or close contacts found to have latent TB infection are not infectious and can continue their activities as usual," MOH said.

- CNA/nc

Taking a long-term view of tuberculosis
HSU LI YANG and LOH KAH SENG Today Online 24 Mar 17;

World Tuberculosis (TB) Day has been observed on 24th March every year since 1982, when it was sponsored by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease to commemorate the centennial of Robert Koch’s discovery of the germ that causes TB.

On that Friday evening in 1882, Koch stunned the scientists who had come to listen to him at the Physiological Society of Berlin by describing a series of experiments that conclusively attributed the disease variously known as the “white plague”, consumption, phthisis, and even lyrically as “captain of all these men of death” to a bacterium that could also cause the same disease manifestations in cattle, guinea pigs, and apes.

World TB Day reminds us that TB remains an epidemic in the majority of countries in the world, including Singapore, and it still exerts a ruinous toll on the health and economy of individuals and society.

TB can be viewed as a crude microcosm of Singapore’s development. It reflects, in equal parts, the benefits and risks of our openness to the world.

In the 19th century, many of the vagrants suffering from TB had been dumped, unwanted, onto Singapore’s shores by the Dutch East Indies government.

The growth of Singapore’s global entrepot trade brought considerable wealth to us in those days, but also increased the incidence of TB, as great numbers of working-class immigrants crammed into the congested shophouses of the inner city, where the disease took root.

In 1901, TB killed 1,700 people, cementing its status as one of Singapore’s top-killing diseases.

After the end of World War II, Singapore made a concerted effort in the 1948 Medical Plan to tackle TB through both clinical methods (surgery to collapse diseased lungs, chemotherapy, BCG vaccination, and the conversion of Tan Tock Seng Hospital into a sanatorium) and social policy (public housing development).

In this anti-TB campaign, which was bolstered when Singapore became a self-governing state in 1959, the island was able to tap into the expertise of the British Medical Research Council.

Singapore even served as a critical site for a series of seminal clinical trials during the late 1970s and early 1980s, which led to the development of the short-course multiple-drug treatment regimen that is still the standard of care today.

Similarly, when the Singapore Tuberculosis Elimination Programme was launched in 1997 to eliminate the disease, local physicians collaborated with their American counterparts to institute a comprehensive programme of directly observed therapy (Dots) and a national registry to monitor patients’ therapy, including preventive treatment for their close contacts.

The impact of the HIV epidemic on TB rates in Singapore has thankfully been small, unlike other parts of the world where a resurgence of TB was witnessed.

In the 21st century, further incremental progress was made, with continued reduction of local TB incidence rates until 2008.

The WHO estimated that only 58 per cent of the world’s approximately 10.4 million new cases of TB had access to quality TB care in 2015.

For multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) — a term used to describe infections caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis isolates that are resistant to the two “backbone” drugs in the chemotherapy cocktail against TB, isoniazid and rifampicin — this percentage fell further to just 20 per cent.

In Singapore, however, virtually all patients with TB and even the rare few with MDR-TB have access to quality care, with social support provided to low-income patients to maximise the likelihood of treatment completion. One example of this is the “Dot & Shop” scheme — sponsored by Sata CommHealth — where grocery vouchers are disbursed to low-income individuals if they are compliant with Dots.

Nonetheless, Singapore’s TB incidence rates started to climb post-2008, after decades of decline.

Various research studies have shown that there are two primary demographic factors that account for much of this phenomenon. They are an ageing resident population and an increase in the non-resident population.

Both factors are not unique to Singapore. In countries with low TB incidence, such as western Europe, Australia and the United States, a significant proportion of their TB cases have come from those who were born in countries where the burden of TB remains high.

The effect of ageing has similarly been described elsewhere, including Japan and Hong Kong.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis can remain in one’s body for years without causing any symptoms — a condition known as latent TB infection — reactivating and causing disease only when one’s immune system becomes weakened (as in the case of HIV infection), which can occur in various ways as one becomes older.

Thankfully, infection rates in Singapore have fallen decade on decade after World War II, and the proportion of elderly that reactivate earlier contracted TB will also fall over time.

Today, in many countries, TB continually risks losing the requisite state and community support to threats posed by other more publicly visible infectious and non-communicable diseases.

Patients are also in greater personal danger due to the emergence and spread of MDR-TB around the world, a message brought home by the Parklane cyber cafe and Ang Mo Kio cluster of cases that made the news in 2012 and 2016.

Socio-economic factors such as the stigma against tuberculosis also cause a small number of patients to fail to complete their treatment, increasing the likelihood of drug resistance.

Thankfully, increased resources have been provided by the Ministry of Health to address this rise in TB incidence rates in Singapore, but it may take a few more years before the impact is seen.

It is imperative that Singapore utilises its international collaborative links, in conjunction with its national and community capacities, to deal with the persisting threat of TB, as it had done throughout its history.

Such commitment and focus must be decades-long, beyond the cycles of government leaders and business.


Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang is the Programme Leader of the Antimicrobial Resistance Programme at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health. Dr Loh Kah Seng, a historian and co-founder of Chronicles Research and Education, is researching the history of TB in Singapore as part of the programme at the school.

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SingPost to trial eco-friendly scooter for mail delivery

Channel NewsAsia 24 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: Singapore Post (SingPost) and TUMCREATE will soon kick off trials for an eco-friendly mail delivery scooter.

The trial, which runs from Mar 28 to Apr 7, will take place along two delivery routes between SingPost's Ayer Rajah Regional Delivery Base and the National University of Singapore, SingPost said in a media release on Friday (Mar 24).

The three-wheeler has been designed to streamline postal processes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, SingPost said. The vehicle will use modular batteries to match battery capacity to the route on which it is deployed.

"By changing the battery configuration, the vehicle’s range may be configured to 35 kilometres, which is sufficient for an average mail delivery route – or 70 kilometres, which will satisfy almost all postal delivery trips made," SingPost said.

In addition, the three-wheeler will produce zero local exhaust emissions, SingPost said.

The postal service provider added that the vehicle is equipped with dynamic GPS routing for priority deliveries and optimised delivery routing, fleet monitoring for data collection and management, integrated cameras, as well as on-demand tracking.

The vehicle also features a storage system that could cut a postman's delivery routine by up to 40 minutes. Its detachable, rollable storage box provides 23 per cent more storage space than existing postal scooters.

SingPost currently operates 674 petrol-driven scooters for last-mile postal delivery. About half of these are three-wheelers.

Three postmen will provide feedback on the electric prototype. SingPost is also looking for a manufacturing partner to convert this prototype into a market-ready product, it said.

- CNA/dl

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Revamped Pang Sua Pond in Bukit Panjang reopens

Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 25 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: Residents of Bukit Panjang can now get up close to nature thanks to a floating boardwalk over Pang Sua Pond, which was closed in 2014 for a S$6.8 million makeover.

Once a bare stormwater collection pond, Pang Sua Pond has been transformed under national water agency PUB's Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters programme into a place where people can have fun while appreciating nature.

The 480m boardwalk, which is suspended up to 7 metres over the water, connects users to nearby facilities like the Senja-Cashew Community Club and a brand new 3G Wellness Centre.

There is also a multi-purpose stage for community events and activities that can seat more than 200 people, as well as viewing decks where users can get a bird's eye view of the waterfront.

Floating wetlands about the size of an Olympic-sized swimming pool add a splash of green while enhancing the biodiversity in the area.

"This is in fact the second-largest man-made floating wetland in Singapore," said PUB's chief sustainability officer Tan Nguan Sen. "The floating wetland has a few benefits. The plants will absorb the nutrients from the water and helps improve the water quality in the pond. And the floating wetland is a very good outdoor classroom for students and residents to learn about how you can use plants to treat the water."

The pond was built in the 1990s and serves as a stormwater collection pond. It takes in rainwater runoff from the surrounding areas, which is then pumped to the Upper Seletar Reservoir for storage and treatment.

"We will have educational signboards to tell people what is this pond for, and through this message we hope that the people will treasure the water, and with all these enhancements, people will take care of it," added Mr Tan.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong officiated its opening on Saturday, along with about 3,000 residents.

- CNA/kk

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Malaysia: ‘Manage water resources better’

The Star 26 Mar 17;

PORT DICKSON: With five states expected to face problems supplying treated water to consumers, the federal authorities want all state governments to implement measures to better manage their water resources and catchment areas.

Based on the National Water Resources Study (2000-2050), the states that are expected to face problems with supply were Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Selangor and Malacca.

Some state authorities were weak in managing these resources, causing their water catchment areas to be polluted, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.

“River pollution has caused water quality to deteriorate to Class Three or Four.

“When this happens, the volume of water that can be treated would be reduced and the cost to treat it would increase,” he said at the national World Water Day celebration yesterday.

Class Five is the highest pollution level under Malaysia’s Water Quality Index.

The Federal Government has allocated RM49.5mil under the 11th Malaysia Plan to implement a Water Balance Development Programme to help the affected states receive water supply.

Dr Ahmad Zahid said it was also unfortunate that some states faced water supply problems although the country received 907 billion cubic metres of rainfall annually.

“That is why there is a pressing need to better manage our water resources. In fact, state authorities should also use groundwater as an alternative source of drinking water,” he said, adding that the country had an estimated three trillion cubic metres of groundwater.

Dr Ahmad Zahid said utilising groundwater was a good option as 82.4% of treated water was sourced from rivers and another 16% from dams.

“Only 1.5% currently consumed comes from groundwater,” he said.

Speaking to reporters later, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said a Bill would be tabled in Parliament to allow the Federal Government to coordinate water related matters in the country.

“We do not plan to usurp the po­­wers of the state governments.

“All we plan to do is to have a template which will allow states to better cooperate whenever they face water related problems,” he said.

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