Ensuring a flood-free Christmas in Thomson

Zhaki Abdullah Straits Times 21 Dec 17;

It was not a merry Christmas for businesses along Upper Thomson Road last year.

On Christmas Eve , the area was inundated following a heavy downpour, and patrons of eateries along a stretch of the road between Jalan Keli and Jalan Todak found themselves knee-deep in water.

Businesses reported significant losses as a result of the flood, including damage to their flooring and other infrastructure.

Less than a month later, the area was flooded again, though shops were spared damage on the scale of the previous deluge.

Water agency PUB found that unapproved drainage works at the construction site of the Upper Thomson MRT station - scheduled to open in 2020 as part of the future 43km-long Thomson-East Coast Line - had contributed to the Christmas Eve flood.

Earlier this month, PUB announced that construction firm Sato Kogyo, the contractor for the Upper Thomson station, had been fined $14,000 for carrying out the works.

When The Straits Times returned to the scene on Tuesday, almost a year after the incident, it was business as usual.

Workers at Ming Fa Fishball said they had not experienced any drop in the number of customers following last year's incident, and were not worried about floods.

At the modest Thomson Park in Jalan Keli - facing the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Zeh Shing Keong Temple - construction workers were having their lunch on the grass or perched on park benches, while others seized the opportunity to take a lunchtime nap in the shade of a gazebo.

Customers were crowding the eateries. Office workers slurped on their fishball noodles where, just a year ago, workers were clearing water and sand out of the premises.

The Roti Prata House - which has been in the area since 1995 - reported an estimated $30,000 of losses as a result of last year's flood.

On Tuesday, though, patrons were enjoying their meals against the backdrop of sizzling frying pans and shouts of orders.

Mr Syed Ridzwan, who has worked at the Roti Prata House for 13 years, said he was not worried about floods this year as the MRT contractor had taken steps to prevent flooding.

But, as a precautionary measure, the eatery has taken to placing ingredients such as flour and eggs on higher shelves.

Though the construction of the MRT station - which began three years ago - has deterred walk-in customers, the 40-year-old said he was not worried.

"We have been here for more than 20 years, our customers know the quality of our food."

Workers at Ming Fa Fishball said they had not experienced any drop in the number of customers following last year's incident, and were not worried about floods.

Although Upper Thomson Road - named after John Turnbull Thomson, a civil engineer who helped develop much of Singapore's infrastructure in the 19th century - is one of 55 flooding "hot spots" identified by the PUB, measures have been taken to ensure that last year's incident is not repeated.

It was announced earlier this month that, as part of efforts to prevent floods, the authorities would pump $500 million into upgrading the Republic's drainage network, including making monsoon drains and canals bigger.

This is in anticipation of more intense storms due to climate change.

The number of flooding incidents here has been increasing in recent years, with 14 days recorded this year, up from 10 last year, and six in 2015.

"Climate change is happening," said Associate Professor Koh Tieh Yong, adding that rising global average surface temperature could cause wind and rainfall patterns in the region to change.

Though it is hard to say how exactly they will change in the future, the weather expert from the Singapore University of Social Sciences said the PUB was "hedging its bets" by strengthening anti-flooding measures.

"We buy insurance not because we expect to be injured, but as a precaution against the possibility."

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Indonesia: New Regulations on Peatland Protection May Exact Huge Economic Toll on Economy

Dames Alexander Sinaga & Muhamad Al Azhari Jakarta Globe 20 Dec 17;

Yogyakarta/Jakarta. Indonesia's tougher peatland protection regulation is estimated to cost billions of dollars and hurt a specific province's regional revenue, a study from the University of Indonesia’s Institute for Economics and Social Research, or LPEM-UI, shows.

Riyanto, a senior researcher at LPEM-UI, said at a seminar last week that the implementation of Government Regulation (PP) No. 57 of 2016, which amended Government Regulation No. 71 of 2014 on the protection and management of peatland ecosystems, is estimated to lead to a loss of Rp 76 trillion ($5.32 billion) from a decline in production of pulp and paper, palm oil, job loss and weaker economic activities in regions highly dependent on the two commodities.

"This regulation will have an impact on the macro economy. It may also deteriorate the investment climate as it has social impacts including layoffs that will increase unemployment," Riyanto, a senior researcher at LPEM-UI, said at a seminar in Yogyakarta last week.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's administration started to place greater attention on the protection and management of peatlands after the country was criticized by the international community for forest and land fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan that resulted in blanketed haze that choked several Southeast Asian countries in 2015.

A year later, his administration took several measures to protect peatlands all over the country and regulate their use, despite complaints from industry players who felt the government's tougher stance was implemented blindly without consideration of the impacts the new regulation had on the industry and on the overall economy.

