Best of our wild blogs: 17 Aug 18

Celebrating the life of Tay Lai Hock of Ground-Up Initiative
Green Drinks Singapore

Black-crowned Night Herons – Stages of Growth
Singapore Bird Group

Ubin Also Instagrammable: 17 AUG - 23 AUG
Wan's Ubin Journal

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Project aims to quantify worth of forests and marine habitats

Siau Ming En Today Online 16 Aug 18;

SINGAPORE — How much are Singapore's forests, parks, waterways, and coastal and marine habitats worth?

A team of researchers from the Singapore-ETH Centre (SEC) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) will try to put a value on nature through the first national assessment to measure and quantify the benefits of Singapore's environment or natural capital.

Natural capital are natural assets that include habitats, living things, water, soil and air. These assets provide "free services" such as carbon storage, coastal protection, food production, air purification.

Some economic and social benefits that countries have today would not be possible without the environment, said NUS Associate Professor Dan Friess at the launch of the three-year Natural Capital Singapore project on Thursday (Aug 16).

"But we don't often consider the environment as an asset because it is providing all these things for free. We tend to take it for granted, especially in accounting systems where it is easier to account for economic capital," said Assoc Prof Friess, the co-lead principal investigator of the project.

The project is funded by the National Research Foundation and also works with public agencies such as the National Parks Board (NParks), Housing and Development Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). The team's researchers include biologists, ecologists, economists, architects, geographers and software engineers.

Dr Lena Chan, senior director of NParks' International Biodiversity Conservation Division, said policymakers need to know what types of ecosystem services Singapore has, the externalities and the free benefits that people are unaware of, among other things.

"Every minute we sit here, breathing in and out, we need oxygen. But do we ever measure the amount? What do we pay for our oxygen? Trees provide it but we don't have a value for it," she added.

The benefits of natural capital can be quantified in monetary terms and the socio-cultural value people place on nature, said NUS Assistant Professor Roman Carrasco, one of the researchers.

The monetary value would be based on people's preferences, the willingness to pay for the benefits of natural capital, and the cost of replacing a particular type of natural capital, for instance. The socio-cultural valuation would be derived from how people think nature defines their identity, community and help them lead a more fulfilling life, he added.

Given Singapore's small land area, urban development and planning decisions sometimes compromise the country's natural capital, said the Singapore-ETH centre in a press release.

The researchers for this project will look into terrestrial, and coastal and marine habitats here. They will study the current health of these habitats, whether the benefits of these places are accessible to all – for example, are there enough parks in an area where people are keen to use them – and prioritise certain ecosystems and areas to protect.

Their work will involve conducting surveys to gather people's views on these habitats, collecting field data and working with published literature. They will also use information on the Internet and social media to see how people are using green spaces. Photos of vegetation and trees found on Google Street View for instance, can determine how much shade they provide.

An interactive digital planning tool will also be developed to help planners and developers visualise data on the benefits of natural capital by the end of the project.

For policymakers deciding if they should redevelop a green space, the tool could provide information on the impact of different construction methods, and the thermal comfort of a place should the green space be removed, among other things, said ETH Zurich Professor Adrienne Gret-Regamey, who is also the project's co-lead principal investigator.

It should also be able to reflect the economic value of the green space and redevelopment works, as well as the social and cultural value Singaporeans place on the space.

A current prototype of the tool is able to use existing data to map out places that have sufficient or insufficient person to green space ratio, she noted.

This project is believed to be the first national-scale assessment of the benefits of nature in an urban tropical country. Similar studies have been conducted in temperate climates such as the United Kingdom.

Ms Hwang Yu-Ning, deputy chief executive officer and chief planner at URA, said the authority hopes the project will result in a more evidence-based approach to the value of greenery.

The Singapore Index on Cities' Biodiversity is one of the existing tools to manage natural capital. It is a self-assessment tool for cities to evaluate and monitor the progress of their biodiversity conservation efforts.

