Best of our wild blogs: 3 Aug 17

Jam-packed June and July at the Sisters Islands Marine Park
Sisters' Island Marine Park

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Man fined S$10,000 for smuggling ivory products

Channel NewsAsia 2 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE: A 33-year-old man has been fined S$10,000 for smuggling ivory products into Singapore, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority in a joint news release on Wednesday (Aug 2).

Do Trong Hoang, whom Channel NewsAsia understands is from Vietnam, was stopped after he arrived at Changi Airport on Jul 14. AVA had received a tipoff about a potential sale of illegal ivory bird cage accessories and informed immigration authorities.

Two ivory bird cage accessories were found in his luggage and four ivory bracelets were found on him and his family who were travelling with him.

Do was arrested and the ivory products were seized.

It is an offence in Singapore to import, export, possess or sell any wildlife parts and species that are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna or Flora (CITES).

If convicted of illegally importing the ivory products, Do could be jailed up to two years, fined up to S$500,000 or both.

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Exposing your children to dirt boosts their immune system

Parents want clean, sterilised environments for their children. But children need exposure to dirt to develop healthy immune systems, argue two paediatricians.
Hugo Van Bever and David Ng Channel NewsAsia 3 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE: Sometimes, when looking around us, the world seems like a harrowing and terrifying place to live in. It can be nerve-racking for a parent to confront the endless list of chronic conditions and infectious diseases that children can catch, especially with news that this year marks the peak period for hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), where the virus is likely to re-emerge and result in an outbreak.

So surrounded by dirt, grime and the chances of catching something from school, many of us desperately – and with the best intentions - try to create an environment for our children that is as clean and safe as possible.

Many Singaporeans believe that dirt and germs should be avoided, and that exposure to these elements results in disease. Consequently, many Singaporean parents are highly particular about hygiene for their children. They bring anti-bacterial wet wipes and hand sanitizers to clean their children’s hands when going out.

Even when indoors or at home, they frequently instruct their children to wash their hands whenever they touch any surface perceived to be “dirty”. Is it any surprise that most of our children grow up in clean, disinfected and sterile homes but many end up developing allergies or asthma?


There are many reasons why parents avoid exposing their children to dirt and feel the need to clean their children compulsively. For one, dirt contains germs that spread illnesses. Apart from repeated reports about various epidemics in the world and in the region, such as the recent H7N9 avian influenza outbreak in China, there is also the general fear of public areas like the playground acting as breeding areas for germs.

While some of these fears may have some basis, there is emerging evidence that over-sterility leads to a whole host of problems.

Viruses, which make up the pre-occupation of worried parents, are generally considered harmful, and they spread many types of disease, such as influenza and HFMD. However, most viruses, like the flu, can only be transmitted through direct contact with a person carrying the virus. Viruses are not a component in dirt.

There are different types of bacteria in dirt as well. Some, like viruses, are harmful and can cause diseases, such as pneumonia. Yet, others are benign and are important for the day-to-day functioning of the body. For example, millions of good bacteria inhabit the human gut and skin and form a vital part of the human digestive process, and immune system.

While a certain degree of cleanliness and hygiene is desirable in helping to maintain our children’s well-being and preventing communicable diseases, there is increasing evidence that over-emphasis on hygiene and the resultant overly sterilised lives has resulted in an increase in the occurrence of certain types of conditions.

These include auto-immune diseases and allergic diseases such as asthma, eczema, food allergy and allergic rhinitis. It seems not exposing our children to common microbes and bugs present in dirt leave them with a highly sensitive immune system that is more susceptible to inflammatory diseases and dangerous infectious agents.

These can be serious and are no less dangerous than the infectious diseases children can catch from exposure to viruses.

Every year, asthma causes 2.6 out of 100,000 people to die in Singapore, which is equivalent to half the number of people who die in road traffic accidents in Singapore. Allergic rhinitis is another troubling disease which causes disturbed sleep and blocked noses, often worsening asthma control.