Riyanto said LPEM-UI estimated that Indonesia would lose up to 16.8 million cubic meters of timber production due to the relocation of 58.5 percent of the nation's industrial forests. The economic value of all industrial forests is estimated at Rp 48.5 trillion.

Riau, which has a vast area of peatland and is home to industrial forests and plantation areas, may see its regional gross domestic product decline by Rp 16.15 trillion per year and a loss of income for the local community, penciled at Rp 4.9 trillion per year from salaries, wages or various income that may be lost from a decline of business activities from the pulp and paper industry.

A slower growth in the pulp and paper industry is estimated to cause a loss of 134,000 of jobs over the course of five years since the revised regulation was implemented in 2016. In Riau province, the loss of that many jobs may cause more than half a million people to live in poverty. "There will be some serious social problems if this is not carefully anticipated," he said.

Riyanto criticized the government for disregarding innovations in peatland management, which can still both preserve, but also utilize the land for commercial purpose. About 40 percent of the nation's industrial forests currently sit on peatlands, which will be deemed protected areas under the regulation.

Previously, Aryan Wargadalam, chairman of Indonesian Pulp and Paper Association (AKPI) — which harbors the largest pulp and paper producers in the country, told the Jakarta Globe that implementation of the PP 57 may include potential losses in pulp production of 2.4 million tons per year (or $1.32 billion) and potential losses in paper production of 3.6 million tons per year (or $3.6 billion).

Gov't Statement

Djati Witjaksono, a Ministry of Environment and Forest spokesman, said the ministry is still conducting research on the government's policy on peatland protection and management.

"Our research and development department is currently conducting assessments on deforestation and carbon sequestration. And we will deliver the results after the project is completed," Djati told the Globe in a phone interview.

The spokesman said the ministry respects any research institution that conducts data collection on the impact of government regulations.

"Everyone has the right to do research, although the results may differ due to different approaches," the spokesman said.

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Indonesia: Greenpeace calls for investigation into Sinarmas dealings

San Francisco Chronicle 20 Dec 17;

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The environmental group Greenpeace has called for an investigation into the relationship between paper giant Sinarmas and its wood suppliers after The Associated Press found substantial ties between them despite the Indonesian conglomerate's assertions the suppliers are independent.

Among the suppliers described as independent are plantation companies accused of responsibility for devastating fires in Indonesia in 2015 that the World Bank estimated caused losses of $16 billion and which a Harvard and Columbia study said hastened 100,000 deaths.

AP's investigation also found that a plantation company owned by two Sinarmas Forestry employees has been cutting down tropical forest in Borneo since 2014 and that Sinarmas is recruiting a new wood supplier that is in conflict with dozens of villages.

Sinarmas, in a 2013 agreement with Greenpeace, said it would stop cutting down tropical forests and end land conflicts with communities.

"We call for an immediate investigation, involving NGOs and independent experts," the head of Greenpeace's Indonesian forests campaign, Kiki Taufik, said in a statement Wednesday.

Greenpeace said the investigation should include a review of a previous audit of the relationship between Sinarmas and its suppliers.

It said if companies linked to Sinarmas have continued forest destruction since 2013, "then there really is no way back and its sustainability commitments will have been shown to be a facade."

AP outlined its findings to Sinarmas five days ago but the company has not responded despite twice specifying a time by which it would comment.

Indonesia is cutting down its rainforests faster than any other country, swelling the profits of a handful of paper and palm oil conglomerates while causing massive social and environmental problems. The rapid forest loss combined with its greenhouse gas emissions has made Indonesia the fourth biggest contributor to global warming after China, the U.S. and India.

Pulp giant APP rebuts Associated Press report
Firm denies covering up links with errant suppliers, reaffirms its sustainability claims
Audrey Tan Straits Times 23 Dec 17;

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), one of the Indonesian companies blamed for the 2015 record-breaking haze in the region, has rubbished an Associated Press report implying it had covered up links to suppliers that practise deforestation or illegal slash-and-burn methods in a bid to void its sustainability claims.

In a statement yesterday, APP did not deny ownership or having links with most of the 27 suppliers the Associated Press report said it had - except one with the firm Muara Sungai Landak. But APP said its ownership structures did not weaken its sustainability commitments and that such partnerships would allow the firm to enforce them.

An APP spokesman said: "All our relationships with our suppliers are guided by our forest conservation policy and our zero-deforestation pledge." He added that there are safeguards to ensure compliance, and that contracts with rogue suppliers can be terminated.

APP, Indonesia's largest pulp and paper firm, was responding to an article published earlier this week by the Associated Press.