There have been other studies here that have tried to determine the monetary value of selected benefits provided by natural capital. For instance, scientists from NUS and Singapore-ETH Centre found that HDB units near parks or street trees commanded higher resale prices.

Three-year project will quantify benefits of Singapore's natural environment
Jose Hong Straits Times 16 Aug 18;

SINGAPORE - An ambitious project to quantify all the benefits provided by Singapore's natural environment was launched on Thursday (Aug 16), aiming to provide a framework for developers to assess the trade-offs between development and conservation.

The project will determine the economic, social and environmental benefits of the country's forests, parks, waterways, and marine habitats. The effort to study the nation's "natural capital" will take three years.

"In spite of the national effort towards greening the city-state, we still need to know more about how to incorporate nature into holistic planning at a national scale," said a spokesman for the Singapore-ETH Centre, one of the project's leaders.

For example, trees can lower urban temperatures through providing shade and transpiration - when water evaporates from leaves, stems and flowers. While the effect of trees on temperature can be measured easily, other advantages they bring may not be as well-known.

Trees also help to slow storm-water runoff and help soil to absorb more rainwater, which reduces the strain on Singapore's drainage network. Furthermore, forests provide outdoor recreational possibilities that positively impact physical and mental health.

The National University of Singapore is the other project leader, and the two organisations will bring together architects, biologist, ecologists, economists, geographers, and software engineers.

The team will create a framework to define Singapore's most important ecosystems, determine their benefits and agree on tools to measure them.

They will then assess the current state of the country's land, coastal and marine habitats, quantifying their economic, societal and environmental benefits.

With this information the team will programme a tool for planners and developers that can both visualise data on the benefits of natural capital and simulate the impact of various scenarios on Singapore's natural capital.

Singapore-ETH Centre principal investigator, Dr Dan Richards, said: "This will equip planners and developers to make better- informed decisions when faced with development-environment trade-offs, and also identify opportunities for the stronger incorporation of natural capital into our urban landscape."

Professor Adrienne Gret-Regamey, one of the lead principal investigators of the Natural Capital Singapore project, said: "Besides providing the framework and tools to guide policy, our team seeks to share knowledge on natural capital and bring about a greater awareness and appreciation of what nature has to offer."

Development v saving nature: Project to help assess trade-offs
Jose Hong Straits Times 17 Aug 18;

An ambitious project to quantify all the benefits provided by Singapore's natural environment was launched yesterday, aiming to provide a framework for developers to assess the trade-offs between development and conservation.

The project, which will take three years to complete, will determine the economic, social and environmental benefits of the country's forests, parks, waterways and marine habitats.

"In spite of the national effort towards greening the city-state, we still need to know more about how to incorporate nature into holistic planning at a national scale," said a spokesman for the Singapore-ETH Centre, one of the two project leaders. The National University of Singapore is the other project leader.

For example, trees can lower urban temperatures by providing shade and through transpiration, when water evaporates from leaves, stems and flowers. Their other advantages may not be as well known. For example, trees help to slow stormwater run-off and help soil to absorb more rainwater, which reduces the strain on the drainage network.

The team of 30 researchers will create a framework to define Singapore's most important ecosystems, determine their benefits and agree on tools to measure them. They will then assess the current state of the land, coastal and marine habitats, quantifying their economic, societal and environmental benefits.

A computer tool for planners and developers will then be developed that can visualise data on the benefits of natural capital and simulate the impacts of various scenarios.

Singapore-ETH Centre principal investigator Dan Richards said: "This will equip planners and developers to make better-informed decisions and also identify opportunities for the stronger incorporation of natural capital into our urban landscape."

NParks senior director Lena Chan said: "The research outputs of the project would further enrich the suite of tools and techniques that NParks and other agencies have developed for evidence-based urban planning, development and management."

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Malaysia: Haze descends on large parts of Malaysia, raising alarm

New Straits Times 16 Aug 18;

KUALA LUMPUR: The much-dreaded haze began creeping across the country today, with several states recording unhealthy Air Pollution Index (API) readings as of 6pm.