A number of studies performed in Europe demonstrated that the prevalence of these allergic diseases is significantly lower in rural regions, like farms, as compared to urbanised areas. Experts think this may be the case because people who are born in rural regions are exposed to more dirt and germs in the early stages of their lives compared to those who live in the city.

It seems exposure from a young age to a greater variety of benign bacteria may aid in immune development and may be critical in shaping a child’s future immune responses at a critical stage when his or her immune system is developing and learning.

Overuse of antibiotics has similarly resulted in a host of problems. Used correctly at the correct levels to tackle harmful bacterial infection, antibiotics are truly a wonder and have saved countless lives.

However, when used inappropriately, for instance, when wrongly applied to diseases caused by viruses, which do not respond to antibiotics, or used excessively, problems ensue. Antibiotics alter the balance of bacteria in the gut, which can result in severe gut infections. This can also impair normal healthy digestion, since good bacteria are needed for the process of digestion.

Along with this excessive fear of dirt, germs and diseases, many medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are prone to excessive use by frantic parents, especially after the symptoms that they meant to treat have already subsided. This has been associated with the onset of allergic diseases like asthma as well.

So all in all, while appropriate avoidance of dirt and grime remains important for health, there is increasing evidence that over-avoidance results in a significant amount of harm to the body as well.

The challenge for each child is to maintain an optimal balance between avoidance and exposure to germs.

However, it seems that being too clean is worse than being too dirty and with over-zealous parents watching the kids, the chances of being too clean may be higher than being too dirty.

So perhaps parents should think through carefully next time before whipping out those anti-bacterial hand wipes. Perhaps a little germ is a good thing.

Dr David Ng and Professor Hugo Van Bever work at the Department of Paediatrics at the National University Hospital of Singapore.

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Malaysia: RM4mil animal parts seized - pangolins and ivory

The Star 3 Aug 17;

PETALING JAYA: Nearly RM4mil worth of trafficked ivory and pangolin scales were found in an air cargo warehouse at the KLIA Free Trade Zone by the Customs Depart­ment on July 30.

Customs Department assistant director-general (enforcement) Datuk Mohd Pudzi Man said they found the two boxes of elephant tusks at 1.30pm on that day.

“The box was labelled as ‘foodstuff’ and we found out that the import company doesn’t exist. Investigations showed the 23 tusks weighed about 75.74kg, with an estimated value of RM275,000,” he told reporters at the department’s KLIA office yesterday.

He said the package came into the country from Lagos through Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Mohd Pudzi said while Malaysia was its last stop, it did not necessarily mean that the items were for the Malaysian market.

The second find of pangolin scales amounting to about RM3.8mil came at about 8.30pm.

“Six sacks of pangolin scales were found, weighing about 300kg.

“The air way bill listed the items as ‘fishmaw’,” said Mohd Pudzi.

That cargo, he said, originated from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the department believed that both the items were brought in by an international syndicate.

While there was no identifiable link between the two cases so far, or evidence to suggest an inside job, investigations are still ongoing.

“We don’t have proof but I believe that they (the syndicates) exploited our systems and procedures,” said Mohd Pudzi.

Malaysia seizes rare animal parts worth almost $1mil
The Star 2 Aug 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has seized elephant tusks and pangolin scales from Africa worth almost a million dollars, an official said Wednesday, highlighting the country’s role as a hub for smuggling rare animal parts.

The contraband was found in two separate raids in the cargo terminal of Kuala Lumpur’s main international airport on Sunday, customs officials said.

In the first raid, authorities found 23 ivory tusks, weighing 75.7 kilograms (167 pounds) with an estimated value of 275,000 ringgit ($64,150).

“Customs officers seized two boxes which contained a large quantity of elephant tusks,” senior customs official Pudzi Man said in a statement.

The tusks had been sent from Nigeria, and the cargo was listed as food items, he said.

Separately, officials found six sacks containing 300.9 kilograms (663 pounds) of pangolin scales worth 3.86 million ringgit ($900,500), said Pudzi. The cargo had originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

No arrests have yet been made over the seizures.