The article alleged that APP and its parent company, Sinar Mas, had control over 27 suppliers that it had earlier claimed were independent, citing over 1,000 pages of APP corporate records. APP had likely done so to distance itself from rogue suppliers, allowing it to minimise responsibility, the report added.

For example, in November 2015, two of APP's suppliers - Bumi Mekar Hijau and Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries - had their business licences suspended by the Indonesian government over accusations of illegal forest fires. But APP told the media then that the companies were independently owned, and that it had suspended contracts with the firms.

A check on APP's website yesterday showed that APP still sources for pulpwood from both firms.

The Associated Press report also said APP is linked to Muara Sungai Landak, a firm which has been cutting down forests on Borneo. This shows that APP is indirectly flouting its no-deforestation pledge.

In yesterday's statement, APP said Muara Sungai Landak was not its supplier and has no business relations with the pulp giant, although the Associated Press had found that the plantation firm is owned by two employees at Sinar Mas Forestry.

The Straits Times also yesterday found on APP's website a map showing hot spots from the period between Dec 6 and 13 last year which clearly lists Muara Sungai Landak as one of APP's partner concessions in West Kalimantan.

Ms Zhang Wen, executive director of Singapore-based volunteer group People's Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze), said if APP was found to have secret ties with suppliers which violate Indonesian law or their own sustainability standards, it weakened the firm's overall commitment. "APP has the responsibility and the ability to improve transparency and ensure their suppliers comply to high standards."

On Thursday, the Associated Press published another report alleging that one of APP's potential suppliers, Bangun Rimba Sejahtera, planned to convert community land to plantations despite resistance from villagers.

If APP does end up sourcing for wood from this company, it would renege on its promise of obtaining free, prior and informed consent, said the report.

Responding on this point, APP said yesterday it is still engaging with the supplier and would not approve sourcing from it without the consent of local communities.

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Japan’s inaction on illegal ivory exports threatens Chinese ban, report says

Monitoring network Traffic says smuggling of undocumented ivory into China could undermine enforcement of imminent ban
Justin McCurry The Guardian 20 Dec 17;

Japan’s failure to prevent illegal ivory exports could undermine China’s forthcoming ban on its domestic ivory trade, conservation groups have warned.

Inaction by Japan’s government has allowed the smuggling of large quantities of undocumented ivory overseas, mainly to China, according to a report released in Tokyo on Wednesday by the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.

The report, compiled with the support of the World Wildlife Fund, says 2.42 tonnes of ivory – including elephant tusks, antiques and jewellery – were illegally exported from Japan between 2011 and 2016.

Online sales are a major contributor to the problem, the report says. Last year, Chinese authorities seized 1,639 pieces of worked ivory and carved tusks believed to have been bought in online auctions. Very few illegal consignments are seized in Japan.

According to Traffic, an average of 2,447 ivory items worth more than $400,000 were auctioned during a four-week period between May and June 2017 on a major e-commerce site.

The report says researchers found antique dealers were buying a large number of elephant tusks in Japan that were not registered, even though owners are required to show proof that the items were not bought after the international ban on the ivory trade came into effect in 1989.

“Japan’s domestic ivory market availability is targeted for procuring products from the antiques and tourist markets for illegal ivory exports, as well as through physical and online auctions,” the report says.

International pressure has resulted in some progress in Japan, however. In July, the e-commerce company Rakuten said it would ban the sale of ivory products, but Yahoo! Japan and other sites continue to sell the items.

Almost 95% of illegal ivory exports from Japan go to China, which is to end its domestic legal trade in ivory at the end of this year, amid concern about the steep decline in the African elephant population caused by poaching. Hong Kong, the world’s largest retail ivory market, plans to follow suit in 2021.

But Traffic’s Tomomi Kitade, who co-authored the report, warned that the flow of ivory from Japan could hamper Chinese efforts to stamp out its domestic trade.

“Continuing to allow substantial illegal exports to go to China will undermine Chinese attempts to enforce the ban on its domestic ivory trade,” Kitade said. “Our findings show that the Japanese government has a responsibility to act quickly to end illegal exports.”

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) bans the international trade in ivory to protect endangered African elephants, and has called for the closure of domestic ivory markets in all member states.

Japan, however, says ivory products traded domestically were not acquired illegally. This year the government approved a proposal to tighten registration requirements and inspections for more than 8,000 ivory retailers and manufacturers in the country – a move described as inadequate by campaigners.

“Our findings show without doubt that Japan’s largely unregulated domestic ivory market is contributing to illegal trade,” Kitade said.

An estimated 20,000 African elephants are killed every year for their tusks, according to conservation groups. Last year, a record 40 tonnes of ivory were seized worldwide, triple the amount in 2007.

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