A check with the Department of Environment's website revealed that Alor Star recorded the highest reading of 145, followed by Kangar at 137 and Mukah, Sarawak at 134.

In the Klang Valley, Klang registered a reading of 110.

A slew of other areas nationwide recorded moderate readings. They were led by Sungai Petani 99, followed by Seberang Jaya (96), Sibu (94), and the Kulim Hi-Tech Industrial Park and Seberang Perai (both at 91).

The day’s highest reading was registered by Kangar at 11am (160).

The API categorises a reading of between 0-50 as ‘good’, 51-100 as ‘moderate’, 101-200 as ‘unhealthy’, 201-300 as ‘very unhealthy’, and 300 and above as ‘hazardous’.

Eight places in four states record unhealthy API levels
razak ahmad The Star 17 Aug 18;

PETALING JAYA: The number of towns and cities with unhealthy air quality has gone up as the haze worsens.

At 6pm yesterday, eight locations in Penang, Perlis, Kedah and Sarawak recorded Air Pollutant Index (API) readings of more than 100.

They were led by Kangar with an API of 141, followed by Alor Setar (140), Mukah (139) and Seberang Jaya (117).

Sibu had an API of 112, while Sungai Petani and Seberang Perai both recorded an API of 107.

Air quality is classified as good when the API is 50 and below, and moderate when the API reading is between 51 and 100.

An API of between 101 and 200 means the air quality is considered unhealthy.

A reading of 201-300 means that the air quality is very unhealthy, and an API of more than 300 is hazardous.

Temperatures in several parts of the country have been rising due to the current southwest monsoon, which started in the third week of May.

The hot and dry weather during this time contributes to the spread of forest fires and open burning, which causes the haze.

Meteorological Department ordered to be at the ready to carry out cloud seeding
FALIQ LAJIM New Straits Times 16 Aug 18;

SHAH ALAM: The Malaysian Meterological Department has been ordered to be ready to carry out cloud seeding if the haze situation in the country reaches a critical stage.

Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said her ministry would activate the process for cloud seeding to ensure that air quality returns to normal.

“We will refer to the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) to get the agency to inform the Defence Ministry to carry out cloud seeding. The haze affecting the country right now is due to open burning in Sumatera and Kalimantan.

“So, we will be ready to carry out cloud seeding, but this will also have to depend on the weather,” she said after visiting the site of a peat fire in Kampung Johan Setia, here, adding that the peat fire was also contributing to haze in nearby areas.

Present were Department of Environment director-general Datuk Dr Ahmad Kamarulnajuib Che Ibrahim; Selangor Fire and Rescue Department director Azmi Osman; and Sungai Kandis assemblyman Mohd Zawawi Ahmad Mughni.

Yeo said the Air Pollution Index (API) being used in the Air Pollution Index Malaysia (APIMS) website was now based on the 2.5 micrometre Particulate Matter (PM2.5) reading.

“This is a more accurate reading (of air quality) compared to PM10 which was used before this,” she said.

Yeo advised the public, and especially school authorities, to constantly keep track of API readings via the APIMS website.

“Information about the API readings for the entire country can be gotten from the website or via the MyIPU mobile application which is available on Google Playstore and Apple App Store,” she said.

Penangites told to stop open burning activities as haze returns
Audrey Dermawan New Straits Times 16 Aug 18;

GEOGE TOWN: The Penang government has advised the people against engaging in open burning activities in light of the worsening haze situation in the state.

As of 3pm today, the air pollutant index (API) readings on the island recorded a moderate level of 96 in Minden and 93 in Balik Pulau.

However, the API readings on the mainland showed an unhealthy level with 120 in Seberang Jaya and 109 in Prai.