Elephant tusks are in high demand in parts of Asia, especially China and Vietnam, where the ivory is prized for decorative purposes and in traditional medicine. The global trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989.

The scales of the pangolin, a critically endangered creature also known as the “scaly anteater” that is the world’s most heavily trafficked mammal, are highly sought after in some Asian countries for use in traditional medicine.

Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in China and their scales are also sometimes used in the production of crystal methamphetamine.

The seizures underline Malaysia’s role as a major transit point in the global wildlife smuggling trade. Last month, a Vietnamese man was arrested at Kuala Lumpur airport and a large stash of elephant ivory found in his luggage was seized.

Anyone found guilty of importing rare animals or their parts into Malaysia can be jailed for up to three years and fined. -AFP

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Malaysia: Fears of poaching rise of elephants in Sabah after another smuggling case

MUGUNTAN The Star 3 Aug 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A second case of ivory smuggling detected by Indonesian Customs in Nunukan, Kalimantan, at the Sabah border is fuelling fears among conservationists that the tusk may have been poached from a Bornean pygmy elephant in the state.

A tusk weighing 2.7kg was recovered from an Indonesian worker returning from Tawau to his home province in Indonesia.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said it had received information about the seizure of the tusk but had little leads on the source.

“We have been given some details on the background of the person arrested but we don’t have enough to lead us to the likely seller,” he said when contacted here yesterday.

The tusk, he said, was likely to be from a Bornean pygmy elephant.

On July 24, Indonesian Customs official at the Nunukan port had spotted the tusk in a bag that was being scanned. The worker carrying the bag had just arrived on an-hour passenger boat ride from Sabah’s Tawau district.

An Indonesian Customs official, M. Karyadi, said the worker had claimed that he bought the tusk for RM1,500 in Kota Kinabalu for traditional purposes at his home village in the islands in Nusa Tenggara Timur.

Karyadi said the investigation was focused on the possibility that he could be involved in the smuggling of illegal ivory.

The worker remains under detention for possession of ivory without a permit under the country’s Conservation of Biological and Natural Resources law and faces up to five years in prison and a fine.

Tuuga said they hoped to work with the Customs in Tawau to keep a close eye especially on workers leaving its port for Indonesia.

“It is difficult to pinpoint where he got the tusk from. Many of these workers work in estates in the east coast where our elephants roam. We have a large land area.

“We don’t have enough information to trace the origin,” he said, adding that its enforcement would increase intelligence gathering and called for people to contact it should they have information of such trade.

On Jan 13, Customs officials in Nunukan had seized five ivory tusks from a 37-year-old Indone­sian woman returning from Tawau.

Some conservationists in Sabah believed that the ivory could have come from butchered elephants, including a rare, sabre tooth tusker, in the Segama conservation area last year.

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Malaysia: Johor Baru water cut takes folk by surprise

NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 2 Aug 17;

JOHOR BARU: Intermittent water cuts since Sunday have caused a lot of problems and hardship to thousands of residents in several major housing areas here.

Among the worst hit is Taman Desa Tebrau where water supply has been completely disrupted since Sunday evening.

Other areas affected include Taman Pelangi Indah, Taman Desa Cemerlang, Kim Teng Park, Jalan Lumba Kuda, Bukit Chagar and Bandar Baru Uda.

Many of the residents claim that they were caught off guard about the cuts, with some saying that even their water tanks were now empty.

They said many shops have also run out of bottled water.

A resident known as Tan, 35, said this was the worst water cut that he had experienced since moving to Taman Desa Tebrau about 10 years ago.

“It was so sudden. I tried calling Syarikat Air Johor’s (SAJ) hotline for help but I could not get through and there is also no response to my complaints via SMS,” he said.

Another resident, known as K. Amaloo, 66, said she had to resort to buying drinking water for her use.

“When I contacted SAJ, they said that the disruption was due to ammonia contaminating our water treatment plant as well as low water pressure at the reservoir,” she said.

She hoped SAJ would restore supply as soon as possible as it was very inconvenient for the elderly to carry water to the top floor of their flats when the water tankers arrive.

Another resident known as Ahmad Hassan, 51, said the water tankers were only supplying water to flats dwellers and those living in high-rise units.

“Those in landed properties also need water. SAJ should set up portable water dispensers in every affected area,” he said.

Ahmad said he was surprised that some of the shoplots and commercial areas in Desa Tebrau had water supply.

“I sent all my laundry to the launderette near my house and it was full. Where are they getting their water supply from,” he said, adding that he too was unable to get through to the SAJ hotline.

Johor public works and regional development committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad, confirmed that the water cut since Sunday, was because high level of ammonia was found in Sungai Skudai.

“This is not the first time this has happened. I have directed SAJ to send water tankers to help those in the affected areas.

“As of yesterday morning, the water treatment plant was back in operation but it may take up to 24 hours for supply to resume,” he said, urging consumers to be patient.

Hasni said they were looking for long-term solutions to resolve the problem, including getting water supply from other sources.

For queries, contact the SAJ hotline at 1800-887-474.

Johor wants SAJ, BAKAJ to find ways to resolve water disruption issues
Rizalman Hammim New Straits Times 2 Aug 17;

JOHOR BARU: The Johor state government has asked SAJ Ranhill Sdn Bhd (SAJ) and Johor Water Regulation Body (BAKAJ) to work out the best method to shorten the period of water disruptions, especially in areas often hit by such problem.

At the same time, it also called on the relevant authorities to come up with suggestions on the best way to resolve water pollution issue.

State Public Works, Rural and Regional Development executive committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad said SAJ and BAKAJ must understand that the people would not accept the same excuse each time there was a water disruption.

"Therefore, there is a need to find ways to shorten the period of water disruption in areas that face such problems frequently. The state government has approved allocations to ensure sufficient water supply," said Hasni in a statement.

SAJ announced that water supply in several areas in Johor Baru will be disrupted following an ammonia pollution in Sungai Skudai since July 23 that caused the supply from the Sultan Ismail water treatment plant to drop to 50 per cent.

Among the areas affected are Taman Desa Tebrau, Taman Pelangi Indah, Taman Desa Cemerlang, Stulang Laut, Kim Teng Park, Jalan Lumba Kuda, Bukit Cagar and elevated areas in Bandar Baru Uda.

SAJ said it has taken steps to quickly stabilised the water supply and several water tankers have been dispatched to the affected areas as an alternative remedial step.

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Indonesia: Wildfires destroyed 222 hectares of land in West Aceh

Antara 2 Aug 17;

Banda Aceh, Aceh (ANTARA News) - Wildfires in West Aceh District, Aceh Province, had destroyed some 222.5 hectares (ha) of land and forest areas in July, an official from the disaster mitigation agency stated here on Wednesday.

The blaze mostly occurred in peatland areas in nine sub-districts located in the provinces western coast, Yusmadi, head of the provincial disaster mitigation agency, stated in the capital city of Banda Aceh.

According to the agencys record, Johan Palawan Sub-district ranked as the worst-affected, with a total of 98.5 ha of damaged area, followed by Meureubo Sub-district, with 51 ha; Kaway XVI, 16 ha; and Bubon, 15 ha.

Wildfires also raged in four other sub-districts, such as Sama Tiga Lahan, where an area of 10 ha was ravaged, six ha of Arongan Lambalek, four ha of Woyla, and one ha of Sungai, Yusmadi stated.

Earlier in July, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) had deployed two helicopters to drop water bombs on several major hotspots.

"Thank God, as the helicopters were deployed and the rainfall now, the fires and haze have gradually dispersed," Yusmadi stated.

Meanwhile, on a separate occasion, BNPBs health and clean water chairman, Jarwansyah, noted last week that the agency had deployed five pilots to stamp out the fires.

"Though the fires had been extinguished in some locations, we still found several hotspots in the district," Jarwansyah remarked.

Due to the fires and thick haze, the economy and social sectors were disrupted in the district, while hundreds of people were suffering from acute respiratory infections.