An API reading of 0 to 50 indicates good air quality; 51 to 100, moderate; 101 to 200, unhealthy; 201 to 300, very unhealthy and 300 and above, hazardous

State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh also advised the people to keep watch on their lands and to prevent from open burning activities. He warned that stern action could be taken against the perpetrators.

“With the API reading reaching the unhealthy level, we hope the people can refrain from open burning activities to further aggravate the situation.

“Failing which, action can be taken under Section 29(A) of the Environmental Quality Act 1974. Those found guilty can be fined a maximum of RM500,000 or maximum five years’ jail or both, upon conviction.

“A maximum RM2,000 compound can also be slapped for each of the offence,” he said.

Phee said the haze in Penang was a result of the cross-border haze pollution from Kalimantan and Sumatera in Indonesia, no thanks to the southwest monsoon wind.

Meanwhile, Phee also advised the people to reduce outdoor activities and to don face masks if they are outside.

“We have prepared 20,000 masks to be distributed to the people. We also advise the people to consume more liquid during this hot spell,” he added.

Drones to monitor open burning nationwide
NUR IZZATI MOHAMAD New Straits Times 16 Aug 18;

BATU KAWAN: The Fire and Rescue Department will use drones to monitor open burning hotspots throughout the country to tackle the annual haze problem that made a return since early this week.

Its director-general Mohammad Hamdan Wahid said the drones would be used in selected areas to make it easier for firefighters to provide information on open burning to the relevant authorities, particularly the Department of Environment (DOE).

He said both departments had previously carried out checks using helicopters, but with the use of the latest technology, it would provide more options of monitoring methods for both agencies.

“We believe that the DOE also has their own drones to monitor the situation. As a rescue agency, we will continue to furnish the relevant information and be prepared at all times to face any eventualities such as open burning which can further aggravate the haze situation.

“This is an annual occurrence, especially when there is open burning in our neighbouring country.

“However, to minimise the impact, we have to play our part in tackling the open burning activities (here), particularly in peatland forests because whenever there is a fire in peatland forests, we face great challenges in putting it out,” he said in his official working visit to the state Fire and Rescue Department headquarters here today.

During his visit, Hamdan also launched the ‘Fly the Jalur Gemilang’ campaign in conjunction with the National Day celebration before a dialogue session with officers and personnel here.

Elaborating on the issue, Hamdan said each state has its own open burning hotspots.

“In Selangor, for example, the hotspots include Sepang, Batu Arang and Batang Berjuntai while in Penang, Bukit Bendera.

“For Sepang, we have to monitor the situation closely since it is a sensitive area, for aircrafts to land and take off. If haze happens at a critical level, then this can affect the navigation system at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA),” he added.

Meanwhile, Hamdan said the Fire and Rescue Department would introduce the ‘Metropolitan Fire Brigade’, similar to the one implemented in Australia, come 2025.

“Through my visits to all the state Fire and Rescue Department headquarters nationwide, (I found that) there are numerous needs to be looked into, especially the role towards society who need our services to effectively handle safety cases.

“As such, we feel that the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, based in Kuala Lumpur, is most apt in our move towards a develop nation, to ensure we give better focus to cases in major towns with high density population and more complex system,” he said.

Minimise exposure, M’sians told
The Star 17 Aug 18;

PETALING JAYA: Exposure to the haze may cause adverse health reactions with long-term effects such as increased risk of death from cardiovascular diseases, says the Health Ministry.

In its advisory for workplaces, the ministry said the small particles that cause haze are composed of microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems.

Short-term adverse effects, as underlined by the ministry, include eye irritation, watery eyes and/or conjunctivitis (a type of eye inflammation), running nose, stuffy nose, sneezing and/or post-nasal drip.

Other effects include throat irritation, dry throat, sore throat and/or coughing, phlegm, headache, dizziness, fatigue and/or stress, decreased lung function, depressed respiratory immune defence, chest tightness, chest pain, shortness of breath and bronchitis (lung inflammation).

“However, in susceptible individuals such as diabetics or the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases, especially respiratory and heart diseases, their condition may be worsened by haze and they are likelier to experience more severe haze-related effects than healthy people,” said the ministry on its website

One of the long-term risks associated with the exposure to fine particles is the faster rate of thickening of the arteries, promoting the development of vascular diseases.

General measures at the workplace could be taken such as minimising outdoor activities, closing all windows, doors and any openings that may allow haze to enter the workplace, as well as ensuring maintenance of air conditioners with regular cleaning and servicing.

“An air purifier or air cleaning device may be used to reduce the amount of air contaminants that may be circulating in the building,” said the advisory.

Malaysia is currently experiencing soaring temperatures, with 18 towns and cities nationwide on heatwave alert.

Haze has also made a comeback in certain parts such as in Sarawak, with hotspots and open burning being the factors.

Complaints pertaining to environmental pollution, including open burning, can be made with a call to the Environment Department at 03-8889 1972, its hotline 1-800-88-2727 or online at

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Indonesia: Haze blankets Riau amid heightened forest and land fires

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 16 Aug 18;

Haze has covered several areas in Riau province following a growing number of hot spots detected from heightened forest and peatland fires and has started to choke residents.

White smog has blanketed provincial capital Pekanbaru in the past few days, prompting residents to put on surgical masks to protect themselves from the toxic material.

“At first I thought it was morning dew, but apparently the environment was dimmed from the haze,” Pekanbaru resident Musfarin said on Thursday.

Similar conditions also occurred in Dumai city, where visibility dropped to 4 kilometers in the morning on the back of the thick haze. The haze thins at noon with the help of the wind.

Besides coming from local forest and land fires in the city, the haze in Dumai also came from the neighboring area of Rokan Hilir regency, which suffers the worst fires in the province.

The forest and land fires in Rokan Hilir not only burned down hundreds of hectares of oil palm plantation and peatland areas but also 20 houses, a hut, a car and two motorcycles in Tanjung Leban village in Kubu district. The fire forced residents to evacuate to their relatives’ houses.

“We have informed land owners not to clear their land for plantation during the dry season, but apparently they ignored it. We did not have the proper equipment to put out the fires and it was hard to find a water source so the fire spread quickly,” Tanjung Leban village secretary Wandri said.

He said currently thousands of residents needed surgical masks for the choking haze.

“Four villages near us are covered with smog from the land fires. All the villagers now breathe in haze. The government must take action to help the people,” Wandri added.

Riau forest and land fires task force deputy head, who is also the head of Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency , Edwar Sanger, said the team had monitored and conducted fire extinguishing efforts in Rokan Hilir both from land and air.

“But dry land in the dry season triggered the fire's spreading. The strong wind has also complicated wildfire suppression efforts,” he said.

Edwar urged residents to pray for the rain to help with the current situation.

Terra and Aqua satellites have recorded 121 hot spots detected in Riau on Thursday morning according to data compiled by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG). The number jumped from 22 hot spots detected by the satellites on Wednesday afternoon. (rin)

More than 1,000 hot spots detected in West Kalimantan
Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 16 Aug 18;

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) plans to add two more helicopters to be used for water bombing as more than 1,000 hot spots have been detected in the forest area in West Kalimantan emitting haze, which is affecting activities of the residents.

Satellite images recorded 1,061 hot spots divided into 592 medium fires and 469 large fires, spread in a number of locations on Thursday, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

He said the agency had deployed four helicopters to support the forest and land fire mitigation efforts in the province for water bombings and patrol.

“We plan to add two more helicopters. We must extinguish the fire as the haze is starting to disrupt people’s activities,” he said in a press statement on Thursday.

Based on Aqua and Terra satellite monitoring, West Kalimantan recorded the most hot spots in the archipelago. There are a total of 1,490 hot spots across the country amid the height of the dry season, according to BNPB data. (rin)

Forest fires decline significantly - President
Antara 16 Aug 18;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo has said land and forest fires have declined significantly this year compared with previous years due to the country`s strong stance in protecting its forests.