Apart from Aceh Province, wildfires also raged in some other provinces, including West Sumatra, Riau, and Central Kalimantan. The blaze was mainly caused by illegal logging activities, plantations, drought, and the long dry season.(*)

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Indonesia: President to tighten issuance of permits for forest industry

Antara 2 Aug 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) revealed here on Wednesday that he will tighten requirements on the issuance of permits for the forest industry to protect natural resources and preserve the environment.

Hence, the authority should take corrective action, mainly in terms of issuing permits. In future, if there is a company applying for a license, the authority should follow the procedures while carefully studying the operations impacts on nature, the president remarked at the Environmental Ministrys Manggala Wanabakti compound in Jakarta.

"We should stop issuing any careless and irresponsible work permits to companies planning to operate in forest areas," Jokowi noted in his opening remarks during the celebration of Environmental Day 2017.

The president further pointed out that currently, several protected forests and national parks were facing the threat of exploitation by some companies.

According to the president, some companies appeared to exploit protected national parks, for instance, to make way for plantations or industrial parks.

"In accordance with their name, national parks are part of protected forests. However, the areas were gradually exploited, and now, hundreds and even thousands of hectares of our natural forests had been destroyed," the president remarked.

In his speech, the president called for a reform for the management of peatland and forest areas.

The main objective of granting permits for industries in forest areas is to improve the welfare of the people.

"The problem now is that most communities living near industrial forests are poor. Hence, we should rethink whether the teakwood plantations had contributed to the peoples well-being?" the president rhetorically asked the audience.

According to Jokowi, the government will apply two strategies -- agroforestry and silvopasture -- for governing the use of natural resources in forests.

During the celebration, the president planted a teakwood tree (tectona grandis) sapling and launched a special stamp to mark Environmental Day.

This years commemoration was held by the Environmental Ministry under the "Connecting People to Nature" theme. The event aimed to increase the peoples awareness towards environmental issues, such as waste management, deforestation, as well as air and water pollution.(*)

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Indonesia: In Riau, Land Offers More to Farmers Who Don't Burn It

Tabita Diela Jakarta Globe 2 Aug 17;

Pekanbaru, Riau. Suryono, a farmer in a small village in Riau used to make Rp 2 million ($150) a month from his two-hectare oil palm field. That was only after nervous four years before the plant started to give yields. Small farmers rarely survive the wait period as oil palms often prove infertile.

Today Suryono makes the same amount of money in just a week, after he replaced the palms with papaya trees. Last year, he earned Rp 300 million by dedicating a half hectare of his land to produce chilies.

Another farmer, Jan from West Pinang Sebatang, planted melons on a 1,200 square meter plot. Between December and March, his land produced 2 tons of melons and made him earn Rp 21 million in sales, of which Rp 15 million was in profits.

Suryono, and Jan are among 3,000 farmers from Riau, Jambi, Palembang, West Kalimantan and East Kalimantan who received a grant under the "Prosperous Villages Fight Fire" (DMPA) corporate responsibility program by Asia Pulp and Paper, an arm of conglomerate Sinar Mas Group.

Initiated in 2015, the program was designed to prevent small farmers from practicing slash-and-burn agriculture. While the hazardous technique is often the only method that small farmers can afford to clear their land for planting new crops, it is the main cause of haze and wildfires across Southeast Asia.

DMPA introduces sustainable farming methods to grow fruits and vegetables on peatlands and secure direct distribution links to consumers.

APP Sinar Mas director Suhendra Wiriadinata told reporters on the side a seminar in Pekanbaru on Monday (31/07) that DMPA also tries to match farmers with buyers and maintain a relationship between local communities and the local government.

"We want to help the government in preventing wildfires by teaching farmers alternatives ways of farming," he said.

For many years, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore were suffering from seasonal air pollution due to forest fires that were often caused by slash-and-burn practices.

Fingers were pointed at groups, including Sinar Mas, that run concessions where hot spots were located.

"In 2014-15, wildfires were dire in Sumatra," APP corporate social and security head Agung Wiyono said.