"This assertiveness would not have achieved these ideal results without public support and participation," the president stressed in his presidential speech on the occasion of the 73rd anniversary of Indonesia`s independence at the parliament building here on Thursday.

The head of state expressed his gratitude to the Indonesian military and police, local administrations and the public for their dedication in preventing forest fires.

"We need courage to make the leap. We have to be firm in making the best decision for the people of Indonesia, including being firm in protecting our land and forests," he stated.

Present at the annual session were Vice President Jusuf Kalla, cabinet ministers, foreign representatives, former presidents BJ Habibie and Megawati Sukarnoputri, and former vice presidents Try Sutrisno and Boediono.

Reporting by Dewanto Samodro
Editing by Sri Haryati

Editor: Bustanuddin

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Malaysia: Authorities on hunt for elephant which attacked Kelantan farmer

Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah New Straits Times 17 Aug 18;

KOTA BARU: An elephant which attacked a man at his farm in Laloh, Kuala Krai on Wednesday is believed to be a member of a herd of 12 pachyderms dubbed ‘Gajah Sungai Rek.’

In the incident, Norshahrin Bakar, 40 and his nephew, Norshahrin Che Ibrahim, 38, were collecting durian when they encountered the pachyderm.

The female elephant charged at Norshahrin, but he escaped by climbing a durian tree. He suffered minor injuries and was rushed to the Kuala Krai Hospital.

"Our rangers began their operation to track down the elephant soon after we received a report on the incident.

"However, until yesterday, they have failed to find her as it is believed she has escaped back into the jungle," Kelantan Wildlife director Mohd Hasdi Husin told NSTP today.

He added that the department received 87 complaints on elephant rampages in the state since early this year.

Mohd Hasdi said that Jeli recorded the highest number of incidents with 49 complaints, followed by Gua Musang (18) and Kuala Krai (10).

"Five elephants have been captured so far and all were in Jeli," he added.

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Malaysia: Another jumbo rescued from snare

muguntan vanar The Star 17 Aug 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Another Borneo Pygmy elephant was rescued from a trap in east coast Sabah as the endangered jumbos in the state continue to face threats of extinction.

Sabah Wildlife Department rangers rescued a young male elephant aged between seven to nine years that suffered an injury to its front right leg due to a snare in Taliwas area in Lahad Datu late Tuesday.

The department’s public relations officer Siti Nurain Ampuan Acheh said the snare caused a 2-inch deep wound on the leg and was infested with maggots at the area of the knot.

She said with initial treatment the elephant showed signs of healing but the veterinarians treating it remained guarded about its full recovery.

The elephant will be transferred to the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary for further treatment and observation.

On the post-mortem results conducted on the male elephant found floating in the Kinabatangan river near Pangi Forest Reserve on Aug 13, Siti Nurain said no external injuries were found and preliminary findings showed that the jumbo suffered from ulcerative gastritis that led to severe loss of blood in its gastrointestines.

“The cause of ulcerative gastritis can be of infectious or non-infectious origin,” she said, adding that samples of vital internal organs were taken for toxicology and bacteriology analysis.

Confirmation on the cause of death could only be ascertained when results of the analysis of the samples were obtained, she added.

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Thailand to ban imports of high-tech trash, plastic waste

Panarat Thepgumpanat Reuters 16 Aug 18;

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand will ban imports of 432 types of scrap electronics within six months, an environment ministry official said on Thursday, the latest country to respond to China’s crackdown on imports of high-tech trash this year.

Southeast Asia nations fear they are the new dumping ground for the world’s trash after China banned the entry of several types of waste as part of a campaign against “foreign garbage”.

Thailand’s ban comes weeks after regional neighbor Vietnam said it would stop issuing new licenses for waste imports and crack down on illegal shipments of paper, plastic and metal.

The Thai ban covers 432 types of electronic refuse — from electronic circuit boards to old television and radio parts — and will take effect within six months, a senior environment ministry official told Reuters on Thursday.

He said the ban was agreed at a meeting on Wednesday chaired by Surasak Kanchanarat, the environment minister.

“The meeting yesterday passed a resolution to stop importing 432 kinds of electronic waste and to ensure...that this is enforced within six months,” said the official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Mongukol Pruekwatana, director general of the department of industrial works, told Reuters a full list of banned items would be announced soon.

E-waste - commonly defined as any device with an electric cord or battery - can be mined for valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper. However, it can also include hazardous material such as lead, mercury and cadmium.

Surasak told Thai media on Wednesday that imports of some electronic appliances and second-hand devices would be allowed if these items can be repaired and reused.

Scrap metal, including aluminum, copper and steel, can still be imported for industrial use, but must be separated at the country of origin and cleaned, he said.

Thailand’s e-waste ban follows a series of raids that began in May on factories accused of illegally importing and processing electronic waste.

Environmentalists say waste once destined for China is being re-routed to Southeast Asia, and new laws are needed or existing laws better enforced to prevent illegal imports.

Vietnam’s central bank said on Wednesday it has asked banks to tighten lending to projects deemed environmentally unfriendly. It said banks must have strategies for environmental risk management by 2025.

Thailand also planned to ban imports of plastic waste in the next two years, the environment ministry official said, but he gave no details of the program.

The death of a pilot whale in June found with some 80 pieces of plastic rubbish in its stomach focused attention on what environmentalists call Thailand’s “addiction” to plastic bags and packaging.

Thailand’s military government has said improving the country’s waste management infrastructure is a priority and set goals for 2021.

They included cutting the use of plastic bags and bottles in government agencies and businesses, and plastic bans in tourist destinations. A tax on plastic bags has also been mentioned, along with a target to recycle up to 60 percent of plastic by 2021.

Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpant and Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Additional reporting by Khanh Vu in HANOI; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Darren Schuettler

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India warns of 'extremely grave' crisis as flood toll rises

AFP Yahoo News 17 Aug 18;

Kochi (India) (AFP) - Hundreds of troops led a desperate operation to rescue families trapped by mounting floods in India's Kerala state Thursday as the death toll reached 106 with nearly 150,000 left homeless.

Helicopters airlifted stranded victims from rooftops and dam gates were thrown open as incessant torrential rain brought fresh havoc to the southern state that is a major international tourist draw.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the state now faces an "extremely grave" crisis with more downpours predicted. The region's main airport has been ordered closed until August 26.

The state, famed for palm-lined beaches at resorts such as Bekal and tea plantations, is always battered by the annual monsoon but this year's damage has been the worst in almost a century.

The death toll had jumped to 106 late Thursday, a state disaster management official told AFP.

Media reports said up to 30 more people were feared dead in landslides and rivers that burst their banks, flooding scores of villages.

At least eight people were killed when an irrigation dam burst and a landslide hit three houses in the town of Nenmara, Palakkad district, authorities said.

Vijayan said 80 dams have reached danger levels and appealed to the population not to ignore evacuation orders.

Army and coastguard helicopters, lifeboats and navy diving teams have been brought to the stricken state where an extra 540 troops were deployed Thursday. More are due in coming days.

The army said helicopters carried out scores of rescue operations. They also dropped food and water and appealed for victims to stand in open fields or on rooftops away from trees so helicopters were not damaged during rescue efforts.

One state official said more than 1,330 camps have been opened across Kerala and 147,000 people had sought shelter by Thursday evening.

"At least 6,500 people are stranded in different parts of Kerala and the situation in three districts is particularly grim," a separate state disaster management official told AFP.

Floods have also hit other states, including Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, where eight people at a popular picnic spot were swept away by a sudden surge of water.

- 'Please help' -

In Kerala families could be seen paddling boats provided by the military, while in some areas families commandeered local wooden boats to ferry themselves to safety.