"The company was accused of burning the land, but we know we have a no-burning policy," he said.

DMPA began with a study to identify which plants will be best to boost the local farmers' income and make them leave slash-and-burn agriculture.

By the end of July, DMPA spent Rp 17.3 billion ($1.3 million) of its $10 million budget for villages in Riau, Jambi, Palembang, West Kalimantan and East Kalimantan. Out of 500 villages targeted, currently 95 are under the program's umbrella.

The Association of Indonesian Bachelors of Economics (ISEI) praised the program, which combines training, assistance and funding.

"I imagine the partnership model developed by Sinar Mas can be also introduced in other places," ISEI chairman Muliaman D. Hadad said.

Muliaman's comment came after he and other ISEI members, including Indonesia Deposit Insurance Corporation (LPS) chairman Halim Alamsyah and economist Aviliani, visited Tualang in Siak district, about 53 kilometers from Pekanbaru, whose residents participate in DMPA.

Muliaman said the program cut off the role of middleman and gave local farmers an opportunity to increase their income, while at the same time it reduces the use of slash-and-burn practices.

"Yesterday, I saw yesterday how the community was involved in for the sake of a more prosperous life," Muliaman said.

The Jakarta Globe was invited to Pekanbaru for the seminar that was held by Sinar Mas Group and ISEI on July 29-31.

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Indonesia: One million mangrove trees shield Indonesia’s coastline from disaster

Husni, International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies ReliefWeb 1 Aug 17;

This year, the International Mangrove Day marks an important achievement by the Indonesian Red Cross Society (Palang Merah Indonesia – PMI). Thanks to the efforts of Red Cross staff and volunteers working closely with local communities, more than one million seedlings have been planted across three counties in Indonesia including Aceh, central Java and West Nusa Tenggara, where there is a high risk of disasters such as tsunamis, floods and landslides.

“After the Indian Ocean tsunami struck our shores in 2004, it wiped away all the plants and trees. They were all gone,” said Sulaiman, a community member from Crakmong village in Aceh. “With no vegetation around our village to help reduce the temperature, we experience unusual heatwaves.

Mangrove trees provide an effective natural barrier against destructive storms and flooding, and reduces the momentum and impact of powerful waves. In Aceh, the impact of the mega disaster in 2004 cut a wide swath of destruction across the province, wrecking coastal ecosystems as well as entire villages. As a result, the region became even more exposed and vulnerable to natural and climactic disasters.

Recognising this risk, and with the aim to help build a community that is more resilient in the face of disasters, the Indonesian Red Cross, with financial support from American Red Cross and USAID, initiated a coastal risk reduction programme in 2012. With the target of planting one million mangrove seedlings, the programme aimed at protecting and rehabilitating the coastal environment and introduced alternative livelihoods for affected communities to help them cope with the impacts of climate change.

“Since 2012, we have held a series of workshops for local communities and villagers in the three provinces on how to manage mangrove seedling nurseries so that they can grow and maintain their own plantations respectively,” said Al Akbar Abubakar, the Programme Manager at the American Red Cross in Indonesia.

The Red Cross worked with experts from the Centre for Coastal and Marine Resources Studies from the Bogor Agricultural Institute to train the communities on how to plant and grow mangrove trees.

“This programme is very important to restore coastal ecosystems across Indonesia. We want to leave a green legacy and a healthy environment for our future generation,” said Sumarsono, a Disaster Management Board Member at the Indonesian Red Cross. “I am proud to say that this achievement was the result of all the hard work of the local communities and volunteers.”

Akbar added that the alternative livelihoods have led some community members to selling local foods such as traditional sweet cakes and other food items such as syrup, jam, and honey from the mangrove plants.

For the latest updates on Indonesian Red Cross, follow them on twitter at @palangmerah

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Warming to boost deadly humidity levels across South Asia

Matt McGrath BBC 3 Aug 17;

Millions of people living in South Asia face a deadly threat from heat and humidity driven by global warming according to a new study.

Most of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh will experience temperatures close to the limits of survivability by 2100, without emissions reductions.