The government says 10,000 kilometres (6,000 miles) of Kerala roads have been destroyed or damaged and hundreds of homes lost.

It has ordered the opening of gates at 34 dams and reservoirs where water levels reached danger levels.

Indian television broadcast images of cars and livestock washed away in the floods while men and women waded through chest-high waters that flowed through village streets.

Many used social media to send rooftop distress calls, some with video.

A member of parliament from Kerala, Shashi Tharoor, shared on Twitter an appeal for help made by a woman who said she was trapped on the third floor of a temple with phone batteries running out.

"Over 36 people including myself and family stranded here. Phone network and charge finishing please help in any possible way," Devika Sreekumar said in the Facebook post.

Greeta Mathew pleaded for help for her family in a Twitter message.

"Anybody reading this,PLZ HELP. My relatives are stuck on the upper floor of house with an 8 months pregnant lady, in Edayaranmula, Pathanamthitta dist. All rescue control rooms' numbers busy. No rescue team reached yet. No contact with family since last evening," she said.

North and central Kerala has been worst hit by the floods but all 14 of the state's districts have been put on "red alert" as heavy rain is predicted for several days.

In the main city of Kochi, the international airport will remain closed until at least August 26, authorities said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Thursday on Twitter that he has ordered the defence ministry "to further step up the rescue and relief operations across the state. Praying for the safety and well-being of the people of Kerala".

More than 320 dead in India flood crisis
AFP Yahoo News 18 Aug 18;

Kochi (India) (AFP) - Pressure intensified Saturday to save thousands still trapped by devastating floods that have killed more than 300 in the Indian state of Kerala, triggering landslides and sending torrents sweeping through villages in the region's worst inundation crisis in a century.

Authorities warned of more torrential rain and strong winds over the weekend, as hundreds of troops and local fishermen staged desperate rescue attempts in helicopters and boats across the southern state.

Kerala, popular among international tourists for its tropical hills and beaches, has been battered by record monsoon rainfall this year.

The state is "facing the worst floods in 100 years", chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Twitter, adding that at least 324 lives have been lost so far.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the stricken state on Friday night, Vijayan's office tweeted, with media reports saying the premier would undertake an aerial survey of the worst-affected areas on Saturday.

People all over the state of 33 million have made panicked appeals on social media for help, saying they cannot make contact with rescue services as power and communication lines are down.

"My family and neighbouring families are in trouble," wrote Ajo Varghese, a resident of the coastal city of Alappuzha, in a Facebook post that quickly went viral.

"No water and food. Not able to communicate from afternoon. Mobile phones are not reachable... Please help," he added.

Other distressed messages were shared online from people trapped inside temples and hospitals as well as their homes.

More than 30 military helicopters and 320 boats are attempting rescues across Kerala after some areas were engulfed by overflowing rivers, with residents seen swimming and wading through chest-high waters past partially submerged houses.

Authorities said thousands of people have been taken to safety so far but 6,000 more are still waiting for rescue.

"We are deploying more boats and the army to ramp up rescue operations," senior state government official P.H. Kurian told AFP.

Helicopters have also been dropping emergency food and water supplies, while special trains carrying drinking water have been sent to Kerala.

- 'Extremely grave' -

According to India's weather bureau, since the beginning of June more than 321 centimetres (126 inches) of rain has fallen on the hilly central district of Idukki, which is now virtually cut off from the rest of the state.

The Kerala government has said it faces an "extremely grave" crisis and Vijayan warned of further torrential rainfall hitting the region over the weekend.

The gates of dozens of dams and reservoirs across the state have been opened as water levels reach danger levels, inundating many other villages.

At least 310,000 people have been displaced and are taking shelter in more than 2,000 relief camps.

North and central Kerala have been worst-hit by the floods with the international airport in the main city of Kochi shut until at least August 26.

The home ministry announced separately that 868 people have been reported dead in seven Indian states including Kerala since the start of the monsoon in June.

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