The research says the fraction of the population exposed to dangerous, humid heat waves may reach 30%.

South Asia is home to one-fifth of the world's inhabitants.

Wet bulb threat

Most official weather stations around the world measure temperature with two thermometers.

The first, or "dry bulb" instrument, records the temperature of the air. The other, or "wet bulb" thermometer, measures relative humidity in the air and the results are normally lower than just the pure air temperature.

For humans, this wet bulb reading is critically important.

While the normal temperature inside our bodies is 37C, our skin is usually at 35C. This temperature difference allows us to dissipate our own metabolic heat by sweating.

However, if wet bulb temperatures in our environment are at 35C or greater, our ability to lose heat declines rapidly and even the fittest of people would die in around six hours.

While a wet bulb 35C is considered the upper limit of human survivability, even a humid temperature of 31C is considered an extremely dangerous level for most people.

Recorded wet bulb temperatures on Earth have rarely exceeded 31C. However, in 2015 in Iran, meteorologists saw wet bulb temperatures very close to 35C. In the same summer, a deadly heat wave killed 3,500 people in India and Pakistan.

This understanding of the potentially deadly impact on humans of wet bulb temperatures is key to this new study.

The researchers involved came to their conclusions by using a high resolution climate model, that was tested against observations.

They projected wet bulb temperatures to the end of this century using two different climate change scenarios.

When the model examined a high emissions future, the wet bulb temperature would approach the 35C threshold "over most of South Asia, including the Ganges river valley, north eastern India, Bangladesh, the eastern coast of China, northern Sri Lanka and the Indus valley of Pakistan".

According to the scientists, around 30% of the population is projected to live in a climate characterised by a median of the maximum annual wet bulb temperature of 31C or more. At present, the number of people facing this level of threat is essentially zero.

"The valleys of the Indus and the Ganges rivers are where the water is, they're where the agriculture is and they're where the population has exploded," author Prof Elfatih Eltahir from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) told BBC News.

"Our map that shows where the temperature extremes are, it's the same place that you have relatively poor people who predominantly have to work in agriculture and there are so many that they happen to coincide in a region where the hazard is maximised."

Impacts of Paris

If the rise in global temperatures is contained to just over two degrees, roughly in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, the fraction of the population exposed to humid heat above 31C drops to 2%.

Heat waves up to and beyond 31C are projected to become much more frequent if little action is taken on cutting carbon. In most locations, the once-every-25-year heat wave in the present climate is projected to become an approximately once-a-year occurrence. If the limitations agreed in Paris are met, these heat waves are likely to happen every two years.

"Climate change doesn't look like an abstract concept if you look at India," said Prof Eltahir.

"This is something that is going to impact your most vulnerable population in ways that are potentially pretty lethal. But it is avoidable, it is preventable."

Around 30% of the population of the region will be facing dangerous humid heat waves by 2100 according to the study

Other researchers say the "damaging and downright deadly" conditions described in this study are likely to occur if the world doesn't embrace rapid and substantial cuts in carbon emissions.

"This study provides a crucial glimpse of the future," said Prof Matthew Huber from Purdue University, US, who wasn't part of the research team.

"Either we - the whole world - decide to reduce carbon emissions substantially or we face a highly dangerous scenario in one of the most populous regions in the world, with a deep history and culture, and also a history of political instability."

According to Prof Christoph Schaer from the Institute of Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zurich, the work is "alarming".

"The study is credible as extremely hot and humid heat waves already occur under current climatic conditions in some of the areas considered," he said.

"As conditions are close to a critical health threshold already today, a warming of a few degrees could strongly increase the risk of deadly heat waves."

The study has been published in the journal Science Advances.

Climate change to cause humid heatwaves that will kill even healthy people
If warming is not tackled, levels of humid heat that can kill within hours will affect millions across south Asia within decades, analysis finds
Damian Carrington The Guardian 2 Aug 17;

Extreme heatwaves that kill even healthy people within hours will strike parts of the Indian subcontinent unless global carbon emissions are cut sharply and soon, according to new research.

Even outside of these hotspots, three-quarters of the 1.7bn population – particularly those farming in the Ganges and Indus valleys – will be exposed to a level of humid heat classed as posing “extreme danger” towards the end of the century.

The new analysis assesses the impact of climate change on the deadly combination of heat and humidity, measured as the “wet bulb” temperature (WBT). Once this reaches 35C, the human body cannot cool itself by sweating and even fit people sitting in the shade will die within six hours.

The revelations show the most severe impacts of global warming may strike those nations, such as India, whose carbon emissions are still rising as they lift millions of people out of poverty.

“It presents a dilemma for India between the need to grow economically at a fast pace, consuming fossil fuels, and the need to avoid such potentially lethal impacts,” said Prof Elfatih Eltahir, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US who led the new study. “To India, global climate change is no longer abstract – it is about how to save potentially vulnerable populations.”

Heatwaves are already a major risk in South Asia, with a severe episode in 2015 leading to 3,500 deaths, and India recorded its hottest ever day in 2016 when the temperature in the city of Phalodi, Rajasthan, hit 51C. Another new study this week linked the impact of climate change to the suicides of nearly 60,000 Indian farmers.

Eltahir said poor farmers are most at risk from future humid heatwaves, but have contributed very little to the emissions that drive climate change. The eastern part of China, another populous region where emissions are rising, is also on track for extreme heatwaves and this risk is currently being examined by the scientists.

Their previous research, published in 2015, showed the Gulf in the Middle East, the heartland of the global oil industry, will also suffer heatwaves beyond the limit of human survival if climate change is unchecked, particularly Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and coastal cities in Iran.

The new work, published in the journal Science Advances, used carefully selected computer climate models that accurately simulate the past climate of the South Asia to conduct a high resolution analysis of the region, down to 25km.

The scientists found that under a business-as-usual scenario, where carbon emissions are not curbed, 4% of the population would suffer unsurvivable six-hour heatwaves of 35C WBT at least once between 2071-2100. The affected cities include Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh and Patna in Bihar, each currently home to more than two million people.

Vast areas of South Asia – covering 75% of the area’s population – would endure at least one heatwave of 31C WBT. This is already above the level deemed by the US National Weather Service to represent “extreme danger”, with its warning stating: “If you don’t take precautions immediately when conditions are extreme, you may become seriously ill or even die.”

However, if emissions are reduced roughly in line with the global Paris climate change agreement, there would be no 35C WBT heatwaves and the population affected by the 31C WBT events falls to 55%, compared to the 15% exposed today.

The analysis also showed that the dangerous 31C WBT level would be passed once every two years for 30% of the population – more than 500 million people – if climate change is unchecked, but for only 2% of the population if the Paris goals are met. “The problem is very alarming but the intensity of the heatwaves can be reduced considerably if global society takes action,” said Eltahir.

South Asia is particularly at risk from these extreme heatwaves because the annual monsoon brings hot and humid air on to the land. The widespread use of irrigation adds to the risk, because evaporation of the water increases humidity. The projected extremes are higher in the Gulf in the Middle East, but there they mostly occur over the gulf itself, rather than on land as in South Asia.

The limit of survivability, at 35C WBT, was almost reached in Bandar Mahshahr in Iran in July 2015, where 46C heat combined with 50% humidity. “This suggests the threshold may be breached sooner than projected,” said the researchers.

Prof Christoph Schär, a climate scientist at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, and who was not involved in the study, said: “This is a solid piece of work, which will likely shape our perception of future climate change. In my view, the results are of concern and alarming.”

The report demonstrates the urgency of measures to both cut emissions and help people cope better with such heatwaves, he said. There are uncertainties in the modelling – which Schär noted could underestimate or overestimate the impacts – as representing monsoon climates can be difficult and historical data is relatively scarce.

Prof Chris Huntingford, at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: “If given just one word to describe climate change, then ‘unfairness’ would be a good candidate. Raised levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are expected to cause deadly heatwaves for much of South Asia. Yet many of those living there will have contributed little to climate change.”

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